Thursday, November 10, 2011

Baby Jesus Super-Power

Never mind what the website says, the worship team at my church starts up at 10:38, A.M. each Sunday morning. It’s true that we’ve always been a chronically late group of believers, but 10:38 is intentional: it comes from Acts 10:38. 
“. . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” 
Call it our secret code. We want to underscore how Jesus did ministry and try to follow his example.
It’s one of my favorite questions: “How did Jesus do the stuff he did?” If Jesus really is a worthy role model, shouldn’t we imitate him? Jesus healed the sick, multiplied food, cleansed lepers, expelled evil spirits, and raised the dead. He spoke with confidence and authority about the Father’s heart. He modeled a life of grace and peace, lived in concert with the Father’s will. But how did he do these things? Our answer sets the boundaries of our potential under the Master. Popular theologianRicky-Bobby suggests that “Baby Jesus Super-Power” was at work. Unfortunately, Ricky Bobby speaks for far too many of us.
I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking I threw in the Talladega Nights reference just to be funny. I wish that were true. Just today I read these words from a recent Bible commentary:
As a “superhero,” Jesus has a vast array of superpowers--powers to heal disease, calm storms, defeat the demonic, love the unlovable. But one stands out in this passage: his sheer brilliance.
I wish I was making this up, but no, I read these words in a book from a reputable publisher. Perhaps the chatty, conversational commentator was just trying to accessible, but he places the works, the character and the intellect of Jesus beyond our reach. If Jesus did the things he did because he was the Boss’ son, then his example is no example at all. We can stand amazed without any responsibility to imitate the Master.
The Apostle Peter provided a powerful one-sentence summary of Jesus’ ministry--including the hope that we, too, can be like him. I’d like to suggest at least four paradigm-shifting revelations from this one powerful verse.
1). God the Father anointed Jesus of Nazareth. The concept of God’s anointing is nearly lost in many quarters of the church. Yet Jesus began his ministry with the simple explanation that “the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me” for the tasks before him (Luke 4: 18). Peter simply used the same explanation his Master had used. If Jesus needed the anointing, how much more do we? We need to recover a first-century understanding of anointing. Perhaps then we will recover first-century effectiveness in ministry.
2). Even good works require the Father’s empowerment. Who could be against “doing good?” No one--and that’s the problem. Too often followers of Jesus are reduced to the role of religious social workers because we want do good, even if it’s apart from the Spirit’s guidance or assistance. It is a powerful temptation precisely because we can sally forth in our own understanding and strength, yet still do so in the name of God. Jesus modeled something else: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5: 19) Do we see the difference?
3). Jesus saw ministry in the light of spiritual conflict: Peter included the phrase, “all who were under the power of the devil.” All ministry is spiritual warfare. John, the beloved disciple said, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). Jesus saw the world as enemy-occupied territory, and no human was ever his enemy. We need Paul’s reminder that in ministry “we do not struggle against flesh and blood.” Yet we do struggle. It pays to know where the fight is.
4). The presence of God makes all the difference. Like the anointing, the concept of doing ministry along with God’s manifest presence is nearly lost in the church today. We have settled too quickly for the omnipresence of God. We mistake orthodoxy for presence. The result is dry and lifeless ministry, yet we assert that because God is everywhere he must be in our works. We presume too much.
Peter followed Jesus day-by-day for three and a half years. He saw effective ministry modeled. He learned first-hand the possibilities of a Man yielded to the Father. He summarized his experience into a single sentence, a sentence so powerful it could transform ministry today.


  1. Yes!

    First of all, I love that you have a reason for starting late. We just start late because that's the sort of people we tend to be at my church. We might need to be a bit more intentional about it!

    And now about the "Yes!" This: If Jesus is seen as a super hero "We can stand amazed without any responsibility to imitate the Master." I know there has been a lot of criticism of art/literature/film that places more emphasis on the human part of Jesus than the God part, but your point explains exactly why I'd rather err on the side of "too much human."

  2. Jesus certainly promised that we'll do greater works because of the Spirit's power. That is something I often find hard to believe, and it's a good reason why your post is a great reminder for us.

  3. Like you, I find it hard to believe that we are called--and empowered--to do the works of Jesus. It helps me to understand the role of the Holy Spirit when I realize that every miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospels had been done by human beings in the historical record of the Old Testament: raising the dead, casting out devils, multiplying resources, you name it.

    I have to admit that, although I've seem some amazing miracles at our church, our experience still falls short of the gospels and Acts. For me the question boils down to what I will accept--my experience, or the promises of scripture? I've decided to tilt toward the promises, and if I fail, at least I'll fail in the right direction.

  4. Thanks so much, Kristin. Full disclosure--we used to start much later, and in an attempt to regain some discipline we started the 10:38 thing. It has helped to have a "spiritual" reason, though.

    Like you, I will defend the divinity of our Lord whenever I feel it is challenged. But our defense of his God-nature has come at the expense of the neglect of his human nature. To recognize that he is a worthy role-model, the hope of humanity realized, makes me want to worship him all the more.

  5. When you mention Jesus' annointing, are you saying that Jesus could not perform the signs and wonders before, or that the annointing was his cue to openly perform those signs and wonders?

  6. I think "could not" is probably a bit strong. What I *am* saying is that Jesus voluntarily set aside the privileges of his God-identity in order to become a man. The most passage is in Philippians 2: 5-11.

    There's a difference between the example of his life and the holiness of his sacrifice. He was (and is) the perfect, sinless Son of God: what he did at the cross could *only* be done by him. What he did in his earthly ministry he did by virtue of the Holy Spirit's anointing--just like we can (and should).

  7. Eph 4: until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the WHOLE MEASURE of the FULLNESS of CHRIST...speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head.

    My mouth has been hanging open all week after reading this.
    Such a good post- thanks for the reminder that we are called to do good things- the things He did and more- not through our own strength or ability but through His. Also stuck on Eph 1 where He says that He's prepared the works for us to do.

    So overwhelmed this week with His heart for people and with our struggle to do it ourselves. Learning to refuse to settle!

  8. I think we (the church in the west) *have* settled, especially with the idea that an intellectual grasp of the faith is sufficient. Now, there's nothing wrong with intellect, and it belongs in the service of Jesus, but we are body, soul, and spirit, and as such there's more of Him to grasp. (There's always more!)

    That power passage from Ephesians should be enough to take our breath away, because it reflects the Father's intention for each person individually and the church corporately. But then, what Father *wouldn't* want a "perfect bride" for his son? Grace and peace, Stephanie!