Genuine authority belongs first of all to God, because He is the Author and Builder of all things; and all legitimate authority on earth derives from Him, as He so delegates and assigns within the “story” of His world, according to His Word.
Being “under authority” is to recognize and respect the good order that God has established and arranged; and, so also, to live within that arrangement in relation to God and to the neighbor, as God has determined and declared in His Word: That is, to live in faith toward God, and in love for one another, each person within his or her own particular place, wherever God has stationed.
It’s easy to see how that applies in a military context, such as the centurion describes in his words to Jesus; and those who have served in the military will understand the clear chain of command. But this same sort of arrangement, or ordering of life, pertains to the entirety of life in the world, both before God and in every aspect of human society. It is the way that God, the Holy Trinity, exercises His divine authority throughout His good creation, in a beautiful harmony of all things.
The Lord establishes authorities under Himself on earth, in order to serve His whole creation by the means of His creation, and to carry out His purposes in love for His people. Thus, He serves you by those whom He has put in authority over you, and He serves others, in turn, through you. In submitting to the one in peace and without fear, and in serving the other with confidence and compassion, you honor the Lord your God as the Author and Giver of life.
Respect for authority, as belonging to the one true God and deriving from Him, and so also the responsible exercise of authority, is a matter of humility before Him, who is your Lord and King; and of confidence in that which He has given you to do, whatever your place in life may be.
This is not a case of pride in yourself, nor of reliance on your own powers, but of confident trust in the Lord your God, and of obedience to His Word. Godly authority is not a “power play,” nor at all a matter of “might makes right.” Strength and skill are gifts of God, and they are rightly used when they are put into the service of His calling and command.
So it is that our dear Lord, Jesus Christ, is a “Man under Authority,” as the centurion profoundly confesses. Although He is the one true God, the almighty and eternal Son of the Father from all eternity, He has also become the true Man; and, not only that, but He was born under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the Law. Therefore, as we heard from Him last Sunday, He does not glorify Himself, but He honors the Father. He speaks and does what the Father declares. “Not My will, but Thine be done,” He prays in the Garden of Gethesemane.
The incarnate Son is sent by God the Father, He is baptized by St. John in the Jordan River, and He is anointed by the Holy Spirit, to preach and perform the Gospel. That is His Divine Call, His Vocation, His Office and station in life. It is uniquely His, for no other creature in heaven or on earth could do and accomplish what He has been called and sent to do for the salvation of us all. But He humbles Himself and honors the duties of His Office, just as you are called to do in yours.
The difference, of course, is that He is perfectly faithful in all that He says and does, and in this, He makes all things brand new: in Himself, to begin with, but on your behalf, and for all mankind.
Where the first man and his wife fell short of the Glory of God and broke their relationship with Him and with each other, the Son of God, Christ Jesus, the new and better Adam, has submitted Himself to the Authority of His Father, in order to rectify the relationship of God and Man.
The Lord Jesus does not undermine or overthrow the Authority of God, but affirms and honors that Authority as the bedrock of the New Creation. He atones for man’s sin by suffering the broken-ness of the fall, while at the same time He establishes the proper place and holy purpose of man in His own faithful obedience and life of love.
The obedience of Christ, therefore, replaces the disobedience of all other men. On the one hand, sin is put to death in His sacrificial death upon the Cross, whereby He suffers the punishment that man deserved. And on the other hand, His own faith toward God, and His love for His neighbor, are the pattern of true human Life in the Image and Likeness of God, which is brought to light and poured out upon all flesh in His Resurrection from the dead.
By His Cross, and in His Resurrection, this Lord Jesus Christ has become the Author of salvation, and the Author and Perfecter of the faith, according to the Word and Will of His God and Father. As true God and true Man, His active and passive obedience have perfectly accomplished and permanently established the good order of Creation.
This is what it means for Jesus to be a “Man under Authority,” and to receive “all Authority in heaven and on earth.” It is the “special authority” of forgiveness and salvation, which belongs to Him by right as the Author of the Atonement and of Justification. As the One who has taken the place of all men, and borne the sins of all men, and died the death of all men, He has the authority to forgive the sins of all men, and to save sinners for the Life everlasting of the Holy Triune God.
It is indeed remarkable that the foreign centurion recognized and trusted that authority in Jesus, even before the Cross and Resurrection had yet been accomplished, solely on the basis of the Word that he had heard concerning Jesus. Such great faith is the divine work and gracious gift of the Holy Spirit, who works, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel. So, too, has the same Spirit obtained such faith in you by the proclamation of the Word of Christ Jesus.
For it is, in fact, by the speaking of His Word, that your Lord Jesus exercises His Authority for the forgiveness of your sins, and for your salvation. He speaks, and you are healed: in body and soul, for the resurrection and eternal life. This, too, that same centurion remarkably confessed, in whom God demonstrated His grace and mercy, not only for the Jews, but for all the nations of the world.
