December 03, 2023
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
So that was three of our staff members, Shelly Clasen, Fran Wyatt, and Nikki Cheeseman sharing experiences that believe are evidence of God at work.
Do you believe in the power of God?
I remember a time early in my ministry, I attended a clergy spiritual retreat led by a faculty member from Duke Divinity School. He was talking about the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000. He explained how this story is found in all four gospels. He did a little study and found that most pastors, when they preach this story, tell it from the Gospel of John. That’s the version that has a little boy presenting his 2 barley loaves and fish. Jesus prayed over them, and miraculously fed thousands.
Our instructor said that many times preachers use the example of the boy as the source of the miracle. They talk about how his generosity inspired others to share, so Jesus ended up with enough for everyone. The miracle was the boy’s kindness.
Now that’s a beautiful idea for sure, but our leader said it makes the miracle something we can explain, as if having an explanation makes the supernatural easier to accept. But then he said, “My point is not to debate if this is how it really happened, it is to ask you that if we don’t believe God can do a miracle like this all day long with one hand tied behind his back, then what are we doing here? If we, as pastors, don’t believe in the supernatural power of God, then why are we here?”
What do you think? Do you believe in the power of God?
This Advent we are considering the names of Jesus taken from the prophecy of Isaiah. Now Isaiah wasn’t thinking of Jesus. Isaiah was talking to his own people in his day trying to encourage them. Pastor Jevon did an excellent job last week giving the background to Isaiah, so if you didn’t hear that sermon, I encourage you to go to our web site and listen to it.
Isaiah prophesied of a child to be born who would be God’s promised son. This child would bring hope. Isaiah gives names by which this child will be called. They are regal names reserved for a king. Some say they came from coronation going back to Egypt. We’ve already started looking at them. Last week was the first name, Wonderful Counselor. Next week Pastor Eric will preach for his final time at St. Luke’s and talk about the Everlasting Father. On Christmas Eve we will consider The Prince of Peace. Today, I want to look at that title The Mighty God.
The Hebrew word for this title is El Gibbor. El is the word for God. Gibbor is a word that means hero, valor, power. It was used for a military leader. The prophet is saying that this promised child will be called “A God-like Warrior.” *Same slide as El Gibbor, just separate click
That would have been an encouraging title in Isaiah’s time. The Assyrian Empire to Israel’s north was flexing its muscle. Their reign would eventually extend from Modern Turkey down to Egypt and from the Mediterranean Sea to Persia. They were fearsome people. The idea of a God-like warrior would have been an answer to prayer for the Israelites. This is probably where notions of a future Messiah became associated with a great military commander.
Of course, thinking of God in such a way is unsettling. God as a warrior. But what Isaiah is communicating is that God would come and fight on their behalf. The people don’t face their battles in life alone. God would use His great power for them, for he is a Mighty God.
Now 800 years later Christians would take these prophecies of Isaiah and apply them to Jesus. They told about his life to show how he fulfills these titles. All through the Gospels there is evidence of godly power in Jesus’ life. Just think of the way Luke told the Christmas story. It starts with Zechariah and Elizabeth. Too old to have a baby. Prayed for a baby their whole lives. Waited and waited on God, and nothing ever happened. They bought so many pregnancy test kits over the years the Walgreens in Bethlehem could never stay supplied. But not one of them ever came back positive. And then the day came when it was too late. That ship had sailed. And that’s when it happened. An angel met Zechariah and said Elizabeth is gonna have a son, and his name shall be John and he will prepare the way for God’s anointed. And that’s what happened.
Ask them, go ahead, ask Zechariah and Elizabeth, “Do you believe in the power of God?” They’ll tell you. Absolutely.
Sometimes we can’t experience God’s power until we’re completely helpless. We say we want God’s power but we don’t always want the conditions that come with it. We don’t like being helpless. We don’t like not having control. But sometimes, that’s what’s got to happen first.
Then there is Mary. Her problem was not that she couldn’t have children, it’s that she could! The Holy Spirit created a precarious situation in her life. Before ever being intimate with her fiancé, Joseph, Mary is now with child by the Holy Spirit. That’s divine power. God was present. How else do you explain it?
Ask her. God ahead, ask Mary if she believes in the power of God. She’ll say, “Don’t be silly.”
Sometimes God reserves God’s power for those who can be trusted with it.
