Who Has Authority?
| Jan. 28 | Fourth S. a. the Epiphany | Jer. 1:4-10
(17-19) | Psalm 71:1-6
(7-11) | 1 Cor. 12:31b—13:13 | ! Luke 4:31-44
Who has authority?
The author of life is the only One with authority.
God, who reveals himself in his intelligible Word, is also personally and powerfully present in his Word, either in creation or preservation, grace or judgment. His Word defines and expresses his sovereign power and the dependence of everything else on his will. All other authority is derivative and contingent, a right or permission conferred by God from the ultimate seat of power ("There is no authority except that which God has established," Rom 13:1). Angels are divinely invested with whatever authority they exercise (Rev 18). Satan's sphere of dominion is a temporary bestowal (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13). As for Antichrist, even his power is granted to him (Rev 13:2, 4).
Civil government derives its authority from divine determination and is God's instrument of justice and order in a fallen society (Rom 13). So Pilate wielded an authority he had not inherently but derivatively (John 19:11). The forces of destruction in fallen nature and history are not inherent but derived (Rev 6:8, 9:3, 10, 19). Even the authorization enabling forgiven sinners to enter God's kingdom comes from Jesus (John 1:12), who is divinely authorized and empowered to act (John 10:18) and endowed with authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). God's Word alone has the final say, invariably carrying out his will and fulfilling his intentions: "So is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but shall accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isa 55:11). God's Word has a transcendent supernatural force. His prophecy carries inner assurance of historical fulfillment. Even nature passes away, but Yahweh's Word endures: "The grass withers, and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isa 40:8).
What is really at issue in the Protestant principle is not the absolutizing or "divinizing" of the relative--whether of human beings, or of holy men, or of human words at their profoundest, or of human thought at its purest. Rather, it is a matter solely of God speaking in his Word, supernaturally to and through chosen men, making his thoughts and message known to those who must otherwise have been strangers to them. The struggle against the authority of the Bible is therefore inseparable from the struggle against divine authority, even as the struggle for the authority of the Bible is a struggle for transcendent authority and against any transcendent authority higher than God. Indeed there would be no special revelation for us at all had not God chosen prophets and apostles and charged them to transmit his Word in the form not only of oral proclamation but of letter and book. The rejection of the authority of revelation in the concrete form and content of Scripture therefore works against spirit and life rather than fostering them, as critics of the evangelical principle contend.
From his insistence that "authority in the absolute sense resides in the truth alone, or, in religious language, in the mind and will of God," C.H. Dodd proceeds to circumvent any self-subsistent external authority given in objective form, whether that form is the Scriptures or the teaching of Jesus. The Bible "becomes" God's Word as man's spirit is moved to respond subjectively "to the Spirit that utters itself in the Scriptures."  But one can hardly consider Dodd's own declaration "an entirely non-dogmatic statement which anyone might accept as a starting-point" (words with which he dismisses an alternative view)  when he states that the Spirit exists and sporadically "utters itself." Indeed, Dodd concedes the circularity of his exposition of divine authority: "We look to the Bible for guidance toward religious truth; we recognize this truth by reference to our own religious standards." 
Dodd's emphasis that the Spirit's witness centers in "a unity of experience in which 'subjective' and 'objective' are one"  is not as far removed as some may think from the more recent "new morality," which affirms that love possesses a homing instinct for doing the right thing in the absence of objectively revealed principles. And situation ethics, in turn, offers no persuasive alternative to the notion of radical secularity that man himself defines the true and the good and postulates whatever gods or values express his individual distinctiveness. That is surely not what Dodd intends. But, speak as he will of biblical authority, his view of Scripture--reverently as he may handle it on many occasions--compels him finally to bracket the word "authority" when he speaks of the Bible  and to regard Scripture not as "the last word" but only as "the 'seminal word' out of which fresh apprehension of truth springs in the mind of man."  So what began as a defense of absolute truth in the mind of God alone  concludes without any objectively uttered and authoritatively apprehended Word of God.
There is, to be sure, but one absolute priority: the sovereign Creator and Lord of all. In principle, the evangelical believer acknowledges no ultimate authority but the authority of the living God--authoritative even above human reasoning, scientific and theological opinion, ecclesiastical tradition, cultural consensus, empirical observation, and all else. No book emphasizes as does the Bible that God is the true source and seat of authority. When he speaks of God as supreme authority, the Christian means that he acknowledges as final only the authority of the living God, who has become incarnate in Jesus Christ, man's only Savior and Lord. More specifically, the evangelical believer acknowledges the supreme authority solely of the living God, embodied in Jesus Christ, whom no man can confess as Lord except by the Holy Spirit, the divine communicator and superintendent of the prophetic-apostolic writings (John 14:26; 2 Tim 3:16). The affirmation of the authority of Scripture represents a determination not to seek the Word of God elsewhere than in the Spirit-inspired, Christ-pledged, and God-intended source of the revelational Word. Although he did not apply the principle elsewhere as fully as he might have and ought to have, Barth was quite right when he asserted that "Holy Scripture is the Word of God for the Church, that it is Jesus Christ for us ...
Through his revealed Word, reliably conveyed in Holy Scripture, God publishes the fact and direction of his authority over mankind. In the OT era he exercised authority over Israel through prophets, priests, and kings as appointed agents or authorized representatives whose task included proclaiming his messages Jer 1:7 ff.), teaching his laws (Deut 31:11; Mal 3:7), and ruling accordingly (Deut 17:18 ff.). The written Scriptures were the statute-book by which God instructed, warned, and judged his ancient people (Ps 119; cf. 2 Kings 22-23).
W.C.G. Proctor does not put the matter too strongly when he writes, "It is through the Bible that Jesus Christ now exercises his divine authority, imparting authoritative truth, issuing authoritative commands, and imposing an authoritative norm by which all the arrangements or statements made by the church must be shaped and corrected."  In this sense, it may be insisted that apostolic authority has not been delegated to others--church fathers, bishops, or an authoritative church or hierarchy--but that apostolic authority remains a reality through the authoritative NT writings through which the risen Lord himself holds sway over the church by the Spirit.
