THE POWER OF GOD
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
How did I arrive at the sermon which I have today?
Well the lectionary theme for this Sunday the fifth after Easter is about is all about 'Christ breaking through the barrier of sin and death allowing us to break into an entirely new way of living which continues into eternity.' So I was reading around ideas and passages of the bible and I read a sermon illustration which used a fable.
It goes as follows
Once upon a time a man found the egg of an eagle. It had been abandoned for some reason by its mother, but as it was still warm the man took it and put it in the nest of one of his backyard chickens along with the other eggs that were there being brooded upon. After a period of time the eaglet was hatched, and along with the other chicks from his nest began to go about the backyard doing what the other chicks did. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He looked for the corn that the man would throw into the yard. He clucked and cackled as best as he could, and as he grew, he would, like the other chickens, thrash his wings and fly a few feet in the air. Years passed in this way and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird far above him in the cloudless sky. It glided majestically among the powerful wind currents, soaring and swooping, scarcely beating its long golden wings. The old eagle looked at it in awe and asked "what is that" "That is the eagle, the king of the birds", said one of his neighbours. "He belongs to the sky and to the high places. We belong to the earth, we are chickens." The old eagle knew this was true, and so it was he lived and died as a chicken, for that is what he believed he was.
And the message that was drawn from this was that we need to believe in new possibilities, just as the eagle needed to be changed in his belief of himself. This is only very partially true. What we believe is important, BUT who we believe in as Christians is what matters, meeting with the person of Jesus and being changed not by our belief in ourselves but if you like, by his belief in us.
'We are changed and enabled by the power of God not by anything within us. '
And so I embarked this week upon a study of the word power; specifically the word 'power' as it is spoken of in the New Testament about God. Today I want to share with you some of the things which I found helpful. This is a sort of Bible study, its not exhaustive, but apart from Revelation, I have I think taken most of the references to power in the New Testament which speak of God's power in Christ and in us and made sure they are represented and given due recognition.. This gives us a representative picture of what we mean by 'power' for the Christian.
This very word power can be a problem to us because for many it isn't culturally appropriate to speak of power and faith in the same sentence, we have memories of the crusades. Macho theology is frowned upon and there has been a sort of emasculated picture of God presented to us. The God who rode into battle in front of the Israelites has been traded for a kind of Divine Wimp who loves us a lot, but can't really do anything about it. I was reading that an American drug has come onto the market recently to cure male impotence and it is already outselling Prozac in the USA, apparently shares in the company have rocketed over here because they expect this new wonder drug to be well used. I don't want to make light of a serious medical condition but many theologians have noted that throughout history we have painted God in our own contemporary image. I have to say that the picture of God painted by many through the last century has been an impotent God. Christians need to be reminded that we do not have an impotent God we have an omnipotent God. Instead we have almost been embarrassed by our God and his greatness instead of standing in awe and worship.
Indeed there are some who have dared to suggest that all religions are on the same level, that the power of our faith is no different from any other religious expression. How many times have you heard it said that all religions are like different paths going up the same hill and they all lead to the top. Well I have no idea where other religions lead and I'll happily leave that to God but do not be deceived into thinking that all religions are the same. As Christians we must never be tempted to reduce our Christian faith, or the one true God whom we worship. The difference between our faith and other faiths is that we believe what we have been told by God himself in Christ. Other faiths rely on what they have learned about God from human sources and as such they are flawed. It is Christ who sets us apart, and because Christ was divine our faith is supernatural - supernatural faith and not natural faith. We have a supernatural faith, not a human attempt to grapple with understanding God. Of course this means that the power which we have from Christ is not natural power it is supernatural power. By supernatural I mean not explained by natural or physical laws. There are lots of powerful things around, but you and I have access to the most powerful power source in the universe, God the Creator.
I think it is only when we allow our minds to grasp that fact that we can begin to live the Christian life.
- It is only then that we will stop being afraid of what other people think of us.
- It is only then that we will allow God to have say in how we live our lives
- It is only then that we will realise that we don't have to apologise for our beliefs to an arrogant world
- It is only then ……….. and so we could go on.
The point being that we cannot have confidence
- in ourselves as Christians,
- in our belief structure,
- in our church or whatever else until we have confidence in God and in his power.
So let's take a look at this power of God from the pages of the New Testament and see what it is like and what it can do for us. How can the power of God make a difference to me, my church, my friends?
