Sunday, March 15, 2009
FACING THE OPPOSITION
Matthew 8: 23 Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep.25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" 26 But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.27 So the men marvelled, saying, "Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?"
28 When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way.29 And suddenly they cried out, saying, "What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" 30 Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding.31 So the demons begged Him, saying, "If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine." 32 And He said to them, "Go." So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine. And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water. 33 Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.34 And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.
Many years ago, in my years in Boys Brigade, one of my great thrills was canoeing.
Alex Hood, the captain of the Boys Brigade had bought himself a large red Canadian canoe which he nicknamed the African Queen. I wasn’t sure whether that was because it was an ugly old hulk like on that movie, “the African Queen” Or because Alex fancied himself as Humphrey Bogart, the tough rough adventurer. We took that baby out through the heads of port hacking river, and rode the waves back in around Bonny Vale point. Alex went from rough and tough to panic in four seconds flat when he realised that those tiny waves were about 4 foot high and we wee going to be swamped! And that there were sharks in that there water! He jibbered and jabbered while I paddled flat out in the fron top keep ahead of the waves.
Fear. It does interesting things to us.
We all face many fears in life. Perhaps our little vessel feels like its going to be swamped in the pressures of dire circumstances and distresses. Sometimes our fears and distresses can be overwhelmingly great, almost insufferable. We feel we just can’t go on..
There may be the fear of retrenchment, and then the fear of what the future holds as we face mounting bills and financial concerns that just will not go away. We may face fears with regard to our health. We just cannot do what we used to do. Our mental acumen just can’t take it anymore. Our nerves are frayed and our thoughts become oppressive. Our bodies seem to break down under the stress and care, and no one seems to notice. Is there any help for us at all.
God has said to the believer “I will never leave nor forsake you.” “I am with you always.” Joshua 1:9 Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
We know what the Lord has said. And we want to echo the same confidence the apostle Paul had when he said Romans 8:38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
We want to say 37 No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us.
But sometimes it is just too hard to muster it. The opposition seems utterly overwhelming. And we feel there is no strength left in us.
I am always drawn back to the wonderful passage in Matthew’s gospel.
1. The Problem of A Sinking Ship
Some problems come to us by our own hand.
Jonah 1The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted Me.” 3 However, Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, from the Lord’s presence. 4 Then the Lord hurled a violent wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. 5 The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel and had stretched out and fallen into a deep sleep.
We have set off and decided we would do something that was just plain sinful. And we have reaped the consequences of our actions. It’s no good thinking we are going to get someone else to bear the brunt of our own bad decisions. It’s about time we took ownership of those decisions. It’s about time instead of blaming everyone else we looked at ourselves. We need to confess our problem to the Lord. And if we have to bear the brunt of the problem, then let’s have the courage to say so let it be!
Some Problems Come to Us At The Hand of God.
John 6 After this, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). 2 And a huge crowd was following Him because they saw the signs that He was performing on the sick. When the people saw the sign He had done, they said, “This really is the Prophet who was to come into the world!”
15 Therefore, when Jesus knew that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. 16 When evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. Darkness had already set in, but Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 Then a high wind arose, and the sea began to churn.
The Lord had sent His disciples into a real storm. The disciples were probably getting a bit swept away with the hype of the crowd around Jesus. Some wanted to crown Him King and Messiah straight away, and by force have Him set up his kingdom. In this miracle of the storm in john’s gospel the Lord was sending His disciples into an impossible storm. What was that movie, “The Perfect storm?” This perfect storm was a storm designed to knock all the pride and hype out of them. It was a storm designed to refine the disciples. It was the storm they just had to have!
Some Problems Come To Us At The Hand Of Satan
And yes, I believe sometimes at our lowest point the devil stirs up a storm. He thinks that somehow in the low point storms he can get Christians to beco0me depressed, distressed and down. It’s the Destroyer at his worst work. This storm the disciples faced may certainly have been a problem that has come to them at the hand of Satan.
23Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves.
26 Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
The suddenness of the storm indicates it may have been a satanic assault.
Tempest (Greek word seismos) a commotion of the air, a gale, tempest, of the ground an earthquake.
The stilling of the storm indicates it may have been a satanic assault.