We speak meaningfully of the Bible as Holy Scripture only if we recognize it not simply as one of a number of the shaping forces of Christian life and experience, but rather as the one divinely given Word by which God intends to rule the Christian community and in which he presently confronts the church with a norm higher than her own consciousness. In the Bible the church does not merely memorialize a divine Word once given to long-deceased prophets and apostles but no longer God's Word for us--a Word that could again be a living Word of God only if those special servants in generations past could be raised from the dead to speak their message afresh or only if in our own experience we duplicate and parallel the reception of revelation as it came to those chosen prophets and apostles. For the Bible is God's Word now. It is his authoritative Word, in and through and by which the Spirit addresses us today. The Spirit indeed alone imparts life. But he does so only in and through and by the Word, and never without the Word. The scriptural revelation is not simply a Word of God that was vital yesterday; it is the Word of God that is currently vigorous and active in grace or judgment. It is the Word of God present and living in the form and content of Scripture, the Word identical with the words received and transmitted by chosen prophets and apostles, the Word God has spoken and still speaks authoritatively. Divine revelation is Scripture's very own pulse beat, demanding our respectful hearing and the obedient conformity of our minds and ways to its requirements. The authority of the Bible derives from God's speaking in these statements and words. Scripture is indeed what God himself would have us know and would have us obey in the church as Word of God.
C. God's Word As Deliberately Written
That the authoritative Word of God has the written form of Scripture is not a decision left to prophets or apostles, but one inherent in God's intention for special revelation from the very first. There is for us no special revelational access to God that detours around Scripture, no other way open to the sinner that guarantees reliable conclusions about God's plan and purpose. There is no way to another Word in which God speaks differently from the way he speaks in the Bible, no appeal to the Holy Spirit or even to Christ Jesus or to Elohim-Yahweh (the Maker and Lord of all) that will enable us to acquire some special revelation by which we will be able to "pick and choose" in Scripture between what is authentic or inauthentic. Nor is there any private revelation that enables us to establish Scripture as "special revelation" written, nor any revered church tradition or religious consensus that equips us to discern the real sense of Scripture (as if it were obscure!) or to supplement Scripture (as if it were insufficient and incompletely
It is the Bible that is God's authoritative Word. Whoever would speak of God as authoritative over human life, yet clouds the authority of the Bible, in effect obscures an authoritative God. Those who appeal, in distinction from the Bible, to some Christ immediately knowable, or to a mystical relationship to the Holy Spirit on the margin of Scripture (even if rationalized as a confrontation the Bible allegedly witnesses to), or who arm themselves with an impressive consensus of contemporary theologians about the dangers of taking the Bible as literally true--these all end up by subordinating the Bible to speculation. They abridge or amend its teaching by authorizing the fallible human self (the critical expert's included) to criticize infallibly the prophetic-apostolic disclosure of the Word of God. Critics who compromise the authority of Scripture almost invariably correlate the authority of God with speculative notions of God's Word and its implications for man's answerability to God and duty to his fellow-men. The church is not determinative of Scripture, but Scripture is authoritative over the church; whatever authority the church has, she has solely on the basis of the revelational prerogative of God.
That the prophetic-apostolic revelation is addressed in writing to the church challenges every effort by the church to regard herself as the source of revelation, or even of the given revelation's sure meaning. For the church must always come to terms with what stands written. Without the authoritative books, all the ancient traditions transmitted through the church may easily be misconceived as a message that comes from the church, and the church itself is more readily disposed to modify them. But if Holy Scripture is divinely given, the possibility of reformation remains even for a church that has made itself the seat of divine authority. Whatever churchmen may say about the Bible, so far as the modern church is concerned the Book is theonomously and independently "there," objectively voicing the divinely authoritative Word and repeatedly calling the church to reckon with what is written.
Geldenhuys summarizes as the evidence of the NT and of the early Christian writings this sequence in respect to divine authority: (1) the historical fact of the supreme authority of the Lord Jesus, (2) the fact of the unique authority given to and exercised by the Lord's chosen apostles to lay the foundations of the church once-for-all, (3) the early church's acknowledgment of the foregoing and its acceptance of the apostolic writings as authoritative, and (4) the inevitable consequence of a canonical NT clothed with the authority of the Lord and his apostles.
Throughout the NT, the source of all authority is God himself. The entire NT breathes the air of a monotheistic, creationist, and revelational basis for life. This is apparent as much in the record of our Lord's life as it is in the writers' perspectives. The structure of both thought and language substantiates this. The structure stems from the OT and is continuous with that revelation, with its promise climactically fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. The NT canon is more than biography or anthology, more than a collection of writings by the followers of Christ. The canon is a hermeneutic (a way of interpretation). Its essential criterion is a theology based on the teaching of Christ and the apostles in written form, identifying and preserving what was already accepted as relating to Christ as Lord and what was accepted as apostolic in the early church.
The NT writings orient the teachings of Christ in relation to the biblical authority of the OT. Christ accepted the OT as authoritative and subjected himself to it, as all four Gospel traditions clearly state and imply (Matt 5:17, 18; 9:13; 15:1-4; Mark 7:9; 9:13; Luke 4:16-21; 18:31; John 5:39; 10:33-38). Jesus declares the Scriptures to be authoritative, in contrast to religious traditions. His life and death are presented as the fulfillment of Scripture. His teachings are the very Word of God, brought from the Father, which truth is the foundation of apostolic faith (Mark 13:31; John 5:19, 38, 39; 6:63, 68; 12:48, 49; 17:8).
