I never thought I could expect anything good to come from the lips of Israel’s King Ahab, but there is one Old Testament passage which records Ahab’s response to Syria’s king, Ben Hadad, that always makes me smile. Ben Hadad surrounded Samaria (Israel’s capital city) and threatened to do terrible things unless Ahab surrendered his most prized possessions. Ahab was willing to meet this demand, but when Ben Hadad changed the terms of surrender, demanding even more, Ahab and the people of Israel refused to comply. Ben Hadad responded with this threat:
“May the gods judge me severely if there is enough dirt left in Samaria for my soldiers to scoop up in their hands” (1 Kings 20:10).2
To which Ahab replied,
“Tell him the one who puts on his battle gear should not boast like one who is taking it off” (1 Kings 20:11).
One puts his armor on in preparation for battle and takes his armor off when the battle is finished. Ahab is simply saying that Ben Hadad’s threats are merely that – threats. It is one thing to boast about what you think you can do. It is quite another to boast about what you have done. We would have said to Ben Hadad, “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.” To finish the story, Ben Hadad, king of Syria, boasted prematurely that he would defeat Ahab and the forces of Israel. God gave Israel the victory over Syria, handing Ben Hadad a humiliating defeat in this battle, as well as in a rematch the following year.
In the closing verses of the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord made a very bold statement as an introduction to His Great Commission:
18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “ All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, emphasis mine).
The Lord Jesus claimed to have “all authority in heaven and on earth,” and this authority was the basis for the disciples’ obedience to the Great Commission.
When our Lord made this statement, He had, so to speak, already taken His armor off. Jesus spoke these words after living a sinless life, and after having completed a ministry marked by many signs that proved Him to be who He claimed to be – the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah. He spoke these words after laying down His life at Calvary and then rising from the dead, just as He had foretold.3 Our Lord had won the victory; His authority was proven and proclaimed by His resurrection and ascension:
17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, 18 – since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened – so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. 20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things. 23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:17-23).
17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him. 18 He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things (Colossians 1:17-18).
8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority (Colossians 2:8-10).
In this lesson, we will focus our attention on the authority of Christ and its implications for discipleship.
I believe it is safe to say that God has never called a person to service without first giving the authority to carry out the mission.
Joseph’s divinely-granted abilities were evident earlier in his life (in Potiphar’s house, as well as in the prison). When Joseph was summoned from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he did even more than this – Joseph also proposed a plan whereby Egypt could survive the seven years of famine which were coming soon:
28 This is just what I told Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the whole land of Egypt. 30 But seven years of famine will occur after them, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will devastate the land. 31 The previous abundance of the land will not be remembered because of the famine that follows, for the famine will be very severe. 32 The dream was repeated to Pharaoh because the matter has been decreed by God, and God will make it happen soon. 33 “ So now Pharaoh should look for a wise and discerning man and give him authority over all the land of Egypt. 34 Pharaoh should do this – he should appoint officials throughout the land to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should gather all the excess food during these good years that are coming. By Pharaoh’s authority they should store up grain so the cities will have food, and they should preserve it. 36 This food should be held in storage for the land in preparation for the seven years of famine that will occur throughout the land of Egypt. In this way the land will survive the famine” (Genesis 41:28-36, emphasis mine).
Joseph had made it clear to Pharaoh that his ability to interpret dreams had come from God.4 Pharaoh was not only interested in knowing the meaning of his dreams, but what these dreams might require him to do. Joseph’s plan was simple and brilliant. It was evident to Pharaoh that God’s hand was upon Joseph, so it was only logical that he would place Joseph in charge of this project.
37 This advice made sense to Pharaoh and all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find a man like Joseph, one in whom the Spirit of God is present?” 39 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Because God has enabled you to know all this, there is no one as wise and discerning as you are! 40 You will oversee my household, and all my people will submit to your commands. Only I, the king, will be greater than you. 41 “See here,” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I place you in authority over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:37-41, emphasis mine).
