Homily for Tuesday of Invocabit (Quincy Circuit Winkel)

The Weaker, the Better
Matthew 4:1-11

Five smooth stones and a sling against a Giant-that must’ve looked pretty silly to the seasoned army veterans of Judah and of Philistia. What a joke! Who does this guy think he is, going up against such a mighty opponent with such inferior weapons? He’s going to get himself killed! What a fool!

What a fool indeed. What a fool David was for trusting in the strength of the Lord. What a fool he was for thinking that the name of his God was all he needed to best the giant. And let’s not kid ourselves-had we been standing on the sidelines, we might have been cheering for David, but inwardly we would have been planning his funeral.

To the unbelieving eye, David was a most unlikely victor. Lady luck must have been with him that day for him to take down Goliath with nothing more than a stone. God or no God, this kind of thing just doesn’t happen. David knew, of course, that there was no “luck” about it. He also knew that it wasn’t even a stone and sling that took the giant down that day, but the Lord.

He could have been standing there with a rubber duck and some sand, and won the day if the Lord so willed it. The point is that the Lord does not save with sword or spear, with guns or tanks, or with any other kind of conventional weapon. As St. Paul says, “God chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in this world to shame the strong.”

David’s greatest strength was his weakness; his vulnerability. His greatest strength was that he had no strength of his own with which to fight Goliath. Had he tried to take Goliath on his own, he certainly would have failed. The sons of Jacob were always at their best when they commended all things into the hands of the Lord.

To the unbelieving eye, our greater David must’ve looked pretty silly trying to do battle with Satan in the wilderness after fasting forty days and forty nights. Christ probably didn’t look like he stood a chance anymore than David did against Goliath. You can almost see the look of disdain in the mocking face of the Devil. “What kind of fool comes out here with no protection?” “Who do you think you are, coming out here to do battle with me in such a weakened state? Do you not see that you are doomed?”

But looks can be deceiving. Jesus, like David before him, had something that his opponent lacked. He had something much greater and far more powerful than all the swords and spears and javelins in the world. He too came “in the Name of the Lord of hosts.” More than that, the Name of the Lord was in Him. He was Himself the God of the armies of Israel, the same One who gave David the victory over Goliath, and destroyed the army of the Philistines.

Even so, the Devil tried his best to bring down the Son of God. As it is written: “He was tempted in every way, just as we are.” Like us, He was tempted to be self-serving, to be impatient and to use his powers for his own good; Like us, He was tempted to use his relationship with His Father as an excuse for reckless living; Like us, He was tempted to take the path of least resistance toward glory rather than the path of suffering and cross. Like us, He was tempted to covetousness.

That is about as far as the “likeness” goes though. For unlike us, Christ resisted the devil’s assaults. Unlike us Christ said “no” to the temptations of the flesh. Unlike us, Christ refused to put His Father’s love to the test. Unlike us, Christ chose not the path of glory, but that of the cross, “despising its shame.” Unlike us, Christ was tempted in every way, and was without sin.  

The faithful Son of God, vulnerable and weak as he was, won the day not by sword and spear, not by sheer force of will, but by commending himself totally and completely in the Father’s hands. Christ’s greatest strength was his lack of strength. Our greater David bested his foe with nothing more than the foolishness of the Word.

And yet this was only the beginning of His victory over hell and Satan. It was the beginning of the end for the Devil, whose power over men would finally be destroyed when the Son of God laid down his life on the cross and took it up again. Not by five smooth stones, but by five bloody wounds did our blessed Lord bring down the Giant and slay him for us.

As it was with David, as it was with Christ, so it is with each of you. So it is with all of Christ’s ministers. What fools! What fools you are! So the devil and the world would like you to think. They sneer at you with their disdainful eyes. Oh how they would like you to cower in fear, to think that it is all up to you. The last thing he wants you to do is to invoke that cursed name. It has been his undoing from the beginning.

“Who do you think you are, pastor?” “What kind of fool are you, thinking you can take me down, that you can win the victory with nothing more than a Word?” “What makes you think that you can have a chance with me, the Prince of Demons?” I will eat you for lunch. I will take you down before you even have the chance to say “uncle.” You are mine.

“No!” Says the Lord. “You are mine.” “I have called you by name. Do not doubt my strength.” Fear not, O Shepherd of God’s flock. Fear not the foe, who madly seeks your overthrow. The battle is the Lord’s. He will deliver you. He will save you, not by sword or spear, not by political might or maneuvering, not by anything of this world. He will save you as he has always saved his humble people: by His name, the Name which is above every name, the name that has been inscribed on your forehead and on your heart in holy baptism.

You may think that your personal weaknesses and inadequacies are an obstacle to the Gospel. You may think that if you were just a better person, a better communicator, a more thoughtful pastor, then you would save more and do more for the kingdom of God. But I say: the weaker, the better. God’s word has shown that your greatest strength is your lack of strength.

“God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong.” “When I am weak, I am strong.” He chose stuttering Moses to make an example of the god-like Pharaoh. He chose the youngest and weakest of Jesse’s sons to be His anointed King; He chose Paul the persecutor of the Church, Peter the denier, Thomas the doubter, James and John the “sons of thunder,” to stand in His stead, and to proclaim His Word, so that everyone will know that all glory and credit goes to Him.

In our weakness, we can but trust in the strength of the Lord and the power of His Name. Better that I be weak in the eyes of men and leaning on Him, then strong in my own eyes and without His help. The best defense against the devil is no defense, at least, none of our own making. Man made shields and will power will only feed into the devil’s hands.

We know that the battle is the Lord’s, and that victory has already been secured by Christ, our heavenly Champion. When that hungry lion bares his teeth at you, take refuge in the name and the Word of Christ, and you will be safe. Commend yourself into the hands of the One who became weak for our sakes, so that we might be strong in Him. Amen.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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