Christ's Power Rests on Us
Sermon 1789 2 Corinthians 12.7-10 February 13, 2022
I suppose it’s OK, now that we’re getting close to the end, for me to reveal a few of my secrets. Some of my colleagues spend hours and hours staring at a text wondering what its main point is. Sometimes they cut corners and just use what somebody else says it means or they jam it into a series idea (often someone else’s idea). I knew a guy who just dropped the whole thing and read somebody else’s sermons. At least their people were getting decent stuff. For years the Missouri Synod offered some of their less gifted preachers the Concordia Pulpit. The concept really hit home with its target audience, as long as that target audience lived within forty miles of St. Louis.
My secret is to simply look at the text and see what jumps out at me and then put an “us” in there. It happens so quickly with me I can, while putting together the hymns for the next two months or so, come up with themes for the sermons at that time. So don’t accuse me of preaching about something I just heard on Wednesday. That’s my secret. It saves me lots of time. But sometimes there’s a problem with that approach, like today’s text.
Christ’s Power Rests on You. I thought this sermon would be different. I thought this sermon, coming as it did during the Olympics, would be a thrilling battle cry extolling the indomitable human spirit, a “down, but not gone” resilience. Look what we can do! What a great message for a new church council! But when I looked more closely at the text--and I always have to look closely at the text because that is what I am promising to explain and apply to our lives—I saw something different. Weakness instead of power. Suffering instead of ease. Trouble instead of triumph. And yet, in spite of it all, delight. How can that be?
Let me show you today what Paul’s words showed me.
Christ’s Power Rests on Us
1. Through weakness
2. Christ’s power appears
3. And brings us delight.
“To keep me from becoming conceited, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me (7-8)…”
We don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Some have guessed malaria, for at times he bypassed lowlands and swamps. Others glaucoma, for he mentions with what large letters he writes his name. Arthritis? Nobody knows. But we do know, from what Paul tells us elsewhere, it hobbled him, it limited him, it prevented him from doing everything he wanted to do. And he saw it as a hindrance to his work of spreading the Gospel. That’s why he called it a messenger of Satan. It was the only way Satan could temporarily shut Paul down or slow him down. And when he calls it “a messenger of Satan,” there is the inference the Lord permitted the devil to do this. “There was given me.” God had a reason for permitting this thorn in the flesh to torment Paul.
But that didn’t make it better. It left Paul weakened. Add that to his other troubles, insulted, experiencing hardships, persecuted, in difficulties. Nobody would sign up for that.
But aren’t we all facing something like that? Human existence is one of limitations. We can’t do everything we want to do. For the perfectly healthy, there are only twenty-four hours in the day and you don’t have all the money in the world. What a pity! But for everyone else who isn’t a youthful billionaire—I think I can safely assume that means everyone here—limitations are a bit more painful. You aren’t smart enough to waltz into the classroom and ace a test you never studied for. You aren’t athletic enough to cheat on conditioning drills and still be a Division I starter. You don’t have the wind you used to so you dropped out of the running club. You don’t have the balance you used to so you sold your motorcycle. Your eyes are bad so you don’t go out at night. Your heart is bad so you don’t overdo it. You have cancer and the treatments make you want to die rather than go put another straw in a glass of Ensure.
Let’s be honest. These limitations are the result of sin. Satan is behind it. He led Adam into sin in the Garden of Eden. If it hadn’t been for that original disobedience, I’d still be running a 4.20 mile like I did in high school. Hey, I didn’t say we’d be supermen and superwomen, I just said we wouldn’t have limitations. It would still be us and the Hungarian in me isn’t super-fast! And let’s be even more honest. We have proven ourselves to be the offspring of Adam and Eve by doubling down on their original sin. We’ve drunk too much, eaten too much, gossiped (any amount of gossip is too much) and in general complained just about everything the Lord sent our way. If he miraculously fed us, why wasn’t it whole grain? If he stilled the storms in our life, who will pay for the water-soaked boat cushions to be cleaned? You know the game, Jenga, where you take blocks out of the pile and put them on top, trying to make sure the tower doesn’t tip over on you? That’s what sin does to our lives. We go through weakness because we weaken ourselves.
But something amazing happens when Christ’s power is on us. Through weakness Christ’s power appears.
“But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (9).”
I’m not one of those guys who argue you need evil in the world so the good stands out, but I do understand how contrast works. Jewelers put the diamonds on display in store windows against a black background so they stand out better. When I projected a silhouette of Goliath on the wall for chapel, I turned out the first bank of lights so it would stand out better. The Lord doesn’t need evil for a contrast so that good will appear and stand out all the more. But since sinful human beings have dealt that hand he will make it work.