At one time, Moses was a powerful man in Egypt, adopted as he was into the royal family.5 But his self-appointed efforts to rescue his people ended in murder and a hasty escape from the hand of Pharaoh in Egypt. Forty years later, Moses was not so confident, and it took considerable effort for God to convince Moses that he was the man to deliver the Israelites from their bondage.6 Now Moses has his own “great commission,” and thus he had divine authority to deliver the Israelites. When Pharaoh challenged God’s demand to release the Israelites,7 God responded with ten plagues, brought about through the hand of Moses. God made it clear to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt (as well as to the Israelites) that Moses spoke with His authority and that he acted in His power.
When Moses was overwhelmed with the task of leading the Israelites, God had him appoint 70 elders to assist him. To enable them to carry out their task, and to establish their authority, God visibly empowered these judges with His Spirit.8 The authority of Saul9 and David10 to serve as kings over Israel was likewise validated through the visible presence of God’s Spirit, in addition to the prophetic designation of the prophet Samuel.11 The miracles performed by Elijah and Elisha validated their authority as prophets of God. Daniel’s God-given authority was demonstrated to the kings under whom he served. In each of these instances, when God called a person to accomplish a task, He gave them the authority to do it.
Beyond this, God established His own authority in the Old Testament. The fall of Satan12 and later the fall of man in the Garden of Eden13 were rebellions against God’s authority. No wonder the coming Savior, the Messiah, would be Israel’s king.14
Abraham had to learn a lesson regarding God’s authority. Abram left Mesopotamia to dwell in the land of Canaan. When a famine came, Abram fled to Egypt. He knew that Sarai, his wife, was a beautiful woman, and he feared that someone would kill him and take Sarai for a wife. He asked Sarai to lie by saying that she was his sister, a half-truth at best. And so it happened that Pharaoh took Sarai, intending to make her one of his wives. God rescued Sarai, and Abram returned to the land of Canaan.15 But in later years, Abraham did the same thing when he settled in Gerar, and king Abimelech did just as Pharaoh had done, taking Sarai into his harem.16 God appeared to king Abimelech in a dream, informing him that Sarah was Abraham’s wife. When this pagan king rebuked him, Abraham offered this excuse:
11 Abraham replied, “ Because I thought, ‘Surely no one fears God in this place. They will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 What’s more, she is indeed my sister, my father’s daughter, but not my mother’s daughter. She became my wife. 13 When God made me wander from my father’s house, I told her, ‘This is what you can do to show your loyalty to me: Every place we go, say about me, “He is my brother”’” (Genesis 20:11-13, emphasis mine).
Think about what Abraham is saying here. In essence, he seems to be saying something like this: “I had safety and protection when I was living with my father and family, but God made me leave the protection that family offered, and so we were left to our own devices. That is why I asked Sarah to say that she is my sister – to save my life.” Abraham did not believe God was able to save him in Egypt (Genesis 12), or in Gerar (Genesis 20). And from what he says here, there may have been other places where Sarah also lied about her relationship with Abraham. God taught Abraham that His authority was not confined within certain borders, or restricted to one place. Thus, God saved Abraham wherever he and his wife might sojourn.17 God is sovereign over all.
5 Yes, I know the Lord is great,
and our Lord is superior to all gods.
6 He does whatever he pleases
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all the ocean depths (Psalm 135:5-6).
The exodus was God’s way of establishing His authority, not only with the Egyptians, but also with the Israelites. It was not until after the exodus that God gave Israel the law. God was Israel’s King,18 and He had every right to reign over Israel, giving them His laws by which they were to live.19
The Book of Daniel portrays King Nebuchadnezzar as a great and powerful king. But when this king became arrogant and proud, God humbled him by taking away his kingdom for a time, causing him to graze in the field like an ox. When Nebuchadnezzar came to his senses, he realized that the God of heaven is truly sovereign. This mighty king therefore declared:
34 “But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me. I extolled the Most High, and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever. For his authority is an everlasting authority, and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth. No one slaps his hand and says to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35)
In the Gospels, Jesus is immediately introduced as One having great authority. In the birth accounts of Matthew and Luke, Jesus is introduced as the promised Messiah, the Son of God, “God with us,”20 the One who would sit on the throne of His father David. The magi came seeking Him, who was “king of the Jews.”21 John’s Gospel introduced Jesus as the Creator,22 and as Jacob’s ladder.23 John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the promised Messiah, the “Lamb of God.”24 When John baptized Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and remained on Him, and the Father Himself identified Him as His beloved Son.25 Satan sought to tempt our Lord to use His divine power in ways that would undermine His submission to the Father. In so doing, Satan acknowledged that Jesus possessed power and authority as the Son of God; the demons did likewise.26
Our Lord’s words and actions in the Gospels are examples of His authority. In John’s Gospel, our Lord very quickly demonstrated His authority when He cleansed the temple – and the temple authorities did not miss this fact:
13 Now the Jewish feast of Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. 15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.” 18 So then the Jewish leaders responded, “ What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?”27 19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:13-19, emphasis mine).
