Might, Power, and the Spirit

I was recently doing some devotional reading and came across Zechariah 4:6, which reads “Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of armies.” Zerubbabel was a civic leader in Jerusalem and had the responsibility of rebuilding the temple. Work was not progressing as fast as he would have liked, and he was discouraged. In this passage, the angel is speaking to Zechariah who had received a vision but did not understand its meaning. Verse 6 is the beginning of the explanation the angel gave to Zechariah. In a prior vision, God spoke through Zechariah about the issue of purity. In the current passage, God is saying that purity is not enough.

God is proclaiming that, in addition to purity, the work of God needs resources. Our tendency in these situations is to turn to human resources. Here, the angel specifies two resources that humans often rely on – might and power.

Might focuses on collective strength, the resources of a group of people. When we want to accomplish a task, we often turn to a large group of people. “By our numbers, we shall accomplish this task,” is our mantra. Power focuses on individual strength. We often refer to certain individuals as powerful.  We think “Joe Smith is a powerful person, if I can get him behind this initiative, we can surely pull it off.” The word of God to Zerubbabel was “No, your focus is off. To accomplish the rebuilding of the temple don’t focus on the resources of one or many but on My Spirit. This will not get done through your cleverness, abilities, physical strength, or will power, but by My Spirit.”

This led me to thinking about the ministry of Jesus. In human terms, there was no way for His ministry to outlast him, and thrive. In human terms, we may envision a small group of true believers, clinging to their past. After all, look at who his closest followers were. The disciples were not anyone’s first choice to lead a world-wide movement.  We don’t know a lot of specifics about them but likely they were all very young. Most Jewish young men married by the age of 18. Peter is the only one we know was married. Most were probably between the ages of 15 and 20. What kind of movement can be created out of a bunch of kids, we may ask.

Another factor is the educational system in place at the time. Usually about age 15 Jewish males had finished their basic training in the Torah. The next step would be more training at the feet of a rabbi who would take them on as a student. This usually occurred for sons who were bright enough to be accepted by a rabbi, or whose parents were wealthy enough to be taken on as a student. Paul, for example, was a very bright Jewish student whose parents could afford to send him to Jerusalem to study under Gamaliel. 

If a student did not merit continued studies, he would often enter the workforce, usually apprenticing under his father in the family trade. It is highly likely that this describes most of the disciples. They were not star students and local rabbis passed them over for mentorship. Jesus’ invitation to join him was likely a shock to these “underachievers.” This is reinforced in Acts 4:13 when John and Peter were arrested. “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed.” When the Holy Spirit comes, amazing things happen.

Another indicator is from Jesus’ own words. In Matthew 11:25 and elsewhere, He referred to them as little children or little ones, indicating they were much younger than Jesus. No rabbi would take disciples until he was 30 years old, so the patriarchal culture came into effect as Jesus recruited his disciples when he reached 30.

So the early church was led by a ragtag bunch of young Jewish males who lacked status – no family connections, no money, minimal education, and certainly no respect. These young men (boys) faced the task of carrying on the work of a man who was crucified in a very public manner. They had to persuade others that He had risen from the dead and that He was the Son of God and Savior. It sounds like an impossible task. “You’re telling me that this Jesus, a good teacher, is the Son of God who died, and he rose from the dead, and he wants to be my savior?” But, they had the Holy Spirit on their side.

If they were trying to accomplish this by might or power, they would have failed. In the first chapter of Acts, we see that they still didn’t quite get it. Forty days had elapsed since He rose and the disciples were remained powerless. “Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” they asked. He even told them they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them “But you will receive power and ability when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” Acts 1:8. 

Note that Jesus said they would receive power and ability when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Not human power or ability but the power and abilities from God, from the Holy Spirit. Since Jesus ascended thereafter, they didn’t get a chance to ask Him what he meant. So they went to the upper room and hung out. We are told they were of one mind and one purpose. I suspect there was confusion and questions about what to do now. To their credit, they devoted themselves to prayer. Then Peter, who was a man of action, got it. He got them off dead center, saying “It is necessary that the Scripture be fulfilled” making reference to the Holy Spirit.  What he did not explicitly say was that we are the ones entrusted with this message. We must spread this Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Then Pentecost came, and Jesus’ last statement came into fruition. “You will be My witnesses [to tell people about Me] both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.” These men of humble beginnings with no human status or power received the Gift of the Holy Spirit, their lives were transformed, and the Gospel was spread. 

For us today, the message is that the Holy Spirit who came at Pentecost remains in our presence today. God is unchanging, what He did through Zachariah and, later, the disciples he can do today. We must never forget that God works through ordinary people, people that the world may overlook as lacking power or might. We accomplish great things for God only through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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