Luke 4:31-44 – “The Power of Authority”

Most of you know that in addition to being the pastor of Pioneer Lutheran Church, and Director of Information Services for ILT, I am a librarian.  In fact, by training I am a theological librarian and information scientist.  Librarians in the United States today are educated to act as advocates for intellectual freedom.  Now most of you may have no clue of what intellectual freedom is.  In brief, intellectual freedom is the right to think and believe whatever you want.  This principle is understood to be an absolute right that cannot be abridged.  With all the talk in the US about the 1st amendment, we often forget that the right to free speech is not an absolute right, but a derived right.  The 1st amendment protections of speech are intended to preserve the absolute right to think and believe whatever you want.  The right of free speech is intended to counter what in intellectual freedom studies is known as the coercive power of authority.  The argument goes like this.  I can think and believe whatever I want, and implicit in this is the ability to attempt to convince my neighbor – simply by my individual power of persuasion – that I’m right and she or he is wrong.  But what if my power of persuasion is magnified by a greater authority than me as an individual?  Then the power of my authority will lend greater weight to my argument, and unfairly influence the thoughts and opinions of others.  You see, authority increases the power of your words and that power exerts a coercive force over others.

Now in our Gospel text for this morning, we see this principle in action.  The people are astonished by the authority of Jesus’ words.  His words held such authority that the unclean spirits were compelled to obey.  His authority was so great that at His rebuke, illness was cured and demons fled.  They had no choice; they had no freedom to resist Jesus’ command.  Jesus’ authority carried such coercive power that the powers of nature and spirit had to obey.  But notice, that Jesus does not declare His authority.  For people to be influenced by the coercive power of authority, they must be made aware of the authority of the speaker.  If you don’t know that you are speaking to a government official, his authority cannot influence you.  If you don’t know you are speaking to a scholar, her academic authority cannot influence you.  If you don’t know that you’re speaking to a pastor, his clerical authority cannot influence you.  You must be aware of her authority for its power to be manifested.  But not so with Jesus.  Yes, the unclean spirits knew who Jesus was, you can even say that creation itself knew who Jesus was, but the people did not know, and yet they recognized the authority of His words.  The people knew that when Jesus spoke, there was power and authority in His words.  But how could such authority go unheeded?  He commanded the unclean spirits to flee, but the people would not believe in the authority they heard in His words.  He healed the sick with just His rebuke of the illness, but the people still rejected Him.  He commanded all of creation into being through the authority of His word, an authority that the people recognized, but the people still hung Him on the cross.  Our sin makes us reject God’s authority.  The powers of spirit and nature obey; the rocks and trees obey; the powers of life and death itself obey the authority of Jesus, but we in our sin rejected Him.

But why did Jesus seek to hide His authority.  The demons came out crying “You are the Son of God!” But Jesus silenced them because they knew He was the Christ.  But why didn’t He want the people to know His authority?  Because He was there to proclaim, not command.  There are two kinds of authoritative utterances: The command and the proclamation.  When an authority commands, it wields its power or the threat of its power to compel obedience.  This is the authority of the law.  The law compels, the law threatens, the law accuses.  But there is a second kind of authoritative utterance, the proclamation.  When an authority proclaims, it is not an attempt to make you do something; it is not an act of coercion.  It is an announcement of what that authority is doing or has already done.  Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”  Jesus was not there to issue a word of command, but to issue a word of proclamation.  Where Jesus says that He must preach the good news of the kingdom of God, He is saying something quite specific.  He is literally saying that He must evangelize these other towns for the kingdom of God.  Now in reference to a kingdom, an evangelist is a very particular thing.  The evangelist is the herald who is sent out before the battle to proclaim to the people what the king will do on their behalf and after a battle to declare to the people the victory of the king.  The king has won the battle; the king has saved His people, so rejoice, you have been saved from the power of the enemy.  This is the proclamation of the evangelist.

But Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords did not send out heralds to proclaim his Good News.  He came Himself.  He had issued His word of command in His law, and through the oppression of the sin to which we have been enslaved, we have been helpless to obey.  So the king came and He proclaimed His victory; He proclaimed our freedom; and through His death on the cross He carried out His proclamation.  Our great God and King Jesus has freed us from the power of sin and death.  And now we, as His heralds are sent to proclaim to all His people that Good News in the authority of His name.  We do not speak with the authority of our church bodies, with the authority of our congregations, or with the authority of the historic episcopate.  We speak with the authority of God Himself.  We speak with the authority of He who said let there be light.  But we speak not the word of command, rather we proclaim to all what Jesus Christ has done for us.

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