How Strong is Strong?
There's an ongoing battle, of which you, as a believer, are a part. The battle was between God and His defeated enemy, Satan. And even though Satan is a defeated foe, his hatred for God and consequently his hatred for God's children drives him to continue his fight until the day of God's Final Judgment. And if you're a believer, if you are a disciple of Christ, then your identification with Christ has made you a part of this conflict between Satan and God. And the reality is God placed you in the midst of this battle when He saved you. Now my prayer for you as your pastor is this: that you would understand this reality. And from your understanding of this reality, you would develop a sense of urgency and see the necessity of preparing yourself for the conflict, and to take the necessary steps to protect yourself in the conflict. From the human side of the equation here, the starting point of victory in this battle is in your mind. Now keep in mind I said from the human side, the starting point of victory is in your mind, meaning the way that you think. You must believe you must have faith that God's strength is strong enough, while at the same time you have to come to grips with the fact that you are weak and powerless in the face of these battles. But from a human standpoint, you have to believe. You have to have faith that God's strength is strong enough for you. Your strength is virtually worthless in this case. You must believe as the psalmist said in Psalm 18:29, "For by you" that's by God, "I can run against a troop, and by my God, I can leap over a wall." In other words you can do things empowered by God in God's strength that you can never do on your own. I know for a fact, I can't run against a troop, if I run against a troop by myself, I'm going down. And I know for sure I can't leap over a wall. But the point is God says, "Listen, by My strength, I can enable you to do things spiritually, that you cannot do on your own." So we're studying this portion of Scripture that I said from week one that is absolutely vital to our success as Christians. Now if this section of scripture is vital for your spiritual survival, wouldn't it be unwise to rush through it? Think about what I'm going to say here for just a second. You may be sitting there thinking, "I cannot believe this is your third message on this same verse." And I would understand if you would think that. But there may be even more. Say "why" because I have a biblical responsibility as Paul wrote in Colossians 1:28 to present those God has entrusted to my care, to present you mature in Christ. I cannot do a drive-by scripturely and present you mature in Christ. If this portion of Scripture is that vital to your spiritual survival, do you really want me to hit it for 30 minutes, and then move on to the next subject? That's why topical preaching, as a steady diet, never builds mature Christians. You never get a chance to really get firmly rooted and grounded in anything. So, instead of rushing through it I think it'd be wise to take the time because we have to understand three things. First one: we have to understand the nature of the battle. We've covered this and the nature of the battle is what? Is spiritual. We have to understand who the battle belongs to. And who does the battle belong to? The battle belongs to the Lord. And thirdly, we have to understand what God has provided to you for your protection in the battle. Say, "What is it God provided for me for my protection?" His strength and the whole armor of God. And so we spent several weeks here just examining what Paul means here when he says, "Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might." So let me give you kind of a practical application: there are one or two here that are contemplating a call to the mission field. So, let's think this through. What would you rather do? Would you rather learn about the spiritual battles that you're going to face when you get to there, wherever there is, or would you like to arrive on the mission field prepared and properly equipped to face your spiritual battles. There is a high, high, high failure rate among missionaries. Could it be, we're sending them off with rose colored glasses, totally unprepared to face the spiritual warfare they will have to deal with when they get there? Would you like to learn where your strength lies in the heat of battle, or would you be better served to learn and understand the source of your strength before you enter the enemy's arena? What do you think is the wise choice here? Would you like to learn about and test the whole armor of God now, before the enemy shoots his fiery darts at you (by the way he's an expert marksman, and he will pick you off if you're not prepared, if you're not protected), or would you like to wait till the heat of the battle and try and suit up? After you've taken a shot or two? Then do you want to try and suit up? Then you want to try and get prepared? I don't think so. Or would you like to carefully examine each piece of the armor now, surrounded by those who can instruct you, as to its proper fit and function? It makes sense to me that if you're serious about preparing for the mission field, and realistically we are all on the mission field, be wise to start your preparation now. It starts here. Don't think that you're going to go off to some college or some seminary or some missionary training organization, you're going to get what you need there. It starts in the church. You'll get some of what you need, but the preparation starts here in the local church. And what is true of those