What does it mean when the Bible says that Jesus spoke with authority? Did everyone jump up and instantly obey whatever he said? No way! Jesus spoke with authority and many people wanted to kill him.
Let’s think for a moment about the authority of Jesus and authority in general. The word used for ‘authority’ in Luke 4:32 is exousía. It’s the same word as used for ‘kingdom’ in Colossians 1:13 “For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, …”
In Mark 6:7 Jesus gave his disciples “authority [exousía] to cast out evil spirits.”
The words of Jesus have authority, meaning they have power. When Jesus speaks, things happen. When Jesus speaks, people get healed and storms stop.
Exousía is derived from éxesti – it is permitted, it is lawful, meaning liberty of action. Exousía means the power to do something and was a technical term used in the law courts of a legal right. The ‘ex’ part of this word means that the power or the authority wasn’t made by Jesus but given to him from ‘outside’. The authority was from God. It was delegated authority.
Jesus was a person of power and authority. It was clear from what happened when he spoke.
This is the same as what we see when God speaks. The first thing that is spoken in the Bible is in Genesis 1:3 – Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God spoke it, and it happened. God did it repeatedly. Let it be, let it be, let it be. Light, space, land, day, night, plants, animals. God’s authority and power on display in his word.
One of the characteristics of the authority of God and Jesus is authenticity. Their words have authority because listeners can totally believe them. They are reliable words that reliably reflect the true nature of the speaker. When people heard Jesus speak, they also saw that he was not making things up as politicians do. Jesus was not saying what people wanted to hear.
The key point for me here is that there is a consistent purpose in the words of God and in the words of his son Jesus. Along with many other people, I have said in the past that the purpose of language is to communicate. What is the purpose of words?
Why did God need to speak to make light and dark, and sea and land? Why didn’t he just do it? Why did Jesus speak? Why didn’t Jesus wander around silently using his power to change and heal? And why, if we have been given the same authority, do we feel powerless?
In part words have power because God made them to have power, so Satan can exert his power through words. But why did God create words in the first place. What I am trying to point out here is that God always has a purpose.
You know he created you with purpose and for a purpose. Most of us never think that God has a purpose for words, so we never consider whether our words are fulfilling their God-given purpose. We are made in the image of God, and we are commanded to be like Jesus. That has to include how we use words. We must be like Jesus in how we speak and why we speak.
Why do you talk? Think about that for a moment. Maybe you never asked yourself this question before. Why do I talk? A follow-up question is, Why do I listen?
God spoke to create. In Exodus 20:1, God spoke to give his people instructions on how to live in relationship with him and each other. That’s the purpose of the 10 Commandments.
In Hebrews 12:5, God speaks to encourage and discipline. Those are two actions that develop and improve our relationship with God. In Matthew 17:5 God spoke to reveal the identity of his son. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” This also was to encourage us to listen with purpose. Both of these things are to build up our relationship with God.
God’s words are spirit and life. God speaks to give us life. (John 6:63)
Paul tells us that we have to change the way we talk. He says in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
At this point we need to answer a really important question. How can we speak as adults? How can we speak as grown children of God. How, in fact, can we speak like Jesus?
Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:35-40, Mark 12:28-31 and Luke 10:25-28 that the foundation is love. ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
The first thing is to speak in love. In fact, to do everything in love, but our focus at the moment is speaking. The first reason to speak is to express love of God and each other. The words we use when we speak ought to always seek to enhance the listener’s relationship with God and with neighbours. We ought to speak words of life. We ought to speak words of blessing.
As we start to look at what we say and how we talk, we may be surprised at how far we are away from God’s standard. For example, gossip. Is there any way that gossip helps anyone’s relationship with God? I think there probably isn’t, and the Bible explicitly says don’t gossip.
I know how hard I find it not to gossip, but that’s just one of the most obvious things.
How about when I praise someone? Is that good? My first reaction is that it’s always nice to say something nice rather than something nasty. Then I thought about it. A man may want to hear that he is handsome or strong. A woman may want to hear that she is pretty.
We all like to get praise, but how often do the words of praise reflect love. How much of the praise we get when we win a competition helps our relationship with God. That you got a high score on a test does not reflect on your relationship with God. In fact, empty praise could drive you to rely on your own intellect instead of turning to God.
So we need to think quite carefully about how we talk to each other, and the effect our words will have. Praise should be intended to improve the listener’s relationship with God and you.
How do you talk to God? Do you talk to God in ways that will deliberately improve your relationship with him? Do we tell God what we want, and do we do it with passion in an effort to persuade God to give us what we want. What would happen if our prayer, our speech to God, was all about building up a relationship with him.
As we start to talk with a foundation of love, using words of truth to help people have a better relationship with God and each other, we start to find people listen to us. People start to value our words and trust our words. They can trust us. We are consistent and authentic. We start to speak with authority, as Jesus did.
As I hinted before, that’s only half the story. It may be the most important half, but we also have to recognise that listening also has a purpose.
We need to learn to listen to the authentic voice of God in what people say. We need to develop heavenly ears to go with our heavenly tongues. Listening is a skill that needs to be developed. We may think we listen to each other, but a lot of the time we are busy with our own thoughts.
When Jesus spoke the words of life, how few people of his day heard what he was saying. They didn’t listen. They thought he had said one thing, he really had said another.
People of the world use words to shape reality the way they want it to be. They use words to gain power over other people. They use words to get what they want. When they listen it is often to find a way to get what they want.
We are called to devote our speaking and listening to God. As children of God, we are called to speak like God and listen like God. This morning we have only just scratched the surface of what it means to talk like God and listen like God. I need to go away and practise what I preach so that my speech serves to build up other people in their relationship with God and with their neighbours.
It starts with love. We speak to love God and each other.