EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 27, 2014
And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
— Matthew 9:1-8, ESV
If you are reading the Gospel of Matthew, by the time you come to the ninth chapter you should already expect the unexpected when it comes to Jesus Christ. He was born in an unexpected way, through a virgin birth. He was raised in an unexpected place, Nazareth in Galilee. He launched His ministry by unexpectedly requesting baptism from John, who had expected Jesus to baptize him. At the baptism of God the Son, people heard the unexpected voice of God the Father and witnessed an unexpected manifestation of God the Holy Spirit. Jesus picked men you would not expect the Messiah to make His trusted disciples. And, Christ’s myriad of ministry miracles included the unexpected blessings of curing the sick, calming a storm, and casting out demons.
In the passage at hand, as might be expected, we get more of the unexpected from Jesus. It begins with an unexpected act, followed by an unexpected offer, which culminates in an unexpected experience. Let’s follow Jesus as He preaches and teaches in Simon Peter’s house in Capernaum, and let’s learn to expect the unexpected from our Lord.
An Unexpected Profession of Faith
Jesus was, as most modern ministers should be, relatively unimpressed with typical professions of faith. There were many in Jesus’ day who said they loved Him, believed in Him, and would follow Him, with their lips; but, there were few who actually demonstrated real love, faith, and commitment with their lives. So, Jesus was usually flippant in the face of false professions of faith.
Such professions of faith are familiar to we who call ourselves Southern Baptists. We are the largest Protestant denomination in the world. Yet, 70% of us will not darken the door of a house of worship on Sunday, 80% never give a dollar this month to the cause of Christ, and 90% will not witness the gospel to one person this year. This is what we’ve come to expect with Baptists, and it is quite unimpressive.
But what our Lord saw at Simon Peter’s house that day was both unexpected and impressive. “Jesus saw their faith,” says verse two. Though faith is believing in what you cannot see (ref. Hebrews 11:1), you can always see when a person really has faith.
What Jesus saw that day was some men placing a paralyzed man on the floor right in front of Him. Matthew and Luke identify “some,” while Mark counts them as “four.” And, Mark and Luke add the important detail of the paralytic being lowered down through a hole in the roof, torn by the men in a desperate attempt to lay their friend at Jesus’ feet.
Real faith is inspired by God, motivated by love, and demonstrated by action. As our Lord’s half-brother, James, wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (ref. James 2:26). These guys worked, and worked hard, to get their paralyzed friend to the Lord, and the Lord saw the evidence of their faith.
Yet as impressive as their faith was, it may have well been incomplete. Was their faith in a miracle worker who would help their otherwise helpless friend, or was their faith in the Messiah who came to save people from their sins? Jesus’ responded to their unexpected faith with an unexpected offer that would point them in the right direction.
An Unexpected Offer of Forgiveness
What Jesus said next stunned the crowd. It was unexpected, to say the least; and, it was blasphemous, to say the worst, acceding to the Jewish religious rulers. Instead of healing the man, which He had done and would eventually do for this gentleman, Jesus forgave him of all his sins.
As this pronouncement of forgiveness fell upon Jewish ears, all Jewish minds understood two things very well about forgiveness. Common sense dictates that forgiveness is for the sinner, given from the one he has sinned against; and; spiritual sensibilities inform us that all sin is ultimately committed against God (ref. Psalm 51:4). How had this man sinned against Jesus so that Jesus needed to forgive him of his sins? This man sinned against Jesus because Jesus was, is, and always will be, God.
The ensuing debate illustrates the deity of Christ and the degrees of difficulty in His ministry. The religious rulers watching Jesus that day had seen Him heal people before. They were studying Jesus closely to see how He healed people, and see to it that it didn’t happen on a Sabbath day (which was contrary to their man-made religious rules). Furthermore, they had heard Jesus speak for God, but this was the first time they heard Him speak as God, pardoning a sinner, and they were aghast.
