“What Power is Within You?”
January 10, 2016
(Baptism of Jesus)
By John PartridgeU
Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-7 Acts 8:14-17 Luke 3:15-22
Here is a question that might seem odd at first.
Where does strength come from?
Certainly we get physical strength from the food we eat and mental or moral strength from the way that we were raised, the life experiences that we have had, and the struggles we have survived. But what else is there?
Clark Kent was able to be Superman because he came from a planet with stronger gravity and a different sun. Billy Batson was able to become Captain Marvel because of the magic word that he had been taught. Dr. Donald Blake was able to become the Mighty Thor because tapping his cane caused it to transform into the enchanted hammer Mjolnir. And lately, if you watch the show Limitless on CBS, Brian Finch (played by Jake Dorman) becomes the smartest man on the planet whenever he takes the mysterious drug NZT.
But that’s all just comic books, fiction, and storytelling isn’t it?
Or is it?
In the summer of 1984 (or thereabouts), I entered the United States Army and reported to Fort Dix, New Jersey for basic training. While there we were regularly pushed to our limits physically as well as emotionally in all sorts of ways. We did things that we had never done before and we discovered that we were able to do things that we never thought we could do before. But one afternoon, I experienced something spiritual that opened my mind and my heart to a whole new set of possibilities.
After weeks of training and uncountable numbers of push-ups and sit-ups, I had grown to understand what my body could do and had become much better at listening to what it had to say when it was tired, hurt, or just getting warmed up. But one afternoon, after several nights of little or no sleep and, again, an almost uncountable number of push-ups, we were, once again, pulled out of class because too many of us were falling asleep. When we were pulled out of class for sleeping, our drill sergeants would form us up in ranks outside and we would do calisthenics for as long as they thought necessary to wake us up.
They seemed to last forever.
And at some point, I ran out of whatever I had that kept me going. In the middle of doing a set of push-ups, I collapsed. I had done enough push-ups, and had felt enough pain, and knew enough about listening to my body, that I knew I did not have another push-up in me. I was at the end of myself. I was so frustrated that I almost wept. I knew that my failure would cost my friends even more push-up and even more pain.
And, laying there on the ground, at some point, I began to pray.
I prayed for myself, but I also prayed for my friends. And although it might sound strange to those who haven’t been in that kind of a place, I prayed that God would give me strength to do more push-ups. I prayed for strength so that I wouldn’t get yelled at and so that I wouldn’t be a target for the drill instructors because I was the one who had failed. But I also prayed because I didn’t want to let my buddies down. I didn’t want it to be me that caused them to endure even more than what we already had.
And something happened.
I struggle to find the words to describe it. The word that I want really isn’t “unexpected,” or “unexplainable,” or “amazing,” even though all of those adjectives hold a piece of the truth. But all of a sudden I had the strength to go on. Suddenly I began doing more push-ups, first one, then another, then five, ten, and on and on. I don’t remember how many more there were, but I remember, clear as day, that I marveled at how many it became. I was sure that I could do no more push-ups with the strength that I had left, but even allowing that I had a short break of several seconds, I thought that a short rest might allow me to do a few more, but our set of push-up went far beyond what I would have ever called a few, and I kept up. I knew that I had been filled with strength that I didn’t have, strength that didn’t come from me but seemed to come from somewhere outside of myself.
For one brief moment in time, I felt God’s strength flow through me in a way that I previously could have never imagined.
So what does all of that have to do with everyone here? Let’s begin once again by reading from Isaiah 43:1-7 as God reminds his people what he has done for them and why their relationship to him matters.
43:1 But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
God reminds his people that he is powerful, but also that each of them are not alone, that they are each known by God, protected by God, valuable to God, loved by God and will, ultimately, be reunited with their sons, daughters, and all of the family of God.
That was then, and remains today, an important message and it is one worth remembering about our own relationship with God. But then, 800 years later, with the coming of Jesus, our relationship with God grew even closer. In Luke 3:15-22, we read these words…
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.
21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
In this short picture, John tells the crowds that the Messiah will baptize the people with the Holy Spirit and with fire and then moments later he describes for us a moment when all three members of the trinity appear together, Jesus in the water with John, the Spirit descending like a dove, and the Father speaking, “You are my Son, whom I love.” And once again, we have an image of a God is powerful, but also a promise that Jesus will baptize his people in the Spirit of God.
What exactly does that mean?
To find out, let’s keep going and look at Acts 8:14-17 where Luke describes this scene:
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
I want you to hear that again.
Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
After the coming of Jesus Christ, God is no longer a god who is far away. Instead, God becomes a god in whom we are baptized, dipped, immersed, and who becomes a part of who we are. After the coming of Jesus, the followers of God receive the Holy Spirit. And while I cannot tell exactly how that happens, what it means is that the creator of the universe, in some way, takes up residence inside of each one of his followers and that means a lot more than just giving us the strength to do more push-ups.
This isn’t just the stuff of comic books, stories, and legends.
Because we are baptized by, and filled with, the Spirit of God, we are able to do far more than we ever could by ourselves. I consider myself blessed because, for one brief moment during Army Basic Training, I was able to feel the presence and strength of God and know that what was happening wasn’t me. But being filled with the Spirit of God is bigger than that. Being filled with the Spirit of God means that, through his strength, we are given the power to do what we could never do alone.
Because we are filled with the Spirit of God, we are able to do the work of God, according to the will of God.
When you receive the power of the Spirit of God, then you will, through his power, do the things that God does. You will do the things that Isaiah saw. You will help others to know that they are known by God. You will help others to know that they are not alone, that they are valuable, protected, and loved, and that one day, we will all be reunited with brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and all those who have been adopted into God’s family.
That power lives and breathes inside of each one of you.
Use it wisely, use it well, but be certain that you use it.
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