Lamb or Wolf?
1st in a series of messages expounding 2 Cor 12:9 “My power is made perfect in weakness”. Sermon by Pastor Eric Chang, delivered on January 3, 1993, at Penang Christian Disciples Church (Malaysia), Commencement Service.
Do we see the pitiful plight of those around us?
In the neighbourhood where we have recently moved to live in Hong Kong, they are building new roads and planting trees on both sides, so as to attract more people to move into this area. However, the effort only works in part. I often like to take walks. I would notice that these young trees are still very thin with a few sparse branches, making a heroic attempt to grow in a very hostile environment.
Why do I say it is a hostile environment? It is difficult for the poor trees to grow under the circumstances. The local administration has run a water pipe along the whole line of trees. The pipe has little holes in it at every point where it passes a tree. The intention is to water these trees at the appropriate points, so that these poor young trees would be able to survive in the intense heat of the Hong Kong summer. The holes on this water pipe must have become clogged. When I look at these little trees, I feel very sad for them because I see that most of them are withering. I am not even sure whether they are dead or alive. The leaves are dry and they are almost dark brown by now. The pitiful attempt to put forth some branches has already begun to fail.
The tragedy of this is that there is this big black water pipe that runs right over the top of their roots and yet they are getting no water. They are dying with all this fresh water rushing right on top of them. Life is so near, and yet so far away. You can imagine yourself as one of these trees: seeing water rushing past over you and you are dying of thirst, baked in the sun, longing for a few drops of water. The water just passes you by. Somewhere further down the pipe, one or two trees are getting some water and they are flourishing. Their leaves are green and they are growing. Yet the majority of the trees are dying right under the water pipe. I am thinking: “Where is the caretaker? What is he doing? Is he waiting for them all to die?”
So, each time I walk along the road, I think to myself that there is so much to learn from this situation. We have in ourselves, as the Lord’s people, this water of life. As Paul says, we have this treasure (this water of life) in these earthen vessels (2 Cor 4:7).
I wonder how many people right beside us would be looking up to us, saying: “Give us a little drink, we are perishing! If you don’t hurry up, it will be too late!” Could it be that we are so busy with some distant objectives that we bypass those next to us, leaving them to perish? But no, we are too busy to get the water to somewhere else, further down somewhere. Perhaps we congratulate ourselves and say: “Yes, over there, there are some trees prospering because of our care. Our water pipe is still functioning.”
But what about the majority of those who die of thirst and are perishing along the way?
Where is the living water?
Where is the church? Where is the functioning church? Here and there a little tree is growing, and we congratulate ourselves and say that because of us, there is this little tree growing there. And look over there, there is another one!
But what about the majority who perish? We have no time to think about them. We are just one water pipe. How many trees are we supposed to look after anyway? In that water pipe near my home, there is enough water for all the trees if only there is the willingness to open up a little bit, if only the gardener has ensured that these pipes are unclogged so that the water could come out for each of these trees, not just for some of them.
I wonder if we are these clogged-up water pipes?
But here today in Penang, we have a new flow of water. I hope, by the grace of God, those who are thirsty and earnestly long for that water may find it here.
I find the thirsting everywhere
A few months ago, on my flight back to Montreal from the Middle East, I was sitting next to a gentleman. As we talked to one another, I discovered that he had been seeking the truth since his youth, looking for answers to the questions of life, but in vain. He found nothing, and there was no one to tell him what life was about. He was sitting next to his son, a handsome young fellow, who is now an archaeologist. As I was talking to him, I asked him about his life. He said: “Well, you see, I was a medical student and my heart was longing to know what life is all about. I was searching for answers to my many, many questions.” He even gave up medicine for a time to study philosophy, so that he would get some answers. The only problem was that he got more questions and no answers at all. He is now a Professor of Philosophy at McGill University, and a practising psychiatrist, having moved from general medicine to psychiatry, while also teaching philosophy at the University.
Now, twenty some years later, I was sitting next to him and I asked him: “How do you look at life now, since up to this point in time you have found no answers?” He said: “I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that life has no answers, that there are no answers to be found. There are only questions, and we will just have to accept the situation.”
I said to him: “What do you teach, since you only have questions and no answers?” He said: “Well, I teach them to look at the questions.” I said: “But what about those people who come looking for answers?” He said: “Well, like me, they will have to understand that there are no answers.” I said to him: “Did it ever occur to you that there might be some answers?” He said, “Oh yes, but where?” I said: “Do you mind me telling you a bit about my life?” He said: “By all means, tell me.”
