What does the word “authority” mean to you? Does it have connotations of power – like the authority of government or the courts. Or does the word authority associate with expertise in your mind – like the authority a professor has over his specialist subject? However you define it, authority can be well used or abused. Authority can be exercised for good or ill.
We live in a culture which is increasingly suspicious of authority figures. It’s a sad fact that many people have less respect for people like teachers, policemen and politicians than they did in the past. I think people are suspicious of authority figures because they fear they will abuse their power and/or restrict our freedom.
In our passage today we meet one remarkable authority figure, Jesus Christ. In our reading from Luke we see Jesus exercising great authority and power, but in a way that brings new life and true liberty to those he meets. We see Jesus exercising authority with great responsibility – saying and doing things that only God’s Son could say and do.
Authority in action
Last week Jesus set out his messianic mission statement – his manifesto – in his home-town Synagogue in Nazareth. Today the story continues in Capernaum, where verses 31 and 32 tell us that Jesus began to teach in a way that “amazed” the people present. Jesus shocked them “because his words had authority”. You see, Jewish rabbis only used to quote, interpret and apply existing laws and scriptures. But Jesus issued new commands and made promises in his own right, on his own authority. Only someone who was God’s Son, supremely confident in his own authority and identity, could make such unqualified pronouncements to God’s people.
In verses 33 and 41, we also see Jesus exercise authority over evil spirits. With a simple rebuke to “be quiet” and “come out”, a possessed man was liberated from slavery to an evil supernatural power. The last words spoken by the demon before he left the man are highly instructive. Because the demon rightly recognised Jesus of Nazareth as “the Holy One of God” (v.34). Up against such authority, the evil spirit had no alternative but to obey. Verse 41 tells us other demons were equally overpowered by Christ. They were simply able to identify him as the Son of God before Jesus stopped them speaking.
Our passage today also tells us that Jesus exercised authority over sickness. In verse 39 we are told that he instantaneously healed Peter’s mother-in-law, who had been “suffering from a high fever”. And in verse 40 we’re told that Jesus spent that evening healing people with “various kinds of illness”.
In verse 43 we see Jesus “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God”. Only God’s chosen king, the Messiah, could make such an announcement. A socialist revolutionary like Marx or Lenin might call for a communist state, and an Islamist militant might declare a Caliphate in the middle east. But only Jesus had the authority announce that God’s good kingdom had arrived.
Amazement isn’t enough
I wonder how you would feel if you had seen and heard all these things yourself? If you had been sitting on a hillside among the crowd as Jesus declared the kingdom of God? What would you have thought if you’d been sitting in the synagogue listening to Jesus teach with authority, and seen him exorcise a demon or cure the sick with a simple command? I expect we would have shared the same amazement as those who were there at the time.
But amazement alone isn’t enough. We need to recognise Jesus’ authority over our own lives today, as well as in the past. We need to submit now to his good and gracious rule over our beliefs and behaviour. We need to submit our own needs and desires to those things he wants us to seek and do.
But what does a life submitted to Christ’s authority actually look like? Well, here’s three suggestions from our passage before I finish:
i) Firstly, a Christian believer should cultivate an intimate relationship with God. If we have faith in Christ we have been adopted into God’s family – we can and should know God as “our Father”. Did you notice in verse 42 that Jesus sought out “a solitary place”? A place where he could spend quality time with his Heavenly Father. A place where he could devote himself to prayer. And so, like Christ, we should seek intimacy with God in prayer, times of solitude where we can open our hearts and minds to him. Prayer is a privilege for every adopted child of God, every Christian believer, so let’s enjoy it and experience it.
ii) Secondly, we must pay close attention to Christ’s authoritative words. Did you notice that each time Jesus exercised authority in our passage today, he did it through his word? He taught in the synagogue, and people were amazed. He told the demon to come out, and it fled away. He rebuked the high fever, and it left. Jesus’ words have power and authority. So let’s all pay regular, close attention to what Christ says to us in the Bible, his living Word today. It should be the ultimate authority over our belief and behaviour. It contains promises we can totally trust, and teaching we must wholeheartedly obey. If you struggle to make sense of the Bible, please do join us for our Lent Course called “God’s Big Picture”. It will teach us the grand story of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. Sign up at the back of church.
iii) Thirdly, and finally, we need to tell other people about the authority of Christ. We need to take opportunities to tell our family, friends and colleagues the good news about Jesus. We need to keep on telling people the Gospel, just like Jesus himself “kept on preaching” the good news “in the synagogues of Judea”. In verse 37 this morning, Luke tells us that the “news about Jesus spread throughout the area”. Wouldn’t it be great, if the good news about Jesus spread over our whole area, over our whole community, because of us!
You see, Jesus’ authority shouldn’t just amaze us. It should lead us to faith and action as well!
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