God’s Strength, my weakness

Scriptures: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

A work crew had been working at a construction site for about a week when the company hired a new man to replace one who’d been hurt the day before. Now, he was a broad-shouldered, powerful young man and was a good worker… but he was also very annoying.

He was always bragging that he was stronger than anyone else at the worksite, and he especially made fun of one of the older workmen. Finally one of the older workers had had enough. “Sonny,” he said, “why don’t you put your money where your mouth is? I will bet a week’s wages that I can haul something in a wheelbarrow over to that out building that you won’t be able to wheel back.”

The boy smiled and said: “You’re on, old man. Let’s see what you got.” The old man reached out and grabbed the wheelbarrow by the handles. Then, nodding to the young man, he said, “All right, get in.”

Now, that young man typifies much of how the world thinks about life. The world believes that power, and wealth, and position are all you need in this life. The world believes in the survival of the fittest – that the man with the most might and the most money is the one who is the victor. You know, there used to be a bumper sticker I’d see: “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

One man once observed: “The battle isn’t always to the strong, nor the race to the swift… but that’s the way to bet.”

And normally, that is the way it is – until you get to Scripture. When you open the pages of the Bible everything changes. Time after time in Scripture you find the little guy beating the big guy. You have Moses walking into the court of the most powerful ruler of the day and his only weapon is his staff.

You have an inexperienced leader named Gideon facing off against tens of thousands of ruthless warriors with an army of only 300 men. You have a shepherd boy named David going into battle against a hardened giant of a man with nothing more than a sling and a stone.

Again, and again, and again, in Scripture… the little guy beats the big guy. Might and money, power and position mean nothing. They still win. Why? Because those little guys served God… and God is bigger than everybody else.

You know, I love action movies. (A number of you were up in Morning Sun yesterday. I was there at the luncheon that they serve, and I had on my Captain America t-shirt. I mention it because I had a number of people tell me “cool shirt.”)

In the movie The Winter Soldier, there’s a point where Captain America is going up in an elevator full of other guys, and they’re all going to attack him, and he realizes it, because he’s a good guy. And he just looks at them all and says, “You sure you want to do this?”

Frequently in action movies, the good guy faces a gang of evildoers, and one bad guy may sneer, “What you gonna do now, smart guy?” And the hero smiles and says, “You better go get a couple more boys and make this an even fight.”

And that’s how it is in Scripture. The bad guys swagger out against God’s people and brag that they’re going to destroy them. And God just smiles and says: “You better go get yourself a couple more armies and make this a fair fight.”

One of the Bible’s main messages is this: The little guy who trusts in God can whip any guy on the block. Because God is bigger than anyone else. As it says in Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Thus when Paul writes that God told him “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”… and then Paul concludes “when I am weak, then I am strong”… you know what Paul’s talking about.

This is such a powerful truth, and many of us find great comfort in it. There’s an old Gospel hymn that says it this way (and feel free to sing it with me)

“I am weak but thou art strong, keep me Jesus from all wrong
I’ll be satisfied as long, as I walk, let me walk close to thee.”

There is power to be found in walking with Jesus. There is power to be found in living close to God Because I AM weak… but He is strong.

That truth – that I am weak – forces me to do something that I wouldn’t do if I were strong. It forces me to look to and depend upon someone else, and to walk – where? Close to God.

My strength in life only comes from walking close to Jesus. Philippians 4:13 is sort of my life verse, that I try to remember all the time. It say: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I gain His strength, His power, His ability to deal with the difficulties of this life. As can you. And we gain that strength only because we walk close to Him.

In a way, our discipleship is kind of like “strength training”.How many of you have ever done any strength training? Well, I know it’s hard to believe it now, but I was an athlete when I was young, in junior high school, high school, even college. I wrestled, played soccer and football (because in Nebraska, you didn’t do anything unless you played football), and played racquetball, and all those sorts of games.

When we did football, we had what they called “two-a-days,” in the summer. In the morning, you were out there in the field, practicing plays and stuff. Then when it supposedly got too hot you went inside to the gym – which really wasn’t much cooler because it wasn’t air-conditioned. But you lifted weights and you worked out, and you did something called strength training.

One of the difficulties that I have now is that I remember that I was an athlete. But I forget that I’m not anymore. I’ve done enough strength training to know that – I frequently don’t know what I’m doing. It seems every time I go all out to work my muscles… I hurt myself. I pull muscles, or sprain an ankle or something.

In order for me to be successful in strength training, in order for me to be successful in working out, I need something that I don’t often use. Do you have an idea what that is? A trainer. A partner. Someone who’s a spotter when you’re lifting weights. I need somebody to help my training so I don’t overdo it and hurt myself, again.

When it comes to our spiritual strength training many people think they can get by with doing it all by themselves. They don’t believe they need a trainer or a partner. But they end up either hurting themselves or getting less strength than they would have had someone been there to guide them and to uphold them.

Too often we don’t want His strength, because we think we’re strong enough to do it on our own. We can handle it. After all, we’re independent midwestern Americans.

On the internet, I found a story about a man named Kyle Idelman. He tells a story about his 4-year-old daughter who came into his office one day, just as he rearranging the furniture. He had this large heavy desk and was pushing it from one side of the office to the other.

His daughter wanted to help so she got between his arms and just started pushing with all her might. She huffed and puffed, stained and struggled with her dad behind her. Of course, they got in each other’s way a little bit. At one point she stopped, looked at her dad and said, “Daddy, you are in my way, just stand over there.”

So Kyle hid his smile and did as she said. Again, she huffed and puffed, struggled and strained but this time the desk didn’t budge an inch. Daddy wasn’t behind her pushing any longer.

