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F. Remy Diederich
the weakness of god
Part One: God is in the Whisper By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church 12.02.12
Texts: 1 Corinthians 1:25, 1 Kings 19 Outline: 1. The weakness of God shuns power and embraces humility. 2. God appeared to Elijah in a whisper, not the wind, earthquake or fire. 3. Meditating on the weakness of God will cause you to: a. Be offended b. Listen better. c. Humble yourself. d. Hear the voice of the weak. e. Help the weak. Message: What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, the weakness of God? For me, that phrase is an oxymoron: “God” and “weakness” are two words that shouldn’t be together. The two words contradict each other. I don’t like that phrase for the same reason I don’t like to talk about: The weakness of my surgeon. The weakness of the pilot. The weakness of my lawyer. I don’t want the word weakness associated with anyone in charge of my life and health. How would you feel if you opened up the paper and read headlines that talked about… The weakness of the army The weakness of the police department The weakness of the Green Bay Packers It’s like, la, la, la, la, la… You don’t want to hear about that. And so, when we talk about the weakness of God, it’s the same way. There’s just something wrong about that phrase. Doesn’t the Bible say that God is our Rock? Our Fortress? God is our Refuge? God is like a Mighty Warrior? Those are terms of encouragement. So where did I come up with the idea of the weakness of God? Well, the Bible uses the phrase in a letter that Paul wrote to a church in Greece. Paul wrote:
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 Paul is answering the critics of his message. When Paul preached about the Savior of the world dying on a cross his Greek audience ridiculed him. They mocked him. Greek gods were strong and powerful. Zeus was associated with lightening, a bull, and an eagle. They said, Do you hear what you are saying Paul? Do you know how foolish you sound…talking about a crucified Savior? They accused Paul of preaching a message that was foolish and weak. Embarrassing. And Paul’s answer was, That may be true, compared to your gods our message may be weak and foolish. But even in weakness our message is still better than yours. So, Paul wasn’t really conceding that God was weak. He was just using this phrase, “weakness of God”, to prove his point. But still, having said that, we’ve got to admit …our message does sound weak. I mean, God doesn’t have a very good Public Relations department. He enters the world born in a stable and leaves it on a cross. His entrance and exit were at the lowest levels of the social strata. That’s what I mean by the weakness of God. For some reason, there are times when God delights in revealing himself in weakness. He shuns a display of power and prefers to manifest himself in weakness, or maybe a better word, humility. We can ignore this side of God, or we can embrace it and learn from it. So that’s what I want to do this month. I think it will make a great study during this season of Advent. Now, I asked Betty Verdon to paint a picture for us over the next few weeks. I specifically asked her to start small…with just a few brush strokes to begin because that’s how God entered the world…with just a slight revelation of who he was. I want to share a story with you today from the Old Testament. A lot of Old Testament stories talk about the power of God: creating the heavens and the earth, parting the Red Sea, or destroying the wall around Jericho. But that’s only part of who God is. There are many times in scripture where God reveals himself in very understated ways. You might say…in weakness. The prophet Elijah learned this. Turn to 1 Kings 19. We like to think of God’s prophets as overcomers, full of faith and power. But not always. Elijah was so discouraged he wanted to die. False prophets were lying to the people about God. He felt like he was the only true believer left in the land. And Queen Jezebel of Israel had pledged to kill him within 24 hours. So it says… Elijah was afraid and ran for his life… He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." 1 Kings 19:3,4
Well, God didn’t take his life. Instead, he told him to travel down to Mt. Sinai, the same place where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. If you know that story, God revealed himself to Moses and the people with power. The mountain was surrounded by fire and thunder and God spoke from heaven to the people. It was very dramatic. So Elijah probably thought, Great, I could use an experience like that right now. I need God to rock my world a bit. Well, God does speak to him, but not in a dramatic way. Let’s look at what it says… "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 1 Kings 19:10-12 God was in the whisper. God wasn’t in the drama or the power. He was in the weak thing. Elijah is feeling weak. He’s feeling like he’s all alone. He’s about to be snuffed out, and God speaks to him in a whisper. Sometimes God encourages us with a shout. But sometimes he encourages us in only a whisper. Some of you are here today and you are discouraged. Maybe you came hoping for a sermon that would move you. Or a song that would speak directly to your situation. But don’t overlook the small thing: the simple prayer during communion. The encouraging smile from a stranger. A Bible verse that might come to mind. This is such an important principle for us to understand. Too often we celebrate the big story, the dramatic stories about God. But we overlook the simple things that God does. The weak things. Things that are seemingly unimpressive. That’s why there were only a few people gathered around Jesus when he was born. And that’s why only a few people gathered around his cross at his death. People didn’t understand the weakness of God. They didn’t understand what God was doing – in fact, they were offended by it and so they missed the moment, a moment when they could have encountered God. As we take this Advent season to meditate on the weakness of God I want to prepare you for what you might learn. I’ve got five things here that you can expect to happen. First, meditating on the weakness of God may cause you to be offended. Like I said before, we much rather talk about strength than weakness. Weakness is offensive. Even the fact that I wrote the title to this series in all lower case letters offended some of you. It offends me too. I don’t like to see the word “God” in lower case. But I did that to make a point about how much we dislike God and weakness associated.
