The Paradox of Power and Persecution

‘Save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God’ ~ Matthew 27:40

The crucified Christ who once said that, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25), is dying on a cross. He appears powerless- mocked, insulted, beaten, disfigured, stripped, and nailed to a cross. Jesus seems powerless, and the people that demanded His death so powerful, because Pilate ‘surrendered Jesus to their will’ (Luke 23:25). When they saw the One who displayed great power and miracles in their towns, utterly powerless on a cross, they ‘sneered at him’ (v35). Some said, ‘He saved others, but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe’ (Mark 15:31-32). As they watched, Jesus ‘bowed his head and gave up his spirit’ (John 19:30).

Jesus seems to have given in to His persecutors. However, the joke was on them. Jesus Himself had said beforehand that, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed on the third day to be raised to life’ (Luke 9:22). ‘But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born’ (Matthew 26:24). An all-powerful God having to be persecuted, does not fit into the world’s shallow box- because it defies logic. But Jesus says, ‘Did not Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ (v26). Some, however, may ask, if Christ is God and is ‘from above’ (John 8:23), why did He have to suffer to enter into His own glory, which He came from? Why leave His glory in the first place? Jesus answers, ‘unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds’ (12:v23). In essence, God wanted many to share in His glory, and so in His love, He died to raise us up with Him.

Only by relinquishing His power and accepting persecution, Jesus not only takes back His power, but expends it to anyone who believes in Him. He says, ‘I lay down my life- only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again’ (10:v17-18). When Pilate asserted his power over Jesus saying, ‘Don’t you realize that I have power to either to free you or to crucify you?’ (19:v10), Jesus responded, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above’(v11). This shows that persecution was merely a conduit for Christ’s glorious power to be manifested all the more, but some still ‘do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish’ (11:v50). Because through agony, persecution, pain, and death, power is birthed and multiplied. ‘So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me’’ (8:v28).

This paradox of power and persecution is not just unique to the grain that fell first, but must also be partaken by the seeds. Jesus says, ‘A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household?’ (Matthew 10:24-25). So, when the risen Christ commissioned Paul, He said of him, ‘This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’ (Acts 9:15-16). In his ministry, Paul himself testifies, ‘I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying the gospel of God’s grace’ (20:v23-24).

In the same way, Jesus tells those who follow Him that, ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you’ (Acts 1:8), but also forewarns that ‘All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved’ (Matthew 10:22). This is quite a paradox! Cognizant of this, we should consider our life in this mortal body worth nothing, for ‘whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will keep it’ (16:v25). In following the narrow path, Paul observes that, ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body’ (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

When our we are weak, then the Holy Spirit reveals His power in us. ‘For when I am weak, then I am strong’ (12:v10). This a mystery. A spiritual paradox of power and persecution. For ‘as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord’ (5:v6). Those who evade partaking of persecution and pain (within and without) in the name of Christ, are also forfeiting power, for God’s, ‘power is made perfect in weakness’ (12:v8), and ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:10). And so, the paradox remains; ‘The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body’ (1 Corinthians 15:42). ‘For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power’ (4:v20).

‘He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve him’ ~ 2 Corinthians 13:3-4

Here is a trust worthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him’ ~ 2 Timothy 2:11

‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what we see is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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