Dr. Mark Hardgrove
When I was in high school wrestling, my coach had a pet peeve; he did not want to hear any member of the wrestling team say, “I can’t.” You could say, “I’ll try,” but you never said, “I can’t.” My grandmother used to say, “Can’t never did nothing.”
In my observations of the life of Paul, it would seem that there are a lot of things that Paul could have simply said, “I can’t,” to and moved on. He persecuted the church, but Jesus called him to be a preacher. The early believers balked and said, “He can’t do that, he was a persecutor of the church. He held the people’s coats while they stoned Stephen.” But Paul became a believer and a preacher of the gospel. When God told Paul to go to the Gentiles with the Good News, Paul could have said, “I can’t do that, I’m a Jew, a former Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, a zealot for the Law.” In fact, many of the early Jewish believers tried to tell Paul, “You can’t do that, those dirty Gentiles need to become Jewish proselytes before they can become Christians.” But Paul took the gospel to Rome, the heart of the Gentile world.
In our text Paul is telling the church at Philippi that he, Paul, had learned some things. Paul said, “I know how to be abased, to be brought low, to be humbled.” Where did you learn that, Paul? Paul would say, “I learned it in the school of life.” Then Paul said, “Not only do I know how to be abased, I know how to deal with prosperity.”
Some folks turn their backs on God when things get tough, and some turn from God when things get good. Paul said, “I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Paul is saying that if he has to, he can prevail at both ends of the extreme and all points in between. He said, “I can do all things . . .” Not through his intellect. Not through his experience. Not through his fortitude. But “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I. GOD SETS YOU UP FOR SUCCESS
We need to get this truth in our spirit. We can do whatever God calls us to do. We can triumph over every situation that the enemy brings to bear upon our faith. We can stand tall and firm on the foundation of our faith when we are standing in Jesus’ Name. When we face an impossible situation, we need to repeat with the Apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When the enemy is bringing hell and high water to your doorstep, you need to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When the straw that breaks the camel’s back falls on you, you need to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The Bible tells us “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Ps. 37:23). Nothing you’re facing today, and nothing that you’re going to face tomorrow catches the Lord off guard, or by surprise. And if you are walking in the will of the Lord, you will never face anything that He can’t bring you through. It may look impossible, and it may feel impossible, and people may tell you that you can’t, and the enemy of your soul may tell you that you can’t, but friend, if Jesus says I can, then I can.
If you are allowing God to direct your steps, then you can be assured of this, God is setting you up for success. It may not feel like it, look like it, smell like it, or taste like it at the moment, but success it already knocking at the door. And God will open doors that no man can close! If Jesus says I can, then I can.
II. EXAMPLES OF PEOPLE TRIUMPHING OVER THEIR TRIALS
The Gospels are replete with examples of people who could not do what they did, but when Jesus told them to do it, they did it. Let me lift up a few of these examples:
A. The Paralyzed Man Picks Up His Bed and Walks
9:1Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” 4Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5Which is easier: to say, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Get up and walk’? 6But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7And the man got up and went home. 8When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men. (Matt 9:1-8, NIV).
The reason this man’s sins were forgiven was because he and his companions had faith. Jesus saw their faith, and said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Now the teachers of the law knew the implications of what Jesus had just done and said. The forgiveness of sins is and exclusive prerogative of God. If Jesus could forgive sins, then Jesus must be God in the flesh. They accused Jesus of blasphemy.
I believe Jesus set them up for this. Jesus, as well, knew the implications of what He had just said. For Him to forgive sins was to assert a claim of divinity. And just to give empirical proof to what He had just done, Jesus turned to the man and said, “Get up, pick up your mat and go on home.”
I can see every eye turning to the paralyzed man on the mat. In small towns, much like today, we know the people who are paralyzed, or who have cancer, or who is dying, and so on. There was no denying that this man was paralyzed. So when Jesus said, “Get up, pick up your bed and go on home,” everyone knew that what Jesus was telling this man to do was impossible. And we wonder what went through the mind of the man. Perhaps he at first thought, “I’ve never walked before, I’m paralyzed and reason tells me, and the expressions on the faces of the people tell me, that I can’t get up, pick up my mat and go on home. But despite what everything and everyone else may be saying, If Jesus says I can, then I can.” And the man got up, picked up his bed and went on home.
I can see Jesus looking over at the doubters and with a look that said, “You want proof that I can forgive sins, and therefore, I am God on earth, there’s your proof.”
