A sermon: Helpless
God is not afraid of questions. He welcomes them. What he dislikes is when we sit around trying to figure it all out by ourselves.
This is the text of a sermon I delivered on September 15, 2013. I don’t remember where I preached it. It’s rare that I give a full sermon anywhere. Most of my written notes are Sunday School lessons, but this one is a full sermon. I felt it was appropriate given that the world is in chaos, we’re simultaneously celebrating Juneteenth, which I never learned about in school but is an important milestone in our country’s fulfillment of the ideals in the Declaration of Independence. We’re also being bombarded with proselytizing of a new set of ideals, based on human imagination—that we can determine our own gender, our own biology, our own family. It’s not just a “live and let live” ideal, because in order to validate those who believe it, we all must relinquish our claims to truth. I think it’s quite helpful to step back and look at how the Bible deals with faith, questions, and little children.
Theme scripture: Luke 18:17
Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
Would you turn to Luke chapter 18.
I want to speak about a verse we’ve all heard before, and bring a level of understanding to it...the Bible is full of levels of understanding, ever deeper, layer upon layer. The psalmist says deep cries out to deep; if we allow our understanding of God’s word and His purpose to remain shallow, how shall we have ears to hear the deep things He is calling to us?
God gave the Law to Moses, not for Moses to hear, as God spoke to Moses constantly, and Moses had ears to hear. God desired that all His people, the Children of Israel (B’nai Yisrael) have those same ears to hear, but they wanted to remain shallow and distant. They feared God and closeness to Him, so they wanted a master, a judge, and they wanted the rules written down. So God gave them the Law through Moses. If we hear nothing but the Law, we cannot have ears to hear.
Our own sense of self, our flesh as the Word of God calls it, our mind buried deep within its own thoughts, the part of ourselves we share with no-one, the part we consider to be “me” that listens and speaks and has entire conversations within us that are silent to the outside world. That self wants to control us and make us deaf to anything and everything else. Paul wrote about it, and called it our sin nature, our unregenerate mind. James called it double-minded and tossed by the wind and waves.
We do not want to go deeper in our understanding with God and cannot unless we study His Word. Romans 12:2 tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is--his good, acceptable and perfect will. Without study, we have no idea at all what God’s purpose is, for us, or for anything else in the world.
So we read from Luke 18, verse 17: Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
We’ve all heard this verse, and we all know that we are to have faith like a little child. Little children believe anything. I told my son Samuel, when he was just 18 months old (he has always been an advanced talker, I think he will be arguing Supreme Court cases before he’s 10)...I told him that the moon was made of cheese. Sam just went around telling everyone when I asked “what’s the moon made of?” - “CHEESE!”. He just believed me in a childlike manner because I’m daddy and I told him so. That’s until mommy told him the moon is made of rocks, so now that’s our little joke, I say cheese and he says rocks.
Little kids believe without question, but inside they are always questioning. By the time an 18 month old turns 3 or 4, the “why’s” start to come out. You can tell a 4 year old the sky is blue, he can see it’s blue. It’s blue to everyone who looks up. So he asks “why?” and I tell him it’s because the earth has an atmosphere, and he asks “why?” “so we can breathe” “why?” “so we won’t suffocate” “why?” and on and on as long as I keep answering. Is this the kind of faith Jesus was talking about?
Is God afraid of questioning, of asking “why?”. God rebuked Job, not for asking “why” but for trying to answer his own “why’s”. Job 34:34-37, Job’s friend Elihu said:
“Men of understanding declare, wise men who hear me say to me, ‘Job speaks without knowledge; his words lack insight.’ Oh, that Job might be tested to the utmost for answering like a wicked man! To his sin he adds rebellion; scornfully he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God.”
Elihu goes on for another 5 pages or so...very windy fellow. Then God answers Job “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?...where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?”