Rebuked (Greek word epitimao, ep-ee-tee-mah'-o) censure, admonish; forbid, to tax upon, charge, rebuke.
EVEN WHEN WE FOLLOW JESUS FAITHFULLY, 'UNEXPECTED' STORMS WILL COME (vv. 23-24).
Matthew begins by telling us; "Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him" (v. 23). That word "follow" connects this passage with the one that just preceded it. In that previous passage, two men had sought to follow Jesus; but they were made to stop first and count the cost of following.
One man had said, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go"; but Jesus let the man know that He didn't even have a place to lay His own head (vv. 19-20). The other man offered to follow; and asked to be excused first, saying, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." But Jesus let the man know that He demanded to have an even greater priority in the man's life than his own father (vv. 21-22). Both men had to confront the difficult challenges that come with "following" Jesus. To be a "disciple" of Jesus means to be a "follower" of Him. It means to go where He says to go, do what He says to do. And sometimes that will be hard work. This storm: it came when they were in the course of simply following Jesus! They were doing the right thing. They were obeying the Son of God! And yet, this violent and life-threatening storm fell upon them anyway.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4).
2. The Problem Of A Sleeping Saviour
THOUGH IT SEEMS AS IF THE LORD IS 'ASLEEP' DURING THE STORM, HE'S STILL PRESENT (v. 24). Matthew makes Jesus stand out in stark contrast to all the panic that's going on around Him. Matthew writes, "But He was asleep." In fact, in the original language, Matthew even puts it in a way that gives it a certain emphasis. Literally, he writes, "But He - He was asleep." What a picture that paints! I believe our God has a great sense of humour; don't you?! How can Jesus sleep at a time like that? Well; for one very obvious reason, it was because He was tired! But for another, much more profound reason, it was because He wasn't in a panic over the circumstances - like we so often are. He was at perfect peace in the midst of the storm; because He knew that the storm was under His control at all times. He was in His Father's will; and He knew that no matter what else happened around Him, His Father's will would still be fulfilled in Him. He had no reason to be afraid - vividly illustrated by the fact that He was asleep in the midst of the storm. And so long as He was in the boat, the disciples had no reason to be afraid either. Now; when you and I go through a storm, it may seem as if the Lord isn't aware of it. It may seem as if He was "asleep". But we can be sure that He isn't. He never sleeps on us; and if it appears that He does, it's only meant to test our faith in Him. When you are in the midst of the storm, just remember: Jesus is there too - in the midst of the storm with you. His apparent "silence" is to see if you will trust Him and have confidence in Him.
Psalm 121:1 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. 2 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. 3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. 4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
He offers us His own peace in the midst of that storm of life? He tells us, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). He says, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
WE DO THE BEST THING WE CAN DO DURING A STORM WHEN WE CRY OUT TO JESUS (v. 25).
The disciples certainly did the best thing they could do. In fact, they did the only thing they could do. They cried out to Jesus, and woke Him from His sleep. Matthew tells us, "Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" Did you know that, in the original Greek, that very crucial prayer is only three words in length? Literally, it translates this way: "Lord, save! We perish!" That gets right to the point! By the way; what a fantastic prayer that is! Analyze it carefully. In the word "Lord", we see that they knew who to go to; and also in what manner of reverence they should approach Him. In that first word, they recognized and admitted His authority and power. To call Him "Lord", in this case, was to confess His deity. In the second word, "Save!", we see that they knew what they needed. They needed Him to rescue them. They laid out their need before Him. And in the third word, translated "We perish!", they rightly stated their situation; and rightly understood how helpless they were unless He did what they asked. If He didn't help them, they were lost.
That, of course, is a great "sinner's prayer" if ever there was one! "Lord, save me! I perish!" You can't be saved unless you admit your need, cry out to Him as "Lord", and plead with Him to save you.
It also happens to be the perfect prayer to pray in the midst of a storm!
Psalm 50:15; "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
Jesus says that they're "fearful". But the Greek word that is used is not the normal word for "fear" (phobos). This particular word (deilos) means "timid" or "cowardly". It suggests a kind of fearfulness that is unbecoming and inappropriate - even sinful. The only other occasion this word is used in the New Testament, apart from this story, is in Revelation 21:8; where we're told that "the cowardly . . . shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone".