There will be times when you think you can’t. There will be times when everything in your past, every experience, and your history will tell you that you can’t get up out of where you are and go to where God is calling you. Perhaps you’ve been paralyzed by fear, or by failure, and you don’t feel like you can get up, but God sent me to tell you today that if Jesus says you can, then you can. You don’t have to lie there any longer. It’s time get right, get up and get going in the will and the Word of God.
B. The Man with the Withered Hand
3:1Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 4Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. NIV
One day Jesus was in the synagogue and a man with a shriveled hand (this was hand that was severely deformed) who was there. It was the Sabbath and the Pharisees were so strict on the letter of the law that they believed it was even wrong to heal on the Sabbath. They knew of the compassion and mercy of Jesus, so they were watching Him, they were looking for a reason to speak out against Him. But Jesus wasn’t intimidated by what anyone else thought.
Jesus could have simply walked over and quietly touched the man and healed him without anyone really taking notice. Jesus could have waited for another time and place, but He didn’t. Jesus wanted both to heal this man and to make a point. He told the man to stand up on front of everyone. Then Jesus asked them a question, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” They knew that if they answered, “to do good,” they would justify Jesus healing this man. So they cowardly kept their silence.
Jesus was angry at the lack of compassion, and their cowardice, so He turned to the man with the shriveled hand and said, “Stretch out your hand.” Again, every eye turned to this man and zeroed in on his hand. If your hand is shriveled, you can’t stretch it out. I cut six tendons in my hand and couldn’t extend my thumb and three fingers. I had the tendons repaired and was able to use them again until I broke one of the tendons in my thumb. Now I can’t do my Fonzie impersonation any more, and when I’m hitchhiking people stop because they think I just want to cross the road.
The man had been living with this shriveled hand for some time. Every cell in his brain said that he couldn’t stretch out his hand. Every doctor in the community had probably told him that he would never stretch out that hand again. He had learned to live with his deformity. But one day he went to church and met a man named Jesus. Jesus looked at the man, as only Jesus could, and simply said, “Stretch out your hand.” And something in the man said, “If Jesus says I can, then I can.” And by the mere act of faith and obedience this man did what he could not do, he stretched out his hand!
We have churches full of people with shriveled hands. The hands represent our ministry, our good works. We have people who have been coming to church week after week, month after month, year after year, and still have never stretched out their hand in ministry. If we sit month after month, year after year and do not use your ministry it will atrophy and shrivel. And after a while you may think you can’t stretch out your hand. But then again, you just might come to church one day and meet Jesus here. You might think you came to just sink back into the pew like you’ve done every other Sunday, but then Jesus tells you, stand up, stretch forth your hand, do the works that you’ve been called to do, step into your gift and use the talents God has given you. The devil will tell you that you can’t, some of the people in the church might tell you that you can’t, but you just need to trust and obey, and shout out with a voice of triumph, “If Jesus says I can, then I can.” I might never have been a teacher for the Primary Class before, but if Jesus says I can, then I can. If might never have witnessed to someone standing in the line at Wal-Mart before, but if Jesus says I can, than I can. I might never have given a message in tongues, I might never have laid hands on the sick and seen them recover, I might never have served in the church nursery, I might never have started an outreach to the community, but if Jesus says “stretch out your hand,” then I can!
C. Woman Caught in the act of Adultery
2Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. 7So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” NKJV
Again, the Pharisees are looking for a reason to accuse Jesus. They thought they could put Him in a position where whatever He said, He would offend someone.
I suspect that small towns then, were a lot like small towns today. People know everything about everyone else’s business. My mother knows who was married to who, whose baby that child really belonged to, whose been sleeping around with whom and all that stuff. If is very likely that these Pharisees, along with the rest of the town, knew about this affair. So when they wanted to find a reason to accuse Jesus they simply went to the house where they knew this woman would be and dragged her out into the streets to feet of Jesus. They weren’t concerned about the law, or about this woman, they just wanted to turn the people against Jesus.
They said, “This woman was caught in the very act of adultery, the law says she should be stoned. What do you say?” I Jesus said that they should not stone her, He would be speaking something contrary to the law. But if He said to stone her, He would be viewed as a man who was as harsh and self-righteous as the Pharisees. But Jesus knew the Law of Moses, and according to the Law of Moses a person could not cast a stone if he was guilty of the same crime. Jesus simply bent down and started writing something in the sand. He said, “He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” And He began to write again. There has been much speculation about what Jesus wrote. I believe Jesus knew something about these men who were accusing this woman. He knew their pasts weren’t spotless either and so may Jesus just started writing the names of some of the women these men had been with. And when they saw the names they simply dropped their rocks and went on home.
