The Power of God

What is the picture to the left? A bunny? A duck? Sometimes, depending on how you look at something, it can be as different as a rabbit or a duck! On the right is an old advertisement for Shreddies. Once again, two different ways of looking at things, and neither one is any "better" or "more important" than the other. In these cases two ways of looking are just as valid as each other.
But this isn’t always so. In some cases, one way of looking at something, or one way of understanding something is very much more important than the other. Here is an example. (This picture was taken by a colleague, who is an expert scuba diver and underwater photographer -- used with permission.)
There are also two ways of looking at this image, but they are by no means created equal. Suppose you were a little fish out on a swim with your best friend. You came to this location, and your best friend says, “It’s no big deal, it is just some coral.” But you aren’t so sure. Your friend says, “You can have your opinion and I’ll have mine – it doesn’t matter.” But at that moment, your friend gets a little too close to the “coral” and CHOMP! He just got eaten by this scorpion fish! Sometimes differences in perspective can be important – even life-changing! Good thing that you knew all along that it wasn’t just coral!
How about those “ Magic Eye ” images? They either look like a jumble of nothing, or they look like something in three dimensions. Anyone who has seen the real image knows that it is not just a jumble, and that seeing the jumble is not “just as good” as seeing the “real image”. It doesn’t even help to be smart. It doesn’t help to have read the right books. It doesn’t help to have been born in the right place. Either you see the “real image” … or you don’t. And if you have seen the “real image”, not even the richest, smartest, most educated man in the world would be able to tell you that it is just a jumble. Because you’d know better than him!
So many things in life can be looked at in different ways. And the message of Easter is one of those things. In 1 Corinthians 1:18, the Bible says:

[T]he message of [Easter] is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The message of Easter can be either foolishness or the power of God. And this doesn’t look like a case of two “equally valid perspectives” either. If you knew the power of God, and someone said, “It’s no big deal, it can be the power of God for you, and foolishness for me,” you'd want to say, “wait…what? Are you kidding?” But, of course, we aren’t angry at folks who tell us that the message of Easter is foolishness. The Bible doesn't say that those who think so are evil, or the enemies of God -- they are the perishing: the folk who need our help.

Besides, they are in good company. Even Jesus own disciples didn’t get the message, either, the first time. The Bible tells us that Jesus predicted his own death (that we commemorate on Good Friday) on a number of occasions. Sometimes Jesus included his resurrection (the basis of our Easter celebrations) in these predictions, which are found in all four of the gospels -- in ten different places. But in two of them, the Bible says that the disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about. For example (Luke 18):

31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. 33 On the third day he will rise again." [that's the message of Easter, isn't it?]
34 [But] the disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

What could it possibly mean when it says that “its meaning was hidden from them”? Aren’t the meanings of Jesus' words obvious? “Handed over” – that’s easy. “mock him” -- no problem. “insult him” – that’s easy, too. “flog him”, “kill him”, “rise again” – what’s not to get? What’s going on? Well, I’d like you to imagine that this message – the one about Jesus dying and rising from the dead – the message of Easter – is a bit like a Magic Eye picture. Sure, there is what it looks like on the surface, a few historical facts, perhaps… but there is another meaning, a deeper meaning, a really very much more important meaning that God wants us to get.

Now if you’ve never really “got” that deeper meaning of Easter, not to worry. The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus was angry with his disciples because they were a little slow. But it is worth mentioning that the Bible does say that Jesus once seemed to be very angry with this fellow named Peter. Of course, Peter was one of the leaders of the disciples. And so he was very close to Jesus. But, believe it or not, Jesus once had stronger words for Peter than he has for the evil Romans, or the self-righteous Pharisees, let alone the tax-collectors or worse. It is true. In particular, he challenged Peter when Peter was unwilling to accept the message of Easter. God doesn’t mind if we don’t fully understand things, but He is not at all impressed when we close our minds to the truth. Matthew 16:

Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. [he was to be killed and on the third day raised to life – that’s the message of Easter, isn’t it?]
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!"
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! … You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Is that a bit harsh? Jesus calls one of his best friends “Satan.” Clearly, we can’t just “correct” Jesus whenever we feel like it. Peter wasn’t able to understand the message of Easter, but that part wasn’t bad – the other disciples weren’t reprimanded for their lack of understanding. The problem occurred when Peter went too far – when he decided that since he didn’t understand the message, then there wasn’t really any special message at all. That’s when Jesus challenges Peter with these sharp words. 

Remember that Magic Eye image? There is no shame in not being able to see the “real picture” – it may be your loss, but there is no shame. But there is a dangerous mistake of the mind and of the soul to conclude that just because you can’t see the “real picture” then such a picture doesn’t exist. The second that we make that choice, we will never be able to see the real picture, and we will likely keep others from seeing that real picture, too.

And it is the same with Easter. There are those who have shut their minds to the things of God – so full of themselves that they think nothing of “correcting” the word of God. Then there are people like the disciples before they “got” the message. They aren’t able to see the “real picture” but there is still hope. But then there are also people who “get” the message – those for whom Paul’s words in Romans chapter six have become a reality: “like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” For them, the message of Easter is the message of hope: the power of God unto salvation.

So what’s the key? What can take us beyond the events of history to a life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus? Recall that Jesus predicted his death and resurrection on a number of occasions but none of his disciples were able to “get it”. Well, Jesus often accompanies those prediction with a certain teaching, and that deeper understanding of Easter is revealed in these words (Luke 9:23).

 “Then [Jesus] said to them all: "If anyone would follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”

Instead of losing your life by trying to save it, to extend it, to comfort it, or to preserve it, running after the things of this world, why not give up your life for something bigger than yourself?

You see, the only way to the resurrection is via the cross. There is no glory without sacrifice. There is no victory without struggle. And Jesus uses the cross as a metaphor for his disciples: “If anyone would follow me,” he said, “he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily.” Christians say all the time that the way to heaven is to believe that Jesus died for us. But the belief that saves us is not a mental acknowledgement. Jesus came: check. Jesus died for me: check. Jesus rose from the dead: check. That’s a start, but that just isn’t enough. Jesus says that the belief that will save us is the one that gets us on our feet, and makes us follow in his steps. We need to believe in the story of Easter enough that it becomes our story as well. If we aren’t willing to sacrifice, then it can never be said that we truly believe in Jesus’ sacrifice.

In 1 Peter 2: 20 we read “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps… 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; [there’s a challenge – do we believe the Easter story enough to be polite when insulted?] when he suffered, he made no threats. [another challenge – do we believe the Easter story enough to actually suffer peacefully?] Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” You see, this is the faith that saves: a faith that puts oneself in the path of Jesus, following his example. Do we trust Our Heavenly Father enough that we can give up our rights? Do we believe that there is a better resurrection waiting for us so strongly, that we are willing to give up our ambitions? How about our pride? How about our right to be disappointed? Are you willing to give these things up? Are you willing to follow Jesus, carrying your own cross, being willing to experience death with him, trusting that the Almighty Judge will raise you up with the same power that Jesus was raised? When we come to that place, our life is changed completely.

Jim Elliot wrote: “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The resurrection is being offered to you. It is a free gift that can never be taken away. Are you willing to give up what you cannot keep in order to gain what you cannot lose?