BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS: WHAT AUTHORITY?

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Authority is not something you earn; authority is something given and the sole source of authority is divine. It comes from God. When God made humankind He did so for a purpose. “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26) The operative word here is ‘rule’ to be more precise, ‘let them rule over…’

Then we read also that God blessed them and said; “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28) Nothing could be more explicit. God created all things, but He gave authority over His creation to humankind.

In Management Science, this process is known as ‘delegation’. The authority of God in matters of ruling over His creation was delegated, and this since the beginning. How is it therefore that Jesus spoke with such authority as if his was not delegated? “…the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7:29) This was ample reason for the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees – the religious rulers of the day in whom authority was bestowed - to enquire from Jesus where His authority came from.

As the ‘recognised’ authorities of the Jewish faith, the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees constituted the point of reference in matters relating to God. Jesus was not one of them, he was an outsider. He did not belong to this club and yet was operating in the power of God. There must be some conflict of interest here. John the Baptist must have been equally intrigued when he dispatched his disciples to enquire who this Jesus was who was performing such miracles. He was eager to find out whether really He was the Messiah, the One sent by God, the Promised One. (Luke 7:18-23) 

Because God had given Jesus’, his Son, full authority - and this was evident in the things he said and did, he spoke in the first person – “I”. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfil them.” (Matthew 5:17) In the Old Testament, the Prophets used to say ‘This is what the Lord said…’ but Jesus did not use reported speech, He said: ‘I am telling you this.’ Why is this the case? He spoke with a definite tone, with assurance and certitude hitherto unknown in religious circles of His day. “You have heard that it was said; ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27)

Only someone who had authority bestowed on him or was the authority personified could speak this way. “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress.” (Matthew 5:31-32) Probably if He had said so just once you would have thought he was only bluffing, but hear this. “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord. But I tell you, ‘Do not swear at all either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool…” (Matthew 5:33-35)

You can see why the religious authorities did not take kindly to this ‘upstart’ come to perturb the status quo. Jesus pursued: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you…” (Matthew 5:38-39) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45) Do you think this could have been mere provocation, or there was no other way He could have addressed the crowd? It is easy to detect where authority lies from the way someone speaks. Knowing what the Law of Moses meant to Jews, his audience, Jesus could not have taken such a chance.

Jesus was in the temple teaching the crowds that had gathered to listen to Him. It was not the usual kind of teaching that they had been used to – bland, insipid and uninspiring that the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees were wont to deliver. Jesus did not only speak with authority, He spoke from the heart. It was original and authentic; most of all, it appealed to the grassroots.  It was not only edifying and soul-searching; it was not fault-finding.

As Jesus’ popularity grew, jealousy and hatred began to simmer in the ranks of His opponents and they sought ways of getting Him out of the way. They then threw this question at Him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” (Luke 20:2) This was a leading question. If you are not careful the way you answer it, you will be trapped.

Have you remarked the way the question was posed? What did they mean by “these things?” Understand by this the things that seemed to annoy them. ‘These things’ can be summed up thus. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”  (Matthew 11:5-6)

‘These things’ performed by someone who was not part of their clan or inner cabal, an outsider, was dangerous. He could be sending the wrong signals to the masses. Worst still, it could be upsetting. It meant someone’s popularity was rising whilst that of another was waning.

Jesus read through their motives however, so he asked them a question they declined to answer. “Tell me, John’s baptism – was it from heaven or from men?” (Luke 20: 3-4) Tricky question that! John was a prophet but they did not believe him. If they denied he was from heaven, the people would have stoned them. If they had agreed that he was sent by heaven then Jesus would have asked them why they had not believed him. So they declined to give an answer. You would not answer my question I would not answer yours either. “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Luke 20:8) Fair deal!           

What is your authority? Where does it come from? What do you do with it? You either have authority or you don’t and when you have it you would have to exercise it. How did Jesus use his authority? Be sure he used it for our GOOD.