Then He went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbath. They were astonished at His teaching because His message had authority. (Luke 4:31-32 NASB)
Growing up I always hated it when my parents said, “Because I said so.” It felt like I was being talked down to, like they thought I wasn’t smart enough to understand their reasoning, as if I wasn’t able to be like them. And I wasn’t. I wasn’t able to understand, I didn’t know, and I wasn’t experienced enough to get what their reasoning was. And so, yes, they talked down to me. After all at the time, I was probably four feet shorter than they were.
Because our culture balks at authority, authorities in their lives, authoritarian rules and behaviors, we are going to have trouble with Jesus. The word used for ‘authority’ in the above verses is made up of two Greek words. The preposition “out of” and the noun “existence”. So the authority is derived out of its very existence, because it is. In other words, ‘Because I said so’. The people in the synagogue heard Jesus speak about Scriptures, but He taught from the position of ‘because I said so’, and they weren’t used to hearing that sort of teaching. It wasn’t that they were unfamiliar or uncomfortable with such authority, in fact it was a major part of their lives under Roman rule. It just was different when it surrounded the interpretation of Scripture.
AUTHORITY VERSUS POWER
To get a better understanding of what this word, authority, means we can look just a little further to verse 36 where they marvel that Jesus commands unclean spirits and they obey His authority. Jesus speaks and wields authority and power. But think about that. Authority doesn’t necessitate power, they thought of it as separate. Jesus spoke with authority, but His words had power. So he had the ‘because I said so’ thing going on, but could back it up with power.
Authority we tend to play down and bristle against. But power we respect, or at least the perception or projection of power (we like a good bluff). But what happens is that we tend to focus on Jesus’ miracles and miss the teaching. We like the dramatic healing, raising the dead, calming storms and feeding multitudes. But we then look at His teaching and take it with a nonchalant attitude. We are drawn to the power, but not the authority.
THE FOUNDATIONAL REQUIREMENT OF AUTHORITY
I once visited the Dominican Republic to minister to missionaries there. We put on a conference for them where they could refresh themselves. I spent time with them letting them vent, sometimes about the difficulties of their roles there. One comment that struck me was when one said that the people of the Dominican Republic really wanted a dictator. The last one they had was the worst example of a cruel dictator. Yet the people were not capable of governing themselves, they needed an authority over them. As Americans we were puzzled most about this quality of these people.
Can you, as you read this, even begin to accept that a dictator is a valid form of governing people, any people? I’d be shocked if you said yes, and probably doubt your honesty, to be honest. Americans simply have no concept of that form of being governed. We think it unnatural. Yet our form of government is the more unusual form, in this world and in the history of humanity.
THE FAILURE TO BE RULED
It could be that this inability to be ruled, this rebelliousness espoused and upheld with high honor, the exaltation of the individual, is what makes Christianity so difficult here. The further we live apart from a king, the more difficult comes the ability to acknowledge Jesus is Lord. It’s a possibility that our freedom we tout so loudly to the world is the very thing that is driving Jesus from our shores.
But what if we could embrace the authority of Jesus now? What if people among the free and the brave could see themselves as the servants of the Most High God, and not of their own destinies? What would happen if, among those praising the individual, there were those praising the One True God over all creation? And what if they were not doing these things in word only or simply by going to a gathering to sing songs and listen to someone read Scripture, but daily submitting to the authority of Jesus?
THE SUCCESS OF BEING RULED
One natural effect would be the central importance of the teachings of Jesus. We would be faced with the authority of His words. We would be faced with difficult decisions, like turning the other cheek, loving enemies, and striving to see ourselves as poor in spirit. Such a point of view would abolish pride, would denounce self-actualization, would reject a thought that the Maker of all things was somehow really all about me. Such self-focused thinking would be the strange train of thought, rather than the normal one we live in each day.
I also believe that a natural outgrowth of embracing the authority of Jesus would be a fresh experience of His power. The struggle as an American is that I want power, and Jesus doesn’t give up His power to others. Instead He chooses to work through people to demonstrate His power. So, I believe it is our refusal to accept the authority of Jesus that has prevented us from also experiencing His power.
THE AMERICAN POWER SHORTAGE
The amazing thing to our culture would be that such power would be only available through submission to authority. Our culture would seek the formula, the process, the means by which they too could wield such power! Only to fail miserably because they would not submit to their Creator.
This isn’t something uniquely American though. Simon Magus in Acts 8 asked for the power to lay hands on people so they would receive the Holy Spirit, and he was willing to pay in silver to get it. Paul addresses self-focused attitudes in letters to Corinth, Philippi, and other churches. I believe that people are self-focused when left to their own devices. How can a dictator function as such without self-actualization or inflated sense of self? So, while it sounds like I am denigrating my own people, I am actually pointing out something inherent in the human experience which my people have perfected.
The answer is to focus on the what-if’s of embracing the authority of Jesus. No, that’s not right. The answer is to embrace the authority of Jesus. The what-if’s will take care of themselves. I believe my responsibility is to embrace the authority of Jesus, and lead others to do so as well.
I need a dictator, one Who is also my Savior. What about you? What’s your view through the knothole?