God is not afraid of questions. He welcomes them. What he dislikes is when we sit around trying to figure it all out by ourselves. When we attempt to answer our own questions, we invite God’s rebuke, or we fill ourselves with our own words and then drown him out to silence.
So if the unquestioning faith of a little child is not the key issue when Jesus said “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”, then what is he talking about? I believe there’s a deeper level here...something God wants us to understand.
Could he be talking about the helplessness of a little child? Unlike most animals in the animal kingdom, newborn and infant human babies are completely helpless, and, apart from the cafeteria, human mothers don’t have a lot of built-in features for baby care. Ape babies are able to hold on to their mothers backs, within just days or weeks of birth. Puppies and kittens can walk within days of birth. Colts can walk within minutes or hours. Marsupials like opossums and kangaroos have pouches to carry their young. Humans have none of these. Little human babies can’t hold on, they can’t walk, basically all they can do is eat and poop.
A human baby needs total care from its mother and father to survive. The mother and father need to be totally and purposefully engaged in caring for young for years. Even toddlers, although they can walk, can’t provide for themselves. Other animals can gather food, learn to hunt, and become independent within a year or so but it takes humans 13 years to attain independence (or 25 years for some!).
When Jesus teaches about a little child, He means a helpless child. A child incapable of providing for him or herself. A baby laying and crying for its mother because it’s hungry, cold, has a dirty diaper, or just wants to be held, to feel the closeness of mommy.
We cannot, cannot, cannot, by any device of the human mind, any strength of the human body, any purpose of the human will, please God and fulfill the righteous requirements to enter heaven. It cannot be done. Any more than I can read your mind and know your deepest thoughts, we are isolated from God and His purposes, and we cannot know and do His will on our own.
That stings. We like to think that WE accepted Christ and WE studied His word, and WE prayed, and WE laid hands on the sick, and WE have a hope in this word for glory in the next. We have done nothing, we have nothing. In John 15:5 Jesus declares “apart from me you can do nothing.”
I want to quickly offer three thoughts that will help us focus on our helplessness, to deposit deeply into our minds and souls a level of understanding, some jewel that represents just how priceless the payment God paid for our sin, just how immeasurable the riches He has assigned to our helpless cause.
1. We do not have control of anything in this world
We wake up in the morning, look outside and check the weather. We don’t decide what the weather will be. We know a storm is coming and we take cover. We don’t fight the storm--it would be pointless. We go to the beach and set up our blanket and chairs and the tide comes in. We move, we don’t rebuke the tide. A hurricane is approaching, we flee for our lives. We can’t stop the forces of nature. Movies have been made about meteors hitting the earth in what scientists call “extinction events”. If it happens, are we foolish enough to think we can stop it? Maybe our technology, if we plan years ahead, can do something to protect us, but I think the odds would be against us if it actually happened. If it was not for something built-in to the earth, called the Van Allen radiation belt, a couple of layers of magnetic shielding around our planet, we’d all fry up in a giant microwave oven, and the earth’s atmosphere would boil away into space. This planet would be as dead as Mars. The Van Allen belt is not something we could design; it’s generated by the rotation of the earth’s core of solid iron, a 760 mile diameter ball of molten iron and nickel, heated to 9800 degrees. All the technology we possess could never, ever produce a global shield against solar radiation and deadly cosmic rays.
The Bible says that those who think themselves wise in their own eyes are fools. What kind of fool would think that he can control his own destiny? We can’t control nature, we can’t control the weather, we can’t reproduce those things that keep us alive, nourished, and protected from the elements.
If we had control of disease or the length of our lives, none of us would die before we wanted to. But the world doesn’t work that way. We are not in control. We live within ourselves and believe that we have some measure of control. We deceive ourselves. What we do have is will.
Will and control are two different things.
Will determines purpose.
Control determines outcome.
