(This post is part of our “Theological Conversations“ series. These short writings address key theological topics and questions and we invite your feedback and interaction in the comments. These conversations are “in-development” and we appreciate the dialogue you might offer.)
The question about whether Jesus had unusual power is clear. Most Christians agree that he had power when he walked on the Earth 2000 years ago. But what kind of power did he have? Could he leap tall buildings in a single bound? Was he able to bench press a donkey? If he wanted to could he pull a rabbit out of a hat? To get at the answer of Jesus’ power, we have to ask the question, “Who exactly was Jesus?” And to many, what the Scriptures reveal, might be a bit surprising.
We are exposed to a lot of stuff about Jesus, and we think we know all there is to know about him. Every year, we hear about Him during Easter and Christmas. On TV, we hear athletes and celebrities talk about Jesus and thank Him for their successes. We see lots of books that mention His name in the title. Plus, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, right? So to ask the question, “Who was Jesus?”, might seem unnecessary. However, the reality is that most of us have been overexposed to the cultural idea of Jesus that it has become easy to lose sight of the Biblical perspective of Jesus.
When I was in college, our campus minister taught on John 4, where Jesus interacted with the woman at the well. Jesus basically reads her private life back to her, knowing intimate details about her life that only those who had lived in her village would have known. The minister explained to us that Jesus was fully man and, therefore, was not simply doing this because He was God. He shared how Jesus walked in the weakness of humanity and had to depend upon the Father revealing these things through the Holy Spirit. In other words, Jesus didn’t keep some of his God powers, like being all-knowing, so that we could eventually “read this woman’s mail” in Scripture.
After this teaching, there were many of us, all who had been raised in the church, that were thrown for a loop. We couldn’t get our minds around Jesus being really human. We had always envisioned Jesus as a human who floated six inches off the ground, much like Bruce (Jim Carrey) in Bruce Almighty. In that movie, we saw Bruce walk on water and manipulate traffic simply because God (Morgan Freeman) gave him the power to do so. Bruce did not operate out of faith or love. He did powerful things; because he could. This is not the kind of Jesus we find in the Scriptures.
This kind of speculation about Jesus, as a powerful “GOD man”, is not new. Throughout history, Jesus has been depicted as something a little bit more than human. At times, he has been viewed more like Superman than the human revealed in the Scriptures.
The Gospel writers fully assumed they were talking about someone who was 100% human. Jesus was never represented as a magician or as having superpowers so he could show people the “power” of God. The Scriptures don’t portray Him as a spiritual mystic, who had a certain kind of religious spirituality, that made Him better than everyone else. Nor was he a guru or a wandering preacher. Instead, Scripture presents Jesus as the son of a carpenter from Nazareth. He was a common looking Jewish man, probably about five feet two inches tall, the average height of the time. There was nothing outwardly spectacular about Him that would reveal that he had any superpowers.
At the same time, he was spectacular. He revealed the unique, and unexpected, power of God. This can be so difficult for us to actually “get” about Jesus. Many of us (including myself) are not wired to think about God’s power the way Jesus displayed it. As a human, he came with a power that the world had not yet seen and has not seen since. This man (not superhero) walked the Earth revealing God and God’s Kingdom, and he did so with what the Gospel writers identify as “power” and “authority.” It was a power rooted in relationship with the Father and self-sacrificial love for people. It was a new kind of power, and it’s the power he gives to us.
How have you viewed God’s power and how it impacts your life?