You’ve probably seen an ad featuring this 70 year man (Jerry Life) who seems to have found the fountain of youth. He sells a program that is basically testosterone supplements. Testosterone replacement is big business right now. Why? Because men don’t like feeling weak. Weakness is embarrassing. It’s offensive. But it’s not just aging men who have this problem. We all hate weakness. We all have things that embarrass us about our lives. We are ashamed of our body, our looks, our emotions. We’re ashamed of our health, our relational failures, and our finances. We are ashamed of the car we drive, the house we live in. I mean, the last thing we want is someone to drop by our house. We’re ashamed of our age. We’re ashamed of our career, or lack of one. We’re ashamed that we aren’t more spiritual. We are ashamed of our sin and what tempts us. Do you see what I’m saying here? Weakness offends us in our own lives and it offends us in the life of God. If we could eliminate weakness from our lives we’d do it in a heartbeat. So as we take this month to look at the weakness of God expect to be offended. We don’t like to think about it. But listen to how the Bible describes God’s messiah…and the reaction of people to him: He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Isaiah 53:2,3 People were offended at the messiah. He wasn’t what they wanted him to be. So weakness first offends us but if we can push past it, weakness can change us. Second, meditating on the weakness of God of will cause you to listen. If you know that God might whisper then suddenly your listening gets better, doesn’t it? You aren’t so quick to dismiss a thought or a word that comes to you. You aren’t so quick to discount your boss, or spouse, or children, or even an enemy. When you understand the weakness of God you realize that God can speak through anyone. Third, meditating on the weakness of God will cause you to be humble. If God reveals himself in weakness then maybe being weak isn’t so bad. Maybe I don’t have to hide my weakness. I can embrace it and even admit it. I was counseling someone yesterday from out of town who suffers from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). He wondered if I knew much about it. I told him I didn’t but the same holds true for most of our problems. If you want freedom from a problem it helps to tell people about it rather than hide it. Three things happen when you tell people your problem: one, you stop having a secret. Two, you find out that there are many other people out there with the same struggle. And three, people can now help you. But if you are offended by weakness you will never want to humble yourself.
Fourth, when you meditate on the weakness of God you will hear the voice of the weak. You see, many of us are trained to just hear the voice of the powerful, the successful, or the beautiful. But when you are no longer offended by weakness and able to walk in humility, you start to hear the voice of the weak, and the dismissed, and the poor, and the forgotten and marginalized. Humility trains your ears to hear new voices. And finally, when you meditate on the weakness of God you will want to help the weak. Once you start to hear the voice of the weak it won’t be long before you want to help the weak. I hope that happens to us this Christmas season. Christmas is a perfect time to not only talk about weakness but to help the weak and forgotten. The last few years Cedarbrook has joined a national movement: the Advent Conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy because hundreds of churches conspire to spend less on ourselves in order to help others. In your bulletin today we have an envelope. Please pull it out. The idea is that we all reduce our Christmas spending by at least one gift and then use that money to help dig a well or stock the food panty. Last year I think we raised over $20,000 to dig wells in Haiti and stock the food shelves at Stepping Stones here in town. But my point is…this is the kind of thing that happens when we meditate on the weakness of God: we start to see differently and think differently and then we start to live differently. I hope you’ll come back next week as we continue to explore this idea. Prayer: Father, forgive us for being offended by weakness: not just the weakness that you’ve manifested but our own weakness. You have accepted us in all of our weakness. Help us to accepted ourselves and help us to accept each other. Please use us this Christmas season to hear the voice of the weak and forgotten and meet their needs. Amen. Going Deeper: Use the following questions for personal reflection and/or to discuss with family, friends and small group. 1. What is your gut reaction to the phrase “the weakness of god”? What images and/or feelings does it bring to mind? Why do you think that is? 2. How does our culture encourage us to cover up our weaknesses? What businesses do well at making us feel inadequate without their product? 3. Read 1 Kings 19:1-18. Elijah was full of fear and literally wanted to die. Then God showed up. Elijah traveled to Mt. Horeb (also known as Mt. Sinai, where God gave the Ten Commandments). What do you think Elijah may have expected to experience at that place? What did he experience instead? How would you feel if you were Elijah in that moment?
4. Read Isaiah 53:1-5. This is a prophetic look at the life of God’s messiah. If you were from Israel, is this the kind of person you’d expect for your messiah? How would it feel to hear these words when you are under the constant attack of an oppressive country? 5. What are the five things Remy said you should prepare to experience in the study of the weakness of God? Do you agree? 6. How do you feel about exploring this topic and growing in these areas? 7. Pray to ask God to open your eyes to see another side to his character.