Can you understand that distinction? Will determines purpose. This means that we will ourselves to throw a pair of dice. We look at the dice and see 6 sizes, with dots on them and know that they represent the numbers 1 through 6. We calculate that the odds are 1 in 36 for any given outcome. Those are all acts of will, and they determine purpose: the purpose of throwing the dice. The outcome is in the hands of nature. Although we can try to throw the dice in a way to try to pre-determine the outcome, unless we control every possible factor affecting the roll of the dice, the surface on which we throw them, and the air density, composition of the dice, and force with which we throw them to an exact degree, we cannot make the dice land on the number of our choice. If we could control all those things, then Las Vegas would be out of business.
Control means the ability to direct the outcome of some thing. When we move our limbs, we can will ourselves to move, and control our arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet and toes. But we can’t control the ground when we step on a thorn with bare feet, or when we stub our toe on the bed frame in the dark. We are not at all in control of the outcome.
Our bodies have many automatic processes over which we have no conscious control. Want proof? Hold your breath, that’s will, and purpose. Now hold your breath until you pass out. Can’t do it, huh? Your body won’t let you. We don’t have enough control over our own bodies. Our will is really a very limited attribute in the physical world.
God controls the world. We don’t. It’s pretty simple.
The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness of it, the world and they who dwell in it.
You mountains, that you skip like rams, and you little hills, like lambs?
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters.
2. Satan is a powerful foe, more powerful than any of us
How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.[b]
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
But you are brought down to the realm of the dead,
to the depths of the pit.
Job 1:12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Psalm 8:4-5 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
None of us has ever been to heaven. We have heard stories of those who have “been taken up to heaven” but those are but visions. Isaiah wrote “no one has heard, no ear has perceived”, and was quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9. Heaven is made for God and His angels, not for human flesh. We were given the realm of earth; Psalm 8 continues in verse 6 saying that we are the rulers over the works of God’s hands, all flocks and herds.
Truly mankind owns the earth, we do with it as we please: mine its deepest reaches for gold, silver, diamonds, gems, oil, and other of its bounty. We fish in the seas and no creature stands against us. We build giant ships that withstand even the harshest seas (or get out of the path of the worst storms). We fly in the air, circle the globe. We use the atmosphere to bounce radio signals to the other side of the earth, or launch satellites into orbit, or lay fiber-optic cables on the ocean floor. Given time and will, there’s practically nothing that mankind cannot do to the earth.
But we are not heavenly beings. Our lifetimes are limited. The Bible says that we are “mere mortals” and “like a breath” and our “days are like a fleeting shadow.” (Psalm 144:3-4). We are here one day and gone tomorrow. None of us knows the number of our days. On this created earth, we are not here forever, and in fact, once we are born again into God’s Kingdom, we become pilgrims, travelers, whose citizenship resides not on this earth, but in God’s Kingdom leading to Heaven.
While we’re here, though, we are mortal. Our adversary, Satan, and his fallen angels, [are] not mortal. He was created with the angels, outside of time and space. He inhabited God’s realm of heaven, and has stood before God’s eternal throne. Satan was thrown from heaven to the earth, but his life is still in him and his memory is sharp from the dawn of time. He was there in the Garden of Eden to tempt Eve and corrupt Adam. He has been there in every situation when God was moving, opposing God’s will for us.
The Rolling stones wrote a song in 1967 called “Sympathy for the Devil”. Although I have no sympathy, the song correctly paints a portrait of our adversary’s destructive path--”I’ve been around for a long, long year, stole many a man’s soul and faith.” From the cross of Christ, to the Blitzkrieg, “as heads is tails, call me Lucifer.” The enemy of our souls is powerful and we do not have the power to kill him. His goal is to steal our soul and faith. He will do it by any means necessary: lying, stealing, killing. He has with him a vast army of demons, all more powerful than the strongest of us. They are capable of lying to us, tempting us with our eyes, our ears, with flattering words, with the false hope of power, money, and fame.
