Tag Archives: authority

Why Resurrection?

Where does the Resurrection of Jesus fit into Christian thinking? So much seems already complete on Good Friday: Jesus had become High Priest and offered one sacrifice for all time; he has given his example, and his body and blood. Yet the resurrection is central in early preaching, for two main reasons.

First (as we see in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26) because the power of death has been broken. Someone has come back. So the perspective of this letter – and all Christians – is longer than a human lifespan. (So verse 19, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” – but our perspective is eternal). Many people like to think their loved ones continue after death – but without any reason for their hope. Jesus gives reason, and structure, to that hope.

Secondly, the resurrection transformed the disciples, because God raised Christ. This was most dramatic for Paul. As Saul the Pharisee, he was sure Jesus was a false teacher: his attitude to the Law and Tradition; his taking authority to himself; and the claim to be Son of God – all, in Saul’s thinking, condemned him. But then Saul, persecutor of Christians, met the risen Jesus. Since he was alive, by the power of God, he must be right – and all Saul’s ideas wrong where they differed. The resurrection of Jesus is the most wholehearted affirmation of his life and work.

So, the Resurrection shows life beyond death, giving a new perspective to human life. It proves Jesus’ authority to be that of God the Father. And so it reminds us that Christianity is Christ – we are his followers, he is our Lord.

Different!

When Nicodemus goes to have a private chat with Jesus (John 3:1-17), he goes as a Jew who knows the importance of belief in one God.  His people had experienced the Egyptian, Greek and other stories of many gods, with rivalries, conflict, deceit and so on.  They rejected these – we might think of teenagers trying to play one parent off against the other, or choosing a favourite celebrity.  Judaism, (Christianity and Islam) hold firmly to one supreme being, who is trustworthy, good, and separate from all human failings.  It was central to Jewish daily prayer, quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” (different translations have “the Lord is one” and “the Lord alone“).

Nicodemus brings a number of questions.  He has much respect for Jesus – “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God”.  But alongside Jesus healings and exorcisms, there is the popular teaching, which does not follow traditional lines.  Jesus seems to assume authority in himself!  If he hoped for discussion and answers, he may have been disappointed.  The idea of being “born again” or “born from above” confuses Nicodemus.  In time, he will understand that the Christian Way is no academic theory, but God’s gift of new attitudes in response to the love shown – yes, in Jesus.  It won’t fully make sense until after the sacrifice of the cross, the resurrection, (and perhaps ascension and Pentecost too!).  Nicodemus will be back, to bury Jesus (John 19:39), and then we guess to rejoice at his resurrection.

Christians would take time, knowing that Jesus was neither bad, nor mad, to realise that his actions (forgiving, healing, teaching) carried the authority of God.  Not the delegated authority of a prophet or “estate manager”, but the full authority of God.  In the same way, the Holy Spirit is no mere “power”, but carries this full healing and directing force of God.

Does this take us back to many gods, who can argue or be manipulated against one another?  No.  There is a distinction of three persons, but they are so close, so totally united in love, that they act always as one.  One God, three persons.

It is unique, and beyond any other experience we might compare it with.  Mind bending might be the word.  But it offers the best “fit” with the facts.  The God you thought amazing is totally awesome – and many other things, too.  Beyond our full understanding, but we need to hold on to what we do know, and never lose our enthusiasm, and our thanks.

Glory – to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit.   Amen!

 

Anger

Is God allowed to be Angry?  [I wonder if there is an age difference here; I guess older people might say “yes”, younger “why should he?”]

Certainly when Jesus clears the temple (John 2:13-22), it is energetic, and I would see it as an act of anger – not temper, or selfish tantrum, or violence even, but anger.

There is a proper use of anger. I think it exists, not essentially as a flaw in human makeup, but as a motivation for good. If this is wrong, and you care about that, do something! Do the work to put it right, make an effort . . Of course, anger is often selfish, because it is lazy, or reacts to being shown up, or loses patience. (James 1:20 says “Human anger does not achieve God’s righteous purpose.” But it does not say anger is always wrong).

At any rate, Jesus is not “losing it”; in fact, he is claiming it. We are told the disciples remembered:
Psalm 69:9 “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” – though perhaps there is also
Malachi 3:1-3 ” the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  But who can endure the day of his coming . . . he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver”.

