The Alliance Party has kept us entertained the last few weeks as the authority of the leader, Stockwell Day, has been questioned by a number of the party members. They seem to believe that they have the authority, to engage in such disobedience to their leader. Deep within the whole issue is the question of choosing to whose authority we will submit. Day has expelled eight dissident members from the caucus because they do not submit to his authority. They feel that the authority of their constituents and their own conscience has precedence over that of Day.
We often make decisions about whose authority we will submit to. Children decide if they will submit to the authority of their parents. Adults decide if they will submit to the authority of the laws of the land, like tax laws, seatbelt laws and so on.
When Stephen was being stoned to death for being a Christian, he saw something that should make us think carefully about the issue of whose authority we submit to. In Acts 7:55 it says, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
Thursday is Ascension Day. Although we often miss this day because we don’t stop to celebrate it, it is an important part of the church year and communicates some important truths about what it means to be a Christian. When Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God, he perceived a truth which is very relevant to us today. Right now and since Jesus ascended to heaven, He stands as the supreme authority over the entire universe. The ascension was the beginning of that reality and it continues today and until the day when Jesus comes again and of course for all eternity.
Jesus had told the disciples to meet him in Galilee and when they met him there, he told them the words recorded in Matthew 28:16-20. Although this passage does not describe the ascension itself, because the ascension occurred at the Mount of Olives, it certainly contains the theology of the ascension. This morning, we will examine this passage to help us understand what it means that Jesus ascended and is now standing at the right hand of the Father.
As we think about the ascension, we need to ask ourselves, “what is my relationship to the supreme authority over all.” Let us read this passage.
Those of you using the King James will notice that Jesus says in verse 18, “all power is given unto me.” Most of the other translations have the word “authority.” The word “authority” is a better word here because it conveys the idea of the right to rule. Nevertheless, it is helpful to understand the relationship between power and authority.
My great-grandfather experienced the instability of the Russian revolution. As a result of it he lost his business and eventually fled the country with very little. Many people were robbed and murdered in the violent situation of those years. What caused such chaos? In February 1917, the instability in Russia became so great that protestors convinced the army to put their guns away and join their cause. It was at that point that Czar Nicholas II was deposed. Although by law he had the right, or authority, to rule, he was not able to rule because he had lost the power to rule. Authority to rule without the power to do so often results in instability.
In Columbia today, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia operate nationally with an army of 15,000 guerrillas. They have so much power that President Andres Pastrana effectively ceded control over a 16,000 square mile area of south central Columbia where these guerrillas control thousands of acres of drug fields. Although they have no legal authority to rule, they have the power to rule. Power to rule without the authority to do so often results in anarchy.
What these stories tell us is that you can have authority, the right to rule, without the power to do so and you can have the power to rule, but without the right or authority. When Jesus says that he has all “authority” it means that he has both the right to rule and the power to do so. He earned the right by dying and rising and he has the power because he is at the right hand of God.
This authority and power extends, as the text says, over all things. We read, “All authority…” What “all” things does this include?
If we had a video projector that could replay for us every sinful thought and action that we engaged in this week, we would all be rather uncomfortable. We have to admit that the authority of sin is powerful in our lives.
When the Bible says that Jesus has “all authority” it includes the authority over sin. Through his death on the cross, he conquered sin and through Him, we are able to be released from the power of sin and to live under his authority. So the question is, are we living under the authority of sin or of Jesus who has authority over sin?
We will some day submit to the authority of death. The authority of death is a cause of great fear in our hearts. But through the resurrection, Jesus overcame the power of death. The soldiers and the Jewish leaders mocked him as he hung on the cross. They did not believe that he was the son of God. Some may have thought that it would be a great victory if Jesus would come down off the cross, that it would show a great power and authority to do so. They had heard him teach with authority and seen him demonstrate authority over sickness and even authority over death when he raised Lazarus from the dead. Perhaps some hoped and believed that he would demonstrate this great power, but he demonstrated a much greater power by completely dying and then rising from the dead. Resurrection demonstrated his authority over death.
Because Jesus has authority over death, we can live with a different view of death. We no longer view it without hope, but as an enemy that has been conquered. We view death as an enemy, but know the hope of eternal life. This is true because Jesus has “all authority.” How will we live if we recognise His authority over death?