Jesus, having already forgiven the man’s sins, then takes away his paralysis. The miracle was meant to reinforce Jesus’ message, that He is the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and that all who come to Him in faith will receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Which do you think is harder, and thereby more significant? Jesus healed people all the time, whether they believed in Him or not. But He never forgives anyone except those who truly believe. Therefore, the forgiveness of sins is the greater, more difficult, more lasting miracle. And no matter what sins you have committed, now matter how bad they may seem, Christ’s unexpected offer of forgiveness is preached to you, today.
Your response to God’s forgiveness should be as unexpected as it is in this story.
An Unexpected Experience of Fear
When all had been said and done by the Lord Jesus Christ, the paralytic and his pals, the Pharisees and other Jewish people present at Peter’s house, “They were afraid” (vs. 8). Some English versions translate this as surprised or marveled or impressed. They were all of those things and more. They experienced phobia (the actual Greek word). They were afraid, very afraid.
I would have expected applause, maybe a shout of “amen” or two, perhaps tears of joy. But fear? This is a bit unexpected. Is such fear, in the face of God and the forgiveness He gives, a good thing or a bad thing?
Fear, as you know, can be a good thing. I have ophidiophobia, acrophobia, and glossophobia. I am afraid of rattlesnakes, heights, and speaking in public. So, I don't handle poisonous snakes (like the Kentucky pastor who recently died of snake bite), I don’t try to leap off tall buildings like Superman, and I only speak in public when I am confident I have a message from the Lord.
I think fear is a very good, albeit unexpected, response to Jesus as a result of the miracle and the message He brings through this episode. For He Himself also said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (ref. Matthew 10:28). Who is to be feared? God. Who is Jesus? God.
The fear of God is not only the beginning of wisdom (ref. Proverbs 1:7), it is also the beginning of worship. The people in this passage feared God, then “they glorified God” (ref. vs. 8). Fear and reverence and awe can be attributed to faith, faith responds to God in worship, and worship results in good works done for others as an offering to God.
At the end of the day, the four men and their friend, made whole, went home. I’ll bet they went looking for another friend they could bring to the feet of Jesus. At least that’s what I would expect them to do, in response to the unexpected favor and unmerited grace they received from God.
Have you experienced the unexpected, unconditional, unmerited grace of God that brings faith and results in forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life? If so, what are you going to do with the rest of your day, this week, all year, and your life? Do something unexpected.
Know that God expects you in public worship, and rather than treating it as an optional bore, consider it a grand opportunity to stand in awe in the face of a mighty God who lovingly cancels sin. Forgive all those who have sinned against you and never seek revenge. Help others, instead of turning a blind eye. Reach out especially to those paralyzed by sin and unbelief, and invite them to come to worship and Bible study with you the next time you come.
And when you bring people to Jesus, expect that Jesus might just do something unexpected for them, and for you.
ADDICTION OR ABUNDANCE
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 20, 2014
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
— John 10:10, ESV
We all want more.
We find ways to get it, too. If we want more money, or the stuff money can buy, we get better jobs or bigger credit cards. If we want more sex than holy matrimony provides, there is no end to the illicit means by which we can find it. If we want more time on earth, we can take better care of ourselves and, when the crisis comes, we can opt for that operation. And, if we want more of God, who offers an infinite supply of grace, mercy, and peace, then opportunities to attend corporate and personal worship and Bible study are always available.
More is out there. There is always a way to find more of what we want. Because, what we really want is more.
The cautionary tale is that the devil wants us to have more, too. He has found many ways to give it to us. Not all of them look so bad, either. There seems to be a broad road of people who have lined up to accept his offer. What they may not know, however, is that often times a small bite of an apple can lead to a deadly addiction to apple pie.
The good news that I preach to you today, however, is that the Lord promises more, and He has the way and means to fulfill that promise. Yet the road is narrow and the line is short for the more the Lord has to offer. I think it is because it seems like less at the time, until we take the time to learn what more really means.
In this familiar tenth verse from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, our Lord Jesus Christ speaks succinctly about alternatives and access to more. He first warns of a thief, and identifying this thief is not as obvious as it appears. Then He offers life, true life found in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. With the Lord’s last word, there is His absolute promise of more.
