OUR REAL STRENGTH IS FROM THE LORD, AND NOT OF OURSELVES
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
23 MARCH 1997
BY FRANK L. HOFFMAN, PASTOR
1 Timothy 1:12-14
Probably the biggest mistake we make, as Christians, is believing, falsely, that we are stronger than we really are; and as a result, we all too often fail.
We are not as strong as we usually think we are.
And as for those who think they're not strong at all, they can have great strength.
This is because our real strength is from the Lord, and not of ourselves.
In Deuteronomy 6:5, we are told how we begin to acquire this strength:
5. "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Our strength begins with our union with God.
We must let go of everything in our being and in our life, and focus in upon the Lord, and truly let Him be Lord of our lives.
This kind of absolute submission can come only when we totally and completely trust in the Lord.
And the ability to trust in this way only comes with unconditional love - a love so complete that it encompasses the whole of creation, without exception.
In this complete submission of love and trust, we also will find we have a need to let go of any of our own strength or earthly security; for if we don't, we cannot fully put our trust in God.
On this day, 1,970 years ago, the people of Jerusalem piled praise upon praise upon Jesus as He entered the city. (Mark 11:9-10)
And only five days later, many of them shouted, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" (Mark 15:13-14)
They did this because there was no real commitment or love bond between them and Jesus.
They simply went along with the crowd; for in human terms, there is strength in numbers, or at least we falsely think there is.
Even Jesus' inner circle of companions and disciples were weak, because they didn't fully understand and commit themselves totally.
They may have wanted to, but they didn't.
And we are very much like them.
Let's take a look at what happened after dinner on Thursday night, or as the Hebrews would consider it, early Friday morning (Mark 14:27-42):
27. And Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.’
Jesus quotes a prophetic passage from Zechariah (13:7), which speaks of our human weakness.
He is telling them that every one of them, the apostles, will lose their strength, their faith, and fall away when Jesus is taken from them.
But then Jesus tries to give them some hope to strengthen them.
28. "But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee."
It's as though they never heard this last message. They were stuck upon the thought of their falling away, and they considered themselves to be strong.
They didn't want to hear about their weaknesses.
After all, they were apostles, weren't they?
Listen to these thoughts being expressed by Peter:
29. But Peter said to Him, "Even though all may fall away, yet I will not."
But Jesus knew he would.
30. And Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you, that you yourself this very night, before a cock crows twice, shall three times deny Me."
This is not what Peter wanted to hear.
He believed that Jesus was the Son of God, his Messiah, but Peter also believed in his own strength.
Instead of believing what Jesus was telling him, and asking the Lord to strengthen him, Peter continues to defend his own faith and strength.
31. But Peter kept saying insistently, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And they all were saying the same thing, too.
Nevertheless they all fell away, in spite of what they insisted, for they put their faith in their own strength.
Paul learned this lesson early in his ministry. Listen to what we are told in Acts 9:22:
22. But Saul [Paul] kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
This isn't his own strength. This is the strength of the Lord. It's just as he told the Philippians and Timothy:
Phil. 4:13. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
1 Tim. 1:12. I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service;
13. even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;
14. and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.
This is a lesson we all need to remember.
It doesn't matter how bad we have been, for in Christ there is always a new beginning.
In His strength we can and will overcome our past.
However, unless we repent of our own pride, and allow the Lord to strengthen us, we will never be the Christians that God desires us to be.
And in our weakness, we can easily fall away.
With this in mind, let's go back to being with Jesus and the apostles:
32. And they came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here until I have prayed."
33. And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled.
34. And He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch."
Even Jesus experienced this human weakness.
He feels alone, and desperately wants those with Him to keep watch and pray with Him for strength, but they don't seem to understand.
So Jesus, alone, seeks strength and relief from these feelings:
35. And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by.
36. And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt."
I pray that each and every one of us really hears what Jesus is saying, that in our own weaknesses, we would do the same.
He cries out from the depth of His soul, "Daddy, Father, help me in my weakness. I don't want to face what lies ahead. But, at the same time, I want to do what You want me to do. Daddy, Father, give me the strength to do what you want me to do."
If we would all do this, we would have a strong church. So many of us are afraid to act according to our calling.
Don't be afraid!
Call upon the Lord for the strength we all need.
37. And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?
They expected the Lord to take care of everything.
They failed to see their own part in Jesus Christ's ministry.
This is our problem, too.
And we need to be reminded, just as Peter, James and John were reminded:
38. "Keep watching and praying, that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
39. And again He went away and prayed, saying the same words.
Are we going to listen, or are we going to go back to sleep?
40. And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.
41. And He came the third time, and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.
42. "Arise, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!"
And Satan is at hand, right here in our own community, seeking whomever he can destroy.
It isn't our shouts of "Hosanna" or our cries of "Praise the Lord" that give others or us strength. It’s our faith in the power of God.
The disciples saw the power of God working through Jesus, and they went along for the ride.
They failed to understand that this same power, this same strength was for them, too.
This was the encouragement that Jesus and Paul gave to the church: they always encouraged others to at least do as they did, by following their example.
This is a good place to begin.
Likewise, I pray you see the strength of the Lord in me, and I am far from being like Christ.
And in this strength, I hope you are seeking the power of the Lord to strengthen you to at least be as I am; but I pray that you would become many times stronger.
We can no longer afford to go along with the crowd.
We can no longer afford to be afraid of those around us and of what they might say or do.
We can no longer afford to sleep on the job.
We must arise to the challenge that lies before us, and go forth in the strength of the Lord.
We can love the Lord with all our heart, soul and might.
And we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
We really can.
Each of us can.
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