POWER IN JESUS
The life of Jesus was characterised by supernatural power. Let's look at some verses which speak about power in Jesus. And so we will see from this study through the New Testament that power is spoken of many times in the same sentence as Jesus.
We are told that Jesus had power on him, that when he healed the power went out from him. Power surrounded Jesus, it was supernatural, not normal physical or natural power, divine power. But let's think about this power for a few moments. This power was given to Jesus not so that he could use it for himself. You will remember that he refused to turn stones into bread, that he wouldn't do it for public acclaim etc. It was there to empower Jesus to do God's will.
Luke 4:14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.
Mark 5:30 At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"
Luke 4:36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, "What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!"
Luke 5:17 One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.
Luke 6:19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
Luke 8:46 But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me."
John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
THE EARLY DISCIPLES HAD THIS POWER
This power didn't die with Jesus. The power was passed on if you like and others used it. And like Jesus that power was used to empower the disciples to do God's will. This power is not to be mistaken for triumphalism. The disciples knew and trusted the power of God to accomplish his purpose, that power was not an excuse for them to receive personal blessing. Indeed the most powerful apostles seemed to endure the most hardship, the worst troubles and the most severe deaths. This in a sense is the paradox of God's power, a power that is at its strongest when we are weak ourselves and rely on him, and a power that sometimes is not recognised as powerful at all.
2 Corinthians 6:2 For he says, "In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation. 3:We put no stumbling-block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4:Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5:in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6:in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7:in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8:through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9:known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10:sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 11:We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you.
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,
Luke 10:19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
Luke 24:49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Acts 4:33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.
Acts 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
John 17:11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Acts 3:12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?
Acts 4:7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: "By what power or what name did you do this?" 8:Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! 9:If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10:then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11:He is "`the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' 12:Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
ALL CHRISTIANS HAVE THIS POWER
We could say that it was OK for Jesus, it OK for the early Christians, they had power. And its not fair because we haven' got any! Except for the fact that this power of God is not wrapped up and put into a box until Jesus comes back. The scriptures teach us that Gods power is at work among all who call themselves Christians.
2 Thessalonians 1:11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.
2 Timothy 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
Colossians 2:10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the Head over every power and authority.
Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
THE CHURCH TODAY HAS THIS POWER
Why do people go to church?. They go for lots of reasons, to meet others, because they are lonely, curiosity, a whole range of things. But God uses this by his power and sometimes we find that we have been overtaken by the power of God. How many people are members of Christ's kingdom today because they went to church because they took a fancy to some boy or girl? And yet we know that for all of our confusion and mixed motives it is only by Gods power that this church is here. It is God's power that causes the presence of our church. As I speak with people of different faiths I realise that we do not have a monopoly on religious language. Other faiths will provide outlets for our natural religious desires. Other faiths will even provide outlets for our desire to feel belonging and a sense of purpose. Other religions will provide for us moral codes for life to keep us on the straight and narrow, indeed some of them will be very vigorous. There is however something unique in the church of Jesus Christ for we possess his power. The God Jesus whom we worship today.
Ephesians 1:18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19:and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20:which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21:far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22:And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23:which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Ephesians 3:16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17:so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18:may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19:and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20:Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21:to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
THE SCRIPTURES HAVE THIS POWER
It was J.B. Phillips who said that reading and interpreting the scriptures was like playing with electricity. He was saying that in the pages of scripture there is power. It's not human power, it's supernatural
Matthew 22:29 The Sadducees tried to trap Jesus. Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
Do we rely on our own power for God work?—usually we do! Instead of thinking that the ability of God to work his purpose out was limited by our human effort, do we rely on the power of God to change and transform us and to enable us to be used by God? The productivity is not ours but God's. This does not absolve us from labouring for God, indeed it is imperative that we do. But we are sent out only as labourers. We may figuratively sow the seed, but it is God who waters it and who sends the sun and rain, the conditions to make it grow. God uses weak and hopeless people like you and I who sometimes have mixed up and confused motives and he uses them in his purpose. Of course because you and I are always flawed God has no choice but to use corrupted people. But this stresses to us the obvious fact which sometimes we loose sight of—the fact that we are engaged not in a human endeavour but a divine one. The Apostle Paul recognised this when he said that we are engaged in a battle, but it is not a physical battle but a spiritual one. And so human strength is not important but spiritual strength. It is because we are in spiritual battle that spiritual tools are important, we must not rely on our human efforts but upon the spirit of God. That is why we pray, because if change is to come it will come through God and not through our ability. Prayer is a spiritual weapon of power. We may be like jars of clay ourselves and yet we have within us such a powerful message, Paul says it is an all surpassing power from God. 2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. And so as Christians the words we speak have the power of God behind them. It is God who will fulfil his promises and not us. The continuing power of the Gospel is not dependent upon our ability to speak clearly and well, not dependent upon how clever we are, the power of God lies in the cross of Jesus which touches the hearts of those who hear about it, through no merit of ours.
