Let us pray: Dear Savior, just like Adam and Eve, each of us is very good at second-guessing You. Each of us wants to know all of life’s secrets so we can feel powerful and in control of everything—including You and our salvation. Lord, today remind us to humble ourselves before You. Teach us that we are but clay, but You are the Potter Who alone shapes, molds, and turns us into beautiful vessels for Godly use. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR MAKER AND PRESERVER
TEXT: 2 Cor. 12: 7-10
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Do you cry at weddings? Or how about when your child graduates from high school or college, did you cry then? Crying during times of great joy is silly, yet we all do it. Think about it. Tears are associated with pain, with emotional trauma. So, why cry during happy times? It makes no sense. It’s a paradox, something that seems contradictory but in reality is not.
The Christian faith has many such paradoxes. How about this definition of what our religion is all about from the book of Hebrews: “Faith is the evidence of things not seen and the substance of things hoped for.” We’re told there to totally trust our lives and our souls in a truth, a reality, that we cannot see and that such trust will cause us to see life even more clearly.—A paradox. Or how about Christ’s birth? The shepherds were told to believe that a little baby was the Son of God. The wise men were told that the Lord of the universe was residing in a back-water village called Bethlehem.—Again, a paradox to our reason. Skip ahead to Jesus’ death on the cross. Christianity teaches that God died in the person of Christ to save human beings. A dead Savior saves?—A paradox.
Our lesson today is one more of those wonderful paradoxes through which God instills in us a blessed truth. So, as we look at this text:
EMBRACE THE PARADOX OF CHRISTIANITY AND EMBRACE THE POWER OF GOD!
St. Paul was probably born about 2 years after Christ’s birth. His father was a Jewish Pharisee, from whom Paul also inherited Roman citizenship. This, combined with the fact that Paul came from the city of Tarsus, means that Paul was a cosmopolitan fellow. Around the age of thirteen we was shipped off the Jerusalem to study at the best school of the day run by that great teacher, the pharisee Gamaliel. We know from the Bible and Paul’s own writings that he was a very proud fellow at this time, full of himself. He thought he had the world by the tail and that he knew more about the ways of God and how to achieve heaven than almost anyone else.
Paul probably would have been present in Jerusalem when Christ died. He would have heard the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. But as a Pharisee, Paul rejected all this “Jesus of Nazareth” stuff as garbage. He knew better! He knew that God saved people as a result of their pious actions. And so he worked at being more pious and outwardly holy than anyone else. That explains his early opposition to the Christians in Jerusalem and also how he went to Damascus to arrest even more believers.—He thought he was doing God’s will.
But, of course, Christ intervened on that road to Damascus. Christ appeared to Paul in a vision and converted him, changed his outlook on life and saved his soul in the process. Christ taught Paul then and through subsequent tutors that human attempts at making oneself right with God are all doomed to failure. That the only way to be saved is to embrace the free gift of God’s love for us in Christ.
We know that as a result of Paul’s vision on that road, he was blinded by God. A few days later God sent a believer in Damascus named Ananias to put his hands on Paul’s eyes and scales fell away and Paul could see once more. Many surmise that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was bad eyesight as a result of that experience. For example, Paul used secretaries to write down his various epistles, but he often signed them himself. In Galatians, Paul makes reference to the “large letters” he used to sign with. People surmise that his lousy eyesight caused him to have to write in such large letters.
In any case, Paul now talks about that “thorn in the flesh.” He says: “To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations (the truths that God had revealed to him and that he conveyed in his writings), there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord (prayed) to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Let’s face it, a proud man like Paul would have been humbled by having to be lead around by others because he could not see very well. The old saying: “When you have your health, you have everything” is true. When you’re healthy you think you’re invincible. You think you can handle anything and everything on your own. But, when God sends, or allows, sickness or illness to afflict us, it tends to take the wind of pride out of our sails. So, too, with St. Paul.
The paradox of Paul’s words is striking. God tells him, “My grace, my love for you in Christ alone, is sufficient. It is all that you really need in life to make your mark on this world. For my power is made perfect in weakness.” Godly power comes through human weakness? A paradox. Yes! But it is also something every Christian knows to be true. For when we despair of our own power, reason, and ability all we have left to rely on is God. But that is exactly what God desires from each and every one of us. Relying on God is what faith, trust, is all about.
Paul obviously accepts this answer and even glories in it. Listen again to his amazing words: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake (note that Jesus is always the rationale behind his thinking) I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Most of the time when tough times come our way we either question God with that perennial “Why, Lord?” or we shake our fist and get angry with Him. Very, very seldom do any of us view such sufferings as a blessing. But Paul did! Because he knew the strength of his own ego and how to be saved he needed that ego to be put in its place. Sufferings, insults, persecutions—they were all avenues that God used to accomplish this blessed result.
My friends, it is the same for you and me. We pray harder when life is tough, don’t we? We spend more time contemplating God’s Word when people oppose our faith. We all ask God for an easy life, recall that prayer: “That we may spend our time in rest and quietness”—yet once God grants us such blessing, we very often become apathetic about our faith and become neglectful of our allegiance to the Lord. So, God wakes us up by sending or allowing tough times to come.
Next time that happens to you, remember St. Paul’s wonderful words of wisdom. Never, ever, forget that by embracing the paradox of Christianity you’ll also embrace the power of God Almighty! Yes, when I am weak, He is strong….Amen