What it Means to Be Under Authority?


The 4th Commandment is about being under authority. But what does that mean? It's often easier to show someone then tell them. Our Passion reading tonight shows what it means to be under authority by showing us One who is and one who isn't.

Peter wasn't under authority. Jesus tells the disciples they will all fall away from Him this very night, and Peter says, "Even if everyone else falls away on account of you, I never will." Jesus then tells Peter, "Before the roster crows this very night, you will deny Me three times." But still Peter says, "Even if I have to die, I will never disown you." Peter didn't go by what God said; he went by what he felt. Peter wasn't under authority.

Jesus takes the disciples to Gethsemane. He leaves 8 of them and goes a stone's throw away with Peter, James, and John. Then Jesus bears His soul saying, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrows to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me." He specifically tells them to stay awake. But they all fall asleep. When Jesus comes back, He addresses Peter because Peter is the one who had made a big deal about never falling away. Jesus commands him once more to stay awake. But Jesus comes back a second time and finds them asleep again. Peter didn't do what Jesus explicitly told him twice to do. Jesus told Peter to watch, and Peter ignored His command and slept. Peter wasn't under authority.

Events move swiftly once Jesus comes back to the sleeping disciples. Judas arrives with a large crowd armed with swords and clubs. The disciples see what's happening. They reason now's the time for armed resistance. One of them asks, "Lord should we strike with our swords?" But Peter doesn't wait for an answer. He tries to take the head off of one of them, but the guy moves and Peter just gets his ear. Peter didn't wait for orders from his Lord and Master because Peter wasn't under His authority.

Peter didn't honor, serve, or obey the authority of Jesus. He didn't realize that when he didn't listen to Jesus, he wasn't listening to God. You see this several times in the Gospels. Peter speaks to Jesus as if He didn't have authority. Peter takes Jesus aside and tells Him He will never go to the cross right after Jesus has just said He must go. When Jesus is touched by a woman in a crowd and asks who touched Me, Peter says Jesus must be mistaken because He couldn't possibly know an individual had touched Him when the crowds were pressing Him on all sides.

You can understand why Peter has such a hard time being under Jesus' authority. Jesus didn't look like God in flesh and blood. He looked like an ordinary man. Our mother and father also look like ordinary people. The same is true of policeman and lawmakers. The pastor as well looks all too ordinary. For that matter, the Bible looks like an ordinary book. So like Peter who thought little of denying what Jesus said, not doing what Jesus commanded, and doing what he felt like, we don't think it's that big of a deal when we rebel against authority. It would be a different matter if we were under angels or people who glowed with divine light. But you can understand how difficult it is to be under such human, ordinary looking authority.

Sure I can understand, but God can't. Holiness is first explained to Israel in terms of the 4th Commandment. God says in Leviticus 19:2, "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." The very next words are "Every one of you shall reverence his mother and father." Of commandments 4-10 Luther said the 4th is "the first and greatest." In the Large Catechism the 4th Commandment has more pages devoted to it than any other.

But that's old fashioned. We modern people expect our children to rebel. If fact, if they don't, we act like something is wrong with them. We expect them to get rude, obnoxious, and self-willed. The ones who don't we regard as immature or handicapped. We Americans expect our kids to rebel against authority because we, especially us men, take pride in "nobody telling us what to do." It's our American right to rebel. Even though the 4th Commandment is the only one which promises that the keeping of it brings long life and blessings, we don't think the breaking of it matters.

Luther thought different, "Whoever keeps this commandment will enjoy good days, happiness and prosperity. On the other hand, the penalty for him who disobeys is that he will perish sooner and never be happy in life." But we modern people are above this. We ignore the judgement God renders on those who rebel. Romans 13:2, "He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves." We think little of removing Proverbs 30:17 from our Synodical catechism. "The eye that mocks his father and despises his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and young eagles shall eat it." Yes, we've removed it, but that doesn't make it untrue, does it?

Peter show us what it means not to be under authority. Jesus shows us what it means to be under authority. Jesus didn't say what He did about the sheep scattering based on His authority or reason. No, Jesus took the Scriptures at their word when they said the Shepherd will be struck and the sheep will be scattered. Jesus was under authority.

Jesus didn't do what He wanted to tonight as Peter did. He did what His Father told Him to do. Jesus didn't want to drink the sinner's cup of suffering and death. He plainly asked His Father if it could pass Him by. In fact, He asked 3 times for it to pass. But each time the Father said, "No." So Jesus took it and drank it. This is what it means to be under authority to do what the one over you wants you to do and not what you want.