the weakness of god Part Two: Embracing Weakness F. Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church 12.09.12 Outline: 1. Strength comforts us. Weakness scares us. 2. Jesus’ family tree a. had two of the most evil men in history. b. showed all men except four women. 3. Women weren’t considered merely weak but worthless: a. Left to die b. Always owned, like a slave 4. Jesus isn’t afraid to associate with this “weakness”. 5. The women in Jesus’ family tree were scandalous: a. Tamar: deceit, prostitution b. Rahab: prostitution c. Ruth: Moabite d. Bathsheba: adulterer 6. Jesus redefines weakness: a. in Christ there is no weakness. b. weakness is a stage for God to reveal his greatness. Message: What’s the top selling movie of 2012? The Avengers. The Avengers is a story of how six comic book action figures save the world from evil: Iron Man, Captain America, The Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye, and the Incredible Hulk. Over Thanksgiving my family watched it together. We got the movie because a friend of a friend of one of my kids said it was a “must see” movie. Not so sure about that! But if I had to guess what people like about The Avengers, and other super hero movies, it’s the fascination with power. They fulfill our fantasy of being weak and always having the power to overcome obstacles. I think the Iron Man character is especially attractive because he doesn’t have any super power of his own. He’s as weak as the next guy but his Iron Man suit gives him the power…and who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want to be able to push a button and have their greatest weakness turn into strength? I mention this because this month I’m talking about the opposite of strength. I’m talking about weakness, specifically: the weakness of God. That’s not something we typically like to talk
about. We like to talk about heroes. We like to talk about overcoming weakness. We turn to God because we’re weak and he’s strong. But oddly, God often reveals himself to us in weakness. The best example is Jesus coming into the world as a baby. But not just a baby: a baby born into poverty to a young girl in a stable. Who comes to visit him but shepherds? The lowest class people. That might all seem quaint to us today. We like manger scenes and grade school programs with Mary and baby Jesus. We like to sing carols about the silent night and the three wise men. But in the eyes of the world at the time, the scene must have been fairly pathetic, not to mention smelly. I mean, are you kidding? What kind of god would enter the world this way? Come on…go get a better story! So I have to think that, if God chose to enter the world in weakness then there must be more to weakness than we realize. There must be something that is even good about weakness if we are open to it. And so I’m taking this month to look at this idea. You see, the reason this is so important is that God continues to show up in weakness today. For every great story of God showing up in an amazing way for someone… there are probably a number of people saying…that’s not true for me. When I prayed, nothing happened. When I prayed for my marriage, we got divorced. When I prayed for healing, I got worse. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s embarrassing. It’s offensive. It even causes some people to turn away from God. Strength comforts us. But weakness scares us. We don’t know what to do with weakness. We don’t know what category to put it in. But what I want us to see today is that God is not only in strength, God’s in weakness too. Just because we don’t see him in weakness, doesn’t mean that he’s not there. I want to take us into the book of Matthew this morning. Chapter one. Matthew introduces Jesus to his readers by doing a very Jewish thing, he recounts Jesus’ genealogy. They may not know Jesus but they probably know someone in his family tree… A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah… Matthew 1:1-3 Most people skip over this section. It’s like, blah, blah, blah, yada yada yada. Who cares? But if you look at this you’ll find some interesting names. First, there are some evil people in Jesus’ family tree: Ahaz and Manasseh. They were the most ungodly, ruthless, evil kings ever. Both of them sacrificed their children to pagan gods and they both slaughtered thousands of people. Jesus not only came out of weakness. He came out of evil. But there are four other names here that stand out. If you notice, this genealogy lists the men in Jesus’ family tree on his father’s side. But surprisingly, Matthew mentions the name of four women: Tamar, Ruth, Rahab and…this is interesting…Matthew doesn’t even mention her name. He says “Uriah’s wife” which is Bathsheba.
Why would Matthew mention these women? The reason I ask is because women in ancient times were seen as weak. In some cases it was worse than that. Women were seen as worthless. I’ve been reading through a great book by John Ortberg. It’s called Who Is This Man? We have a number of these available for sale in the lobby. I highly recommend it. Ortberg gives a lot of historical background to Jesus’ story. One of the areas of history is that of women. He says that… in ancient times, for every 140 men there were only 100 women. It should be equal, right? 140 women for 140 men. What happened to the other women? They were left to die. Girls were considered so worthless that they were left alongside the road to die of exposure unless someone took pity and took one home. Ortberg quotes from a first-century letter from a husband to his pregnant wife that is telling: If you are delivered of a child [before I come home] if it is a boy, keep it; if a girl, discard it. By Roman Law, a father was required to raise all healthy male children, but only the firstborn female; any others were disposable. According to a Greek poet; “Everyone raises a son even if he is poor but exposes a daughter even if he is rich.” Posidippus (third century BC), So in a culture where girls were discarded simply for their gender, Jesus’ biographer goes out of his way to include four women into his genealogy. He made sure that the “weakness” of women is part of Jesus’ story. Interesting. Why did Matthew do this? I think it’s because he spent three years following Jesus, watching Jesus interact with women and valuing women by listening to them and including them. Let’s look at just one of these interactions. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?"…The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" John 4:7-9 He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back." "I have no husband," she replied. Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. John 4:16-19 Now, if you’ve ever read anything about this encounter or heard any sermons, most people assume this woman had loose morals. She’s a tramp…going from man to man to man. But the text never says that. People read that into the text from their own bias against women. The truth is, back then, women didn’t have the right to divorce their husband. Only husbands had the right to divorce and they could divorce for any reason. So if the woman had five husbands it wasn’t necessarily because of her morals. She was the victim of serial rejection by men. Just like some men cast off girl babies at birth other men cast off women from marriage.
