Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
When Jesus encountered a Roman Centurion with a sick servant, we learn a bit about authority. "For I too am a man under authority," says the Centurion, "with soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it" (Matthew 8:9). When he speaks, things get done. He recognizes this same authority in Jesus. "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed" (Matthew 8:8).
The Centurion has authority over the body. When he speaks, those under him must obey. And if you don't, well, there's a reason that he also wears a sword. The 28th article of the Augsburg Confession states, Civil rulers do not defend minds, but bodies and bodily things against obvious injuries. They restrain people with the sword and physical punishment in order to preserve civil justice and peace (AC XXVIII.11). Civil authority is authority that governs the body, but it has its limitations. It can rule the body with threats and punishments, but it cannot rule the mind or the heart. It cannot make you love. It cannot create faith.
But there is another authority-a distinct authority-that governs the heart and deals with eternal things. This authority the Augsburg Confession calls the Authority of the Keys, which is the authority to forgive and retain sins. This authority is exercised only by teaching or preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, either to many or to individuals, according to their calling. In this way are given not only bodily, but also eternal things: eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life (AC XXVIII.8). For sinners, civil authority governs unto the grave, but spiritual authority governs unto life. The Authority of the Keys governs beyond the grave and deals with eternal things.
In His last words in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18). Both authorities, while distinct, come together in Jesus Christ. And so when He responds to the Centurion, He first speaks to his heart. Then He exercises His authority over the body. "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith...Go; let it be done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed at that very moment" (Matthew 8:10, 13).
Jesus has brought the spiritual authority to forgive sins to earth. The eternal Son of God has come into the body in order to suffer in the body. On the cross, He suffers the punishments for the sins of the world. And because He suffered for your sins, He has authority to forgive your sins. But He doesn't keep this authority for Himself. He sends out His ministers to speak in His stead and by His authority. And His servants speak, He speaks. And when He speaks, things get done. Your sins are forgiven. Even though you inhabit a body of sin, your sin cannot rule over you when your sins are forgiven.
"I have authority to lay it down," Jesus says concerning His life, "and I have authority to take it up again" (John 10:18). Jesus laid down His life-body and soul-by submitting to civil authority to the point of death on a cross. But death does not have authority over the Crucified One, to whom all authority has been given. He exercises His authority over the body by rising from the dead. And so He will also exercise His authority over your body on the Last Day when He returns to judge the living and the dead. At His Word, your body will rise.
When He speaks, He gets things done. In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob Ehrhard is the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, New Haven, Michigan.
Created: October 26th, 2015