True authority is what you have left when the big stick is ripped right out of your hands; when the masquerade is over, Jesus threw his big stick away, emptied himself and walked this earth as a working-class man but He still had authority – banishing demons, sickness and corrupt spiritual leaders.
At the end of Matthew 7, the people are amazed at Jesus’ authoritative teaching, a teaching whose authority came from its stunning truthfulness: Jesus had said that His teachings would stand the test of any storm. Who would challenge His listeners to try out his sayings but one convinced that he was telling the truth? In other words, Jesus doesn’t tell his audience to believe Him because He is the Messiah or because he is quoting mighty teachers but because He challenges his audience to believe what they have tried and tested. How rare this is among leaders and teachers even today!
Jesus goes on to show that His authority extends beyond mere words and claims. Jesus’ authority extends over physical disease, demons and pigs. As Jesus builds a new Israel, he restores the leper and reaches out across the “wall” to the hated Gentiles. The status quo is changing, Jesus is treading on privileged toes and those in authority feel threatened. Jesus is more than a powerful speaker and miracle worker for He stares into the sick man’s face and exercises the greatest authority of all: the power to free the guilty from sin.
In offering forgiveness for sin without the temple system, Jesus has spurned the priestly class who have come to prosper from it. The Jews looked to the temple with surging pride. This was the center of their religious life. They drew assurance from it as a sign of God’s approval and their ascendancy over all other nations. Then all of a sudden, a young upstart without ministerial credentials had offered a bypass in a rural backwater. To the indignant Jews, Jesus offers a quick “proof” of His power over sin: physical healing.
It is important to note that the patient shows no expectation of physical healing but Jesus speaks to his greatest need: freedom from sin. That is to say, even if Jesus had not given physical healing, He would have met the man’s need. Emancipation from the grip of sin is our greatest need.
Jesus is building a kingdom of freed slaves that are so consumed with a commitment to spread this freedom that they are prepared to surrender all. Jesus’ vision of the kingdom was bigger than the Jews’ and today, without a doubt, is bigger than our vision today. He exercised His authority for the good of others; what are we using our authority for? Are we consumed by a passion for individualistic prosperity or do we long to see freed captives?