How do you respond to authority?
As human beings, we respond to authority in a variety of ways. Sometimes we respect it; we recognize it; we obey it; we trust it. We turn to authorities with our questions needing solutions. As parents, it’s our job to teach our children respect for authority.
Sometimes, however, we question authority. We balk at it; we chafe at it; we challenge it. We may even rebel against it. Something deep within us doesn’t like being told what to do. We like to maintain control over our lives, be in charge of our own lives, be our own bosses. When you think about it, authority is a major issue of life.
Another question: Have you ever considered Jesus your authority? It is what He came to be in your life, as the Gospels tell us. When Jesus taught, He spoke with authority. People marveled at His authority for He didn’t teach as the other rabbis taught. He taught without footnotes, without quoting others. He challenged the system. You’ve heard it said this way, but I say to you . . . The people were mesmerized and sometimes challenged – even angered – by how He spoke with such authority. His message got Him into trouble.
Today we see Jesus exercising authority with a man who was paralyzed and was brought to Him. Jesus was in a house in Capernaum teaching. The place was packed with all the teachers and Pharisees in surrounding villages. It was a literal “who’s who” of religious authorities of the day. They had heard about this new rabbi who was drawing a great following amongst the people of their own villages. Even teachers from as far away as Jerusalem came to hear Him speak. Jesus was getting a lot of attention, raising eyebrows, stirring things up a bit for everyone.
While He was teaching that day, “The power of the Lord was with him to heal.” It’s almost as if Luke is setting us up to expect something big to happen.
Then some men came carrying their friend who was paralyzed. The crowd was so big, they couldn’t get him close to Jesus, so they somehow got up on the roof, tore away some tiles, and lowered him down in the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.
Can you imagine the scene as the tiles are falling to the ground and people are wondering what in the world is happening? I can imagine Jesus smiling – although He may also be wondering what the interruption is about – for He sees the faith of these men lowering their friend and of the man lying there. Jesus took everyone by surprise as He unexpectedly said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Their faith was welcomed by Jesus. As little and as uninformed as it may have been, Jesus welcomed it. He wasn’t just talking about intellectual assent to some proposition, but a faith that moved toward Him believing He could do something, moving toward Him in repentance with a change of mind.
Jesus’ statement really raised some eyebrows. The scribes and Pharisees questioned it. They were quite upset as they thought to themselves, He doesn’t have authority to forgive sins! Who does he think he is? He is speaking blasphemy, which means profaning God Himself because only God can forgive sins.
When it comes to who He is, Jesus has, in effect, raised the stakes by closing down the options. He is either God or a blasphemer. Either He is the author and bringer of truth, or He is living and proclaiming a total lie deserving of death. Their take on Jesus was, This guy is blaspheming against God!
Jesus perceived their questioning minds. He asked, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? But that you may know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
Isn’t it interesting! Jesus knew their thoughts, which must have totally blown their minds. And it must have been more than a little unsettling because it is a godlike quality as well. God knows our minds. Jesus was basically saying to them, Let me verify all I said to this man so you may know who I really am and where I get my authority to forgive sins.
Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up! Pick up your bed and go on home!” Immediately the man got up, picked up his mat and went home glorifying God in faith. With a word, Jesus made the man walk. The power of God’s Word is at work here. God said it, and it happened.
Amazement seized all the people in the room, and they glorified God. This is a God thing. Amazing! The people were filled with awe, which means literally “fear,” saying, “We have seen strange, extraordinary things today.” It was a shock-and-awe experience.
In the end, this story has turned into another divine epiphany, a manifestation, a revelation of the power, presence, and authority of God at work in Jesus’ words and actions. The awesome and fearsome glory of God has once again been glimpsed just as the Apostle Peter glimpsed it when Jesus provided a miraculous catch of fish in Peter’s boat.
Along the way as a pastor, I’ve been asked if I really believe in miracles or does science disprove them. My response has always been, Absolutely yes! I believe in miracles. First, because I’ve seen some amazing healings. But also because some great minds also believe in them.
I think of Christian physicist and MIT professor Ian Hutchinson. When he talks on university campuses, Hutchinson sometimes begins his talks by jokingly saying, “Can scientists believe in miracles? We can answer that question pretty easily—I’m a scientist, and I believe in miracles. So the answer is yes.”
He goes on to say that most of us don’t understand the Bible’s view of miracles. “We tend to view God as mostly hands-off, standing on the sidelines, letting nature look after itself, but then on rare occasions reaching in to tweak things by the odd miracle here and there.”