Romans 4:21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
2 Corinthians 10:2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be towards some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3:For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4:The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5:We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:18 For 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.
1 Corinthians 2:4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power,
1 Corinthians 2:3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4:My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5:so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.
Romans 15:19 by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way round to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 6:14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.
And so we seek Gods power to transform us and renew us and send us out in his service. If you don't think that you can do it then simply look at the list of those who found the power of God to change them. The story of the church is the story of twice born people, by the supernatural power of God.
- Zacchaeus and Matthew the cheating thieves,
- Francis the sensual who became Francis the Saint;
- The immoral Augustine became the greatest saint for a thousand years
- Luther the legalist Monk who became Luther the proclaimer of grace and who turned from working our salvation to accepting it by faith;
- Wesley the runaway failure who became one of the bravest of all;
- David Livingstone who opened up Africa;
- Albert Schweitzer who inspired a generation with his genius and his humble missionary service;
- Malcolm Muggeridge who turned from being an atheistic critic of the faith to one of it's most able writers;
- C.S Lewis, the agnostic Oxford Don who became the passionate apologist for Christ;
Think of the power of God as being like the steam, which powers a locomotive. Without that power we are useless lumps, going nowhere. And so we all need God's power to motivate our lives. Now you may say,
'well God's power is not dependent upon me, he moves where he will and he doesn't need me to be compliant.'
Its true that God uses people and sometimes people are unwittingly used by God, There is a wonderful verse, which illustrates this
Acts 4:27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28:They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
This verse shows Herod and Pontius Pilate being used by God unwittingly to enable God's purpose to be completed. You may also draw attention to the conversion of Saul who was knocked off his horse by God and converted by God's power. And yet! I want to suggest to you that two things are going on here With Herod and Pontius Pilate God is walking over them. He is using them and moving on. They are not fellow workers with God, they are not co-operating with God and God passes them by. They do not become members of God's church, they are not in fellowship with God. We do not wish our lives to be bypassed by God in this way. We want to be co-workers with God, in fellowship with him. In the case of Saul it is true that the power of God knocked him off his horse and Saul was given a chance. I think that we see Saul then entering into a new relationship with God. There is complicity, which enables him to serve, to spend three years in the desert in Iraq afterwards being sorted out by God. Try to use your own experience. When we put up the barriers, refuse to be sued by God, seek our own path, then God's power is stifled and God may use us but he passes us by. Then look at others who are open and receptive and see how they can be used by God in spite of their own failings. How many preachers have spoken about God endless human words without God's supernatural power —wasted effort. How many ministers have given human ministry without Gods supernatural power, wasted effort. How many lives have been lived without Gods power, even very religious lives, people who perhaps give all the appearance of Christian lives but who deny God's supernatural power. Is this really possible. Well yes the bible tells us that it is
2 Timothy 3:2-7 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7:always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.
Damning stuff! It is the difference between the appearance of something —which is totally useless and the actual presence of God. One is phoney the other is real. I think of the time when I was travelling to Scotland in the car one day doing a reasonable speed and I braked sharply because I saw a police patrol car ahead and as I passed it I realised that it was a cardboard patrol car with two cardboard policemen. Good idea but actually phoney, had the appearance of a police car and for a moment I was deceived but it had no power to stop me if I had been going too fast, no power to chase me if I was driving a stolen car. It was phoney all the appearance, a complete denial of the reality.
And so today we ask ourselves—each one of us
- How much of my Christian life is challenged by the power of God?
- Do I expect to make plans according to my own power or do I seek the power of God to drive me forward?
Through prayer we ask God to open our minds to the riches of his grace that we may please him both in body and soul and live this life hereafter in the strength of his power, not our own.