4th Sunday after Epiphany (C)
February 3, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
Back in the 1960’s the slogan “Question Authority” became quite popular, appearing on bumper stickers and signs. But it wasn’t new in the 60’s, the slogan’s roots go back as far as there’s been authority. Questioning authority led the Colonists to fight for independence, the Abolitionists to the fight slavery, and a whole bunch of Americans to fight Prohibition. Questioning authority, while still respecting it, is necessary if we’re to keep authorities from running roughshod over us through immoral and illegal actions. The downside to questioning authority is that the authority of Jesus and the Bible are also questioned, which in turn has led to a rejection of both. This is really unfortunate for us because it’s Jesus alone who speaks the Good News, and it’s good to hear Him speak to us with authority.
When it comes to the miracles of Jesus, we can understand why the people were astonished. After all, He was healing those who were born blind and, as we heard a little bit ago, casting out demons. Today though Jesus astonishes the people in a different way, with His teaching. Luke writes, “He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at His teaching, for His Word possessed authority.” The people were shocked because He spoke with authority in both His delivery and His message. The Scribes and the Pharisees who typically taught in the synagogues never claimed an authority of their own. Their sermons were based on what others had said so a Scribe of the time would say things like, “Rabbi So and So taught this…Rabbi So and So said this…” And of course, there were different interpretations of the Old Testament, just as there are now, so the speakers sometimes had conflicting messages.
This is why Jesus was recognized as one with authority, He was completely different. He didn’t quote others, except for the prophets. Jesus said things like, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus didn’t state things that were vague or debatable. He spoke clearly and decisively. His manner of delivery and what He said demanded that people listen to Him and accept what He was teaching. At one point in His ministry men were sent to arrest Him and when they came back emptyhanded, the Priests said, “Why didn’t you bring Him?” To which the officers replied, “No one ever spoke like this man!” Jesus wasn’t like anyone else, He spoke with power and He delivered the Word of power.
The authority of Jesus and His message no longer astonishes many people, or should I say that Christ’s claim to be the authority is what astonishes people. We live in a time in which truth is a very personal thing. What is true for you may not be true for me. What is true for them over there may not be true with those over here. Because of this, many recognize their own authority over the authority of others. In fact, when it comes to Jesus and His Word, people are more often than not offended by His claim of authority.
Think about the topics that are being debated today. God distinctly says, more than once, that marriage is between one man and one woman. His authoritative Word on this subject though is questioned because it doesn’t match what people think. God’s authority when He says murder is wrong is rejected because it doesn’t fit what people want to do to unborn children. We’re told that God made men and women, but now that authority is rejected by those who claim they can identify with a glut of genders. The rejection of God’s authority is ultimately reflected in people’s attitudes toward salvation. No one, they think, can claim with authority that he or she knows the way to salvation and for the Bible to say that Jesus is the only way to Heaven is blasted as hateful.
But among all the negatives of rejecting God’s authoritative Word this is the biggest. If you reject God’s authority on earthly topics, how can you be sure He’s speaking the truth about your forgiveness and eternal life? If God’s Word isn’t true about marriage, sex, or abortion, how can you know it’s speaking the truth about what Jesus did for everybody? If Jesus isn’t the only way to Heaven, why are even here in church? But He is the only way to Heaven, and while that is offense to some, it’s actually wonderful news because Jesus’ authority brings freedom and security.
Look at what Jesus does in our Gospel for the possessed man and Peter’s mother-in-law. Don’t look at them as neat miracles, rather see them as proof that Jesus speaks the truth about Himself. When Jesus says to the demon, “Be silent, and come out of him”, His authority over evil was appreciated by the possessed man. When Jesus rebuked the fever in Peter’s mother-in law, she saw His authority over the consequences of sins that are revealed in our earthly ailments.
Above all, Jesus spoke with authority when He announced from the cross that “It is finished.” Jesus wasn’t referring to the fact that His death was near. He was talking about your salvation. All the work that He had to do to save you from your sins and from the consequences of Sin, was finished. It was over and done with. And do you know how you know this? His authority over Sin, Death, and Hell was confirmed when He rose from the dead. Death and Hell had no power over Him and they don’t have power over you!
By His authority, revealed in His words and actions give you freedom. His authority doesn’t take your freedom away, rather it expands it. You are free to trust that His death was enough to forgive you. You are free to believe that while you may be sick or having health problems, you’ll be healed, either in this life or the next. You are free to know that He walks with you and never will abandon you. You are free to know that no matter what you will face in this life, He has authority over it and He will exercise that authority for you.
And it’s here in God’s House and in God’s Word that Jesus speaks this authority to us. As He sat in the synagogues and taught, so also He proclaims from our pulpits and lecterns, from our Bible classes and our Sunday school that we have eternal life. He has given authority on earth to forgive sins in the absolution, as He says, “the one who hears you hears me.” The words of Jesus give us peace and security because when we recognize His authority we have the confidence to know that what we believe is true and certain.
Questioning authority has led to powerful events. The Dodgers questioned authority and called up Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier. The German citizens questioned authority and the Berlin Wall was toppled. But not all authority is to be questioned. You obey the speed limit. You don’t drink and drive. Without authority our world would be chaotic. A lack of Christ’s authority has left many people in our world with nothing certain on which they can rely in their lives, especially what comes after death. We do not reject that authority of Jesus in our lives because we understand the comfort and certainty that it brings us. Jesus comes to us and preaches Good News to us, and He speaks that Good News with authority. He doesn’t tell us that our sins might be forgiven or that heaven might be ours. He tells us the Good News that our sins are forgiven and that death has been overcome for us. How good to hear Him speak to us with the authority of God.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen