1 CORINTHIANS 1:17–18
“Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Commentary from the sermon “The Power of God” by Alistair Begg:
“The power of God is in the message of the cross.
“When Christ was nailed upon the cross, power was immediately manifested. We don’t often think about that, but it is true. The Romans were well familiar with crucifixion. It was brutal, probably the most cruel form of death that any human being could ever experience. And yet it was routine. It was run of the mill. The outskirts of Jerusalem were littered with crosses. Any Roman colony was filled with it. And the people were well used to death by crucifixion. But on the day that Christ died, it was different. There was a power about this event. There was a power about this cross.
“And Matthew reminds us in chapter 27 of his Gospel that when Jesus died, things were very different. ‘When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice,’ we’re told, ‘he gave up his spirit.’ He just died. And at that moment a number of things happened simultaneously. Number one, ‘the curtain [in] the temple was torn in two from top to bottom’ (Matt. 27:50–51, NIV 1984). That must have freaked the priests out! They’re just standing there, saying to one another, ‘Well, we got rid of the Jesus now. Any time now, that’ll be Him. He’ll be gone.’ And all of a sudden, the curtain torn right before their very eyes—a miraculous manifestation of God’s power. And as the curtain was torn from top to bottom, an earthquake took place: ‘The earth shook and the rocks split.’ And resurrections started to happen: ‘The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.’ This is unbelievable! ‘They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people’ (Matt. 27:51–53, NIV 1984). So here’s Mr. Jones in Jerusalem, and people are going, ‘What are you doing here? You died four and a half years ago!’ And he says, ‘I know! I can’t believe it myself! One minute I was gone, the next minute I was here! Back to the future! Here I am!” … And on the day that Christ died, death died; and as death died, God manifested His power at the cross.
“And so Paul says, ‘We can’t go beyond it, we can’t better it, and if we diminish it, we diminish the very basis of our power.’ For the message proclaimed is the power of God. And the message is the cross of Jesus Christ.”
2 CORINTHIANS 4:7–11
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
Commentary from the sermon “Knocked Down, but Never Knocked Out!” by Alistair Begg:
“Paul develops this paradox for us, and he shows this: that the light and the glory of God shines out of lives that are being broken. … Shines out of the lives in which God is working to show us that what Jesus said was true. He says, ‘I invite you to come and die with me. I invite you to walk in my footsteps and take up your cross every day and follow me. I invite you to die to yourself. I invite you to be crushed. I invite you to be broken. I invite you to become poor and pitiable and wretched and blind, so that in that experience of your weakness, I may raise you up in the all-surpassing nature of my power.’ (See Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Rev. 3:17.)
“Now, there is a word of caution which is clearly there for us, because we live in a society which constantly drives us in the reverse, does it not? Constantly says to us, ‘Now, you need to be in control! You need to be self-contained! You need to be invincible! Don’t ever drop your guard! Don’t ever let anyone know that you’re fearful or frail!’ And so much of the pressure on our days, even as it bleeds into our Christian experience, is to admit of no need—never to acknowledge that we’re broken, never to acknowledge that we’re frail, never to acknowledge that we’re sinful, but simply to live Christianity with a succession of masks. And as long as our mask is in place and touched up effectively to be a subterfuge against the passing crowd, we feel okay. But when we drive in our cars, when we look in our mirrors, when we turn open the pages of Scripture, we see ourselves for what we are. And even in that moment we try to deny it.
“Don’t deny it! God does not want you to be self-contained; He wants you to be God-contained. He does not want you to be personally invincible; He wants you to be personally susceptible. He doesn’t want you to be bolstering up your supposed successes; He wants you to be broken in the obvious nature of your weaknesses. Why? So that He may send us trudging through our days? No! So that He may lift our eyes up, and lift up our drooping hands, and strengthen our weak knees (see Heb. 12:12–14), and brace our shoulders for the fray.
“And we learn again that in the balance of our Christian pilgrimage, more is learned through our tears than is learned through our laughter. More of God’s glory is displayed in our weakness than is discovered in our strength. So why do we always run away from the experience of being weak people?
