Who has greater authority in my life; Jesus or me?

authority gospel of mark

The other day, I had a conversation with a woman who has been taking care of an autistic child for many years.  As we spoke, she shared about her experiences and the things she’s learned along the way.  She also expressed the desire to help other families who provide help for autistic children, but she doubted her ability to do so.

 When I asked her why she questioned whether she was able to offer that kind of help she said, “I don’t have a degree or any credentials that would make me an authority on this subject.”  As she was speaking those words, I interrupted and said, “If I may, let me pause you right there.  You absolutely have the credentials to help others.  You may not have an official title or a traditional degree, but you have years of experience and that’s extremely valuable.  You’re more of an authority on this subject than you realize.”

 Authority is a concept that we sometimes struggle to understand or appreciate.  We don’t always understand how it’s obtained, and when someone else possesses it, we don’t always know how to respond.  By nature, we tend to be rebellious people who bristle against the authority of others.  We commonly rebel against parents, teachers, employers, and governing authorities.  This has been the story of humanity from our earliest days and it continues right up to the present.

 When Jesus ministered on earth, His authority was regularly questioned.  Sometimes His authority was questioned to His face, and often His authority was questioned behind His back.  The thought of submitting to His authority was troubling to those who had religious influence.  Sadly, many people in the present-day resist the thought of submitting to His authority as well.  We don’t have to look far to find contemporary examples of man’s rebellion.

 What authority does Jesus actually possess?  Why does He have that authority?  How does Scripture invite us to respond to His authority?

And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”  (Mark 11:27-28)

 The week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus was certainly an interesting time to be alive.  Mark’s gospel records many of the events that took place and the words that were said during the days prior to Christ’s arrest, execution, and resurrection.  In the earlier sections of Mark 11, we were told about Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His decision to overturn the tables of the merchants and money-changers in the temple, and His cursing of the unfruitful fig tree which represented the spiritually fruitless lives of the children of Israel.  Now we’re told about a confrontational moment Jesus experienced with the religious authorities of the day.

 The works Jesus had been doing were undeniable at this point.  He had healed the sick, cast demons out of the possessed, and raised the dead.  He accepted the praise of the people who acknowledged Him as Messiah and then cleansed the temple of corrupting influences.

 The words Jesus communicated as He taught the crowds were also spoken openly and powerfully.  He had the ability to teach in a way that the other leaders of the day envied, but couldn’t replicate.  Jesus taught with authority and many thousands of people marveled at His words.  He articulated the hope we find in the gospel message.  He challenged the presumptions of those who misunderstood the point of the Old Testament Scriptures.  He also made it clear that the Scriptures were pointing to Him and He was fulfilling the words of the prophets that had been delivered centuries earlier.

 The chief priests, elders, and scribes believed they knew how authority was obtained since they considered themselves the prevailing spiritual authorities of the day, so when Jesus cleansed the temple, taught radically different things from what they taught, and did miraculous works among them, they questioned where His authority to do this kind of activity came from.  As far as they were concerned, He wasn’t properly credentialed.  And even though they couldn’t deny the miracles He was doing, they attributed the source of His power to the devil and failed to acknowledge Christ’s divinity.

 As sad and troubling as this can be to see, we have to admit that we’ve done similar things.  Like the generations that have come before us, we too have questioned Christ’s authority.  We question His authority every time we doubt Him, do our own thing, or fail to submit our will to His.  Sadly, this form of questioning is nothing new.  It happens in every generation.

Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”  (Mark 11:29-30)

 How would you have answered these men if you were Jesus?  As I read the gospel accounts, one of my favorite things to observe is the way Jesus dealt with His critics.  They were playing a game that Jesus refused to play.  He didn’t stoop to their pettiness.  Jesus often made a point to ask them deeper-level questions that cut to the heart of the matter.  He exposed their motives and made a display of their dishonesty.

 As they questioned Christ’s authority, He asked them a question and told them that revealing His answer would be contingent on their ability to correctly answer the question He was posing to them.  Jesus then asked them about the authority and activity of John the Baptist and gave them the opportunity to answer Him honestly.

 Specifically, Jesus asked them about the baptism of repentance that John facilitated before being jailed and beheaded.  John didn’t possess authority in the traditionally credentialed sense of the word, but Jesus asked them if they believed he was carrying out a divinely ordained mission or if his activity lacked divine orchestration.  This was a question the religious leaders had no interest in answering.