That’s what too many Christians end up doing with God. And that points to another reason why we need to understand the truth of we are weak and He is strong. You see, until we realize God is strong and we’re weak, we tend to live our Christianity backwards.

We tend to live as if God needs us… not the other way around. We tend to believe God needs our time, talent, treasures, in order to survive, instead of an understanding that our time, talent, and treasure are given back to God in gratitude because His strength has saved us

We tend to believe God depends on us far more than we depend upon Him, because He just couldn’t live without us. And it’s wrong.

Here in 2 Corinthians 12, we find that Paul may have been tempted with that feeling. He notes, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Now, we don’t know what that thorn in the flesh was. And it really doesn’t matter.

It’s easy to picture Paul getting conceited. I mean, the man is a legend. Wherever he spoke, large crowds of people gathered and were convinced of the truth of Jesus Christ (or were so scared they ran him out of town).

He started a number of new churches throughout Greece and Rome. He knew the Bible backwards and forward. Elsewhere, he talks about his credentials. He says, “I was a Hebrew among Hebrews; I was a Benjaminite; a Pharisee for zeal; I studied under Gamaliel.”

He had everything that you might need as far as qualifications and resume enhancers. Of course, he goes on to say that he counted it all as “rubbish” (and the word he used is not so polite), compared to the glory of knowing Jesus Christ.

He didn’t know it at the time, but he wrote half of the New Testament. And on top of that (according to what he tells us here in 2 Corinthians) God had given him a vision where he was actually in paradise and saw and heard things he wasn’t permitted to tell us about.

I mean, who wouldn’t suffer a little from a bit of pride, if they had accomplished that much for the Kingdom? But that pride would have hurt Paul’s ministry. It would have gotten in the way of what God wanted to do through him. Paul’s pride would have gotten in God’s way, so God sent that “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment” him.

Now to us, that may seem kind of mean, to send a messenger of Satan to torment Paul. Why would God do that?

I believe God did that because Paul’s pride would have made him think God was weak and he was strong. It would have made him believe that God needed to do things Paul’s way rather than the other way around. And we know that Paul was a very strong-minded man.

As that old Gospel hymn that I sang says: “I am weak but thou are strong… Jesus keep me from all wrong”. It’s a good thing to remember: you and I are weak, but God is strong. For if we don’t remember that, then we can end up doing wrong because we’ll get in God’s way. We won’t give God the room He needs to work in our lives, with and through us.

So, we need to remember that we are weak, now, for three reasons. Because, well, we are weak. That’s the truth. And because if we don’t, we’ll risk falling into the temptation of pride. And third, if we don’t remember our weakness, we’ll miss one of the greatest truths in Scripture: that the strength of Christ’s Kingdom is built upon weakness.

Once again, in the Scriptures, we see that inversion of what most people in this world think. Jesus said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

This is the universal truth of Christ’s kingdom. The strength of Christ’s Kingdom is built upon weakness. And you have to look no further than the cross to see that it is true. In 2 Corinthians 13:4 we’re told that Jesus “was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power.” Christ built His kingdom on the weakness He experienced on the cross.

A poet named Dorothy Sayers put it this way

Hard it is, very hard, to travel up the slow and
stony road to Calvary, to redeem mankind;
Far better to make but one resplendent miracle,
Lean through the cloud, lift the right hand of power
And with a sudden lightning smite the world perfect.
Yet this was not God’s way. Who had the power,
But set it by, choosing the cross, the thorn,
the sorrowful sounds.
Something there is, perhaps that power destroys in passing, something supreme.
To whose great value in the eyes of God
that cross, that thorn, and those five wounds bear witness.

It really would have been so much easier for God to just lean through the clouds and smite the world perfect. To wipe it clean of all the taint of sin. But Jesus didn’t do it that way, because in order to bring us salvation, Jesus had to become weak.

As Philippians 2 tells us, he emptied himself of his divinity, making himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant. Becoming human and humbling himself even unto death, even death on a cross.

The world looks upon this Biblical truth and they cannot understand it. Why allow himself to die in weakness? Why die in this helpless and humiliating way? I mean, he’s supposed to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s God above all gods.

He has the all the forces of heaven at his beck and call. Even when he was at his trial, Jesus told Pilate, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

But Jesus couldn’t buy our salvation by force. The constant message throughout the Bible was that in order for us to be forgiven of the guilt and shame of our past – something had to die.

Again and again, in the Old Testament, worshipers needed to bring a sheep, a goat, a bull, or some other living creature to the Temple to be sacrificed for their sins. A sacrifice was needed so that ,even though they deserved to die for the guilt of their sins something could be made to die in their place.

But the New Testament tells us that everyone knew that the blood of those innocent animals really couldn’t take away sin. They were pointing forward to the time when someone would make that choice and allow himself to die in our place.

That someone was Jesus. He set aside His Godhood and took on the form of a man and gave His life in the ultimate act of sacrifice, for our sins.

On that cross, Jesus became weak, so that we could become strong. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Jesus power was made perfect in His weakness upon the cross. He became weak so that we could become strong.

As the song says, we need to recognize that “I am weak, but Thou are strong. Keep me Jesus from all wrong. I’ll be satisfied as long as I walk, let me walk, close to Thee.”

We’re going to have Communion in a couple of minutes. We’re going to celebrate that sacrifice that was made on the cross. As we understand the body of Christ being the bread, broken for our sake, and we understand the cup of salvation, to represent the victory of Christ, over sin and death. And both are needed, both sides.

For it is in that moment of weakness that we become strong. My prayer for you is that as we have Communion today, that you experience that presence of Christ, that you recognize His strength in your weakness, and that you are strengthened by the sacrament, so that you go forth from this place in order to serve God, and to show what God’s grace and power and love is all about.

And may you give God the glory with all that you do. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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