A sermon preached on Act 1:8 conference in Warszawa, 23.03.2019
„All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”
Jesus Christ, Mt 28:18-19
How we are to understand Christ’ authority?
What it means He has got all authority on earth?
What can we expect from Him as One with such authority?
How we – as servants that are to be obedient to His will – are to testfy to this authority, that is the reason we are sended to the world? How we are explain this authority to those He sends us to? And – who they are? Are te subject of this call „nations”? If so, how they are to respond? And how we are to proclaim to the „nations” Christ’ will?
I think those questions are fair. And show the very well-known passage in a new, challnging way. In spite of great interest present evangelical world has in Great Commision, my impression is, we do not raise those questions and even more rarely try to answer them.
We are happy with our personal-evangelism perspective that we are familiar with. Yet, I would say, the best we can say about that perspective, is that it is too much self-limiting.
We should know with what kind of authority we go in.
We should know what kind of authority we present to the nations.
We should know what Christ demands and from whom.
We should reflect on it and do our homework in preparing serious answers to those questions.
Yet, we don’t.
Where we are
Let me start with a scetch of where we are in terms of mainline evangelical perspective on those issues.
First, we have very obscure and vouge definition of Christ authority. We are happy to claim one is to listen to the Gospel, but we rarely present it in terms of God’s righteous and just claims. When we establish the connections between Christ and a human being, we do it through the work of redemption. We say He is a Saviour for a sinner. We establish then not his authority but rather His effectiveness as Saviour and need of Him. We present the Greast Commision as if it were „I am Saviour of the world. Go therefore and make disciples.” Of course He is Saviour of the world and it is a great reason to go and provlaim the Gospel. Yet, Holy Spirit in this important passage wants us to derive our zeal and purpose of the mission from His authority rather than His love.
Second, we have very obscure and vouge definition of our authority as Christ’s representatives. We understand ourselves more as missionaries of reconciliation than the ambassadors of the king. We feel misearble when someone states that he does not need to listen of God’s love. We feel there is more to our words, yet, we are not able to coomunicate it better. Finally, due to the fact that we are able to relate to unchristians only in terms of Christ’s love, and not His authority, we can not justify our claims against the norms of societies of which we are a part. And yet, on the other hand, we still feel, perhaps not being able to proof it correctly, that Christianity should have an impact on this sphere.
Third, except from the Gospel, we have also very unspecified views of what after all is what we are to teach nations to observe – what Christ’ have commended us (v. 20). We know what is His will in terms of each individual. We know also, and probably we are the best in the world in this aspect, what is Christ will to every human being as such. But His will to nations? I have not heard a single sermon on it.
Fourth, all this affects our effectiveness. „And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” – is a call to observation, not conciousness. We are to behold Him, as He is with us always. In other words, Christ promises us His visible, experimental, effective presence – but this is condictioned. It is condictioned by our obedeince to His commision. So if we are not obiedient, let as not fool ourselves thet Christ is with us – becouse He isn’t. He has not promised it. He has promised His transforming accompaniment, not invisible and imperceptible one.
Do we know how to be witnesses to Christ authority? Do we represent it well? Do we go in this authority to the world?
If we don’t know what is the nature of Christ authority, we don’t know what is the nature of our Kingdom and how it is to grow on earth. We are not sure about how we are to particvipate in our part of the very thing we are to pray about – and indeed, I hope, we do – „Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven”.
If we don’t know what kind of authority He has, we do not know what kind of authority He delegates to us. „Therefore” in Mt 28:19 teaches us about a cause-effect relation. Our mission is the ourcome of our grasping of Christ authority. The first condictiones the second. If we do not know His authority, it’s quite probable, we do not adress properly the issues we shold. And finally, all of this can rob us of the effectiveness of His promise.
The authority of Christ
The roots of authority of Christ are in the Old Testament, especially in the mesianic Psalms. We can see it from the big number of reference to those of the New Testament Authors. Clearly, they see the proof from the Scriptures of who their Lord is especially in Psalms 2nd and 110th.
In Ps 2:6 we read, that it is God who set his King on Zion, his holy hill. He encourages his annointed to ask him for the authority over nations: „Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possesion. You shall break them with the rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (v. 8-9). We see, that Lord’s King will have power to win with all the rulers of the earth, who do not want to recognize His authority over them (v. 2), and indeed, cooperate to dump his power. This Psalm appears in Hebrews 1 as proof of Jesus divine identity and his resurrection in Acts 13:33. Opposition of Herod and Pontius Pilate against Jesus is also seen as the fulfillment of this Psalm in Acts 4:25-28. The iron rod of Christ appear also in Letter to Tiathyra (Rev 2:27) as a the winner’s prize in the fight against adversities of faith. Also, in 12:5 we see that son of the woman will „rule oall the nations with a rod of iron” and in 19:5 we see winning Christ: „from his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations and will rule them with the rod of iron.”
