The Problem of Power

I've been enjoying the books of Acts this week.

Huw Williams | 16:22, Thursday 03 April 2014 | Turin, Italy 

Humanity's lust for power is a problem that is almost as old as humanity itself. The desire to be 'like God' was at the heart of the fall in Genesis 3 and remains the desperate motivation behind all sin, from the most evil despotic political leaders of history to my stubborn refusal to pray. When we read the gospels it is easy for us to shake our heads in disbelief at the disciples as we read verses like Luke 22:24:

"A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest."

but isn't the syncretism of much our Western Christianity, which often owes more of its 'operations' to the wisdom of the boardroom and social media than to an unshakable confidence that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness, quickly exposed by Jesus' reply in v25-30?:

"And he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.' "

I wonder if it was that last sentence (rather the preceding one) which had captured the imaginations of the disciples, and was still holding them, post-resurrection in Acts 1:4-6:

"And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, 'you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.' So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' "

There it is again. With Jesus' promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit still ringing in their ears, the disciples words speak of what is truly in their hearts - you can almost imagine the wide eyes and the dreams of court life. They've done the hard yards and now it's time for Jesus to dish out the top jobs. It's time for power play. And yet as I point the finger at them, I find three pointing back at me, as I stop to reflect on my own thirst for the approval of people, my own hunger for comfort and my insatiable appetite for control.

And Jesus' answer is remarkable in v7-8.

"He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you'..."

and I imagine my heart would have been leaping at that point - but then Jesus continues:

"... and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

I can't imagine that I would have been brave enough to pipe up with, "Ah yes, Jesus, that wasn't quite the kind of power I had in mind... I was thinking more of a nice corner office with a leather sofa..." but if I'm honest, that's what my attitude to power often amounts to. Yet Jesus is completely confident that the power he is offering is a far greater power (in every way) than the power the sinful nature lusts after, strives for and clings to. Jesus is about to return to the Father and pour out the Holy Spirit on God's people - that's the power he wants us to give us - the Spirit of God Himself to empower us to be witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But the question we have to ask ourselves is, is this the kind of power we want?

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