 By the way, have you ever questioned if you have the authority to do something specific God is calling you to do?  Are worldly credentials necessary when you’re attempting to obediently answer God’s call?

 Dwight L. Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts to Edwin and Betsey Moody in 1837. His father passed away when Dwight was only four years old, leaving his mother to raise her nine children alone. She struggled to provide schooling for her children, leaving Dwight with only a fifth-grade education. When he turned 17, Moody moved to Boston to work in his uncle’s shoe store. Having come to faith in Jesus at age 18 after his Sunday school teacher shared the gospel with him, Moody left for Chicago.

In 1856, he established what would eventually become the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. He soon left his shoe-making business to focus on his work as an evangelist- and the rest is history. Despite his lack of education, D.L. Moody changed the lives of many people all over the U.S. He never got tired of sharing the gospel, even preaching six sermons a day shortly before he passed away.

Dwight Moody is rightly known as the greatest evangelist of the 19th century. Conservative estimates suggest that he preached the gospel to 100,000,000+.  Beyond his own personal work, D. L. Moody also inspired evangelists like Billy Graham. Despite humble beginnings as a poor boy in Northfield, D. L. Moody spent his relatively short sixty-two years on this earth in fruitful service to God.  (source:  moodycenter.org)

With only a fifth-grade education, what gave Moody the authority to do what he did?  Moody’s authority was his calling from God, his union with Christ, and his Spirit-empowered giftedness.  His Christ-honoring character demonstrated that he was a credible witness to the gospel.

 What about the apostle Paul’s protege Timothy?  Timothy served as a pastor in Ephesus, yet he was terrified of the task, partly because he was young.  Knowing that to be the case, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to remind Timothy to exercise clear authority over the local church that could be backed up by the godly example Timothy set.  In 1 Timothy 4:11-12, Paul specifically instructed him; “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

 Any authority we possess in this world is on loan from Jesus.  It is a calling and a stewardship that gains respect when it’s coupled with sincere faith and godly character.  But that was a concept that the religious authorities at the time of Christ’s earthly ministry struggled to understand.

And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet.  (Mark 11:31-32)

 Jesus put the religious leaders in a real predicament.  They questioned Him publicly and He returned the favor by doing the same to them.  The people of the day considered John the Baptist a prophet, and that’s indeed what he was, but the religious leaders didn’t support him or accept his ministry.  If they criticized him in their answer to Jesus, the people would have been upset with them.  If they acknowledged him, the people would have rightly questioned why the leaders didn’t believe him.  This was a question these men did not want to answer, so they claimed ignorance and didn’t give an honest response.

So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  (Mark 11:33)

It must have frustrated these men to be continually outsmarted by Jesus, but because they showed themselves to be dishonest at their core, Jesus didn’t give them the answer they sought.  All they were doing was attempting to use Christ’s words against Him and He chose not to play into their game.

 If the Lord ever calls you to serve in a place of spiritual leadership, it would be wise to remember this passage because I can promise you that the likelihood of experiencing something similar will be high.  People will oppose you and use your words against you, but you don’t need to accept the invitation to every argument or conflict you’re invited to attend.

 And as we live our lives on this earth, let’s do so with absolute clarity about the authority of Jesus.  The word of God is not ambiguous about who He is.  Jesus is God. 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  (Matt. 28:18)

“And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”  (Col. 1:18)

“Who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”  (1 Pet. 3:22)

 From the earliest days of humanity, we have lived as rebels against our Creator. We question Him. We doubt Him. We purposely do the opposite of what He instructs because we think we know better than Him. 

Ironically, after setting ourselves against Him, we complain when He feels distant from us.

Instead of finding our sense of identity in Him, we adopt labels that show how much we want nothing to do with Him, His ways, or His wisdom. 

Our rebellion leads to all kinds of regrets. Death. Disease. Depression. Distance. 

Yet our Creator shows us compassion even though we have chosen to live as His enemies. 

Jesus, the one through whom all creation came into being, took on flesh, became a man, walked among us, taught us, invited us back, defeated sin and death, offers us a complete pardon from our rebellion, and a place in His family forever. 

Persisting in rebellion leads to sorrow. Submitting yourself to Jesus leads to life, hope, victory, and lasting joy. 

While this world persists in its rebellion and entices you to join in, please understand there’s a better option. The deepest longings of your heart for family, connection, deliverance, and hope beyond your present circumstances will be found in Jesus.

© John Stange, 2024


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