Jesus Under Authority
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When a congregation installs a new pastor, they expect certain things from him. Listen again to these vows which a pastor makes at his ordination. “Do you promise that you will perform the duties of your office in accordance with these Confessions and that all your preaching and teaching and your administration of the Sacraments will be in conformity with Holy Scripture and with these Confessions?” “Will you faithfully instruct both young and old in the chief articles of Christian doctrine, will you forgive the sins of those who repent, and will you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you? Will you minister faithfully to the sick and dying? Will you demonstrate to the Church a constant and ready ministry centered in the Gospel? Will you admonish and encourage the people to a lively confidence in Christ and in holy living?” “Finally, will you honor and adorn the office of the holy ministry with a holy life? Will you be diligent in the study of Holy Scripture and the Confessions? And will you be constant in prayer for those under your pastoral care?” And with the help of God, the pastor answers, “I will.” These are weighty promises, and while Christians understand that their pastors are sinful men and thus will not always perfectly keep the promises they have made, they rightly expect their pastor to hold his life and his doctrine and practice to a high standard.
Like the centurion, a pastor has to understand authority. On the one hand he is called upon to speak in the stead of Christ when it comes to the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. Your pastor speaks; and with the authority of Christ in his hands and mouth, sin and death and the power of the devil have no choice but to depart. On the other hand he is a servant of the congregation when it comes to temporal matters. When a member is sick and in the hospital, your pastor is duty-bound to visit that member and pray for him and bring him the comfort of the Word.
Whether you like it or not, your pastor is required to remain faithful to the Word. He is under the authority of the congregation, surely; but he also speaks with the authority of Christ when it comes to His Word and Sacraments. He cannot deviate from that message. He must not drift with the currents of popularity. You may roll your eyes when, for example, your pastor harps on the frequency of Holy Communion or your daily return to Holy Baptism through repentance and faith; but when he does so, he is only doing what you have Called him to do: to speak of the gifts of God to you, to teach you regarding the benefits of those gifts, and to exhort you to the frequent reception of those gifts. You don’t like to hear that you’re a sinner, do you? You don’t like to hear that you need something you cannot get on your own. You don’t like to be convicted of your sinfulness. The preaching of the law is not a popular message; but that’s precisely why Christian congregations extend the divine call to a man whom Christ has set apart as His hands and mouth: so that he may say the unpopular thing, so he may tell you that you are a sinner, so that he may tell you of your need for the gifts of God. He has no choice. But then, when you approach in repentance and faith, it is also his duty to administer to you the forgiveness of your sins.
What is true of your pastor is also true of Jesus. When he praises the faith of the centurion, Jesus is not just praising the man for understanding that He didn’t need to enter the man’s house to heal his servant. He was also praising the man for understanding that the One with the authority to heal from a distance, the One to whom will be given all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus Himself, is also under authority. The Old Testament set forth the manner in which the Messiah would act. He would preach the Word. He would make the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, the leper to be cleansed, and the dead to rise. The Messiah would be recognized by His actions. Jesus had no choice but to act as He did, for He had placed himself under the authority of His own Word!
What a blessing for you! For the obedience Messiah don’t stop with the blessings of the body. Hear what the Apostle Paul said to the Philippians: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus was the One promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden, the One who would crush the head of the serpent, the One who would redeem fallen man. He allowed Himself to be bruised, to be crucified and put to death, bearing your sins to the death you deserved. And then, as the Old Testament foretold and even ordered, Jesus rose again, bearing you up with Him to new life in the waters of Holy Baptism.
This very day you approach the altar to receive the body and blood of the obedient Christ. Some of you may have learned during your catechism instruction to say this pray as you approach the altar: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” This is a salutary prayer, and it is one which Jesus delights to answer in the affirmative. And it is not only His delight to grant you that blessing; it is also His duty, for He can do nothing else but bless those who approach Him boldly in faith. Do not be afraid; ask, and He will give. And when He gives, your soul will be healed. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.