The Thief: Addiction
The thief is not expressly identified in this text. In the larger context, thief is one of four words used nine times to identify a particular person, place, or thing. Other terms include: robber, stranger, and hired hand.
Most people interpret the thief to be the devil. I think the devil is a thief, but he is not the one mentioned here. Read further and you will find a wolf in the story. The devil is the wolf, but it is the thief or robber or stranger or hired hand that allows the devil to trap victims and take them down with him.
Perhaps the thief is a false prophet, a purveyor of false religion or no religion, and that certainly could fit. Maybe there is a thief in each one of us, or at least those of us who take our God-given time, talents, and treasure and steal them way in some enterprise other than the glory of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the advancement of the kingdom of God. That could fit, too. But I think the thief is something more subtle, murkier, which lurks in the heart of every human being, hiding behind every solicitation for something more.
The thief is a cancerous and fast-spreading thing we call addiction. It is the wanting of more, where more takes you outside the parameters of the will of God, beyond compassionate consideration of other people, and past the point of well-being to your own physical, mental, or spiritual health. You can imagine how otherwise good things can become bad addictions, such as food, sex, money, sport, and even religion. When more becomes an addictive thief, it steals like a robber, is a stranger to the person who has it, and like a hired hand it is a cheap substitute for real blessedness, joy, and peace.
We tend to think of addicts as being the few, not the many. They are the small percentage of people who have sunken eyes and rotten teeth from succumbing to the temptation of drugs. They are the sick souls whose pornographic minds have motivated them to molest women or children. They are the small percentage of the one-percenters who have cheated the government or bilked their clients or starved their workers to squeeze out one more house or one more car or one more dollar for themselves. These people have addictions, but not me; or, so we like to think.
Actually, a deadly addiction is anything in your life that you want more than a right relationship with God. It can be drugs, sex, or money, but it does not have to be. It is often something more general and encompassing like success, or happiness, or the wrong kind of love. In this world most people are addicted to something, something they want more than God in their lives. Please know it is dangerous. Please know the wolf is at the door. Please know it is the thief [that] comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
Being primarily committed to anyone or anything else in life other than the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself is the life, is a deadly addiction. It will steal what little time you have here on earth. It will kill your body and soul in the end. And the destruction it leaves in its wake endures for eternity. But, there is a better way to get more, more of what really matters most.
Jesus Christ: Abundance
In juxtaposition to the thief, Jesus presents Himself. While the addictions of sin and self-interest lead to destruction, Jesus said, I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. Abundantly is an adjective God’s word uses to describe the life that Jesus offers, and it literally means more. Addiction, a vain attempt for more, leads to death. Jesus offers life, and more of it.
To receive the life offered by Jesus, you simply but profoundly have to give your life to Him. This requires much more than walking an aisle, praying a prayer, joining a church, or attending an Easter service. It requires serious thought, concerning the gospel message of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It requires honest confession, identifying your own sinfulness and culpability in the death of Christ. It requires ongoing faith, one that not only professes to be a Christian but also practices the disciplines of Christianity. It is a life, quite frankly, where you will have less time for yourself yet somehow receive more of life from God.
Sugar-coaters in pulpits and charlatans on television have mischaracterized the abundant Christian life offered by Jesus Christ, so let me take a few minutes to set the record straight.
The abundant life is not a promise of health and wealth. You can be a fully devoted follower of Jesus and die young from disease or disaster. You can commit to all the disciplines of a true believer, including giving tithes and offerings, and still have trouble paying the bills at the end of the month and even lose your job. This is not the more we follow Jesus for.
The abundant life is not a promise of happiness and excitement. Some of the most unhappy times in your life as a Christian are when the principles you stand on cause you to lose a relationship with someone you love, or be attacked by someone you trusted, or in catastrophic cases being killed by the very people you were trying to help. Even every day Christianity, with its steadfast commitment to Sundays, sacraments, sermons, and singing can seem anything but exciting. Being a faithful husband to an aging wife is not as exciting as running of with some sexy secretary. No, being a believer just might make you, in opposition to the man in the Dos Equis commercial, the most boring man on earth.
The abundant life is not a promise of sinless perfection, as is falsely offered by some defective streams of theology. Christians sin in obvious and ugly ways just like all humans. Christians can even become addicted to certain selfish behavior for a season. The only difference between Christians and non-Christians is that Christians cannot continue long-term in habitual sin. They will eventually overcome a sinful habit by faith, or our faithful God will call them home early. See John’s little letter we call 1 John for a further discussion on this matter.
So if the abundant life is not a promise of constant stuff and surprises and sinlessness, then what does the abundant life promise? It simply promises abundance, and abundance simply means, more.
When a lost person’s life is over, there is no more. There is no more food, drugs, sex, or money. There is no more family, friends, or fun. There is no more opportunity to attend a church, hear the gospel, or give your life to Christ. I do not pretend to have any dogmatic determination of where Hell is or what Hell is like. I only know it is a place where there is no more.
But for those who follow Jesus Christ, when life on earth is over, there is more — much, much more. Frankly, it think it will be fun and exciting. I know the health and wealth benefits will be off the charts. The food will be exquisite, the feeling will be better than sex, and in the family there will be no dysfunction, no separation, and no one to break your heart. And honestly, I cannot say what Heaven will be like any more than I could tell you about Hell. Except, in Heaven, there will always be more.
Permit me to close this message with a fairly casual, cultural illustration. Jesus comes to your today preached, and in the preaching of this particular text he is dressed like Clint Eastwood in one of the closing scenes of The Outlaw Josey Wales. Bear with me, for you are the great Indian chief, Ten Bears. Josey Wales brings to Ten Bears an offer, a simple offer of life. He cloaks it in a covenant covered with blood. There are no bells, no whistles; only life, and more of it.
Jesus came to earth, endured death on a cross, rose again the third day, to bring you this offer of life. It is a life of forgiveness, meaning, joy, and peace. And it is a true life, where there truly will always be, more.
THE RUNNING OF THE PIGS
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 13, 2014
And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.
— Matthew 8:28-34, ESV
“The Running of the Bulls” is a popular tradition in Pamplona, Spain. A dozen or so stout bulls with long horns are loosed to run a marked course from one end of town to the other, and hundreds of humans enter the course to try to outrun the bulls. At least two hundred of the runners are injured each year, some severely, and since the tradition began, fifteen people have been killed by an angry bull.
An alphabet of adjectives describe those who participate in The Running of the Bulls. Adventurous, brave, and courageous come to mind. So do dumb, dumber, and dumbest. But I have found in the Gospels an event more dangerous than The Running of the Bulls. It is The Running of the Pigs, as told by Matthew (and also Mark and Luke).
The place where The Running of the Pigs took place was a village called Gadara, part of a ten-town collective community known as Decapolis (which means ten cities). It was located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, featuring at least one steep bank that dropped into the water. There was a big, spooky graveyard there, too, and nearby was a profitable pig farm.
The presence of the pigs proves that this was a village inhabited by Gentiles, probably Syrians who had settled there to take in the advantages of the sea. Pigs were, of course, unclean animals in more ways than one to the Jews. No Jewish village would have contained a pig farm, and no Jew would have tended pigs unless forced to by slavery (like the story of the “prodigal son” in Luke 15).
Further proof that this was a ministry episode to Gentiles is found in the ending provided by the other Gospel writers, Mark and Luke. They include the fact that one of the delivered demoniacs wanted to take up traveling with Christ and the Apostles. But at this stage of Jesus’ ministry, it would not have been appropriate to travel between Galilee and Judea with a Gentile in tow, so Christ commissioned him to stay and evangelize his own people in his home town.
The setting of the story serves to speak of at least one central gospel truth. Jesus reaches out to all people. But, as we see here and in everyday life, all people do not reach back.
Great stories, like The Running of the Pigs, not only have strategic settings. They also include peculiar people. This story has four groups: Jesus and His disciples, a pair of demon-possessed men, the demons who possessed them, and the employees and owners of the pig plantation.
Jesus and His disciples were on a getaway. Rests and retreats are important to God, who invented the concept of a Sabbath (and a sabbatical) as a gift for man. I take vacations, religiously. Yet some of my best times of worship (perhaps because I don’t have to hear myself preach?!) and witnessing (perhaps because you are forced to talk with strangers) have been on vacations. Christians should always make even rests and retirements ministry-centered, not me-centered. Jesus took the time on this respite from the crowds to personally minister to two persons who, by the way, were in desperate need of ministry.
The two men had one common problem, and it was a doozy. Their lives were completely taken over by demons. Again, while Mark and Luke give some detail as to the aftermath of one of the men, they nor Matthew give us any backdrop by which to begin to understand the depths of these dudes’ dilemma. I doubt seriously that they were clean-cut, hard-working, God-fearing gentlemen one day, then naked, dirty, demon-possessed men the very next day. Drug addictions and overdoses inevitably start with casual and experimental use. Extramarital affairs usually begin with subtle but intentional flirtations. A godless life is arrived at after a Sunday or two without godly worship, which becomes a month or two, then a year or two, until one cannot conceive of spending a Sunday morning in a house of God. Then, the devil has got you. And you don’t have to be crazy or possessed for this to be true. The devil loves running and ruining the lives of normal people.
Speaking of the devil, he and his demons are real personages, too. They are created beings who rebelled against God, not unlike every member of the human race. They are extremely intelligent, unlike most members of the human race. Their conversation with Christ reveals an understanding of the identity of Jesus and the ultimate reality of their fate. I suppose their main mission in life is to keep as many members of the human race as possible in their camp until the end. There is no remedy for fallen angels, who cannot comprehend repentance and redemption. But there is salvation for fallen humans, in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Last, and perhaps least, comes the crowd who funded The Running of the Pigs. Instead of rejoicing in the deliverance of their two townsmen, instead of thanking Jesus for His miraculous ministry, instead of valuing the great effect the person of Jesus had on two persons, they all asked Jesus to leave town. This demonstrates that most people care much more about their pigs, their pleasures, their penchant for making money and using it the way they want to, than they do their fellow man, even the man who was, is, and always will be God. It seems, at this stage of His ministry, that Jesus was turning from one superficial crowd to another.
I suppose if there were any innocent bystanders in this story, it would have to be the pigs. PETA would no doubt have been quite upset with Jesus for the wholesale slaughter of the swine. The townspeople certainly were not too happy with the Lord, as we can plainly see. These poor pigs were just living life, not doing anything obvious for or against God and the gospel, until one day they were swept away with the devils to their destruction.
Let me say that again. These poor pigs were just living life, not doing anything obvious for or against God and the gospel, until one day they were swept away with the devils to their destruction.
Not all rock music is satanic, as suggested by some fundamentalist Christians, but some of it is. Van Halen recorded a song bluntly entitled, “Runnin’ with the Devil.” That’s what the two men were doing at the first of the story, and that’s what the pigs were doing at the end of the story, runnin’ with the devils. Are any of you runnin’ with the devil? Well, if you’re not runnin’ with God in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as taking your place with the bride of Christ, which is the church, you may as well be runnin’ with the devil.
To participate in The Running of the Pigs, all you have to do is value your own personal space, personal belongings, and other personal preferences, more than Jesus. You just live your life, not doing anything obvious for or against God and the gospel, until one day you will be swept away with the devils to your destruction.
Let me say that again. If you value anything in your life more than God and the gospel, even though you don’t do anything obvious for or against them, then one day you will be swept away with the devils to your eternal destruction.