His claim is not recognised, they ask “What right have you . .?” What would we say? Perhaps:

  • the right of Creator, to control, expect obedience
  • the right of the Redeemer, God who brought Israel out of slavery
  • the right of the Saviour, the Son of God, bringing salvation

He chooses to prophesy his death and resurrection – hopeful, for this is a sign of his love and our redemtion, not of destructive anger.

So, is God allowed to be Angry? Yes, of course he is. Not only is there nobody to control him, he has rights of ownership by creation, and good reason to think that wrong has been done. We are reminded not to call for justice – for strict justice would see each of us called to account, and in very deep trouble.

But ask the question another way: Is God an Angry God?  Look again at Jesus. He can be moved to anger. He has destructive power – remember the Fig tree he cursed and it withered (Mark 11:13-28), or the herd of pigs that drowned (Mark 5:11-13)? But he doesn’t go round condemning people, causing pain, striking down – quite the opposite. He offers forgiveness, brings relief, and raises people up.

God is allowed to be Angry, he has reason to be Angry, – and he is like Jesus. For that, we should be enormously grateful and relieved – but not complacent and taking advantage.

I suggest that Jesus anger in the Temple was real, directed at people who not only failed to accept the love and mercy of God, but were preventing others understanding and receiving it. We are God’s temple – not our building, but the Church which is people. It is meant to receive God’s love and share it, to learn the ways of holiness and faithful discipleship, so that others may see what it means in practice.

If we are nothing more that a club, doing what its members enjoy, gossiping and squabbling – are we not every bit as guilty as the money changers and animal sellers of preventing access to God? It’s a disturbing thought that the Jesus who gives so much in love, might see us as his enemies.

Authority – and conflict

Speaking about God can be a dangerous thing to do, and when Jesus goes to Capernaum synagogue, it causes quite a stir. (Mark 1:21-28)
First, there’s his style. He doesn’t talk like the rabbis of the time, quoting other scholars’ comments in a learned way, claiming the authority of their study and their official position. He talks about God as if he knows directly, and tells stories of ordinary life to explain God’s love – as a shepherd searching for lost sheep, or a father finding a lost son.

The official reaction might have been to dismiss an ignorant con-man, if it had not been for the second thing. Jesus demonstrates his authority, even over unclean spirits. You can’t ignore someone who successfully heals someone who was probably known in the community. You can see the beginnings of a conflict – Jesus threatens the status quo.

[Incidentally, we sometimes wonder about “evil spirits” and mental illness. The advance of psychiatry is a great blessing, and many of those obsessed with spirits and possession need a good doctor. There is a difference in this story, in that the spirit recognises Jesus, and has knowledge beyond that of the man possessed. Despite the “Hollywood effect”, (sensationalising and sometimes trivialising,) there is a difference, but spotting it needs care and experience, and discernment by someone who is not the patient.]

The healing of the possessed man also points to a more serious conflict – Jesus is taking on, not just the vested interests of the human religious establishment, but also the evil powers enslaving humanity.

Back to talking about God. Moses had spoken to the people about God (Deuteronomy 18:15-20), and they found him less frightening than the fire on the holy mountain. Deuteronomy speaks of another prophet, to speak for God. It is a dangerous position. The words of the prophet must be listened to; but to speak as if God had given the message when he had not is to be liable to death.
Speaking about God can be a dangerous thing to do. !

But of course, there is a good deal about danger in these readings. As we come to the end of Epiphany season, we realise not only that Jesus was shown to the world, and became known, in a number of ways:

  • Baptism,
  • calling disciples,
  • miracles,
  • teaching,
  • authority . .

but also that these things brought him into conflict. Part of the conflict was with people who wanted things to stay as they were – because they did well out of the status quo, or were afraid of what might happen, or couldn’t be bothered. Another, and perhaps better way of understanding that conflict was to see Jesus challenging evil – the darkness of fallen minds and bad customs, the evil of oppressive relationships, cruel poverty – in short, challenging the devil for supremacy on earth.

The violent metaphors for Christian life – battle, struggle, temptation, victory or defeat – are not the most popular now. As we look forward to Lent, we will find that Christian life cannot do without them, though they are not the whole story.

Speaking about God can be a dangerous thing to do. Even apart from the need to get it right, it brings us into the most fundamental conflict of all!

Who’s in Charge?