Because it was His Father's will that He drink the cup, Jesus submitted to being betrayed and arrested as a rebel. Jesus had 12 legions of angels at His beckon call, but He didn't use them. With 3 words, "I am He," Jesus could flatten the whole arresting party. But Jesus used none of the means at His disposal to escape because He knew His Father wanted Him to be betrayed and arrested and to drink the rest of the cup of wrath filled for sinners.

Yes, Jesus is the obedient Son, Peter is the disobedient. Yet, Jesus is punished, Peter set free. Nobody chases Peter. He runs off into the night, and no soldiers hunt him down. Even in the high priest courtyard, people knew he was with Jesus, but no one laid a hand on him. Although Peter, along with the other disciples, is going to lock himself in the upper room, no soldiers will ever come looking for him. Peter gets off scot free. Neither man nor God punishes him for his disobedience to authority.

Not so Jesus. Do you know what the ancient Roman punishment for father-killing was? Being sown up in a ox-hide with a rooster, a poisonous snake, and a monkey, and thrown into a river. That punishment would be preferable to what Jesus suffered. He hadn't killed His Father, but His Father does kill Him. O yes, be clear on this. The blood, sweat, and tears coming out of Jesus in Gethesmane are pressed out by His Father. I quote from a 17th century book by Lutheran Johann Gerhard: "Accordingly as we hear how Christ was bound, struck, wounded, and tortured, we are thus to view it as if God the Lord was standing there, beating, wounding and binding Him, just as it is stated in Isaiah 53: "We beheld Him as the One who was tormented and stricken by God and tortured."

Jesus is the gluttonous and drunkard son of Deut. 20. Remember the Church of Jesus' day called Him a glutton and drunkard. Deuteronomy says, "If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city...and they shall say to the elders of his city, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious...he is a glutton and a drunkard." Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death, so shall you remove evil from your midst."

Christ was loaded with our sins of despising authority, not obeying our mother or father or those legitimately in authority over us. He was hauled by His Father into the halls of Divine Justice. He, although innocent of rebellion, gluttony, and drunkenness, was nonetheless punished as guilty. He suffered the full wrath of God for our failure to obey, honor, and serve authority.

Now dear friend, see yourself under His authority. In Medieval paintings, the artist would frequently paint himself into the picture. There are paintings where the artist pictures himself standing at the foot of the cross, under Christ hanging there. Blood is gushing out of Jesus' wounded side on to the artist. That's how we should see ourselves. This is first and foremost what it means to be under the authority of Christ. His blood comes gushing out to sweep away our sins of disobedience, to forgive all of the terrible ways we have dishonored those in authority, to cleanse our hearts of the guilt of being self-willed, self-sustaining individuals.

Being under the authority of Christ, when He sends our sins away, they really go. Peter eventually realizes how horribly he had disobeyed Christ. That guilt stung him so badly he left the ministry. But Jesus came and got him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and sent his sins away. If Jesus can forgive, Peter who rebelled against Him when He needed him most, then Jesus can forgive you. If Jesus can send Peter's sins away, then He can send yours away too, right now tonight, for good.

But being under Jesus' authority means more than not being under the authority of our sins. It also means we aren't under the authority of death or the devil either. As death relentlessly works it's way in our body, it will assert it's authority. Death will act like it is lord of our life, but Jesus says, "No it isn't." Jesus is the One who kills and makes alive. Death isn't our lord; it's Jesus' servant. You have nothing to fear from the servant of a house when you are a special friend of the Lord of house.

Satan too tries to assert his lordship. He was able to send the disciples scurrying away because Scripture says, "This is his hour and the power of darkness." Yes, this one moment in time, from Gethesmane to Golgotha, the devil rules. That's why the Sun is dark, the earth quakes, and men beat their chest in grief. But dear friends, that moment is over. It is finished. Jesus reigns not the devil. You are under the authority of Jesus, not Satan. You can expect the powers that be, the parents that be, the authorities that be to serve Jesus not Satan. And if they don't? Then they have to answer to Jesus, and Jesus will still bless you even in the midst of their sin.

We begun by asking what it means to be under authority, and approached the topic as if Peter was not under authority but Jesus was. The truth of the matter is everyone at all times is under authority. The only real question is whose? Peter was under his own authority. That got him some bragging rights, some sleep, and an ear. Christ was under God's authority. That got Him sin, death, and resurrection and us forgiveness, life and salvation. The way of Peter is popular, but not even Peter recommends it. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Midweek 2, Fourth Commandment