You might say, But she was living with a man. Yes, but we can’t read into the story what “living together” means today. Today, living together implies sex between a couple. But there are many reasons she might be living with a man. He might take pity on her and just give her a place to stay. She might be a friend of the family. She might be a slave. And then, she could be a concubine or mistress. My point is, we don’t know. We shouldn’t be making a moral judgment. The real issue here is that the woman was a victim of intense rejection and Jesus knew that. Jesus didn’t reject her. He wasn’t afraid to associate with her. He dignified her existence by speaking to her and offering her new life. So maybe Matthew had this encounter in mind when he mentioned the four women in Jesus’ genealogy. The apostle Paul understood this about Jesus as well. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:36-28 Paul told the church, in Christ, we are all equal. There aren’t winners and losers. There aren’t strong and weak. Everyone is strong and everyone wins in Christ. Paul knew, like Matthew knew, that Jesus wasn’t afraid to associate with whom the world called weak. To fully appreciate what Paul said, I need to give you some more background here. In ancient Athens, girls were considered to be property, like a slave. Because of this they received little or no education. Only boys were educated. Girls were legally classified as a “child” no matter how old they were or how smart they were. Because girls were considered property, they were “given” in marriage. Even today, in traditional weddings, the pastor asks, Who gives this woman to be married to this man? That’s a holdover from 2000 years ago when women were considered property of the father or the husband. To marry off your daughter was to transfer some of your property to another man. That’s why a bride price was often paid for the “property”. It’s for this same reason that if a woman was raped, the law didn’t require that the woman be compensated for the violation. Either the husband or the father was compensated. And that’s also why a woman never received an inheritance when her father or husband died. She was merely one of his possessions. It would be like giving an inheritance to a slave. The inheritance was only given to sons. If there were no sons, the inheritance would to the next male relative. So, with this in mind, let’s go back to the verse that I quoted. For you are all sons (children) of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:36-28
Some translations say, “For you are all children”. That misses the point here. Paul is saying, in Christ, slaves and women get the same benefits as sons. In the world, only sons are heirs. But in God’s family, daughters receive the same inheritance as do sons. You are all sons. “Sons” is a legal term. Where did Paul get this radical idea about the equality of women? From Jesus. Jesus turned common knowledge upside down and valued the weakest people in that culture. In fact, if you keep reading in Matthew or Luke, it’s women who dominate the Christmas story. The birth of Jesus focuses on Mary and Elizabeth and even a prophetess by the name of Anna. Keep reading about the ministry of Jesus, and again he’s surrounded by women. At his death it’s women who are there with him. And when he is resurrected it is women who are entrusted with telling the good news to others. Throughout history, women have filled churches more often than men. Why? Because, while the world often treats women as weak or worthless, Jesus treated women with dignity and full equality to men. He wasn’t afraid to associate with the “weakness” of women. Before I finish, let me return to the four women in Jesus’ genealogy. These women all have a fairly scandalous story. • Tamar: She tricked her father-in-law into having sex with him so she could have a child. • Ruth: was from Moab, a nation that came from Moab who was the product of incest. • Rahab: was a Canaanite prostitute. • Bathsheba: committed adultery with King David. You thought your family was messy. You’ve got nothing on Jesus. But this is how Jesus and we are different. Jesus isn’t afraid to claim the dark side of his family tree. He wears these weaknesses like a badge of honor…not because of the sin involved in each story but because of what God did through these women in spite of their sin. You know…Jesus looks at you the same way. There’s nothing you’ve done that will make Jesus turn his back on you. What you call weakness, Jesus calls opportunity. You see, Jesus redefines weakness. In Christ there is no weakness. That’s a social construct that we’ve created. That’s a term, or a concept, that we’ve coined based on comparing ourselves to others. For God… weakness is a stage for him to reveal his greatness. It’s a launching pad for God to do something special. The weakness of God doesn’t mean that God is inept: unable to accomplish something. The weakness of God means that God comes in unexpected ways…in ways that humans often call weak. That’s why we have to be so careful to see what God is doing and not discount the weak thing. We’ll look more at that next week. Prayer: Father, the world has chosen to call women weak and even worthless. But you have chosen to come along side women, dignifying them in Jesus…restoring their true value. Women embody the message of how you work in weakness to do great things. Forgive us for how we are offended by weakness. Forgive us for rejecting the weak…including women. Help us to offer
dignity to every living person because every person has the potential for you to manifest your goodness in them. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ""Abba", Father." 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. Galatians 4 Going Deeper: Use the following questions for personal reflection and to discuss with friends, family, a small group of friends. 1. What do you know about your family tree? Are there any people in your tree that you rather not mention? Are there people in your family that would rather not mention you??? 2. Read through Jesus’ family tree in Matthew 1. To learn more about two of Jesus’ great grandfathers read 2 Chronicles 28 (Ahaz) and 2 Kings 21 (Manasseh). Why do you think Matthew took the time to introduce Jesus with this checkered family tree? 3. In Matthew 1, find the four women mentioned. What do you know about these women? Read Genesis 38 for the story of Tamar. Why did Matthew bother to mention these four when every other reference is to men? 4. Women play a central role in the story of Jesus entering the world. Besides Mary, who are two other key players? Luke 1:5-25 and 2:36-38. What were the weaknesses associated with these three women? 5. Read Galatians 3:26-29. Remy pointed out that women had no right to their father’s inheritance, only sons. What is the significance of this verse in Roman culture? Some translations refer to being “children of God” vs. “sons”. Why is using “sons” here important? 6. Remy said that Jesus redefined weakness. How so? What do you think that means? How does that change your perspective on your own weaknesses?
the weakness of god Part Three: Owning Our Weakness By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church 12.16.12 Outline: 1. The Corinthian church was embarrassed by Paul. • Paul’s life was weak compared to other ministers. 2. Paul called on the church to imitate his life. • Paul’s faith was focused on internal transformation not external success. 3. Paul embraced weakness because • It puts our focus on God not us. • It ultimately leads to strength. 4. Pride and impatience insist on success now but humility allows us to endure weakness as “light and momentary troubles” in hope of glory later. 5. The Christmas story reminds us that God came to be with us in our weakness not rescue us from it. His second coming will do that.
Message: I think everyone has heard by now about the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. 20 children and seven adults were shot in cold blood. So I’m just going to ask the question that many people are asking: Where was God? Christians talk about an all loving, all-powerful God. So where was he? Doesn’t something like this undermine the Christian message? How can you believe in God when he doesn’t show up? People have been asking these questions for centuries. They’re fair questions. If God exists and God is all-powerful, then logic tells us that bad things shouldn’t happen, right? The apostle Paul faced these same questions 2000 years ago. People were wondering much the same thing. They wondered why Paul promoted a god that seemed so pathetically weak: born in a manger and crucified on a cross. Today we are going to look at two letters that Paul wrote to a group of people in the city of Corinth, Greece. The Corinthians had two words for his message: Foolish and Weak. They served gods like Zeus, Thor, and Hercules: gods of power. The story of Jesus was shameful to them. No one likes to be criticized but what must have really hurt Paul was that the criticism didn’t just come from outsiders. It came from Christians. It came from people that he loved and served and for whom he sacrificed. They were embarrassed of his ministry of weakness.
So Paul writes to them in defense of his ministry. But surprisingly, he doesn’t object to their choice of the words: foolish and weak, he owns them. It’s like he said, You want to call my message foolish and weak? Okay, fine. I’ll own that. You are right. From your perspective, I can see why it looks that way. Let me tell you why, what you call weak and foolish, is actually a good thing. Let me tell you about the wisdom of weakness.” Paul starts by reminding them that THEY are weak. Before they criticize his message they should take a look at their own lives. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 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. God 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 1:26-29 He says, You should be happy that my message is weak because it should remind you that God works with weak people. The gospel isn’t for the strong. It’s for the weak. Do you see that phrase: God chose the weak things? The word “chose” tells me that God is very intentional in choosing the weak. He doesn’t choose the weak because he has to. It’s as if weak things have a special place in God’s plan. That which is weak is a part of his overall strategy. In saying this, Paul starts to unravel the mystery of weakness. God STARTS with weakness. But he never ends in weakness. He takes what is humble and makes it great. God starts with what’s broken then transforms it. That’s why Paul continues here… It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 1 Corinthians 1:30 God took them in their weakness and produced in them righteousness, holiness and redemption. So Paul starts by telling them they were once weak. Then he agrees with them about his own weakness. He admits that he is still weak: And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul compares himself here to other preachers who traveled through Greece. They were slick. They were flashy. They had the same speaking skills of the great Greek orators of the time. And they accused Paul of being a loser. They asked, why do you listen to Paul? He’s in jail half the time. He has no home. He’s always in need of money. You need to follow winners like us.
We get a feel for what these preachers were like by reading Paul’s words: Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit (like they do). On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity (not insincerity like they do), as those sent from God. 2 Corinthians 2:1,2 …we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways (unlike these preachers); we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God (like them). 2 Corinthians 4:1,2 I do not think I am in the least inferior to those "super-apostles." I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge… For such persons are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. 2 Corinthians 11:5,6, 13-15 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with any who enslave you or exploit you or take advantage of you or push themselves forward or slap you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! 2 Corinthians 11:19-21 That gives us a feel for what he’s up against…whom he is being compared to. And Paul, says, you are right, compared to them I’m terrible. I don’t hold a candle to them. Frankly, I’m pathetic. But catch what he’s saying here. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power. 1 Corinthians 2:5 God didn’t make Paul a powerful preacher. But God still did powerful things through Paul’s ministry. Paul was willing to preach in weakness BECAUSE he knew that God shows up in weakness. Paul is saying, Look, these other preachers might look like winners on the outside. But they lack something on the inside. They lack character. They lack integrity. They lack the presence of God in their lives. Then he says… We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world--right up to this moment. 1 Corinthians 4:11-13 He’s telling the Corinthians that their “so-called” strength has turned to pride. But his weakness led to humility. What looks more like Jesus: strength and pride or weakness and humility? And so he makes this shocking statement: I urge you to imitate me. 1 Corinthians 4:16
Do you catch the irony in this? They are mocking him and he says, YOU SHOULD BE LIKE ME. You shouldn’t mock me. You should be like me. My weakness is a model for you to emulate. Faith isn’t always about being strong, looking good, being the winner. Faith is about living the transformed life. It’s about exhibiting character in the midst of weakness. Our weakness shouldn’t define us. What should define us is how we respond to weakness. Paul responded to weakness with blessing, endurance, and kindness. But the Corinthians weren’t grasping the value of weakness. So in Paul’s letter he took them deep into an understanding of weakness. He knew what it was like to be weak. He knew what it was like to not have God show up in powerful ways to rescue him. But he also knew the value in embracing weakness. In chapter eleven he compares himself to the super apostles: Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 2 Corinthians 11:23-25 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own people, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 2 Corinthians 11:26,27 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 2 Corinthians 11:28-20 Paul embraced weakness because it helped him identify with hurting people. He said, these super preachers roll through town and tell you how to live. They even have the audacity to slap you and you think that shows their power and authority. But I am with you in weakness, to help you, serve you, and make you more like Christ. But, as if his circumstantial weakness wasn’t enough, Paul had additional weakness. He had some kind of physical pain… … to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 There’s that theme again. Paul says that God’s power is perfected, or brought to its full expression, in weakness. This seems contradictory. It doesn’t make sense. What does power have