In John 3, Jesus made another bold claim regarding His authority:
35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things under his authority. 36 The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:35-36, emphasis mine).
Jesus claims authority from the Father over all things, and then states that salvation comes only through Him. Jesus has the authority to save sinners and to give them eternal life. In John 5, Jesus also claims the authority to execute judgment.28
In His “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus claimed authority when He took on the religious elite, who assumed that they were the gatekeepers of heaven.29 The scribes and Pharisees felt that they could exclude whomever they chose from heaven. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns the tables on them with these words:
20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
This was but the firing of the first shot in His attack against hypocritical Pharisaism. In this same sermon, several times (in slightly different terms) Jesus said, “You have heard it said, . . . but I say to you. . . .”30 This was surely a claim to authority, and the people did not miss it.31
Given the limitations of this message, I will focus primarily on Matthew’s Gospel to show how he progressively demonstrated our Lord’s authority by what He said and did. Let us begin by observing that our Lord’s authority was evident in His initial calling of His disciples:
18 As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen). 19 He said to them, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.” 20 They left their nets immediately and followed him. 21 Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. Then he called them. 22 They immediately left the boat and their father and followed him (Matthew 4:18-22).
Can you imagine a stranger walking up to men who hardly knew him, promising them an even greater “fishing” career, and then seeing them promptly leave their boats, their nets, and their families? Surely they must have sensed our Lord’s authority in this call, even at this early stage of His earthly ministry.
The following account in Mark 1 buttresses the account in Matthew 7:28-29 by explaining how the crowds concluded that Jesus taught with authority.
21 Then they went to Capernaum. When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people there were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts in the law. 23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, 24 “Leave us alone, Jesus the Nazarene! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” 25 But Jesus rebuked him: “Silence! Come out of him!” 26 After throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. 27 They were all amazed so that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean spirits and they obey him” (Mark 1:21-27, emphasis mine).
Our Lord’s teaching did not occur in the manner to which we are accustomed. Jesus did not teach in an auditorium or a classroom. He did not use PowerPoint or even an overhead projector. Jesus taught out in the open, without microphones or recording devices. And His teaching was not nearly as formal as we have come to expect. It was often interrupted by those who wanted our Lord to heal them or a relative or friend, or to cast out a demon. In His compassion, Jesus often paused to grant these requests. Jesus’ teaching was therefore interspersed with various kinds of miracles.32 If Jesus’ words to the sick, the demonized, and even the dead could produce such results, then surely the words He spoke in His teaching were powerful as well.33
The story of the healing of the centurion’s servant is a wonderful testimony to the authority of our Lord Jesus, and this testimony was from a Gentile, a Roman centurion:34
5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help: 6 “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.” 7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel! 11 I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour (Matthew 8:5-13, emphasis mine).
This Gentile centurion loved his servant and wanted Jesus to heal him. Jesus was approaching the centurion’s house when He was intercepted. I believe that this Gentile understood how reticent Jews were to enter the home of a Gentile.35 Rather than cause Jesus to defile Himself, the centurion proposed an alternative which would avoid an awkward situation.36 As a centurion, this military officer knew what it meant to have authority. Because he was under Roman authority, he could give orders to soldiers and expect them to be obeyed, even when his subordinates were at a distance.
The centurion recognized that Jesus was also a man under authority, God’s authority. As such, Jesus had great authority as well. And given His authority, He could give orders from a distance, and they would be obeyed. Thus, Jesus need not come under his roof at all. He need only give the command from where He was, and his servant would be healed. Jesus marveled at this man’s faith, and then gave the command, and the servant was healed. Our Lord’s ministry was all about authority, and the centurion seemed to grasp this better than most Jews.
