Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
Deuteronomy 18:15-18. The Lord your God will rise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horab in the day of the assembly when you said, "Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God, not see this great fire anymore, or we will die." The Lord said to me "What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him."
Mark 1:21-22. They went to Capernaum and when the Sabbath came Jesus went into the synagogue an began to tech. The people were amazed at his teaching because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.
Matthew 28:16-18. Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth ha been given to me."
Mark tells us, "The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching - and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him." News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee."
And no wonder - a person with that kind of authority is going to attract attention. Where did that authority come from? Why did Jesus create such a dramatic reaction, both positively and negatively from everyone he met?
Jesus' authority came first of all, from his relationship with his Father. As someone has noted, the teachers of the law in Jesus' time didn't speak with their own authority. They usually prefaced their comments with something like "There is a saying that..." or "Rabbi Such and Such has said that..."
Even the prophets rightly attributed their pronouncements to "Thus says the Lord..." But Jesus said simply "I say to you.." How could Jesus do that and have people take him at his word? It was because of his relationship with the Father.
Sunday School Story: Teacher asks a question, wanting her students to answer with "JESUS". First child blurts out his answer, e"GOD" The teacher gently suggested he try again. Another child pipes up answering "JESUS" The teacher congratulates the second child on the correct answer. The fist little boy said in a huff, "Yea. That's what I meant - but I call him "God" for short." Children, you've got to love 'em. That was the primary source of Jesus' authority - his relationship with his Father. But there were other sources of his authority.
Jesus' authority also came from his genuine commitment to serving people. It made no difference who they were or what their need was. Jesus was there to serve.
Of course, onlookers were amazed at the change Jesus made in this man, but his willingness to engage with the man in the first place - a nobody, an obviously troubled spirit, an outcast - impressed them just as much.
When he made a difference in this man's life, it gave them the confidence that he could make a difference in their lives, too.
We've heard the evidence of Jesus making a difference from the reports of medical professionals upon patients, but what about on the doctors themselves. Dr. Diane Komp is a pediatric oncologist. She specializes in treating children who are suffering from cancer. Through her work with suffering children, she has moved from being an agnostic to being a follower of Jesus. One of her favorite quotes comes from a former patient. "For the Christian, the Big C is not cancer - the Big C is Christ."* Jesus is the big C. That's authority. Jesus genuinely cares about people who are in distress.
*Diane M. Komp, M.D. A Window to Heaven (Grand Rapids; Zoodervan Publishing House. 1992) p. 18.
This authority also comes from his willingness to do whatever is necessary to accomplish that which he was sent to accomplish. Any leader who is willing to give his or her all is going to gain the respect of his or her followers and certainly that was true of Christ. That is what the cross is all about.
Out of the Second World War comes the story of a platoon of American soldiers stranded on one side of a mine field they had to cross. The captain came up with a plan: one man would walk across the mine field, leaving clear footprints for others to follow. If this first man hit a mine, then another man would walk across the field in his footsteps until finally someone had cleared a path for all the other soldiers.
With their hearts in their throats, the young soldiers agreed to the plan. Which ones would be chosen to walk the field first? To their surprise, their captain began walking across the field. As their leader, he insisted on risking his life for the sake of his men. The commander crossed the field safely. Following closely n his footsteps, all the soldiers made it across th field.
If you were a soldier in that captain's company, wouldn't his willingness to give his all cause you to respect him, listen to him, follow him? Remember that if you are ever in a position of leadership - whether it is in your work, your community or just in your family. Why should people follow you if they know you are not really committed to the task at hand?
Of course Jesus above all persons was willing to do whatever was necessary to accomplish what his Father had sent him to do. His authority came from his relationship with the Father. His authority came form his genuine commitment to serving people. And his authority came from his willingness to do whatever it took - even sacrificing his own life - to accomplish that for which he was sent.
But there is one more reason for Christ's authority that is important to us today. It is the continuing influence he has in our world two thousand years after his death and resurrection. No one who has ever lived has had the influence on human society that Christ has had.
It should be pointed out that when a major plague hit the ancient Roman Empire, Christians had a surprisingly high survival rates. Why? It s because most Roman citizens would banish any plague-stricken person from their household.
But because Christians had no fear of death, they nursed their sick instead of throwing them out on the streets. Therefore, many Christians survived the plague. Why did Christians not fear death? Because their Master taught them that he is the resurrection and the life and therefore death had no hold over them.
He also taught them to love one another. That is how people were to know they were his followers, by their love. And so many Christians survived the plague. One of the sources of Christ's authority through the ages has been his influence on those who follow him.
Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" Painted over 500 years ago, is considered one of the classic masterpieces in the history of art. According to author Michael J. Gelb, this painting was done in a circular motif. Everything on the table is round, such as the bread and the plates. Also, the disciples are arranged in a half-circle on either side of Jesus. There is a distinct purpose behind da Vinci's use of the circular theme. As Mr. Gelb rites, "Like a stone tossed into the still pond of eternity, Leonardo conveys Christ's influence rippling out to change human destiny forever."
That's authority -- when your words and your actions send out ripples of influence that outlasts your life. An anonymous author made this observation: "Socrates taught for forty years. Plato for fifty, Aristotle for forty and Jesus for only three. Yet the influence of Christ's three year ministry infinitely has more impact than that left by the combined 130 years of teaching from those men who were among the greatest philosophers of all antiquity.
Jesus painted no pictures: yet some of the finest paintings of Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci received their inspiration from Him. Jesus wrote no poetry, but Dante, Milton and scores of the world's greatest poets were inspired by Him.
Jesus composed no music; still Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach and Mendelssohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the hymns, symphonies and oratorios they composed in His praise. Every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by the humble Carpenter of Nazareth.
"His unique contribution to the race of humans is the salvation of the soul! Philosophy could not accomplish that. Nor art. Nor Literature. Nor music. Only Jesus Chris can break the enslaving chains of sin and Satan. He alone can speak peace to the human heart, strengthen the weak, and give life to those who are spiritually dead. Jesus is a marvelous example an proven leader for Christians to emulate and serve."
That's authority. No one who has ever lived had the authority Jesus had. It came from his relationship with his Father. It came from his genuine commitment to serving people. It came from his willingness to do whatever it took, including giving his own life, and it comes from his continuing influence to this day. And that is why I have the authority to say to you this day, Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord. Won't you accept him as your savior and Lord today?