Sources of authority

“And coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?'” (Matthew 13:54, ESV).

In the current great political divide which has enveloped our nation, it is unfortunately quite common for one side to reject a proposal simply because it was made by their opponents. Its intrinsic worth is rarely considered, but only, “If the other party is for it, we are against it.”

Jesus was subjected to this attitude in Nazareth. When he visited the town in which he was raised (Matthew 2:23), the other inhabitants “took offense at him” (Matthew 13:57) because of his humble origins as the son of a carpenter, and because his family was familiar to them. The implication is that his family was ordinary, showing no particular wisdom, higher education, or other qualities that would suggest any special abilities for Jesus. This same attitude was displayed by Nathanael when Phillip invited him to follow Jesus: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

It is not uncommon for one’s words or actions to be discounted because of his or her identity and background. And the converse is also true — we often see an idea or phrase gain wide acceptance because it was proposed by some celebrity, whether or not that celebrity has demonstrated any particular expertise or knowledge pertaining to the subject involved.

When I first began preaching in undeveloped nations, I quickly realized that I could gain an audience and its attention simply because I was foreign. A native-born evangelist who spoke the same things I was preaching might be largely ignored. As an American my words were assumed to have greater verity and were therefore more seriously considered. As those nations receive more foreigners and are more exposed to international influences, the advantage of being foreign is diminishing. What was previously unknown and exciting is rapidly becoming commonplace.

All of this is simply to say that words, doctrines, ideas, and actions should be judged on their own merits, not simply by who their proponent may be. Jesus’ words were true and from God. His miracles were real, not illusions or tricks. The facts that he was of humble birth (so far as his human contemporaries knew) and grew up in rural Galilee without benefit of formal rabbinical training did not diminish his teaching, his miracles, or his earthly purpose. These were and are real and powerful. He advised the Jewish leaders to accept him because of the works he did before them (John 5:36). The works were his witnesses; he was to be believed and accepted because of what he said and what he did.

Rejection of Christianity continues and is often justified by external standards. Jesus’ doctrine is attributed to the superstitions and culture of the ancient world. His miracles are dismissed as fraudulent or as the legends of a primitive culture, passed on by early believers for their own advantage. But those arguments do not account for the tremendous impact Jesus had upon his world, or the faith and zeal of those who knew him best. If the events which they described were fictional, would not there be many emphatic denials from his contemporaries? And why would the apostles and many others offer their lives in defense of a gospel which they knew to be false?

John described the works of Jesus as “signs,” and wrote of them, “So that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Jesus’ works attest to his nature and to the truth of his message. They continue to speak today. We believe in him because of what he did and what he taught.

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