to do with weakness? But Paul came to appreciate weakness. He’s wasn’t ashamed of it. It didn’t embarrass him. In fact he said… Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9,10 Paul embraced weakness because it put his focus on God and it ultimately leads to strength. Plus, Paul knew that weakness was just a passing phase. It wasn’t his ultimate destination. So he could tolerate suffering now. American slaves understood this concept. They produced a whole genre of music called “black gospel” that centered around enduring hardships believing that a better day was coming. Most people don’t have that kind of faith. We don’t want to wait for future glory. We want it now. But Paul says it well… …we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. Just remember what Paul is calling “light and momentary troubles:” shipwrecks, imprisonment, near death experiences. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen (weakness), but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Pride and impatience insist on success now but humility allows us to endure weakness as “light and momentary troubles” in hope of glory later. Many people come to Christ because they are promised that turning to Jesus will solve all their problems. These are the people that are offended at this idea of the weakness of God. No one ever told them about weakness so they can feel like they are the victim of “bait and switch”…they came to God thinking that God was a problem solver and now they are disillusioned. And that’s also why - when they read about 27 people being shot - they don’t have a theology that allows for that. But Paul never promised that God will only come in strength. And, in case you haven’t noticed, that’s not what the Christmas story is all about. It’s not a story of strength but of weakness. Not only is Jesus born in weakness but he and his family have to run to Egypt to escape from the strength of Herod. Herod is the picture of strength. Jesus, and his family, are a picture of weakness. The Christmas story reminds us that God came to be with us in our weakness not rescue us from it. His second coming will do that. The Bible tells us that when Jesus returns, he will come in strength.
So what I’m trying to do here is to appeal to us to allow weakness to be a part of our story. It’s not something to hide from or cover over, apologize for, or explain away. We can be honest about our weaknesses. And we can be honest about the “weakness” of God too. God may not show up in the way we want him too but he’s here. He’s with us if we only have eyes to see him. He may not solve all of our problems in dramatic ways, but he is still present and at work in our lives. God doesn’t promise that suffering won’t happen. It does. This week, evil has shocked us. But let’s not spend our time complaining about it or running from it. Let’s look to God to reveal himself to us in amazing ways. God is a master at turning good out of evil. So that’s the hope I hold out for the 27 families in Connecticut and everyone else suffering on the planet today. We don’t survive evil by hiding from it. We overcome evil by inviting God into the midst of it. Prayer: Father, forgive us for insisting that you always come in power: that you act like the Fairy God Mother and solve all our problems. I ask you to come into our weakness: Come into Newtown, CT, come into our bad marriages, come into our upside down finances, come into our cancer diagnoses and bad health, come into our weak faith, and broken relationships, and our depression…and do what only you can do with weakness: transform it by your power so that your name might be praised by those who know us. Amen. Going Deeper: Use the following questions for personal reflections and to discuss with family, friends and your small group. 1. Think of a time when something good came out of something bad in your life. Describe what happened. What did you want to happen? How much of the “good” came about as a result of you reframing the situation, that is, being able to SEE something good? 2. Paul has a running argument with the Corinthian church. They were ashamed of his life. They thought he should be more successful. They weren’t so sure they should follow his teaching. Read through his letters to catch the argument: a. 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 b. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 c. 2 Corinthians 11:7-30 d. 2 Corinthians 12:7-12 e. 2 Corinthians 13:2-5 3. Put into your own words how the Corinthians felt about Paul. 4. Put into your own words how Paul understood weakness. 5. Why was Paul willing to embrace weakness? What are the benefits of weakness? 6. Be honest: is your view of weakness more like Paul’s view or that of the Corinthians? 7. The world often calls aspects of our faith “weak”. What are some other words that describe what Paul refers to as weakness? 8. How does this message of “weakness” relate to the Christmas story?
the weakness of god Part Four: God with us. By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church 12.23.12 Outline: 1. Herod was the picture of strength a. Born of noble birth b. Connected to Roman power c. Wielded control over millions d. Was a great builder e. Had cities named after him f. Show merciless power g. Called Herod THE GREAT and King of the Jews h. Died with a legacy 2. Jesus was the picture of weakness a. A child b. Born out of wedlock c. Was seen as a rebel d. Built nothing e. Nothing was named after him f. Offered himself as a servant g. Was mocked as “King of the Jews” h. Left no impressive legacy 3. The first Christmas’ were noted for poverty, bloodshed, and oppression. 4. When Jesus came into the world, nothing changed. 5. Miracles aside, God’s work often starts small. 6. Invite God into your mess and let the transformation begin. Message This month I’ve been talking about the weakness of God. Now, that term has confused a few people. I’m not saying that God is weak. What I mean is that God doesn’t always show up in our lives the way we want him to. He doesn’t come in and solve all our problems for us. And that disappoints us. It makes us FEEL like God is weak. We don’t always want to admit that. We might be embarrassed to admit it. But it’s true. So I’m just trying to get us to be honest about how we feel and deal with an aspect to God that we don’t always talk about. Christmas is a perfect time to talk about it because Jesus entered the world in the “weakness” of a baby.
