The Greatest Authority Given to Men

Matthew cites a profound reason as to why the crowds glorified God in Matthew 9:8. After Jesus tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven, he proves it by healing the man. The text then says in verse 8:

But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

The overarching story of the Bible has many themes, structures, and beats, and one of them about God gradually entrusting man with more and more authority and responsibility. Man is initially given dominion over the whole earth and the things therein. After the flood, man gets authority to judge capital crimes, representing authority over his fellow man (Gen. 9:5-7). With post-Exodus Israel, we see men given the responsibility to guard and serve God’s throne-room sanctuary. With Solomon, we see a man given the ability to discern between good and evil, granting as a gift what Adam had prematurely seized in the garden (1 Kings 3:9).

With Jesus, we see this theme reach its climax. It is a big deal that a man has the authority to forgive sins. The Son of Man, our brother, has been invested with this authority. And it is also the climax of this particular section of Matthew. The end of chapter 7 until 9:8 is all about authority.

The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one having authority. (7:29)

The centurion says that he too is a man under authority, comparing himself to Jesus, and that servants and soldiers under him “go” and “come” according to his command. (8:5-9)

Then we get the scene that seems like the climax, the height of Jesus’ authority, when he calms the storm. The disciples marvel at “what kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (8:27) What could be greater than this? Our jaws drop along with the disciples.

But that is not the end nor the pinnacle of this section, as we soon learn. The only place where people glorify God is after Jesus says he has the authority to forgive sins. That is when he is at his most powerful. Cleaning the slate, reconciling people to a holy, righteous God.

And that power is invested in a man.

Yet another thing to add to the wonder of the Incarnation.

Obadiah – The Faithful Servant of an Evil King

The books of 1 and 2 Kings, in the Hebrew Bible, are part of a section referred to as the Former Prophets. And its not that difficult to see why. As we hop quickly from the reign of one king to another, the narrative slows down whenever a man of God comes on the scene.

Between the tales of the prophets, we just get straightforward recitation. Dry statements of fact. This king lived and reigned this many years. And then he died. And then this king lived and reigned this many years. And then he died. And on and on.

Most of the details are glossed over, even though there are certainly some great tales of intrigue and succession to pull from. But they get almost no time to shine.

Instead, over and over, it is the rote retelling of death. In Romans 5:14, Pauls tells us that ever since Adam, death has reigned, and that point is hammered home in the accounts of the kings of Israel. It can seem dull. It can seem tedious. And such is life without the living, breathing word of God, represented here by the prophets who speak for Him.

And there is no greater example of this than the stories surrounding the prophet Elijah. Elijah is the prototypical prophet, the one all others will be compared to after him. A bold man of God, mighty in both deed and speech. He appears out of nowhere, with almost no introduction, and announces a famine and then takes off as soon as he lays down the judgement. On his journeys, he raises the dead, he defeats 450 prophets of Baal in a grand, dramatic demonstration of God’s power, he brings the rains back, he outruns a chariot, and at the end of his life is himself taken up to heaven in a whirlwind air and fire. A bit dramatic.

And, perhaps the most impressive of all, he actually gets evil king Ahab to finally repent with sackcloth and fasting. The most wicked king Israel had seen to that point, and he finally humbles himself after Elijah confronts him for what will turn out to be the last time.

As soon as Elijah steps onto the scene, everyone is forced to react to him and his declarations from the Lord. No one can ignore him.

One such person who cannot ignore him is a man named Obadiah. He too is caught in the blast radius of Elijah’s footsteps. That’s where we will be focusing our attention.

Text: 1 Kings 18:1-6

Here we are first introduced to Obadiah, and we are immediately told two very important facts about him.

The first: he is head over the household of Ahab. He is an important official in the Ahab administration. To have this job means he is trusted with many things, including the king’s very life. This is someone very close to the king and his family, possibly even the king’s close confidant and friend. He is most likely wealthy, and he commands many resources on his own, as we will see.

And yet, immediately after we learn about his employment, we learn of another fact. The text tells us that Obadiah feared the LORD greatly.

The Weight of a Kingdom

My daughter owns a tea set, made of molded plastic. Included is a small, pink plate. One night, after digging under the couch for a few seconds she pulled this pink plate from under the darkness and held it out in triumph. One of our dogs promptly relived her of the plate, and trotted away with it hanging from his mouth.

She was confused, but not upset. She waddled over to the dog, wearing a curious expression.

I took the plate from the dog’s mouth and gave it to its rightful owner…who then put the thing in her own mouth and raced off, with a look back, hoping the dog would take chase.

That was pretty much the highlight of the night, up to that point. My daughter’s desire to do what the dog did and see how it worked out caused a break out of the giggles.

It also scared the crap out of me.

Not immediately, of course. True laughter and joy demands the whole man in the moment of experience, not allowing the moment to be wasted by second guessing. But introspection can come later when the breath is caught.

One time. She saw the behavior just one time before she imitated it. Imitated a dog being a dog. She is a sponge ready to soak up anything.

And so she will imitate me. For better or worse, whatever I do, she will do.  Whoever I am, she will be a version of that person, in some way. I am one of the first instruction manuals she will read about what it means to be a human, and the lessons will stick with her forever, tattooed in permanent ink. Some days I wish they were just those cheap little tattoos that you lick to stick, and then they come off after a few baths. I don’t want her to learn those lessons.

Paul: “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”

Me: ….

I can’t repeat that and be honest. But I don’t get to pull myself out of the game. There are no timeouts. There are no substitutions. I don’t get to rest on the bench. She will look where I am going…and then follow.

A realization like that should make you want to beg for God’s grace and mercy, that you will imitate Christ, not just for your own sake, but for the sake of your family. And so I do. Sometimes. My prayer life isn’t exactly Christ-like, after all. Not yet, anyway.

Solomon: “I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?”

Amen Solomon.

But go on further. Who is able to govern even the littlest of His children? A single one?

It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:2)(ESV)

As fathers, we each have the weight of a kingdom on our shoulders. We are responsible for those we are given, and that should get our knees to knocking a little bit. Thankfully, we can ask for the same thing Solomon asked, for who is able to govern, even over the least of these? Because as the king goes, so goes the kingdom.

May we rule wisely, like the High King. May we imitate Christ.