So I told him and he was fascinated. He said: “Really? You actually met with God? Is it possible to know God?” A new horizon began to open up for him. Everything began to stimulate him anew. He said: “Maybe there are still answers.” After we arrived in Montreal, I took up contact with him again, and gave him some copies of my testimonies, as well as some other things that report of God’s wonderful works and reality. Because I had to leave for the Far East, we agreed that when I go back again later this year, God willing, we will get together.
Think of this: here is a person who was willing to give up medicine to look for some answers to questions about life, but could find nothing. He was like this tree, a young tree, a young medical student, looking for water. In the meantime his spiritual life had shrivelled up from thirst. He had become cynical: there were many, many questions, but simply no answers. And he accepted this heroically.
On the way from Montreal to Hong Kong, I was in the plane again. This time I found myself sitting next to another gentleman, a Thai gentleman from Bangkok. As we talked, he was telling me about his life. He had just come back from a holiday touring around Europe. He had taken an early retirement and he said to me: “There is no point to working yourself to death, is there? What is life about? What meaning is there in life? I have climbed to the top, a Shell Company executive in Thailand, and I decided to take early retirement. I’ve got all the money I need and if I carry on any longer, my marriage will break up because I am hardly ever home, too busy with the work. My health will give way. So now that I have all that I want to achieve, it is enough for me. Now, I want to enjoy what there is left of life.” For him, to enjoy life meant galloping around Europe, worn out from touring around 7 countries in 10 days. This was his way of enjoying life. I can think of better ways to enjoy life. For me, travelling is an exhaustion. The thought of travelling around 7 countries in 10 days is enough to wear me out. Anyway, maybe it was something new to him.
As we talked along, he gave me his name card. As he took out his card, there was his gold American Express card. We discussed the purpose of life. For him there was no purpose. I thought to myself that this person had reached the age of retirement, having climbed the ladder of life to the top, and yet he had no clue to what life was all about. He was another one of these trees planted there by the roadside. If only in the early days, somebody had brought him some water. Yet now, all he was content with was to travel around a bit. I said: “What do you do with your time? It must be very boring.” He said: “I go to the golf course.”
But imagine this: if there is nothing left in your life but golf, there is nothing else for you. What a life! It is so tragic! It is meaningless! But what can we say? The spiritual life had shrivelled and died. There is nothing left. Now he just spends his days hitting this ball on the golf-course twice a week. And I didn’t ask him what he does with his other few days. Maybe he just lies there on the porch and sleeps. Dreadful!
We must bring the water of life to these people. What happens to the soul, the spirit, the potentially eternal element of these people, withering away with no water? What a joy that the water of life can be brought to Penang!
In the remaining time that we have, I want to discuss a little bit more about this water of life. How can we fulfil this mission? What is the way in which this mission is to be fulfilled? What is the character of the church and why we as a church and as Christians, so often fail?
Perhaps we ourselves have not properly understood the message of our Gospel. We don’t know what the Gospel is. When I speak about the water of life, of course, I am speaking about the Gospel of Christ. What is the Gospel? Perhaps you have been a Christian for a long time. Are you sure you know what the Gospel is? Do you know how to present that Gospel to the thirsty? If you don’t know what the Gospel is, no wonder you have brought no water of life to anyone. What is the essential character of the Gospel? And how should the Gospel be presented?
I would like to give you the text from which I will preach today, from Luke 10:3. To the seventy that He was about to send forth, He said: “Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”
This verse is so rich in meaning that the more I meditate on it, the more I hesitate to preach on it. The riches in this verse are simply overwhelming.
Why is this verse exceedingly important? It is because it puts into a nutshell the essence of what the Gospel is, what it does, and how it should be preached. What is more, this verse is extremely easy to remember because it contrasts two pictures: the wolf and the lamb, or more precisely, a society of wolves and a society of lambs.
The Lord Jesus says: “Go out now, I send you out as lambs among wolves.” The more you think about the picture, the more mind-boggling it becomes. You don’t have to have a very fertile imagination to see what happens to these lambs sent out into the midst of a pack of wolves. Can you imagine how long these lambs will last? Would they last 5 minutes? 10 minutes? These poor and defenceless lambs will be torn apart in no time. The Lord does not even say “sheep”. At least, sheep are bigger, almost the size of wolves. But lambs! Lambs against wolves? This is really lambs sent to the slaughter.