As Matthew’s Gospel progresses, the disciples next discover that our Lord’s authority included control over His creation:
23 As he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And a great storm developed on the sea so that the waves began to swamp the boat. But he was asleep. 25 So they came and woke him up saying, “Lord, save us! We are about to die!” 26 But he said to them, “Why are you cowardly, you people of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it was dead calm. 27 And the men were amazed and said, “ What sort of person is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27, emphasis mine)
The storm was such that even fishermen who spent much of their lives on this body of water were terrified. They assumed that Jesus was oblivious to their peril, and thus they rebuked Him for His lack of concern. Jesus stilled the storm, rebuking them for their lack of faith. After all, the Lord Jesus was the Creator;37 they had no reason to fear.
The authority of Jesus was far greater than any of His disciples had imagined, even to the extent of forgiving sins:
1 After getting into a boat he crossed to the other side and came to his own town. 2 Just then some people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “ Have courage, son! Your sins are forgiven.” 3 Then some of the experts in the law said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming!” 4 When Jesus saw their reaction he said, “Why do you respond with evil in your hearts? 5 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – then he said to the paralytic – “Stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.” 7 And he stood up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were afraid and honored God who had given such authority to men (Matthew 9:1-8, emphasis mine).
The disciples were now ready to experience the authority of their Master in a different way – Jesus delegated His authority to them, sending them out to share in His work:
1 Jesus called his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits so they could cast them out and heal every kind of disease and sickness. . . . 8 “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:1, 8, emphasis mine).
We could add example after example of our Lord’s limitless authority. Jesus declared that He was Lord of the Sabbath.38 He fed the 5,00039 and for an encore fed 4,000.40 After feeding the 5,000, Jesus walked on the sea, and then commanded Peter to do likewise.41
In spite of all these miracles, there were those who kept asking for more signs. From the very outset of His ministry (in John’s Gospel at least), Jesus made His ability to rise from the dead the final and ultimate proof of His identity and authority:
18 So then the Jewish leaders responded, “ What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 19 Jesus replied, “ Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:18-19, emphasis mine).
Jesus spoke privately of His death and resurrection to His disciples,42 but He also spoke publicly of this, staking His entire ministry and message on His resurrection from the dead:
38 Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, “ Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:38-40, emphasis mine).
Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear that they got the message, as we can see from their words and actions after our Lord’s death:
62 The next day (which is after the day of preparation) the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give orders to secure the tomb until the third day. Otherwise his disciples may come and steal his body and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “Take a guard of soldiers. Go and make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went with the soldiers of the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone (Matthew 27:62-66).
After His resurrection, Jesus made His authority the basis for the Great Commission:
16 So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “ All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20, emphasis mine).
Because our Lord had such great authority, the Jewish religious leaders opposed Him.43 In the first place, Jesus interpreted the Scriptures in a very different way than they did. This was evident in the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed, the way Jesus interpreted the Scriptures, the Jewish religious leaders were not even going to make it into heaven, unless they repented of their sins and embraced Him as the Messiah.44 John’s Gospel informs us that these religious leaders were greatly threatened by Jesus’ authority and popularity:
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (John 11:47-48).
Pilate was not ignorant of the real reason the religious leaders opposed Jesus and wanted Him put to death:
9 So Pilate asked them, “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews for you?” 10 (For he knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of envy.) 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas instead (Mark 15:9-11).
In the Gospels, opposition to Jesus began when Jesus first cleansed the temple.45 From this point on, the opposition began to escalate. Jesus’ miracles – which proved His authority – were challenged on the technical grounds that He allegedly violated the Sabbath.46 His adversaries also tried – unsuccessfully – to prove that a miracle wasn’t actually performed.47 They were finally forced to acknowledge our Lord’s power, but attributed it to Satan rather than to God, which was their unpardonable sin.48 Opposition to Jesus intensifies after our Lord’s triumphal entry, culminating in His arrest, trial, and crucifixion (and resurrection!). Over and over, Jesus was challenged to explain “by what authority . . .” He carried on His ministry. Lest anyone should doubt that our Lord’s authority was a major issue with our Lord’s opponents, let us remember that while a reluctant Pilate was forced to crucify Jesus, he had this inscription placed on our Lord’s cross: “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.” As we would expect, the Jews objected, but Pilate would not be bullied into changing these words.49
Jesus told His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18), and everything we have seen proves this to be true. Jesus is sovereign. The Father has given all authority to Him. But sovereignty is not always a source of comfort. There is nothing more terrifying than someone who has absolute power, but who is also evil. This was not a rare occurrence in the East. In the West, we have seen democracy strip power from sovereign despots. But there are places in the world where men, good or evil, are free to have their way. Nothing is more frightening than power in the hands of a wicked ruler, as a Hitler or a Saddam Hussein remind us.