Psalm 110 have various passges important for NT authors. All of them refer to his authority, but not all directly to authority over nations, except v. 5 and 6: The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgement among the nations.”
It’s not the time to make lenghty exegesis. Let me mention obvious facts: those Psalms assume authority of Messiah over the kings of the nations. The reason is God’s appointment. They are to recognize his authority becouse it is given from above.
Now, this observation is prooved by the word ekksousia – most commonly used in the NT and also in Mat 28:18. It speaks about two things. First, it is given from above. Second, it gives the energy or capacity to fulfill its goal. So for example, we read in Rev 6:8 about two riders, Death and Hades, that „were given authority over a fourth of earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth”. The authority enables them to control fourth of earth; they have power to kill. In Revelation 9:3 we read about the locust from the smoke, that „were given power like the power os scorpions.” Again, it comes from above and it makes them effective to exercise it.
To summ it up then, when our Lord Jesus Christ is saying that he has got the power on the earth, it means He has been given it by the Father due to His obedience in fulfilling His mission – becaming ransom to many, or carrying the cross to the end. Also, that he really has it. In other words, all the earth should respect it and recognize his dominion. He is King over all the earth, appointed by His Father, the only true God and Creator. This authority should be accepted and implemented. His Father and he authority knows nothing about the religious neutrality of the modern state or the separation of the state from the church or the division of our life into the private and public spheres. Perhaps these distinctions are helpful in certain ways, but for sure not to limit the authority of Christ.
Of course, such focus on authority of Christ could make us feel uneasy. How to preach His authority? Perhaps my next point could help us in this practical issue.
Our authority as Christ representatives – how to be witness to His authority?
Knowing who our Lord is and what he has to say and to whom, called one of Christ can go confidently and without hesitation or doubt. We can see this authority working in various situations in the New Testament.
First place is story of John the Baptist. Though chronologically speaking still part of Old Covenant, he is prophetically annoucing the reality on the New. Therefore I think his ministry can be a proper model also for us today.
We see his ministry in the wider perspective in Mark 6. We read that he „had been saying to Herod, ‚It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (v. 18). This is a remarkable example. First, he is assuming authority over Herod. This authority is derived from revealed will of God, who is owner and ruler of Israel. Second, therefore, He has not based his message on the love of God, but on His soverein rights; on His authority over Herod. Third, he is adressing a particular issue in the way he exercises his power, which requires correction. We can say, it is a prophetic voice to the structures of power. Fourth, he earns the respect and interest of Herod: „Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly” (v. 20). Finally, he died a martyrs death, due to his faithulness in ministry (v. 27). Proclaming the truth can be costly and alway have been. It does not denies the reality of God’s presence. In fact, usually it is the opposite. The blood of martyrs is the cause of Kingdom’ growth.
So we can learn from John to assume to have the authority of the Sovereign, base our correction of the revealed Word of God, correct the structures of power in our siociety, expect God being at work in this situation, although costs could be big.
Second passage is Paul in Aeropagus, making contact with scientists of his age. Fist of all we are informed, that „his spirit vas provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 16:16). He was not only aesthetically moved; he assumed that in this situation he was obliged to react and change it. He was not indifferent Jew, watching the corruption of the gentiles. He is an apostle of nations who changes them for Christ – also in the social and cultural sphere, as well as in public cult. Let us also reflect shortly on his sermon. First of all, we see him engaged in creating a common ground – referrring to their religiousity (v. 22), adressing the altar to unnown god (v. 23). Then he refers to His God as the God also of his listeners – in other words he proclaims His authority over them: „The Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man (….) he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined alloted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should sek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and fid him” (vv. 24-27). He is prooving them, that He sepeaks in the name of God who has authority of them, as the One who created them and also made them who they are – nations, including Ahtenians. Also, He introduces here divine will – He did it in order for them to „seek” Him. Then he denies the reasonableness of idolatry (v. 29), and finally announces, that this only true God „now commands all people everywhere to repent, becouse he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he appointed; and of thos he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (v. 30-31).
Let us also not miss that Paul is calling in those passages to reprentence solely on the bases of Christ’ authority. He is appointed man from the Lord. And the Lord has finished with the „times of ignorance” (v. 30); he is now „commanding” all people to repent. There is no proclamation of Christ love and Him being a Saviour. He is presented here as the Lord, with authority, to whom Athenians should surrender from their idols. And if they have any doubts, the Lord has prooved it – by his resurrection.
