In the real world, it’s all about who know. If you know powerful people, then you have a certain kind of power yourself. The more people you know at the front of the race, the closer to the lead you can get.
Not much has changed since the world of the early Christians either. Look at this passage from 1 Corinthians 1:11-12:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
Paul, Apollos, Peter, Jesus… these were big players for first century Christians. It’s likely that Christians from all across the Roman Empire knew these names. If you had connections with one of these guys, you probably felt like you were connected to a little bit of power.
Paul was the man who spread the faith all across Roman territory, Apollos was a big teacher and apparently helped grow the church at Corinth, Peter was the man God said he’d build his church on, and Jesus was, well, Jesus. I imagine the people in the Jesus camp decided to bypass all “human” streams of power and go straight to the “source.” A little bit like a friend quoting Thomas Aquinas, and you responding with the Beatitudes.
But that isn’t the way power works in the kingdom of God.
It seemed like the Corinthians Christians had a bad habit of taking worldly understandings of how things are supposed to work, and bringing them into the Church. Especially when it came to power.
Later on in 1 Corinthians, in chapter 11, Paul is talking about the Lord’s Supper. And he says these extremely chilling words in verse 17, “Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.” Think about that. He says that these people are gathering to worship, but the way that they do so ends up being worse for them, not better.
In other words, the way they worship is so misguided, it would have been better for them to stay home and not come to church at all.
And what was the reason behind this? Well, when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, they would use that time for the privileged people to eat and get drunk and hog all the food, while the less fortunate wouldn’t even get a thing to eat or drink. In this place where all are supposed to be welcomed to the Lord’s Table, the church was using the table to reinforce the power structures of the world.
That’s why Paul says in verse 20, “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper.” They may call it Communion, but practically it’s just like any other worldly meal.
Often, our hearts are so blinded by a vision of a worldly power, we don’t see the power of God at work.
We have expectations of what power is supposed to be, so we often label the power of God as weakness. Because it’s so unlike the power that we know. And I’m not talking about the people out there—not talking about the atheists or non-believers. I’m talking about me, and you, and all of us. We’re all guilty of it.
But here’s the one of the most baffling things anyone could ever say: “…to us who are being saved [the cross] is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Think about that. Paul could have chosen any other aspect of Jesus’ time here on earth to be a picture of God’s power. He could have used Jesus’ miracles. He could have mentioned his healing. He could have recalled his walking on the water. Even rising from the dead!
But what did he choose to say? The cross. When we picture God’s power, Paul wants us to picture the cross.
The cross, where Jesus suffered. Where Jesus bled. Where he was humiliated and tortured by his enemies. Yet, the place where he said, “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”
That’s God’s power.
Jesus could have accepted the taunt of the soldiers, telling him to bring himself down from the cross. But the power of God doesn’t look the way we’d expect it to look. Power doesn’t look like victoriously escaping death. It looks like humbly sacrificing your life for the sake of others.
In John 18, when Jesus was faced with Pilate, he asks Jesus if he’s a king, and Jesus responds saying, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
In other words, he’s saying, “My kingdom doesn’t work like worldly kingdoms. In worldly kingdoms, you kill others for your own sake; in my kingdom, I’ll be killed by others for their sake.”
Nothing about the cross was a power play. Jesus didn’t receive in any status from it and it definitely didn’t improve his life in any tangible way. Yet, according to Paul, there was never a moment more powerful in all of Jesus’ time here on earth.
James and John, two disciples of Jesus, thought they understood how Jesus’ kingdom worked. And they got their mom to ask Jesus if they each could sit at his side, one on the left and one on the right. They just didn’t understand.
Jesus clarifies that his power isn’t worldly power. And what the world considers great, that isn’t what he considers great.
He says, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
I know I can be like James and John. But I have to constantly ask myself the question that Jesus asked them, “Am I ready to drink the cup of suffering that Jesus drank? Am I ready to baptized into the death that Jesus was baptized into?”
So maybe you’re like John and James too. I know I am. Maybe you’ve misunderstood the power of the cross, because the world is so adamant about what power is supposed to be. Keep your eyes on Jesus, his characters, and his kingdom. Maybe there’s hope for us still.