The Bible tells us that Satan is like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. We all know the tricks he can play to defeat us. At times, his power seems overwhelming and we yield to it by yielding to self defeating thoughts, temptations, doubts and fears. It is at times when he seems so powerful that we need to remember that when the Bible says “all authority” it also includes authority over Satan.
When Satan presented his temptations to Jesus inviting him to capitulate to his authority by bowing to him, he was very serious in what he was doing and the force of the temptation must have been very strong. Satan knew, if he could not get Jesus to submit to his power, that very soon, he would be forced to submit to the power and authority of Jesus. When Jesus died and rose, that power was demonstrated. Although Satan is still active, he is only active because Jesus permits it for now. He is a de-clawed cat. He has some power and no authority, and is limited because Jesus has all authority over him. In Luke 10:18 Jesus says to the disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” So the question is, are we going to submit to the authority of one whose power has been taken from him or to the authority of the one who has all authority?
The Bible tells us that we are to submit to the authority of the government. This is right and good and on July 1, I want to preach about our responsibility to obey the government. But sometimes the government leads us in directions that are contrary to obedience to Christ. Sometimes it even persecutes Christians.
Voice of the Martyrs reports that Indonesia is a collection of about 13,500 islands and contains the largest Muslim population in the world(about 185 million). On many islands, including the main island of Java churches have, in recent years, been smashed or burned. In the last 10 years, over 500 churches have been attacked by mobs, killing numerous Christians. The government forces people to carry an identification card that includes their religious status. Muslims receive preferential treatment. The political strength of Islam has been used to limit evangelism and reduce Christian influence on public life. When we read of such incidents, we wonder if Jesus has power over all things, but the promise is that he does. He is Lord even of such governments that are at this time opposed to Him. Ephesians 1:22 assures us of that when it says, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church…”
We see the reality of that authority in the history of nations who have persecuted Christians. In almost every case, the church has not been destroyed, but has grown.
Again, we need to ask ourselves, “what does it mean for me to submit to the authority of Christ who has authority over all nations?”
The authority of Jesus is complete and yet, we have a choice as to whether we will submit to that authority. This is not a one time decision which we make at salvation, it is a daily decision. Each day we need to decide if we will permit the authority of Jesus to rule over us. Ascension reminds us of this reality and reminds us of the wisdom of choosing to submit to the authority of Jesus daily. The day is coming when everyone will submit. We are able to see His authority now and to bow before it. One day, Phil 2:9,10 tells us, everyone will recognize who he is and then, when it is too late, they will kneel before His authority. There we read, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…”
What does it mean for you to recognize that in Matthew 28:18 Jesus says, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me?”
As we read on in this passage, we recognize some of the implications of the ascension reality.
If we submit to the reality that Jesus has all authority, we need to realize immediately that this puts us on the job. The authority of Jesus is a sending authority.
Most translations say, “go.” The word is not actually an imperative, but rather a participle. Although a participle can have the force of an imperative, there is something interesting about taking it as a participle. If we were to take it as a strict imperative, it would mean that we are sent to go. Now this is a true and important concept because as Christians, we must go into all the world. Because William Carey studied foreign languages and the travel reports of Captain Cook, he was called a foolish, impractical dreamer. Even after he became a minister he was called foolish. At a minister’s conference he proposed for discussion: “Whether or not the Great Commission is binding upon us today to go and teach all nations.” An older minister rebuked him saying, “Sit down, young man. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine!” William Carey obeyed the authority of Christ, and went to India. For him, “go” meant, leave home and go to a place that does not yet have the gospel.
But there is another idea that presents itself if we translate it as a participle. It is then translated, “going” which implies that we follow the Lord’s command wherever we are. In all our going, we are commissioned to proclaim the gospel, not only when we are sent out as missionaries by a mission society but wherever we go every day. This also is an important truth.
The commission we are under according to Jesus’ word’s here is ‘make disciples.” Disciples are learners. Jesus was not interested in gathering a bunch of people to himself who would recognize his name. He was not even interested in getting a bunch of people who would know a lot of truth about Him. He was looking for and continues to look for people who will follow him in every area of life.
Making disciples includes the task of winning people to Christ and also teaching them in the way of Christ. Our place is to be engaged in one of these aspects of disciple making.
If we bow under the authority of Jesus, we have no choice. We are then people who are commissioned to go and make disciples. Are you submitting to the authority of Christ by contributing to the task of making disciples?
