He opened the door for me. I thought he was the gardener. He must have been in his early eighties. He was extremely gracious and I sensed a deep humility.
I was nineteen years old. It was the first time I had ever been to a Christian youth camp.
That night I was astonished to discover he was the speaker. A room full of teenagers and students listened with rapt attention. You could have heard a pin drop. His message was very simple and focused on Jesus. I was spellbound. I had never before heard anyone speak with such authority.
John Stott, whom, amongst numerous others, he led to Christ, said of him: ‘Nondescript in outward appearance, his heart was ablaze with Christ.’ When he died, one obituary described this unassuming clergyman, the Revd E.J.H. Nash (of whom virtually no one would have heard today) as a ‘quietly spoken, modest and deeply spiritual man.’
His authority did not come from his position in life or worldly power. Rather his authority came from his relationship with Jesus Christ. It was self-authenticating.
Today people are very wary of authority. Of course, authority can be abused. However, authority can also be a source of great blessing. Jesus both spoke and acted with authority. It is the theme of authority that is common to the three passages today.
1. The authority of the Lord's voice
There is a huge hunger and need in our society to hear ‘the voice of the Lord’ (v.3). In this psalm, David describes the awesome power and authority of God’s voice: ‘The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars … The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the Lord shakes the desert … The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare’ (vv.4–5a,7–9a).
The psalmist starts by saying, ‘Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength’ (v.1). All authority, power and strength belong to God. However, he does not keep it all to himself. As we listen to his voice he shares with us his authority, power and strength. The psalmist ends with, ‘The Lord gives strength to his people’ and ‘blesses his people with peace’ (v.11).
These are two things that we desperately need as we face the battles of life (internal and external). We need God’s ‘strength’ and his ‘peace’.
Lord, thank you that to you belongs all authority, power and strength. Lord, we want to ascribe to you the glory due to your name and worship you in the splendour of your holiness (v.2).
Lord, thank you that you share with us your authority, power and strength. Please strengthen us for the battles of today and give us peace in the midst of the storms of life.
2. The authority of Jesus
It was perfectly obvious to everyone that Jesus acted with authority. The only question the chief priests and teachers of the law had concerned the origin of this authority (11:28). Jesus responded with a brilliant question about John the Baptist.
He asked them whether John’s authority was from God (‘heaven’) or of ‘human origin’ (v.30). They could not answer the question because they did not want to admit it came from God (as they had not believed him). Nor did they want to say that it came from human origin because the people recognised that John was a true prophet.
I once heard a man, who believed that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit ended with the apostolic age. Being asked the question, ‘Is the Pentecostal movement a move of God?’ it provoked a similar response – he could not answer the question. To say it came from God would mean recognising the outpouring of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit in our contemporary world. To deny it came from God would be to deny the experience of over 600 million Christians around the world who have experienced God’s power through the Pentecostal movement.
Jesus spoke and acted with such authority because he was under the authority of God. He listened to the voice of the Lord and spoke the very words of God.
Because Jesus’ interrogators refuse to answer his question about John the Baptist, Jesus refuses to answer their question about his authority. ‘Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” ’ (Mark 11:33b). Yet the irony is that the parable that Jesus immediately recounts is intended to outline the origin of his authority. The chief priests and teachers of the law certainly recognise Jesus’ aim, for Mark tells us that ‘they looked for a way to arrest [Jesus] because they knew he had spoken the parable against them’ (Mark 12:12).
Jesus’ parable is about a man who ‘planted a vineyard … put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower’ (v.1). The parable is based on Isaiah 5:1–7 where God is the owner and his people (particularly the leaders) are the vineyard. In Jesus’ parable, the servants who are sent and killed are God’s prophets, including John the Baptist. Jesus then introduces himself into his own parable. God ‘had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, “They will respect my son.” ’ (Mark 12:6).
Jesus shows he has a unique authority because he is the unique Son of God. There is a very clear distinction made between the unique beloved son and heir and the different servants who are sent first. Yet, with amazing foresight, Jesus declares that he, the unique Son of God, will be killed (vv.7–8). He then explains that the leadership of God’s people will be transferred to a new leadership (the early leaders of the church) with Jesus as their capstone. ‘The stone the builders rejected [that] has become the capstone’ (v.10, see also Psalm 118:22).
The unique Son of God has unique authority as the unique capstone of God’s people. We are to listen to him.
Lord, thank you that you are the unique Son of God who spoke with the authority of God himself. No one ever spoke like you. Help us to walk in a close relationship with you, hear your voice and speak your words.
3. The authority of the high priest
It is an awesome thing to enter into the presence of God – ‘The glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord … And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell face down’ (9:23–24).
Access to the presence of God was made possible through the complex sacrificial system. The high priest had to offer sacrifices for himself and the people (vv.7–8). Because the high priest was a human being and, like us, was weak and sinful, he had to go on offering sacrifices for his own sin as well as the sins of the people.
Jesus has a unique authority. He is the sinless high priest. As the writer of Hebrews puts it: ‘Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself’ (Hebrews 7:26–27). Later on he writes, ‘So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people’ (Hebrews 9:28).
As a result, through Jesus we have access to the holy presence of God. ‘Therefore, brother and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water’ (Hebrews 10:19–22).
We can come into the presence of God and hear the voice of the Lord, receive his strength and peace, and speak with the authority that comes from having heard the voice of God.
Lord, we worship you – the great high priest who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners and exalted above the heavens. Thank you that you are perfect and do not need to offer any sacrifice for your own sins. Thank you that you were sacrificed once to take away the sins of us all. Thank you that we now have access to the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus. Today we want to draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith to hear the voice of the Lord, receive his strength and peace and speak with the authority that comes from having heard the voice of God.
‘The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.’
That’s what I need for each day, ‘strength’ and ‘peace’.