“Do you want to know power in your life? Acknowledge you’re weak. Do you want to know strength in your days? Acknowledge that you don’t have it all together. Do you want to know God’s Spirit poured out …? Let’s acknowledge before God how helpless and hopeless we are. Let’s come to Him in prayer. And let’s say, ‘God, we came here tonight not because somebody thought it was a bright idea but because we need to acknowledge before you so that you might display your all-surpassing power in our lives.’”
2 CORINTHIANS 12:7–10
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Commentary from the sermon “The Power of Weakness” by Alistair Begg:
“What was the thorn? It was physical; it was a thorn in his flesh. It wasn’t a passing thing; it was intense and it was regular. It was such an issue for him that we’re told that on three separate occasions he asked the Lord, ‘Would you please take this away from me?’
“… Allow this question to keep coming across your screen: Is it possible that the very limitations and handicaps in my life are the key to usefulness in the service of God? The things I’m trying to cover up, the things I’m trying to distance myself from, the things that show me to be actually phenomenally weak, are the keys to usefulness.
“Three times he asked the Lord, three times he got the same answer—similar to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane: ‘Father, if you’re willing, let this cup pass from me’ (Matt. 26:39, 42, paraphrased). He left His disciples, He went, He left His disciples and He went, and on three occasions the Father said, ‘We’re going right through with this.’ I wouldn’t be at all surprised but there are things in many of our lives this morning that we’ve had at least three encounters with God over: ‘God, if you would remove this,’ or ‘if you would provide this,’ or whatever else it is, and as we’ve gone through our earthly pilgrimage the answer’s just ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ And it’s clear it’s never going to happen.
“Father knows best. Father knows best. And His purpose is not to make our journey pleasurable. His purpose for us now is not to meet all our hopes and satisfy all our dreams. His purpose for us is far grander than that; it is to conform us to the image of His Son (see Rom. 8:29). And He wants us to reach heaven not like a shipwrecked sailor, but like a returning Olympic athlete. … You want to sell out now for the “Well done!” of men, for the accolades and approbations of those who are around us, as if that was what life was about? They’ll never remember your name, nor will you remember theirs. No, God is working on a far bigger canvas, you see.”
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Commentary from the sermon “The Secret of Contentment” by Alistair Begg:
“Paul is not saying … that he can do anything to which he puts his mind. But that’s the way verse 13 is largely used, you know: ‘I am horrible at mathematics; there’s no way in the world that I could get through certain pieces of the SAT. But Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” therefore, here we go!’ Well, there’s always a chance that there may be a divine intervention in some dramatic way, but by and large, Philippians 4:13 is going to do nothing for you except give you the strength to deal with the sense of abject failure that you experience when your SAT mathematical section results come back. That’s where it fits in. ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ In other words, I can flunk and still get on with my life—rather than, ‘Oh, I can do this, I can that, I can do the next thing, I can do everything.’ …
“No, Philippians 4:13 is not saying, ‘I can do anything I put my mind to.’ Philippians 4:13 is saying, ‘By Christ’s strength, I can be calm in adversity and I can be humble in prosperity.’ ’Cause that’s what’s needed: prosperous people need to learn how to be humble, and those of us who live in adverse circumstances need to learn how to be calm!”
“They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.”
Commentary from the sermon “‘Behold Your God!’ — Part Two” by Alistair Begg:
“How do we explain the weakness of the contemporary church? An absence of waiting. Waiting. In other words, resting in the assurance that the promises that God has made He will fulfill. It is the expectation of the fulfillment of the promises of God to the people of God in the experience of the exile that allows them to keep their chin up and to keep going forward. And it’s the same for you and me. …
The awesome God steps down into time and bids us cast our all upon Him. And if we will, He will keep us all the way to the end, and through the end.
You know me well enough to know that for seven years I wrote letters to a girl in the hope that, you know, I might manage to triumph over all the American boys who had access to her while I was far away—American boys who had muscles in places that I don’t even have places. And so it was the hope, it was the expectation. So, was she worth the wait? Yeah. Fifty-two years later, I’m telling you, definitely worth the wait.
