Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)
There are many sermons on the Great Commission but few about how Jesus received “all authority” to disciple nations. The affluent parts of the church will always struggle to fulfil this command until they understand the source of Jesus universal authority. Our lack of authority is why the Great Commission is far from completion. Traditionally, Jesus’ “spiritual authority” is described as the 3 fold office as prophet, priest and king.
To share in Christ’s prophetic ministry means that others hear God speaking through me, as Peter says, “whoever speaks, as one who speaks as the mouthpiece of God” (1 Peter 4:11). In priestly terms it means God hears our prayers and certainly answers, “that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And…we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 14-15). Finally, through our acts of justice the kingdom of God is made visible on earth ““A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 16 let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:14, 16).
One of the reasons why the affluent church lacks true authority is a cultural shift in self-consciousness. When my children were small the Muppets on Sesame Street used to sing about “Cooperation”, now they sing about “Pride.” The culture of consumption and choice that is at the heart of all affluent cultures encourages the self speaking to itself. Let me give one example.
I was with a small group of very committed believers recently and sensed to ask them, “Put up your hands if you are habitually self-critical”. Many shot their hands up and one gracious brother shot up both hands. I went on to say, “You are not allowed to pass judgement on yourself because you are not God.” Only Jesus has authority to judge. We lack spiritual authority because we are too busy listening to our own voice or the voice of others. To explain how we lost our spiritual authority in the first place we must go back to the beginning.
The Loss of Authority
Adam, as God’s first created Son (Luke 3:38), was promised dominion over all the earth (Gen 1:26-28). He was “ made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.6 … given… dominion over the works of (God’s) your hands; …all things (were put) under his feet,” (Ps 8:4-6).
There was only one thing over which God did not give Adam and Eve authority, their own lives. They had no authority in and of themselves (autexousia) over life and death. This was symbolized by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The divine command, ““but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.””” (Gen 2:17) was a constant reminder to their conscience that no created son of God can have life in himself. ). It was their Father’s pleasure in their faithful obedience (Rom 1:5; 16:26) to this single command that would have sustained their lives forever.
Satan’s temptation, ““You will not surely die. 5 For God knows …that when you eat…you will be like God,”” (Gen 3:4-5), was a temptation to grasp authority over one’s own life so that death would become an impossibility. In sinning however Adam and Eve were instantly filled with shame [(as many of you are)] because they had lost the presence of the pleasure of the immortal God in them (cf. Rom 3:23;1:23; 1 Tim 1:17
To put it most simply, to have the pleasure of the Father is authority; to lose his pleasure is to be dead even when you are alive (1 Tim 5:6). The stark and universal fear of death (this is much wider than physical death, it includes the loss of any treasured thing) makes mockery of all human claims to self-centered authority. Death’s fear places humanity under the tyranny of Satan (Heb 2:14-15) because it infallibly witnesses to the conscience (apart from Christ) that instead of gaining authority over life through sin we have lost all authority before God to share an eternal destiny with him. Deep in their consciences all human beings know they deserve to die (Rom 1:32). Death makes a folly of all human achievements – financial, material, intellectual, sporting, social, political, familial….which are not done in the pleasure of God Christ (John 3:21).
I remember being asked to comment on the vision statement of an Anglican minister. The statement that gripped my attention was his pastoral desire “to help Christians die well”. Most prosperous Christians have forgotten how to die well; this is why we lack authority to disciple nations. This is why we need to identify at a much deeper level with why Jesus needed to come and die for us.
The Authority of Christ
It is the man Jesus (28:18) who stands before the disciples and claims to have been given all authority. This walking, talking, human being who stood before them claims emphatically to share to the full the attributes of God. In the flesh of his humanity he has been exalted to equal dignity with the Lordship of his Father (Phil 2:9-10). This journey begins to with Jesus own baptism,
“when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:21-22). From this time on Jesus operates with incredible authority: Adam failed the temptation in the garden of God’s delight (Eden), Jesus triumphs over Satan in a wilderness, then he goes on to teach, heal and deliver from evil form of evil (Acts 10:38; Luke 4:14) with an irresistible authority. The source of his extraordinary dynamic (Mark 1:27) is the presence of the pleasure of the Father. This pleasure for ministry immersed him at his baptism. From now on, whenever he felt the guiding presence of the pleasure of the Father anything was possible!
The key to why Jesus was not filled with such power and authority earlier in his life lies in the words of John the Baptist. As Jesus approached the Jordan to be baptised, a voice cried out, ““Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). In hearing the voice of God through John (Luke 3:1), Jesus stepped forward in obedience to his Father onto the stage of human history to do for us what we weak and fallen creatures never could do for ourselves, he came to die well so that we live well through him. This commitment to total sacrifice for us is why Jesus lived in the constant pleasure of God.
From his baptism the whole course of Jesus life falls under the shadow of the cross. As he approaches his ultimate passion his consciousness of what it means to be God’s Son grows ever more intense. On the eve of his suffering we read, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,” (John 13:3), he prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” (John 17:1-2). The Son’s sovereign dominion over all humanity is the fruit of his complete submission to the Father.
His universal authority hinges on these words from the cross, “Jesus cried with a loud voice…. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). This is his other baptism (Mark 10:38) where he is plunged into the depths of the consequences of our sin, into the place where, for us, he can no longer fell the pleasure of his Father, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek 33:11). In Christ, God has found a way of exchanging his life for our death, and the cost to Jesus at the pinnacle of his suffering is the annihilation of the manifest authority of Sonship. Is he a prophet? No one is now hearing God through him. Is he the priest? He has no awareness God is listening to his prayers. Is he the King? The powers of darkness seem to be triumphant. In losing the manifest presence of the Father Jesus does not lose something, he loses everything. His voice is completely broken.
