Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Grace is Greater than Your Hurts, September 17 2017


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Grace is Greater Than Your Hurts
Series: Grace is Greater
Acts 7:54-60; 2 Timothy 4:14-18; Colossians 1:19-23


Series Big Idea: No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. This 3-week series, based on the book Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, explores what the Bible teaches about grace, developing a deep understanding of the life-changing power of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For more resources and information on the book, visit https://www.graceisgreaterbook.com/.

Big Idea:
We receive freedom from our past wounds when we choose to forgive.

Introduction

We’re in the middle of a three-week series called “Grace Is Greater” based on the outline of Kyle Idleman’s book of the same title. Last week we said grace is unmerited favor, an undeserved gift. Grace is Greater Than Your Mistakes. God’s amazing grace is available to everyone, regardless of their past.

The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace. (Romans 3:23)

God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness (John 4:1-30)

God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets (John 21:15-19)

And quoting author Philip Yancey,

Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.

That’s not only good news, that’s incredible news! It’s almost unbelievable.

But receiving grace carries with it an important opportunity…extending grace.

I love to clean. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I love to clean toilets, wash windows, dust furniture, or scrub the floor. I like cleaning the garage, purging junk from my desk, and even getting rid of unnecessary computer files.

Heather and I lived in our childhood homes from birth until college. When we were married, we lived in eight homes during our first eight years of marriage. What a change! The bad news was moving is always a huge hassle. The good news was every year or so we were able to throw out stuff we no longer needed. It was a great feeling to be lean and mean! Then we bought a house and lived in it for 17 years. Imagine the accumulated mess we faced two years ago as we prepared to move to Toledo! Wow!

Like computer hard drives, closets, and car trunks, our hearts need periodic decluttering. Over time, hurts and raw sin can accumulate in the form of anger, bitterness, and rage.

We all love to receive grace, but how easy is it to share? Put another way, we’ve all been forgiven, but how easy is it to forgive others?

In the most famous prayer in history, Jesus taught his disciples to pray

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

You may have prayed, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Have you ever stopped to think about that? The next verse clarifies Jesus’ intention.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14)

That’s good, right? When we forgive, God will forgive us. Then Jesus really gets serious.

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
(Matthew 6:15)

I want grace for me and justice for others. I want God to forgive my sins but I want others to pay when they hurt me and those I love. “Revenge is mine,” says me!

But Jesus says forgive. Last week we talked about Jesus’ friend Peter’s denial and restoration. Here’s another memorable encounter.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)

Jesus answered,
“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:22)

Some translations say seventy times seven. Peter thought he was being generous, saying up to seven times. Jesus essentially says there is no limit. There’s no limit to God’s forgiveness of us and there should be no limit to our forgiveness of others. That’s only fair, right? But oh so hard!

Jesus continues by telling a story about a man forgiven of millions of dollars who refuses to forgive another who owed him a few thousand dollars. Every sin we have committed has offended God. We have all been forgiven of much more than we could imagine, yet how easy is it to refuse to forgive those who have wronged us?

Jesus says forgive…and he never asks us to do something he hasn’t already done.

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33-34)

I know what you’re thinking. It’s Jesus. He’s God. He used superpowers to forgive. Maybe he wasn’t really in that much pain—dying on a cross!!!

I know some of you have been deeply hurt. People have betrayed you, abandoned you, abused you. Some of you have endured violence, rape, molestation, and neglect. Love was broken, trust was shattered, hope was destroyed. Maybe you’re thinking, “Kirk, you have no idea how they hurt me!” You’re right, but God knows. And he instructs us to forgive.

We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God (Acts 7:54-60)

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Ok, Jesus forgave those who were violently tortured and murdered him, but still, that was Jesus.” Listen to this story of one of the early church leaders.

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:54-56)

In all fairness to the religious leaders, Stephen was rebuking them. He called them out on their self-righteous religion and their murder of Jesus (yes, religious people killed Jesus!). But Stephen was speaking the truth in love.

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:57-58)

Here we get a glimpse at Saul’s persecution of Christians, the man who would encounter Jesus, be renamed Paul, and write much of the New Testament.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)

While they were stoning Stephen, he echoes Jesus’ prayer on the cross, Father forgive them. And then he died (the meaning of “fell asleep”).

We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God

Notice Jesus and Stephen don’t actually say to their murderers, “I forgive you.” Rather, they release their agony to God, asking God to forgive them. Maybe if you struggle to forgive, begin by asking God to forgive them.

Forgiving others honors God. He instructs us to forgive.

Forgiving others is an undeserved blessing to the offender. Who doesn’t appreciate being forgiven.

But forgiving others changes us…in more ways than one. In yet another example of the Bible being relevant and practical, scientific research has repeatedly shown the harm caused by bitterness. It has been linked to creating or exacerbating ulcers, lupus, skin problems, and sleep issues. It can lead to problems with relationships. Simply, not forgiving can destroy us. Someone once said refusing to forgive another is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Often when we are bitter the other person doesn’t even know! They’re moved on and we’re the ones suffering.

In the words of Elsa, "Let It Go!"


I know, easier said than done. How often do we want to do something yet struggle to do so? We need God. We need God’s grace. The more we experience it, the more we can share it. You can’t give what you don’t have.

We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It simply means releasing the hurt to God.