In the Gospels, we have attempted to trace two parallel themes. On the one hand, we see our Lord’s claim to authority, and the signs and wonders which demonstrate these claims to be true. On the other hand, we have observed those who were threatened by our Lord’s authority, and who sought, unsuccessfully, to nullify it. But there is a third theme that is evident in the Gospels – that of our Lord’s compassion. Let us give some thought to this for a moment.
The world into which our Lord came had seen its sovereigns, rulers like the Pharaoh’s of Egypt, Assyrian kings like Sennacherib, Babylonian kings like Nebuchadnezzar, and Persian kings like Artaxerxes or Ahasuerus. These were men whose power seemed unrestricted, men who could have you put to death for entering their presence without being summoned. Even David was corrupted by power, so that he used it to take another man’s wife (Bathsheba) and a faithful soldier’s life (Uriah).
In the birth accounts of Matthew and Luke, Jesus is introduced as a King, but a very different kind of king than any sovereign the world had yet known. Jesus was a King,50 but He came to “save His people from their sins.”51 He came to put down the proud and to lift up the humble.52 He came to show mercy to those who fear Him53 and to fulfill His covenant with Abraham.54
Our Lord’s ministry commenced with the proclamation of the good news of the gospel of the kingdom, accompanied by many acts of healing and deliverance.55 In the first chapter of his Gospel, Mark tells of our Lord’s compassion on a leper:
40 Now a leper came to him and fell to his knees, asking for help. “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” he said. 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” 42 The leprosy left him at once, and he was clean (Mark 1:40-42).
It is this kind of compassion that characterized the ministry of our Lord.
11 When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 When Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. 13 Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:11-13).
35 Then Jesus went throughout all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:35-38).
14 As he got out he saw the large crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 When evening arrived, his disciples came to him saying, “This is an isolated place and the hour is already late. Send the crowds away so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But he replied, “They don’t need to go. You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:14-16).
32 Then Jesus called the disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days and they have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry since they may faint on the way” (Matthew 15:32).
30 Two blind men were sitting by the road. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” 31 The crowd scolded them to get them to be quiet. But they shouted even more loudly, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 Jesus stopped, called them, and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him (Matthew 20:30-34).
One of the beauties of our Lord is that He not only has all authority, but that He uses it to minister to others. You will remember that the disciples of our Lord were very interested in acquiring authority. Two of the disciples used their mother to request that they sit at the right and left hands of Jesus.56 The other disciples were angry, but Jesus taught them that power and authority were to be used in ministry to others, rather than to demand service from others:
25 But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 26 It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave – 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
Jesus practiced what He preached. Perhaps the most touching example of our Lord’s servant spirit is found in John 13:
1 Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. 3 Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. 5 He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. 6 Then he came to Simon Peter. Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not understand what I am doing now, but you will understand after these things.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus replied, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 (For Jesus knew the one who was going to betray him. For this reason he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”) 12 So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example – you should do just as I have done for you” (John 13:1-15).
Others seek authority to be served. Our Lord possessed all authority, and yet He came to serve. In effect, He said to His disciples, “I have chosen to use My authority to save and to serve.” What a beautiful truth! What a beautiful Savior!
In the past, I thought that Jesus came to earth to serve, but that once He returned to His former glory in heaven, things would change. That is not quite the picture that I see in the Gospel of Luke:
“Blessed are those slaves whom their master finds alert when he returns! I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, have them take their place at the table, and will come and wait on them!” (Luke 12:37)
27 For who is greater, the one who is seated at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
This is a very important point, so let me linger here for a moment. As I understand the Scriptures, service is not just the price we pay so that others will eventually serve us. We are not to be servants merely so that some day we can become masters. Service is not just a means to greatness; service is greatness. That is what we see illustrated by our Lord in His incarnation. That is what we will see when we sit at the table with Him in heaven. That which is true of our Lord should also be true for us:
47 But when Jesus discerned their innermost thoughts, he took a child, had him stand by his side, 48 and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me, for the one who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48, emphasis mine).
