True Power and Wisdom

God’s Power and Wisdom are revealed in Christ Crucified, not in mighty signs and wonders, and certainly not in political power

Jesus - Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash
Often, I hear claims by church leaders that a mighty revival is about to unfold, one characterized by “signs and wonders,” an irresistible move of God that will shake the world as the miraculous awes billions of individuals to repent and accept the gospel. Let us hope so! Nevertheless, I wonder if it will take something more than displays of supernatural power - [
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash].

Miracles are a means to an end, but not the end, in-and-of-themselves.  God delights to meet real human needs, and “signs and wonders” often accompany outpourings of His Spirit. However, history argues against the assumption that the miraculous will cause large numbers of men and women to repent as they are awestruck by displays of “signs and wonders.”

I mean, in the life of Jesus himself, “signs and wonders” did not cause large numbers of his contemporaries to respond positively to his gospel, though respond to it they did.

In Mark, he performed healings and exorcised demons. The crowds were impressed; they had never seen the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, or priests do anything like he did. Yet, during his ministry, only the demons cast out by him recognized him to be the “Son of God.” Prior to his crucifixion, and despite his many miraculous deeds, even his closest disciples could not see the forest for the messianic trees. Even after he miraculously calmed a violent storm, they failed to perceive who he was. Instead, dumbstruck, they asked, “Who is this man?

At one point, on the verge of understanding his identity, Peter declared him to be the Messiah, the Son of God; that is until Jesus explained just what it meant to be God’s anointed – betrayal, suffering, unjust death – at which point, Peter rebuked him, and with Satan’s own words.

In the gospel of Mark, the only human who recognized Jesus prior to his resurrection was the very Roman centurion put in charge of his execution (Truly, this man was the Son of God”). Only in his death was God’s Son revealed and recognized, not in his many acts of healing or nature miracles - (Mark 15:39).

In 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 the “Son of Man” was “glorified,” not when he raised Lazarus from the dead, as great as that miracle was.
And despite all the powerful miracles done by him, in the end, Jesus died alone on the cross, rejected by the Jewish nation, abandoned by his disciples, and crushed by Roman might.

As for his followers, Jesus instructed his disciples to take up their crosses daily and to follow in his footsteps. When Satan offered him political power, he refused it. His followers were summoned to something far different than the ways of this fallen world:
  • 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 served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Yes, Jesus has been exalted and now reigns from God's “right hand,” but that position came at great cost. As Paul explained, he took on the “form of a slave, humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, the death of the cross, therefore God has highly exalted him.” Suffering, humiliation, and death preceded his exaltation, but we seek power and prominence apart from the Cross.

The book of Revelation is most instructive. John described himself as a “fellow participant” with the “churches of Asia” in the “tribulation and the kingdom and the perseverance of Jesus.” One definite article modifies all three nouns; each is a part of the whole. To live in the kingdom means “tribulation” and “perseverance.”

The “seven churches of Asia” were summoned to “overcome” by persevering through trials, deceptions, and persecution, not by escaping them. Believers who do “overcome” reign with him, but first, they first must overcome in the same manner that he did - (Revelation 3:21).

Overcoming believers conquer by “following the Lamb wherever he goes,” which may mean martyrdom. And the saints “overcome” Satan “by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their lives unto death.”

The Apostle Paul claimed that the proclamation of “Christ crucified” was scandalous to Jews and folly to Greeks. The very idea that God achieved victory over sin, death, and Satan by means of the unjust death of a powerless messiah was foolishness to the philosophies and ideologies of the world. Yet Paul called the Cross of Christ God’s very power and wisdom, even arguing that only the “spiritually minded” could comprehend the Cross.

When he was criticized by certain “super-apostles” who pointed to their supposed apostolic credentials and the signs that accompanied their preaching, rather than respond by pointing to the miraculous in his own ministry, instead, Paul gave a long list of the things he had suffered for the gospel; it was his willingness to endure hardship and persecution that validated his apostleship. And though he had even experienced the “third heaven,” that tremendous vision was of far less importance than what he learned through an especially severe personal trial:
  • My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” – (2 Corinthians 12:9).
And that is the real problem – Christ crucified is something we do not understand and an example we do not wish to follow. His gospel is found in his teachings and epitomized by his life of self-denying service for God’s kingdom, and especially by his death.

Just as “all men were drawn” when he was “lifted up” on Golgotha, so, I suspect, the world will be won by men and women whose lives are conformed to the Cross. “Sign and wonders” may help along the way, but they are not the key to the gospel’s success.


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