Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Paradox of Authority

If you are an email subscriber and reading this in an email you won't notice the new masthead header on the blog, but if you are visiting the blog on the web you will see that it is new. Yes, I am resisting surrendering to Spring! I am hoping for more rain and cool weather that welcomes a cozy fire in the wood stove, water in our ponds, and snow in the higher elevations. I have cast my vote for a little bit more Winter by sharing a few pictures in the header from our family's recent get away to the Sierra Nevada Mountains where we were blessed by wonderful friends loving on us, by fresh snow falling on us while we learned to cross-country ski through the woods, and by blessed fellowship and God's glorious creation.

Christian authority is an interesting paradox. We read how Jesus spoke with authority, how the demons and sickness responded to His authority, and how He confronted that which opposed God's Kingdom reign around Him with authority. Whenever He confronted the works of the enemy (either in false teachers, or in sickness, or in demons) He did so with an authority all Christians should desire to walk in against the hosts of darkness. Why should we desire that type of authority? Because all of us have areas in our lives where we are attacked by the enemy, and all of us know people who are bound in one way or another by the enemy. We should not shy from trying to understand that authority because it is the basis of our making disciples in the world . . . Jesus said that He had been given all authority and we were to go "therefore"—meaning, "because of," that authority (Matthew 28:18–20).

I believe that the Centurion nailed the basis of Jesus' authority, and it presents the paradox of authority. Matthew 8, starting with verse 5, records an encounter with Jesus and the Centurion with a paralyzed, suffering servant whom he desired healed. Clearly the Kingdom of God was not over this servant, as there is no paralysis and suffering in Heaven. What he was asking for, whether or not he realized it, was an encounter, or collision, between the Kingdom (or rule) of God and the present rule of darkness over his servant. Jesus says He'll go and heal the servant and the Centurion says Jesus doesn't need to go, but to just say the word and it will be done. He then says, in Matthew 8:9, "For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." Following this it says Jesus marveled at the man's faith, evidenced by his words—and as a friend told me, "When Jesus is in awe I want to pay attention!"

The key to Jesus' authority, which the Centurion understood, is found in the word "too." The Centurion said that he, too, was a man both under authority . . . and in authority. The "too" clearly implies he recognized Jesus was as well. In other places in the Bible we read how Jesus surrendered His rights as God, how He became as an obedient servant, and how He did and said only what the Father did and said—He submitted Himself fully to the Father's will and authority (don't let the theology, or confusion, of the Trinity cloud the main point this encounter is showing us).

The basis of the Centurion's authority is that he, Himself, is under authority. If he was at the top his only authority would be what he could enforce, and the men would only have to follow him as long as he was tough enough to make them. But, since he was under authority, his authority was the authority of the one he served and represented (Rome) and as such, the men were submitting to Rome's authority, carried through him. Likewise, if a person on the street today decided to become a policeman and make laws on their own none of us would be accountable to their authority . . . but a true policeman, himself (or herself) under the authority of the government, carries authority because of who they are under—and our failure to submit to their authority is a failure to submit to the laws and authority of our goverment.

So, where does our Christian authority come from against the hosts of darkness? From being under authority ourselves—from laying our lives down at the feet of our Lord, and surrendering our lives to His authority. When we act, on our own, we are not under any authority (or the King's rule) and, as such, we carry no authority. But, when we live the will of the Father, when we are under His authority and doing His will and call, we carry with us His authority because we are representing Him. This is the paradox. To be one of authority we must, ourselves, submit to authority! When God is reigning in our lives (don't take the word "reigning" lightly or casually or assume this is true of all Christians) then He is able to live out His will through us, and that means His full authority and resources are behind us. But, when we just head off on our own good ideas and plans, not of Him, we do so without His authority behind us and, as the seven sons of Sceva found out, it is not a good place to be in, confronting darkness without the authority of God (Acts 19:11–20).

Note: I taught on this extensively at the fellowship I pastor in my Kingdom of Heaven 07 teaching which you can listen to by clicking here. I will continue this look at the Centurion's understanding, and the role of his faith, in a subsequent teaching.

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