Forgiving does not mean trusting. There are dangerous people who are not worthy of trust. We need to establish healthy boundaries. For example, forgiving an abusive spouse does not mean we allow them to continue to abuse. It just means we refuse to be bitter about their past sin.

In addition to release our feelings to God,

We Must Release the Person Who Hurt Us Over to God (2 Timothy 4:14-18)

The aforementioned Paul told his disciple Timothy

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. (2 Timothy 4:14-15)

Alex is dangerous. He is not to be trusted. Paul tells Timothy to establish healthy boundaries with him.

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:16-18)

The Lord stood by Paul’s side. God was present.

Where was God when you were hurt? Right with you. That’s both comforting and frustrating. “Great, God, thanks for just standing there while I was being fired, betrayed, raped, beat up, or abused.” We’ll talk more about this next week but God gives us free will, choices. He doesn’t stop all evil—though one day all evil will be stopped.

God’s grace is greater than anything you’ve ever done…and greater than anything done to you.

But how do we forgive? Consider these four steps:

1. Acknowledge our hurt. It happened. Don’t sugar-coat it. Don’t deny it. Don’t spiritualize it.
2. Release Our Rights. We can be bitter, angry, and seek revenge…but why?
3. Pray for Our Enemies. Jesus did. Stephen did. Did Stephen’s prayer impact Saul?
4. Give it to God. He can be trusted. Let him judge.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:17-19 [Deuteronomy 32:35])

God’s wrath will be greater than any revenge you can imagine!

Finally,

Reconciliation May Not Always Be Possible or Appropriate, but It Can Reflect God’s Grace and Forgiveness Toward Us (Colossians 1:19-23)

As I said, forgiveness does not necessarily mean trusting. Some relationships are permanently severed, but in many cases reconciliation is possible.

Jesus came to reconcile the relationship between us and our heavenly Father severed by our sin.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—  if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:21-23)

Hallelujah! This is the gospel: Jesus is LORD and has reconciled us to God.

We have been reconciled to God and, if possible, we are to be reconciled with others.

On October 2, 2006, the world was stunned to learn of a gunman entering an Amish one-room schoolhouse, shooting ten girls, killing five, and then taking his own life. The gunman’s mother, Terri Roberts, wrote a powerful book called
Forgiven. Listen to the response of one Amish family member toward the parents of the killer:

When my driver Sam took me to the Robertses’ home, I was concerned to see that they were all alone. In contrast, there were thousands by now—media, family, and spectators—gathered at Nickel Mines to be there for the victims’ families. My heart was moved because it seemed to me that Chuck and Terri were suffering just as much as the parents of Roberts’ victims.

When others challenged me as to why I should feel this way, I answered, “What would be worse? Would you rather have lost a child, or have your son have done something like this?”

It is my belief that more good is going to come out of this sad tragedy than bad. After all, what is the most unjust thing that you can think of? The answer is the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. And yet what should be the most wonderful thing you can think of? The best thing that has ever happened? Our crucified Savior Jesus Christ rose again.


Wow! That’s redemption…and God is really good at redemption!

True reconciliation requires both repentance from the offender and forgiveness from the offended. Obviously you cannot reconcile with someone who is deceased or unwilling to reconcile,

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

But God is able to heal even the most broken of relationships, even reconciling a shooter’s victims with his parents. That’s grace!

My Story: Crystal Howald

We could spend hours telling the stories of those who have chosen forgiveness over bitterness, but what about you? Who do you need to forgive? A family member? An enemy? Yourself? Who have you avoided praying for? What broken relationship needs to be reconciled? Maybe you can’t do it, but God can. Grace can. Grace is greater than your hurt.

Maybe it’s time to get rid of that junk in your heart, the bitterness and anger. Take it to the curb and enjoy the freedom and peace of a cleansed soul.

Bonus content: Matthew West, Forgiveness

Credits: outline, title, and some ideas from Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Great is Greater than Your Mistakes, 10 September 2017

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Grace Is Greater Than Your Mistakes
Series: Grace is Greater
Romans 3:23; John 4:1-30; John 21:15-19
 
Series Big Idea: No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. This 3-week series, based on the book Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, explores what the Bible teaches about grace, developing a deep understanding of the life-changing power of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For more resources and information on the book, visit https://www.graceisgreaterbook.com/.
 
Big Idea: Our sin is ugly, but God’s grace is greater than any past mistake or regret.
 
Introduction
 
I love words. Obviously! I’m fascinated by the use and meanings of words…and the creation of new ones. In his book, Grace is Greater—the source of our title and series outline—Kyle Idleman mentions a few new words.
 
Phonesia
The affliction of dialing a phone number and forgetting whom you were calling just as they answer.
 
Disconfect
To sterilize the piece of candy you dropped on the floor by blowing on it, assuming this will somehow remove all the germs.
 
Blamestorming
meeting intended to determine why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible. 
 
Unlike these words, “grace” is a term we’ve heard countless times. People sing about amazing grace. They say grace before meals. People have named their daughters grace. Businesses often talk about a grace period with payments. But what is grace…and what does it matter? This will be our focus during these three weeks.
  
Grace. It’s a word Jesus never used in the Bible, yet His entire life demonstrated it. The original Greek word is charis (χάρις). It is where we get our word charm. It is simply is unmerited favor. A free gift. It is not deserved. It is not earned. It truly is amazing for those reasons. God’s grace is more beautiful, freeing, and altogether greater than we could ever imagine. I’m no expert on the subject but I know I love it. But before we get to the wonder of grace, we need to begin with a harsh reality…
 
We’re not ok.
 