Here Jesus says, “I am going to send you out, and the odds against you are hopeless.” What is the point of all this? Is there some kind of strategy in this? Is this a joke? If this were a joke, it is a very poor one for the lambs. What is Jesus trying to tell us?
When you read the Bible, I wonder if the power of the imageries ever capture your thinking. Let us just briefly analyze this into a few main points.
What is the character of wolves?
The first thing we have to understand is the character of wolves. Do you know something about wolves? The Palestinians knew a lot about wolves because they were nomads. Sheep were their livelihood. They had to protect the sheep, and the greatest danger to the sheep of course was wolves.
Just recently, I read a very fascinating article in a 1989 issue of National Geographic magazine about wolves, especially Arctic wolves. They are the same as wolves elsewhere except they live in the Arctic. Some observers were able to come up close to these wolves, allowing the wolves to get used to them, so that they could observe the way the wolves behave at close quarters.
They summed up the character of the wolves in three words: aggressive, assertive, and completely selfish. That is the character of wolves. This is not written by Christians for the benefit of my message. They wrote this as a result of their close observation of wolves.
The wolves have a disciplined society, which is based on the dominance of one male wolf. The whole system is one of lording it over others. Whoever is stronger (the bigger wolf, the more powerful wolf, the one with sharper teeth, the one more cunning, the one more fierce, the one that is more determined) dominates the pack and leads the pack where he wants it to go. The society of wolves runs on this basis. Very interesting.
That is the way human society also runs, though sometimes in more subtle ways. That is what the Lord Jesus says in Matt 20:25.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.”
Human society runs on the same principle as the society of wolves. Who finally dominates? It is the one who has the drive, the man with the initiatives, the person with the cunning skill to manipulate others, the guy who can win the votes. That is the guy who wins, whether he does it by smiling or he does it with the secret police behind him. It is the unscrupulous person in the end who wins. He wants to give you the impression that he is the good guy, the saviour of the world, the saviour of the nation, and most of all, the saviour of you. As long as you follow after him, you will not go hungry. He will protect you and he will do everything right for you - he is the great manipulator. That is the man who becomes the leader.
So when the Lord speaks about wolves and the society of wolves, he is talking about the society of the world as it is. All of us who live in this society know very well who has the influence. In the company, it is either the one who gets to the top or the one who tags to his tail to try to get to the top. So if you can’t be number 1, you can be number 2 by clinging on to this powerful guy to get to the top. Human societies run like this. That is the way it is done.
So when the Lord says, “I send you out among wolves”, He is simply saying: “This is the society of the world. Do you see how the Gentiles work? They lord it over the others.” They all want to be the big boss. The gangsters are less subtle: “Come here. Go there. I’ll clean you out if you don’t follow what I say.” Many politicians do the same but in a nicer way. In the company’s struggle for power, it is the same, isn’t it? Everywhere, it is the same - the society of wolves.
So when the Lord says, “I send you out”, He is simply saying that I am sending you out into the world of wolves.
How do you feel going out into this society? How do disciples feel when He said to them, “I am going to send you out and you are going to be slaughtered by the wolves.” Will they be slaughtered? We will come to that in a moment.
To become a true Christian is to be TRANSFORMED from a wolf to a lamb
But you say, “Just a minute, before we go that far, were we not all wolves before we became Christians?” Indeed. As a non-Christian, I was a wolf, if ever there was one. I know that but for the grace of God, I would be a wolf, as capable of bumping off any opposition and grabbing the top as anybody else. Wit for wit. Strength for Strength. Let anyone challenge me. I was not afraid of challenge. As many of you know, before I became a Christian, my ambition was in the military field. In the military field, you have to be ruthless to get to the top. I was prepared to do whatever was necessary to get to the top in the name of saving the country, not to mention putting myself at the head of the country. Deep and subtle pride. We even hide our own motives, but a wolf I certainly was.
Jesus says to His disciples: “I send you out as lambs”. Where are the lambs? First, they have to be lambs before they are sent out. From this remarkable sentence, the Lord is saying: to become a true Christian is to be transformed from a wolf into a lamb. The principle of transformation is summed up here. God has to do something with me. He has to take this wolf with all its sharp teeth, with all its skill and cunning and ruthlessness, and change the whole character completely to a lamb.
