by Jeffrey Berg
The power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…” is the heart of Romans 1:16. There can be no salvation without the power of God.
The word “power,” in Romans 1:16, comes from the Greek word, “dunamis.” We derive “dynamite” from this word. When you gaze upon “the power of God unto salvation,” think of a “bunker-busting bomb” that will destroy sin down to the deepest depths of the heart. This type of power does not just destroy like ordinary bombs. This type of power has the ability to transform a heart of contamination into a beautiful paradise, pleasing in the eyes of God, where sin is remembered no more.
The Power of God
One of the names of God is El Gibor, Hebrew for “mighty God.” The word, Gibor, also means “strong,” “mighty,” “hero,” and “valiant.” The name, El Gibor, is mentioned in Isaiah 9:6 as one of the names of the Messiah.1 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful (Pela), Counselor (Yoetz), mighty God (El Gibor), everlasting Father, (or literally, my Father is forever (Avi Ad)), Prince of peace (Sar Shalom).” The Midrash, one of the foremost Jewish commentaries, also ascribes El Gibor as one of the names of the Messiah.
God is the God of ALL might, and He is the Source of ALL might. In Genesis 1:1, we read, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, we know this verse as Bereshit bara Elohim et-ha’shami’im et-ha’aretz. The key word in this verse is bara, which means “to create.” But, what makes this word so unique is that it means, “to create from nothing!” This verse actually means that God created the whole universe from nothing! This is truly the power of God!
The Power of God unto Salvation: A Look from the Hebrew Scriptures
“The power of God unto salvation” is illustrated in Exodus chapter 14. “And Moses said unto the people, Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will shew you today: for the Egyptians whom ye have see today, ye shall see them again no more for ever.” Exodus 14:13 describes God’s power in freeing the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery when God divided the Red Sea. Most people forget, and they give the credit to Moses when he raised his rod, and the sea became dry land. But, it was the power of God that worked to divide the Red Sea. It was the power of God that made the sea obey and act as giant barriers so all the Hebrews could cross over safely. It was the same power of God that drowned the Egyptian army in the sea after the last Hebrew crossed over to the other side. There is a lesson to be learned. Moses had to have faith in the power of God in order to see the work of God in action. What if Moses’ faith was weak, and he questioned God’s ability to divide the sea? Moses not only had to believe God for himself, but he had to really express his faith that God would work to save His people as he was leading them out of Egypt. Trusting in God, Moses led them to salvation on the other side of the Red Sea, away from Egypt.
The Power of God unto Salvation: Evidenced through Synagogue Liturgy
Jewish sages, who have believed in the power of God, have elevated this truth in their writings, particularly in the prayer book. The Jewish prayer book is commonly known as the siddur. We have an Orthodox siddur entitled, The Siddur HaShalem, meaning “The Complete Order of Service,” compiled by Philip Birnbaum. All Jewish prayer books are uniform and follow the same order of service. One prayer that is especially pertinent in our consideration of God’s power is the Amida. Amida means “pillar,” like the “pillar of a cloud by day” and a “pillar of fire by night”. When the Amida is read, people stand up and read it silently. Early in the prayer, in the Givorot (power) section, the writer highly emphasizes
the power of God. Read the following astonishing prayer: “Thou, O Lord, art mighty forever; thou revivest the dead; thou art powerful to save. Thou sustainest the living with kindness, and revivest the dead with great mercy; thou supportest all who fall, and healest the sick; thou settest the captives free, and keepest faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like thee, Lord of Power? Who resembles thee, O King? Thou bringest death and restorest life, and causest salvation to flourish [underline emphasis added].” One of the more widely known phrases in the synagogue liturgy is, Mi Kamocha Ba’al Givorot?
Who is like You, Lord of Power? After reading these great attributes, we must ask the questions, “Who is like You? Who resembles You?” As the Spirit of God opens one’s eyes, he or she sees that the only One who has accomplished these acts of power is Messiah Jesus. This portion of the Amida is ancient and goes back to the time Jesus was on earth. It is one of the oldest portions of writing in the prayer book. As a religious Jewish man, the Apostle Paul must have known this prayer. He certainly understood the power of God unto salvation, as this persecutor of the Church was transformed into the foremost proponent of the gospel message. God opened his eyes to the answers to the questions in the prayer. Truly, Messiah Jesus fulfilled these accounts of the Amida prayer.
The Power of God unto Salvation: Fulfilled in the Messiah Jesus
The earthly ministry of Jesus demonstrated the power of God in His life. In addition to His many other astounding miracles, He brought the dead to life on two occasions. First, in Mark chapter five, He brought the young damsel back to life. “And He took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise. And, straightway the damsel arose, and walked” (Mark 5:41,42a). Only God can bring life from the dead. The second account is the raising of Lazarus (John 11). Both of these accounts of resurrection from the dead highlight the sovereign command of Jesus. He said, “Arise,” and she arose! He said to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come forth!” and he shed the shackles of death and walked! Jesus also calmed the wind and the raging sea, in Mark chapter four. “Jesus said unto the sea, ‘Peace (shalom), be still.’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). The disciples’ response was, “And they feared exceedingly and said to one another, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” Again we ask the questions, “Who is like You, Lord of Power?”; “Who resembles thee, O King?”
The climax in writing about the power of God unto salvation is the resurrection of Jesus Himself from the dead. When Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), He showed His authority as he yielded up His Spirit on the tree. He did not say, “It is finished,” as a sigh of relief or of giving up, but as a shout of victory! When Jesus said, “It is finished,” His work was complete, His mission was accomplished! He had paid the price for our sin! He became “The First Fruits of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20). The passage continues, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:21, 22). The Lord Jesus is truly the power of God unto salvation.
To Everyone Who Believes
At the same time as when the Lord Jesus said, “It is finished,” a great event was taking place in the Temple. The parochet, or in Christian terms, “veil,” separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, was torn in two by an earthquake (Matthew 27:51). By the power of God, the earthquake not only rent the veil, but also gave Jews and non-Jews, everyone, access to the Holy of Holies. God Alone! What a wonder that, in His power, He gave the gift of salvation to all who believe.
A Concluding Reflection
A devotional book that is very special to my wife Arlene and me is The Valley of Vision2, by Arthur Bennett. Here are a few lines from a writing of his, entitled “Privileges.”
“Without Him is wrath and consuming fire;
In Him is all love, and the repose of my soul.
Without Him is gaping Hell below me, and eternal anguish;
In Him its gates are barred to me by His precious blood.
Without Him darkness spreads its horrors in front;
In Him an eternity of glory is my boundless horizon.
Without Him all within me is terror and dismay,
In Him every accusation is charmed into joy and peace.
Without Him all things external call for my condemnation;
In Him they minister to my comfort,
And are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving.
Praise be to Thee for grace,
And for the unspeakable gift of Jesus.”
What an awesome and powerful God we serve!
1. The Midrash Mishle, ed. Buber, p. 87 in S. Buber’s note, ascribes this name of God to the Messiah.
2. Athur Bennett, The Valley of Vision (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), p. 158