When Jesus looked up the only person left there was this poor pitiful woman. He said, “Woman, where are your accusers?” I can see her looking up and brushing back her hair as she looked left and right through teary eyes and in amazement said, “I have none Lord.” Then Jesus said this, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.” We don’t know how long this woman had been having this affair with the man, and we don’t know what she did when she left Jesus, but Jesus told her to do something that she had not been able to do up to this point—stop sinning. There are some that will tell you that it is impossible to live a holy life. There are people who will tell you that you can’t give up that habit. Maybe you’ve tried and failed to quit doing that thing that you are ashamed of. Maybe you’ve been wanting to quit but you simply haven’t been able to get the victory on your own. Well I’ve got some good news today, you’re not own your own. Jesus can give you the victory; Jesus can provide the power to walk in purity. The enemy will say you can’t quit. Your own experience may be telling you that you’ve tried and failed, but here’s what you need to get a hold of today, if Jesus says I can, then I can. I couldn’t stop drinking until I met Jesus at an altar in Caribou, Maine, but I’ve never had another drink since that day. I couldn’t get control of my foul mouth until I met Jesus there that day, but I’ve stopped my swearing. How did I do what I had not been able to do? Jesus said I could, so I did.
D. Lazarus Raised from the Dead
Let me give you one more illustration. There was a man named Lazarus. He was a friend of Jesus. In fact, Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, were close personal friends of Jesus. One day they sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. Jesus didn’t leave to go to Lazarus until two days later, and it was a two-day trip.
17Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. 18Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: 19And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. 20Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. 21Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 22But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. 23Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. 24Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 25Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 27She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. 28And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. 29As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. 30Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. 31The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. 32Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 33When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, 34And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. 35Jesus wept. 36Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! 37And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? 38Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. 39Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. 40Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? 41Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. 43And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
44And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. KJV
Jesus stood in the midst of weeping people, people who were mourning the death of a loved one, sisters who were distraught and grieving and Jesus, Himself weeping also, looked up at the tomb of a man who had been dead for four days and He spoke to the dead man. Jesus simply said, “Lazarus, come forth.”
Some people probably thought Jesus had completely lost His mind. The Jews believed that after three days the spirit of a man separated from the body and there was no hope of resurrection. The said, “This man is already starting to stink with decay.” But Jesus said, “Roll away the stone.”
There’s and old saying that, dead men tell no lies. It might also be said that dead men don’t get up and walk out of the tomb after four days. But somewhere in Abraham’s bosom, in the realm of Sheol known as Paradise, Lazarus heard a familiar voice. It was the powerful Word of God reaching into despair and finding hope, reaching into death and finding life. Everyone standing there that day knew that dead men can’t walk. That is until Jesus spoke the Word.
Somewhere in the realm of the righteous dead, the spirit of Lazarus was seized by the Word of God and suddenly he was back in his body and on his way out of the tomb. Jesus said, “Loose him, and let him go.” And I can imagine Lazarus hopping out of the tomb thinking, “This don’t make no sense. Dead men can’t get up and walk out of the tomb. But if Jesus says I can, then I can.”
Praise God, one day the trumpet is going to sound and the voice of the archangel will herald the coming of Jesus for His church. And I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but the righteous dead are going hear the Bridegroom calling for His Groom, “Come forth,” and the dead in Christ are going to rise and we which are alive and remain shall be changed in a moment in the twinkling of an eye and we’re going to meet our Lord and Savior in the air.
Some will say that once you’re dead, you’re dead. Some will say, “When it’s over, it’s over and there ain’t nothing you can do about it.” I don’t understand how I’m going to live again. I don’t understand how the mortal shall put on immortal. But I don’t have to understand. All I have to know is that if Jesus says I can, then I can. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O’ death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:54-57, KJV)
God asked Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Friends, I don’t know what the devil has been telling you that you can’t do, that you know you ought to do. It may be to come up out of the shame and guilt of a sinful past. It may be to stretch forth your withered hand and find your ministry. It may be to lay aside the sin that so easily besets you—I don’t know what it is, but I do know this, If Jesus says you can, then you can.
This sermon has spoken specifically to some people here today. While I was speaking the Holy Spirit brought something to your remembrance, something that you need to do, the devil said you couldn’t. It may be to give up a sinful habit. It may be to find and fulfill your ministry. It may be to do all and be all that God has called you to be. It may be to become more faithful in to God in your time, talents, and treasures. The enemy has been telling you that you can’t afford to pay tithes. The enemy has been telling you that you don’t have enough time to be more involved in the life of the church. The enemy has been telling you that you can’t witness to your neighbor. But I’m here to tell you that if Jesus says I can, then I can!