Genuine Authority is not a power play or political maneuver. It isn’t “might makes right,” nor “push comes to shove.” It’s not about controlling people or getting them to do what you want.
But real Authority uses whatever strength, ability, resources or skills one might have, to give life: to preserve and protect and nurture life; to love, and to serve, and to care for others. Whether with muscle, with intelligence, knowledge and wisdom, with eloquence of words or charity of heart, or with whatever talents, treasures and time one may have.
All such true Authority derives from the Lord, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Maker and Preserve of all things. Because Authority begins with and always belongs to the Author: to the One who speaks, and it is so; to the One who was, and is, and is to come, who acts in love to bring about life, not selfishly, but graciously. He is the Author and Giver of Life for the sake of such love, which is and remains the source of all Authority.
It is by and through, and in and with the Word of God that all things are made, and you cannot separate the true divine Authority of God from His Word. The Authority of the Father is the Authority of the Son, and the Authority of the Son is the Authority of the Holy Spirit. The Father speaks His Son, and so breathes His Spirit, and so does the Holy Triune God create and give life. To man, in particular, He gives Himself. He shares His Life and His Love by His Word.
To live according to the Word of God, therefore, is Life. And to disregard and disobey His Word, to depart from it, is death. At its heart, that is what all sin is: a departure from the Word of God. The outcome is death: not so much as punishment as the inevitable consequence, because departing from the Word of God is a departure from His Life.
Repent, therefore, and live.
Why should you pursue death, and die, when the Lord who created you in love still speaks to you in mercy, to give you life with Himself, and health and strength and every good?
In one respect, it is so simple and so obvious: Turn away from evil, and do good. Turn away from sin and death, and live unto God in faith, unto righteousness. Stop doing what He has forbidden, and do what He has commanded. Use your freedom to pursue a greater knowledge, love, and understanding of His holy and precious, life-giving Word, and in all things live according to it.
Not only is this good and right: It is good for you.
It is the way of life, whereas the soul that sins shall die.
But of course, it isn’t obvious or simple at all. Because your sin is more deeply rooted than even your thoughts and feelings. It is deeper than your words and actions — deeper even than your intentions. It is rooted in your ego and your will. It permeates your heart and darkens your mind. It’s got your tongue, your ears and eyes, your hands and feet, because it’s got you. You’re not simply a person who sins, but you sin because you are a sinner.
You do not see things clearly. You do not understand them. Your perceptions, opinions, and conclusions are off; they are fallen, along with the rest of you. So that, even your efforts to please God, to keep His Word and live according to it, are muddled and misguided. The problem is not with His Word, but with your heart, mind and spirit.
Thus, instead of the righteousness of faith and the life of love, there reigns in you — apart from Christ and His Spirit — the selfishness of lust and the self-righteousness of pride (or else the despair of unbelief, which is nothing else but the flipside of pride).
Which is why the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the Kingdom of God ahead of the religious elite. Not because their sins are acceptable or harmless — far less commendable — but because they are exposed for the sinners they are, and broken and contrite, and called to repentance.
Ironically, their rescue is found and received, first of all, in the recognition of their helplessness and hopelessness. Their life of selfishness and sin is laid bare for the foolishness and futility it really is — self-destructive, deadly, and damnable. In this respect, the Word of God has not simply informed or educated them, but has convicted them and hastened their death: that is to say, it has put them to death to themselves, to their sins, to their idolatrous pursuits, and to the fallen world.
But the Word of God speaks more than condemnation. It speaks life and light and love. It shows not only sin, but salvation.
To those whom it convicts and crucifies, it grants the peace of forgiveness: It pardons and spares. It justifies the ungodly with a righteousness not of themselves. It does not drive to despair, but raises from death and reconciles to God. It not only speaks about life, but actually bestows life. It enlightens the heart and mind with the Spirit of Christ Jesus.
All of this for the same reason that God created all things to begin with: that is, for the sake of His divine grace and holy love.
Because the Lord, the Author and Giver of Life, takes no pleasure in the death of any sinner, be it publican or pharisee, but He desires all people to be saved. And that’s not just a hope or a wish or a pipe dream on His part, but He becomes the Author of Salvation: your Savior! He not only calls you (and all men) to repentance, but He Himself comes to save you, to bring you out of death and the grave, into life, in and with Himself.
The Lord Jesus Christ has divine Authority as the Son of God from all eternity, and as the Word by whom all things are made. But now He has obtained and received a New Authority — in the flesh, “for us men and our salvation” — by authoring repentance, resurrection, reconciliation, and righteousness on behalf of the fallen and far off — for lost and condemned sinners: like you.
He has done so by living as true Man, in your place, by faith and love. From His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, He does so. From His holy Nativity, He does so. From His Baptism by St. John in the Jordan River, He does so. He takes upon Himself, not only human nature, flesh and blood just like yours, but also the fallen condition of all Adam’s children, and thus mortality like yours, the full curse and consequences of sin.
He humbles Himself, and submits Himself to the will of His God and Father (for the salvation of His creatures), and He becomes obedient, even unto death upon the Cross. He does it voluntarily, in love for His Father and for you, with divine compassion and tender mercy.
It is not easy for Him, nor at all pleasant, but this is how He uses His strength, His almighty power, His divine Authority. He subjects Himself to the judgment, condemnation and punishment of the Law for all your sins (for the sins of the whole world), in the confidence and hope, the trust and the prayer, that God His Father will raise Him up again, vindicate Him, exalt Him and glorify Him.
All of this so that you, also, in Him, should be raised up, justified, exalted and glorified; so that you should not perish, but be saved and have eternal life in Him.
