Competing Powers? (Luke 9)

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Plato said “The measure of a man is what he does with power.”

And in Luke 9, it seems that two competing powers step up to the scale: the power of Jesus and the power of Herod.

Pilate asked “Are you then a king?” and Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My Kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight.” 

But it isn’t. So they don’t…

So what is the measure of the power of Jesus? What does it do?  

“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill. He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.”

Right from the start, the power of the kingdom of Jesus was to be manifested in apparent weakness and without resources–” no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.”

And what is the power intended to accomplish?  The disciples were invested with “power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, …to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill.”

This other-worldly power is very difficult to comprehend, from a worldly point of view. Herod the Tetrarch is both baffled and intrigued.

What does the power of Herod look like?

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. But Herod said, ‘I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?’ And he tried to see him.”

“I beheaded John. I tried to see Jesus.” The casual statements are chilling in their matter-of-factness.

Herod (another one, but manifesting the same spirit) tried to see Jesus when he was born. He was deceived in the attempt and, in a fit of fury, ordered all male children under two killed. Clearly, “I want to see Jesus” is code for “I want to control Jesus. And I want to ruthessly extirpate any potential rival.”

So the first competing power -the power of Jesus through his followers- flows into healing, deliverance and grace; the second into self-obsessed paranoia and cruelty.

And the power of the Herods is well-resourced, by comparison. Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (John 19:10). And he simply could not see that it was not so.

During the very early days of the church, Peter and John were arrested for “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” (Acts 4:2). The Jewish authorities (“Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family“) had “Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’” (Acts 4:7)

Do you see the recognition of another kingdom?

In the event the two are threatened and released, but they realise that the power of the “Herods” is likely to  come crashing down on them at any moment.

So here’s how Luke continues the story:

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

‘“Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.

27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:23-31)

When you witness the rise of the power of a Herod, with all its apparent resources, its implacable selfishness and casual cruelties, then it is well to fill your mind and heart, as the disciples did, with the character of God.

Because God is the real Power.

God, it was, and is, who is the Creator (“You made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.”); God it was, and is, who is the Revealer (“You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David.“); and God it was and is, who is the Decider (“They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen“).

Of course, the Herods of our world DO have power. In a sense,life and death are indeed in their hands. The prayer continues “Consider their threats.” And every time we read a news report, we are invited to become more anxious and scared about the size of those threats.

So Jesus said “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

That’s the point. Ultimately, there are no competing powers. There is only one world, where Jesus is Lord and satan is defeated.

And so we pray:

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

 

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