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The Word and the Power

When we consider the miracles of Jesus, we do not fail to recognize a divine power at work in them to reverse the awful effects of the fall and restore the natural wholeness of a person. We understand that His miracles are Messianic markers--signs pointing beyond themselves to the Savior who came into the world to make all things new. We feel the need for such a Savior who will bring an ultimate resurrection wholeness to our persons. The connection between the acts and the divine power is evident from even cursory reflection on them. Often less evident is the connection between the word and the power. We profess to believe that there is a power to the word of God, but we often reveal--by our indifference to it--that we do not truly believe that it is the same power invested in Jesus' miracles that we experience in His word.

In his monumental work, The Coming of the Kingdom, Herman Ridderbos explains the intimate connection that exists between Jesus' miracles of healing and His preaching of the gospel. He wrote:

"[There is an] authority or power with which Jesus preaches the gospel of the kingdom. His word is not only a sign, it is charged with power; it has the disposal of the matter, the salvation which it defines: it is not merely a word, but 'it shall accomplish that which he pleases' who speaks it. That is why at bottom there is no difference between the word with which Jesus casts out devils and his preaching of the gospel. In both cases the word and what it indicates go together. "

To highlight this point further, Ridderbos appealed to the account of Jesus healing and forgiving the paralytic. He wrote,

"...in the story of the healing of a palsied man (Mark 2:1–12, and parallels)...the preaching of the gospel comes first: 'Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.' When the scribes consider this as blasphemy, Jesus asks: 'Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say: arise, and take up thy bed and walk?' The power of the word is at issue here, i.e., the preaching of the gospel: 'who can (dunatai) forgive sins but God only?.' Is the man who speaks like this entitled and able to make good the purport of his words? In an affirmative form this thought is expressed thus: “but that you may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (exousian echei … aphienai … epi tès gès). It is not the preaching of the forgiveness of sins or the promise that God shall forgive them (cf. 2 Sam. 12:13), but the remission of sins itself which is the issue here, as appears from the present tense of the verb at verse 5 ('your sins are forgiven'), and from the words: on earth. For the new and unprecedented thing here is not that forgiveness is being announced, but that it is being accomplished on earth. This is Jesus’ power (exousia) as the Son of Man, i.e., as he who has been given all kingly power, according to Daniel 7:14; and in this is manifested the presence of the kingdom of heaven. In this sense Jesus’ preaching of the basileia is at the same time its revelation. The multitude, too, notices this authority with which Jesus preaches the gospel, although they remain outsiders with respect to its real secret. For the most part they are offended by it, because they feel it as blasphemy for a human being to speak with such authority which belongs only to God (Mark 2:7, parallels)."

Finally, Ridderbos suggested that it was by virtue of who Jesus is that He could work powerfully by the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God,

"It is clear that all this can only be explained by the significance of Jesus’ person and mission. It is this which the astonished multitude senses on seeing his miracles (Matt. 12:23), and on hearing his preaching: “Who is this that forgiveth sins also?” (Luke 7:49). The presence of the kingdom, both in Jesus’ action and in his preaching of the gospel, the salvation he proclaims, the possession of bliss that he assigns to the poor in spirit, rest in the secret of Jesus’ person. The only satisfactory exegesis of the gospel of the kingdom in all its facets is the Christological. In the end everything must concentrate on Jesus’ self-revelation. The fulfillment, the new tidings that Jesus has brought can not in any way be separated from his own person, as, e.g., a doctrine promulgated by him and spread by the apostles, but it is present in his person, “in the historical event” which is given with him, which he is."

We desperately need this truth to sink into our minds and hearts. Though Jesus is not physically present with us, He is present in the assembly of His people by His Spirit. While the miracles of Jesus were unique redemptive-historical markers functioning for the foundation of the New Covenant Church, the preaching of the gospel is an ongoing event in the life of the church until the end of time. The Apostles taught so clearly that when ministers faithfully preach the word of God, it is Jesus Himself preaching through His appointed messengers to His people (Eph. 2:17; 1 Pet. 1:10-12). There is a power that God has invested in the ministry of the word through the voice of the Son of God calling His people from death to life, and building them up in the knowledge of Him. This means that we ought to eagerly come to the preaching of the word with an eager anticipation for an experience of the eschatological power of the coming Kingdom. We who have experienced the power of the word can boldly affirm that the "gospel came to not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (1 Thess. 1:5).

  1. Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, ed. Raymond O. Zorn, trans. H. de Jongste (Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1962), 73–74.

Ibid., p 76.

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