And look at what Jesus says about the cause of their sinful condition. He calls them, "O you of little faith". Their real problem was being shown up by the storm; and that real problem was their lack of faith in Him! All that they had seen of Him hadn't sunk down into heart-level with them yet. They didn't yet really understand who He was; and how, because of who He was, and because of the fact that He was with them, they had absolutely no reason to be afraid.
Psalm 107:28 23 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; 24 These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep. 25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. 26 They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. 27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. 28 Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. 29 He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. 30 Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. 31 Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! 32 Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
Dr. Palmer requested her to prepare several songs on the subject of the current Sunday-school lessons. One of the themes was “Christ Stilling the Tempest.” It so expressed an experience I had recently passed through, that this hymn was the result. A very dear and only brother, a young man of rare loveliness and promise of character, had been laid in the grave, a victim of the same disease that had already taken father and mother. His death occurred under peculiarly distressing circumstances. He was more than a thousand miles away from home, seeking in the balmy air of the sunny South the healing that our colder climate could not give. Suddenly he grew worse. The writer was ill and could not go to him. For two weeks the long lines of telegraph wires carried back and forth messages between the dying brother and his waiting sisters, ere the word came which told us that our beloved brother was no longer a dweller on the earth. Although we mourned not as those without hope, and although I had believed on Christ in early childhood and had always desired to give the Master a consecrated and obedient life, I became wickedly rebellious at this dispensation of divine providence. I said in my heart that God did not care for me or mine. But the Master’s own voice stilled the tempest in my unsanctified heart, and brought it to the calm of a deeper faith and a more perfect trust.
Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high! The sky is o'ershadow with blackness,
No shelter or help is nigh; Carest Thou not that we perish?
How canst Thou lie asleep, When each moment so madly is threatening A grave in the angry deep?
The winds and the waves shall obey Thy will, Peace, be still!
Whether the wrath of the storm tossed sea, Or demons or men, or whatever it be
No waters can swallow the ship where lies The Master of ocean, and earth, and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will, Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will, Peace, peace, be still!
Master, with anguish of spirit I bow in my grief today; The depths of my sad heart are troubled
Oh, waken and save, I pray! Torrents of sin and of anguish Sweep o’er my sinking soul;
And I perish! I perish! dear Master Oh, hasten, and take control.
Master, the terror is over, The elements sweetly rest; Earth’s sun in the calm lake is mirrored,
And heaven’s within my breast; Linger, O blessèd Redeemer! Leave me alone no more;
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor, And rest on the blissful shore.
WHEN JESUS RISES TO OUR RESCUE IN THE STORM, THE RESULT SHOULD BE THAT WE WORSHIP HIM (v. 27).
We're told by Matthew that the disciples "marveled" at what had just happened. When we look at the other Gospels, we find that it's even more profound. We find that, according to Mark, they "feared exceedingly" (Mark 4:41); and that, according to Luke, "they were afraid" (Luke 8:25).
The word that's being used here is not the word for cowardliness that we've already seen in verse 26. It's the word for "fear" (phobos) that can also be understood to express deep and heart-felt reverence. There was something of a 'holy dread' that fell upon the disciples, as they realized who it was that had rode through the storm with them. Outside the boat, at the command of Jesus, a great tempest had been replaced by a great calm; and as a result, inside the disciples, "cowardliness" had been replaced by "reverent fear".
When we trust Jesus to see us through the storms of life, He takes us through to the other side and shows us more of who He really is. And as a result - if we truly learn what He seeks to teach us through the storms of life - we come a way more in love with Him, and more in awe of Him, and more surrendered to Him.
3. The Problem Of A Satanic Stink
From the dawn of creation, a great war has raged... It is a war between good and evil, light and darkness, right and wrong, righteousness and sin. It is a war between heaven and hell... between Almighty God, the Creator of the universe and the master of the dark realms of hell, Satan.
Why has evil intensified? Is God losing the war? No. During the life of Christ, there was a great upsurgence of demonic activity. You read more about demons in relation to Jesus' ministry than anywhere else in the Bible. In the presence of the Son of God they went wild. I believe that because we are living in the last days, when Jesus will soon return, the demons are turning up the volume. In 2 Tim.3:1, Paul prophesied, "But know this, that in the last days perilous [vicious] times will come."
We read that the boats docked in "the country of the Gergesenes" (gher'-ghes-senz) There were two little towns in this region. Gergesa was located on the steep cliffs about six miles across the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum. Gadara was the second town located a little further south and inland. That's why Mark and Luke speak of this as the country of the "Gaderenes" instead of "Gegesenes" (Mk.5:1; Lk.8:26). They were probably between these two small villages.
First, note that there were "TWO demon-possessed men." In similar accounts of this same incident, Mark 5:2 and Luke 8:27 mention only ONE demon-possessed man. Skeptics have pointed out this inconsistency. I want you to note that neither Mark nor Luke state that only one is present. For their purposes they focused on the more dominant and out-spoken of the two.
Second, understand what it means that they were "demon-possessed." The Greek word here means "to be under the control of demons." Being "demon-possessed" means having one or more demons inhabit and gaining control of a human being. Demons attack men spiritually, mentally and physically. Demon-possession was common in NT times. In the early church era, the Apostles had the power and authority to cast out demons. Demonism is still alive and well today. It can be clearly seen in the occultic religions of many third world countries.
These two guys were "exceedingly fierce." My study here turned something up. The Greek word for "fierce" is chalepos (khal-ep-os'). It means "vicious violent, or dangerous." The only other time that word is used in the entire Greek NT is in the verse I quoted earlier, 2 Tim.3:1, "But know this, that in the last days perilous [vicious] times will come." They were so vicious "no one could pass that way." The townspeople were frightened of them. Children had nightmares about them. Mark 5:4-5 says of one of them, "he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. Imagine how the disciples must have drawn back in fear of them.
The Plea (vv. 30-31).
Because they were so fearful of Jesus, they looked around for a way of escape. They saw "a herd of many swine feeding." Mark 5:13 says "there were about two thousand" pigs in this herd. They knew Jesus would never allow them to torment these men so they asked, "Permit [lit. send us into] us to go away into the herd of swine." We know from Mark that when Jesus asked the name of the demon, he said, "Legion, for we are many." A Roman legion was a troop of 6,000 soldiers. This large herd of swine would accommodate them. I can't imagine a demon desiring to possess a pig. However, being in the body of a pig would be a welcome escape from the presence of Jesus!
The Power of Jesus (v.32). Jesus sent the demons into the pigs (v.32a).
Jesus gave His disciples the power to cast out demons. However, on more than one occasion, we find that they had great difficulty in casting out only one demon. Note the contrast here as Jesus casts out a legion of demons with one word. He simply said, "Go." If you are a born-again, saved Child of God, this same Jesus is alive in you. Remember how the demons bowed before Him? They can never possess your body because your body is a "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor.6:19). Demons can't live where Jesus lives. Though the works of demons may seem so great, we can remember that wonderful promise of 1 John 4:4, "He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world."
Jesus is still the only Deliverer from the powers of darkness.
There are many "Gergesenses" in this world - places in which Jesus is not welcome and not wanted. There are many hearts that have no room for Him. There are many people who build their whole lives around shutting Him out. There are many places where the devil has hung up his sign, set up his fences, and bolted his gates. But no matter how hard people, or even the devil himself, may try, there's no keeping Jesus away. Have you received Him? Have you let Him be your Saviour?
What about you? Throughout the pages of the Scripture - and under the influence of the Holy Spirit - Jesus has often been revealed to you. In many ways, God has testified to you, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" (Matthew 17:5). Perhaps you are encountering Him today as He truly is. Perhaps today, you once again hear God making this testimony to your heart today about His Son. How will you react to that testimony? Will you "fear" Him in a negative and sinful way? Will you put Him off? Will you flee from Him; or seek to send Him away? Will you try to hide from Him - Or will you "fear" Him in the proper way today? Will you recognize the truth about Him? Will you allow yourself to stand in the light of His holiness, and confess the truth about your sin? Will you humble yourself before Him, and love Him, and adore Him, and receive Him, and cling to Him as your Savior. Will you worship Him and revere Him?