I think the Klem’s situation is a good example. Here’s a nine-year-old boy with a cancerous brain tumor. It would be easy for people to look at this and say, Where is God? Why is Isaiah and his family having to put up with this, especially at Christmas? (as if God should somehow ban all suffering in December). It just seems wrong. You might say, Come on God…can’t you do better than this? We want to pray and have it all go away…make everyone happy. Sometimes that happens. We calls those “miracles”. But typically, life stays the same and we learn to adjust. That’s what the Klem’s have done. They’ve been stretched every way possible: physically, emotionally, and financially. So, is God to blame for this or can we find another way to look at all this? I’m suggesting that there’s another way – a better way – to look at this. This morning I want to consider a person noted in the introduction to the Christmas story. In the time of Herod king of Judea. Luke 1:5 I want you to put yourself mentally back in this time. If you lived back then, how would you define greatness? And how would you define weakness? You wouldn’t describe weakness in an entertainer or an athlete. It definitely wouldn’t be in a priest or a rabbi. Greatness looked like a king or a commander of an army. So Herod was the model for greatness. John Ortberg put it like this: Herod— not Jesus— would have been the picture of greatness. Born of noble birth, leader of armies, Herod was so highly regarded by the Roman Senate that they gave him the title “King of the Jews” when he was only thirty-three years old. He was so politically skilled that he held on to his throne for forty years, In the ancient world, all sympathies would have rested with Herod. He was nearer to the gods, guardian of the Pax Romana (Roman Peace), adviser to Caesar. Who is This Man? Herod was the picture of strength. He was born into a power family. He was appointed a ruler by Rome at the age of only 25. He was given the title “Herod the Great”. Not many people have been granted that moniker. One of the most impressive feats of Herod was his building accomplishments. I have some pictures to show you here: • Herod’s Temple: He restored the Jewish Temple and made it immense. Streets were paved, sewers were built, and water carriers were constructed to make Jerusalem one of the great cities of the world. • Masada: Contained both a palace and a fortress. • Caesarea with its Amphitheater, Hippodrome and man made harbor. Caesarea was almost completely covered with imported marble. • Herodium Palace: In its day, Herodium was one of the largest palaces in the GrecoRoman world. At his death his body was placed on a golden plank studded with gemstones and draped in royal purple, with a scepter in his right hand and a gold crown on his head. His numerous family arranged themselves around the plank, together with his army dressed in full battle array and 500 servants and freed slaves carrying spices.
Together they escorted Herod 25 long, hot miles. His body was laid to rest in a 30 x 30 mauseoleum that stood seven stories and was built of white limestone. This is what strength looked like. This is what greatness looked like in that day. Herod was on the cover of all the magazines. He put Israel on the map. For that, the Jews loved him. But for everything else, they hated him. He was immoral. He was cruel. He taxed the Jews to build pagan temples. Their hope was that one day God would send someone even greater than Herod to set things right. The Old Testament promised that a messiah, a son of King David, would rule the land. A deliverer. As powerful as Herod was, God’s messiah would be greater. It was like, just wait. When God’s man comes on the scene…he’s gonna kick Herod’s but. Herod might be great. But God’s man will be greater. That’s what people talked about standing around the water cooler at work. That’s what they talked about in the salon or when they were chilling at the local tavern. Just like today, people trash talked the ruling power and imagined a better day. So, given that expectation, it’s interesting – with 20/20 hindsight - to know what God actually did. While people were expecting someone greater than Herod to emerge, God was preparing a young girl to give birth to a baby. Put yourself in the shoes of Jews 2000 years ago and my guess is that’s not the story you wanted to hear. You are looking to be DELIVERED, not inspired by some middle school girl. This is what I want us to understand: God’s idea of salvation and our idea of salvation can be greatly different. What God wants to do in your life and what you want God to do can be worlds apart. In fact, God’s idea of salvation can be so different from ours that we miss what God is doing all together. Think about it. When Jesus was born, only a handful of people were present. A few people understood what God was doing, but most people missed it. It takes a special kind of person to accept God in his way. We tend to only accept God when his ways match our desire. I’d imagine most people scoffed at the idea of God’s messiah coming as a baby. And can you blame them? Herod was the picture of strength but Jesus was the picture of weakness. Jesus came as a defenseless baby, born out of wedlock and into poverty. When he grew up – unlike Herod - he built nothing, held no office, ruled over no territory. As the poem, One Solitary Life says, He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness.