There is another wonderful aspect of this hope. The authority of Jesus means that he is present with us. The ascension was the occasion at which Jesus left earth and told the disciples that he would return for them. Yet here, he promises something else. He says that he will be with them always.
How can he be both absent and present?
Children sometimes think that their mother has eyes in the back of her head. They can be in another room and yet she knows what they are doing. All of a sudden, just as they are trying to get away with something, mother shows up. Is that what it means? Does Jesus watch from a distance, or have some kind of mothers intuition by which he is able to show up at just the right time?
There are some people who are able to watch TV and hold a conversation at the same time and make out what is happening in both. Because I cannot do that, I am always amazed at people who can. Is the present absence of Jesus like that? Is he able to have a pay attention to us, while paying attention to something else? No matter how good a person is at such a thing, I always feel as if they are not giving me full attention. The ascended Christ who is nevertheless present is not like that.
Today, it is possible to be away on holidays and to still monitor your house via a computer and a phone line. Some people hook up their houses in such a way that they can be far from home and via the internet, adjust the thermostat, check the security system and monitor if any lights are on. Is Jesus with us in the sense that he is monitoring us via angels or some other remote sensor?
When Jesus, who left shortly after these things were spoken says, “I am with you always,” I believe that he means to say that although he is truly in heaven and ruling there, he is also fully present with us and has full attention on us. It is not possible for us to illustrate this in earthly terms because it is only possible because of the Spirit of God. Jesus who is in heaven, is, nevertheless, present with us by His Spirit.
Being under the authority of Jesus means that we are under the care of the one who although the ruler of the universe, will never leave us. Recognizing the authority of Jesus means that we are comforted by His present absence.
The authority of Jesus may puzzle us. We have said that he has all authority over sin, death, Satan and all nations. Yet when we look at our lives, at the evil all around us and at the awful things that happen in the world, we may wonder, “where is that authority?”
What helps us understand these things is to understand the last part of verse 20 which refers to “the end of the age.” As we read the Bible, we find that Jesus has gained victory, but that the final outcome of the victory is still future. He has all authority and all power and the evil things that are happening now are happening just because Jesus is permitting them. The Bible has many pictures of the “end of the age.” It speaks in Revelation about the destruction of Babylon in Revelation 18 - which will demonstrate the authority of Jesus over the nations. Revelation 19 speaks of the authority of Jesus exercised over sin and death as they and all wicked people are thrown into everlasting death. The picture of Jesus in Revelation 19 as a rider on a white horse is a picture of the final exercise of his authority.
Most movies end with the good guys winning. Even though we know that, the tension created by the story line is intense because it is written in such a way that we are not sure. Once in a while you watch a movie that does not end well. A few weeks ago we watched “Jakob the Liar.” It is set in a Jewish ghetto during the second world war and in the end, it does not end well. So we are not always sure if it is going to end the way we want, which increases the tension. If we have seen the story before and know that it ends well, the tension is significantly reduced. If we live this life with fear that it is not going to end well, it causes us to live with great tension. If, on the other hand, we know that Jesus has all authority and that it is going to end well, we are able to live with peace about the end.
The promise of “the end of the age” tells us that there will be an end to the current arrangement. Jesus has all authority, but the complete manifestation of that authority is future. Then the task of world evangelization will be over and we will see him visibly again. Then death will be destroyed, sin will be no more, Satan will be locked away forever and all those who rebel will be gone.
Do we live our lives in recognition of that reality?
The things that are happening to the Alliance party at this time create a certain instability in the political right in Canada. What will happen if the right wing cannot organize itself and provide an adequate opposition to the government?
The price of gas has been jumping up. How high will it go? How will our lives change? How much will we have to change our travel practices?
The United States is probably the most powerful nation in the world today. That provides a certain stability in the world, but, at one time, England, Spain, Rome and Greece were all world powers. What will happen if the US loses its power in the world?
With all the rain we have been having, we may wonder if it will ever stop. Some scientists tell us about significant climatic changes happening. That may be a little scary when we remember that where we are now living once was a lake. Could it happen again?
The world provides us with much reason to fear, but if we remember that Jesus is the one who has all authority, we are encouraged. We can rest in his promise that He is with us always and that the end of the age is coming. We can take up the task he has given us with joy and purpose.
As we celebrate the ascension on Thursday, let us celebrate that Jesus has all authority!