God often works his power through ordinary people:
Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A staff,” he replied.
The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.”
Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. – NIV Exodus 4:2-4
A shepherd’s staff was commonly a three- to six-foot wooden rod with a curved hook at the top. The shepherd used it for walking, guiding his sheep, killing snakes, and many other tasks. Still, it was just a stick. But God used the simple shepherd’s staff Moses carried as a sign to teach him an important lesson. God sometimes takes joy in using ordinary things for extraordinary purposes. What are the ordinary things in your life – your voice, a pen, a hammer, a broom, a musical instrument? While it is easy to assume God can use only special skills, you must not hinder his use of the everyday contributions you can make. Little did Moses imagine the power his simple staff would wield when it became the staff of God.
Satan’s power can’t match God’s:
Pharaoh then summoned the wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts — Exodus 7:11
How were these sorcerers and magicians able to duplicate Moses’ miracles? Some of their feats involved trickery or illusion, and some may have used satanic power since worshipping gods of the underworld was part of their religion. Ironically, whenever the sorcerers duplicated one of Moses’ plagues, it only made matters worse. If the magicians had been as powerful as God, they would have reversed the plagues, not added to them.
When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. – NIV Joshua 2:11
Rahab recognised something that many of the Israelites did not – the God of heaven is not an ordinary god! He is all-powerful. The people of Jericho were afraid because they had heard the good news of God’s extraordinary power in defeating the armies across the Jordan River. Today we can worship this same powerful, miracle-working God. He is powerful enough to destroy mighty, wicked armies, as he did in Jericho. He is also powerful enough to save us from certain death, as he did with Rahab.
God’s power is parting the Jordan River:
Now the Jordan is in flood all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. – NIV Joshua 3:15-16
The Israelites crossed the Jordan River in the spring, when it was overflowing its banks. God chose the time when the river was at its highest to demonstrate his power – parting the waters so that the entire nation could cross on dry ground. Some say that God used a natural occurrence (such as a landslide) to stop the waters of the Jordan; others say he did it by a direct miracle. In either case, God showed his great power by working a miracle of timing and location to allow his people to cross the river on dry ground. This testimony of God’s supernatural power served to build the Israelites’ hope in God and to give them a great reputation with their enemies, who greatly outnumbered them.
(Hunger for power corrupts judgment, Abimelech’s PROFILE)
How quickly Israel’s faded:
In the fifty year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. He carried off the treasures of the temple of the LORD and the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything, including all the gold shields Solomon had made. – NIV 1 Kings 14:25-26
Just five years after Solomon died, the temple and palace were ransacked by foreign invaders. How quickly the glory, power, and money disappeared! When the people became spiritually corrupt and immoral (14:24), it was just a short time until they lost everything. Wealth, idol worship, and immorality had become more important to them than God. When God is gone from our lives, everything else becomes useless, no matter how valuable it seems.
God works his power through those who recognise they need it:
Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, “LORD, there is no-one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O LORD, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you. –NIV 2 Chronicles 14:11
If you are facing battles you feel you can’t possibly win, don’t give up. In the face of vast hordes of enemy soldiers, Asa prayed for God’s help, recognising his powerlessness against such a mighty army. The secret of victory is first to admit the futility of unaided human effort and then to trust God to save. His power works best through those who recognise their limitations (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is those who think they can do it all on their own who are in the greatest danger.
Doesn’t put you above the law:
Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in. They confronted him and said, “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honoured by the LORD God.”
Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD’S temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the LORD had afflicted him.
King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house – leprous, and excluded from the temple of the LORD. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land. – NIV 2 Chronicles 26:17-21
When people have power, they often think they can live above the law. But even rulers are subject to God, as Uzziah discovered. No matter what your position in society, God expects you to honour, worship, and obey him.
God’s not limited to our resources:
“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“ ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. – NIV Ezra 1:2
Cyrus was not a Jew, but God worked through him to return the exiled Jews to their homeland. Cyrus gave the proclamation allowing their return, and he gave them protection, money, and the temple articles taken by Nebuchadnezzar. When you face difficult situations and feel surrounded, outnumbered, overpowered, or outclassed, remember that God’s power is not limited to your resources. He is able to use anyone to carry out his plans.
Don’t let it corrupt you:
Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, pre-eminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews. – NIV Esther 10:3
Mordecai enjoyed a good reputation among the Jews because he was still their friend when he rose to a place of power. Corruption and abuse of authority often characterise those in power. But power used to lift the fallen and ease the burden of the oppressed is power used well. People placed by God in positions of power or political influence must not turn their backs on those in need.
Limited power of the evil:
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them. – NIV Psalms 2:4
God is all-powerful. He created the world, and knew about the empires of the earth long before they came into being (Daniel 2:26-45). But pride and power cause nations and leaders to rebel against God and try to break free of him. Our world has many leaders who boast of their power, who want and rave against God and his people, who promise to take over and form their own empires. But God laughs because any power they have comes from him, and he can also take it from them. We need not fear the boasts of tyrants – they are in God’s hands.
Where real power comes from:
Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. – NIV Psalm 20:6-8
As long as there have been armies and weapons, nations have boasted of their power, but such power does not last. Throughout history, empires and kingdoms have risen to great power only to vanish in the dust. David, however, knew that the true might of his nation was not in weaponry but in worship; not in firepower but in God’s power. Because God alone can preserve a nation or an individual, be sure your confidence is in God, who gives eternal victory. Whom do you trust?
