While reading a book for one of my classes, I ran across a statement that stuck with me. The book contained a diatribe about things that characterize our modern worldview. In the middle of the rant, the author made that statement that people in our postmodern society were “allergic to authority.”
Allergic to authority… that actually sums it up fairly well.
While I do not like the fact that this phrase subtly removes the blame from the individual for their desire to subvert authority (you can not really blame someone for having an allergy to something), it still makes the point.
We hate authority.
At least, it appears as though we do. The word congers up the idea of some structure put over us to control us. No, that is not what we want! We want our freedom, and we want to act however we feel like acting. After all, that is our right, is it not? We should be able to think what we want, do what we want, say what we want, and live however we want. And, anytime someone tries to come in and tell us otherwise, we get fuzzed up, and start to holler for our rights. Or, we simply choose to spite them and do what we want anyways. Yeah… we are allergic to authority.
This little truth, that authority causes us to get rashy, really sank in this morning during my time in God’s word. Matthew 5-7 is perhaps one of the most famous sections of Scripture. This portion is frequently called the Sermon on the Mount, and it holds pride of place alongside passages such as the creation narrative in Genesis and the ten commandments in Exodus.
But I read that yesterday. Today I started at the very end, a passage that usually sits in the shadow of the preceding sermon.
Matthew 7 ends with these words:
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Matt. 7:28-29, emphasis added).
Normally, these verses are simply connected to the end of the sermon in chapters 5-7. The passage, rightly points to the shocking manner in which Jesus addresses his listeners. Unlike the scribes, the keepers of the Scripture, Jesus preached with direct authority. Scribes could merely report what the holy writings said, but Jesus did far more than that. In this very sermon, Jesus structures most of his points by saying, “You have heard it said… but I say to you.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, it is as though Jesus claims he actually has the authority to make the rules!
No wonder everyone was shocked! They had never heard someone speak this way concerning the Law before. Jesus was proving himself to be distinctly different. However, those two verses do more than just conclude the sermon. They also serve to connect the striking authority Jesus claims in the sermon with all the events that follow.
Chapter 8 picks up right where chapter 7 ends, with this awestruck crowd following after Jesus. In the crowd is a leper who makes his way to the front to get an audience with this man who had just been speaking. Kneeling before Jesus, this man says, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
This leper, having just heard this message, realizes the significance of one with that much authority. If this man, Jesus, actually had the authority with which he spoke, then he could man a sick man whole.
And that is precisely what he did.
Right there, Jesus proved his authority over sickness. The story goes on, and within a few verses, Jesus has healed a centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, two blind men, a paralytic, and a score of people not mentioned by name. Oh, and he has also cast out a handful of demons, stopped a storm and calmed a sea, and raised a little girl from the dead. Not only did Jesus have authority over sickness, but he demonstrates authority over powers of darkness, nature, and death itself.
If there was any question about the validity of the Jesus’ authority, chapters 8 and 9 sum it up well. Finally, toward the end of this section of the gospel, Jesus heals a man, but before he does so, he forgives his sins. The scribes and pharisees perceive this as blasphemy and Jesus confronts them. He says,
Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic— “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matt. 9:4-6).
And driving the point home, Matthew records that, “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matt. 9:8).
This passage screams about the authority of Jesus. It writes this authority in big, black, bold letters, and then it underlines it! But, the passage does not stop at merely asserting his authority. It gives us more. It speaks to our response.
Wedged right in the middle of this discussion is the following dialogue:
Now when Jesus saw a great crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:18-22).
The proper response to this kind of authority is nothing less than surrender. Even when it is clear it will not be comfortable, and at many times, not the thing we want to do. But this surrender must be sure, and it must be immediate, and it must be complete.
This is not a popular message in a society that hates authority, but it is the only message that will do.