The answer Paul got was a better answer than taking away all the limitations Paul faced. God answered Paul’s prayer. Grace appeared. At its heart, grace means a gift. God freely gives us something. It could be talent. It could be looks. It could be unexpected opportunities. It could be forgiveness of sins. Behind every use of grace in the New Testament is God’s undeserved gift of love and that has to turn our attention to Jesus. If ever there was someone who should live with no limitations, Jesus was it. Yet Jesus himself was tempted by the devil for forty days in the wilderness. Jesus was limited by King Herod’s threats and the slander thrown at him by his own religious leaders. Even the miracle-hungry throngs flocking to Jesus limited him. He didn’t gripe. He didn’t complain. He moved on. And when he faced that greatest limitation, when they arrested him, put him on trial, condemned, tortured and crucified him, he said, “Your will be done.” He said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” He trusted his heavenly Father. He marched to the cross so that he could come out of the grave three days later. He displayed weakness so that all might know the very one who came down from heaven, the Son of Mary and the Son of the Most High was the Son of God who filled everything in every way, the Lord of lords and King of kings.
God’s gift of grace appeared in our lives. God’s gift of grace forgave our sins. God’s gift of grace gave us faith in the payment Jesus made. God’s gift of grace gave us everything we need to face down the challenges and obstacles that confront us. By ourselves, we would be crushed. But Christ’s power appears. Christ’s power rests on us. It shines forth perfectly because of our weaknesses.
Power meant a lot more to Paul than it does to us. To us power is electricity for refrigerators and hair dryers, oh, and now our cars. To those who are of this earth, strangers to God’s plan for our lives, power is simply the flow of electrons from one atom to another. But for those who believe in Jesus, Christ is the power for eternal life. By his power Christ will raise our bodies from the dead. By his power Christ will glorify us so we live with him in heavenly splendor and holiness for all eternity. By his power Christ moves us to say no to ungodly passions and pursue the path of godliness, mercy, love and self-control. It’s a power given to our soul that molds our thoughts and actions.
Christ’s power rests on us and brings us delight.
Now, here’s the part that is really beyond understanding. Nobody is going to volunteer for hardships. The baby doctors always counsel moms-to-be there are no medals given out for pain, so an epidural is the way to go. Google maps take you the easiest route and if there’s an hour delay on the freeway ahead of you suddenly it plots an alternate route. You hardly notice it. Power brakes, power steering. Standard, if you can buy a car nowadays. And I can see how Christ’s power resting on us brings us through. I mean, he is our Good Shepherd. He always gets us through the valley of the shadow of death. Either we wake up in the recovery room or we wake up in heaven. The recovery room will bill us, God won’t. There are no insurance snafus in heaven. Those are reserved for the other place!
Here’s what is hard to understand unless…
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (9-10).”
The power of Christ resting on us brings us delight. An Olympian coming back for his third or fourth Olympics wonders if he still “has it.” When he stands on the awards platform he knows he still does. He rejoices. He has continued to compete on the highest level possible. When Christ’s power brings us through our troubles we know we still have it. We have one more example of God’s power to save.
But I do not mean to belittle the power of Jesus. I don’t want anybody going away from here today thinking the battle between good and evil is a pitched battle, almost in doubt until the last, final push. God always wins. He crushes the competition. As soon as the devil sinned, he and his demonic followers were cast out of heaven. Poof! Face first, sprawled out in the fire and brimstone of hell. As soon as Jesus spoke the demons came out of the people they were tormenting. With a word Jesus dismissed Satan’s final three temptations. Even today that one-sided victory of Christ shows through. “Resist the devil and he will flee you,” James encourages us (4.7). How can puny creatures like you and me stand up to the Prince of Darkness? He has been beaten, beaten, beaten already by Jesus. Anyone who has a whiff of heaven about them sends the devil into conniptions.
That’s where the delight comes in. No matter what the forces of darkness try to do to us, the power on us is greater than their power. We are victorious. We come out on top. Oh, my grandsons love it when they absolutely maul grandpa in a game. So does every Christian when they maul the devil. Now put that together with everything we love, everything we stand for, everything that is our hope and future, every good and beautiful thing in our life is advancing when we emerge from the showdown with the devil and his allies. And we are renewed in the process. What a wonderful God we have! What an enviable life we enjoy!
Christ’s Power Rests on Us
1. Through weakness
2. Christ’s power appears
3. And brings us delight.
So now you know one of my tricks. Oh, yeah, about putting a sermon together, but that’s not the important one. Who of you is going to have to write and preach a sermon? Well, Zach Turley, starting this fall. But every one of us is going to find such delight in the Christian life that doctors and nurses, neighbors and co-workers, are going to scratch their heads and wonder, how do they do it? Nothing stops them. No it doesn’t. How can troubles stop us when Christ’s power rests on us?