You say: “Wait a minute, I am very happy being a wolf. I like my sharp teeth. Without them, who is going to protect me? I will be defenceless. You just said that this is a society of wolves. I am doing quite nicely in the society of wolves. I’ve got my place in that society. Now you are going to turn me into a lamb and I am going to become lamb chops? All these wolves will be eating me up in no time. I don’t like this. I am left defenceless. I don’t want to be changed.”
And you know something? There are many Christians who are not changed for that very reason, because you are left vulnerable. There are some people who are converted only skin deep, a wolf with sheep’s skin. You are only a lamb as far as the skin goes, but underneath you are a wolf. I hope you understand the metaphor. That is the picture the Lord uses in Matt 7:15.
Too often, we have in the church a lot of people who look like lambs. You just try messing around with them a bit and you will be surprised how sharp these “lambs’” teeth are. They will take a chunk out of you and then you thought, “I never knew lambs have sharp teeth. I thought only wolves have this kind of teeth.” Have you seen Christians going on a fight with one another? When both are bloodied and torn, you wonder where are the lambs? Is this the society of lambs?
Talking about lambs, I find it interesting that one of the favourite symbols of Christians today is the “eagle”. I have many times been given this beautiful verse in Ish 40:31, they that wait upon the Lord shall mount up with wings as eagles. We forget that the part that applies to us is not the eagles’ beak and talons (which can rip apart even a young wolf), but the “mounting up with wings”. There are no talons on the wings. There is no sharp beak on the wings.
We like symbols of power. When you look at the national emblem, do you see a lamb there? No way. What do you see? A dragon. This is very popular in Hong Kong. It is just as popular in China. Or you have the lion, or even the unicorn, fast and intelligent animals as they are supposed to be. Who wants a little lamb as a symbol? It is hard to find Christians who are only interested in being lambs.
Paul used the picture about “biting and devouring one another”. He said to the Galatians beware that “if you bite and devour one another, you might be consumed by one another” (Gal 5:15). Do you know what Paul was saying to the Galatians? “I suspect that you are not even lambs yet. You are still wolves underneath.” Many people reading this subtle statement of Paul to the Galatians never got the full gist of the meaning.
Are you transformed? Are your teeth still very sharp? When you became a lamb, you said, “All my wolf’s teeth are gone.” But how could it be that you still take out the nail file and sharpen your teeth and say, “I need some sort of defence here so that when the wolves attack me, I will give them a few bites of my own.” Have we been changed?
Jesus is called the Lamb
It is remarkable that the Lord Jesus is called the Lamb (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Pet 1:19). In Revelation, He is called “the Lamb” 28 times! Even more, He is the Lamb that was slain (Rev 5:6). Can you imagine a wounded lamb, a slain lamb? Does it have any power? A healthy lamb is weak enough. But a wounded lamb, one that is slain? This calls for complete transformation. If you don’t like the idea of being a lamb, don’t think of becoming a Christian. Otherwise, you are going to misrepresent the Gospel.
The lambs are SENT out among wolves
This is “mission impossible”. As we said, among wolves, lambs cannot last for more than a few seconds. Just go to the zoo and throw in a few lambs and see how long they last. I don’t think they will even last for a few moments. The sharp powerful jaws of the wolves will dispatch them quickly. Are you fearful that you cannot survive?
So what is the secret? What is the strategy that the Lord has in mind?
The other day I had a cup of hot coffee. I was very thirsty. Yet how was I to drink it, especially in a hot country like this? So my wife, Helen, went to the counter to ask for a couple of ice-cubes. We put the ice in the coffee and immediately the coffee became cold within a very short while. Is that the Lord’s strategy?
Do we take these lambs and let them loose among the wolves, so that all these wolves would lose their fires and become lambs? That will not work. Wolves don’t become lambs by eating up the lambs. You may have heard the saying: “you become what you eat.” If that were true, then that strategy might work: the more lambs they eat, the more they become lamb-like. Unfortunately, it does not work like this, does it? That cannot be the strategy.
So what is the strategy? What is this idea of sending lambs out among wolves?
Here I come to the key area: the strategy is to depend on God’s power. God’s power works through the lambs to transform the wolves. This does not work in natural life. But unless the strategy is to transform the wolves through the lambs, then what other purpose is there in sending the lambs to die? Certainly any lamb sent among wolves must be prepared to die, and some will indeed be killed by the wolves. But wolves are not transformed by doing what is natural to them - eating lambs. Clearly only God’s own creative power, working through the lambs, can transform the wolves.
