Psalm 71:17-18, has been the theme verses for this semester with Christian Challenge. It’s amazing to think how many different truths, themes, and points of application we’ve been able to draw out of these two verses so far! It’s a testament to the power of God’s Word to shape and inform us, and to how much depth and richness can reside in just a small portion of Scripture. In my last post, I discussed how these verses spoke to us about worship. But they also speak to us about the Power of God, particularly the second half of Psalm 71:18–“Now also when I am old and gray headed, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare your strength to this generation, your power to everyone who is to come.” But what does the Power of God look like for us today?? How is it demonstrated?? How does God’s use and conception of power contrast with the worldly understanding of power?? And perhaps most significantly—how is this power available to us as believers, and how exactly do we go about fulfilling this role that the verse highlights, to declare His power to our generation, and those who are to come?? Well, just as I mentioned when I wrote about worship a few weeks back, we never want to take for granted our understanding of any theological concepts—especially foundational ones. So if we talk about the Power of God, we need to understand what exactly that phrase entails.
Now first of all—the mere fact that we talk about God being powerful is actually not all that remarkable. Why?? Well almost every other religion throughout history has talked about their god or gods being powerful. No doubt those pagan peoples that surrounded the ancient Israelite—whether it was the Canaanites, the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, or the Philistines…all had supposedly powerful deities that they worshipped. Later, in the New Testament setting, the early church confronted a Greco-Roman culture that celebrated a whole pantheon of gods—all of whom had superhero-type powers and abilities. Nowadays if you talk to a Hindu—they will tell you about the many powerful gods they worship, or Muslims can speak of the great power of Allah. So power alone is not that remarkable an attribute for God. But it is what flows forth, or follows out of that power, that makes the Christian God remarkable and unique!! First—LOVE. 1 John 4:8 says simply—“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Interesting too, how that verse introduces the concept that our actions and behavior might have some bearing on our understanding of the power of God. Our God’s power also is connected to His great HOLINESS. Listen to the command He gives the children of Israel in Leviticus 19:2—“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” There again, we have the idea that the power of God should have a corresponding effect on our actions, and the lives we choose to live. To sum up some of these characteristics of the power of God, we can quote from that venerable old hymn–“Holy, Holy, Holy”, which says that God is “Perfect in power, in love, and purity.”
But the fact of the matter is, sometimes we don’t take the power of God and its implications, seriously. A lot of people in this secular day and age think it’s a little bit of a joke, or strange at the very least, to hear Christians talking about a powerful God—who is active and involved in our lives. Now for some of us, the only conception we have of God’s power is something that is big, and huge, and overwhelming. And make no mistake, our God is awesomely, supremely powerful. There are plenty of Scriptural examples of this mighty, this big God at work. One of my personal favorites comes from Job 38. Here God asks Job a series of unanswerable questions, which also reveal His surpassing greatness and power. Verse 4: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Then verse 8: “Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth and issued from the womb.” Listen to Job 38:31-32–“Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion?” This is a reference to certain stars, to constellations in the night sky. Then in Job 38:34-35—God further questions—“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that an abundance of water may cover you? Can you send out lightnings, that they may go, and say to you, here we are?” So all these verses in Job illustrate what a big God we worship—a God literally holds the furthest reaches of the universe in His hands!! But what perhaps we don’t expect sometimes is how God is the master not only of the very large, but the very small too. He is equally present in the mightiest events, and in the small, subtle details. A great example of this comes from 1 Kings 19:11-12. Here, the Lord is speaking to the prophet Elijah: “Then He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rock in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” God is present in that delicate, whispering voice that can speak to each of us, just as much as He is present in the mighty power of nature. It’s amazing, that balance between that which is bigger than we can comprehend, and that which is even closer than we dare imagine.
