GCI Sermon – October 10, 2021

God in Our Weakness

Hebrews 4:12-16


In the Marvel Comics universe, there is a scientist named Dr. Bruce Banner, a theoretical physicist who specialized in gamma radiation. After an experiment went wrong, Dr. Banner was exposed to a massive amount of gamma rays. He was transformed into an unstoppable titan, the living embodiment of his rage. Dr. Banner’s alter ego came to be known as The Incredible Hulk. The Hulk is a very popular character in our society, and the green behemoth’s image can be seen on many posters, t-shirts, and Halloween costumes. However, there are very few images of Dr. Bruce Banner. Even though he is one of the most brilliant minds in the Marvel universe, few, if any, children pretend to be Dr. Banner. There is something about the Hulk’s raw strength that captures our imagination. Bruce Banner can use his mind to create wonderfully useful things, but most are more interested in the Hulk’s capacity for destruction. There is nothing wrong with finding the Hulk interesting and cheering for him at the next installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, we should wonder why we find the Hulk so compelling.

There is a saying: “Only the strong survive.” This Darwinist creed is built on the belief that being weak makes us vulnerable. If we show weakness, those who are strong will take advantage of us or maybe even do us harm. While we may not personally live by this creed, a disdain for weakness can be found woven into the fabric of our culture. We say things to each other like, “Never let them see you sweat,” or, “keep a stiff upper lip!” If we experience hurt, either emotional or physical, there is someone ready and willing to tell us to “shake it off!” We are indirectly given the message that weakness is to be hidden and ignored until it is overcome — that it is a shameful enemy that must be conquered. We are programmed to believe the Hulk is better than Dr. Banner because he is not weak.

Should Christians follow the creed, “Only the strong survive”? Should we avoid showing any weakness? Let’s turn to a passage in Hebrews for answers. The author of Hebrews was writing a group of people who were nearing their breaking point. The letter is addressed to Jewish Christians who, because of persecution, were tempted to revert to Judaism, or to add Jewish legalism to the gospel. In Hebrews 4, we see God’s response to their fading spiritual strength:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:12-16)

By “weakness,” the writer of Hebrews is talking about the things in his audience’s hearts that cause them to turn away from Jesus and lose their faith. This weakness can be found in all human hearts to some degree because we all, in our flesh, are oriented away from God. The passage shows us that nothing is hidden from Jesus, and he is able to see the weakness in all humanity. He sees our fear, selfish desires, and self-righteousness. He sees our greed, pride, and idolatry. He sees our cowardice and indifference. He sees our deception and cruelty. Jesus can see the corruption of our hearts and minds. It is all laid bare to him.

When confronted with our weakness, however, Jesus did not turn away in embarrassment. He did not tell humanity to “shake it off.” He did not find our weakness repulsive and recoil from us. Rather, he stepped into our weakness. Instead of fleeing from our failings, Jesus united himself to our weakness and overcame the sources of every human failure on our behalf. In his resurrection, Jesus secured for us a new humanity — one that is free from the corruption of sin. By the Holy Spirit, we have a guarantee of our coming perfection, and even get to experience moments of true strength now.

Christ did bear our weaknesses figuratively, but also literally. The passage says he was tempted in every way. Because he was fully human, born with our same corruption, the text indicates there was a part of him that wanted to give up on his mission. There was something inside telling him to give in to despair or to vent his rage. Something inside Jesus tempted him to focus on himself and seek his own pleasure. A small part of him wanted to become the Messiah everyone expected him to be. He bore all our weaknesses, yet he did not give in to them.

Jesus’ resurrection and ascension opened the door for us to bring our weakness to the Father. We are not to hide our failings or pretend like they do not exist. Rather, we should honestly and confidently lay them at the feet of the One who sits in the throne of grace. And since Jesus has been tempted in every way, empathy meets us at the throne. Jesus understands our weakness and he does not condemn us. He does not ridicule our weakness and greet us in shame. He opens his arms wide to receive us with love. In receiving our weakness with empathy, God displays his mercy. Apart from God, we would have to rely on our own strength to stay faithful to him. We would have to rely on our own abilities to keep from sin. It should be clear to all of us that we are not that strong. We are completely dependent on Christ and his strength.

