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Authority vs. Power

Matthew 21:23-27

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Pentecost 15
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Sep 25, 2011 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

If you had the power to change something, would you?  I guess that depends on what it is you want to change.  More importantly, it depends on whether or not you have the authority to bring about the desired change.  You see, having the power to do something and having the authority to do something are two entirely different things.  Just because I have the power to do something does not mean I am authorized to do it.  This is why the "stinks" that so often arise in our lives are called "power struggles" and not "authority struggles."  Authority has been trampled down and forgotten.  Power and control is the name of the game.  As we so often see in our daily lives, the loudest voice and biggest "stink raiser" usually winds up ruling the roost, whether they have the authority to do so or not. 

As we turn our ear to the Gospel lesson for this morning, we hear the chief priests and the elders questioning Jesus about His authority.  Now, at first glance, is this really such a bad thing?  If you truly don't know if someone has the authority to be doing something, I would hope that you would raise a concerned question.  "Should you be doing that?  Are you authorized for this sort of thing?" However, is this the motive of these men?  Understand: There is a huge difference between not knowing and not wanting to lose your power; your control.  There is a huge difference between the innocent, "who are you?" and the arrogant, "just who do you think you are?".

You see, what's at stake here is power, status, and control.  These men know that Jesus is operating with great divine authority.  In fact, Nicodemus even confesses this in John 3 when he comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness and says, "We know you are a teacher from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him."  However, its at this point that the old Lutheran question is confronting these men: "What does this mean… for me?"

Think about that for a moment.  What does it mean to acknowledge the authority of Christ?  For starters, it means that things have to change.  These men could not be the self-proclaimed "be-all, end-all" anymore.  They would be forced to humble themselves under the authority of Jesus Christ.  There's a very real possibility that the fear, love, and trust of the people that they so craved and desired for themselves would now be diverted off of them and instead directed to God.  We wouldn't want that to happen, would we?

Now, before you start allowing your judgments against these sinful men take hold of you, think about your own life before God.  There's not a single person here, myself included, who enjoys being knocked down a couple of pegs or put in our place.  Every single one of us likes to be in control and calling the shots, especially when it pertains to how we choose to lead our lives.  When our control is threatened or questioned, we fight back.  We gossip.  We slander.  We try to discredit our "opponent" any way we can so as to save face with the crowd and perhaps hold onto what we have.  After all, we've got a good thing going and we don't need some outsider messing it all up! 

In fact, this same sinful behavior invades and trespasses into God's Church all the time.  Our power oversteps God's authority all the time.  Like the Old Testament Israelites, we often take it upon ourselves to judge what's right or wrong, just or unjust, regardless of what God has already said on the matter.  Look no further than arguments surrounding female pastors, homosexuality, abortion, or speaking out against false gods and false, unionistic/syncretistic worship.  In every instance, those who speak what God has already spoken—by His authority—are decried as bigots, hate-mongers, and intolerant.  We are called wrong, unjust, and unloving. 

Sadly, this sinful sickness infects us much deeper than just these obvious issues.  Try teaching on what God says about premarital sex or living together before marriage nowadays.  Try addressing the sins that we commit day in and day out; sins like gossip, greed, holding grudges, or just simply being too lazy or stubborn to show up for worship.  You don't make many friends when you address these sins, and—yes—they are sins.  Your Lord is very clear about these things in His Word.  Believe me: It hurts to hear people close to you tell you to keep quiet or rethink your position in light of a "unique situation" or the "more enlightened" times we're living in.  Trust me.  You hit the wrong people between the eyes with the authority of God's Word and they'll turn on you.  Humbling one's self to God's authority and pulling a strong-arm move by killing the messenger are two entirely different things.  Speak what God says—by His authority—and you will hear, "Who do you think you are?"

My brothers and sisters in Christ: Who do you think you are?  Who is in charge here?  You, me, or God?  When our lives as Christians are placed in the perspective of the life-giving cross of Jesus Christ, the difference between God's authority and our sinful thirst for power becomes all the more apparent.  Do we have the power to hold grudges, gossip, withhold our gifts of time, talents, and treasures because we don't agree with something?  Do we have the power to "take our ball and go somewhere else" when we are confronted with something that we don't like or we don't want to hear?  Absolutely!  Sadly, we exercise that power more often than we'd like to admit or confess.

However, does just because we have the power to do these things mean that we also possess the authority to behave in such a way towards God, His children, and His Church?  Do we have the authority to put ourselves in the place of God, judging His Ways and His means to be "unjust?" "O house of Israel, are My ways not just?  Is it not your way that are not just?" By whose authority are you declared a sinner who needs to repent—yours, mine, or God's?  By whose authority are your sins (and all sins) forgiven—yours, mine, or God's?  [cf. John 20:31ff—"As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you….  Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld."  We hear this reality in Confession and Absolution: "In the stead and by the command of my Lord and Savior, and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins."] By whose authority are you declared righteous, holy, and blameless—yours, mine, or God's? [c.f Rom. 3:23-24—"All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."]

My friends: I didn't die on the cross for your sins, and neither did you.  Jesus Christ did.  None of us has the authority or the power to even conquer a simple head cold.  We certainly don't have the authority or power over sin, death, and the grave that our Lord and Savior so clearly demonstrated throughout His earthly ministry, culminating in His own glorious resurrection to new life on that blessed Easter morning; a resurrection that means new life for each and every believer in Christ. 

In closing, I'll leave you with Jesus' own words for His bride, the Church: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me [by my Father].  Go now and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name—the authority—of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them—by My same authority—to obey all I have commanded you."  Folks: That's pretty clear.  That's pretty authoritative.  My friends: Let this be our prayer, our vision, and our mission from this point forward. 

In the name and authority of Jesus Christ.

AMEN



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