The Christmas story is told to show how Jesus is The Mighty God. Its told in a way to make us wrestle with the question, “Do we believe it?” If we don’t believe that God is capable of doing miracles like this, then what are we doing here? And before he is ever born we are being asked what we think about that. Do we believe it? Are we willing to trust in the power of God more than our own power? As the prophet Zechariah said, “Not by might, nor by power, but my spirit says the Lord Almighty.”
But then, when you read the whole of the Christmas story, and you come to Matthew, how do we explain what Herod did? When he found out a king had been born in Bethlehem and sent his soldiers to kill all male babies under 2 years old? Where was God’s power then? Where was God’s might when earthly might took charge? When mothers’ arms were bereft of their sons?
Is God capricious? Does God share his power with some but not others? Is that how faith works?
Or does faith look different? Could faith be about trusting in God’s power with all your might even when God doesn’t do what you want?
That’s not a popular picture of faith. Not everyone likes that idea. I spoke to a prayer group one time. I shared a quote by a church leader who said, “If there are some things in this world that change only through prayer, how would that change your prayer life?” Now I believe that. I believe prayer taps into that power of God. But I don’t think that means God does whatever we ask. I suggested that what may be an even bigger result of prayer is how God changes us.
One man didn’t like that. He took me to task afterward. He said rather sternly, “If prayer doesn’t move the hand of God then why pray?” I told him some things I had learned in seminary but it didn’t do much good. What I wish I would have said is this: How do you explain King David?
Praying and praying, groveling before God on the floor for his son who is deathly ill. Refusing to eat. Getting sick. His servants are worried about him, and then the child dies. Now they’re really worried. They say, “If the king behaved this way before the child died, what will he do now? He might try to kill himself?”
But when David found out his son had died, he got up. He bathed. Put on fresh clothes and lotions and went and worshipped. Then went home and ate.
His servants were dumbfounded. They asked why he behaved this way. David said, “While the child was alive I hoped God would intervene. He could. I believe that. I thought maybe God will be gracious to me. But now that he’s dead I can’t change that. All I can do is keep trusting God.
No that’s a picture of faith! Believing with all your might in the power of God but trusting even when God doesn’t do what you ask.
How do you explain that? How do you make sense of that? What does it mean to trust in God’s power when there are wars and atrocities going on like in Israel and Ukraine? How do you believe in the power of God when a loved one dies or becomes ill? How do you trust in God’s might when you are struck down by sickness, or the challenges you face rob you of the joys that seem to come so easily to others?
Dorothy Sayers, the English writer, said, “The incarnation (God becoming flesh) means that for whatever reason God chose to let us fall into suffering and to be subject to sorrows and death, (God) nonetheless had the honesty and courage to take his medicine.” (https://gospelinlife.com/sermon/light-in-the-darkness/)
God, who comes to earth with all the wonders of power displayed, who grows as a man who exhibited power never seen before, also accepts suffering and pain. Who hears people taunt him on his cross, “He saved others, why can’t he save himself?” With all God’s power, Jesus relinquishes it. Why? To display a greater power.
Tim Keller reminds us that the reason Jesus doesn’t come in all power to remove and eradicate evil is because the source of all evil is the darkness of the human heart. So if Jesus comes in power to remove evil, who would be left? The eradicating force would not stop until it attacks every heart.
God’s mighty power foretold long ago by Isaiah and revealed in Jesus is not a God-like warrior who will strike down everything wrong in this world, but a God will wants to redeem this world. Even Isaiah pictured this power. (show pic from Peaceable Kingdom) “The wolf shall live with the lamb; the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the lion will feed[b] together, and a little child shall lead them.”
Quaker minister and artist, Edward Hicks painted some 62 different images based on Isaiah’s prophecy because his denomination was going through a terrible rift. It was his was his way of drawing people back to this image of God’s power to say, “If we don’t believe God can do this, then what are we doing here?”
Do you believe in the power of God?
I know, just believing doesn’t make God’s power happen. Sometimes God’s power doesn’t seem to show up like we hope it will. But if we look to Jesus maybe we’ll understand. Maybe what we will see is a different display of power. That more powerful than God’s ability to remove suffering in our lives is God’s power to help us bear suffering. More powerful than God’s ability to eradicate our enemies, is God’s power to help us love our enemies. More powerful than God’s ability to remove our fears, is God’s power to face our fears.
If we don’t believe God can do miracles all day long with one hand tied behind his back, what are we doing here? But if we have no need of God unless He does, then what are we doing here?