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The Power of Weakness
One of the most difficult lessons that the Christian, who is seeking to ‘go all the way with God’, has to learn is the power of weakness, the glory of being placed in positions where he can do literally nothing, and when perhaps even God seems silent. Yet it is probably just here that the greatest victories are won, and the greatest work accomplished for the salvation of souls. I have had great help along this line from the accounts given in the gospels of the arrest of the Lord Jesus in Gethsemane. Matthew’s account contains the significant question, “Thinkest thou that I cannot pray to my Father and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26 v53).
Why was that prayer never uttered? Because His Father had revealed to Jesus that only through Calvary could salvation be secured for a lost world. He had accepted this fact with all His heart, therefore He could neither call upon the armies of heaven, nor descend from the Cross when taunted by His enemies, and His ‘weakness’ constituted the mightiest power the world has ever known.
How far does the Church of Christ stand in a similar position to-day? How far have we violated the law of the Cross in recent years, and counted mainly upon our organisations, societies, meetings, conferences, written propaganda, and such like? How far have we in this way given Satan the opportunity to weaken our witness, and nullify its effectiveness?
Is it not possible that God is to-day answering the cry of so many of His people for a movement of the Holy Spirit, by stripping the Church of all that she considers to be her equipment and armaments for conflict? Perhaps in this way only can He make her helpless enough to be mighty.
But let us bring things right down to the individual. After all, the one factor that, ever since Calvary, has been effective in overcoming the devil’s plans to blot out the witness of the gospel has been the individual life brought into living union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Am I as an individual prepared to share the suffering of a distracted world, leaving myself in the hands of God, and not trying to insist on the appearance of the “legions of angels” on my behalf? Can I, if necessary, leave my pulpit, my study, my routine, my quiet life of ordered service, and die to all these things that I may get next to the man or woman who is driven here and there by the stress of modern life; and perhaps even facing the disruption of all that seems to make this life worth living? Can I forget my own needs in the great, burning, overwhelming purpose to be God’s instrument for the salvation of others?
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who . . . made Himself of no reputation . . . and humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross” (Philippians 2 v5-8), wrote Paul, who could also say, “Are they the ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft . . .”(2 Corinthians 11 v23, 28). The conversion of Paul was picked out by the first Lord of Birkenhead as one of the ‘turning points of history’. The apostle had learnt the lesson of power through weakness; and if the Church of Christ is to be an instrument in the hand of God to bring about another ‘turning point of history’ you and I will also need to learn this lesson.
Now shall we turn to Mark’s vivid account? “And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Are ye come out as against a thief, with swords and staves to take me? I was daily with you in the Temple teaching, and ye took me not; but the scriptures must be fulfilled.’ And they all forsook Him and fled” (Mark 14 v48-50).
How wonderfully God was working to programme. How quietly He, Who ‘knows the end from the beginning’, was bringing His gracious purposes to fruition. He also has His programme for His Church to-day. The earthly ministry of His Son was carried through under His Own eye, and with the protection of all the powers of Heaven, until Calvary. Then the protection was removed. But even so, all that happened, happened by the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”. The ministry of the Church is also prepared beforehand by God (Ephesians 2 v10). If, according to His purpose, we too must face our Calvary, what shall we say? Human nature neither understands nor can it face the Cross. His closest followers, not as yet endued with power by God the Holy Spirit, all forsook Him and fled. There are differing ideas amongst Christians as to what constitutes “the fullness of the Spirit”, some of them strange and unbalanced. Of one thing we may be quite sure. If you and I are filled with the Spirit we shall infallibly be taught, guided, and enabled to walk the way of the Cross. If “He, through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself” (Hebrews 9 v14), we too shall offer ourselves when the same Spirit fills us. It will not then make any odds if our protection is removed, and we find ourselves utterly alone for the sake of the salvation of others. The Holy Spirit Who is aiming to conform us to the image of Christ will, if we are willing, finish the work He has begun.
Luke adds a striking detail not given by the other Evangelists. He leaves on record that Jesus said to the officers who arrested Him, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” Luke 22 v53). He has just, by an act of sovereign mercy, healed the ear of Malchus, cut off in the impetuous attack of Simon Peter. Now He calmly faces the awful unleashing of satanic powers against Himself, accepting by faith as well the present position as the assured triumph to follow. The story of Job shows clearly that it is God Who sets the limit to the extent of the devil’s activities and power. He may go to the very last inch of the bounds permitted to him BUT he may not pass them. From the human angle the Cross looked to be a colossal failure. In it the victory of the powers of evil SEEMED complete. But “the weakness of God is stronger than men” or demons, and by the power of weakness having “spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (in the Cross) (Colossians 2 v15).
Centuries have passed since then. To-day the Church of Christ stands at a place where her power and influence seem to have ebbed almost away. Even the civilisation that her triumphs won for the nations seems to be in the process of violent disintegration. Such a situation provokes many questions. How will it all end? Will God grant a great revival? Is the coming of the Lord really imminent? And so on. Perhaps the real battleground is our heart attitude as Christians. There is a verse of a hymn I often find myself humming in these days,
‘Jesus triumphant: when in work for Thee
Sad and disheartened no result we see:
When gathered force of evil seems to win,
And work for God seems lost in work of sin.
Can I stand firm and unafraid, facing the enemy; not pretending he is not there, nor becoming so occupied with him that his might fills my whole horizon? Can I say, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness, BUT the conflict does not end here. Victory is with the Lion of the tribe of Judah. There will be countless souls delivered from you now, in our day and generation, and soon you will finally and for ever be ‘bruised under our feet’”? Surely you and I can afford to be radiantly triumphant. God is teaching us to use the power of weakness, and once we learn to wield it aright, we shall be moving on towards a mightier triumph than we can well realise.
Last comes John’s version! Here we find the majesty of almighty Kingship mysteriously interwoven with obedient Sonship. “Whom seek ye?” Jesus asks His captors. “Jesus of Nazareth,” comes the reply. “I AM”, declares the One Who is indeed “God of God, Very God of Very God”, and “they went backward, and fell to the ground”. He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”, and we, too, if we are His, are “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ”. We can and should rejoice greatly in such a relationship with the Living God; and there will be times when men will have to recognise the reality of that relationship. This manifestation of deity was soon followed, however, by the rebuke to Peter. “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18 v11).
What a wealth of love lies behind this question! The Father had put a cup into the hand of His dearly loved Son. That cup was bitter, full to the brim with a world’s sin and woe, but it came from the Father’s hand. That made all the difference. Since that was so it could be drunk without fear or doubt. The Father’s purposes were bound to end in untold blessing. “His way is perfect”. Fallen human nature might have fretted and fought to be free from the suffering and darkness that lay ahead, but He would not attempt to save Himself. He loved the Father too greatly for that.
Do you not think that the Father covets our love too? That He values it more than all our knowledge and activities in Christian work? “Love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13 v7-8). Does not God plan every detail of the lives of those who yield themselves to Him? If He grants us peaceful surroundings, religious freedom, and useful spheres of service, do we not praise Him for His goodness to us? If He permits us to be placed in circumstances of strife, persecution, or seeming lack of opportunity for Christian work, what shall we say?
I dare not choose my lot;
I would not if I might;
Choose Thou for me, my God,
So shall I choose aright
Take Thou my cup and it
With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to Thee may seem;
Choose Thou my good and ill.
This is no passive attitude, but one of active ambition to see the pleasure of the Lord prospering in His hand under any and every circumstance. A radiant spirit, thoughtful for Him and others, is of priceless worth in these days. Such a spirit will always triumph. It will have learnt the central lesson of Christian service, the power of weakness, the way of the Cross.