Gospel -- to be brought out at the cost of your lives
The disciples were sent out by Jesus to preach the gospel. Now the gospel is brought to the wolves at the cost of the lambs. Since lambs in the Bible were offered up as sacrificial animals, we can see that the gospel has to be preached at the cost of your life. There is no cheap and easy way to bring the gospel to others. You would not have believed that from the way that the gospel is taught today. You would have thought that preaching the gospel is the easiest thing under the sun. The former Soviet Union has just opened up and we see in the news that every kind of person is rushing in, and they stand in the Red Square preaching. Crowds gather to listen. Nothing could be easier than preaching the gospel. Nothing could be easier than transforming wolves into lambs. Just talk, talk, and talk. The better you can talk, the more successful you are. As the Chinese saying goes: “You just depend on your 3 inches of incorruptible tongue.” You can then talk the whole world into submission: the lambs come to talk the wolves into becoming lambs.
But that’s not the picture. That’s why I said earlier that maybe we didn’t even understand how the gospel is supposed to be preached. Worse than that, maybe we didn’t even understand the character of the gospel. Please understand that the gospel requires your transformation, and you alone know whether or not you are transformed. You may not want to be transformed because you know you can’t make your way in the world once you are transformed. That is why many Christians don’t want to be transformed. You would lose your place in the society of wolves. No lambs would have any status among wolves, needless to say.
In simple language, that means that there are indeed very few transformed Christians. Let’s get that clear. That’s what the Lord Himself said. He said that the saved will be few (Matt 7:14; 22:14; cf. 1 Pet 3:20). I have often thought about that and I understand now. Why only a few? Because you’ve got to be a lamb. If you are a lamb, you can’t survive in this world (the society of wolves) except by a certain way and that is what we are going to close on in a moment.
How is the gospel preached?
By what principle does it work? It is a principle that is amazing and yet too costly for us. That’s why there is so little of true Christianity around. Believe me, there is very little of it around. If you can find it anywhere, go after it and drink that precious water. Never let that water go, because you can search all over the world for a place where the gospel is preached in the way that it is meant to be preached, and you would have a hard time finding it. It is not because people don’t want to preach it, but somehow, it has disappeared. The gospel is too difficult to comprehend.
Let me try to close on this very point: How is the gospel preached? What is the nature of the gospel?
The heart of the gospel is Jesus Himself. Consider how it was done. When Jesus came into the world, He did not come as the glorious King born in a palace. He didn’t even have a proper place to be born in. He was born among the animals, not even in a place for human beings. In other words, He was born in weakness.
When He began His ministry, how did He live? He said, “I can do nothing of myself.” He lived in total weakness. He chose to be weak. That is why in John 5:19, 30, we have
“Jesus therefore answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”
Again, in John 5:30,
“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
Jesus was saying: “I can do nothing by Myself. Whatever I see the Father do, I do. Whatever He tells Me to do, I do. I live only by His will. I have no strength of My own. I don’t have any power of My own. I don’t function by My own power. I am nothing and He is everything.” He was born in weakness and He lived in weakness.
Do you know the story of Gethsemane? Do you see Him there in His strength, in His majesty, in the garments of a high priest in all His glory? No. What you see in the Garden of Gethsemane is a man with His face to the ground, with tears running down His face crying, “Oh Father, if this cup can be taken away from Me, please take it away. I really can’t drink it. I can’t.” Is this man the hero? Is this man, with tears running down, going to conquer the world? It is disgraceful. He is sprawled on the ground, a grown man crying. In our tradition it is shameful for a man to cry. And here He is on the ground crying.
In Heb 5:7, we read:
In the days of His (Jesus’) flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.
What? Save Him from death? Shameful! Look at our soldiers that march bravely to death! Unflinching! Glorious! “Charge!” - and into the battle they go. Cut down and crumpled on the ground, without a wail and without a murmur they die. These are men indeed! But what do we see in Jesus? The Lamb. Weakness! Did you ever look at it like that? Those are the facts.