I think that this way of preaching can be strange for us today. We feel uncomfortable not referring to the love of God shown in Christ. And yes, it is definitely worth remembering. On the other hand, this fragment should create a different sense of anxiety in us. Should not we feel equally uncomfortable without announcing the authority of Jesus? Are we doing it so gladly and powerfully as Paul? I must say, this part of the apostolic message is practivally absent in our kerygma. I do not think that we can safely say it has no detrimental consequences for us and for the world around us. Indeed, I think this lack makes us irrelveant to various public discussions, where is the place for the authority of Christ, but not necessarily directly for his saving love.
Recipients of our message
Third, let us think about who and how is to respond to Christ authority. We know who and how is to respond to Christ’s love. It is lost sinners, who need salvation from sin and its curse; justification, forgivness, power of the Holy Spirit; escape from eternal damnation and prospect of eternal life with God.
Is it the same with Christ authority?
Not necessarily. Of course, a sinner, who responds to Christ love, should also respond to Christ authority. It is impossible to have Christ only as Saviour, and not as Lord. In fact, usually receiving the saving effects of death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is associated with the recognition of the authority of Christ as Lord rather than agreeing to His saving abilities, like in Rom 10:9: „if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. It is also worth noting that we are to confess that Jesus is Lord – Lord over all – and not only as a personal Lord or personal Saviour (although such recognition of Jesus as Lord has to mean also that we subdue to this reality personally).
How then we are to preach Christ’s authority to fallen world?
I think those two examples of John the Baptist and Paul on Aeropagus are very informative. In both cases, it is the moral will of God that is preached. In case of Herod it relates to his wife; in case of Athenians, the false worship of this polis. In both cases the reason of appeal is the authority thant stands behind the messenger. It s God of Israel or Lord, Creator of Universe. In case of Herod, his repentace is to be a preparation for the coming Saviour (the message of John the Baptist – Mk 1:2-3). In case of Athenians, their repentance is to be a preparation for the coming judgement of Christ. Let us see that the preaching of the coming judgement is in fact preaching his authority – direct relevance to all humankind. I think that is the only way modern evangelicals still preach Christ authority.
But there is more in those two passages. In case of John the Baptist we see prohetic voice that demands justice from the rulers. In other words, the call for obedience to Christ of persons responsible for important social structures also means their reform in submitting them to the teaching or will of Christ. Which is exactly what we are called to do us church in Mt 28:20: „teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”. In this context, it is worth recalling the call to be a salt for the earth and a model city (M 5:13) – both pictures of our accountability depicts much more than personal evangelism.
In case of Paul on the Aeropagus, he is confronting scientifical world of his times. And he is doing it knowing that his ideas will not be received easily – the idea of body resurection was not only rejected, but also ridiculed (Acts 17:32). Yet, he knew it is true. In spite of all trendy ideas popular in Aeropagus, Christ will come and judge the world.
Paul also confronted heavily traditions and customs and indeed the identity of his own nation. It demanded faith, courage and extreme resolve and devotion. And Paul is ready to do it. As he is ready to go to Rome, the centre of everything in his times, becouse he knows who his Lord is,”through whom [he] received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom 1:5). Listen to his words. Proclaming the Gospel is again, about Christ’ authority. It is calling the nations to „the obedience of faith” to the Name of Jesus.
Without being witness to the authority of Christ we lack then our relevance to most vital issues in our society. We should represent Him, „teaching them to observe all that [He] has commended us” (Mt 28:20). With preaching only the love of God in Christ, we lack direct connection to most of ethical and social isseas our world is to deal with. Heavy, complicated subjects. Yet, with our awareness of His authority, we can bring His wisdom to the table. Without shame preach and teach His resolutions.
Let me mention one example. In our country recently the major of Warszawa issued a Declaration about LGBT movement. He announced there that all Warsaw schools would now preach to children in kindergartens and schools in accordance with standards according to which homosexuality should be considered as good as heterosexuality.
We as Baptist leaders were the initiators of a clear and explicit evangelical position. We said NO to interference with the sovereignty of the family and parental authority. We have met with criticism, including other Christians, as hypocrites and backward ones. Showing love of Christ and not judging was one of the most used arguments agains us. Yet, unexpectedly, we also received many thanks and voices of admiration from starnge circles, like fundamentalist Catholics or even some politics, who were encouraged by our decisive voice. Our small church became relevant and added his voice. Right now some of us got more encouraged to got engaged into various social projects in this field.
What we can (and should) expect from Christ
His powerful presence: „And BEHOLD, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). We WILL behold Him. He will work among us and through us among our nations.
Our victories will not be cheap, as His victory was not cheap. Our fight will mean taking up the cross, as His fight meant taking up the cross. But our victories will be like a resurrection. Visible, powefull, changing. He has promised it. And He has powert to accomplish it. As we go, and baptize, and teach the nations, and bear witness not only to His love, but also authority.
Let us not be affraid! Our Lord has full authority over earth too. May we beleive it, live it and testify it! To His glory, and Father’s satisaction, in graciously given us emopowering Spirit, Amen.