Thank God there is an alternative to The Running of the Pigs. It is the gospel and the word of God, the kingdom of God, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is genuine commitment to Jesus Christ and responsible membership in His church. If you’ve never stepped in line to follow Him, repent and believe today. If you’re stepping a little out of line these days, be warned by this passage and get back in the boat with the Lord. And the next time you see some poor sap injured in Pamplona at The Running of the Bulls, remember, it could be worse.
WHAT TO DO IN A PANIC
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 6, 2014
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
— Matthew 8:23-27, ESV
People face problems and people panic. It is the natural human response. Sometimes it is minor, other times it is monumental, and for some it is a matter of life and death.
When you pass a police car driving ten miles over the speed limit, it causes minor panic and heart palpitations. When Simon Peter was confronted by hostile Judeans in the courtyard of the High Priest, he panicked and made a monumental denial of the Lord Jesus Christ. When facing a fire in the house or a bear in the woods, some people have understandably panicked and the result was major injury or loss of life.
It is a serious thing to come face to face with trouble. It is a sick feeling to be gripped by panic, doubt, fear. And no matter how little or how strong your faith in God, you will face trouble and you will feel panic. So, what do you do in a panic?
The first followers of Jesus Christ panicked one day on the Sea of Galilee. It is not a big sea as seas go, covering less than a hundred square miles. But, it is some six hundred feet below sea level, surround by jagged mountain cuts, and often hosts severe storms usually reserved for bigger bodies of water. In other words, the Sea of Galilee ain’t that big, but it is plenty big enough in which to drown.
In the events described by the eyewitness Matthew, this storm in this sea seemed fatal on this occasion. And with the exception of Jesus Himself, who was calmly asleep, all of the disciples panicked. I would have, too, and so would you.
Now admittedly, sometimes you only have a few seconds to make a decision in a panic. But providing for the many occasions when you will at least have a few minutes, ask yourself a couple of questions and then follow four steps when you are going through a panic:
Are you a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Christ’s disciples (probably the twelve) could have answered this question in the affirmative (except, of course, for Judas Iscariot). They were in that boat on the Sea of Galilee because Jesus had commanded them to leave one side and go to the other. They faced the storm and felt the panic because they were doing precisely what God commanded them to do. This is what real disciples should do, always be true to God and His word.
My advice to them would have been the same as Jesus’, don’t panic. Calm down. When you face a storm because you are simply trusting and obeying the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no need to panic. What is happening is ordained by a sovereign God and the outcome will be for His glory and your good. There is no need to fear adversity or trials or troubles when you are a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
However, if you are not a true follower of Jesus Christ, please panic, now. For if the storm you are facing is severe enough to take your life, you will lose your soul as well. Now is not the time to follow your own road, nor in some flimsy profession of faith. Repent and believe the gospel, now. Ask yourself the above question and answer in faith, now. Even a little real faith places your hand in the hand of the Man who calmed the sea.
Is Jesus in the boat with you?
Since the twelve could answer “yes” to this question, obviously, then I would obviously tell them, again, not to panic. When Jesus is in the boat, the car, the house, and above all, the heart, there is no need to panic.
But sometimes, we don’t take Him along, do we? Imagine if Matthew, Simon Peter, and the other fellows had taken off across the lake, in some form of disobedience to Jesus’ orders, without Jesus in the boat? The reason for panic would have been much greater.
I know God is omnipresent and I know when Jesus is Lord of your life, He is always with you. But I also know that even the most faithful followers of Jesus Christ can be unfaithful at times. There are times when we do not honor Him as we should in our boat, car, home, or church. These are the days when storms will surely come, and what will we do when we are not as close to Him as we should be?
Panic! And remember, repentance is not just for unbelievers, but believers often need to repent, too. We often find ourselves in need of repentance and revival, of regaining our close relationship with the Lord, of admitting we’ve tried to do it on our own, or indulge in disobedience for pleasure, or any number of things that leave Jesus out of the boat.
Why don't we all do this right now? Let us resolve immediately not to do things if Jesus is not with us, if it does not ring true to His word, if we do not have the peace that passes even the best human understanding. Make sure you have trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior. Make sure He is your priority, your first love, always in His rightful place in your heart. The storms will still come. Panic will still be felt. But you’ll have Him in the boat with you, always, and you can take the same four steps followed by those first disciples.