Which is why the crucified and risen Lord Jesus uses His Authority to call the nations to Himself, to become His disciples: by the washing of the water with His Word, and by the ongoing catechesis of His Word. Take note that everything depends upon His Word. He speaks a Word, and it is so.
He calls the nations to Himself, to take up the Cross and follow Him. But, already in the Word that He preaches, He has drawn near to them; He is present and active, even to the ends of the earth. And that is no less the case in the preaching of those men whom He calls and sends in His Name to speak and act in His stead. They also are men “under Authority,” in whom Christ Jesus speaks; not unlike the way that centurion spoke to the Lord through those whom he sent as messengers.
Thus, as Pr. Chryst is called and sent by God to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments in Singapore, we believe and confess that Christ Jesus thereby preaches His Word and gives His good gifts to His people there. It is the same in the case of your own pastors here in South Bend.
The called ministers of Christ, who are the pastors of His Church on earth, are not “free agents,” nor “freelance artists,” as though they had some arbitrary or independent authority of their own. No, they are men “under the Authority” of Christ Jesus. They are under His divine command, to deal with you according to His Word. That is what “ordination” means and does: It places the man “under orders,” within the chain of command that derives from the Author of Salvation.
There is simply no genuine authority in any alternative “gospel,” as St. Paul strenuously insists. Because there really is no other Gospel; nor is there any other authority for life and salvation; as there is no other Lord than Christ Jesus, the incarnate God, crucified and risen from the dead.
He alone, the Lamb who was slain, is worthy to be worshiped in heaven and on earth, by angels and archangels, and by all of creation. For He alone has redeemed and rectified what was broken. He alone has reconciled God and Man; and that He has accomplished in Himself, in His own Body. Therefore, there is forgiveness, life, and salvation in no one else, and nowhere else, than in Him.
In human relationships, in the dealings of this life on earth, certainly we can recognize and honor the worthiness of those who live according to the laws of the land; who do their jobs and fulfill their duties faithfully; who respect the chair in which they are seated, that is, the office they hold. So it was that even the Jewish elders were able to acknowledge the worthiness of the centurion; and our Lord Jesus points us to the great faith which supported that man’s good works of love.
But before God, not one of us is worthy of the least of all His benefits. Of ourselves, not one of us is righteous, and, therefore, none of us has any right to stand before Him or ask Him anything. Not one of us has the prerogative to presume upon God. Even at our very best, we are unworthy servants. We have done no more than our duty; that is to say, if we have done even that much. We are not “overlords,” but men, women, and children “under authority.” Thus, it is right that we should follow the example of the centurion in confessing our unworthiness and seeking grace.
Yet, again, it is also “under authority” that we do have confidence in doing our God-given duty. Although you are unworthy, it is the Lord your God who has called you and positioned you, and there you may rejoice that it is pleasing to Him for you to do whatever your office requires of you. That is to find your sufficiency and strength, not in yourself, but in His Word and by His Spirit.
So, too, beloved, take courage and find confidence in the Authority of Christ Jesus, your Savior. Trust and believe that His Word does what it says, and that it gives you what He speaks to you. When He absolves you of your sin, you are forgiven. When He bids you take and eat His Body, to drink His Blood, do not be afraid, but so receive Him gladly, and know that He gives you Life.
Likewise, do not be afraid, but call upon His Name, and ask for His forgiveness, for His help and His salvation. Notwithstanding your unworthiness, He is worthy of your worship and petitions. And He Himself has commanded you to pray, and has taught you to pray, and has promised to hear and to answer your prayer. He forgives all those who ask; He saves all those who call on Him.
There is no worthiness, nor any genuine authority, apart from God’s Word. Nor can faith live or proceed apart from His Word. But hear, then, what He has spoken and established by His Word; and so, by faith in His Word, receive what His Word declares and delivers to you by His grace.
For God the Father loves you, and He speaks to you by His own dear Son, by whom He has built your Synagogue and established His Temple, so as to gather you from the ends of the earth to Himself, and to abide with you in peace.
Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, in His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified for your sins and raised again for your righteousness — He is the Temple of God, on earth as in heaven forever. It is in Him, in His Body, that God dwells in your midst, in order that you may draw near to Him in confidence and dwell with Him in peace: in body and soul, even now, by faith in His Word.
Therefore, listen to Him in His preaching, and look to Him here, where His Word directs you to find Him. Pray to Him, as He has taught you to pray; even as He ever lives to intercede for you before the Father in heaven. And come now, under His roof, to eat and to drink at His Table, in the safety and security of a dear child in your Father’s house and home. No harm shall befall you.
For by His Word of the Gospel, Christ Jesus has saved you from sin and death, and has made you well, and has granted you His Life. He is worthy to be worshiped and praised and given thanks for all His gifts and benefits, and for His great salvation, which He graciously bestows upon you here and now.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.