The Power and Wisdom of God are revealed in Christ Crucified, not in great miraculous displays, political or economic might.
Our nature orients us to assume that people will be drawn to Christian faith by miraculous displays, “signs and wonders.” Did not Jesus win the crowds with his healing miracles and exorcisms? In fact, despite his many miracles, most of his contemporaries failed to recognize him. Even after spectacularly calming a horrific storm by a brief verbal command, his closest disciples asked – “Who is this man?”
The idea that miracle-working power will bring millions of souls into the kingdom does not comport well with what the New Testament teaches, and it certainly does not correspond to how Gentiles or the Jewish nation responded to the “Son of Man.” As the Apostle 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.”
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons, impressing the crowds. They had not seen any of the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, or priests do anything remotely like his miraculous deeds. Yet, during his ministry, only the demons that he 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. But once Christ explained just what it meant to be the “Son of Man” – Betrayal, suffering, death – Peter rebuked him, and with Satan’s own words. In Mark, the only human who recognized him prior to his resurrection was the Roman centurion in charge of the execution squad at Golgotha, and only at the very moment of his death; and most ironically, by a Gentile rather than any member of Israel – (Mark 15:29-39).
Apparently, only in his self-sacrificial death was the Messiah 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 he was “glorified,” not when he raised Lazarus from the dead, as great a miracle as that was.
Despite all his powerful miracles, in the end, he died alone on the cross, rejected by the Jewish nation, abandoned by his disciples, and crushed by Roman might. So, likewise, he instructed his disciples to take up their crosses daily and follow in his footsteps. And when he was offered political power by Satan, he refused it. As he later 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, after his resurrection, Jesus was exalted and now reigns at the “right hand” of God, but that position came at great cost. 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” – (Compare Genesis 3:4-6, Isaiah 53:10-12).
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 Revelation, John described himself as the “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.” That is what it means to be “in Jesus,” at least, in John’s experience.
The churches of Asia were called to “overcome” by persevering through trials, deceptions, and persecution, not by avoiding them. The healthiest of the seven congregations, Smyrna, had endured “tribulation” but was promised even more of the same – “You will have tribulation ten days: be faithful to death, and I will give you a crown of life.” Believers who “overcome” reign with Jesus, but they must do so in the same manner as 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 often means suffering and even martyrdom. Likewise, the “brethren” overcame the Dragon “by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, even that they loved not their lives unto death.” And in Revelation, “testimony” translates the Greek noun from which we derive the English word ‘martyr’ – (Revelation 12:11, 14:1-5).
According to Paul, “Christ crucified” is scandalous to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. The idea that God achieved victory over sin, death, Satan by means of the unjust death of a politically powerless man is nonsense to human “wisdom” and experience. Yet Paul called the proclamation of the Cross of Christ the “very power and wisdom of God.”
Thus, the omnipotent God achieved final victory over Satan and Death through the execution of Israel’s Messiah by the mighty world empire, condemned by Jewish and Gentile leaders alike to die on a Roman cross, an outcome no one expected.
Jesus cannot be understood apart from his death on Calvary. Likewise, men and women cannot be his disciples without emulating his self-sacrificial service to others in their daily lives.