As we said, law-enforcers have authority because that has been given them by a higher power – the elected government. Their words carry the weight of the law because, it is not their words which they speak but the words of the law of the land to which they also are subject. This gives them authority. To step out away from being under that authority, would mean dismissal or legal action or even worse.
This kind of authority was what the many crowds throughout all Israel recognised in Jesus’ teaching. This man was different to all who had come before. Matthew’s text tells us that the crowds were amazed – the original word has the sense of being taken out of themselves, giving us our word ecstatic.
Now, there was this Roman soldier, who saw Jesus’ authority, recognising it because of his own position. As a Roman centurion he was in command of about 100 men who were expected to obey his word without question in a chain of command from foot soldier right up to the highest general and to Caesar. See what Matthew says about this when Jesus offered to come and heal his dangerously ill servant:
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. ….. Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. Mat 8:5-13
The Centurion understood authority. He knew Jesus’ word would be all that would be required. Just a word! Unseen. Remote. The soldier shifts his obedience from Caesar to Jesus. Extraordinary for a Roman! He did so because Jesus himself was seen to be under authority – under the authority of his unseen Father.
The various denomination heads were flabbergasted by Jesus’ authority. They kept demanding of him by what authority he taught and acted. This happened when he upset the commercial activities in the temple complex and in many other scenarios. They were provoked by Jesus’ authority. And Pilate, trying to cross examine Jesus at his mock trial must have been shocked to hear this bound, vulnerable prisoner say to him “you have no authority over me unless it is given you by my Father!”
We can do nothing in the Kingdom of God unless we too come under authority – the authority of Jesus. Under his authority we can proclaim the gospel and heal the sick and even raise the dead. Disciples are coming under this authority today all over the world. Amazing things are taking place through Jesus’ followers, following their obedience to his commands. They are experiencing his authority, daily.
This is what it means to be a disciple, to be under that authority.