Wednesday, September 24, 2008

who's the boss? (not tony danza)

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority” – Matt 8: 8-9

Jesus has just healed a leper, and now a pagan centurion approaches Jesus seeking healing for his homebound paralytic slave. Jesus graciously offers to come into the centurion’s house. And the centurion’s response, when properly grasped, blows us away: “no need to come to my house Jesus. As a centurion, I have authority. I know what authority is. And I trust that you have authority too. And so just speak the word, and I’ll know it’s a done deal.” Jesus then praises this man for his faith, his servant is healed, and all is well. But, we can’t overlook the nature of faith, what Jesus is actually praising. According to this passage, faith is believing, and being transformed by, the authority of Jesus.

Jesus’ authority is a central theme in Matthew’s Gospel. For example, when Jesus climbs down from the mountain – after the new Moses has given God’s new law – we’re told that the crowds were “astounded” (not a good thing) that Jesus “taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt 7:29). Similarly, Jesus’ opponents – the chief priests and the elders – take issue with Jesus’ authority. “The chief priests and the elders came to Jesus as he was teaching and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority’” (Matt 21:23)? In other words, faith – which the centurion displays – is inextricably bound to trusting in Jesus’ authority. On the other hand, questioning and mocking Jesus’ authority is always what Jesus’ opponents do. Needless to say, faith and authority are like macaroni and cheese, like peanut butter and jelly, like mayonnaise and the trashcan – they go together. Faith is believing, and being transformed by, the authority of Jesus.

Why? I’m glad you asked. Faith in Jesus and the authority of Jesus go together because faith in Jesus can’t be removed from a life lived – here and now – in the kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim. To have faith in Jesus, to trust Jesus, is to live, move, and have our being in the kingdom of God that is in our midst. And the word translated authority, exousia, is a political word. Exousia is linked with the power of rule or the power of government. And so to acknowledge Jesus’ authority is to trust the supremacy of God’s rule, God’s government, or God’s kingdom that is already available to us through faith in Jesus – a rule, a government, a kingdom that will one day trump all other kingdoms. Revelation’s vision captures this idea: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15).

Why is this important? Far too often, we make faith about trusting only what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf – as if Christianity can be reduced to a cosmic transaction made for us and yet have no authority over our present lives. But Christians aren’t asked to trust an arrangement, or a theory of atonement, above all else (not that these aren’t important). Christians are asked to trust a Person. And it only makes sense to trust a person if you believe that He’s alive and that he has authority – that His rule, His government, His kingdom is a “good deal,” a present reality, and (because we’re all investors) something that will last forever.

FOR TODAY: Jesus’ final words to his disciples, after his resurrection, are spoken to remind them, and us, of His authority. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18). For today, ponder what Jesus’ authority means to you. Is your faith about trusting a Living Person, Someone with authority over your present life? We worship a God “not of the dead, but of the living” (Mk 12:27). And the Living God, even now, has authority.

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