I was approaching a pedestrian crossing one day while driving when a middle-aged lady stepped onto the crossing, and I slowed to a halt. She confidently strode across the road, unperturbed by the approaching 140 break horsepower vehicle that could crush her if it collided with her at speed. I found myself meditating on her serenity at that moment. It occurred to me that her confidence emanated from a fact we both knew: she had the right of way, and I didn’t. More importantly, had I refused to stop while she was crossing the road, and my actions caused her any injuries, I’d face the full might of the UK Justice system. Put differently, the knowledge that she had the backing of an agency far superior to me dictated her confidence.
My experience with the lady at the pedestrian crossing reminded me of an illustration a preacher used to describe the difference between authority and power. Authority, she said, is a petite female police officer without a weapon ordering a man twice her size to kneel, and he duly obliges. It’s a lone soldier from a victorious army ordering a battalion from a conquered foe to surrender their weapons, and they duly oblige. The police officer and the lone soldier are representatives of institutions with the authority to act on their behalf. Those they are addressing are also aware that refusing to obey these representatives will incur the wrath of the institutions they represent. So, there’s a mutual understanding of the superior authority of a legitimate representative in a given situation, irrespective of the power of the opposition.
At a point during His earthly ministry, Jesus sent out seventy-two of His disciples on a field trip [Luke 10:1-12]. In addition to detailed instructions for their mission, He commanded them to heal the sick [Luke 10:9]. The disciples came back with astonishing testimonies. For probably the first time, many of these disciples experienced the supremacy of authority over power as demons fled and people were healed in the name of Jesus [Luke 10:17]. Putting aside the non-trivial fact that sickness responds to a faith-filled command, imagine the trepidation of the demons the disciples encountered. I can envisage an evil spirit looking beyond the shoulder of a seemingly unremarkable man uttering the words: “…leave in the name of Jesus of Nazareth…” and seeing a host of angels indicating: “we dare you to disobey him.” The possessed individuals probably didn’t recognise The Name, but the demons were fully aware of the authority at work in those encounters.
Before leaving the earth, Jesus bestowed the same authority He gave to the seventy-two disciples on every person who would believe in His name [Mark 16:17-18]. Amongst other instructions, those who believe are to confront situations contrary to God’s will in the name of Jesus and declare what God’s word says about that situation. Elsewhere, Scripture also emphasises that disciples of Jesus can legitimately partake of God’s divine nature through His promises, just as Jesus did [2 Peter 1:4]. These are the foundations of the authority conferred on believers. However, if we’re going to stride confidently through life with the assurance of the lady who stepped on the pedestrian crossing, there are truths to imbibe from our encounter on that fateful day.
The first unequivocal truth is God does not lie [Numbers 23:19], and His word never returns to Him without accomplishing what He said [Isaiah 55:10-11]. He stakes His integrity on doing what He said [Psalm 183:2]. So, when Jesus says to His disciples (us): “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you” [Luke 10:19 ESV]. It is settled – finished [Psalm 119:89, John 19:30]. However, that’s only half of the equation. There’s a part for us to play if we desire to experience the reality of God’s word. First, we must believe it [Habakkuk 2:4]. Second, we must act on our convictions without doubt [Mark 11:23]. The lady on the pedestrian cross didn’t doubt her right of way under UK law. As such, she strode out confidently even though there were no law enforcement officers in sight. That’s a similitude of faith; she staked her life on her convictions.
It also occurred to me that she was protected under the law if she crossed the road at the designated point. There’s no argument about culpability if a motorist hits a pedestrian at a pedestrian crossing, but there may be ambiguity if the incident occurs elsewhere on the road. Though an imperfect analogy, it does emphasise the importance of walking in the path of righteousness [Psalm 119:9]. We do so by knowing and obeying God’s word and submitting to the leading of the Holy Spirit [Psalm 23:3, Romans 8:14]. Although God is merciful, violating His word often carries consequences. So, we mustn’t willfully disobey Him. Likewise, if the lady didn’t know the law, she wouldn’t have exercised her rights. She would have ignorantly yielded her right of way to me. That highlights the importance of knowing who we are and what God has said about our situation. Without both, we may struggle to exercise our authority, and the devil is ever poised to take advantage [2 Corinthians 2:11].
God never withdrew the authority He gave us over creation [Genesis 1:26, 28]. As we read the Bible, we find our mandate extended to cover unseen principalities and powers [Acts 5:16, 16:18]. Consequently, we have the right of way whenever we encounter anything contrary to God’s will. It pleases God whenever we exercise the authority He gave us to deal with those situations [Hebrews 11:6]. If this isn’t your lived experience, what’s holding you back? Could it be ignorance, unbelief or wilful disobedience?