Yet because he died absolutely well he will go on to live absolutely well. This is the meaning of the resurrection. He is “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:3-4 cf. 1 Tim 3:16). Immersed in the infinite pleasure of the Father and absolutely aware in his humanity of the favoured Sonship he possesses Jesus knows absolutely all authority in heaven and earth is in him; and he knows he possesses it for us (Eph 1:22).
In Christ we have heard the gospel that brings the sure promise of immortality, the power of death has been abolished (2 Tim 1:10). Death has lost its sting, the grave has no victory (1 Cor 15:55). Jesus promised us an authority to do greater than his earthly works (John 14:12) and Paul tells us that we reign in life through one Christ Jesus (Rom 5:17) Why is it that others do not seem to hear God speaking through us, our prayers appear unanswered and God’s kingdom of justice is not manifest for all the world to see? We are not walking in the pleasure of the Father (Eph 1:6) we are not living well, in resurrection power, because we have forgotten how to die well.
Reviving the Gift of Authority
“I have been crucified with Christ…Paul says… It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) Those we live the reality of these words do not lack authority, because as we die with Christ we will even now live with him in the powerful authority of the Father’s pleasure.
How do you die to earthly attachments and ascend with Jesus into the immeasurable richness of the Father’ eternal pleasure. By faith let him kill you so that he might bring life to you as a favoured son of his love. What do I mean by such dramatic language? Let me share a few personal experiences.
Back in Perth we hold something called “Prayer Summits”, basically a 3-4 day prayer retreat where up to 100 pastors/Christian leaders gather to seek God. This event came to Western Australia because I believe God asked me to provoke the body of Christ to embrace it. I remember on the last morning of the first Prayer Summit walking along the highway early in the morning praying, the spiritual/emotional struggle was so intense that if I was to obey my feelings, to listen to the judgement of my own voice, I would have certainly thrown myself under a semi-trailer as it roared past. As a result of this sort of dying to myself, and God dealt with many others in a similar way at that time, that Summit saw a wonderful spiritual breakthrough in Christian unity.
Another time at the end of a corporate week of prayer (6am-6pm, 7 days) the struggle with the world, flesh and devil was so strong that I literally had to grip the carpet as I lay prostrate with all my strength to stay focussed on the Lord; then suddenly he spoke a scripture into my mind and I was given a crystal clear revelation of him in heaven restoring godly order to every sphere of human society: politics, business, education, media.. In his Lordship he was revealing his will and power to disciple all nations.
To live this way is incredibly difficult but it is incredibly wonderful. It is sustainable only because every time you die to yourself you grow in the strength of the Father’s eternal pleasure in you as his son in Christ.
The desire to feel good about oneself through achieved success in education, business, spirituality or any sphere of life …. always quenches the Spirit who would fill us with the blessedness of the unconditional pleasure of the Father. To choose the Father’s pleasure over all else is to share in the universal authority of Christ and it is to be involved in the discipling of the nations. In this place others listen when you speak about the things of God, God listens when you pray, and God’s kingdom justice is enacted on the earth through you.
When you live in the free gift of the pleasure of your Heavenly Father shame is crucified and no-one can define who you are, at the deepest level of your identity as a son of his love no one can tell you what to do –not your mother, father, husband, wife, boss, pastor …and especially not your own (distorted) conscience ONLY Jesus can tell you who you are and what to do). And whatever Jesus tells you to do increase your share in his authority because it brings you into a more intense experience of the pleasure he shares with his Father in YOU. Therefore I beseech you with all my strength to die well in order to live well. As I was out praying this morning it was so clear that the Father wants to enjoy you more and he wants you to enjoy him more. But, there are some obstacles you must deal with.
Obstacles to the Release of Christ’s Authority in the Church
Just before I awoke yesterday I saw a saw in a dream a two fold picture. One was a panorama of the towers of history – ziggurats, Babel, pyramids and other structures like modern skyscrapers. We live in the midst of a culture that builds towers without foundations (not built on the rock = Christ’s words cf. Matt 7:24-27), this is the Babylonian principle hated by God. I also saw a place with thrones – these represent the dominion of the royal sons of God seated and reigning with Christ in the heavenly places cf. Eph 1:3; 2:6; Rev 20:4.
The foundation of the church is Christ, within this foundation are many gifts (1 Cor 3:10ff; Eph 2:20). Wherever there is a history of Christian witness in the midst of Babylonian culture this brings pleasure to God. The Father has immense pleasure over all his sons purchased by the blood of the cross (Eph 1:7; Rev 5:9 etc.).
However, the Lord has some things against you (Rev 2:4, 20). His kingdom is not built by might and power but by every word that comes from his mouth (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4). Like affluent people everywhere you are feeding on things other than his Word, you are listening to other voices. In your wealth you have buried in the ground the talents of spiritual richness he that so freely offers (wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, faith….1 Cor 12:7ff.) because you have not earnestly asked these from him (1 Cor 14:1).
The treasures he has placed in your foundation are buried and covered over with towers of tradition, reputation, position, education and wealth. You really are tower builders! Unless the towers come down you will not prosper in the things of the kingdom of God.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ promise remains “If your towers of tradition, reputation, position, education, wealth… come down I will be pleased to give you a throne and you will reign with me forever as my Father gave me a throne ”
 [(In the Spirit, he knew, “all things were created …for him” (Col 1:16) and that the plan of God was to make all God’s enemies a footstool for his feet (Ps 110:1; Heb 1:13; 10:13; Eph 1:10).)