Let me say it in a way I often say: we’re not perfect. No perfect people are allowed at First Alliance…except Jesus. If you are perfect, you are invited to get up, grab some great Claro coffee in the lobby and head home. There’s not much here for you! But the Bible says that
 
…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
 
See, God is perfect. He is God and we are not. The sooner we grasp this, the better. I’m messed up…really messed up. I’m selfish. I’m prideful. I’m judgmental. The Bible calls it sin. I don’t have time to list all of my sins—past or present—but it’s a long list. And God hates it.
 
The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace. (Romans 3:23)
 
If you’ve got your act together, don’t worry about God. New York City’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg apparently feels he doesn’t need to worry about God. In a New York Times interview, Bloomberg stated, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” He felt his good deeds were greater than his bad deeds so he can waltz into heaven.
 
Here’s the problem: we all sin—even politicians, if you can believe it!—and one sin is enough to keep us from God.
 
Let me reiterate a statement I made several months ago:
 
Heaven is where God is present.
Hell is where God is absent.
 
Let me add: God is absent where sin is present. Period.
 
How much sin? It doesn’t matter. How much cyanide in your water is enough to kill you? A drop will kill you! It doesn’t matter if you place a teaspoon, a tablespoon, or a half-cup of cyanide in your water, you’re dead regardless. You wouldn’t knowingly drink water with any cyanide and God won’t tolerate even a little sin. Maybe you think you’re a better person than the leader of North Korea or Charles Manson or a serial killer but that’s beside the point. Your sin and my sin have offended God enough to separate us from Him.
 
It’s not that God sends us to hell, it’s that our sin separates us from God. Do you see the difference? God wants to be with us. Just like you might want to drink water on a hot day…but you won’t touch it if you know it’s laced with poison. We try to convince ourselves that we’re not that bad, but any bad, any imperfection, any sin is too much for a perfect, holy God.
 
And if you think you’re a really good person, let me remind of what Paul said:
 
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)
 
Paul—he wrote much of the New Testament…what’s on your resume?—announces he’s not only a sinner, he’s the worst of sinners. No, he doesn’t say I was the worst when I persecuted Christians as Saul, he declares to Timothy he is the worst of sinners. That makes me the second worst of sinners since I’m not arguing with Paul. Seriously. I’m the second worst of sinners. I desperately need grace. I want to go back to that verse in Romans 3 which ended with a comma.
 
…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
 
Grace! Jesus died to reconcile us to God. He died to offer forgiveness of our sins through his blood and broken body. I hate religion—man’s futile quest to be good enough for God—but I love Jesus. He not only showed us what it means to be human, he sacrificed his life for us…not because we’re so good, but because we’re so loved.
 
One of my favorite passages in the Bible two chapters over, says
 
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
 
Jesus died for us because of our sin. He recognized how we are not good, yet his love for us compelled him to make such a sacrifice.
 
Parents understand this in a small way. We make tremendous sacrifices for our kids, beginning with sleepless nights and diaper changings for infants that are so good, so talented, so capable that…all they do is sleep, cry, and fill their diapers! But it’s out of love. Things don’t get any easier when they learn to talk—back—and drive and…well, many of you understand! We invest countless time, money, and energy on our kids often not because they’re so good but because we love them so much. I have often said the day I became a dad was the day I began to truly understand the great love my heavenly Dad has for me…and you…although we can only imagine it.
 
God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness (John 4:1-30)
 
There are two types of people distant from God—those who feel they’re so good they don’t need God and those who feel they’re so bad they can’t have God.
 
If you think you don’t need God because you’re so good, you are more messed up than you can imagine! Pride is killing you…literally.
 
Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
 
I love that quote from Philip Yancey. You can’t do enough good things. You can’t earn your way to heaven. You’re not perfect—which isn’t a license to just intentionally be a jerk and do evil—but all of your good works the Bible calls “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
 
Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
 
But you may feel like you’re not worthy of God. You’ve done so many awful things. “Kirk, if you only knew what I’ve done.” God knows! And I’ve got wonderful news for you:
 
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
 
Philip Yancey said that, too. There’s a great story in the fourth chapter of John’s biography of Jesus. I wish we had time to study it in detail. It’s a great personal study. In fact, if you have a Bible, turn to John 4. Jesus—a Jew—goes to Galilee through Samaria, a region no Jew ever entered.
 
When we lived in Ann Arbor I used to joke whenever we drove to Florida we would drive around Ohio! It was just a joke—and I obviously don’t tell it anymore now that I live in Ohio (don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!)—but some people do avoid certain cities or neighborhoods, even today. But back in the day Jews hated Samaritans, but here’s Jesus going through Samaria around noontime and sits by a well.
 
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) (John 4:7-8)
 
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. ) (John 4:9)
 
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
 
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” (John 4:11-12)
 
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
 
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15)
 
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (John 4:16)
 
“I have no husband,” she replied. 
 
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (John 4:17-18)
 
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. (John 4:19)
 
That’s an understatement! He didn’t learn about her past on Facebook! It’s nearly impossible for us in our culture to understand just how radical it is for Jesus to engage this adulterous Samaritan in conversation. She is so sinful, so disgraced, so shamed that she goes alone to the well in the middle of the day to get water. First, you never traveled alone and second you don’t go in the desert heat…unless you’re hoping to avoid being seen. She has messed up her life, yet Jesus responds with grace and love.
 