Once again, Jesus turns the values and the thinking of this world upside-down.
When I think about the “calling of the twelve,” I do not see Jesus “using” His authority to compel these men to follow Him. I think that even from their earliest encounters with Jesus, they sensed His authority. But Jesus did not want a cowering crew of men; He wanted men who were bound to Him by love. And that is what He got.
The same is true of His call to others, including us. He is sovereign – all powerful – but He does not wish for us to follow Him merely because of His power. Our Lord is glorified because men and women have chosen to follow Him because of His meekness and grace:
28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30).
In this lesson, we have sought to show that authority is necessary to empower service. In the Old Testament, God gave authority to those He called into His service. In the New Testament, we find that Jesus claimed great authority, and then demonstrated it throughout the course of His earthly ministry. We observed that it was the authority of our Lord that greatly troubled the religious “authorities,” and thus they set out to rid themselves of the threat Jesus posed. Jesus made His resurrection the final proof of His authority, and He did rise from the dead! Thus, He claimed all authority in heaven and on earth as the basis for His disciples carrying out the Great Commission.
We also sought to show that our Lord’s use of authority was vastly different from that of the Gentiles (and His opponents). Our Lord’s authority was employed out of compassion, in service to others. In the end, He submitted to the Father, and to earthly authorities,57 by His death on the Cross of Calvary. And because of this, the Father has exalted Him to the highest place of authority and honor:
9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
In this series, we have considered some of the reasons why men and women follow Jesus. We might summarize all of these reasons by simply saying that people follow Jesus because of His goodness. Our Lord’s power and authority are the icing on the cake. To serve a God who is good, but not all powerful, would be frustrating and futile. To serve a God who is all powerful, but not good, would be terrifying. To serve a God who is good, and powerful, is pure bliss.
Think of the implications of the fact that our Lord Jesus is both good and all-powerful. It means that His purposes and promises will be fulfilled. It means that good will ultimately prevail. It means that if our mission is the Great Commission, we cannot fail. It means that we have His authority when we are engaged in the mission He has given us. It means that the authority and power He has granted us are to be used in the service of others.
It would be good to observe that while our Lord’s authority was great – far greater than that of Herod, or Pilate, or Caesar – it was not an earthly, political authority. Jesus distinguished between human authority and divine authority.58 Before Pilate, Jesus acknowledged that He was a “king,” but He also made it clear that His kingdom was not an earthly one. Pilate realized that Jesus had no ambitions to overthrow His administration.59
I say this because this week we will have a very important election. It is my conviction that as a citizen of this country, I should vote for those candidates who will stand for righteousness and justice. Having said this, I would caution you not to think that the future of Christianity, or of God’s purposes, hinges upon getting as many Christians elected as possible. Our Lord never ran for office. His authority was of a different kind. He will, of course, rule in justice and righteousness when He returns to this earth. But political power is not the kind of authority our Lord has granted to us. Indeed we, like the apostles and many after them, may find political power used against us, and the gospel of our Lord. In the end, all resistance to the authority of our Lord will fail.
This message (and more importantly, the Scriptures to which we have referred) has much to teach us about the use of authority. If the Son of God did not use His authority to “lord it over” men, then surely we should not use our authority this way either. As Jesus taught, authority is to be used sacrificially, in order to serve others. This should be a lesson to husbands, especially those who desire to dominate their wives, rather than to give themselves sacrificially in service for their wives.60 This should be a lesson to parents,61 to employers and managers,62 and to church leaders.63 Authority has been given as a platform for service, and not as a place of status.
I will conclude by pointing out that personal autonomy and independence is a myth. In our country, the principle of “personal privacy” has become a license for sin. Abortions, immorality, and all kinds of sins have been justified by the assumption that an assumed right of privacy grants one absolute personal freedom. Such thinking is Satan’s lie. Satan deceived Eve, and she concluded that she was “free” to disobey God. In so doing, she thought she was seeking her own best interests. Thinking she was exercising her freedom to pursue life, Eve discovered she had obtained only bondage and death.
You are not free, my friend. You will serve one of two masters.