“Strong crying and tears” - the picture of utter weakness. Was He heard because of His unspeakable courage? No. He was heard because of His “fear”. (The word in the Greek text can mean “fear, anxiety” in general, but many scholars think that here and in some other places in the New Testament, the word has the specific meaning: “fear of God, piety”.) Jesus was no hero, nor was it His goal to be a hero. He was the Lamb, weak and defenceless, born in weakness, and He lived in weakness of His own choice. In the Garden of Gethsemane, you see nothing but weaknesses. There was no strength to be seen. Is this the hero you want to follow? Then finally, on the cross, what do you see there? A glorious hero stretched out without a murmur? Was He not heard to say: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Does this not sound like a complaint against God? What is going on here? Could those around the cross have known that Jesus was quoting the 22nd Psalm? Do you know that this psalm, in fact, utter a heart-cry to God from a situation of total weakness while trusting in God alone for ultimate vindication and victory?
Paul summed it up in these words in 2 Cor 13:4,
He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God.
Jesus did not live by His own power. He was crucified in weakness. Let this get into our minds. He was weak from the beginning to the end, from the cradle to the grave. Just a lamb. There was no element of wolf in Him. Just a lamb, but strong in the power of God. It is remarkable that in Rev 5:5, Jesus is spoken of as the King by means of the descriptive title “The Lion of the tribe of Judah”, yet in the very next verse He is described as a “Lamb”, and then three more times in this short chapter (5:8, 12, 13), He is described as “the Lamb” who is worshipped by all those who are faithful to God.
Does that picture of Jesus disappoint you?
You say, “I never knew Jesus was so weak. Now I will look for a stronger leader.” You are still used to the society of wolves, looking for the “alpha wolf” (the #1 wolf) to follow. You just don’t know how to follow this Jesus.
The whole secret, my friends, is that you don’t understand the nature of the gospel. Am I puzzling you? I think I am, because you never understood the gospel like this. What is the gospel? It is the weakness of Christ, but the power of God in Christ.
Read it carefully again. There are so many passages in the Bible you won’t understand until you get this principle clear. If you look at 2 Cor 12, you could learn the secret of how the Gospel works. It works like this. Was the apostle Paul a charismatic powerful man? He was clever. But according to the accounts we have from the early church, he was a short, balding and unimpressive character. He was not your charismatic wolf, but just another lamb. When you read his letters, you will see that indeed he had a matchless mind. But the Corinthians said that when he was in their midst he was weak (2 Cor 10:10; 1 Cor 2:3; 4:10), to the extent that they despised him (cf. e.g. 2 Cor 11:5, 6, 16). They dared to bully him, to judge him (1 Cor 4:3, 5). Strange. All our impressions and suppositions are wrong. And you know something? Paul wanted it exactly like that. He chose to be “weak” (1 Cor 2:1-3). Certainly the carnal conduct of the Corinthians grieved him. Even so, he chose to be “your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5). That is the way he wanted it, because he knew the very secret that we don’t know.
What is the nature of the Gospel?
Let me read it to you in 2 Cor 12:10,
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.
If you remember nothing more about this message, remember these words. This is the essence of the gospel -- “when I am weak, only then am I strong”. Do you understand that? I think not. It takes me a lifetime to understand this, because by nature I am not weak. It is so difficult for me to understand this. But I must understand it and I must implement it, otherwise I do not function by the power of God. If I bring people to the Lord, what I may be doing is simply to get wolves to agree to become Christians. I convince them with a better ideology but they are still wolves. They have not been changed inwardly. They refuse to become weak. They want to remain strong. They want a better ideology. I can win the world with that, and the church has in fact won the world exactly in this way. They have christianized the world and produced a christianized society of wolves. The church has become the most powerful of the wolves. It is the richest, the most influential, and by any measure the most well-organized institution. The churches in U.S.A. dominate that nation. They can sway governments. Every American President has to be careful how he speaks, because the Christians could bring them down at any time. Every President, you may have noticed, claims himself to be a Christian, otherwise he will never be voted into office.
We have a world that is simply based on christianized wolves. That is why I say that you can hardly find the true gospel anywhere anymore. We can convert the world simply by saying: “You can stay as wolves.” Just be nicer to one another, just have slightly better morals, or just believe certain doctrines to be true. You don’t have to change to believe certain doctrines to be true. Just believe that Jesus came into the world, and that He lived a life of purity in the world, and that Jesus died for us. As long as He died for me, I don’t have to die. So let Him do all the dying and I do all the living. Since He has already paid the penalties for sin, I can continue to do the sinning. I’ll just go back and make my confessions afterwards. I get my pardon and I can get on with my life. I feel secure this way. Christianity suits me just fine. I would gobble up a few more lambs and next Sunday, I would repent and say, “Father (or, Pastor), I am sorry I gobbled up a few lambs last night”. “Oh yes? You bad wolf, or you bad sheep (you seem to look like a sheep for the moment), go out and do some penance and I give you some discipline. You’ve got to pray on your knees for 15 minutes everyday for the next few months, and go out and be a better - whatever you are.”