How do you respond to sinners? It’s a trick question because we’re all sinners! But how do you respond to those “really bad” sinners? Do you avoid people who don’t look like you, act like you, talk like you, or smell like you? I admit there are people that make me uncomfortable and my first thought is usually not to engage them. I want to be safe. I want to mind my own business. I often want to ignore those different from me.
 
But that’s not what Jesus did. He demonstrated grace…and sets an example for us to follow. I’ve said First Alliance is not to be a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners…and we’re all sinners!
 
Jesus engages the woman in conversation and later the text says
 
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. (John 4:28-30)
 
When God’s mercy and grace collide with our guilt and shame it’s messy but it’s beautiful. Jesus knows everything you’ve ever done…but his grace is greater.
 
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
 
In the words of Kyle Idleman, “The worst thing that could happen is that you spend your life trying to outrun God because you think he’s chasing you to collect what you owe—when he’s really chasing you to give you what you could never afford.”
 
Finally…
 
God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets (John 21:15-19)
 
If you could go back in time, what would you change? Maybe a selfish act, a harmful word, a lack of self-control, the beginning of an addiction? It might be a split second or a decade.
 
I’m pretty sure I know what Peter would do over. He was one of Jesus’ three best friends and despite Jesus even predicting it, Peter denied he even knew Jesus not once, not twice, but three times…all during Jesus’ most desperate hours. Some friend!
 
After Jesus dies and is resurrected, he cooks breakfast for his friends.
 
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” 
 
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” 
 
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
 
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
 
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 
 
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
 
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
 
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” 
 
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19)
 
Peter denied Jesus three times and Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” He knows Peter has great regret about the denials and yet Jesus offers grace. He doesn’t want Peter imprisoned by his regrets. He has a great plan for Peter, a man who will become one of the greatest leaders in the history of the Christian Church. Grace has the power to redeem regret—to save it, to recycle it, you might say. Grace takes our trash and makes it useful, valuable.
 
We all have regrets, and ever since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, we often try to hide our sins, thinking they are unforgiveable. Our regrets should lead to remorse, but God doesn’t leave us in our mess of sin. He doesn’t shame us. God’s grace most often finds us in the midst of our remorse and redeems us, forgives us, restores us.
 
If one of my best friends denied even knowing me three times when I needed him most, I’m not sure I would assign him to be the president of my company, but that’s grace. Remember…
 
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
 
And God doesn’t tolerate you. He loves you. He forgives you. He embraces you. He redeems you.
 
I wish I had time to share all of the times I’ve messed up—well, maybe not! That would be the longest sermon I’ve ever preached! But seriously, God has taken my arrogant, wicked heart and a lifetime of failures and done some things in and through me I could never take credit for. Even standing before you today I feel incredibly inadequate and unworthy. I am continually reminded that when I am weak, He is strong and His grace is enough. It is sufficient.
 
So What?
 
I desperately want you to know and experience God’s grace.
 
If you’re like me, you’re not even aware of how bad you are, how sinful you are. We need grace.
 
Others of you are on the other end of the spectrum, feeling unworthy. You are! That’s grace!
 
Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
 
Don’t let your past mistakes destroy your future. Become a trophy of God’s grace, trust Jesus, and allow him to transform your life.
 
Credits: outline, title, and some ideas from Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman. Other ideas from Philip Yancey.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Healing: Woman & Girl, 3 September 2017

Healing: Woman & Girl
Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 5:21-43
 
Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
 
Big Idea: Jesus healed—and still heals—those who believe.
 
Introduction
 
Faith. Do you have it? Sure you do. We all have faith…in something…or someone! The book of Hebrews states
 
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
 
As we continue to look at the life of Jesus through Mark’s biography, we come to two stories of faith…and physical healing.
 
They are very similar. They both involve females. Both of their stories began twelve years prior.
 
They are very different. One female is young, the other old. One is the daughter of an important synagogue officer, the other an anonymous woman. The officer was about to lose a daughter who brought him twelve years of happiness while the woman lost an affliction that brought her twelve years of grief.
 
These are documented, historical incidents but God never changes…and He continues to heal today.
 
Jesus is the Son of God, the way, the truth, and the life.
 
Two weeks ago, we saw his power over the natural world, calming a huge storm.
Last week we saw his power over the supernatural, exorcising demons.
Today we will see his power over sickness and death.
 
PRAY
 
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet.  He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”  So Jesus went with him. (Mark 5:21-24a)
 
We’re back in Jewish territory, probably Capernaum. The crowds are back. They religious leaders are back. Instead of being a critic, Jairus is a believer. He’s obviously desperate, willing to lose his religious friends who despise Jesus in his quest to save his twelve-year-old daughter’s life. He has faith that if Jesus only touches his dying girl, she will be healed and live.
 
Note all healing in this life is temporary. Lazarus was raised from the dead but eventually died again. If Jairus’ daughter is healed from her deadly condition, she will eventually die. We are constantly praying for the sick in our church family and beyond, but even the most miraculous healing of diseases or cancers merely prolongs life in these mortal bodies. Of course, each day we are both closer to the death of these temples and to the new bodies that will resemble Jesus’ resurrected form.
 
So crowds surround Jesus, a religious leader begs Jesus to come to his home and touch his daughter, and Jesus goes.
 
