Of all the 7 deadly sins, the sin of power must be the worst. It has brought greater destruction into our world than the other seven which are listed as pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Wait, the sin of power is not one of the 7 deadly sins?! People with power must have came up with the list. That is one of the problems; people in power don’t see the sin in their power.
We often talk about the power of sin, today we are thinking about the sin of power.
In the events of Holy Week, between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, between the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and his crucifixion, we see the sin of power.
In the background there is a constant power struggle between Rome and the Judeans. When Jesus comes along, all the powers-that-be gang up against Jesus.
It begins with the religious leaders who want to overpower Jesus. All along they have been speaking against Jesus, trying to keep the people from following him. Jesus teaches with authority, much better than they do. Jesus does really good, helpful things, like heal people. They don’t seem to be as helpful.
Already you can imagine the jealousy. Jesus is a carpenter, what does he know compared to the educated religious elites? According to his teaching, quite a lot!
Worse, Jesus doesn’t obey the religious leaders. They say “no healing on a Sabbath.” Jesus heals on a Sabbath, and not just once.
Worst of all, Jesus goes around claiming to do what only God can do; forgive people. Who does he think he is?
This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we become blinded to God. The religious leaders could not see in Jesus what many people were seeing in Jesus, namely; God is with us, or at least with Jesus, in some remarkable way.
It gets worse. As a power play to get Pilate to do their bidding, the religious leaders claim their greatest allegiance:
They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”John 19:15 (NRSV)
This is the lowest point a leader of God’s people could sink to, shouting “we have no king but Caesar.” What happened to God’s promise of a king? What happened to the Scriptural witness that God was the true king?
That is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we forget God.
We may wonder, how can a Christian ever become abusive? The people of God can become abusive because power blinds us to God and makes us forget Him.
If it begins with the religious leaders, the sin of power continues with Pilate:
He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”John 19:9-10 (NLT)
Pilate is claiming to have significant power over Jesus here, the power of life and death. Jesus sets the record straight:
Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.John 19:11 (NLT)
This is what happens when we commit the sin of power, we overstep our God-given authority. When we overstep our God given authority we move from taking responsibility for people, to becoming abusive against them. Authority can be a beautiful, life-giving thing. It can also get ugly.
In the game of chess between the Romans and the Jews, the King becomes a pawn:
The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.John 19:2-5 (NLT)
Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”
We easily get the idea that the Romans are mocking Jesus here with the crown of thorns, the purple robe, and the mock worship. What we can easily miss is how they are also mocking the Jewish people. In mocking Jesus as a most pathetic king, they are really mocking the Jewish people as a most pathetic nation. This continues through to the crucifixion with Pilate posting the charge against Jesus “the king of the Jews.” That was a slam against the Jews and the religious leaders knew it, and hated it.
This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we belittle others. We mock them, we find ways of making them appear pathetic, of making ourselves look superior. We win. Of course we win, for they are losers. The sin of power puts us in that mindset, it clouds our perception of others.
Perhaps the most powerful of all are the soldiers who pull the trigger, or in this case, hammer the nails. They are the ones trained in the art of enforcing power.
They would not have carried through with their grim sin of power if it had not all begun in the minds of the Jewish religious leaders. If the religious leaders wanted to keep their power, they had better deal with their Jesus problem. The religious leaders would not have been able to carry out their sin of power without Pilate. If Pilate wanted to keep his power, he had better deal with this Jesus problem who had now become his problem. Then the soldiers carried out the sin of power when they hammered in the nails and raised the cross. If the soldiers wanted to keep their privileged positions of power, they had better deal with this Jesus problem who had now become their problem.
This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we become complicit in killing. When we commit the sin of power, we become complicit in the killing of people’s dignity, freedom, innocence, dreams, aspirations, mental health, and faith. Sometimes it really does become deadly.
This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we become complicit in killing. When we commit the sin of power, we become complicit in the killing of people’s dignity, freedom, innocence, dreams, aspirations, mental health, and faith.Tweet
Jesus, in entering Jerusalem on a donkey the way he did, enters Jerusalem in a way that says “I am the rightful king here. I am the one in charge.” Publicly he has been quiet about his all along. Evil demons who knew his identity better than anyone were told to keep quiet. When Peter expressed that Jesus is the Messiah, the disciples were told to be quiet. Little wonder, when Jesus is public about his identity as the Messiah, as the rightful king, he is killed in less than a week.
Yet here he is, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus is a different kind of king of a different kind of kingdom. And being the rightful king he took his place, not on a throne, but on a cross.
The religious leaders together with the Roman leaders committed the sin of power. Jesus was different, he broke the power of sin.
The religious leaders together with the Roman leaders committed the sin of power. Jesus was different, he broke the power of sin.Tweet
Jesus could have overpowered all who opposed him. As a famous song points out, he could have called 10,000 angels, not just to rescue him, but to destroy his enemies.
Instead he took the nails.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.Luke 23:34 (KJV)
Instead of destroying his enemies, Jesus loved them, giving them the opportunity to be reconciled. Are we learning to love our enemies the way Jesus loved his? Are we learning to love our enemies the way Jesus loves us?
Are we stuck in our all-too-human ways of committing the sin of power against others, or has the power of sin been undone by the power of God’s love?
Perhaps we might even be committing the deadliest of the deadly sins by trying to rid ourselves of God. That is a sin of power. A desire to rid ourselves of God leads to separation from God, now and especially into eternity. That is the power of sin. But we can be forgiven through Jesus, reconciled to God. We can go from enemy to family. That is the power of God’s love.