The 11th Sunday After Pentecost August 4, 2013
37, 430, 123, 784 [TLH alt. 410]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah. Now to his surprise, a young lion came roaring against him.And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done.
Human beings tend to think that they are pretty strong. They visit any large city, look at the skyline, and think, “Wow! Look at what these people have done.” Americans gaze on the buildings they’ve built, the economy they’ve created that’s worth trillions of dollars, and they are proud. These things are symbols of strength to them. People see the things that can be done in the areas of medicine and technology—just look at the advances in the last 50 years—and they feel that there is nothing they cannot conquer, nothing they cannot overcome.
But are we really as strong as we think we are? A terrorist unleashes a bomb. A disease strikes that is difficult to contain. A death occurs that was not able to be prevented. We soon realize that our strength has its limits. If we rely only on ourselves for the strength to face the day, at the end of the day we will be sorely disappointed. The Christian realizes that his strength comes from the LORD. As the familiar Sunday School song says, “We are weak, but He is strong.”
Samson’s strength is well-known. There was no physical challenge that he could not meet. He snapped any ropes that held him as though they were the lightest string. He could pull down the pillars of buildings and with the jawbone of a donkey he could strike down a thousand men. He was as close to a superman as there has ever been.
In our lesson for today, we have an example of Samson’s strength. He was on his way to the village of Timnah when out of a vineyard came a young lion—a ferocious, charging lion. The Bible says of Samson that “he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat.” [v.6] Was Samson strong?
But his strength did not come from himself. It came from the LORD. When the lion came out at him we are told that “the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him.” [v.6] It was God who filled Samson with strength. It was God who gave him the ability to take the lion and kill it with his bare hands as easily as if it had been a small goat.
All along, it had been God who had worked in Samson’s life. From the beginning when the angel of the LORD appeared to his father Manoah, it was evident that the Creator would be with Samson. Samson was a Nazirite. He was under a special vow not to cut his hair or take any fermented drink or eat anything unclean—he belonged to the LORD. And the LORD gave him his great strength.
As long as Samson remembered the source of his strength things went well. As soon as he lost sight of the LORD, however, his strength was gone. Samson reached a point, in fact, when he became too confident in himself. He forgot about the promises he made to God as a Nazirite, and he even allowed his hair to be cut. Once he turned away from the LORD, his strength left him too. Apart from God, Samson found that he was no stronger than anyone else and his enemies easily overwhelmed him.
God is our strength. We trust that He is the deliverer and sustainer of our lives as the psalmist writes in Psalm 84:5, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you” (NIV).
God gives more than physical strength. Yes, it is because of God that we are able to breathe and walk and talk and do things; but He lends us the strength of His guidance, the strength of His comfort, the strength to resist the Devil, and the strength of His love. Consider these strengths too.
When we need the strength of His guidance, is that a time to rely on our own strength? On our own ability? If our ability to guide ourselves were so great, we would not need maps or GPS devices when traveling around a large city. If our ability to guide ourselves were so great, the world would not be so full of marriage and family counselors. If our ability to guide ourselves were so great, we would not find ourselves in so many difficult situations.
We need guidance in life, and it is not good enough to rely on our own strength. The world’s guidance and the guidance of our own minds, corrupted as they are by sin, are weak. Do the philosophies of the world really help you? The philosophies that tell you to “store up treasures for yourself in this life,” that urge you to “do what feels good to you”? No, we need the strength of God’s guidance which leads us to Jesus.
When we need strength of heart because of a great difficulty or sadness, do we find that strength in ourselves? Do we find that strength in the unbelieving world? Not hardly. When we look to ourselves for the strength to escape sorrow, we only become more depressed. When we turn to the world, we find shallow talk like, “Time will heal all wounds…It’s not so bad after all…You’ll get over it.” Only God gives our hearts true strength because only He gives the real and lasting answer to sorrow. He says, “I’m going to take it away. I’ve prepared a place for you where there are no more tears and where there is no more sadness.” Only God can promise that He will turn your sorrow into joy—only He can show you that the thorns and thistles of this life are only temporary and must give way to the beauty and happiness of eternal life with Him. It is the LORD’s focus on the future which gives us strength of heart for the daily struggles. How these words of Jesus, for example, must have strengthened the hearts of His disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1ff NIV).
Samson received strength from the LORD to kill a young lion, but we face a lion far more deadly than the one that wandered out of the vineyard at Timnah. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (NIV). We’ve all felt this lion, the Devil, jump out at us! We have all felt the temptation to do something that God hates. We have given in to those temptations and sinned against the LORD.
When we need strength to resist temptation, where can we turn? To ourselves? That is what some people think. I was at a county fair recently browsing some of the tables in the commercial building. There was one table full of information for children to help them avoid illegal drugs. One of the slogans they wanted the kids to learn was, “You’re too strong to go wrong.” Do you see the trouble with that statement? The fact is that we are not strong enough in ourselves to resist Satan and his temptations. Without the LORD evil will overpower us.
Where do we get the strength to resist wickedness? We get it from God. From the cross of God’s Son Jesus. Jesus gives us the answer to sin. He says, “I took it on myself. I carried your sin to the throne of the Father in Heaven and I accepted the blame so that you could be spared on the day of Judgment. I took your punishment on myself, offering my own life as your substitute.” This is the answer to sin. It doesn’t work to say, “I can handle it myself.” Rather the Christian says, “Jesus handled it for me.” When the Devil comes calling on our doorstep, what is the answer? The answer is the cross. The answer is to say, “I will not do that great wickedness and sin against God, because Jesus gave His very life to save me from those sins.” The forgiveness Jesus has shown to us gives us the strength to resist the Devil when he comes prowling like the roaring lion.
When we need to know the strength of God’s love, we cannot look within ourselves either. When we take an honest look at ourselves we find that there isn’t much to love. We’ve been proud, selfish, angry, and all the rest. Yet God showed us how loving He was toward us even while we were sinners. Even though we were not at all worthy of His love, He sent His own Son to die for our sins—how strong is His love! God’s love for us gives us strength—strength to show love to one another. For even as we have been forgiven, we share that forgiveness with others. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19), wrote the Apostle John, and “love is of God…God is love” (1 John 4:7f).
Here is an example: Suppose you are having trouble being loving toward someone. Is the answer to look within yourself? Of course not. You won’t find the strength to overcome hatred from within—that’s where your hatred is coming from! But the LORD can give you the strength and power to show love to someone—even an enemy! He shows you His love for you and that you can pass on. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ll never be able to forgive them!” In the LORD, you find the strength to do things you never thought you could.
We depend on the strength of our God. Without Him, we can do nothing really useful or pleasing to Him. It is sad when people think they are strong enough without the LORD.
We need to beware of this temptation too. It can be all too easy to think we don’t really need Him that much, to stay away from church, to ignore the regular hearing and study of His Word, to do things “as we see fit,” to become proud in our thinking, and to depend on ourselves for strength of mind and body. When we try to deal with the daily temptations of Satan on our own without God’s help and constant strengthening, then we are in the gravest of danger. Remember that Samson destroyed the lion, but only because the Spirit of the LORD came upon him.
You have great strength too, but it is gone the moment you turn from the Source of that strength. Take the attitude of King David: “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song” (Psalm 28:7 NIV).
With God, we can joyfully say with the Apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NIV). It is He who strengthens our feeble hands, our feeble feet, and our feeble hearts. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.