Every disciple of Christ must guard themselves against the accumulation of power unto themselves.
Matthan, the father of Jacob
Major Stephen R. Kelly,
Southeast Ohio and Northeast Kentucky Division
The power struggles within Judea’s Sanhedrin are, of course, not unique to that part of the world. Jockeying for power is a universal constant.
By Matthan’s generation, one such power struggle is about to transform the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.
Three men – Julius Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey – have formed a group they call the Triumvirate to try to consolidate power in the fracturing Republic. If you’ve seen Star Wars episodes I-III, you’ve heard this story before, except the Romans didn’t have lightsabers. As Senator Palpatine says in Episode I: “Enter the bureaucrats, the true rulers of the Republic.” Senator Amidala would later comment, “It is clear to me that the Republic no longer functions.” This was the state of the Roman Republic as well.
These three men had mixed motives – to get the Republic actually functioning would have been a good thing, but they also coveted power for themselves. And if those two values came into conflict, power always trumped virtue.
Caesar and Pompey both went on military campaigns to bring themselves more honor in the Senate. Their relationship fell apart due to their competitiveness. Eventually, Caesar, back from conquests in Gaul (modern France), approached Rome at the head of his victorious army. A panicked Senate sent a message reminding Caesar that he could have a military triumph on the streets of Rome if he disarmed his troops, or he could also leave the army outside Rome’s borders and be elected proconsul – but he couldn’t have both.
Caesar elected to cross the Rubicon River with his military fully armed, and in a brief civil war, took over as undisputed dictator (though his titles changed several times). His last name, Caesar, would become a title for future all-powerful leaders.
Julius Caesar thought so highly of himself that he designed a new calendar, named a month after himself, and then stole a day from February to add to July since his month deserved to be the biggest. His successor, Augustus, would do the same thing, leaving poor February with only 28 days.
Only a few short years later, Julius would be assassinated in the Senate by two of his trusted friends.
This devolution of the Roman Republic into a dictatorship was one of many pieces God was going to use to prepare the world for the coming of Christ. The dictatorship, while often brutal to those who would oppose the central power, did attain an efficiency the Republic never could. This accelerated the construction of roads across the Empire that would speed the spread of the gospel in the first century AD. Roman policing made travel throughout the Empire considerably safer. The Empire also changed the political landscape in Judea, which at the time of Matthan was still enjoying independence under the brief Hasmonean dynasty.
Jesus Messiah would come soon afterward, warning of the dangers of the accumulation of power. The mother of James and John sought positions for her sons and didn’t really like the answer she got. But the reaction of the other ten disciples is also problematic. They were indignant, which is an emotion that betrays the fact that they weren’t just mad that James and John used their mother for a power play. Perhaps they were mad they didn’t think to make the power play first.
So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).
Jesus’ warning is not just directed to James, John, and Momma Thunder. He’s talking to the whole group. Every disciple of Christ must guard themselves against the accumulation of power unto themselves.
Of course, Christ Himself would model this. His whole life was about the dissipation of personal power. He gave up the majesty of the Godhead to become human and continued to release Himself from power to become a servant. Finally, He submitted to death on a cross, despite the fact that He could have called upon legions of angels to release Him from that fate. People recognized that He had personal authority, but He never used it for His own benefit or at the expense of others.
He comes among us as One who serves.
Our Corporate Prayer
O, Father, make us all servants, humble and meek. Lord, please help us to lift up those who are weak. And through Your mighty power, may the prayers of our hearts always be. Make us all servants make us all servants, make us all servants this day! We humbly bow in Your presence because You are worthy. In the holy and matchless name of Jesus, we make our prayer. Amen.
Our Worldwide Prayer Meeting for November 9, 2023
India Western Territory
Reaching Out to Others
May you reach out to your families, neighbors, co-workers, and friends and invite them to volunteer with you at your local Salvation Army.
"For strength to ever do the right, for grace to conquer in the fight, for power to walk the world in white, SEND THE FIRE!
- William Booth, General and founder of The Salvation Army