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (Mark 5:24b-26)
 
This woman had been suffering with a bleeding condition for twelve years. That means for twelve years she was probably considered unclean. She couldn’t touch people. She couldn’t be around people, yet here she is in a crowd, desperate. She wasn’t passive about healing. She had spent all of her money and likely most of her time seeing doctors…and only got worse. How frustrating. Some of you can relate. Health care is not a new problem!
 
When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:27-29)
 
What faith! She merely wanted to touch Jesus’ clothes. She didn’t need him to touch her. She didn’t need Jesus to pray for her. She didn’t even feel the need to touch Jesus—just his clothes. She was instantly healed. Praise God! But then look what happens next.
 
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30)
 
Jesus knew power had gone out, but even he notices it was not his flesh but rather his clothes that were touched. Then the disciples say what I would’ve said…and if you’re honest, you probably would’ve thought it, too.
 
Jesus once said,
 
Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)
 
Paul tells us in Philippians (2:5-11) that Jesus “made himself nothing” when he came to earth, “taking the very nature of a servant.” The power he had was the Holy Spirit, the same power available to all followers of Jesus.
 
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” (Mark 5:31)
 
Jesus ignores his disciples!
 
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:32-34)
 
She’s caught touching Jesus’ clothes! How embarrassing! She’s trembling with fear and confesses, but instead of a rebuke, she receives a blessing…and healing. What a wonderful gift. What a great story she has for her friends of the healing power of Jesus. He heals her body and soul, granting her peace—
shalom, completeness—and calling her “daughter” while commending her faith.
 
But what about that girl?
 
While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” (Mark 5:35)
 
She’s dead? Jesus, if you weren’t listening to that lady’s story maybe you would’ve been able to save my daughter. You’re too late now. So much for your perfect timing.
 
Jesus missed the death of Lazarus.
Jesus missed the death of Jairus’ daughter.
 
Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (Mark 5:36)
 
Easy for you to say, Jesus. You don’t even know this girl. And what do you mean, “Just believe?” What good is faith? We were hoping you could just touch her but now she’s dead!
 
Before moving on, I want to focus on those words: don’t be afraid; just believe. That’s faith. Max Lucado wrote,
 
“Faith is trusting what the eye can’t see. Eyes see the prowling lion. Faith sees Daniel’s angel. Eyes see storms. Faith sees Noah’s rainbow. Eyes see giants. Faith sees Canaan. Your eyes see your faults. Your faith sees your Savior.”
 
Don’t be afraid; just believe.
 
He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. (Mark 5:37-40a)
 
Here we see Jesus’ three best friends—Peter, James and John—receive a special invitation. The crowds aren’t allowed to follow. Perhaps even the other nine disciples were snubbed. They arrive on the scene of this twelve year-old girl’s tragic death. It’s a hot mess of commotion and wailing. It’s interesting to note in the culture professional mourners were often hired to wail at funerals. The Jewish Mishna, completed around 220 AD, quotes Rabbi Judah as saying even the poorest in Israel should hire two or more flutes and one weeping woman for a burial.
 
Then Jesus makes the laughable suggestion that she’s merely asleep…and they laugh…at Jesus. They go from wailing to laughing. Why not? They’re probably there just to “perform” with no real attachment to the girl.
 
Then Jesus gets to work!
 
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). (Mark 5:40b-41)
 
Jesus kicks everyone out—except for his three friends and the parents. Six adults encounter the girl, Jesus touches her and commands her to get up. It’s a private moment for those with considerable faith, not a public spectacle to rile up the fans and critics.
 
Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:42-43)
 
They were completely astonished! Amazing!
 
We have noted before the seemingly random details Mark includes, such as Jesus telling them to grab a granola bar for the girl (or whatever they ate then!). It’s an incredible scene, yet Jesus wants them to keep quiet about it (like that’s going to happen!).
 
When I was in college, I spent a summer in Bolivia with Campus Crusade for Christ—now known as Cru—showing the Jesus film. It is based upon the Good News Translation of the book of Luke, but it is very similar to Mark’s account. My favorite moment in the film—besides the resurrection—is the healing of Jarius’ daughter. I’d like to take a moment and share it with you.
 
https://www.jesusfilm.org/watch.html
 
In the original language Jesus said, “Lamb, get up!” What a tender wake-up call.
 
So What?
 
Jesus spoke to the sea and it calmed.
Jesus spoke to the demons and sent them into the pigs.
Jesus spoke to the girl and she was raised…after healing a woman.
 
Someday Jesus will say, “Wake up” to the dead.
 
Does Jesus still heal today? Yes! How do I know? I have heard countless stories throughout my life…and I’d like you to hear one now!
 
My Story: Kendra Sankovich
 
The fifth chapter of Mark is quite remarkable.
 
Jesus casts out demons.
Jesus heals the woman.
Jesus raises the dead girl.
 
And he’s not done yet!
 
Perhaps you would like healing…for yourself or even for someone else. If Jesus were here, you’d reach out and try to touch his clothes in hopes of being healed. His power and presence are here through the Holy Spirit. Do you believe he can heal? Do you have faith? The woman had faith. Jairus had faith. Jesus still heals.
 
Credits: some ideas from Stephen Leston, Mark Strauss, Ian Fair, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Exorcism: Demons & Pigs, 27 August 2017

Exorcism: Demons & Pigs
Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 5:1-20
 
Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
 
Big Idea: Jesus has power over the supernatural…and we do, too.
 