As some of you may know, I have a history background, and one period I’ve always enjoyed reading about, perhaps because I was born near the tail-end of it is the Cold War. One of the central activities of that long, ideological struggle between America and the Soviet Union was espionage. And a principal weapon in these intelligence wars were specially designed spy planes. And perhaps the most awesome of those, in fact, one of the most remarkable aircraft in history was the SR-71 Blackbird. It was in service between 1966 and 1998, and so high-caliber and so expensive an aircraft to produce that only 32 were built. None of them were ever lost to enemy action—it was a virtually invincible plane. Its operational ceiling and speed put it out of the range of basically any type of surface to air missile, and most often it wasn’t even detected on radar. The Blackbird could fly up at 80,000 plus feet, so high that its crewmen wore spacesuits. It could fly at speeds in excess of Mach 3—that’s over 2200 miles per hour—and could fly from London to New York in under 2 hours. But despite all of this raw power, the Blackbird also had instruments capable of the most delicate precision. So while flying at 80,000 plus feet, at over 2,000 miles an hour, its cameras could still accurately photograph a car’s license plate. That is some amazing engineering–to create a plane that could virtually fly to the border of outer space, and yet still so closely monitor events back on earth! But it’s an illustration of the infinitely greater power of God, which not only encompasses the most staggering and highest things we can imagine, but also encompasses the near, the intimate, the personal. Our God’s power means that He is both transcendent and imminent.
And how is this power of God demonstrated? Well, as we have already alluded to, one of the qualities or characteristics of God that is inextricably bound up with His power is His love. God’s love for us is overwhelming, and it is expressed throughout Scripture in such tender terms. A favorite example of mine is found in Hosea 11:1-4—here the love of the Lord for Israel is expressed with touching language that recalls a father’s love for His children. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son…I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms…I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love.” Then, reflect on the words of Christ in John 10:17-18. Here Jesus shows us how God’s unconditional love is demonstrated through the power of sacrifice. “Therefore my Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” Then in John 15:13, Christ declares “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” What is fascinating here is the extent to which the power of God is revealed in His love for us—most explicitly illustrated in the sacrificial death of Jesus. This is power being defined and expressed however in a very different way from how the world usually understands it. The world says to be powerful means to always win, to vanquish your foe, to exercise authority over others—but God can be powerful when He is seemingly weakest. Jesus could give up His life, to gain infinite power, and a lasting victory over sin and death!
Sometimes, a person can become much more powerful through sacrifice than if they had fought and striven for power. A great example of this comes of course from the first Star Wars movie. In a climactic scene, the great Jedi Master Obi-Wan-Kenobi is preparing for a final confrontation with the evil embodiment of the Dark Side, Darth Vader. And we’re expecting this big, knock-down drag-out, light saber duel. It starts out that way, but then Obi-Wan famously sheathes his saber, and allows Vader to kill him. But before doing so, he utters these words: “You can’t win Darth. If you strike me down now, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” George Lucas grew up a Methodist, and so obviously he knew and was influenced on some level by Christian theology to pen such lines. He even once said of the Star Wars concept: “I wanted it to be a traditional moral study, to have some sort of palpable precepts in it that children could understand…There is always a lesson to be learned” Certainly, regarding Lucas’ borrowing of distinctively Christian themes of redemptive love and sacrifice, we could say along with Ecclesiastes 1:9–“That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” These Christ-centered themes continue to be replayed and re imagined across time and different cultures precisely because they are so compelling in their truth, and they challenge our understanding of the displays of power we so frequently see in the world around us. For God’s power, in contrast to the world’s, can be displayed even in a seeming moment of weakness and defeat. And it is a power that is demonstrated in His sacrificial love for humanity, which carried Christ to the Cross.
God’s love extends from His power, as does His holiness, and purity. Now holiness is a very important aspect of God’s character and nature, and it is emphasized throughout Scripture. We’ve already mentioned from Leviticus 19:2 how the holy nature of God is reflected in the specific commands He has for the Jewish people throughout the Old Testament. God’s holiness also means that access to Him was restricted for the Jews. Not even that greatest prophet Moses, was allowed to see God’s Face directly. You can read the story from Exodus 33 about how Moses made a request to see the glory of God. And the Lord responded in Exodus 33:20—“You cannot see my face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” Moses therefore hid in the cleft of a rock, and effectively witnessed the backside of God’s glory as it trailed past him. Another example of how serious this question of God’s Holiness was taken, is reflected in the design of Solomon’s Temple. God’s presence was contained within the sacred Ark of the Covenant, located in the very inner sanctum of the Temple, called the Holy of Holies. And here, once a year, the high priest alone would enter, on Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement, to offer sacrifices for the sins of all the people during that past year. The Holy of Holies was protected by a special veil, signifying that it was a space set apart, sacred, and restricted. In 1 Kings 8, Solomon is dedicating the Great Temple in Jerusalem, and the Holiness of God which resides there is palpable. “It came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.”
