One of the more curious things that Jesus did during the time of His ministry was to instruct the people He healed to keep quiet regarding the changes that had happened to them. This perpetual epilogue can easily be read in an adamant tone; Jesus doesn’t seem to be suggesting something to them as much as He is commanding them. In Mark’s Gospel, after a generalized account of Jesus healing many sick people and casting out many demons we see the urgent language used to describe Jesus’ tone:
And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.
He “strictly ordered them.” But why? Doesn’t it make sense that He would want to create a ground swell of support? Shouldn’t He want the free marketing that these testimonies would provide? Why would Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, ever want to keep His work silent and anonymous?
A great deal of this is wrapped up in what Jesus was trying to accomplish in the first place. He wasn’t running for office, or trying to lead a violent insurrection against Rome. To the contrary, Jesus was creating the groundwork for something that would last much longer than an empire or government…He was forming the foundation of the eternal Kingdom of God. And like any reputable builder can attest, you never start building a structure with a marketing campaign, you start by digging deep into the ground. And there is certainly much that could be said about this idea, but for today it enough to remember that the strength and security of our foundation has much more to do with our longevity and ultimate impact than our ability to market ourselves or put on a “good face.”
But these words of Jesus also point to something that can become lost in our own Western culture. We assume that power and influence is evidenced by the amount of people who can be convinced of it. For example, in our elections the way that we know who will sit behind the most powerful desk in the world (our President) is by looking at who can convince the most people what she/he says is right. So power, in our culture, has everything to do with marketing, with cleverness and with getting “the message out there.” Which means one of two things is true: either Jesus had no idea how to organize His own pursuit of world-changing power, or, Jesus understood the nature of power to be altogether different.
Jesus wasn’t interested in stirring up the people against Rome or Herod. He wasn’t looking to stage a coup or gather the zealots for a good old-fashioned revolution. Instead, Jesus, whose goal as we understand it was to inaugurate the Kingdom of God and ultimately change the entire world, saw His power coming through His foundation, not a future position He would attain. He didn’t define power as the ability to gather support from the masses, but understood power as something that emerged from His identity and calling.
Presidents, Kings, Tyrants and Leaders have come and gone, some we remember and some we do not. Charismatic rulers and heroes of the people have accomplished things throughout history, some great and some infamous. But across the landscape of the story of the world no one has ever affected and changed the world more than Jesus Christ. No one’s life has been even remotely as influential in the shape of our world. And this kind of power, this real and lasting power, was not achieved through gathering people’s support or appealing to voting blocs. Real power, if Jesus’ life is any indication, can only be understood through service and sacrifice.
In our world still, despite what we read and see in popular culture, the only way we will actually begin to tap into the kind of power that changes our life and the lives of those around us is by serving and sacrificing. Jesus will say it later in Mark’s Gospel, that the reason He came to earth was not to be served by people but to serve them, and to give His “life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45). It was this “service,” this giving of Himself for the sake of the people, including those who put Him to death, that defined His power. The moment of sacrifice that appears to be His greatest defeat actually represents His greatest victory and the moment where His power was most clearly on display.
It will be the same for us. We can believe the foolish and foundationless idea that if we can convince people of how great we are or how clever and intelligent our ideas are we can hold influence in their lives…that we can possess the kind of power that we think we need to become great (notice the cyclical affirmation when someone’s “greatness” is based on how well they can convince people that they are great). Or we can look at the image of the Man on the cross and drink deeply of the truth that real influence and lasting, earth-shattering power is obtained and possessed by serving people, loving them and even giving our life for them. As spouses, parents, leaders, supervisors, friends and members of communities around the globe, we will find that the power of God to restore and renew the world will probably not come from a President’s seat or a Monarch’s throne, but through our willingness everyday to serve those around us and to give up our own desires, at times, that we might become a ransom for the kind of life that God wants them and the world to know.
This is real power. This is lasting influence. And this could be why Jesus asked the healed and restored people of Palestine to keep their own testimonies quiet for a time: because the kind of change He wanted to bring to the world would not come through revolution, it would only come through resurrection.