who may be called to another lane is equally true for us who are called to live out our faith right here, in our own homeland. Your preparation for spiritual success starts here. It starts with understanding who you are in Christ, and all that God has provided for His children through Christ. So here's the reality we face: we've examined the reality of spiritual warfare. We first saw it in the book of Daniel. We see it here now in the book of Ephesians. And if time would permit, and perhaps some other time it would, we could take the time to examine several incidents from the Gospels between Jesus and those who were possessed by demonic forces. You read the Gospels and you see that Jesus, on more than one occasion, met poor tortured souls on whom He took pity and cast out the demons that were tormenting them. So perhaps you don't believe Daniel, and perhaps you don't believe Paul, but you have to believe Jesus. How can you argue with the life of Jesus with the actions of Jesus? Jesus's words and His actions demonstrates that He believed in the reality of spiritual warfare. The next thing that we looked at was perhaps the biggest hindrance in this whole matter: and that is our lack of faith. The Bible teaches, again, three things. We must have faith in God's strength. Listen, this is not some catchphrase. "Oh," you know, "I'll be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might." It's not some catchphrase. Not some mantra that you just repeat over and over again. No it's a biblical reality that we must believe in the very core of our being. Second, the Bible teaches that we must believe that God shares His strength with us. We looked at this last week. We don't have any doubt thinking that God shares His strength with the big guns of the evangelical world, but not little me out here in the middle of nowhere. No, God shares His strength God uses His strength on every one of His children's behalf. Thirdly, the Bible teaches that God will and does use His power on our behalf. I've said it before, I'll say it again. Do you believe it? Probably say," Yeah, I'll say I believe it if you'll move on." Okay. Now as you read in verse 10, the text demands two acts of faith. First is this: you must have a settled belief, a settled confidence that the Lord is almighty in power. And you have to believe this both intellectually and emotionally. You have to believe with both your head and your heart, you must not doubt that. Second, you must have a set of beliefs. And what I mean by set of beliefs is that you can't believe at one moment and then the next moment you're doubting it. You must be firm in your resolve. You must not waver. You must not be that "double-minded man" that James talks about. You must have a settled belief that God's all mighty power is already actively defending you. And if that is true, and I believe it is, then you must make use of God's power as if it were your own. What I mean is this: your belief that God is actively defending you is so strong, is so unshakable, that you fight confidently knowing because you are strong in the Lord you will win. You will win. How hard would you fight if someone broke into your house and threatened your family? How hard would you fight? I'm assuming that you would expand every last drop of your energy at defending yourself and your family. Why hold anything back? The stakes are too high, right?Well, the reality is as a Christian you have an enemy who is trying to rob you of your most treasured possessions. "So what, my iPhone?" No, not your iPhone. Not your flat screen TV. No. Not material things. You have an enemy that's trying to rob you of the spiritual blessings that God has blessed you with and your salvation. That's what spiritual warfare is. Someone, your enemy, is trying to take from you the blessings. The kind of life that is your birthright as a child of God. Say, "What kind of life?" A life of peace. A life of purity. A life of holiness. A life of intimate fellowship with Christ, and a life characterized by the power of the Holy Spirit. So you fight with a strength that is not your own, and you fight with confidence because you know that you're fighting with a strength that absolutely has no limitations. The strength of God, the power of God, knows no bounds and that is the strength that God has made available to His children. That's why Paul can say, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might." It's not filler for Paul. This is reality. You know 2 Kings chapter six the king of Syria was waging war against the king of Israel. And he told some of his advisors what his plan of attack was. Well down in Israel, there was a prophet by the name of Elisha. And Elisha went to the king of Israel and warned him to stay away from a certain location because the king of Syria was planning to launch an attack there. Now, as you read 2 Kings six you will see that Elisha did this on several occasions, which led to the king of Syria believing that he had a spy who was passing on his battle plans. So the king of Syria calls in his closest advisers and he says, "Alright, which one of you is a rat?" But it's not exactly how he said it, but that's how I say it. "Which one of you guys are rattin' me out? Elisha. Every time I play an attack against Israel, somehow they know about it." Well one of his young men step forward said, "Listen king, nobody here is a rat. If anybody is a rat, it's that guy Elisha. He's the man of God who's telling the king of Israel all about your plans." The king of Syria says, "Alright we'll take care of this problem." So he sends his army to fetch