This is Christianity today. So next week, you swallow another sheep and you say, “Father, I am sorry, I was a little bit hungry. I have not learned to eat grass yet. Change of diet takes a bit of time of adjusting to. I try to swallow grass, but it does not suit my system very well.”
Secret to the Christian life: power through weakness
We don’t know that the secret to the Christian life is power through weakness - God’s power through our weakness. “When I am weak, then am I strong.” I don’t know if I can get this message across to you. I almost didn’t want to preach this message because I know how difficult it is to grasp. I suspect that when you walk out of here today, you say, “I don’t know what to do with that message. I can’t change my diet. I like my lamb chops. As for eating grass, I am not into this kind of food yet. I am not into vegetarian diet.” You would happily go on calling yourself a Christian with your wolf nature underneath. On that day, when you meet with the Lord Jesus, it will be embarrassing, to say the least.
You will meet with the Lamb, and He will look at you and say, “Why are you here?”
“I am a Christian, and I called you Lord.” you say.
“You are not one of my own because you have a different nature. You are still a wolf.”
“I have been eating vegetarian diet half the time.” you plead.
That is not enough to make the difference.
As we close this message, there is a secret we must understand. The whole Christian life, like the Lord Jesus Himself, begins in weakness and goes through life in weakness. You have to acknowledge that you are a sinner and repent of your sins. What can be weaker and more disgraceful than being a sinner grovelling on your knees, repenting. Once you were standing straight, but now you are grovelling on your knees in weakness in order to repent. In baptism, someone takes hold of you and dumps you into the water, leaving you gasping for air, wet, and dripping all over the place. Is that not humiliation? If somebody ever did this to me as a non-Christian, I would punch him in the eyes. Here you submit to somebody grabbing you by the neck and dumping you into water. Is this not weaknesses?
Repentance is the total expression of weakness. If there is no expression of weakness, there is no repentance. Before, other people looked to you for mercy. You were the one that dispensed mercy, otherwise you would sink your sharp teeth into them. But now, you are begging for mercy, going to those whom you sinned against, saying: “Please forgive me.”
But then, do you go on in weakness? No. You still do not see much change in your life. You are still the same old person as you were before. You still think the same way and behave the same way. You thought you became a Christian to become strong. Didn’t He say He would give me abundant life and peace and joy? Are not peace and joy strengths? Where should I change?
That is one of the mysteries to me: I often see people being in the church for years and still I don’t see change. If you have not yet become utterly weak, you would never have the experience of His power. The first time I experienced God was also the first time I became truly weak. It was when I humbled myself totally before God, willing to grovel in the dust before Him, willing to become nothing before Him, that He manifested His presence to me. That is why I am a Christian today, because I have experienced God revealing His glory and His majesty to me. I could never turn back after that. Every time I am weak and willing to humble myself before Him, He continues to reveal Himself to me. I have shared in my testimonies the miracles that I experienced one after another when He kept me weak, such as in the condition of lack of food. That’s how He had to keep me weak so as to experience God all the time.
That is why Paul said: “I would much more glory in my weakness,” because then he could experience God. You are too rich. You are too healthy. You are too strong. You are too much in a high position. That is why you do not experience God. I can guarantee this: if you are rich, you won’t experience God to provide your need. You don’t need Him to. If you are in a high position, you are satisfied with yourself. Do you as a self-satisfied person experience God? Guaranteed no. You might mumble about some experience you have here and there, but you know very well that that is no deep experience of God at all. If you want to experience God in a deeper way, you’ve got to go down in weakness.
Go down in weakness
“When I am weak, then I am strong.” Why? Because a few verses before that, the Lord said to Paul: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” It never fails. Every time you truly become weak, to be a lamb, and humble yourself into dust, God will manifest His strength and His glory to you. You can try it. If it does not work, the Bible is not true. If the Bible is not true, then you don’t want to be a Christian. Don’t ever come to church again, because this is all nonsense. Either the gospel works or it doesn’t. It is a matter of God’s strength through our weakness. It is a matter of life and death. Let’s not fool around with the gospel. I have no time for superficialities. Either God is real or we are wasting our time with this whole message. That is the way it is.
In summary, we covered 3 points related to the Gospel:
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church