Tapping into God’s power:
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King for ever. The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. – NIV Psalm 29:10-11
Throughout history, God has revealed his power through mighty miracles over nature, such as the great flood (Genesis 6-9). He promises to continue to reveal his power. Paul urged us to understand how great God’s power is (Ephesians 1:18-23). The same power that raised Christ from the dead is available to help us with our daily problems. When you feel weak and limited, don’t despair. Remember that God can give you strength. The power that controls creation and raises the dead is available to you.
God gives temporary power to some for a specific purpose:
The LORD has broken the rod of the wicked, the sceptre of the rulers, which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression. – NIV Isaiah 14:5-6
Power fades quickly. God permitted Babylon to have temporary power for a purpose – to punish his wayward people. When the purpose ended, so did the power. Beware of placing confidence in human power because one day it will fade, no matter how strong it appears now.
Irony of lusting after:
Nothing can heal your wound; your injury is fatal. Everyone who hears the news about you claps his hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty. – NIV Nahum 3:19
All the nations hated to be ruled by the merciless Assyrians, but the nations wanted to be like Assyria – powerful, wealthy, prestigious – and they courted Assyria’s friendship. In the same way, we don’t like the idea of being ruled harshly, so we do what we can to stay on good terms with a powerful leader. And deep down, we would like to have that kind of power. The thought of being on top can be captivating. But power is seductive, so we should not scheme to get it or hold on to it. Those who lust after power will be powerfully destroyed, as was the mighty Assyrian empire.
Jesus gave up much to experience humanity:
The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ – NIV Matthew 4:3-4
Jesus was hungry and weak after fasting for 40 days, but he chose not to use his divine power to satisfy his natural desire for food. Food, hunger, and eating are good, but the timing was wrong. Jesus was in the desert to fast, not to eat. And because Jesus had given up the unlimited, independent use of his divine power in order to, experience humanity fully, he wouldn’t use his power to change the stones to bread. We too may be tempted to satisfy a perfectly normal desire in a wrong way or at the wrong time. If we indulge in sex before marriage or if we steal to get food, we are trying to satisfy God-given desires in wrong ways. Remember, many of your desires are normal and good, but God wants you to satisfy them in the right way and at the right time.
Religious leaders’ hunger for:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. – NIV Matthew 23:13-14
Being a religious leader in Jerusalem was very different from being a pastor in a secular society today. Israel’s history, culture, and daily life centred around its relationship with God. The religious leaders were the best known, most powerful, and most respected of all leaders. Jesus made these stinging accusations because the leaders’ hunger for more power, money, and status had made them lose sight of God, and their blindness was spreading to the whole nation.
Pharisees said Jesus’ power came from Satan:
And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possess by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. In fact, no-one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. – NIV Mark 3:22-27
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law could not deny the reality of Jesus’ miracles and supernatural power. They refused to believe that his power was from God, however, because then they would have had to accept him as the Messiah. Their pride would not let them do that. So in an attempt to destroy Jesus’ popularity among the people, the teachers of the law accused him of having power from Satan. Jesus’ reply showed that their argument didn’t make sense. (Beelzebub refers to Satan.)
Transforming power of the Holy Spirit:
For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit. – NIV Acts 1:5
At Pentecost (2:1-4) the Holy Spirit was made available to all who believed in Jesus. We receive the Holy Spirit (are baptised by him) when we receive Jesus Christ. The baptism of the Holy Spirit must be understood in the light of his total work in Christians.
(1) The Spirit marks the beginning of the Christian experience. We cannot belong to Christ without his Spirit (Romans 8:9); we cannot be united to Christ without his Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17); we cannot be adopted as his children without his Spirit (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:6, 7); we cannot be in the body of Christ expect by baptism by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).
(2) The Spirit is the power of our new lives. He begins a lifelong process of change as we become more like Christ (Galatians 3:3; Philippians 1:6). When we receive Christ by faith, we begin an immediate personal relationship with God. The Holy Spirit works in us to help us become like Christ.
(3) The Spirit unites the Christian community in Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22). The Holy Spirit can be experienced by all, and he works through all (1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 4:4).
Forms in which Spirit’s power comes:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. – NIV Acts 1:8
Jesus promised the disciples that they would receive power to witness after they received the Holy Spirit, (2) he would give them power, and (3) they would witness with extraordinary results. Often we try to reverse the order and witness by our own power and authority. Witnessing is not showing what we can do for God. It is showing and telling what God has done for us.
Can’t buy special power from God:
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability to that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin. – NIV Acts 8:18-23
“Everything has a price” seems to be true in our world of bribes, wealth, and materialism. Simon thought he could buy the Holy Spirit’s power, but Peter harshly rebuked him. The only way to receive God’s power is to do what Peter told Simon to do – turn from sin, ask God for forgiveness, and be filled with his Spirit. No amount of money can buy salvation, forgiveness of sin, or God’s power. These are only gained by repentance and belief in Christ as Saviour.
Why do we attribute such importance to:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? – NIV James 2:1-7
James condemns acts of favouritism. Often we treat a well-dressed, impressive-looking person better than someone who looks shabby. We do this because we would rather identify with successful people than with apparent failures. The irony, as James reminds us, is that the supposed winners may have gained their impressive life-style at our expense. In addition, the rich find it difficult to identify with the Lord Jesus, who came as a humble servant. Are you easily impressed by status, wealth, or fame? Are you partial to the “haves” while ignoring the “have nots”? This attitude is sinful. God views all people as equals, and if he favours anyone, it is the poor and the powerless. We should follow his example.
©Kingsway International 1973.