“The Use of Power”
May 08, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: John 17:20-26 Acts 16:16-34 Revelation 22:12-21
How many of you are planning to do something today that has something to do with Mother’s Day? By that I mean, are you taking your Mom out to eat, gathering together as a family to be with your mom or, you are the mom and your family is doing something for you? More than likely, most of us are.
But why do we do that?
Just asking that question, “Why?” is bound to get a reaction of surprise, shock, and “Well, duh, because she’s my mom!” And, again, for most of us, we want to honor our mothers because of what they have done for us. They nurtured us, fed us, cared for us, bandaged our boo boo’s, took us to the doctor’s office, sat through all of our band concerts even when we were just learning and half the band was playing the wrong notes, gratefully and joyously received our third grade art project as a gift on Mothers’ Day, and then she told us how wonderful and talented we were.
But not every mother was like that.
All we have to do is to open the newspaper or turn on the evening news and we hear stories about mothers who abandoned or abused their children. Just this month we’ve been following the story about a mother (and grandmother) who is now being prosecuted for the murder of her son because she bought him heroin as a 16th birthday present.
Every parent is given an enormous responsibility, to raise a child, to care for them, to nurture them, and to teach them to be a mature and responsible adult. Today, on Mothers’ Day, we honor those mothers, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, who used what they had been given to do the best that they could in raising us. But not every mother handles that responsibility well. All of us have friends who dislike Mothers’ Day and who struggle every year when the rest of us celebrate. And their struggles grow out of how their mother’s misused their parental responsibility. Parents who misuse their authority can cause lifelong damage to their children.
And while that isn’t a pleasant thought when we are trying to celebrate those mothers who did a great job, it does tell us something about how other people, in other positions of responsibility (particularly in an election year) use the power and responsibility that have been given to them. Let’s begin this morning with an example from scripture. We begin in Acts 16:16-34, as Paul and Silas are arrested for preaching the gospel in Philippi.
16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.
In the first paragraph we read how Paul, through the power of Jesus Christ, commands a demon to come out of a female slave. But immediately, this display of power frightens the leaders of the city and they demonstrate their own power by having Paul and Silas arrested, stripped, beaten and thrown in jail. But Paul and Silas are not intimidated by political power. As they sit, chained, in the depths of the prison, they sing about God. And as they do, an earthquake threatens to tear the prison apart. All the doors are opened and chains on the prisoners are loosened.
The jailer, seeing that the doors of the prison have been opened, draws his word and prepares to take his own life because, he understands Roman justice. In the Roman world, the penalty for allowing a prisoner to escape is death. And, for anyone who has ever heard the story of Easter, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the penalty for allowing a prison full of captives to escape would be unpleasant in the extreme. And so, the jailer is prepared to kill himself rather than face the torture that the Roman army would exact upon him. But as he does, Paul hears him unsheathe his sword and calls out that no one has escaped and that everyone is where they should be.
In this we see that God, once again, demonstrates his power over both humanity and nature, but also that the proper application of that power is not to crush his enemies underfoot, but to show them mercy. The jailer recognizes mercy when he sees it, asks what he can do to be saved by such a god, and that very night, he and his entire household are baptized and become followers of Jesus Christ.
And in an era filled with broken families, broken government, ugly elections, and even broken churches, the message of Jesus recorded by the Apostle John resonates more than ever. Jesus prays that God would use his indescribable power to do what some people would otherwise describe as completely and utterly impossible. (John 17:20-26)
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Jesus prays for two things, first, that God’s glory would be revealed by calling the lost to believe and second, that all of God’s people would stop fighting amongst themselves and come to a place of unity with one another and with God. In a world where everyone seems to be constantly offended by everything, and where everyone seems to be fighting against everyone else, it is often helpful to remember that Jesus himself is praying that we could all get along and do the real work of saving the world.
And finally, in the Revelation of the Apostle John, we are warned about what is to come. (Revelation 22:12-21)
12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you [“you” is plural] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
Jesus says that on the day of his return, he will bring rewards to everyone who has believed according to what they have done for him. But more than that, Jesus, the creator of all that is and the judge of all humanity, stands alongside his bride, the church, and uses all of his incredible power… to invite everyone to accept the free gift of eternal life.
And so the answer to the question of why we honor our mothers comes down to this, we honor our mothers because not every mother could do what they did. Just as many politicians have abused their power and we honor those who used their power responsibly, not every mother has been able to handle the responsibility of raising mature responsible adults. And so we honor those that did. We honor the women on our lives that lived the way that Jesus showed us, and who used their authority to show us forgiveness, rescue, unity, grace and mercy.
All of us are called to do the same with the power and authority that we have been given. Whether we have little, or whether we have much, the church has been called to use our authority to move toward unity, to invite others into God’s kingdom, to tell the world about the good news of Jesus Christ, and to show everyone around us mercy and grace.
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