At the time of his death, he had few followers, he left no legacy, and nothing was named after him. No one referred to him as “Jesus the Great.” At his death he was called “King of the Jews” but only in mocking sarcasm. Unlike Herod’s seven-story mausoleum, Jesus’ body was laid in a donated cave. I realize this isn’t new information to most of us. But what I want us to see is how disappointing the birth and death of Jesus must have been to the Jews. His birth went almost entirely unnoticed and his death caused deep disillusionment. This is what I mean by the weakness of God. Today we fondly tell the Christmas story. It’s cute. It’s quaint. We sing songs about it and put manger scenes on our mantels and hang angels on our trees. But there was nothing cute or quaint about the first Christmas. The Bible says that Caesar demanded a census. In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world… And everyone went to his own town to register. Luke 2:1,3 The census was taken to enable Rome to make sure they were taxing everyone. Luke is reminding his readers about Rome’s oppression. Mary and Joseph had to travel three days to get there…pregnant. It may sound funny but a woman ready to give birth doesn’t want to travel three hours by car, let alone three DAYS walking or riding a donkey. But it got more serious. After Jesus was born, Herod heard that a child had been born king of the Jews he took it as a personal threat and killed every child two years old and younger. Herod … gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, Matthew 2:16 The first two Christmas’ were known for poverty, bloodshed and oppression. I was speaking with a mother the other day and she said this Christmas is not fun for her. The Newtown massacre and the pain of some families she knows has made her sad. It’s put a cloud over her Christmas. And I thought, this Christmas is probably more reflective of the first Christmas than we realize. We have projected all kinds of happy ideas onto Christmas. But the first Christmas wasn’t a happy time, before or after Jesus came on the scene. When Jesus was born, problems weren’t solved… peace didn’t break out. Evil wasn’t banished. Poverty wasn’t eliminated. When Jesus entered the world…nothing changed except that God was with us and we had hope that things would eventually change. Christmas simply celebrates that God invaded history and became one of us. He entered our mess. But he didn’t clean the mess up. Not yet. There are some of us here who need to understand this about God. You might be too embarrassed to admit it, but in your heart right now you are saying,
Yes, you are right. God has not always met my needs the way I wanted him to. I believe he’s in my life, but nothing’s changed. I’m still sick. My marriage still struggles. I’m still single. I’m still broke. But remember, strength isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. As powerful as Herod was, and as impressive as were his accomplishments, Herod died in agony and was hated by his family. Herod’s kingdom was split between his three sons who quickly squandered any dynasty that Herod had built up. People quickly forgot about Herod. His Temple was destroyed and his building projects lie in ruins today. On the other hand, Jesus was born in weakness. He never built a building but he continues to build his church. He had no earthly kingdom but his kingdom spreads into new hearts every day. Do you see what I’m saying? God often comes in what might be called weakness but ends in glory. He came the first time in a whisper but the Bible says the second time he’ll come with a shout. Jesus said his kingdom is like a mustard seed. It starts small but becomes the biggest bush in the garden. And so this Christmas, be careful what you call weak. Be careful what you dismiss. Don’t be too quick to accuse God of not showing up in your life. You might object. You might say, what good is it to have God in my life if he doesn’t fix what’s broken in my life? I would say that he’s doing more than you realize. Think of it this way. If you are five years old and have to get a shot, do you want to be all by yourself or do you want your mom or dad sitting by your side? If you had loving parents, you want them by your side. Why? The shot will hurt just as much with or without them, for two reasons. First, your parents will comfort you. They’ll tell you that they care about your pain. Somehow the pain doesn’t hurt so much with them there. Second, you’ll be encouraged. You know it’s not the end of the world. Their presence gives you hope. They congratulate you for overcoming. And it’s the same with God. There’s value in just knowing that God is with you. Years ago I was talking to a couple about their problems. They were legion. They had financial problems. They had marital problems. They had mental health problems. And I think they wanted me to tell them that God was going to solve all their problems. But I was just real honest. I said, I can’t promise you that. You’ve got some big problems and there are no quick solutions. But here’s the deal: you can go through life with all these problems, with God or without him. Which do you prefer? The husband looked at me, kind of shocked, and he said; I’ve never thought about it that way before. I guess I’d like God to be with me in all this mess. So I led him in a prayer to invite Jesus into his life, to be with him in the mess.
You see, I think that’s the message of Christmas: God came to join us in our mess, not solve our problems. And so, let me ask you the same question: Do you want to walk through the mess with Jesus or without him? Can you invite God into your life without any conditions? Without any guarantees that God will solve your problems? Prayer: Jesus, we want to thank you for coming into the world. You are Emmanuel. God with us. Some of us here are walking alone. Might today be the day that changes. Might Christmas 2012 be the moment they welcome you into their lives to be with them and guide them through the good and the bad of life. Help them find the strength and wisdom they need to overcome the world. Going Deeper: 1. Recall these major events in Jesus’ life. How do they show what some might call “weakness”? a. Birth (Luke 2:1-20) b. Ministry begins (John 2:1-10) c. Entry (John 12:12-16) d. Last Supper (John 13:1-16) e. Gethsemene (Luke 22:39-53) f. Calvary (Luke 23:44-49) 2. Peter was not the only one disillusioned by Jesus not being the strong messiah he hoped for. Read John 6:56-66. How have you been disillusioned by Jesus? 3. Remy said, “What God starts in ‘weakness’ he finishes in glory.” Do you agree? Can you give examples of this from both the Bible and life? 4. After this four-week study, what have you learned about God’s, so-called “weakness”? How does this help you better understand how God works in your life?
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?