So it would seem that the great holiness of God would always put some distance between ourselves and Him. And while this is true to an extent, what is amazing is how through Christ, we have the opportunity to enjoy full access to the Father. In John 14:7-9 Jesus tells His disciples “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him…He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Later in John, Christ reveals to His followers how not only have they seen God in Him, but that, far from being distant acquaintances of God, we can become His children, and indeed His friends. Listen to John 15:14-15—“You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” There you have it—through Jesus we have been given full access to the Father, and all knowledge of God has been communicated to us by Jesus. Nothing is hidden or unreachable. The final proof of God’s accessibility to us however comes just after the death of Jesus on the Cross. Matthew 27:51 reports that upon the death of our Lord, “Behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” So you see, the Holy of Holies was no longer cut off from the people. The veil is torn from the top down—an action that no human hand could perform!! Jesus’ death ensures that there is full access to the Father—not just for the priests, or even just for God’s chosen people—but for everyone, for you and me! We can have confidence in God and His power because of this full access to Him. God, despite His immense power, grants us full access to Himself—through the redemptive work of Christ. Think about that for a moment. The Lord and Master of this entire universe is ready and willing to talk to you…or me at any time!! That is truly a God of majesty and power—whose control and provision over this whole world does not preclude Him from also taking an interest in the comparatively trivial details of our own individual lives.
Now, for the best news of all—God’s Power is not just residing in heaven or in the person of Christ—it is available to us, and in fact, it lives in us! Do you realize that? How is this possible—through the power of the Holy Spirit! In Luke 17:21, Jesus tells us “The Kingdom of God is within you.” And the way that we know that the power of the presence of God can dwell right within us, closer than our next breath, is through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In John chapter 14, Jesus describes the work and role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. He describes the Spirit as our helper, and the Spirit of Truth: “I will pray the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” The Holy Spirit is also a Spirit of Power, as the Book of Acts reveals. In Acts 1:8, Jesus promises His followers the coming of the Holy Spirit: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Then in Acts 2, we read of the Spirit’s coming, on the Day of Pentecost, and it is indeed a powerful moment—as described in Acts 2:2—“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” Do you realize the significance of the fact that the Holy Spirit is living in us? This is the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus when He was baptized in the River Jordan, taking the form of a white dove. This is the same Spirit which flowed through Jesus as performed miracles throughout Judea and Israel. This is the very same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead—and it is available and living in us!!
But we can so easily forget this! I’m reminded of a central motif from one of my favorite movies of all-time, the immortal Wizard of Oz–Dorothy’s ruby red slippers. Remember at the beginning of the movie, how the Wicked Witch of the West wants Dorothy to relinquish them, but the Good Witch of the North warns her to keep the shoes always, as protection against any evil power?? Recall later that when the Wicked Witch forcibly tries to remove Dorothy’s shoes, she receives an electric shock for her pains. Finally, at the film’s conclusion, Dorothy learns that she’s always had the power to return to her beloved Kansas home, simply by clicking her magical heels together three times. What a compelling idea—she spends virtually the whole movie trying to find a way to return to Kansas, only to discover she was given the power to do that all along!! I refer you to this image because, as Christians we are sometimes like Dorothy. We forget, and don’t realize that in Christ, we have the power to live an abundant life, and defeat death.
How would our lives be different if we lived every day in conscious awareness of the power of God that is not only all around us, but dwelling within us too? In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul says “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” So we should let our lives be a witness, and a testament to others of this power of God that dwells within us. And as we have already highlighted—from God’s power extends His love, His holiness and His closeness to us—the access to His person that He offers all people. And these three things: love, holiness, and closeness to God—we can share with others. We can meet the world as servants, demonstrating even that sacrificial love of Christ—totally confounding and countering what the world defines as being powerful. We can demonstrate personal holiness, so that those around us see how our lives are different and do not conform to the changing winds of cultural accommodation. And the closeness of God we can show by trusting Him, and encouraging others to do the same with our witness. And if we find this task daunting—never fear, because we have the Power of God living in us always, through the Holy Spirit! So let’s show those around us what the power of God looks like in our lives, and what it can look like in their lives as well. Then along with the Psalmist we can proclaim the Glory and Majesty of our God to this generation, and all who are to come. The Spirit is ready to work in each of our lives—will you be obedient to its prompting, and both trust in and live as a witness to Divine power? It is my prayer that we will all do that—Amen!