By Who’s Authority?

ActsThey began as followers. Drawn by the charismatic teacher from Nazareth, they left their nets, their money tables, and their families to begin a journey that would brand them as heretics and subversive. Nearly all would be crucified, beheaded, stoned, exiled or imprisoned because they chose to follow a carpenter’s son.

What did they want from this rabbi who spoke of a heavenly kingdoms and turning the other cheek, who ate with harlots and thieves, who condemned the established order yet promised the fulfillment of the ancient and sacred scriptures. Did they want seats of power by his left and right hand? Did they want to be his equal by performing miracles? Or did they think they could achieve their own goals by manipulating him, only to betray the teacher when he refused to be controlled?  Did they seek glory, fame or power? Or was it knowledge, wisdom and spiritual peace which drew them toward this enigmatic and compelling teacher?

We can only speculate what induced them to follow Jesus. Scriptures and other writings can give scholars clues to their motive. The circumstance in which they lived and their unique personalities can also be helpful in understanding the decisions they made. However the best clues may be ourselves. What compels us to follow Jesus? What has happened in our lives which make us turn to the Bible for guidance and direction? What do we want from God that we can’t find anywhere else? What can a church do for us that a secular institution cannot? We are the same people as the tax collectors, fisherman and zealots who followed Jesus. Most likely their reasons were the same as ours are today. And just as likely our lives will be changed in ways neither we nor the disciple expected. Since Adam and Eve humans have asked, “What can God do for me?”  It is a cry which resounds through time. It is a cry which binds us to the world and separates us from God’s true purpose. It is a cry, though spoken with charity and good hearts, keeps us tied to our sinful nature. And it is a cry that was answered on the cross and the empty tomb.

The disciples were lost when Jesus died on the cross. Had their decision to follow him been wrong? Had they given up good safe and comfortable lives to become fugitives and agitator? The words of Jesus surely echoed in their hearts “My God, My God, why have You  forsaken Me?”[1]  Peter and John were confused when they looked into the empty tomb,“Foras yet they did not know the Scripture that He must rise again from the dead.”[2]  Others were blind to his identity on the road to Emmaus and all doubted his human presence in the room they were hiding in.

Hope was renewed when they accepted that Jesus had returned in the flesh. But did doubt still linger as to their fate and God’s purpose in their lives? Did they still ask, “What can God do for me?”  All that Jesus had taught them during their three-year sojourn had filled their hearts and minds. And though they could perform miracles and cast out demons, they were often helpless and puzzled by their weakness. So when they could not heal an epileptic boy they asked Jesus, “Why could we not cast it out?”[3]    knowledge and learning can empower us, but if they do not serve God’s purpose, they will be weak and nothing more than magicians tricks. Jesus’ answer was, “Becauseof your unbelief.”[4] Did the disciple not believe in God? Or that Jesus was the messiah? They had no doubt about either. Yet they were weak because of their “unbelief”. They could not have questioned the presence of God in the Son. For when Jesus asked, “…But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[5]  So what was it that Jesus said they didn’t believe?

We seek to be empowered by those who have the authority to grant such powers. The power may come from a serpent, a Pharisee, a Roman governor, a king or God. Those who seek authority from those sources do not deny them. However power is not granted by any authority unless it serves them.  The power to heal, to teach, to minister comes from God who is above all authority. However when we receive a gift and use it to serve our purpose instead of God’s, or when we do not acknowledge that it came from God, then we become unbelievers. Then our ability to proclaim God’s Kingdom will be diminished. Even when our intentions are good-hearted, if they focus on our good deeds and bring recognition to us then we demonstrate unbelief in God’s work in the world. This is not to say we worship a fickle god who seeks all honor and glory for himself.   Rather it means that the good works we do should be for those who God is reaching out to heal.  We acknowledge God’s authority by telling others of His love.

When Jesus cast out demons they recognized the authority of the Son.  “And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!”[6]  Even the seventy disciples rejoice because of the work they did in the name of God, proclaiming to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”[7]The awareness of doing good works in the name of Jesus was an essential step from followers to leaders. And it still is with today’s disciples. When we do good works in the name of our church or our denominations then we become hypocrites because that is not where our authority comes from. When we do good works in God’s name, then even our enemies are changed by it. Jesus told his followers, “Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.”[8]

The Book of Acts demonstrates the transition of the followers of Jesus from disciple to apostles, from followers to leaders. They are no longer hiding in a room but standing boldly in the temple proclaiming the gospel. And their authority did not come from the Sadducees or Rome, but from Jesus. “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”[9] Embolden by the Holy Spirit, the apostles took what they had learned and experienced to fulfill God’s work in the world. Instead of fleeing when they were set free from prison they preached to the people. Instead of bowing down to earthly leaders they declared, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”[10] The unbelief Jesus had accused them of became faith born action because they no longer did them on their own authority, but on God’s. The temple guards feared them for they, “brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.”[11] And because it was God’s work and not the Sadducees, the council accused them saying, “…you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”[12]

What motivated these men to follow Jesus? And how did they come to stand in defiant of those who held the power of life and death over them? It’s clear that they allowed God to have full authority over them and let the Holy Spirit guide them. What motivated these ordinary men is what motivates ordinary Christians today. We are searching for purpose and meaning. We also seek to change things in our own live and pray that God will do things for us that no earthly entity or cause can do. For too many Christian our devotion is tethered to what God can do for us. When this is our expectation then we are diminished by our unbelief that God is trying to work through us and that He is the ultimate authority. As Jesus told his follower and tells us still, “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.”[13]

 Today it is not a crime to be a Christian. We may worship openly and freely without fear of persecution. Yet the courage to speak openly of our faith may be diminished because we fear the authority of social stigma, or repercussion in the workplace. Though we seek what the disciple sought, we avoid the presence and authority of the Holy Spirit. Thus Christians and God’s church do not have the power to change the world because of our “unbelief” in God’s authority.

This can change. The things which Jesus taught his disciple prepared them to make “disciples of all nations”[14] . By our study and worship we are also prepared to become and make disciples for Christ. Through his death and resurrection, Christ took away the constraints which shackled his disciple to earthly fears, as it still does today. With the infusion of the Holy Spirit his disciples understood and trusted in the authority which would guide them throughout their ministry. The same Holy Spirit is available to us today. If, through the Spirit, we acknowledge the authority of God in our lives, then we will no longer be followers for our church, but leaders for God.

[1] Mark 15:34

[2] Luke 20:9

[3] Matthew 17:19

[4] Matthew 17:20

[5] Matthew 16:15-16

[6] Luke 4:41

[7]Luke 10:17

[8] Matthew 6:2

[9] Luke:19

[10]Acts 5:29

[11]Acts 5: 26

[12]Acts 5:28

[13]John14:10

[14]Matthew 28:19