Spiritual Power

The power and wisdom of God are revealed in the proclamation of the Messiah who was crucified by the Roman Empire. Jesus of Nazareth performed miracles, exorcised demons, and taught with great authority, and for a time, he attracted large crowds. Nevertheless, his contemporaries failed to recognize who he was despite his displays of supernatural power. In the end, only the Roman centurion on duty at Golgotha perceived that he was the “Son of God” when the Nazarene breathed his last.

The idea that miraculous “signs and wonders” win souls to the faith does not conform to the pattern found in the four gospel accounts, and it certainly does not correspond to how Gentiles or the Jewish nation responded to the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles after the resurrection of Jesus.

Cross on Hill - Photo by Matteo Grando on Unsplash
[Photo by Matteo Grando on Unsplash]

God does provide supernatural help to His people, including divine healings, but miracles themselves are a means, not an end. As the Bible demonstrates numerous times, unexpected signs and great displays of power do not guarantee that anyone will understand who God is or acquire genuine faith in Him. As Paul wrote:

  • (1 Corinthians 1:21-24) – “For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews, scandal, and to Gentiles, foolishness; but to them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

UNRECOGNIZED


In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus healed the sick and exorcised demons, impressing the multitudes. They had not seen the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, or priests do anything remotely like what he did. But during his ministry, only the very demons cast out by him recognized who he was, the Son of God.

At one point, on the verge of understanding his identity, Peter declared him to be the Messiah, but only until Jesus explained what it meant to be the “Son of Man” – betrayal, suffering, death. Then Peter rebuked him and with Satan’s own words.

The only person who did recognize Jesus as God’s son prior to his resurrection was the Roman centurion present at his execution - (Mark 15:29-39).

Apparently, only in his self-sacrificial death was Israel’s Messiah revealed. In contrast to the pagan centurion, the Jewish religious leaders mocked Jesus as he was dying. Though they sarcastically called him “Christ and King of Israel,” they certainly did not accept his messianic status. Even the two “brigands” crucified with him “reproached him.”

GLORIFIED


In the Gospel of John, Jesus declared that when he was “lifted up, then you will know that I am the one.” Not his miracles, but his death by crucifixion was the foundation of his Kingdom. “If I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw all men to me.” He was “glorified” on the Cross, not when he raised Lazarus from the dead, as great that miracle was.

In the end, despite all his powerful miracles, he died alone, rejected by the Jewish nation, abandoned by his disciples, and crushed by Rome’s might. And so, he instructed his disciples to deny themselves, take up the cross daily, and follow in his footsteps. As he later taught them:

  • You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their great ones tyrannize them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant, and whosoever would be first among you shall be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” - (Matthew 20:25-28).

Certainly, after his resurrection, he was exalted and began to reign at God’s “right hand,” but that came only after paying a great price. As Paul explained to the Philippians when alluding to the stories of Adam and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah:

  • (Philippians 2:5-9) – “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, counted not the being like God a thing to be grasped, but poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him and gave unto him the name which is above every name” - (Compare Genesis 3:4-6, Isaiah 53:10-12).

We want power, but only by finding a way around Calvary. In contrast, Paul exhorted believers to “let this same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” He was exalted and received the “name above every name” precisely BECAUSE he “poured out his life unto death on the cross” for the sake of others.

In the Book of Revelation, John describes himself as a “fellow participant” with the Seven Assemblies in “the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance in Jesus.” Overcoming believers conquer by “following the Lamb wherever he goes,” even when doing so means martyrdom. His people overcome the Devil “by the blood of the Lamb… and because they love not their lives to the death” - (Revelation 12:11, 14:1-5).

SCANDAL AND FOLLY


According to Paul, “Christ crucified” is scandalous to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. The idea that God achieved victory over sin, death, and Satan by the unjust death of a politically powerless man is nonsense to man’s way of thinking. Yet he called the proclamation of “Christ crucified” the “very power and wisdom of God.”

Thus, the omnipotent God achieved final victory over sin and death through the execution of Israel’s Messiah by the world’s mightiest empire, having been condemned to death by Jewish religious authorities and Gentile political leaders, an outcome no devout Jew at the time would have expected or accepted.

Jesus cannot be understood apart from his death on the Roman cross. Likewise, no man or woman can be his genuine disciple without emulating his self-sacrificial service to others, and by living a cruciform life day by day.



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