For Christians, the creed “only the strong survive” does not work. The truth is that only the weak survive. When we bring our weaknesses to God, he extends grace to us. Grace is not just the favor of God, but it is also his presence. Grace is God giving himself to us. So, when we bring our weaknesses to him, God draws near to us. He brings his power to bear in our situation. He employs his wisdom to chart the way forward. He supplies his peace so that we may endure. That is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul understood that God shows up in our weakness. Not only does God deliver us from our trial, but we get to know the God of our weakness. He reveals aspects of his character we would not be able to discern otherwise. We get to see the extent to which he saves and delivers. We are able to witness deeper expressions of his mercy and grace. Our weakness helps us see and know God.

This is all good news. However, none of it benefits us unless we are willing to be weak. For many of us, this is a hard step to take. You may identify yourself with a human standard of strength and have little practice confessing your shortcomings to God or anyone else. Perhaps you had a difficult childhood and felt you had to develop some emotional armor to survive. Perhaps you were raised around people who frowned on any displays of strong emotion, especially emotions judged to be weak.  You may already feel so discouraged that you feel that admitting your weakness would cause overwhelming shame. All these mindsets result from failing to see God as the one who steps into our weakness. We withhold our weakness because we believe God will meet us with condemnation, anger, and rejection. However, the author of Hebrews lets us know that God meets us with empathy, mercy, and grace. Seeing God for who he is makes it easier to bring our shortcomings and hurts to him. Believing in God’s loving acceptance of our weakness enables us to be Dr. Banner and leave the Hulk behind.

We bring our weaknesses to God in honest, introspective prayer. We look in the mirror of our mind and confess to God our fear, anger, pride, greed, and anything else that is not of Christ. We have to be transparent and honest, knowing God can take it.

You may want to share a personal example to make the point. The author shares an example from someone he knows.

For example, I knew someone who struggled in prayer. It was not until he got honest that he experienced a breakthrough in his prayer life. One morning, he admitted, “Lord, I do not want to pray. It’s boring and I only do it so I don’t get in trouble with you.” Ironically, after that nearly irreverent opening, my friend had an incredibly deep, meaningful time of prayer. It began a season of study about prayer. He learned that the way he was taught to pray was not biblical. He also realized he was trying to have a transactional relationship with God, which showed he had a flawed understanding of the Lord’s nature. He explored better teaching on prayer and his prayer life is now far more consistent and intimate. However, he would still be struggling with an unsatisfying prayer life if he failed to bring his weakness to the throne of grace. The Lord stepped into my friend’s weakness and turned it into a source of true strength.

If ever you doubt that God steps into our weakness, just look to Jesus on the cross. Look to the nails through his hands and feet. See the wound in his side and the lashes on his back. Listen to the ridicule and rejection of the crowd. Hear him cry out his thirst and feelings of abandonment. Look at the crowd to see that most of his friends had left him. He did not transform into a green monster and rip himself off the cross. He did not call down fire on his enemies. His disciples did not lead a revolution and rescue him. He died. He died horribly. None who looked on his broken body saw any human strength. If we believe that only the strong survive, we would have to say that Jesus was not strong.

But Jesus is strong. Unbelievably strong. His broken body forged a new humanity. His spilled blood cleansed our sins and reconciled every person to the Father. He transformed the cross from a curse into the cure for all that ails humanity. He defines strength. There is no weakness in him. He embodies power. And he uses his power to rescue and redeem humanity. When we bring our weaknesses to God, by the Spirit, he is the one who shows up. Let us be weak so we can find our strength in Jesus.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of any examples of someone’s possessions becoming an idol?
  • Why is it wrong to get our value from money?
  • Who would you rather be: Dr. Bruce Banner or The Hulk? Why?
  • Do you have a hard time talking about your weakness?
  • To you, what does it mean that “only the weak survive”?


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