Hutchinson argues, however, that “. . . according to the Bible, (God) continuously holds the universe in the palm of his hand. . . . It exists because of his continuous creative power and will.” He sustains it. “If he were to stop exerting that upholding power and stop paying attention to every part of the universe, it would instantly cease to exist.”
Thus, Hutchinson defines a miracle this way: A miracle is “an extraordinary act of God” by which God “upholds a part of the universe in a manner different from the normal.” He says, “We know more today than people did long ago, but what we know today makes the universe seem, if anything, even more open.”
“I believe in miracles. So can you.”
Another question I run into from skeptics is this: Jesus, never really claimed to be God, did He? Isn’t this just an idea cooked up by man?
According to this story, nothing can be further from the truth. Jesus is not only speaking with God’s authority, but He is also revealing His authority as He heals the paralyzed man with just one word from His lips. He will claim His authority again and again in the Gospel of Luke as He teaches about the kingdom of God, as He casts out demons, as He controls the storms, as He continues to heal and forgive others. He will turn His face toward Jerusalem – now enemy territory, the opposition’s home base. He turns with the authority of God, as if He is in charge. He turns without fear, in charge of carrying out God’s plan for rescuing sinners like you and me from God’s wrath.
See how He rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on a donkey declaring His kingship and authority without a word, a silent sermon on authority.
See Him on Passion Week exercising calm, Godlike authority as His opposition schemes to make Him look bad and tries to make Him look terrible before others. See Him silently go to the cross obediently, stand calmly before Pontius Pilate with kingly authority knowing pain and suffering awaited Him at the cross, but determined to carry out God’s plan of salvation. Kingly authority!
See Him announce after His resurrection from the dead, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Now go make disciples of all peoples.”
And He has told us that someday He will appear again to claim this world as His own for eternity, to judge the living and the dead with authority. He holds eternity in His hand. As Jesus is revealed to us in Luke again and again, He is not just one authority among many, but the authority over all creation. This all-encompassing authority of His comes from God the Father.
So, if Jesus is the authority over all creation, the question becomes, What kind of response does He look for from you and me? I have two words for you to consider today.
The first word is faith. Faith is held up as a value in this story. Jesus welcomes it. Faith means trusting in His authority, in His promise of salvation, trusting that your sins are forgiven because of what He has done for you at the cross. Because of the resurrection, God’s affirmation, you have a living hope and an inheritance awaiting you in heaven.
Some people really struggle with that. Can I really trust that I’m forgiven? It sounds too good to be true! That’s not the way the world works. I’ve been taught you get what you deserve. You have to work for what you get. There must be something I have to do to make things right with God, to have forgiveness.
Christian writer and pastor Stephen Brown tells this story to encourage faith.
“Once in seminary, I got an A on a directed study course, an exegesis on the Sermon on the Mount. I should have gotten a C. Let me tell you why.
“Somebody told me that, since I hadn’t seen this professor in the directed study, he was going to flunk me out of the class, and I got scared. I put a bunch of books on the subject on our dining room table and wrote an 80-page paper in five hours. It was thick. I handed in the paper. The professor was so busy and so impressed with 80 pages, he didn’t read it. He just gave me the A. When he gave me the A, did I go back to him and say, You ought to read my paper; I really wasn’t that good. It was a lot, but it wasn’t good. No, I didn’t. I accepted the A. Why? Because the one in authority had given me the A.
“It’s the same way with Jesus Christ. If I, as a pastor, tell you you’re forgiven, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. But if He tells you you’re forgiven, you’re forgiven. He’s the King at the right hand of the Father with His enemies at His foot stool.”
The second word is obedience. Submit to His leadership, His lordship in your life. This means to make His word your authority in all matters – not just faith – but in all of life. Be ready to do what He says. Forgive those who have hurt you just as He forgave you. It is what He instructs us.
Do it! Jesus tells us to be a doer of the Word. Love your neighbor as yourself, no matter who your neighbor may be, whether he’s a Samaritan, an enemy of your nation, or a person of another faith. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Love God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind. Keep Him at the very center of your life. Seek first, centrally, His kingdom program. Do everything you possibly can to bring others into His kingdom as you point them to Jesus Christ. Make disciples.
You see, my dear friends, Jesus is not just some authority among many. He is THE authority over heaven and earth.
This is our lesson today. Stories like this in Luke were written and saved in order that you and I might be moved to trust Him with our very being and obey Him in all matters of life, knowing in our heart of hearts that Jesus holds your eternity in His hands. This is our Good News for today. Jesus is Lord. He is our authority. Trust Him and obey Him. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer