Who's Authority?

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17th Sunday After Pentecost

Who's Authority?

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and His only Son Jesus Christ, Amen.

        It seems that everybody wants to be in charge but no one wants to take responsibility. People want to wield power and authority, but they don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. People scream for justice as long as they are not held to the same judgment. We love to see the wrong-doer punished, but cry foul when we are punished for the same crime.

        In the book of Ezekiel, we hear the word of God as He speaks to the people. The Israelites, under the reign of Zedekiah, King of Judah, had been defeated by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. The prophet Ezekiel had told them God was not pleased with their worship of the Canaanite gods and their adultery. Jerusalem was destroyed and the Israelites of the kingdom of Judah were taken into captivity in Babylon.

        These fallen people remembered the words of the Lord spoken to them by Moses. In Exodus 20:5, God tells the Israelites, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” Now the people cry out saying, “It’s not fair! Why should be held accountable for the sins of our fathers? The way of the Lord is not just”

        God tells His people that He has not changed His covenant or His promise with them. He has remained steadfast, loyal and righteous in His words, in His actions, and has kept all His promises. What could be more just? What could be more fair? Yet God gives them a way out.

        God says, “Okay. Forget about the sins of your fathers. I will judge you according to your sins. If you repent, I will give you a new heart and a new spirit! I have no pleasure in the death of anyone; so turn, and live.” [Ezekiel 18:30-32]

        Being human, we do the opposite of what God commands. We transgress against God and His instructions. We break the rules every day. This is called sin. What does our sin look like? Our sin, sadly enough, looks like business as usual in our society and world.

        Rule number one: ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’ When we put ourselves first in line and above God, we break this rule. We do this when we seek out our own selfish desire over what God desires. When money or power or fame becomes more important than our worship of God, when they more important than the care of our families or our neighbors, we break this commandment.

        Rule number three: ‘Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.’ When we stay at home on Sunday instead of coming to church, we are saying, ‘I am more important than God.’ And we come up with many excuses. To be sure, in this day, we have a new hurdle to overcome with the pandemic. We now question in our hearts and minds if we are serving God and our neighbor faithfully by staying isolated in our homes instead of gathering together. You see, we do not know for certain mainly because we have so much contradictory information that we don’t know what or whom to trust.

        Even with this doubt, we still cannot justify what we know is wrong by God’s Law. When we steal, lie, or cheat, we break the covenant with God. When we covet our neighbor’s wealth, car, house or spouse, we break the covenant with God. When we gamble or drink to excess, when we view pornography or have sex out of wedlock, we break the covenant with God. And don’t think that there is less of all this going on with our current state of lockdown. All that has happened is a shift in how we sin not how much we sin.

        We still sin in all areas of life; we have just invented new ways to do it. Now, can you sit there and honestly tell God that His judgment is not fair? Two parties have entered into a formal and legally binding agreement; God and us. Out of these two parties, who has gone against the agreement in thought word and deed? The answer is, you and me. Let’s face it my friends, even in any human court of law, we have no leg to stand on. We and only we are responsible for our actions; not our parents, not our neighbors and certainly not the One True God.

        We have all been found guilty of our sins. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:22-23] The sentence for our transgressions is death, both mortal and eternal; more than that, complete separation from God for eternity.

        It gets worse. We cannot overcome our sin. We cannot win against death. You may be aware and understand that you sin every day, but did you know that once you sin you can’t take it back? Did you know that the instant you break God’s Law that you can’t undo it, that you can’t fix it? Nobody can fix their sin. Nobody can pay for the damages. Nobody can free themselves from the hangman’s noose.

        The only entity in all of creation who can forgive the debt of sin is God Almighty. He and only He can make our sin disappear. He holds all the cards and He makes all the rules. The only way we can be saved is if He decides to save us. The One True God of heaven and earth is a just God. He will not change His law in order to save us. If He did change the law, than His word would be worthless and His justice would be unrighteous. He is pure and holy. He cannot transgress against Himself.

        All you lawyers out there are probably thinking, ‘There has to be a loophole…’

        God has no pleasure in our death. He wishes us to live. To remain true to His word He needed the contract to be completed by both parties. A human being needed to live perfectly and without sin. Such a person would be the representative of the entire human race. This person would be a substitute for everyone on earth to pay the entire debt of all sin. In this way, the covenant would be upheld on both ends.

        This redeemer could not be a ‘mostly’ good man or even a ‘really’ good man, but a perfect man. This substitute must be able to live without sin. He must be able to forgive sin and he must die in order to fulfill the law.

        No man could do this because no man could ever have the complete authority of God to live, forgive and uphold the covenant. God’s answer was to create a perfect man just as he did in the beginning of the world. The new Adam would be as fully human as the first Adam. The difference would be that he would not be only human but also fully God. In this way, he would have all authority in heaven and on earth.

        Just as any human being, Jesus Christ would be born, live, be subject to the temptations of all humankind, he would suffer and die. This he would do according to his human nature, and he would do his father’s will perfectly and completely because he and his father are one. Jesus Christ has the authority of God.

        The time of the human kingdom of Israel, with its human kings and queens, its judges and prophets ended when Jesus Christ, the new Adam, came into the world of men. He walked the earth as a man, teaching, healing and forgiving. He did this with authority.

        On a day in the time of the season of Passover, he entered the holy city of Jerusalem as a king. He cleansed the temple of the money-changers. He healed the blind and the lame. It was at this time when his authority was challenged.

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” [Matthew 21:23]

        We have all had the experience where we are at a grocery store, a department store, or even over the phone, where we are not getting satisfaction with the low-level representative of the establishment, and the employee tells you, “I don’t have the authority to do what you ask.” What happens next? We make this demand: “I would like to speak to your Supervisor / Manager.”

        Forty years ago, either the clerk or bureaucrat would try everything he or she could do to resolve the problem without involving the boss or they would quickly call the supervisor to handle the dilemma. Those were the ‘good old days’.

        In our modern times of customer service, we do not get to speak to one in authority. In these times, the policy for the employee seems to be, ‘Do whatever you can not to involve the manager.’

        My first experience with this type of thinking came about some 25 years ago when I was speaking to a company representative on the phone while disputing an overcharge on a utility bill. After 20 minutes of getting nowhere, I spoke (what I thought) were the magic words, “I would like to speak to your Supervisor please!”

        The answer to my request shocked me quite a bit. “I can’t let you speak to a supervisor,” the person replied, “because there is no supervisor.” I was young then and I foolishly tried to use logic to refute this person’s statement. “If you have no boss, then you have the authority to fix the problem. If you cannot fix the problem that means someone else has the authority to do so. You know, someone like a supervisor!” I did not get any satisfaction that day.

        Who is in charge around here? It is a good question. Here is the answer: God is in charge. His authority rules our lives. Jesus Christ came into our midst to save us from our condemning sin. He is not only the representative of the heavenly kingdom; he is also the ruler of that kingdom.

        His death on the cross was our death to sin. His resurrection from the grave on the third day was our resurrection to new life in his kingdom. Our debt has been paid. The wages of sin is death but the grace of God is life eternal.

        This is why Jesus tells us to pray in his name. He is not a mere employee or a faceless number without any power over our lives. He has the complete authority to give us what we ask. It was his work, his sacrifice and his power that saved us from the grave. This power comes from heaven where it continues to forgive, heal and renew our hearts and spirits.

        The chief priests and the elders saw the power of Christ but refused to believe. Their debt of sin was not absolved through Christ’s saving work. For those who believe, who turn from their sin and return to God will be saved. Those who believe and are baptized will walk in the newness of life as a new creation of God.

        This is the justice of God. This is how His authority works. This is His mercy and grace and it is more than fair.

        As we walk together during this time of worldly tribulation, know in you hearts and minds that God is still in control. His will is being done. He has the whole world in His hands as he moves, shapes and cares for His creation. We do not have all the answers but that is okay because the authority of God has already made us His children through His Son, Jesus Christ.