The world is locked in a battle unto death. Some would have us believe that this life is all there is, that there is no eternity. Others say that there is eternal life, but it’s in the hands of a capricious god who demands that we follow an agenda and maybe he’ll do something for us. The Bible clearly teaches that every human being will live in eternity, but those who fail to believe in the God we worship today as Holy Trinity will live in a place of outer darkness. But Christians have an astounding message to proclaim to the world, that a person who offers loving authority, and life after death in heaven, is alive and real. His name is Jesus Christ, and He is the single source of all authority and power in this world and the next.
Luke Chapter 4 describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry after He had been baptized. In this chapter, we have four vignettes that allow us to see Jesus as He who has been given authority by His Father.
First He is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where He spends 40 days being tempted by Satan. This is a necessary first step because Jesus has entered Satan’s world. In order for the Kingdom of God to enter into the world in Jesus, He must bind Satan, and He does so, using His very own Word against the evil one. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.
He returns to His home town of Nazareth, and using a passage from the prophet Isaiah, He announces the purpose of His ministry, and states that He is the One who will fulfill this prophecy.
Jesus justified his actions in terms of doing good on the sabbath.
He quickly demonstrates who He is by the things that He does. He casts out a demon, He heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and then all who come to him are healed.
We are attacked from the outside and from the inside. We use our God given talents to build and grow and move and work, but nothing made by the hand of man can ever last, because we are plagued with the power of evil in a fallen world. We use our God given talents to think and sing and dream and write, but all of these things are tainted by sin, which causes us to turn away from He who has all authority.
The word “authority” is rarely found in the Old Testament. It is used three times in Genesis, to describe God’s authority over nature, a husband’s authority over his wife, and parents’ authority over their children. The other place is in Proverbs 29:2 describing the difference between righteous rule and rule by wicked people.
We can sometimes understand certain matters by what the Bible does not say instead of what it does say. In the Old Testament, there was no doubt that God was in charge. He had the authority over all things, and God delegated authority to those who worshiped Him, so that the world could be ruled via God’s selected leaders. God stated His authority through the Law and the prophets.
In the New Testament, the word most commonly used for authority is “exousia”. When this word is used, there is little doubt that it refers to the belief that God is the ultimate authority in all things, and human beings who exercises authority over others should do so with the attitude of being a servant leader.
The authority of God has been revealed for us in His Son, Jesus Christ. The Very Word that spoke creation into existence was made incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Very Word who lives among us today in the Holy Spirit has given us His authoritative Word as found in the Holy Bible. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able to understand God’s Holy Word and apply it to our lives of discipleship. God’s Word is the bedrock upon which we place our faith and trust. God’s Word is our authority for living.
It seems that as soon as humanity thinks it has done something really significant, that we have “created” something, we run smack into He who is the Author of Life, the final Authority over all things that are in the world.
Have you ever thought about being an author? For those of us who are blessed to live a long life, we store up memories of our lives that could be shared with others. Most human cultures have a special place for the elders. The wisdom of life has value for teaching, making informed decisions, and serving others. Unfortunately, most of our elders don’t become authors, and that is a loss for all of us.
Being an author is hard work. It requires diligence, patience, and a good editor. Authors have to have a command of grammar, a method of organizing their thoughts and experiences, and a knowledge of their intended audience. An author’s writing needs an exciting start, a text that flows and keeps the reader interested, and an ending that brings the book to a conclusion. And in all of this, there is still no guarantee that anyone will publish it, and if published, that anyone will read it.
And yet, I want to propose first this morning that we are all authors, even if we cannot point to a single printed work that has our name attached. We are authors of our lives. The things that we have said, seen, heard, and experienced are the books of our lives. People can point to you or me and say “Yeah, I heard him or her say this, or saw them do that, or watched them listen to me talk, or got to know one of their children. Our authorship is in our life. Our life is what we cling to above all other things. And we would, openly or secretly, like others to know about what we have done in our lives.
Have you ever been to a book signing by an author? You wait in line, with a copy of the author’s book, for the chance to shake the person’s hand and receive their autograph on your book. What a thrill! This person has real authority, the power to command strangers to stand in line, pay money for their book, and seek a moment of personal time. You go home, read the book, once, twice, show it to friends and neighbors with the autograph, and in a couple of months it joins the rest of your books on a shelf. The contents of the book recede into your mind, the image of the author grows dim, and the valued book does what so many of our possessions do, collect dust.
If there was a way that we could all be authors for a day or a week or a month, we would do it. But the reality is that we don’t have the discipline required to write a book. Instead, the average person is on a mission of taking care of number one. And in doing so, we miss the chance of being Godly authors as we pursue instead our desire to have authority. We miss totally the requirement that for one to be able to exercise authority, one must have been given authority from the only One who has true authority, the Author of Life.
A look at history confirms how we confuse the clear message of the Author with the delegated use of His authority. At Mt. Sinai, as Moses was meeting with God to receive the laws that would guide the Hebrew nation that God had just released from bondage, the very people who were now free decided to pledge their faith to a golden calf. King David, victorious in all things because he had wisely used the authority God had given him, committed adultery and murder, and his kingship was never the same. Solomon gave up the wise authority God had given him to rule for the pleasures of his wives and concubines. The many kings of both Samaria and Judah considered kingly authority to be higher than that of God, and the Hebrew nation was destroyed, then rebuilt for a time, only to be subjugated again because the people failed to worship God and submit to His authority.
In the time of Jesus, Roman rule was authoritative. God’s people were ignored by the religious leaders who used their authority for their own benefit. As the early church developed, conflicts arose over the meaning and practice of the new Christian faith. The power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the believers who were seeking the Author of Life began to diminish as Christian leaders used their positions of authority to enhance their own positions or beliefs.
In today’s world, we see the same things repeated. God’s ultimate authority as revealed in the Scripture is no longer accepted:
God is rejected as Creator—we are a simple accident of evolution
God is rejected as Father because of gender sensitivity
Jesus is rejected as God because God would never come to earth as a man
Jesus is rejected as Redeemer because there is no sin
Jesus did not rise from the dead, because an imposter was on the cross.
