Delegating Authority for Mission

The floor was remarkably dirty. And with the closet door opening and electrical outlet plugged, I was ready to rectify the situation. The colloquialism for all aboard in the Torrey House is everyone on the couch and our more agile child deftly made her escape from harm’s way. Judah is less deft and his poor legs could not get him to the couch’s safety. Without looking I started the vacuum and heard the emanation of cries from my little son. It is funny how things that should not be scary can be terrifying.

As I began to clean up the mess, the terror in Judah’s voice was matched by facial expressions and leg stomping tension. His eyes locked onto the vacuum moving seemingly on its own in conquest of the floor. His gaze was set. It took a stern “Judah!” to snap him out of his gaze and set his eyes upon me. Trying to be brief, I simply say “trust dad.” This is a little different from “trust me” but I’ll get to the importance of this distinction after a brief Biblical excurse.

Immediately upon seeing Judah’s face and hearing my words the text of Jesus walking on water struck me afresh (Matthew 14; Mark 6; John 6). Many people have latched onto Matthew’s version of the story because of the added details concerned with Peter,

24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:24-33)

More ink than could ever be necessary has been spilt on Peter’s behavior in this passage. Ranging from “getting out of the boat,” “keep your eyes on Jesus,” to “keep the faith,” pastors wax moralistically about the only character to which church members can seemingly relate. However, that focus loses sight of what actually occurrs in the text. In this text, Christ is relating to Peter. He does this by establishing his authority over the water, passing it to Peter, and doing it all merely with His voice (an important emphasis of Matthew’s marking Jesus as the new Moses).

In Judah’s case, my stern rebuke was meant to drive his attention from the vacuum to my hand which was guiding the vacuum. I was in control of the vacuum and no harm would come to him. In Peter’s case Christ had spoken peace to everyone in the boat. Peter seeking proof of the person before him requested from Christ a thing only Jesus could deliver—control of the water. Peter had faith in Christ. He had it before he stepped out of the boat and he had it when he asked Christ to save him. So why does Christ say that Peter doubts? Peter’s doubt was with respect to what Christ has bestowed upon him. Peter’s lack of faith was a smudge on Christ’s authority to delegate authority (something that gets addressed with finality in the Great Commission).

Judah responded much the same way as Peter. He looked at me and heard my words. He saw my hand pushing the vacuum. And then he ran away as fast as possible in fear of the vacuum attacking him in its conquest of the floor. Judah had misunderstood that when I said “trust dad” I was communicating to him assured protection and implied authority. Peter knew the identity of Jesus but was unconvinced about his ability to relate His authority.

The book of Matthew does not leave Peter here however. Throughout the Gospel Jesus is committed to delegating His authority. It is in Matthew’s gospel that the infamous “on this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16:13-20) is stated to Peter. Though debated across many lines, Christ here bestows upon Peter the authority and ability to accomplish the spread of the gospel in the book of Acts (not a permanent “vicar of Christ” role). Yet, Christ is not done with delegating the authority of His church. In the Great Commission Christ echoes 2 Chronicles 36:23 (the conclusion of the Jewish Scriptures) in delegating authority to his disciples over the entire earth. This authority has trickled down throughout the church age. The delegation of Christ’s authority remains with Christians today. Like Judah and Peter, the church is called to acknowledge the authority it has been given. This is the way we relate to Peter walking on the water of Galilee. We go out on mission with authority.

Joshua Torrey is a New Mexico boy in an Austin, TX world. He is husband to Alaina and father to Kenzie & Judah and spends his free time studying for the edification of his household. These studies include the intricacies of hockey, football, curling, beer, and theology. You can follow him @benNuwn and read his theological musings and running commentary of the Scriptures at The Torrey Gazette.