Some of you are young people. Some of you are just not even twenty years old. Listen to those of us who are older: God is worth the wait—to wait upon Him, to trust Him, to rest on Him, to be prepared to say, ‘You can have the totality of me. I’ll go wherever you want me to go, and I’ll stay there for as long as you tell me to stay, and I’ll do whatever you want me to do, and I forsake every idol that I have raised up that says to me, “No, you can’t do that because of this, and you can’t do it because of that,” and so on. I’m done with that, Lord. I want to wait upon you, and I want to see your promises fulfilled.’”
2 CHRONICLES 20:5–7, 10–12
“Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, ‘O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. … And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy— behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.’”
Commentary from the sermon “The Advantage of Weakness” by Alistair Begg:
“The reason that Jehoshaphat is able to be as straightforwardly honest at the end of his prayer is because he is so unbelievably clear at the beginning of his prayer. The expression of his own inadequacy is set firmly within the context of all that he knows God to be. Let me put it interrogatively in the prayer: “O Lord, God of our fathers, [aren’t you] the God who is in heaven?” (NIV 1984). … Take all that is before us in terms of the daunting challenge of life and ministry and future and past, and set it, then, firmly within the framework of our awareness of who God is: “Aren’t you the God who is in heaven? Don’t you rule over the kingdoms?”—we’re still in verse 6. “Didn’t you”—verse 7—“drive out the inhabitants of this land and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham?”
“You see the importance of all these words? “God, it looks like we’re about to lose this land. I’m actually feeling like there is more than a distinct possibility that we will. I’m not sure what to do, and I’m not sure that I have the power to execute what I finally discover to do. But the thing that’s really helping me here is, didn’t you make a promise to Abraham? Didn’t you say, ‘I’m going to give this to you forever’?” (See Gen. 17:8.)
“You apply it in your own Christian pilgrimage. Here you are, and you’ve had a bad week, and you’ve run up against some things, and you hear the insistent voice of the Evil One saying, ‘You know, you’re a complete disaster. You’re absolutely useless. Your protestations on a Sunday are more than matched by your declension in the rest of the week.’ And you feel that very much…. And so, what do you do? Well, you set it against the truth of the Word of God: ‘“I am confident that He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6, paraphrased). I feel very much like I’m losing this battle, but your Word says that you will continue with me, that you will persevere with me, that you are a persevering God.’
“See, it’s not offsetting one set of feelings by another set of feelings. It’s bringing our feelings under the tutelage of the facts as they’re given to us.”
JUDGES 6:11–12, 14–16
“Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.’ … And the LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’ And he said to him, ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘But I will be with you.’”
Commentary from the sermon “Gideon: The Weakest and the Least” by Alistair Begg:
“In other words, ‘God, I am totally inadequate.’ God says, ‘Okay, this is good. Now we’re making progress. Now class is about to begin.’ But until the child of God, until the people of God, until the church of God reaches the point—as a result of circumstance and question and wrestling with the deep things of the faith—until the people of God get to the point where they say, ‘I am completely inadequate,’ then they never, ever make the discovery of the adequacy of God.
“You see, that’s why self-assured people don’t pray. If we’ve got everything covered, why would you pray? If we have the plans and strategies to repair, and to fix, and to renew, and to go on, what purpose would there ever be of standing in silence before God, saying, ‘We [don’t] know what to do, but our eyes are upon you’? (2 Chron. 20:12, NIV 1984).
“Do you know why some of us are used as little as we are? It’s strange, this, but it’s true: it’s because we think we are just so wonderfully useful. And God wants to bring us to the place where He shows us that we’re actually use-less. And in the experience of His presence and His provision, the useless becomes useful.”
JUDGES 7:2, 7–8
“The Lord said to Gideon, ‘The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, “My own hand has saved me.”’ …
“And the Lord said to Gideon, ‘With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.’ So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men.”
Commentary from the sermon “Against All Odds” by Alistair Begg:
“Even the events of chapter 6, dramatic as they are, could not have prepared Gideon’s ears for what they are now hearing—‘Am I really hearing what I think I’m hearing?’ ‘The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands’ (NIV 1984)—‘too many.’ What’s wrong with this picture? That doesn’t make sense, does it? It surely doesn’t make sense that if you’ve got a huge opposition force, you would need as many as possible to go against the vastness of the opposition, that you would be able to match strength for strength. And it doesn’t make sense—that is, not until we understand the necessity of weakness. The necessity of weakness—not the advisability of weakness, not the posture of weakness, not the pragmatic benefits that may come from adopting the procedures that accrue from weakness, but actually when we recognize the necessity of weakness itself.