Elisha. The Bible says that Elisha's servant got up one morning and went outside and looked around and, lo and behold, he saw that the Syrian army had surrounded the city. They had come for Elisha. So he hurries back in to tell Elisha what he sees with his physical eyes. Keep that in mind. He goes back in to tell Elisha, "Hey, we are surrounded." He basically says Elisha, "What are we going to do?" As you read the text, it doesn't seem that Elisha is very concerned at all. He said to the young man, "Don't worry because those who are with us are greater than they are." And immediately I thought "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world", right? Imagine the young man, his server, probably was thinking, "I don't know. I see a whole bunch of people out there and I see me and you in here." Well Elisha prayed and asked the Lord open young man's eyes to the reality of the situation. His spiritual eyes. The Bible says, "So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." So what's going on here? Elisha knew that God's power, God's strength was poised to defend them. And again you can tell by Elisha's actions, by his calm demeanor, he didn't doubt for a second that God was actively protecting the prophet and the people. Beloved, that is where you need to be. You need to believe that God, right now, in His strength is actively watching out over you poised to defend you. And when you get there your belief, your faith in the Lord's strength will absolutely skyrocket. But let me give you a word of caution: this is not a license to live recklessly. The Bible calls us to live circumspectly, to live carefully to stay as far away from the edge as possible not as close to the edge as possible. Amen? So remember, your assignment as a Christian really is twofold. First of all, to build your faith in God's strength. Second, to build your faith in God's promise that He is indeed your strength. Now, everyone in the room, whether you're a Christian or you're not a Christian, maybe the first time you've been in church, or the 10,000th time you've been in church; but everyone in the room in one way or another has already experienced the strength and the power of God. If you are a believer, you have experienced the strength and the power of God in multiple ways. Even if you're here and you're an unbeliever, you have experienced the power of God in at least one way. Now we have to ask ourselves this question: How does God communicate the strength of His strength to us? In other words, "How can we know how strong is strong?" I think that's a legitimate question. If Paul is telling us "to be strong in the Lord and His strength is might", I think we should ask "Well, how strong is strong?" Not in a doubting way, but in a confidence building way. I'm not questioning God's strength I want to know, "Just how strong is strong?" Well, one of the ways that God reveals His strength, and there are multiple, and I apologize up front. I want to go and get the one. But one way, one starting point in understanding how strong is strong, is in the names of God. In the Old Testament God identified Himself as God Almighty, twice he came to Abraham and said, "I am God Almighty." Say, "What does Almighty mean?" Well it means that no one or nothing is mightier than God. How strong is God? He's Almighty. Now in our neck of the woods, you may talk to somebody, sometime and you may hear them say, "They are mighty strong." You've ever heard someone say that? "They're mighty strong." But God is more than mighty strong. He's Almighty strong. His strength has no limits, and it cannot be limited by anyone or any thing. So how do we know how strong God's strength is? Well first of all, He communicates the power of His strength through His name. The psalmist was understood this. Psalms 24:8, "Who is this King of glory?" question mark. There's a sense in which we can look at that and say, "Well he's asking a question of identification. Who is this King of glory? What's he say? "The LORD, strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle!" Who is this King of glory? He is the LORD and He's strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. God reveals His strength, God communicates His strength to us through His name. His name represents His character. You know one of God's attributes is His omnipotence. And if you read MacArthur and may use biblical doctrine, which I would highly recommend to everybody in the room it's very accessible very readable. They have an entire section, they have a section there devoted to God's omnipotence as it's revealed through His names. Let me read you just a little section here. They said "God's names and titles display His powers, such as 'God Almighty', 'Lord of hosts', 'Mighty One of Israel', 'King of kings', 'Lord of lords', 'the Lord Almighty', and the 'Blessed and only Sovereign.'" What's God doing here? He's revealing His strength to us through His names. How do I know God is strong? Take him at His word. See how He's revealed Himself to us in His names. Now there's another name of God, if you will, that reveals His strength. In Isaiah 40:28 the prophet wrote, "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator", capital C, "the Creator of the ends of the earth." Creator is capitalized. Who's Isaiah referring to here? He's referring to God. So how strong is God's strength? Strong enough, powerful enough to speak all of creation into existence. Everyone in this room, this neighborhood, and this town, in this state, in this country, on this continent, everyone in the world exists because God wills them to exist. If God