Wake up Jesus!
Jesus was literally asleep in this episode. Though He is a manifestation of the one true and triune God, in His incarnational ministry He was as fully human as He is fully God, albeit perfect on both counts. Even a perfect person needs sleep. Even a perfect person can go right into a severe storm. But, a perfect person does not panic.
But I’m not perfect! And, neither are you. Even if you are a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, and even if you take Jesus with you everywhere you go, there are still storms and there will still be those painful pangs of panic. When they come, wake up Jesus! Pray!
You know He’s already awake. You know He’s already watching. And you should know that He loves you and cares for you, more than you can possibly know. So wake yourself up to Christ’s presence in your life and ask Him to save you and deliver you from whatever troubles have caused the feelings of panic to arise.
These first disciples were drowning, in water, so they called on the name of the Lord. What are you drowning in? Commit your life to Jesus Christ. Pledge anew to keep Him in the boat with you at all times. Call on His name in serious, personal prayer. Then, watch Him work.
Watch Him Work!
Jesus worked a panic-relieving, storm-calming, miraculous and affirmative way in this story. He arose, mildly rebuked them for their lack of faith (how could they accomplish any of the things Jesus promised if they all drowned in the boat?), and with His omnipotent word, did something that only God can do. He calmed the storm and saved their lives.
It is easy at this point to become overzealous in our faith, in the manner of some faith traditions and most television ministries. God always answers prayer, but He is not bound to give to us exactly what we ask Him to give. So it is important to understand that God works and God answers prayer not with a view towards temporal relief, but with an eternal perspective. God is in it, and we are in the boat with God, for the long haul.
These disciples asked for their lives and received them. Soldiers have prayed in foxholes, and lived. We have prayed for cancer-stricken family and friends, and the dreaded disease went into remission. How great it is to have our panic assuaged and our prayers answered, just the way we want.
But what about when God works in a more mysterious, seemingly dark way? Don’t you think Simon Peter and Paul prayed to God, moments before they were executed in Rome? Don’t you think the early Christians were praying shortly before they were fed to the lions. Don’t you think our Lord has listened to many a missionary prayer, just before the mission was cut short by martyrdom? And, don’t you think that millions of Christians through the years have drowned, have died of cancer, and have suffered from all manner of injustice and abuse? Is the Lord asleep when these prayers are offered, refusing to wake up? There are times when death is a gift greater than earthly life.
Watch God work, for God is always at work. The disciples watched Him from slightly below sea level. Others get the chance to watch Him on level ground, still others from Heaven’s point of view. Never doubt God is at work, for His glory and our good, and you will never linger in panic. Then, whether you are on earth or in Heaven, praise the Lord and wonder at His unique and great power.
Wonder at His Unique Greatness and Power!
If the disciples’ question could be turned into a definitive statement, they would have said about Jesus, “There is no one like Him!” Amen.
When we think about this miracle and all of the miracles in the Bible, we should be amazed at the person and power of God. When we think about the miracle of salvation, the new birth, eternal life, we should be amazed at the sovereign grace and saving power of God. When we thing of the future fulfillment of prophecies and the personal return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we should live in awe and reverence at the transcendence and imminence of Almighty God.
There is no one like Him, the sovereign Father in the Heavens, the Son who was sacrificed on earth and now resurrected to His rightful place, the sending forth of the Holy Spirit, to regenerate and guide believers through this life into the next. There is no one like the one triune God, in person and in power. All of life should be an act of worship before Him. And when you have really come to know Him and love Him, when the panic has subsided and the worship begins, do what Matthew, who was in the boat, did — tell others about the Lord Jesus Christ!
Matthew told this story, and many others, about his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. What is the gospel according to you? Tell someone about the Prince of Peace who conquers panic and fear, who by grace through faith gives the gift of eternal life, life which will last long after all the storms of this life are over.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org