Matthew 9:8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.
We don’t often think about how faith is intertwined with authority. Right now all sorts of things are happening because some people believe other people have the authority to do the things they are doing. That applies to rioting. If local governments said, and acted, firmly, “You don’t have the authority, the right, to be destructive,” that sort of thing would end very quickly. The same thing applies to “cancel culture.” If employers were to say, “You don’t have the authority to make personnel decisions for this company,” people wouldn’t lose their jobs. It boils down to being afraid of name calling, of all things. Not wanting to be called racist or privileged or some other pejorative of the day, people cede authority to others when they have absolutely no right to such authority. It is only because we believe, on some level at least, that they have authority, that they can wield it. That principle applies to all merely human authority, even national. However, God’s authority is on a different plane entirely. He has it whether we believe it or not, but we experience it for our benefit when we do believe it. It can be downright scary to realize just how much authority God has. In this verse, where the NIV says, “they were filled with awe,” the Japanese says, “they became afraid.” Jesus had demonstrated a level of authority in healing the man that showed He indeed had authority to forgive sins, and everyone recognized that was God’s territory. The thing is, Jesus not only has such authority, (Matthew 28:18) He has allowed His disciples to exercise it as well. (John 20:21-23) When we are operating in the Holy Spirit, we can indeed forgive sins on the level that Jesus did. However, authority is never divorced from responsibility. We must not confuse forgiveness with excusing. Forgiving sin is not the same as saying it’s OK to sin. At the same time, nursing things that have been done to us, failing to forgive them, is dangerous in the extreme. We must never forget that Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
I’ve struggled with this myself. By God’s grace I have come a long way in being able to forgive things that are done to me, but it still often needs to be a conscious choice. However, the whole issue of authority is something I’m ambivalent about. I have fantasized about walking into situations and commanding things to be right, but when it comes to leading a church, I get scared. I have hurt people with my words, and I have also hurt people by failing to exercise the authority that is my responsibility. I will have to answer to God for that. It all boils down to the fact that I don’t have the wisdom to do it right, so I’ve got to be dependent on God every moment. I am to be His agent in forgiving the sins of Japan and the Japanese, but not divorced from their repentance. Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34) but we receive that forgiveness only when we repent.
Father, help me be the agent of Your forgiveness, and Your authority in other ways, that You want me to be, not drawing back from it but not being cavalier about it either. May I be Your agent, for the salvation of many and for Your glory alone. Thank You. Praise God!