SYNOPSIS – The Power and Wisdom of God are revealed in Christ Crucified, not in great miraculous displays, political or economic might.
Our human nature and experience orient us to assume that men and women will be drawn to the Christian faith by displays of mighty “signs and wonders.” Did not Jesus win the crowds with his healings and exorcisms? In fact, despite his many miraculous deeds, most of his contemporaries failed to recognize him as the Messiah of Israel. After spectacularly calming a horrific storm by a verbal command, even his closest disciples were left asking.
The idea that miracle-working power will bring millions of souls into the kingdom does not correspond to what the New Testament teaches, and it certainly does not jive with how the Gentile world or the Jewish nation responded to the “Son of Man.” As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
(1 Corinthians 1:21-24) – “For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was Gods 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, unto Jews a stumbling-block, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus performed healings and cast out demons. The crowds were impressed – They had never seen any of the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, or priests do anything like his miraculous deeds. Yet, during his ministry, only the demons that he himself exorcised recognized who he was – the Son of God. Even his closest disciples could not see the forest for the messianic trees.
At one point, Peter was on the verge of understanding his identity when he declared Jesus to be the Messiah and the Son of God; that is, until Christ explained just what it means to be the “Son of Man” and the Redeemer of Israel – Betrayal, suffering, death. At that point, Peter rebuked him, and with Satan’s own words no less.
In Mark, the only human who recognized Jesus prior to his resurrection was the Roman centurion put in charge of the execution squad, and at the very moment that he died:
(Mark 15:29-39) – “And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ha! Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself, and come down from the cross. In like manner also the chief priests mocking him among themselves with the scribes said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reproached him. And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elijah. And one ran, and filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let be; let us see whether Elijah cometh to take him down. And Jesus uttered a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, who stood by over against him, saw that he so gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.”
Apparently, only in his self-sacrificial death was the Messiah and the Son of God revealed and understood. In contrast to the pagan centurion, the Jewish religious leaders came to mock Jesus. Though they sarcastically called him “Christ and King of Israel,” they certainly did not accept or acknowledge his messianic status. Even the two “brigands” crucified with him were “reproaching him.”
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 crucifixion would be the center of his kingdom; “If I am lifted up from the earth, then will I draw all men to me.” It was on the cross that Jesus was “glorified,” not when he raised Lazarus from the dead, as great a miracle as that was.
Despite all the powerful miracles that Jesus did, in the end, he died alone on the cross, rejected by the Jewish nation, abandoned by his disciples, and crushed by Roman might.
Among his disciples, Jesus instructed his followers to take up their crosses daily and to follow in his footsteps. When he was offered political power by Satan, he refused it. As he taught his disciples:
“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, Jesus has been exalted and now reigns at the “right hand” of God, but that position came at great cost to the “Son of Man.” As Paul explained to the Philippians, using allusions 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.”
- (Genesis 3:4-6) – “And the serpent said unto the woman, You shall not surely die: for God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be like God, knowing good and evil And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband and he ate.”
- (Isaiah 53:10-12) – “Yet it pleased Yahweh to bruise him; he put him to grief: when you shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Yahweh shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied: by the knowledge of himself shall my righteous servant justify many; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death and was numbered with the transgressors: yet he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
We want power but only by finding a way around the Cross. In contrast, the Apostle exhorted us to “let this same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” He was exalted and received the “name above every name” BECAUSE he “poured out his life unto death on the cross” for the sake of others.
In the book of Revelation, John described himself as a “fellow-participant” with the seven churches of Asia in “the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance in Jesus.” To be part of the kingdom means “tribulation” and “perseverance” – This is what it means to be “in Jesus.”
The seven churches of Asia were called to “overcome” by persevering through trials, deceptions, and persecution. The healthiest of the seven congregations, Smyrna, already had endured “tribulation” but was promised even more of the same – “You will have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.” Believers who “overcome” reign with Jesus but must do so in the same manner that he did:
“To him that overcomes, I will grant to sit with me in my throne, just as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne” – (Revelation 3:21).
In Revelation, overcoming believers conquer by “following the Lamb wherever he goes,” which may mean martyrdom. Likewise, the “brethren” overcame the Dragon “by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, even that they love not their lives unto death” – (Revelation 12:11, 14:1-5).
According to Paul, “Christ crucified” is scandalous to Jews and folly to Gentiles. The idea that God achieved victory over sin, death, Satan by means of the unjust death of a politically powerless man is foolishness to human wisdom and experience. Yet Paul called the Cross of Christ the very power and wisdom of God.
Jesus cannot be understood apart from his death on Calvary. Likewise, men and women cannot be his true disciples without emulating his self-sacrificial service to others in their daily lives.