Satan was brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. Sheol, it was known in the Old Testament. The place of the dead. It’s not truly Hell as the lake of fire, not at that time. Oh I’m sure Satan had plans to torment souls forever once God’s plan was thwarted. But God the Father sent salvation in the form of a human baby. The devil seethed with rage and fear. He bent his entire army of demons toward killing the Christ child. He personally tempted Yeshua in the desert. He used religion to arrange Yeshua’s murder. Little did he know he was doing God’s will. That through the sinless death of the Son, the blood was able to cleanse the sin of Adam. That through the beaten body, our wounds could be bound up and healed. That through the crown of thorns, the throne of Heaven was given to Him. That through his death, that our lives were redeemed!
In three days, our Lord Yeshua went down to those depths, to Sheol. He took the keys to sin and death. He took them from Satan since He was the only one with the power to do so. He led captivity captive--he freed those souls from Sheol, from the place of the dead. He thwarted Satan’s carefully laid plans to rule a kingdom of his own, and he sealed the fate of our adversary and his army of demons. Having taken the enemy’s kingdom, having pronounced sentence over him, the Lord emerged on earth victorious, as a new creature.
Jesus became the second Adam, in a new, glorified body, without sin, without sickness, without death. He took this body and rose into Heaven, and He promised that we who believed in Him would follow, and that we would have an incorruptible body and live with Him in Heaven forever! Hallelujah!
Who are we to think that we can defeat the devil on this earth? We have no power over him. Only Jesus has power over Satan. But the Bible says “resist the devil and he will flee from you”...doesn’t it? Yes, it does, but let’s look at the context.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up
Do you think you can resist the devil in your own power? No! Only by submission to God, only by humbling yourselves before Him, can you resist the devil. He flees not from you, but from the power of God in you!
We can only gain victory on our knees.
3. We are truly helpless
I am about to close.
All of us, everyone in this room, our lives follow the same course. We are conceived: sperm and egg meet; we grow in our mother’s womb; we are born; we live our lives; we die. There is no altering of this course. There is no part of this that is optional for those who are born--it is an inexorable, inescapable journey.
We are helpless to change the course of our lives hurtling toward our end. Our only hope is to gain a purpose in our lives, something toward which we can bend our will. Having children, raising them, having a legacy, being in history books, these are all things we can spend our lives doing. But in the end, we are all helpless before a God who controls all.
Our highest calling, our main purpose in life, is to bring Him glory. In Hebrew, “glory” is “Chabod” which can mean “weight” or “heaviness”. In Greek, the word is “doxa” from which we get “doxology”, meaning “judgment, good reputation, honor.” So glory in Biblical context means giving physical weight and dimension to honoring and praising God’s good reputation. To give glory to God means to give Him all of our life, our body, our will, to bend the entire force of our will and mind to His purpose.
One of the best known Bible verses, Proverbs 3:5-6 “trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Deuteronomy 6:5, part of what’s known as the “creed of Israel” says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
This is the essence of giving glory to God.
Let me share three things we all must do in order to put our will in line with God’s and to give Him glory.
RECOGNIZE our helplessness
We have to come to grips with our condition. On February 19, 1999, I was a sinner, unsaved, and antagonistic to the things of God. I did not believe in, or want, Jesus in my life. I was a Jew and those things were off limits for me. I was driving my truck up I-75 at 2 in the morning after blaspheming and denying Jesus, calling him a “myth” to two wonderful Christians who spoke with me. Then God gave me an open vision: I was hanging over a dark pit, like a well, that I knew had not bottom. I could feel the cold coming up from the depths of that hopeless chasm. I was hanging by a thread. God spoke only four words to me. I didn’t know God, but somehow I knew it was God speaking. He said “this is your condition.” Then I was back in my truck. I almost swerved off the highway. I went home and repented in tears. I didn’t sleep. It took another 5 months for me to know Jesus, but I am thankful that God showed me my helplessness. I never recognized it until that moment.
