I was with you on Wednesday night, and I preached on 'The Jealousy of God', and I announced that I would be preaching this morning on 'The Power of God'. I've revised the title ever so slightly, as 'The Precedence Of God's Power'. We're turning to Psalm 68, and we're only reading one verse initially, Psalm 68 and I want to read verse 28 from the NIV, because I like the rendering that it gives of this particular verse.
Psalm 68 verse 28: "Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, our God, as You have done before".
Let us pray, and I want you to pray please now for yourself, that God might speak to you. Would you do that individually, personally? Come to the Lord now by faith, and ask Him that He will communicate to your heart through the word. Do pray for one another, but I'm asking you particularly to pray for yourself that God might meet with you and encounter you just now.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we come to You, our Thrice Holy God, through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, through His shed blood. We thank You that we can come boldly to the Throne of Grace to find grace and mercy to help in time of need. Lord, we have great need just now - each of us collectively and individually, I in the pulpit - Lord, we need Your help. We just pray this prayer, no greater one could we pray at this moment than what the psalmist articulated: 'Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, as You have done before'. We invite You to come and take a dealing with us now, Lord. Come Lord Jesus, come Holy Spirit; come have Your way, Heavenly Father, in our lives. We take authority in the name of Jesus over any other ungodly power or authority in our lives that is working presently. We bind those powers in the name of the Lord Jesus, and we ask, Father, that You will release the power of Your word now through the Holy Spirit. Send forth Your light and Your truth, send forth Your word to heal us and deliver us from all our afflictions. In the mighty name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
I'm sure most of you are familiar with the principle of 'precedence', or a 'precedent'. A precedent, if you look it up in the dictionary you'll probably get a definition of it being something in common law as a principal or a rule in a previous legal case that is either binding on, or persuasive for a court or another tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts. The past precedence bears weight on the present situation. A broader definition would be: a precedent is an established practice or custom. Now, to simplify it right down for you this morning, let us define a precedent as 'a principal that once was and still applies today' - that's why I've called this message 'The Precedence Of The Power Of God', because God's power is the same today as it has always been.
Do you believe that? One of you believes it! Do you all believe it? God's power is the same today as it has always been. The psalmist obviously believed it, or he wouldn't have prayed: 'Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, as You have done before'. As we read the scriptures, we see that the great patriarchs, the prophets, the great heroes of Scripture, they believed in the power of God. If you go home and read Hebrews 11, that great 'Hall of Faith', you will see many men and women mentioned who took God at His word, believed His character and His covenant promise, and believed in His power that it was the same as it always had been.
One great example of faith, of course, is Abraham. In Romans chapter 4 we read there this wonderful verse that: 'Contrary to hope, in hope Abraham believed'. You remember the circumstance then, his body was 100 years of age, or thereabouts. His wife Sarah's womb was dead. Yet we read in Romans 4:20-21, listen carefully: 'Abraham did not waver at the promise of God', that he would have a child, and out of that child would come nations, 'He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that God had promised and He was also able to perform'. That was some faith, wasn't it? Contrary to hope, in hope he believed that God would be true to His promise, even though he was well past the years of bearing a child, and his wife also - yet he believed God.
We see this also in the life of the great apostle Paul. We see him in the shipwreck, when he stood and he said: 'I believe God, that it will be as He has told me'. Of course, that famous confession of Paul, when he says that: 'He had believed, and was persuaded that God was able'. Do we have such a faith in God? Do we believe in the precedence of the power of God? In other words, He has done it before, He can do it again! He can summon His power as He has done before, He can show us His strength as He has done before.
We ought to believe this, because there is enough Scripture to encourage such faith. Let me give you a couple of examples that I'm sure are familiar to you already. Malachi 3 and verse 6, the Lord says: 'I am the LORD, I do not change'. Jeremiah 32:27: 'Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?'. Hebrews 13 verse 8: 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever'. God hasn't changed, so His power cannot change. In fact, as we look through Israelite history, Jewish history in particular, and even into the Christian church in the New Testament, we see that there is a pattern of invoking the past memories of God's power - and that's a right thing to do. We ought to remember the deliverances that God has given us in our history, and in biblical history. But even when Israel were doing this, God had to warn them that they were in danger of getting stuck in the past, stuck in what God used to do for them, celebrating the past and not realising, not summoning the power of God in the present.
On one such occasion in Isaiah 43, God actually refers to the exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea out of Egyptian bondage into Canaan land, and they still celebrate that today in the Passover - God has commanded it. Yet the Israelites were in danger of getting stuck in what God had done in the past. This is what the Lord says: 'Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert'. Yes, celebrate the past, but 'I am the God of the new thing!'.
His power has not changed. Is our Heavenly Father still Almighty? Is He? Is His name still 'El Shaddai'? Is He still the omnipotent, the Lord God omnipotent who reigns? Can Jesus, the Son of God, still say 'All power is given unto Me in heaven and on earth, go therefore and make disciples'? Is the promise of Pentecost still being outpoured on the church, the promise that Jesus gave: 'You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you'?
So are we all agreed this morning that God hasn't changed? We agree with the precedence of God's power, that His power is the same as it has always been? Well, here's my question: something has changed! What has changed? If God hasn't, if His power is the same, something has obviously changed in the church, certainly in the West! God's blueprint for His church, I think we find it partly in 1 Corinthians 4:20, where Paul says: 'The kingdom of God is not in word but in power'. Thank God for the word of God, and we ought to preach the word of God and teach the word of God, but that was not to have been the actual badge of Christianity. The kingdom of God is meant to be known for its power, for the actuality of the presence of God manifest in the midst - which is manifest in power!
God's vision for evangelism was power. In fact, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, 1 Thessalonians 1 verse 5, he says: 'Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake'. The kingdom of God is not to be in word only, but in power. Evangelism is not only to be preaching the word, but demonstrations of God's power - for, after all, that's what the new birth and conversion is meant to be: not mental assent, not ticking a box, not saying a prayer, but the actual inwrought change that the Holy Spirit brings when God's power comes into the spirit of a sinner.
I spoke to you on Wednesday night briefly about the communicable attributes of God and the incommunicable attributes of God. Those are the incommunicable attributes, the things that God can't share with anyone that are unique to Him. But the communicable attributes of God - one of which was God's jealousy, when we are zealous for Him, He has shared it with us - but here we have the power of God being also a communicable attribute of God that He gives to us. He shares His power with His people! Christian today: do you know the power of God in your life? Now we will all probably say 'Yes' to that, because if we are born again we will know a measure of God's power - but I'm asking you: do you know the power that you feel that Scripture actually promises you to have? Ephesians 1 power? The same power that brought Christ back from the dead is meant to be operative in those who name the name of Christ, and who are in Christ! As Leon Morris put it: 'The resurrection is an ongoing thing in the life of the Christian, that power that raised Jesus from the dead is in you' - is it getting out of you? Is it filling you? Is it possessing you? Is it influencing you? Is it, as Jesus said, flowing out of you as rivers of living water, touching those around you in your family, in your community?
Such biblical confessions, I believe, do not match either the atmosphere of our churches - and when I say 'our churches', I'm not talking about Baptist churches, or Brethren churches, or Pentecostal churches, or established churches, I'm talking about the kingdom of God - our churches, the body of Christ. Neither do I believe such confessions match our own personal experiences as individuals. What am I saying? Well, let me be absolutely blunt: there is a shocking absence of power in the church and in Christian lives! Would you agree with that?
I think it was A.W. Tozer who said: 'Imagine an angel visiting Moses, the great man of God; Paul, the great apostle; St Augustine; and David Brainerd, the missionary to the American Indians - and then that same angel visited us. He sits with us in our Bible studies, he hears what we claim as our possessions in Jesus Christ, and then he goes home with us and he observes the poverty of our own experience'. Tozer asks: 'Is there not a contradiction between what we think we are, and what we really are? Well might the angel conclude that we trifle with words as our souls starve. He might well conclude that we are spiritual liars, claiming possessions but never experiencing them'. I think it was Tozer who said: 'Christians don't tell lies, they just sing them'.
