I want to be a super hero.
I love super hero stories. I followed Spider-man as a teenager – you know, nerdy Peter Parker swinging around New York City and using his Spidey-sense to fight crime. I have a special place in my heart for Wolverine with his scruffy sideburns and adamantium claws.
My favorite superhero is kind of embarrassing, but I’ll admit it anyway… and it’s not one, but four. I caught on to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was a kid, and I was hooked. I have some of the original comic books and everything.
Super heroes are so cool. I want to be a super hero – to have some kind of secret, special power.
But I can’t be a super hero, and I know exactly why: I don’t have an origin story.
Every super hero has a backstory, an explanation for how they got their special powers. For Spider-man, it was that radioactive spider bite. For Wolverine, it’s the World War II era experimentation that led to a skeleton covered in indestructible metal. And for my beloved Turtles, it’s that mysterious canister that crashed into their bowl, transforming them from pets into martial artists.
If I want to be a superhero, I’ve got to have an origin story. There’s got to be a source of power.
I’ve noticed, though, that the world does offer some options for gaining power. We can make our own origin stories, so to speak.
For some, it’s physical strength. We exercise and train to reach peak performance. We can sprint at high speed, run long distances, pick up heavy weights. After a while, we can start to feel a little like super heroes: I am strong enough to protect the ones I love. I am healthy enough to be invincible. I am noteworthy enough to be admired.
If physical strength isn’t for you, then you can make money. This might not sound like a super power at first, but let’s be honest, money can get the job done. (It certainly did for Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark.) If we have enough money, we can protect the ones we love. We feel invincible. We are admired.
If neither money nor strength work out for you, there’s one more route to try. It’s not as flashy, and may not feel quite as “super.” But if the end results we seek are to protect the ones we love, feel invincible, and gain admiration, then we can get connected. Use what you’ve got to get people to do what you want them to do: sex appeal, gossip, political maneuvering, or emotional manipulation… whatever it takes. If enough people are under your control, you can start to feel a super power of your own.
If this is starting to sound shady, then you already know that where we get our power matters.
After Peter and John heal the lame man, they get themselves into some trouble. They’re out preaching the good news about the resurrection of the dead. Some religious leaders are annoyed by this – among them, the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. Their annoyance must be pretty extreme, because they have Peter and John arrested.
When they’re pulled out of prison to explain themselves, the rulers, elders, and scribes ask: “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
It’s not clear whether the question refers to the teaching, or the healing, or both. Let’s say, “both,” and fill in the blanks of what they’re really asking:
“By what power did you heal that man? Are you strong enough to do something like that?”
“By what power do you think you can teach whatever you want? Do you have enough money to get away with that?”
“And who do you know? Because you better have some good connections to get yourself out of this one.”
Where’s your source of power, Peter and John? Is it strength, or money, or relationships?
No, it’s none of these.
“Let it be known… that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth…”
Their power is the name “Jesus Christ.” This sounds like it’s a magic word, like “abracadabra” or something, as though we might speak it and make whatever we want happen. But Jesus’ name doesn’t work that way. Some of us know that from painful first-hand experience. We don’t control Jesus by speaking his name; instead, Jesus is the one that leads us.
Their power is the name “Jesus Christ,” the one who was crucified. This Jesus wielded power in a totally opposite way of the world. He was all-powerful – God himself – and yet he allowed himself to be killed on a cross.
Their power is the name “Jesus Christ,” the one who was crucified and who God raised from the dead. In him, what looked like a complete loss of power turned out to be the most powerful moment the world has ever known.
This is their source of power.
This is our source of power, too.
We can try our hand at strength and money and relationships, but none of those will do much for us unless we use them as Jesus used them.
Strength in the name of Jesus Christ becomes vulnerability. He stops his disciples from pulling out swords to defend him (Luke 22:49-51). He teaches that “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). He tells us to turn the other cheek instead of hitting someone back (Luke 6:29).
Money in the name of Jesus Christ is shared easily. Jesus sends his disciples out with nothing (Luke 9:3). He called those who saved extravagantly “fools” (Luke 12:13-21). He made it clear that money alone wouldn’t buy us eternal life (Luke 16:19-31).
Connections in the name of Jesus Christ become a genuine love of others. In case we’re not sure what that looks like, Jesus told a story about a “Good Samaritan” who stopped to help a stranger on the side of the road (Luke 10:25-37). That’s loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Jesus taught all that, and lived all that, and died all that. He is our source of power, crucified and resurrected.
I’ll never be a super hero… but that’s okay.
I’ll never be a super hero because the power I crave isn’t located in me. I won’t find it by becoming strong enough or rich enough or by having enough connections. All of those things can and will crumble, in an instant, one day.
There is an origin story for this power I’m talking about, but it’s not my story. It’s the story of a God who loved us enough to come and walk among us. It’s the story of Jesus Christ, who let himself be crucified for us even though he was plenty strong enough to resist it. It’s the story of the Holy Spirit that Christ left us, which empowers us to be strong through vulnerability, be rich through generosity, and be connected in genuine love.
Any super power we have comes not from this world and not from within, but from our super God.