Earlier in this sermon series I illustrated a point with the story of my little one year old daughter Felicity rummaging through her brother’s things in her near constant treasure hunting as she roams around the house seeking for things to get into. Just the other day she came to me with one of their treasures. It was a sizable find; a little plastic can full of tropical fruit flavored gum. The lid on the thing is difficult to open and requires a fair amount of strength. I saw her struggling to open it and, though I would prefer she not eat gum, I tried to open it so that I break a little bit off of the gum to give to her as a reward for all of her labor.
At first she stubbornly refused to give me the gum. I explained to her, through my laughter, that I was trying to help her. She wouldn’t budge. So I left the room and left her to figure out a way to get at her confectionary gold. A minute or two later Felicity came into the room where I was and brought me the gum. Apparently she had discerned the error of her way and realized that she wasn’t strong enough to open the tightly sealed lid. She realized her weakness and brought her problem to me. While I am always at least slightly reticent about comparing my relationship with my children to God’s relationship with us, the analogy stands. In her weakness she was strong in my (albeit relative) strength.
“It is truth in paradox that the more man becomes proud, the more he minimizes his own worth. The antidote? To gaze, not on man, but on God and God’s providence.” (Interpreter’s Bible, Matthew 10:30, page 372)
This sermon series has been entirely about the difference between false and true religion. We’ve look at the enslavement that comes with false religion. When we are busy working to earn God’s favor we get trapped in judgment, we sacrifice inner peace, we don’t learn to live in the freedom that the Gospel brings, and we generally fail to find the fullness of the life in Christ available to us.
Conversely, when learn to open up our eyes to the fullness of grace – He did it all for us, He sent His Son into the world for us, He called, saved, and is sanctifying us. – we see the manifold power of God and His grace actively in our lives.
CIT: His grace is sufficient for us in our weakness.
CIS: Our strength is our greatest weakness.
In Psalms 8:2 the Bible says that “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” (NIV84) This passage in the Psalms points the reality that is fully unfolded in the life of Christ in the gospels. We are a part of an upside-down kingdom.
In God’s economy it is not necessarily the most wealthy, successful, or influential people who receive or are given the task of expressing the worth and wealth of God. God chose Mary through which to bring His Son into the world. She was a poor girl from an obscure family in the obscure little Galilean village of Nazareth.
The Lord called the tiny nation of Israel through whom He would one day bring the Messiah. He used the elderly woman Sarah to give birth to Isaac who actually laughed at the suggestion that she would give birth in her old age.
Throughout the History of Israel, throughout the history of the Church, and throughout the personal history of you and me God has been using the lesser things of this world to accomplish His aims and ends.
The saints of God who are found in the pages of the Bible are no greater men or women than are you and I. In many cases they are for worse! They are sinners, adulterers, slanderers, murders, liars, and more.
God chooses whom He will based solely upon His will. Greatest in God’s economy, prominence in the Kingdom of God has little to do with our ability and everything to with His glory.
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NIV84)
God chooses us based on His ability to glorify Himself through us, not our ability to make Him look good. There is a world of difference between the two ideas.
God glorifies Himself in us to the extent that we recognize His worth and as a consequence we submit to His will and put His worth on display.
This is not at all to imply that in the vile and base and lowest aspects of our human nature God is glorified. Let it never be that we bear the false witness of His glory through the proclamation of a life of sin!
May it never be that we who are called according His purpose excuse or dismiss sin in the name of God’s abundant grace! That’s a little bit like punching oneself in the face to display the glory of God’s creation in having created us with the ability to heal. God is not glorified in our sin, our weakness in that sense.
God is glorified in us as a result of allowing His grace to indwell and transform us and we will never be transformed until we recognize that transformation, as with salvation, is a work of God’s grace. Just as we receive the gift of grace by faith, we grow in and His light grows in us as we submit to His will.
Hudson Taylor, the 19th Century pioneer missionary to China once wrote “The awful character of sin is shown to mankind by its consequences. Man's heart is so darkened by the Fall, and by personal sinfulness, that otherwise he would regard sin as a very small matter. But when we think of all the pain that men and women have endured since the Creation, of all the miseries of which this world has been witness, of all the sufferings of the animal creation, and of the eternal as well as temporal consequences of sin, we must see that that which has brought such a harvest of misery into the world is far more awful than sin-blinded men have thought it to be. The highest evidence, however, of the terrible character of sin is to be found at the Cross; that it needed such a sacrifice—the sacrifice of the Son of God—to bring in atonement and everlasting salvation, is surely the most convincing proof of its heinous character.”
In II Corinthians 13:4 the Apostle Paul writes: “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you.” (NIV84)
Sin is reprehensible. It is an affront to God that required the violence of the Cross to make a way for you and I to be redeemed from it. Only through the brutality of the Cross could you and I be reconciled to God.
God’s justice had to be satisfied in order for sin to be atoned and He did that at the Cross. That’s the point. All of the work that we do for God is simply in response to the Cross. Don’t miss this! This is the key to this entire sermon series and the sum of true religion.
Our religious activity is the consequence of not the burden for freedom in Christ.
Our neglect of sin and abandonment to the will of God is the consequence of grace working in us, not the burden for our work.
Sin necessitated the Cross, according to God’s grace working through our faith we who were once dead in trespass and sin have been made alive in Christ. He saved us in spite of us, not because of us. He saved us this way precisely so that in our weakness, our sin, our inability, He would be glorified in us.
He allowed the bankrupt condition of this world to come into existence through our sin so that in our brokenness He might bring glory to Himself through His Son.
In our sinfulness the blood of Christ covers us and His glory shines! In our inability we are drawn to a place of dependence upon God and His power shines in us!
Speaking in Hebrews chapter 11 of the great line up of saints in the Bible, the writer of Hebrews further expounds on this Scriptural motif.
“Who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Hebrews 11:33-34 NIV84) Their weakness was turned to strength because they turned to the Lord.
The same missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, that I cited earlier with regard to the nature of sin and the need for Cross, also wrote that “All God's giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them.” The same is true for all of God’s servants, whether they are well known to the world or only well known to Him.
Our strength is our greatest weakness. False religion which is build on working to please God, working to appear holy to the outside world, or any other false motive, is the greatest obstacle to knowing God.
On the other hand, when we are weak and humble enough to bring our weakness to God, then we are able to become strong in His power with His grace working in us, through us, putting His glory on display!
This is a tall task but it isn’t our task. Becoming great in the Kingdom is about being about becoming weak, trust rather than control, submission over demands, sacrifice rather than gain. It is a tall task but it is His task. We sweep up our brokenness and then bring it to Him as an offering and it is an offering that He will not reject. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalms 51:17 NIV84)
I have read that “in front of the great Cathedral of Amiens [in France] stands a statue of Jesus Christ, and on either side His twelve apostles. Below them are written their greatest virtues, in contrast to their greatest vices. In Peter’s case, his outstanding quality is his courage, but below it you see a figure of Peter fleeing from a leopard, representing his cowardice. Then beneath that you see the same figure sitting on a leopard and riding forth to conquest. The sculptor wished to teach us that by contact with the Lord Jesus Christ that very thing which is a man’s weakness can be transfigured into his strength; that very thing from which he fled can become the glorious chariot on which he rides forward, conquering and to conquer.”
His grace is enough. It is enough to save us in Christ through faith. It is enough to transform us. It is enough to sustain us in hardship. It is enough to make us strong in Him and give us supernatural courage to live for Him and proclaim His goodness. Friends, His grace is enough. Amen.