The Holy Spirit is seen as just another emanation from nature
The world has clearly embraced self-love, in total defiance of the picture given in our epistle lesson today. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For pnow we see in a mirror dimly, but qthen face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as rI have been fully known. 
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
January 28, 2007
The Rev. Charles Henrickson
"His Word Possessed Authority" (Luke 4:31-44)
In today's Gospel, we catch a glimpse of what the
public ministry of Jesus was like. We follow Jesus on
what might have been a fairly typical day for him, a
very busy day at that. We see Jesus engaged in
various ministry activities: teaching, exorcising,
healing, and preaching. And the common denominator
that runs through these activities? I think we can
see it in a little verse from our text: "His word
possessed authority." "His word possessed authority":
in his teaching, in his casting out demons, in his
healing the sick, and in his preaching. Let's see how
that authoritative word of Jesus is manifested in each
of these four activities and find out what that means
for us today.
The first thing we see mentioned is Jesus' teaching:
"And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they
were astonished at his teaching, for his word
In his ministry, Jesus came as a teacher, a rabbi of
sorts. He taught in the synagogues, he taught on the
mountainside and the seashore, he taught in the
Temple. Jesus taught on the meaning and application
of the Torah, the Law of Moses, and the rest of the
But then so did the scribes and Pharisees, the other
teachers in Israel. What was so different about
Jesus? After all, it says the people "were
astonished" at his teaching. How did Jesus' teaching
differ from that of the rabbis? In this: "His word
The rabbis would quote each other: "Rabbi Shammai
said thus-and-so"; "Rabbi Hillel said this-and-such."
Jesus didn't need to quote any rabbis; he spoke on his
own authority. Jesus taught as one sent from God, who
came from the Father full of grace and truth. He
taught with full confidence: He knew what he was
talking about, and people could sense that. Jesus
taught with authority.
The rabbis would deal with trivial matters of the Law,
and worse, they would add on their own man-made
commandments: how to tithe mint and cumin; how many
steps one could take on a Sabbath's day journey. And
they would neglect the weightier matters of the Law,
like mercy and faithfulness. Jesus, on the other
hand, cut right through the minutiae and got right to
the heart of the matter: love for God, love for the
neighbor. No rationalizing away the breaking of God's
commandments: a murderous and adulterous heart can be
seen even in thought and word, if not in final outward
deed. Instead of excusing divorce with a certificate,
Jesus called people back to the beginning and God's
intent and institution of marriage. Jesus taught with
"His word possessed authority" also in another area we
probably don't think about too much: in his
exorcising, that is, in his casting out of demons. In
fact, that is the activity we see Jesus doing the most
in today's reading. He's casting out demons, unclean
"And in the synagogue there was a man who had the
spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a
loud voice, 'Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus
of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who
you are--the Holy One of God.'"
Notice that the demon knows who Jesus is. He
recognizes that Jesus is the Holy One of God. But
that knowledge in itself does not engender faith but
rather fear: "Have you come to destroy us?" It's
like James says about mere intellectual-knowledge
pseudo-faith: "Do you believe there is one God?
Good! The demons believe and tremble with fear."
Well, that's the case with this demon here. He's
shaking in his boots.
"But Jesus rebuked him, saying, 'Be silent and come
out of him!'"
Jesus tells the demon to shut up. That's the same
thing that happens later on in our text:
"And demons also came out of many, crying, 'You are
the Son of God!' But he rebuked them and would not
allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the
But if these demons know who Jesus is, and they
correctly cry out, "You are the Holy One of God, you
are the Son of God," why does Jesus rebuke them and
silence them? Doesn't he want people to know who he
is? Yes, but not in this way. He doesn't want demons
to be the ones to announce who he is. First of all,
Jesus wants his own works and his own words to lead
people to draw the right conclusion. And then he
wants his apostles and preachers to have the honor of
proclaiming his identity to the world, not a bunch of
evil demons. So, you demon, shut up and come out of
"And when the demon had thrown him down in their
midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm."
Jesus demonstrates that he exercises authority not
just to show who is boss--it does show that, yes--but
also to show that he uses his authority to help
people. He has compassion on us, just as he has
compassion on this demonized man. The demon wants to
harm the man; Jesus wants to help him. As Jesus says
in John 10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill
and destroy. I have come that they may have life and
have it abundantly."
When Jesus casts out these demons, it is anticipating
the decisive victory he would win over the devil on
the cross. There on the cross, Jesus would defeat the
devil by taking away the trump card the devil held
over our heads, namely, our sins. But Jesus took away
our sins by taking them onto himself. The devil no
longer has anything left with which to accuse us! And
with sin taken away, death loses its power. The
woman's offspring strikes the serpent in the head and
delivers the death blow to his reign of terror. John
says in his epistle, "The reason the Son of God
appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." So
these castings out of the unclean spirits are
indicative of that great mission Christ came to
"And they were all amazed and said to one another,
'What is this word? For with authority and power he
commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!'"
What is this word? A word of authority! Christ
commands, and demons must flee. The devil is no match
for our great Champion. "One little word can fell
"His word possessed authority" in teaching, in casting
out demons, and third, in healing the sick. This too
was another way Jesus used his authority to help
people in need:
"Now Simon's mother-in-law was ill with a high fever,
and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood
over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and
immediately she rose and began to serve them."
Jesus rebukes not only demons, he also rebukes a
fever. And just as the demons had to leave, so does
this fever. Jesus' word carries authority; it does it
says. What a powerful voice, and a merciful one on
top of it! Jesus cares for the well-being of his
people, including their bodily needs.
"Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any
who were sick with various diseases brought them to
him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and
But you say, "Are there not many other people with
high fevers and various diseases--God's people--who do
not get healed?" Oh yes! Indeed, Simon's
mother-in-law, healed here, would later get sick
again, or get old, and that time she would not
recover. Same with all those other folks who got
healed. But these healings that Jesus does here are
sufficient to demonstrate that sickness and death are
not the end, that the mission Christ came to
accomplish will result in ultimate healing for these
mortal bodies. "Light and life to all he brings,
ris'n with healing in his wings." Jesus speaks the
word of healing, and it is done.
"His word possessed authority," first, in his
teaching; second, in his casting out demons; third, in
his healing the sick. And fourth, "his word possessed
authority" in his preaching:
"'I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to
the other towns as well; for I was sent for this
purpose.' And he was preaching in the synagogues of
Jesus came to preach. To preach the good news, the
good news of the kingdom of God. Jesus went about
proclaiming the coming of God's kingdom, calling
people to repent of their sins and to believe the good
news that their sins are forgiven in him. This was an
authoritative word. Not just some detached,
impersonal words about theories or speculations. But
an authoritative, personal word, calling out to people
and speaking to their souls. A dynamic, living word
to real-live people, calling them home to God, a God
who knows all their sins and still in his mercy
forgives them and accepts them for the sake of his
Son, their Savior.
And guess what? Jesus Christ is still preaching that
same word today, to you! I've been saying all along,
"His word 'possessed' authority." But now I want to
bring that forward up to today and say, "His word
'possesses' authority!" Yes, his word still speaks
today, and it is a living, active, powerful word!
Listen to the living voice of the gospel: Do your
many sins trouble you? Listen, your sins are
forgiven! Does the tempter and accuser of our souls
cause you grief and doubt? Listen, the devil has no
power over you! Does the fear of death and judgment
loom in your mind like a black cloud? Listen, death
has been defeated! "There is no condemnation now for
those who are in Christ Jesus." Your body--yes, that
old achy body you're sitting in here today--listen,
that body will be healed and restored perfectly in the
resurrection at the last day!
You see, Christ has spoken his word of authority over
you in your baptism. There the Triune God placed his
name on you, claiming you as his own. Christ speaks
his authoritative word of absolution into your ears,
through his authorized ambassador: "I forgive you all
your sins." Christ speaks and authorizes his Holy
Supper: "This is my body, this is my blood, given and
shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." Christ
speaks his authoritative word of salvation to you over
and over again, so much does he want you to hear and
believe this good news! It is for you! "His word
possesses authority," and his word declares: You are
free, you are God's child, you are part of God's
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Clayton, MO 63105
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The Destructive Work of Jesus
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, January 28, 2007
We're so accustomed to hearing about Jesus' saving work that we might
not see it for what it really is. That Jesus saves means that there is
something in need of saving. Jesus saves us. That means we need
saving. Sometimes the way to save something is to destroy it.
That's what we see Jesus doing here. The thing is, the people don't
see it coming. We never do. We generally don't want to think about
being in need of being saved. And who likes to think about
destruction? Well both are here. And at first it's striking to the
people. They're amazed. They're excited. They like what they see.
But that's because they don't understand what's going on. They don't
see what Jesus is really doing. The funny thing is, the demons do.
They know who Jesus is. They understand exactly why He has come. He
has come to save; which, again, means that there is need for
What the demons understand is that Jesus has come to save by
destroying. And nobody wants that, including the demons. The demons
are unwitting spokesmen for regular old people like us.
"Leave us alone." "Don't destroy us." "Don't change the way things are
for us, they're fine the way they are." They aren't, of course. But at
least they're such that we have some control in matters.
Of course, we don't like some of the things that go with it. Who wants
there to be demon possession as the unfortunate man experienced? Who
likes sickness as Peter's mother-in-law suffered? So of course when
those things are dealt with swiftly and with power we latch on to
them. Jesus has come for that? Yeah, I'll sign on.
But you know how everything looks good at first? And then when you
come to see what's really going on, you're not so thrilled about
what's happening to you. It's not what it at first seems. That's why
we really need to listen to those demons. They had it right.
Not that they were right. But they show us what Jesus is really all
about. Whereas we're like all those people taking in the scene—we
don't have a clue. But the demons weren't right in that, as James
says, the demons believe all right, but they shudder. They know better
than we do who Jesus is but they don't believe in Him.
That's because they don't want God's salvation. And they don't want it
because they don't want to be destroyed. You have to be destroyed in
order to be saved. And we have to ask ourselves, do we want this? To
be destroyed? Do we want Jesus to come in to our lives and destroy all
that is evil to make room for Him?
The way we react toward what happens to us suggests otherwise. We are
often like the people in the Gospel reading. We're astounded by the
power of God. We rejoice in His miraculous works. And you know what?
There's nothing wrong with that. It is astounding and something to be
But the problem with us is that we now judge God by that standard. We
expect Him to work in this way that we're enamored with. God exhibited
His power in Jesus driving the demon out of the man, why doesn't He
use His eternal power to help me in my difficulties? Jesus delivered
Peter's mother-in-law from sickness, why are there so many people
suffering from illness today?
We should probably ask this question: what would happen if God did
that? What would we do if God delivered us from all of our illnesses
and trials? You know what would happen? We would hold Him to an even
higher standard. Is that all you can do God? Isn't there more? You
know what we would see God as? A troubleshooter. A fix-it man.
But that's not ultimate power. That's not true authority. All that
stuff we're concerned with that we're expecting Him to fix for us
doesn't compare to what we really need to be concerned about. And that
is that we need to be saved. What we need is to be saved from
ourselves. We need to not be concerned about all that stuff that seems
important but about the sin that fills our heart.
This means war. It means that Jesus comes in in an assault. With His
Word and His power He destroys us. He wipes us out. We have no chance.
All our sins. The guilt that has piled up in our minds. Our lack of
trust in a gracious and loving God. As the demon said to Jesus: "Have
You come to destroy us?" Yup.
