According to the Apostles John (John 1:3) and Paul (Col. 1:16) the pre-incarnate Word of God was the divine instrument of creating everything “visible and invisible” in the universe. When the Father spoke, the Son created. Everything. Everywhere.
Think about it. The most violent tornado, the most enormous hurricane, the most explosive volcanic eruption, and the most traumatic earthquake are infinitesimally puny when compared with the power to create everything from nothing. The tempest unleashed with the splitting of an atom is nothing compared to the mind, will, and power it took to create the atom. The political and military power of history’s most prolific generals, conquerors, and royals are laughable when stood up next to the King of kings and the Lord of lords for as the book of Hebrews says, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (1:3).
But then the pre-incarnate “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). How in the world could a Man govern that kind of unimaginable and limitless power? Nineteenth century British politician John Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Almost.
One of the most astonishing facets of Jesus of Nazareth was His mind boggling restraint when considered in the light of His power. Here was a Man who openly demonstrated His dominion over things that human beings have no dominion over. Things like nature (walking on water, silencing storms, withering a fig tree with just a word, ascending into heaven on a cloud), history (“before Abraham was I am,” “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”), and even death (raising from the dead the widow’s son, Jairus’ daughter, Lazarus, and ultimately Himself).
In Jesus we have a Man who never wrongly assumed anything about anyone. He never misjudged any person’s character. And He never made any false predictions about anything or anybody. How did Jesus handle knowing He was never wrong? All of us have had to deal with someone in our lives who behaves as if they’re always right but that kind of arrogance usually blinds them to what everyone around them can plainly see. How did Jesus keep His perfect power of discernment from tainting His personality with conceit, pride, or haughtiness?
No human being ever had such power as the carpenter from Galilee. Nature yearned to heed His commands. Legions of angels stood ready to unleash the fury and wrath of Almighty God on His behalf (Matt. 26:53). Demons yielded to His softly spoken commands. Even the ultimate equalizer, death, relented to His will.
Yet there He went into the wilderness without food or water, shelter or sword to spend more than a month being tempted and harassed by none other than Satan himself. With the power to turn stones into bread He went hungry. A word from His lips would have brought water from a rock yet He thirsted. A mere thought from His perfectly holy and righteous mind could have driven the Devil back into his hell hole with a whimper.
Instead, the Son of God “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8). Rather than roar as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” slaying and humiliating the enemies of God as is His destiny (Rev. 5:5),
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (Isa. 53:7).
Though Jesus was (and still is) the true Master and Sovereign of the entire cosmos, “he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). He did not then nor does He now require anyone to love Him or even obey Him. Consequently, most people mistake His lack of interference with those who ignore or even hate Him as a sign of weakness or impotence. But His friend Peter warned the entire world not to mistake lack of the execution of His will or power for anything other than loving forbearance:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…(2 Pet. 3:9-10).
Superseding the known laws of nature and physics is amazing. The world is still reeling and trying to decide what to do with this Man who could walk on water, cleanse lepers, and raise the dead some two millennia after the facts.
Yet for all our fascination with the power and authority of Jesus of Nazareth I believe the most breathtaking aspect of the divine revelation that Christ let shine out into this darkened world was…restraint.
He didn’t turn the stones into bread when He was encouraged to do so after more than a month without food. He didn’t snap His fingers for a legion of angels when the people He grew up with in Nazareth tried to throw Him off a cliff. He didn’t turn off the pain receptors in His body as He was being beaten unmercifully with a Roman flagrum. He didn’t come down from the cross as those who mocked Him chided Him to do. And He didn’t walk brazenly into the next meeting of the Sanhedrin after His resurrection putting all those who condemned Him to shame.
Almost in the middle of that outstanding theological treatise we call the book of Romans is this little brief statement that just seems to sail right over our heads. Yet what it conveys is almost more than our minds can wrap around:
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called… (Rom. 9:22-24).
Restraint. Borne out of love. To fulfill a promise of glory.
Lord Acton was right… “almost.”