Introduction
 
The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses. (Deuteronomy 14:8)
 
Thus begins the context for today’s passage of scripture.
 
Pigs. Aren’t they cute? Not to Jews. Few things are more disgusting, more offensive. God gave the people of Israel dietary laws thousands of years ago, laws still followed today by millions of kosher people. Pigs are so detestable to the Jews that Proverbs says,
 
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. (Proverbs 11:22)
 
Does anyone else find it odd we celebrate the resurrection of the King of the Jews with ham?!
 
We’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark. We’ve seen Jesus’ ministry attract crowds and critics through teachings and miracles. Last week we saw him demonstrate his power over the natural world, calming a furious storm. Today’s text shows his power over the supernatural world, an unforgettable exorcism of demons.
 
 
Jesus has been sleeping in a boat with his disciples. He is awoken by his petrified friends, commands the winds and waves to be still, and seems upset at the fear and lack of faith his disciples possess.  
 
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. (Mark 5:1-5)
 
This scene could’ve inspired the creation of a horror film! Imagine a wild man living in a cemetery so filled with demons that he is given supernatural physical strength. He is a gruesome sight—what with cuts all of over his body—and the sounds are just as bad as he cries night and day. To say he was alone would be an understatement. Nobody dared approach this person who behaved more like an animal.
 
Before we go any farther let me state the importance of getting to know someone’s story before judging them. Our world is filled with people who look, smell, act, and sound different than us. There are people who offend us. There are people who scare us. There are people who hurt us. Why? Do you know their story?
 
I’m not suggesting we are to be best friends with everyone or that we are to naively welcome any stranger into our car or home. But hurt people hurt people. There are often tragic stories behind those people we find threatening. Maybe they were abused as a child, victims of injustice, born with disabilities, dealing with serious illnesses, or just prisoners of their own past mistakes.
 
This man was quite a sight, I’m sure, but he had a story. We don’t know it, but we do know he was a human being created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. And he was loved by God despite being filled with demons. How did that happen? Again, we don’t know. How are people possessed by demons? Can Christians be possessed by demons?
 
These are great questions. I have neither the time nor the expertise to fully address these, but let me offer a few thoughts. These are my thoughts, not necessarily absolute truth. If you disagree, I’d love to hear from you. I have a lot to learn when it comes to the supernatural world. But here’s my best attempt to explain some common questions.
 
1.    The supernatural world is real. There are angels. There are demons, who are often considered fallen angels, cast from heaven along with satan.
 
The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Revelation 12:9)
 
2.    Demons are personal beings. They know Jesus is the Son of God (Mk 1:24, 34; 5:6). They can lead people astray (1 Timothy 4:1-6; John 4:1-4). They have emotion and fear Jesus (James 2:19).
3.
    Demons have power. They are dangerous. We need not fear them but we should never treat them casually. Their power is limited but real.
4.
    Demons need an entry point. They don’t just take over someone randomly. Scripture prohibits things like trying to talk to the dead and sexual immorality. I believe witchcraft, illicit drugs, the occult and other sinful activities can be pathways to demonic possession. Evil spirits can use the human body to distort and kill people’s relationship with God…and others.
5.
    Followers of Jesus are given the Holy Spirit and, therefore, cannot be possessed by a demon. They can, however, be oppressed by demons and struggle with temptation and sin.
6.
    Demons can and should be exorcised, resulting in freedom.
7.
    In the west, we acknowledge less positive and negative spiritual activity than in other parts of the world. Africa is especially spiritual. There are countless accounts of demonic and miraculous activity. We tend to be in denial about angels and demons and discount supernatural moments.
8.
    Mental illness and demonic activity are often confused with one another. Both physical and mental sicknesses can be the result of demons, but not necessarily. At First Alliance we offer prayer for all types of illnesses, believing they might be the result of spiritual activity and—regardless of the source—God’s power is greater; it is unlimited. And God still answers prayers and does miracles (more on that next week!).
9.
    Again, I’m not an expert in the supernatural and neither deny the reality of spiritual activity nor look for a demon in every Coke can. I participated—more or less as an observer—in an exorcism in college which was real and powerful.
10.
We need to be aware of the supernatural without being scared of it. Though there are battles, Jesus is the ultimate victor. Love triumphs.
 
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
 
We need not fear satan or demons. God in us—the Holy Spirit—is greater!
 
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
 
This is how we are to relate to God…and satan!
 
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” (Mark 5:6-8)
 
Is it the man or the demon shouting? Yes?
 
Few today would admit they are demon possessed, but so many in our culture live lives screaming at God and God’s Word and values. We can choose to follow God or follow the world, friends. It’s all about God or it’s all about you. Every day—every hour—we choose to follow God or choose to follow the world, the flesh, and the devil.
 
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” 
 
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. (Mark 5:9-10)
 
I have been told demons have names and if you can identify their name you can validate their presence. A legion was the largest group in the Roman army, 3000-6000 soldiers. Notice that final sentence contains both the singular and plural: “he begged…send them out.” It seems the demons are speaking through the man.
 
The demons knew they had no chance against the power of Jesus so they begged him to not send them far away (Luke 8:31 calls it “the Abyss”). He could’ve cast them into hell, but the time for judgment had not yet come.
 