did not will them to exist, they would not exist. God is strong enough to accomplish His will. You know as human beings, we may want to see something happen, but many times our wish is nothing more than a want. I wish it would happen, I want it to happen, but my will was not powerful enough to make it happen. We like the power, we like the strength to accomplish our want, but you know God does not have that problem. Whatever God wills God's strength will make it happen. Whatever God wills God's strength will make it happen. That's why I can say: everybody in this room has experienced the strength of God, and the fact that you exist. If you will at least be truthful with yourself and acknowledge that truth, then you can go on to begin to consider that perhaps that there are other things that God is powerful enough to do such as save me, to bring spiritual life out of spiritual death. That I am not beyond hope, that regardless of what I've gone through, I am still eligible for salvation. Why? Because God is strong enough. God reveals His strength through His creative powers. Psalm 36:9, "For with you is the fountain of life." . "You" is God; "fountain of life" is what? The source of life. God you are the source of life. Genesis 2:7, "Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." Now think about that. The One in the Bible you have a tough time believing in, wouldn't you? He takes, He picks up a handful of dust and creates this? That's why we say at the grave site, "Ashes to ashes and", what, "dust to dust." Job 33:4, "The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life." You exist because God wills for you to exist. Why are you still alive on this Sunday, and there are hundreds of thousands of other people who died this past week? Because God wills for you to be here to hear this today. There's another very important verse in Romans chapter one, Romans 1:20, now listen carefully, "For his", that's God, for God's "invisible attributes. And what does Paul point out here: "namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived." In other words He's not hidden them from anyone has He? "ever since the creation of the world." How has God revealed His eternal power and His divine nature? How is it clearly perceived? "ever since the creation of the world, and the things that have been made. So that they are without excuse." In other words, God robs every living human being, of the excuse of not knowing something about Him. Notice that Paul says here, "his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived." He's not hidden this facet of His character from anyone. So God demonstrates His strength through creation. Every time you see a blue sky, you are seeing a demonstration of God's strength. Every time that you hear it thunder, you are hearing a demonstration of God's strength. Every time you feel the wind blow, you are feeling a demonstration of God's strength. You are left without excuse. That's why Paul says this has been "clearly perceived". That is what Paul says, "they are without excuse." If you're alive, you have experienced the power of God, the strength of God in creation. And if you don't believe that, you fall right into the category that Paul also brings out in the book of Romans that you are suppressing the truth. You are clearly denying what has been clearly perceived. Well, not only does God demonstrated His power through creation, He also demonstrates His power, His strength over creation. Now, I don't normally ask you to do this, but would you turn to Exodus chapter 14? Exodus chapter 14. There are number of examples that we could look at, but let's look at just one this morning. Here's the backstory, here's the context: the children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. And God has heard their cries for deliverance and He sent Moses be his spokesman to Pharaoh. So God through Moses says the pharaoh, "Let my people go." Pharaoh balked, and God sent the 10 plagues. And when Pharaoh found his mighty country on the brink of destruction, he finally agreed to let the people go. So the people leave Egypt, but it wasn't long before Pharaoh had a change of heart. And What did he do? He set out after them. So the children of Israel were confronted with a problem. They had an angry Pharaoh and his army behind them, and they had a deep blue sea in front of them. In other words, they were pinned down. Now they were the ones on the brink of destruction. Or were they? Let's pick up the story in Exodus 14 verse 10:
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said you in Egypt: 'leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again."
Isn't that a crazy statement? They've seen these people every day for the last 400 years, and are hot on their tails now. And Moses says, "Hey you're never going to see them again. The Lord will fight for you. And you only have to be silent."
The LORD said to Moses, "Why do you cry to me? Tell the people visual to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divided it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen." Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on the right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, "Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians." Then the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen." So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his normal course with a morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
Let's keep reading on to Exodus 15 verse two:
"The Lord is my" what "strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, I will exalt Him."
