If you want to know what is in a man, if you want to know what he is really made of, then you put him into the corridors of power. For this, we have no shortage of examples.
We imagine that men like Pol Pot or Stalin were exceptions, and we imagine that if we ever got into the corridors of power, we would never do the things they did. But scripture suggests differently.
Good men don’t turn bad. Men are, by nature, wicked. And the only thing standing between man and his lusts are courage and opportunity—and God’s withholding hand.
Exhibit A: Those who pressured governments around the world to change the institute and definition of marriage—because, you know, love, love, love—wasted no time once they entered the corridors of power to start suing Christian bakers, florists and photographers who didn’t want to commemorate the sodomy with their own labour.
But what if God entered into the courts of human power and authority? What kind of authority would He be?
In first-century Israel, one of those corridors was the synagogue. It was the place from which Pharisees and Scribes took the seat of Moses and declared to the people the (supposed) word of God for their lives.
And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. The people were astonished at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:21-22)
Mark records three visits by Jesus to the synagogue. Each time, Jesus is met with opposition to His authority and His desire to bring Sabbath rest.
In Mark 1, there is no mention of any Pharisees or scribes. The opposition comes from unclean spirits, demons.
And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “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.” (Mark 1:23-24)
Here, we have the poor, wretched soul of a man whose body has become inhabited with demons. These unclean spirits challenge Jesus’ authority to interfere with what they believe is their turf. “What have you to do with us?”
By the time of the second synagogue incident in Mark 3:1-6, the Pharisees had dragged their skirts out of the mud and when Jesus heals a man with a withered hand, they gather to discuss how they might destroy Jesus.
The third synagogue incident is in Mark 6:2-3. Jesus is back in Nazareth, His hometown. The locals react badly to Jesus and His teaching. They can’t tolerate a local boy—a lad they grew up with and bought furniture from—declare with such authority the word of God. They can’t handle the miracles, either.
As then, so now. The world despises authority and the people of God—the Church—are often suspicious of those in authority.
But true authority is a blessing. True authority brings Sabbath rest, comfort, protection and supplies our needs without coercion, force or fear.
To have a balanced and biblical view of authority, there are at least three things we need to get our head around. First, the source of all authority. Where does authority come from? Second, the responsibilities that come with authority, and third, the limits of all authority.
Whether of angels or men, all authority is delegated by God. In delegating that authority, God has established three basic governments among the children of men.
These three governments are the government of the church, which has the ministry of word and sacrament (Ephesians 2:20), the civil government, which has the ministry of justice (Romans 13:1-5), and the government of the family, which has the ministry of education and welfare (Matthew 19:4-6).
These three governments were established by God directly, and all three are grounded in the underlying reality of the self-government of every man established with Adam by God in the Garden of Eden.
In His humanity, Jesus’ authority is also delegated. Notice that before any miracle occurs, people recognise Jesus’ authority by what He said. (Mark 1:22). Unlike the scribes and Pharisees who spoke in their own name while claiming to speak for God (Mark 7:7), Jesus admits to the opposite.
He did not speak on His own authority by authority delegated to HIm by God.
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has Himself given Me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. (John 12:49)
Secondly, with all delegated authority comes responsibility and accountability. Authority without responsibility is tyranny.
The otherwise fit and healthy husband who sends his wife out to work while he sits at home cutting out pictures of Julie Andrews and playing Pokemon is still an authority, but he is an authority who has gone AWOL. He has abdicated a responsibility for which he will have to give an answer on judgement day.
In His humanity, Jesus’ authority also carried a responsibility.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:18)
Jesus came to open eyes, set captives free and wash away the sin of sinful sheep. And with the authority to do these things came the obligation to lay down His life for the flock.
Thirdly, as a consequence of this delegated authority, God has set some limits. These limits are bounded by the word of God. In other words, a man may only require of man what scripture requires of a man.
And so, a husband has the authority to point his wife to the laundry that needs to be tackled (Titus 2:5). He does not have the authority to send his wife out into front line combat in Syria (Deuteronomy 22).
Likewise, a wife can demand purity and fidelity from her husband in marriage because God requires it of him. She may not demand that he participate in next weeks’ swingers party—something which God does not require of him.
Here, the bounds of Jesus’ authority differ from all other human authority.
Jesus not only had authority over the physical world but over the spiritual realm also (Mark 1:23-25). He has the power to bring about the temporary physical sabbath rest of this poor man in spiritual chains as well as an eternal sabbath rest to all who are in chains.
At His death and resurrection, Jesus is declared the Son of God and is lifted up to heaven to be seated at the right hand of power (Mark 15:39, 16:15, 19). We are not waiting for Him to reign. All power and all authority have been given to Him.
This is the good news of the gospel. Your salvation does not rest in your willpower or your ability to vote for Jesus with a raised hand at a youth rally any more than this demon-possessed man had the power to deliver himself.
The good news of the gospel is that there is a man ruling heaven and earth whose authority is absolute and who has the power to raise the dead, wash away sin, deliver you out of every trouble, bring comfort to the downcast and uphold you till the last day. And He has promised to do so.
This is the blessing that ultimate authority brings to those willing to submit to it. You can take shelter under the authority of would-be gods and the little corrupt kings who oppose God in the corridors of power, or you can surrender to the terms of Jesus, the Son of God, and there find life.