God’s timing is perfect. I wish he’d just throw satan and his friends into the eternal fire today, but for whatever reason it’s not yet time. Jesus once said
 
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41)
 
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. (Mark 5:11-13)
 
This was not Jewish land. Pigs were unclean. Jews were not allowed to eat—or even touch—pigs. Graveyards were unclean, too. Of course, the demoniac was
very unclean! Rome was unclean, too, a nation of pigs. And if you recall from last week, the sea was the place of monsters and Rome was the Monster of all monsters.
 
Jesus came announcing God’s kingdom, his rule over the world, bringing healing and justice and freedom to the world—Jews…and Gentiles.
 
The demons begged Jesus to send them to the pigs rather than the abyss. The demons couldn’t destroy the man so they destroyed the pigs.
 
About 2000 pigs! That’s quite a herd! No wonder their owners were upset! Their livelihood was gone.
 
Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. (Mark 5:14-17)
 
You would think people would be glad to see Jesus. He did some radical life revitalization in just a few moments. But the pig owners have lost a truckload of pork, ham, bacon and sausage…and everyone else is probably freaked out! What just happened? The wild man? The pigs? The pigs drowning? They were afraid of Jesus’ supernatural power. What would he do next?
 
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mark 5:18-20)
 
Jesus often told people to keep quiet about him, but this time he says, “Share the good news of your healing with everyone.” And he did! Just speaking would be a wonderful testimony to people of God’s power. This was also a Gentile region, a pagan area where Jesus was not so well-known and where the Jewish religious leaders would not be trying to kill him. Rather than staying with Jesus, the freed man is commissioned to tell others about Christ and his power. 
 
So What?
 
We are, too! Has Jesus forgiven you? Has he healed you? Has he transformed your life? Has he turned your despair into hope, your mourning into dancing, your bondage into freedom, your anxiety into peace? If so, tell the world! Good news needs to be shared, especially when most of it seems to be bad or fake…or both!
 
Our world is hurting. They need to know hope is available, healing is available through Jesus. If we don’t share Jesus—in word and deed—with others, how will they know?
 
And if you’ve ever felt unqualified or unprepared, look at this once-demonized man. He didn’t go to seminary. He wasn’t a priest or pastor. He never even went to Sunday School! He simply encountered Jesus and shared his story with others. Do you have a story? Don’t keep it to yourself! Nobody can argue with your story. You don’t have to prove scientifically the existence of God through archaeology or scholarship—though many have. You simply need to let others know what Jesus has done—and is doing—in your life.
 
As we think about Jesus and all he has done for us, I’m reminded of these words from N.T. Wright:
 
At the climax of Mark’s story Jesus himself will end up naked, isolated, outside the town among the tombs, shouting incomprehensible things as he is torn apart on the cross by the standard Roman torture, his flesh torn to ribbons by the small stones in the Roman lash. And that, Mark is saying, will be how the demons are dealt with. That is how healing takes place. Jesus is coming to share the plight of the people, to let the enemy do its worst to him, to take the full force of evil on himself and let the others go free.
                  
We live in the space between…Jesus’ first and second comings. We have the Holy Spirit. God is alive and on the move, but the battle rages on. We see it every day on the news, in hospitals, in rehab centers, in bankruptcy and divorce courts, at funeral homes.
 
Demons are real. They seek to indwell mankind. Evil is real. Satan is real. But Jesus is greater!
 
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
 
We have been given power and authority by Jesus who said:
 
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
 
After 72 of Jesus’ followers returned from ministry…
 
He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20)
 
Jesus is alive and he has entrusted his Church to us, his world to us. Let’s go and let the whole world know Jesus loves them and is still bringing deliverance and healing to the hurting and broken willing to surrender to his lordship.
 
 
One more thing: demonic activity is all over the New Testament and I don’t believe it has ceased. If you or someone you know would like deliverance, we’d love to pray for you. That doesn’t mean you are possessed or oppressed or that you’ve done anything wrong, but if you feel defeated by sin, perhaps you need deliverance. The name of Jesus is still driving out demons and making them tremble today. Hallelujah!
  
Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Power: Winds & Waves, 20 August 2017

Power: Winds & Waves
Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 4:35-41


Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
 
Big Idea: Jesus has command over all things—natural and supernatural.
  
As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we’ve seen Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious. Mark records several of Jesus’ parables but one lingering question remains…who is Jesus?
 
As I often say, this may be the most important question for any human to answer. Who is God and who are you? If you ask people today, “Who is Jesus?” you are likely to get a variety of responses: a good teacher, a prophet, a famous figure in history…
 
In today’s text it’s obvious those closest to Jesus don’t truly realize Jesus is God, Jesus is the Messiah.
  
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. (Mark 4:35-36)
 
Why did Jesus cross the lake? To get to the other side, of course! But seriously, the crowds followed him everywhere and he likely wanted a break, among other things. The departure seems sudden. Perhaps Jesus said, “Let’s get out of here…now!” Jesus is fully human. He is tired. He also has confidence in God that allows him to fall asleep.
 
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:37-38)
 
This body of water is beautiful, surrounded by mountains which make it susceptible to sudden storms. This wasn’t just a common thunderstorm, though, but rather a furious squall.
 
Have you ever been in boat in a storm? It can be pretty scary.
 
The most violent storm I’ve ever experienced on water was on a cruise ship. I know, poor me! We were in the Caribbean with my extended family and this huge ship was really rocking. I found it relaxing, but then again I was inside, safe, and immune to any seasickness so I was not terribly worried.
 
