Christianity 201

February 3, 2022

Responding To, or Reacting Against, the Authority of Jesus?

Thinking Through Luke 4:31-44

by Clarke Dixon

Does the idea of someone having authority over you bring out a positive response from you, or a negative reaction?

There is a kind of authority that we might dread, because after all, authorities can be dreadful. Some have had experiences with authorities that leave them scarred and scared. We can think of those who grow up under evil regimes or in abusive homes. We may distrust authority or feel compelled to protect others from it.

But there is another kind of authority, one which compels us to draw closer. I can think back to my favourite professor from seminary. He had authority based on his depth of knowledge on the Bible and history, plus the depth of his experience of life, plus the depth of his relationships with the students. His authority was not just by virtue of his appointment and title, but an authority based on who he was. Maybe you can think of an authority figure in your life, a person whose authority is a matter of celebration and not alarm.

There are authorities we want to run from and condemn. There are authorities we want to draw closer to and follow. Now which is Jesus in your life?

Looking around our society, there are many who celebrate the authority of Jesus in their lives. But then there are also many who would say “no way!” It was the same in Jesus day.

The Authority of Jesus

The authority of Jesus comes up a lot in our Scripture Focus for today. There was something compelling about the authority of Jesus with regard to his teaching:

Then Jesus went to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and taught there in the synagogue every Sabbath day. There, too, the people were amazed at his teaching, for he spoke with authority.

Luke 4:31-32 (NLT)

There was something compelling about the authority of Jesus over the spiritual realm:

…Jesus reprimanded him. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. At that, the demon threw the man to the floor as the crowd watched; then it came out of him without hurting him further.
Amazed, the people exclaimed, “What authority and power this man’s words possess! Even evil spirits obey him, and they flee at his command!”

Luke 4:35-36 (NLT)

There was something compelling about the authority of Jesus over illness and disease:

After leaving the synagogue that day, Jesus went to Simon’s home, where he found Simon’s mother-in-law very sick with a high fever. “Please heal her,” everyone begged. Standing at her bedside, he rebuked the fever, and it left her. And she got up at once and prepared a meal for them.

As the sun went down that evening, people throughout the village brought sick family members to Jesus. No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one.

Luke 4:38-40 (NLT)

The authority of Jesus pointed to the Kingdom of God:

Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.”

Luke 4:42-43 (NLT)

By virtue of his position and title, of course Jesus has authority; He is the King of that Good News Kingdom! However, the authority of Jesus was perceived and well received by those who did not know his true identity. How Jesus was experienced by people was enough for them to find his authority remarkable and desirable.

But not everyone found the authority of Jesus to be compelling.  For certain people, Jesus was one to run from, and protect people from. They leveled criticism at him at every turn. They eventually had him executed.

What made the difference?

Why did some feel compelled to follow and celebrate Jesus while others felt compelled to condemn him?

Those who found the authority of Jesus compelling, who were they? They were those being healed, those willing to go deeper into his teaching, those willing to listen, learn, and change.

Those who found the authority of Jesus to be distasteful, who were they? They were those who thought they had everything to teach and nothing to learn. They were those who made claim to having authority themselves. Those who had a negative reaction to the authority of Jesus were those who had an inflated sense of their own authority. Reading more broadly in the Gospels, they also had an inflated sense of the authority of their own traditions.

What about today?

There are those who have met Jesus, who have experienced healing and change in their lives, who have gone deep into the teaching of Jesus. They have experienced the authority of Jesus and found it compelling.

There are those who refuse to meet Jesus, perhaps from inflated views of their own authority, or traditions they subscribe to. They do not find the authority of Jesus compelling because they refuse to experience it. They already think they know what they need to know.

But there are many who think they have met Jesus and have not found his authority compelling, but maybe they have not met him. It may be that some say “no thanks” to Christianity, and “don’t force your religion down my throat”, but if they were there with Jesus, to experience his teaching, his presence, and his works, would find his authority compelling and would willingly follow. They have not met Jesus but they have met Christians, and maybe our authority as Christians has not been as compelling.

Perhaps this should make us wonder if we are representing Jesus well in our day, if Jesus is so compelling, yet we Christians are not.

There are lessons here for those of us in authority, whether parents, teachers, coaches, or leaders of any sort. Never mind our positions and titles, how do people experience us?

How do people experience Christians who represent Jesus? Does it compare to how people experienced Jesus? Do people experience depth when we speak? Do people experience healing through our presence? There is a long line-up of people willing to express how their experience of Christianity has been one of harm and not healing. The Internet has given such folk an unprecedented opportunity to tell the world about that.

As Christians we claim a sort of authority with regard to truth and spirituality. We know Jesus is alive, we know about God’s love and grace, we know we meet God in the pages of the Scriptures. We are eager to share the good news! But if our authority does not come across as compelling, perhaps we have some soul searching to do. Are we submitting to the authority of Jesus? Like the Pharisees perhaps we have an inflated sense of our own authority, or an inflated sense of the authority of a specific tradition over and against our Lord.

Let us draw closer to Jesus, and experience the change, the joy, and the excitement, his authority brings.

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. He appears here most Thursdays, or you can find past “shrunk sermons” at his blog which links through the title above his name at the top of this article. You may watch the 22-minute sermon on which this devotional is based at this link.