“God’s purpose for His people in every age is that we might depend upon Him entirely. And God is at work in people and in circumstances so as to achieve that objective in our lives. That is what will make sense ultimately, if not in time, of all of the things that don’t make sense at the moment. Because many things in our Christian pilgrimage don’t fit into nice, neat categories, do they? There are many things that are part and parcel of our lives that, from a sort of normal vantage point, we look at the circumstance and we say, “This doesn’t make any sense at all.” God knows that. He knows that we’re prone, in and of ourselves, to rely on ourselves, to rely on our methods, to rely on our traditions …, or to rely on our personalities, or to rely on our gifts. … And God is at work, then and now, so as to bring each of us, as individuals and as groups, to the awareness of the absolute necessity of weakness.
1 SAMUEL 17:34–37
“David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.’ And David said, ‘The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.’”
Commentary from the sermon “You Cannot Be Serious?” by Alistair Begg:
“The Lord ‘delivered me,’ past tense; the Lord ‘will deliver me,’ future tense. David does not respond to Saul’s assertions by saying, ‘Well, I understand that, but I’m a lot tougher than I look,’ by saying, ‘No, no, no, no, no, you haven’t really got the measure of me, you don’t really know who I am.’ He doesn’t say that. No, instead, in recounting his successes in striking down his opponents in working with the flock—namely, a lion and a bear—David says, … ‘I believe that I will be able to deal similarly with Goliath because he has defied the armies of the living God.’ And what is God’s concern? God’s concern is for His name, and for His glory, and for His people, and for His unfolding eternal purpose, and for His kingdom. And ultimately what is happening here in 1 Samuel 17 has to do with a far larger perspective than simply the defiance of a Philistine against the armies of Israel; it has to do with the Lord’s Anointed in the Lord’s place so that God’s people in God’s place may be under God’s rule enjoying God’s pleasure.1 ‘I think,’ he says, ‘that we’ll be able to proceed with this. I believe that God, who has shown Himself strong in the past, will show Himself strong in the present.’
“… David does not launch off with some great statement of bravado. What we have here is not antithetical to reason or to sensibility. I say that to you because some of you will have already begun to make the non sequitur approach in your mind which says, ‘Oh, I get this now! You have on the one hand reason, sensibility, and pragmatism, and this is now about to be set against a great leap of faith on abandon into nothingness.’ No, it’s not. Because, in actual fact, what David does here is he combines a good memory with sound thinking—a good memory with sound thinking. ‘Because God did that there and then,’ he says, ‘He is able to do this here and now. And since the God of the there and then remains the God of the here and now, then I believe that since Goliath has defied the armies of the living God, we can look to God together to deliver us from Goliath in the same way that He has delivered me in the past in going about my duties.’”
1 SAMUEL 17:43–45
“The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.’ Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
Commentary from the sermon “It’s All about God — Part One” by Alistair Begg:
“Goliath stands up and he boasts in himself—boasts in himself. We’re tempted to boast in ourselves, aren’t we? We all want to read this story and identify with the hero—you know, ‘Oh, I think I’d be David if I was in this story, yeah.’ … The fact of the matter is, some of us have got more of the spirit of Goliath about us: ‘I think I can handle this. I mean, after all, look at me. Look at my armor, look at my substance, look at my track record, look at my equipment, look at my weaponry. It’s not a problem.’ In fact, some of us have spent our whole lives trying to get there. That’s been the whole drama of our lives. And when we hear ourselves speak in conversation, it is sad and it is obnoxious the way in which we represent ourselves. And the Bible has told us, ‘Let the one who thinks he stands take heed, lest he falls’ (1 Cor. 10:12, paraphrased). Goliath stands as a classic illustration of this: ‘I’ve got it covered.’ No, you don’t. ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom or the rich man boast in his riches or the strong man boast in his strength, but let him who boasts boast in this: that he knows Me, the living God’ (Jer. 9:23–24, paraphrased).