I'm not going to enter into the reasons why this may be, and it wouldn't be possible in the time that I have just now - but I do believe that part of the problem is a warped theology. I'm not getting into controversy here today, this goes right across the board of denominationalism, throughout Christendom. One of the major problems that the church has today, particularly in the Western world, is what we might call 'textualism'. As I've said, thank God for the Bible, we need to preach the word - but textualism really assumes that if the Bible says a thing, then we must have that thing. Someone put it: 'Textualism assumes, for instance, that if we have the word for a thing, we have the thing itself. If it is in the Bible, then it is in us. If we have the doctrine, then we have the experience. If something was true of Paul, it is of necessity true of us, because we accept Paul's epistles as divinely inspired. The Bible tells us how we can be saved, but textualism goes on to tell us that we are saved'. I hope I'm not confusing you this morning, let me put it like this: because Christ died on the cross for sinners, does that mean we are all saved? No! You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. Because the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, does that mean that we are all filled? No! Ephesians 5 and 18 commands: 'Be ye continually being filled with the Holy Spirit'. Because Paul the apostle fought a good fight and kept the faith, does that mean you will hear the 'Well done, good and faithful servant' from God on Judgement Day? Well, I know everybody that's buried in Ireland hears the 'Well done, good and faithful servant' - but is that the case? No! The Bible is filled with truth, objective truth, but there must be personal experience! You must be born again! You must be filled with the Spirit! You must walk with God! The promises of God's Word are not enough without subjective experience.
Someone put it: 'We are satisfied to rest in our judicial position - we are justified, we're sanctified, we're in Christ, we're covered, we're protected - and for the most part we bother ourselves very little about the absence of personal experience'. I'm not asking you what you know, or what the Bible says. I'm asking you what your life is. Do you remember Peter said to Jesus about the apostle John: 'What will this man do?'. Do you remember what Jesus said? 'What's that to you? You follow Me!' - you follow Me! Just for a moment now isolate yourself from everybody around you, isolate yourself from church history, your denominational heritage, isolate yourself from even experiences in your own personal past, and before God ask yourself: are you knowing the precedent power of God in your life?
I believe there is a present predicament in the church - let's keep it to Northern Ireland. There is a power vacuum. Remember years ago - they don't talk about it as much now in Northern Ireland politics - they would talk about 'a political vacuum', and if there is a political vacuum for any length of time it will be filled with violence. Remember they used to talk like that? But when there is a power vacuum in the church, or in somebody's life for that matter, that vacuum will be filled with flesh. 'That which is of the flesh is flesh, and that which is of the Spirit is spirit'. The Galatians fell into the mistake of beginning in the Spirit, as they were born again and filled, but then they tried to perfect their Christian sanctification through the power of the flesh - Paul says it can't be done: 'That which is of the flesh is flesh, that which is of the Spirit is spirit'. You see, when there is a power vacuum in Christian's lives, and in the life of the church, they start to get active, they start to do things, fill their life up with doing stuff, get fleshly active. They are no longer being led by the Spirit, and so there is a vacuum, and so they have to put something in there - so they'll put the flesh in there. Sometimes it's intellectual exercise, when there is an absence of power in the life they move from the heart to the head. Now we could go down a long list of substitutes that there are for divine power in Christian's lives - but let me cut to the chase right away and say: just as a political vacuum is filled with violence, a spiritual vacuum, a power vacuum is filled with death.
Even the preaching of the word without the unction of the Spirit is detrimental. In 2 Corinthians 3 verse 6 Paul says that 'We are made ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life'. Listen: if Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had to be anointed by the Holy Spirit before He went out in His preaching ministry, can we afford to do less? We need God's power. The Gospel today is not the old, old story freshly told, it is a 'now' story, it is the very fire of the Spirit burning in the heart of God, that's meant to be burning in us, it's meant to come with the freshness of the unction of what God is saying now to this world and saying to the church. You see, our faith is not all about what God has done, it's about what He is doing now!
What is He doing now? What's He doing now in your life? What is He doing now in this church? What's He doing now in Portadown? In Ulster? In Ireland? Oh, we would all give assent that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever - but the reality is: we laud the stories of the past, what He did yesterday, and some of us get taken up with what He's going to do tomorrow, He's going to come again, and there's going to be the Tribulation and the Antichrist, and you've got everything worked out, and God's power is all going to be great in a few year's time, whenever it's going to be - but what about now? If this principle is correct - the precedence of the power of God, that His power is the same as it always has been or ever will be - what is God doing now? Yet what we see all around us - and I'm not being pessimistic, I'm being realistic - is utter powerlessness in the church of Jesus Christ in evangelicalism.
Leonard Ravenhill, in his book 'Why Revival Tarries', put it like this: 'Brethren, we could well manage to be half as intellectual, of the modern pseudo-kind, if we were twice as spiritual. Preaching is a spiritual business. A sermon born in the head reaches the head. A sermon born in the heart reaches the heart'. I'm not just getting at preaching: omnipotence is at our disposal, and yet there is an impotence all around us, there is an impotence in the pulpit, there is an impotence in the prayer meeting, there is an impotence in our evangelism. When we face our personal besetting sins, we are being overcome on a regular basis - there is an impotence before personal temptation. In our public witness, that Stephen was alluding to already, and our defence against ungodliness and moral disintegration of society, the church is utterly toothless and powerless!
Now, what are we to do about this? Well, this is where the problem comes, because everybody has a great idea. What I want to bring to you this morning from the heart of God is: go to God. Go to God! Surely you can remember that? He is the possessor of power! Of course, He is power personified, He is the source and origin of all power, but He is also the Creator of all known power. In fact, even Satan's power was given to him by God. Satan's power, you know, was created by God. Satan doesn't have any power of his own, but only the power that God created and gave to him - and, of course, that power was meant to be in the service of the Most Holy God. We might call it 'embezzled power', because he is now using it for his own wicked ends, it's perverted power. But what I want you to understand is: God is the One who gives power! Go to God!
In Psalm 62 and verse 11, we read: 'God has spoken once, twice I have heard this: that power belongs' - finish it - 'to God'! Go to God! Will you go to God? I mean after this message, I'm not suggesting right away - but will you take it to God, and say: 'Lord, there's a powerlessness in my life. Lord, there's a powerlessness in my church. Lord, there's a powerlessness in my work, there's a powerlessness in my witness'. You go to God with it, in fact was it not the Lord Jesus who taught us to pray: 'Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory'. God's got it, and we need to go to Him to get it!
Do you feel powerless today? Powerless in the face of your temptations? We've all got them. Powerless in the face of besetting sins that you're continually falling before? Do you feel powerless in your domestic situation, in your marriage? Do you feel powerless in the struggle with illness or weakness? Do you feel powerless in the mental turmoil or the emotional anguish that you're facing? Do you feel powerless in the family tragedy, or the clash of personalities, the problems and the chaos that can come through relationships in the wider family circle? Do you feel powerless in the workplace, where you're trying to take a stand for Jesus Christ, and you feel continually downtrodden and bullied? Young person, do you feel powerless in school or on the University campus, or in your trade on the factory floor? Wherever it is, listen: if that's the way you feel today, the good news is - God shares His power! God gives power, He shares it all out.
Look at our Psalm, Psalm 68, look at the end of it, verse 34: 'Ascribe strength to God; His excellence is over Israel, and His strength is in the clouds'. Look at verse 33: 'To Him who rides on the heaven of heavens, which were of old! Indeed, He sends out His voice, a mighty voice', and look at this verse 35, wow! 'O God, You are more awesome than Your holy places. The God of Israel is He who gives strength and power to His people'.
What do you do? You go to God. Now let me be a wee bit more specific: when you go to God, what do you do then? What do you say? Well, you need to confess your sin, because sin will surely - known, wilful, habitual sin - will extinguish any ember of the power of God in your life. I mean, that's a given, so you need to confess any known sin that you're harbouring in your heart. If you cherish sin, the Lord will not hear you, the psalmist says. You might need also to confess substitutes for power, confess your weakness surely - we've all got that, that's a good confession to make, humbling yourself in the eyes of God - but maybe you have been clutching at substitutes, fleshly activity, frantic activism in Christian work, or intellectualism, a cerebral grasp of your Christianity when deep down in your heart you're devoid of power and experiential walk with Jesus. Confess it! Repent of it! That means you're not going to go back to that - renounce it! Completely renounce and forsake it, ask the Lord to cleanse you and release you from any of the consequences of engaging in the flesh and whatever else, and ask the Lord - surrendering to Him, consecrating your empty vessel to Him - having cleansed you, ask Him to fill you, and believe Him to fill you.
You mightn't see bright lights, there mightn't be lightning strike you on the forehead - it's not about that, it's about faith. It's about believing the promise of God, and then thank Him for hearing your prayer, and take it by faith, take His power by faith - and that's not a once for all thing, that's an every minute of every day thing, when you face the challenges of weakness and powerlessness. But I want you to hear this message, and I'm almost finished, but you've got to understand that this is something that we are missing today in evangelicalism: Christianity is a supernatural way of life. If you don't want the supernatural, you don't want Christ! I'm not saying everything claimed to be supernatural or of God or of the Spirit is, it is clearly not. But Christianity is not our life, it's the life of Christ in us! Even Paul said: 'It is not I, but Christ who lives in me'. Maybe you're here this morning, and this is where you've been going all wrong: you've been trying to do this thing in your own power, you've been trying to live the Christian life in the flesh by rules and regulations and all the rest, doing the right things, going to all the meetings, not smoking, not drinking, all these rules and regulations that we have invented to define Christianity - but the kingdom of God is not in word, it is not in eating and drinking, but it is in the power of Almighty God!
The only way to live the Christian life is by God's power. The tragedy is: many of us have divorced ourselves from the supernatural source. We have, as Paul said to Timothy, 'a form of godliness that denies the power'. I just finished reading a marvellous book I would highly recommend it you by John Eldredge called 'The Utter Relief Of Holiness' - the title did me the world of good - ''The Utter Relief Of Holiness'. In it he made this statement, listen: 'The spiritual war is heating up' - do you agree with me there? - 'Wickedness is raging like a nuclear meltdown. It is going to take a supernatural life to withstand these trials'.
A.J. Gordon took an American and an Englishman to view the Niagara whirlpools below the Niagara Falls. The American said to the Englishman: 'Come and I will show you the greatest unused power in the world'. Taking him to the foot of Niagara Falls, he said: 'There! There is the greatest unused power in the world'. The Englishman said: 'Oh, my dear brother, not so! The greatest unused power in the world is the Holy Spirit of the Living God'.
Do you feel a sense of powerlessness today in your walk with Christ, in your prayer life, in your witness, in your holiness or lack of it? Even in the church? What do you do? Fill it with all sorts of stuff to keep you busy? Go to God, He shares His power. Meet God on His terms and you will have more power than you can deal with.
Let us pray. Listen to the words of Isaiah 40: 'Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable'. Listen to this statement: 'He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the LORD', those who go to God, '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'. Will you come to the Lord just now as we pray? Will you confess your need, confess your weakness, confess your impotence and your emptiness in whatever areas they are? Confess your struggle, confess the challenges that you feel beat in front of, confess the false mechanisms that you have put in place of the power of God's Spirit - will you do that? Will you repent of that ungodly behaviour? Will you renounce it, and will you ask by faith that the Lord will come in and fill you - cleanse you, release you, but fill you? Will you, as a group of God's people here in Portadown, will you cry: 'Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, as You have done before'.
Father, may nothing be lost of the holy seed of Your word. May Your Spirit breathe life upon it and change lives here today. Oh, come suddenly into Your Temple, great Holy Spirit, possess Your possession, come, take up residence within Your people and within this church - to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the extension of His Kingdom alone, we pray: 'Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, as You have done before'. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church, N. Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Precedence Of God's Power" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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