I have, however, been in the middle of some serious turbulence on airplanes. Even though I know the odds of a plane crashing due to weather are almost zero, I still find myself scared sometimes when I feel like I’m on a roller coaster…with no track!
 
These squalls came suddenly so even veteran fishermen could be surprised by them, and there were at least four seasoned fishermen in the group, which makes this story even more significant. They understood the difference between rough weather and deadly storms.
 
Jesus is exhausted, sleeping on the cushion that was usually placed under the steersman’s seat. It’s a great image Mark includes in his biography. He must’ve really been tired to sleep through this squall. No cushion could be that comfortable in such conditions!
 
I find the reaction of the disciples to be startling. They wake up their exhausted leader and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Did they think he would teach his way out of the situation? They probably wanted him to help bail water out of the boat before it sank. They certainly had no idea he would respond as he did.
 
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
 
He uses the same words he spoke to silence the demons. The original Greek might best be translated, “Put the muzzle on and keep it on!”
 
In Jewish thought the ocean represented chaos, the unpredictable place where evil originates. In fact, Genesis 1:2 is commonly translated, “Now the earth was formless and empty” but has also been translated, “The earth was chaos.” Only God had authority over chaos. He seized it and created our beautiful world from it. The disciples likely knew only God could control the sea, the chaos, the storm.
 
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
 
“How can you be such cowards? Don’t you have any faith?”
 
And then what? For all we know, Jesus went back to sleep!
 
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
 
Who is this? Who is Jesus? The answer is obvious: Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Messiah. No magician could do this. It wasn’t the result of a knowledgeable teacher. It certainly wasn’t a coincidence. There is no other explanation: they are in the presence of God!
 
You may recall Mark began his book with these words:
 
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)
 
Jesus did things only God can do. I doubt they thought it at the time, but as they reflected upon this miracle, perhaps Psalm 107:29-30 came to mind:
 
He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. (Psalm 107:29-30)
 
Note: other examples of God’s dominion over the waters can be found in Job 26:12-14, Nahum 1:34, Psalm 65:5-7; 74:12-14; 89:8-9; 93:4; 104:5-9.
 
They knew Jesus had power, but they never imagined this type of power could exist.
 
Yet their faith remained weak.
 
You would think it would be enough to see demons exorcised.
You would think it would be enough to see the sick healed.
You would think it would be enough to see storms stopped.
 
People often say, “I would believe in Jesus if I could see him,” but they’re wrong. So many people saw Jesus and witnessed miracles and still dismissed him…or worse.
 
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
 
Who is this? Who is Jesus? I’ve met him, friends! The great song, “My Redeemer Lives,” has this wonderful line which says, “I spoke with him this morning.” Yes! I did. You can. Our faith is not built upon rules and checklists but rather upon a person, a living person, Jesus Christ, fully human and fully God. Through the Holy Spirit he is alive and well on this planet, living inside every one of his followers.
 
Some have ignored the literal nature of this story, finding the miracle too…supernatural! There were, however, many eyewitnesses to this and Jesus’ other miraculous activities. Mark records various details such as “there were other boats with him” (verse 36) which would be unnecessary if he was simply telling a myth or allegory.
 
So What?
 
The most common command in the Bible is…fear not. Fear not. Don’t worry. God is sovereign—he is in control of the supernatural world. He’s also in control of the natural world.
 
I know, if he can control things why doesn’t he wipe out every evil leader, every bad guy, every hater? I can’t say I always understand, other than the simple fact he is in control but gives us freedom. We’re not angels on assignment, but rather people given choice. He allows us to cherish our blessings or waste them away, pursue him or pursue money, sex and power, to be filled with hate or love, to support life or death. We can even choose to be afraid and worry, but Jesus says it’s a waste of time and energy because he has given us power, authority, and his presence. He is with us. The only one we should fear—and ultimately revere—is Him.
 
What storms are in your life today?
 
A stormy marriage? Physical health issues? Depression? You’re not alone.
 
Struggles with addictions to alcohol, porn, or drugs? You’re not alone.
 
Same-sex attraction and gender struggles, greed, envy, pride? You’re not alone.
 
Financial chaos? Job challenges? Broken relationships? You’re not alone.
 
Grief and loss? Uncertainty about the future? Learning disabilities? You’re not alone.
 
I say you’re not alone for two reasons. First, you’re not alone in this room. There are people here in the midst of every storm I mentioned. This is why we have been given the gift of family, the opportunity to do life together, to weep when one weeps and to rejoice when one rejoices. We weren’t made to do this thing called life alone.
 
Second, if you are a follower of Jesus, he is with you. The Holy Spirit is living inside of you and you need only to empty yourself, surrender, confess your sins, and welcome the Spirit to take control of your life. Let go and let God. It may not be an instant cure-all, but raising the white flag is the first step toward truly experiencing the presence and power of God in your life.
 
In Jesus’ famous Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, he sends out his followers to make disciples. But he doesn’t end there. He concludes by saying
 
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
 
He is with us. He can calm the storm. He’s got this…even if his timing may be slower than our timetable.
 
To quote composer Scott Krippayne, “Sometimes he calms the storm and other times he calms his child.”
 
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
 
Jesus may need to say to your storm, “Quiet! Be still!”
 
Jesus may need to say to you, “Quiet! Be still!”
 
Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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