But you know why we need not tremble like the demons do? Jesus has
come to destroy in order to save. He kills to make alive. He crushes
to raise up. He wipes out all that we hold on to to give us new life.
Free from the constraints of our notions of who God is. The true and
ultimate God is the God who is free to work beyond our self-imposed
constraints and save us from what we really need to be saved from.
That's why power and authority will never do as we understand it or
devise it to be. The true power of God is not seen in mere miracles of
Jesus, as fantastic as those are. It is to be seen in what the demons
point us to: the fact that Jesus is the Holy One of God and the Son of
God. What this means is what nobody there knew or understood because
Jesus had not yet done what He came to do in order to be the Holy One
of God and the Son of God.
They had not yet known the God of the cross. The One who would not be
speaking with appeal and displaying the power of healing people and
driving out demons.
The one who was doing those things was really the One who came to do
one thing. And that is the thing of eternal power. It's the thing that
seems the opposite of so much of what He did in healing people,
vanquishing demons, raising people from the grave—His own life being
Where's the power? The budding excitement that here is one who can do
anything? Who will help us in whatever is our need? Who exhibits power
and authority in everything He does?
It's there. It cannot be noticed according to our standards we have
set up for God. It can't be seen except by faith. It can't even be
believed by us except for the strange thing the Holy Spirit does to us
in our Baptism: He kills us. He destroys our sinful flesh that sees
only what it wants to see. With new eyes we now see a God who loves us
so much that He is willing to kill us along with Him in His death. In
that merciful act we are raised to new life that needs no healing or
It is healing of our soul. It is life in which our sins are wiped out.
The slate is clean. The guilt vanquished like a demon who can no
longer talk because Christ's Word silences him. Jesus has come for one
thing and that is to make alive. To save us in a way we would never
know apart from His destroying us and our false notions. Jesus dares
destroy us so that we may live with Him forever. Amen.
Pastor Paul L. Willweber
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church [LCMS]
San Diego, California
God is stubborn…
In less politically-correct times, I remember growing
up in Washington, Missouri and my Dad talking about the
stubborn Frenchmen across the river; or Pollacks south of
town; or Krauts in town. Are there any nationalities NOT
known for being stubborn? [except mine :) ]
Stubbornness is sometimes bad when we refuse to change,
take our medicine, obey the rules. There are consequences.
And when it comes to hearing God's Word, people are VERY
stubborn - even though God warns of severe punishment on
earth (Jeremiah 1:9); and even the fires of hell.
When Jesus claimed that the Scripture was fulfilled
after reading from Isaiah, the people realized two things.
ONE, that Jesus was claiming to be the Servant spoken of in
Isaiah; true God and true man. And TWO, that Jesus was
saying THEY were prisoners of sin; they were blind to their
own sin and to God's salvation. That made them angry.
People stubbornly refused to listen to Jesus in today's
That also applies to you, a Christian, because you have
a duty to speak about Jesus (Matthew 28), even when there's
You may wonder how YOU might succeed when Jesus didn't -
He had already epiphanied Himself as True God as well as
True man at Cana. But that's the wrong question. The REAL
question is "why did Jesus bother (and why should you) when
people stubbornly refuse to listen?" The authentic answer
is in God's nature: His love.
God is Very Stubborn About His Love!
In His stubborn love - God wants ALL people to be saved.
The LORD "threatens to punish all who transgress His
Commandments" (Ex. 20:5-6, LSC) - and He does send people to
hell. God sends the Law "to uproot & tear down, destroy &
overthrow" as He told Jeremiah.
Judah had her warning in 722 BC when the 10 northern
tribes were wiped-out by Assyria. Jeremiah spoke just
before the Babylonian Captivity in 586 B.C.
Likewise Jesus warned believers in Matthew 24 about
coming judgment, and in 70 A.D. Jerusalem, was destroyed
until "not one stone was left on another." Then God removed
all of Judah in 135 AD. God carries out His threats, even
sending people to hell, because He is just.
While God is holy and hates all sin, God is not all Law.
In His love He reaches out. He sent Jeremiah from childhood
to warn people, to beg for repentance, for people to turn to
God, and to believe in God.
God sent His only-begotten Son to live a perfect life as
our Substitute, and to endure physical agony on the Cross
and spiritual abandonment by the Father. All this so people
could inherit heaven.
Likewise, He sent Paul with the message of Jesus' love
to Corinth. God sends missionaries to Tell the Good News
About Jesus in Africa. God Calls pastors to congregations
and calls parents to serve children. God appoints some, not
all, to be full-time workers. He also sends YOU. You are a
missionary to ________ (fill in your locality).
Buildings seldom attract unbelievers to come inside and
find out more. People who are filled with love by the power
of God's Word and Sacraments and put that love into
action -- that is more likely to attract the unbeliever or
one who is only a nominal believer to come to God's House or
listen to you. God is stubborn about this, too. He wants
His salvation of the Cross proclaimed to all nations (Psalm
67) - and that means you continually growing in Christ and
being a living example of Christ's love inside and outside
of these walls.
In His Stubborn Love - God (alone) brings people to
salvation. Not by logic, charm, pizzazz, bribes, wisdom,
Church Growth principles, or any human means. Remember the
people commented on His "gracious words"? Or the words of
Paul on Mars Hill (Acts 17)? The sweetest words and
greatest rhetoric can't convert one soul! But worthless
words, bad morals, and other actions can scare folks away!
It's no wonder Moses, Jeremiah, and others balked! I ain't
always eloquent neither! Nor can your love, kindness, or
charm actually bring them to faith. What DOES?
It is the Holy Spirit's power alone that converts (by
Word and Sacrament). Jesus explained to Nicodemus
conversion is the Spirit's work, not ours. God put His Word
into Jeremiah (and Isaiah). God works the same way in you.
Remember Luther's Third Article of the Apostle's Creed?
