True Power

Mao Zedong famously declared that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” This accurately represents the modus operandi of the State since the dawn of human civilization. In this life, men and women can be led in one of two ways – by persuasion or force. Invariably, the State chooses the latter.

History attests to the failure of this approach to rid the world of war, hunger, poverty, and other types of suffering. And this holds true whether the government is a monarchy, republic, dictatorship, or democracy. Utopian dreams remain just that – unfulfilled fantasies.

Cross seaside - Photo by Soul devOcean on Unsplash
[Photo by Soul devOcean on Unsplash]

The systematic abuse of state power in this world stands in sharp contrast to the power and wisdom of God as demonstrated and defined in the New Testament, especially in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. How God determined to defeat evil and redeem humanity came as a shock to this world.

Jesus performed miracles, exorcised demons, and taught with great authority. For a time, he attracted great crowds. Nevertheless, his contemporaries failed to recognize who he was despite his miracles and preaching.

None of the Jewish religious authorities, high priests, or Roman authorities recognized the Nazarene as God’s designated Messiah, savior of the world, or ruler of the kingdom of God.

In the end, only the Roman centurion at Golgotha recognized him as the “son of God” when he breathed his last, and very likely, the officer in charge of his execution squad - (Mark 15:39).

Yet, years later, the Apostle Paul wrote that we preach Christ crucified, to Jews, scandal, and to Gentiles, foolishness. But to those that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” - (1 Corinthians 1:21-24).

Thus, ultimate power does not come “through the barrel of a gun,” but through the preaching of a crucified messiah. Not because that makes any sense to us, but because it is the way chosen by the God who created all things.


In the gospel of Mark, Jesus heals the sick and exorcises demons, impressing many of his contemporaries. Yet they fail to comprehend who he is. Ironically, only the demons that he exorcises recognize him as the Son of God.

At one point, on the verge of understanding his identity, Peter declares that he is the Messiah. But this only lasts until Jesus explains what it means to be the “Son of Man” – betrayal, suffering, death. Instead, Peter rebukes him, and with Satan’s own words. The only person who does recognize him prior to his resurrection is the Roman centurion at his execution - (Mark 15:29-39).

Apparently, only in his self-sacrificial death is Israel’s Messiah revealed. In contrast to the pagan centurion, the Jewish religious leaders mocked Jesus and conspired in the judicial murder of Israel’s own messiah, even using political intrigue to manipulate the Roman governor to become complicit in the plot. It seems that Jesus of Nazareth was not the kind of messianic figure they could stomach.

Though they sarcastically called him “Christ and King of Israel” as he was hanging on the cross, the representatives of the high priest most certainly did not accept his messianic status. Even the two “brigands” crucified alongside him were “reproaching him.”


In John’s gospel account, Jesus declares that when he is “lifted up, then you will know that I am the one.” Not his supernatural powers or political prowess, but his death by crucifixion is 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 as that miracle was, it proved insufficient for demonstrating who and what the Nazarene is.

But in the end, despite all his miracles, he died alone - rejected by the Jewish nation, abandoned by his closest disciples, and crushed by Roman might.

And contrary to the ways of this fallen world, he instructed his disciples to do likewise – to take up their crosses daily and follow in his footsteps. As he taught his disciples, “greatness” in his kingdom is measured in one’s self-sacrificial service, not in grandeur and power over others. They must be like him, the one who “ gave his life as a ransom for many” - (Matthew 20:25-28).

Certainly, after his resurrection, he was exalted and began his reign at God’s “right hand,” But exaltation came at great personal cost. As Paul explains to the Philippians:

  • (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.

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


According to Paul, “Christ crucified” is scandalous to Jews and folly 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 human “wisdom” and experience. Nevertheless, he calls the proclamation of “Christ crucified” the “very power and wisdom of God.”

And so, the omnipotent God achieved final victory over sin, Satan, and death through the execution of Israel’s Messiah by the world’s mightiest empire, having been condemned to death by Jewish and Gentile leaders alike, an outcome no devout Jew at the time expected, and few Gentiles would tolerate.

Jesus cannot be understood apart from his self-sacrificial death for others, and no man or woman can be his true disciple without emulating his example by living a cruciform life day by day. Spiritual power is attained only on the way to the cross.

And the example and proclamation “Christ crucified” is totally incompatible with how political power is wielded in this world.