Thus, by His Incarnation, by His Cross and Resurrection, He has become the Author of Salvation, and, as such, He has been given Authority to forgive sins, to save sinners, to rescue from death and the grave, to make disciples out of men and women from all nations, and to give life with God.
Repent, therefore; trust Christ, and live.
As He has entered upon His story of salvation by the way of His Baptism, so then, you also be baptized, or return to your one Holy Baptism for the remission of sins. That is to say, remember your Baptism, what it signifies and indicates. Return to its cleansing, refreshing and life-giving waters by contrition for your sins, and by repentance.
Follow Christ Jesus to the Cross in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection from the dead.
What does that mean but to renounce the devil, all his works and all his ways, and to seek and find your life in the Holy Triune God. Stop trying to make a life for yourself, and receive the life that only He can give. Turn away from your sin — from your lust, your pride, your selfishness, your false gods of whatever kind, your false belief, despair, and shame, and vice — and trust the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus.
Flee to His forgiveness, lay hold of His Life, and seek His salvation, while it may be found.
You know where and how to find it (to find Him), because He calls you to Himself by the Gospel. It is by the Holy Ministry of the Gospel that He exercises His Authority of forgiveness, life and salvation. That is so clear throughout the Gospel According to St. Matthew — who was himself among those tax collectors who were called to repentance and faith, to discipleship, by the Word of Christ Jesus. Thus, the people marveled that God has given such Authority to men on earth. For the Lord Jesus sent His Apostles, and others after them, to do all the things that He Himself was doing (and does): to preach and teach, to cast out demons, to heal the sick and raise the dead — and so also to forgive sins in His Name and stead.
And as the Gospel begins with the Baptism of St. John, the Forerunner of the Christ, so does the Gospel conclude — and continue to the end of the age — with Holy Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, by the Authority of Christ the Crucified.
“All Authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me,” He says to the Apostles. “Therefore, go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them all of My Words.”
You come to that same Lord Jesus Christ, and you enter the Kingdom of God through Him — like tax collectors, prostitutes, and countless other sinners before you — by your Baptism into Him; by the preaching and teaching of His Word; and by the gathering of His disciples to His Table, to eat and drink His Body given and His Blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.
By these ways and means, the Author of Salvation sets you free to live.
Now, then, use your freedom to love and to serve, to give life to your neighbor.
That is what the way of righteousness and the life of God in the flesh looks like: faith toward God in Christ, and love for one another (also in and through Christ Jesus).
That is what the scribes and pharisees, the chief priests and the elders of the people, by and large, did not get, despite their valiant and zealous efforts to keep the Law of God and to live according to it. Lacking faith and love, they missed the heart of the matter, and the whole point eluded them. They sought a righteousness of their own before God, and so they looked with contempt upon their neighbor. They did not recognize their sin, and so they could not recognize their Savior.
But now the Author and Giver of Life and Salvation has written His story and revealed Himself to you, in the flesh, in the waters of your Holy Baptism. For as that Sacrament is the fountain and source of your discipleship and life in Christ, so is it also the shape and pattern of your discipleship and life. In it you have been recreated and reborn with a new heart of faith and love, endowed with the mind and the Spirit of Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God.
Your Holy Baptism — into Christ — is the righteousness by which you live in faith and love. It marks and bestows and lays out before you the path of life in Christ, the way of righteousness, so that you now walk humbly before your God and Father in Him, and you bear the Cross for your neighbor — by loving and forgiving, caring for and serving your neighbor. As you have already died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, you know and trust that, whatever you suffer, and even though you die, yet shall you live in both body and soul forever. The Lord shall raise you up, and vindicate you, and glorify you in His Kingdom.
So, too, your Holy Baptism — into Christ — is the repentance by which you daily die to sin. It crucifies and buries you with Christ Jesus, so that your old Adam with all his sinful lusts and desires, with all his doubts and fears, with all his envy and jealousy, selfishness, pride and despair, is put to death and done away with. Not for punishment, but for repentance and discipline, that you might not die forever in your sin, but be rescued by and for the one true God.
The Lord is not petty or vindictive, nor does He have any desire or intention to deprive you of any good thing. Exactly the opposite is true. Therefore, He cuts you off and calls you away from all the false gods who promise you life but give you only death and damnation. As painful as that may be, because you are so addicted and beholden to your sins, and so dependent on your idols, this wound is for your healing; this crucifixion, death and burial is for your resurrection.
Your Holy Baptism is that, too: your resurrection and your life, by which you live in Christ, both now and forever. For this Holy Sacrament, administered once but operative throughout your life, daily and richly forgives your sins, washing all of them away. It rescues from death and the devil, and so also gives life and salvation. As it crucifies you with Christ Jesus, so does it raise you up with Him. And as He has reconciled the world to God, so are you reconciled to God through your Baptism into Him.
Thus, your Baptism has brought you into the Temple of God — into His Church, the Body of Christ, on earth as it is in heaven — and so into the Kingdom of God. Here He is still preaching and teaching, and by this Word of Christ, the Father speaks to you by His Son, in order to give you life with Himself. He enfolds you in His Love, and He enlightens you with the Holy Spirit.
Here you are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, your life hidden with Him in the bosom of the Father, as surely as He is here with you in this place, at this Altar.
Here you are fed with His Body and His Blood, which are your Meat and Drink indeed. Do not doubt that He has such Authority to feed you in this way, but rejoice and delight in His grace, and give thanks and sing for what He says and does and gives to you here.
For He has tasted the sour grapes of your sin and death, with His own teeth, in His Body of flesh and blood, so that you might drink freely the Choicest of Wines from His Chalice, from the Cup of Blessing which we bless, which is the Cup of Salvation. For you. For real. Forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.