Verse 6 of Exodus 15:
"Your right hand, O LORD" what's it say, "glorious and power, your right hand, O LORD shatters the enemy."
You see what's happening here? God not only demonstrated His strength on behalf of His people, He did so by demonstrating His power of creation and His power over creation. Now I don't know if you caught this, but as we were reading Exodus 14, let me highlight something I find to be utterly fascinating. Look at verses 19 and 20 of Exodus 14:
"Then the angel of God" now pay close attention to this. "Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud in the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night."
What a scene, this must have been. The angel of God who began by leading the people, along with the pillar of cloud, represented God's presence among His people, moved from in front of the people. Where did they go to? They took up a place behind the people in front of their enemies. In other words, they set up this fortress this impenetrable wall that could not be penetrated didn't matter how many men Pharaoh had didn't matter how strong Pharaoh's army was they were not getting through. If Pharaoh had any thought of all of taking them back he was sadly, and sorely mistaken. Why the angel of the Lord, the pillar of the cloud, went behind the people and set up a defense that could not be breached. What are we seeing here? We're seeing God's strength being used on behalf of His people. It's absolutely amazing. God led them, He defended them, He protected them, He set this wall up that could not be penetrated. Why? Because the battle belongs to the Lord.
You see that? Puritan William Gurnall wrote in his work "The Christian In Complete Armour" he said, "There are times when God puts His children in a position in order to demonstrate His power firsthand." Can I say that again? There are times when God puts His children in a position in order to demonstrate His power firsthand. That's exactly what God did with the children of Israel. He could have told them that He was strong. He could have told them that "I'll protect you." He could have told them "I'll defend you." He could have told them all of those things, but you know what was so much more powerful? Was Him putting them in a position where they absolutely had to depend upon His power and His strength. Now which do you think gave them more confidence? Hearing it or seeing it in action? I would say seeing it in action. Now I want you to think about your life right now. Has God, has your heavenly Father lead you to your own Red Sea? And it appears that the situation that you're facing is hopeless. You turn around and you can see the dust of the desert rising from the wheels of your enemy's chariots, as they race across the desert sand and you find yourself with a seemingly impossible and hopeless situation. What are you going to do? Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. And what did the people have to do? They had to wait on God. And perhaps God has you at this place in this time in order to demonstrate His power to you. He wants to demonstrate His power to you personally. He doesn't want you living off second hand experiences. It's all well and good that He protected the children of Israel at the Red Sea, right? That's wonderful and we praise Him for that when we glorify Him for that, but you know what? In the trenches of my life, I need to know that power firsthand. When the doctor says this, I need to know that power. I lose my job, I need to know this power. When tragedy comes in my life, I need to know this power personally. I can't live off of that experience. If you want a visual they weren't fighters they were no match for these chariots. There were no match for the horsemen, there were no match for these well armed fighters of Egypt, but they didn't have to be. Why? God was going to fight for them. God was going to protect them. God was going to take care of them. They needed to know that. They need to believe that He was their protector. They needed to believe that He was their defender. They needed to know that He was their strength. They needed to know how strong He was. Therefore, God will, at times, put us in positions in order to demonstrate His strength to us. I'm not saying that there weren't some anxious moments throughout the night as they waited to see what God was going to do. Keep this in mind, it's dark. But a wind's blowing. Could they see the seas being parted? I don't know. There's one thing they did know, they had Pharaoh and the army behind them. They knew that for sure. So I'm not saying they were sitting back singing "Kumbaya My Lord", roasted weenies and marshmallows and just waiting for daybreak. I'm sure there were anxious, they were fearful, but they had to wait on God. There are times when you have to wait on God. But here's the great thing, unlike them you already know what God did on their behalf, amen? And what God did for them on that day, not only to save them, He did it in order to provide you with an example, a demonstration of His power that He has promised to use to protect you to fight for you to take care of you. Do you believe it? You really have no reason not to. I want you to think about this, the angel of the Lord goes from the front the pillar of the Lord; goes from the front and goes to the back. And what is it that you are fearful of? Something that happened in your past? Know this: God's presence, God's strength is between you and that past whatever it is. Whatever you're facing, you're not left alone in the battle. "Finally", Paul writes, "be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might."