It's God works THROUGH you with His Word. His message, not
In His Stubborn Love - God uses YOU to extend His
kingdom. Not everyone is called to every task - but you are
called to serve others in active, 1 Corinthians 13 love in
the power of the Cross. He may be calling you to serve as
an office manager for missions in South America, to serve
for six-weeks as an English helper (ESL) in Taiwan, to serve
as a helper in our community clean up program, or a thousand
other possibilities of service beyond your vocation as
parent or child, student or worker, or whatever. As with
last Sunday's message, not all parts of the body are the
same or do the same thing.
God not only loved the little boy Jeremiah; but He loves
all His people; that meant Law had to be preached. The
people did not believe, and their unbelief had to be
confronted. God also confronts us; and He turns us to
Christ: Who came to die on the cross for us all. People
didn't like Jeremiah's message; or Christ's. Or mine (when
God's Word speaks against female pastors, abortion, the
"rapture", etc.). Or yours! God's Law when purely preached
is seldom popular.
But the LORD supplies what you need to tell others about
Jesus. The Word itself. His Spirit to empower it. He
gives the courage to tell it; and the strength to go on.
Do people listen the, when you are on your best behavior and
performing the greatest actions of love? Not always.
Consider Matthew 10:25 (No disciple is above His Master).
Luke 10:16 (Whoever rejects you, rejects Me.). Jeremiah
constantly battled this problem; you will, too. Which is
why we pray the Collect of the Day. (read it!)
Like Jeremiah, you may doubt your abilities to share
Jesus: good! Rely on God's Word! When you speak the Truth
in love (Ep 4:15), it will not return to God void (Isaiah
55). But do speak!
You may give excuses why you can't do what God asks; and
others may give excuses why they won't listen; but don't
stop telling about the love of God in Christ Jesus. People
will stubbornly resist what you say; but don't stop sharing
Jesus and His love. The world, and your neighbor and
friend, needs to hear about the Cross of Christ.
God's stubborn love continues for you and for others;
and He calls you to be faithful to His Word, not successful.
"The LORD watches over the way of the righteous; but the way
of the wicked shall perish." May those who are righteous by
faith believe this and boldly proclaim it. May the Holy
Spirit, with the power of God's Word, fill us with such
stubborn love to reach out to others around us! In Jesus
Christ Jesus Comes with the Authority to Bestow Life
- into a world of sin and death (including your world)
- Jesus comes with authority to heal and
save and give life (and so He does)
- this authority He exercises (for your life
and salvation) by His preaching of the Word -
- that is the primary "Epiphany"
(or manifestation) of God (the Word)
- this Word of Christ and the preaching of it,
does what it does - for you - because it is most
fundamentally the forgiveness of your sin
- but what is this preaching up
against? - and what good can it possibly do?
- what are the demons and unclean spirits in your life?
- with what diseases and infirmities are you afflicted?
- can a Word of forgiveness from Jesus really help?
- in a word, Yes!
- the authority with which the Lord Jesus comes
is not simply His raw power as the Holy One, the
Son of God (as the demons fearfully exclaim)
- it is the authority of His incarnate life unto
death upon the Cross, in the stead and on behalf of sinners
- He does not come to crush and destroy you with
judgment, but to save you and raise you up with His forgiveness unto life
- He has taken the burden of your sin and death,
all the assaults of the devil and the frailties
of your mortal nature, upon Himself, and borne
them in His own body on the Cross
- He has dealt with it all in His own flesh, by
the shedding of His own holy and precious blood - for you and your salvation
- it is from His atoning sacrifice for
you that He speaks His Word of the Gospel to you
- His forgiveness of all your sins
- it is by His accomplished Redemption
that He rescues you from sin, death, and the
power of the devil, and instead bestows upon you
life and health and strength and every good
- it is from His Cross that the
preaching of His Word is accompanied by the
nail-scarred hand of the Word-made-Flesh, laid
upon you in tender mercy and compassion (by the
One who truly and fully sympathizes with you in your weakness)
- thus did His Word of the Gospel fill the waters
of your Baptism with the Spirit and divine Life
- and so does His Word of the Gospel feed you,
both your body and your soul, with His life-giving Body and Blood
- it is for this purpose that He has been sent
- also to this city, to you - to preach the
Gospel of His great Salvation to you; and with
that preaching, to give you life forever in the Kingdom of God
- for the time being, in this vale of tears, in
this life on earth under the Cross - surrounded
on all sides (within and without) by death and
all the consequences of sin. . . .
- it is by faith and hope, and not by
sight or sense (do not expect to "see" it or "feel" it yet)
- He did not heal everyone back then; He
does not heal everyone now; and He may not heal
you of all that ails you "here in time" (although
He is merciful and compassionate)
- those He does heal still wear out and
eventually die from this temporal life; just as
you are wearing out and dying from one day to the next
- and just when you have come to rely upon Him,
to hope and trust in Him, it would appear that He is "going away" from you
- but faith knows where to find Him (in His Word)
- He is ever in the "synagogue" of His
Church, in the Liturgy of the Divine Service, in
the preaching and teaching of His Word, bestowing
peace and the true Sabbath rest upon His people
- sanctify the Holy Day unto yourself by gladly
hearing and learning His Word and the preaching of it
- He is surely here for you (as He must
be for your salvation); and because He is here,
so is the Kingdom of God in this place
- yes, your mortal body is wearing out and
running down . . . but the Lord will not destroy
you by His presence; nor will He permit you to be destroyed forever
- His Word drives out the unclean spirit of your
false belief, despair and shame - therefore
Satan cannot harm you! - and death shall not be
able to hold you in its grasp for very long
- for the Lord Jesus Christ, your Savior and
Redeemer, removes the deadly infection and high
fever of your sin, and raises you up with His
forgiveness unto life (so that your body, too,
shall be raised and glorified to live with Him forever in His Kingdom)
- it is by the authority of His own Cross that He
does so; and it is just as sure and certain, for
you, as His own Resurrection from the dead
- this is most certainly true!