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free with regard to righteousness. 21 So what benefit did you then reap from those things that you are now ashamed of? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now, freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have your benefit leading to sanctification, and the end is eternal life. 23 For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:20-23).
The Lord Jesus calls us not only to believe in Him, but also to follow Him. The freedom He offers is the freedom from sin, and guilt, and judgment. Satan is a liar, a deceiver, and a murderer. He, too, seeks those who will follow Him. Our Lord is gracious and compassionate, and full of grace and truth. Our Lord is not only good, He is all powerful. In Him is abundant life. Follow Him.
1 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 6 in the Following Jesus in a Me-First World series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 5, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
3 See, for example, Matthew 16:21; Luke 18:32-33.
4 Genesis 41:16.
5 See Stephen’s words in Acts 7:22.
6 See, for example, Exodus 4:1-9.
7 Exodus 5:1-2.
8 Numbers 11:10-30.
9 1 Samuel 10:10-12.
10 1 Samuel 16:13.
11 1 Samuel 10:1ff.; 16:1013.
12 See Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:11-19.
13 See Genesis 3.
14 See Genesis 3:15; 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Luke 1:31-33.
15 These events are described in Genesis 12.
16 See Genesis 20.
17 I would remind the reader of the events surrounding the quotation of Ahab in 1 Kings 20, cited in my introduction. When God gave Ahab and Israel victory over Ben Hadad and the Syrian army, Ben Hadad’s servants explained their defeat by claiming that Israel’s gods were “gods of the mountains” (1 Kings 20:23). They reasoned that if they restaged their battle, but this time fought in the valleys (where the Syrian gods were thought to prevail), they would win. It was precisely because of this diminished view of God that He gave the Israelites a second victory over the Syrians, this time in the valleys. The point of all this is that the God of the Bible, the God of Israel, is sovereign over all. There are no limitations to His power and authority.
18 See 1 Samuel 8:7.
19 See Exodus 15:1-18; Exodus 20:1-17 (note especially verses 1-2).
20 Matthew 1:23.
21 Matthew 2:2.
22 John 1:1-3.
23 John 1:51.
24 John 1:29-36.
25 Matthew 3:16-17.
26 Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12.
27 By their more paraphrased translation of verse 18, both the NASB and the NIV recognize this as a challenge to Jesus’ authority. “The Jews then said to Him, "What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” (John 2:18, NASB 95) (The word “authority” is not in the original text, but the question asked somewhat assumes that this was their meaning.)
28 John 5:27.
29 See Matthew 23:13, 15; John 9:34.
30 See Matthew 5:21-26, 27-30, 31-32, 33-37, 38-42, 43-48.
31 Matthew 7:28-29.
32 See, for example, Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Luke 5:17-26; 6:6-11, 17ff.; 10:11.
33 I am reminded here of the words of the two disciples who spoke with Jesus on the road to Emmaus: “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32) Even before they knew this man was Jesus, they recognized that He had authority, and that His words rang true. So it was, I believe, with many of those who heard Jesus teach.
34 This is more clearly evident in the parallel account found in Luke 7:1-10.
35 See John 4:3-9; Acts 10.
36 The centurion did not understand that Jesus did not have such scruples about defilement.
37 John 1:1-3.
38 Matthew 12:1-8.
39 Matthew 14:13-21.
40 Matthew 15:32-39.
41 Matthew 14:22-33.
42 For example, see Matthew 16:21.
43 See Matthew 7:28-29.
44 See Matthew 5:20; chapter 23.
45 See John 2:13-22.
46 See, for example, Matthew 12:1-14; John 5:1-18.
47 See John 9:1-34, especially verses 8-9, 19.
48 See Mark 3:22-30.
49 John 19:19-22.
50 Matthew 2:2.
51 Matthew 1:21.
52 Luke 1:51-53.
53 Luke 1:50, 54; see also verses 67-79.
54 Luke 1:55.
55 See Matthew 4:22-24; Mark 1:31-34.
56 Matthew 20:20-21.
57 See Philippians 2:8; Acts 2:22-24.
58 Matthew 22:21.
59 See John 18:33-37.
60 See Ephesians 5:22-33.
61 See Ephesians 6:4.
62 See Colossians 4:1.
63 See 1 Peter 5:1-4.