“Who’s in Charge?”  We ask it of politicians, of community leaders – of all sorts of people.  In today’s gospel, (Matthew 21:23-32)  Jesus authority is questioned. We might guess that the authorities are offended by his lack of authorisation — he was not a rabbi, in the sense of having been recognised and ordained. So, finding him teaching in the Temple, they ask “How dare you!” – or rather “What right have you?”

Jesus answers with a question – a common thing at the time. “What authority did John the Baptist have?” It seems a simple question, but verses 25 & 26 show their problem, and they answer “We do not know”. (Perhaps meaning “We think he was a fraud, but haven’t the courage to say so”).

It is not just a debating trick. If the questioners cannot tell the difference between a man of God and a trickster, then they have shown that they are incompetent. If they are not prepared to tell the people what they think is the truth, they cannot lead. So they are not capable of judging Jesus.  Jesus has the authority of God himself, shown by his words and actions. The chief priests and elders, by their inability to recognise John the Baptist, have shown they have no spiritual discernment, no real authority.

It’s tempting to stop there, to say that Jesus has shown the opposition to be rubbish, and won his way out of a difficult situation.  That might miss the point. How many of us are still asking “Who’s in Charge?”.  The answer is not the legitimacy of some official, but our obedience to God, our discipleship.  The inner child is always ready to protest “You can’t make me, it’s my life, I’ll do, or not do, what I want”. What has authority over us – over me? Ambition, desire, selfishness, laziness, pride,.. or is my life a Christian life, where Jesus not only has the right to tell me what to do (and how, and when), but that right is accepted, signed up to, and even celebrated?

We went on the the parable of the two sons. One says yes, and does nothing. The other thinks better of his refusal, and goes and does the work his father has directed him to.  Who’s in charge? Who tells me what to do? Who has the right? There is a theoretical answer – Jesus who created me and gave his life to gain my freedom – but it is not a matter of getting the words right. It means doing the work, using the energy, sorting out the pride, giving the money, sharing the possessions, and not stopping.

Jesus is a hard act to follow.

He asks a great deal.

He has the right.

Obey?

(A dialogue sketch on 1 Peter 3:13-22, a reading this Sunday, is available here )

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 and again “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me;” John 14:21 – both included in this week’s reading of John 14:15-21.  It would seem that obedience is commanded, and indeed that the effective presence of the Holy spirit in a believer is in some way conditional on such obedience. In a past world, that would have seemed pretty straightforward.

But our culture has moved away from obedience, and is unclear whether to see it as a virtue. Perhaps for some it came from the Nuremberg war-crime trials, which established that obedience to superior orders is no defence – we must only do what we judge to be right, even if it means rejecting the orders of others. For others, the civil rights and protest movements will have reduced respect for authority, and psychological studies like the 1961 Milgram experiment (which showed normal volunteers capable of inflicting, as they thought, painful and even fatal electric shocks on people when encouraged to do so by an authority figure) will have strengthened objections.

So, does obedience still have a place in faith? I think so, though I want to take these objections seriously. What Jesus says is not “Do as I tell you”. In fact, what he tells us is not mainly simple instructions like “Pray for 10 minutes twice a day”, but much more complex things like “Love God and love your neighbour” (eg Mark 12:30-31). So these verses do not say “obey” but “keep my commandments” – keep, look after, be mindful of.

This isn’t the mindless obedience of the bayonet charge, doing because you’re told to. Quite the opposite, it is an invitation to value and practise things you know to be good.  This is clearer when we see that the condition is “If you love me, .” If we are familiar with the facts of Jesus’ life and teaching, and enthusiastic enough about them, are attracted to them strongly enough, find them to have greater significance and importance than others – then we are going to value them and put them into practise.

So, is there a place for obedience in faith? Yes. Don’t I just mean we do what we think is right? No.  We look at the life, works and teaching of Jesus, and find that important beyond other things. We value and apply his teaching, and in doing that we learn that we never do so perfectly, because of our own weakness, sin, and failure. We also discover – perhaps in other people – that sin affects our judgement. I can be rational, but rational about my own weaknesses – that is much harder.

So, as I think about what is right and what I should do, I apply the teaching of Jesus, the New Testament and the Bible to my situation and culture – AND in those things I find difficult or tempting, I add extra weight to what they say, distrusting (but not discarding) my thoughts when they disagree. In other words, I find it necessary to obey more over things which tempt me, or which have caused me to fail in the past.