In the Name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Perfect love or 'Love Divine' is both essential and eternal: Essential as
God's gift which equips us for service on behalf of God and eternal as the
complete experience next to which so much of what we value in this life is
1 CORINTHIANS 13.1-13
AN EXPOSITION FOR
THE 4TH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY - 2007
'.Love never fails'.
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from Almighty God, the Father, the Son @
and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The reading that we will look at more closely this morning is from the 1st
letter to the Corinthians where we are told:
'.Love never fails'.
Most of us have heard of Charles Wesley's great hymn: 'Love Divine, all
Loves Excelling' We will be singing it a bit later on this morning. I can
hardly think of a better starting point for a meditation on the 13th chapter
of I Corinthians than calling to mind that first line: 'Love Divine, all
It has to be said that in this fallen world of sin and imperfection, it is
easy to dismiss the whole idea of 'Divine Love' or 'perfect love', given the
imperfect world in which we live. But I Corinthians 13 will not allow us to
be dismissive of perfect love.
Perfect love must not be dismissed, because God tells us, in His word, that
it is ESSENTIAL.
So essential to our lives as Christians is this perfect love that St.Paul
1: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am
only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2: If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all
knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love,
I am nothing.
3: If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,
but have not love, I gain nothing.
So, if this perfect love is so essential for our lives as Christians,
particularly as married Christians, then where is it? Or, more
specifically, how can we get it?
I make no apology for speaking of Divine Love in these terms, as though it
were a commodity, something to be used, if not consumed by us as Christians.
In a way, God Himself describes perfect love in these terms:
4: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is
5: It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it
keeps no record of wrongs.
6: Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7: It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8: Love never fails.
This is love as something we 'use' in the course of living. This is love we
But 'what wondrous love is this?' Asks another hymn for which that question
is the first line: What wondrous love is this perfect love about which God
speaks in the Bible? It is divine love. It is the love which God displays
- the Love which God is - and the Love which God provides.
So different is this divine love from the love we usually think of, that it
is even called by a different name in Scripture. In the authorised version
we heard read a moment ago, the word was 'charity'; 'charity never
The Greek language, from which that reading was translated, unlike English,
has a handful of different words for love. The word used here for divine
love - for perfect love - is a special word. Because it is a special kind
of love we are talking about here. Yet the translation 'the greatest of
these is charity' can still be misleading to our English ears.
So I'm calling this divine love, - this charity - 'perfect love'. Yet having
tried to define it, read about it, and argued that it is essential to our
Christian lives and that we live by it, how can we experience it? If it,
in fact, it exists at all - how can we get some of this perfect love?
The answer is: we get this perfect love from being connected to the source
of it: God. The existence of perfect love is directly related to the very
existence of God Himself.
How does a branch get the nutrition it needs to live and produce grapes or
any other vine fruits? It gets everything from the vine, doesn't it? It is
the same with this divine and perfect love.
So we Christians, if we are to have divine love as part of our experience,
must first be firmly engrafted into that vine. We must be so connected to
God that His perfect love can flow from Him to us in a fruitful association,
just like branches to a vine.
This is why we in the Church make so much of 'Christian marriage'. Only
Christian marriage has this special injection of this special kind of love
into it. Marriage, or what the world calls 'love' between a man and woman
constantly takes place among human beings. But, unless it is a Christian
marriage such unions do not know 'perfect love' as we have been describing
it. Unless those who participate in marriage at the same time share a
connection with Jesus Christ, they do not enjoy access to His perfect love.
God discloses His perfect love to us, not just as something which we might
try, but which He has already displayed toward us! God has already shown
His love, the Bible announces. This is how He did it: 'while we were still
sinners, Christ died for us' (Romans 5.8).
God's perfect love is the same love that Jesus Christ expressed when He died
on the cross as the innocent sacrificial lamb dying in the place of guilty
people like us. This is what we are talking about.
This is what a hymn from the new Lutheran Service Book is singing about when
it asks: 'What wondrous love is this, O my soul? What wondrous love is
this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul,
for my soul, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.' (Lutheran Service
Book # 543)
God's perfect love - demonstrated by the crucified and risen Christ - is the
same love to which He gives us access when God, through the sacrament of
Baptism, and through faith in Him, adopts us into His family and makes us
This perfect love is of the very essence of the Christian faith, because the
Christian faith is essentially about trusting in what God has already done
for us, to save us, rather than, as in other religions, what we humans can
do for God, to save ourselves.
Coming as it does from a changeless and eternal God (like God Himself),
perfect love is ETERNAL.
St.Paul described perfect love to the Corinthians in terms of being the
complete experience next to which much of what Christians value in this life
is but incomplete:
8: '.But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are
tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9: For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10: but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
11: When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I
reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
12: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face
to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully
13: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of
these is love.
Even the earthly practice of 'marrying and giving in marriage' is something
which will be replaced in Heaven by something more complete. Jesus tells us
that in Heaven we will be like the angels, rather than husband and wife as
we know it on earth. (Matthew 22.30)
Yet, whatever passes away in the timeless aeons of eternity, perfect love
continues to exist forever. This is love that never fails. For, as surely
as we expend the love that God gives us, He replenishes our supply, from the
boundless source of infinite love that He is to all who look to Him in
We are Christ's representatives, and through us God is calling you. We beg
you, on behalf of Christ, to become reunited with God. God had Christ
...take our sin so that we might have God's approval through Him. (2Cor.
REDEEMER LUTHERAN CHURCH & SCHOOL
Dr.Jonathan Naumann - English Dis.
1261 Pennsylvania Avenue
p James 1:23; [Num. 12:8; Job 36:26; 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:7]
q 1 John 3:2; See Matt. 5:8
r See ch. 8:3
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (1 Co 13:11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.