Until we recognize our helplessness, we do not truly know how hopeless we are without Jesus.
Cease our RESISTANCE
If we try to control with our will what God really controls with His, we are in conflict with Him. When God created us with a purpose, He gave us free will to follow that purpose, or to be in rebellion against it.
If we are resisting God’s purpose in our lives, then we are in rebellion to Him. Nothing else changes: God is in control. The devil is still powerful. We are still helpless. We are like the ant resisting the boot.
But God gives us grace, not what we deserve. He is the good shepherd. He lovingly, patiently moves us from our place of resistance to a place of surrender. Of course, we can keep resisting, and this is the dangerous part. None of us knows when our lives will end, only that it’s going to happen, or that the Lord will return.
When our time of grace is passed, do we want to be found in resistance, or in surrender and glory? Those who resist are cast into the outer darkness with the devil and his angels. There is nothing in this world, nothing, that is worth that risk. Total surrender, ceasing all resistance, is the only wise answer.
REST in the arms of our Savior
Once we know our helpless state, and surrender to God’s purpose for our lives, we must rest in Jesus’ arms. We move our will to carry our cross, bear our brother’s burden, walk the extra mile, and turn the other cheek. We love as Jesus does. But His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. How can that be? If we are doing all the carrying, bearing, walking, and enduring, how can it be easy and light?
It is because He gives us the Holy Spirit as our co-bearer, our comforter. The Holy Spirit is the power of God, and it is in us when we rest in God. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is His fruit, not ours. He bears it in us. We can find rest for our souls in Him. Certainly, we beat our bodies into submission, but we don’t grow faint. We grow weary but we are refreshed. We endure all but we are regenerated. These contradictions only make sense in the arms of the Lord.
If you are struggling, then you know you are not resting.
I will close with this.
Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India, born in 1867, she lived 83 years until 1951, serving for 55 continuous years. She served destitute girls in India who were saved from lives of prostitution, having been sold to the Hindu temple, saving thousands.
A life-changing event in Amy’s life happened when she was young. One cold, dreary day as the young Amy, her mother and brothers left church, Amy saw an old beggar woman come staggering out of the alley. Her clothes were torn and mud soaked rags covered her feet. Amy felt sorry for the woman. She and her brother helped the old woman down the alley. When she saw other people from church pass by them, she was embarrassed to be seen with the woman and hid her face. As she continued to walk with the beggar, Amy noticed a fountain in the center of the road. She studied it closely. Then she heard a voice say, "Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and straw -- the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If the foundation survives, he will receive the reward." She turned to see who was speaking, but saw no one. Amy knew that she appeared kind by helping the old woman, but she knew her heart was wrong. From that moment on, she decided to hold her head high. She was no longer embarrassed. When she got home, she searched the Bible and found the words she had heard. Amy knelt by her bed and promised God that in the future she would only do things to please him.
Those words that Amy heard were from 1 Corinthians 3:12. Verses 14-15 go on to say “ If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
Please look this way.
We are about to pray, and I want you to think about where you are in your journey with God. Perhaps you are living to give Him glory, but you are struggling with His purpose for you. Perhaps you know the Lord, and are working hard to learn everything you can, but life is wearing you down, and what you are building will not stand the test of fire. Or maybe you are here, and you don’t know the Lord; you haven’t come to that place of realization that you are helpless, that place of surrender to His grace offered to sinners.
With all eyes on me, if you are here and you need to know the Lord, and you need to surrender, to see your helplessness and accept His salvation, we are going to pray now, all together. Let’s pray Dear Lord, I am a sinner, and I know that I am helpless in this world. I accept your grace, your salvation, and I submit to you, Jesus, as the Lord of my life. I want to live only to glorify you and I thank you for being my savior and my very best friend. In the precious name of Jesus, amen.”
If you need prayer for rest and joy in your life to glorify the Lord, gather here at the altar and we will all lay hands and pray for you.
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