Calming Storms and Drowning Demons – Matthew 8:22-34

“What sort of man is this …”

Seeking solace from the growing crowds who sought to follow Jesus after the Sermon on the Mount and because of the miracles he did in Capernaum, Jesus and disciples finally get into a boat at evening and set out to cross the Sea of Galilee from north to south. Little did the disciples know, but the respite they sought and so desperately needed, would be short-lived as they would find their faith tested and stretched through two ensuing “storms.”

Physically exhausted from the last two full days of ministry, Jesus slept on a cushion at the stern of the boat, when a furious gale-force wind steadily driving a deluge of rain threw the boat into a frenzy. Even though at least four of the men in the boat were experienced seamen, they were unable to secure the boat and feared it might capsize costing them their lives. They were all afraid, save One, who continued to sleep amidst the storm. Finally, the disciples awakened Jesus, who with calm assurance spoke to the waves and wind, and they immediately subsided and all became perfectly calm. The disciples’ fear of the storm turned to awe as the man who they witnessed had authority over sickness also had authority over nature. Their response was an exclamation; “What sort of man is this!?!”

Ironically their exclamatory query would soon be answered by the unlikeliest of sources. When the boat landed on the south shore of the Sea, Jesus and the disciples came to the land of Gedara where they met a storm of a different kind. Two men possessed with many demons were able to identify the sort of man they encountered. “What have you to do with us, O Son of God?” they bellowed. These demons knew things about Christ that even the weak-believing disciples did not yet know. They knew that Jesus was the Son of God, and that He had full authority to judge them as He wished (see James 2:19). In a vivid demonstration of power, Jesus drowned a legion of demons into the sea with a single word.

How does one respond to a sort of man who has authority over sickness, over nature, and over the angelic and demonic realm? The people of Gedara were so unnerved that they wanted Jesus to depart. The former demoniacs were sent back to their town to bear witness of the Lord’s work. What is your response to the One who even the wind and sea obeys?

The Song of Moses – Exodus 15:1-21

After being delivered from sure death by the hand of the Almighty Lord God, Moses and the people of Israel sang a song of praise!

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”

This is the first song sung in the Bible, but it will not be the last; songs of redemption are prevalent in Scripture. David sang a song of praise to the Lord near the end of his life, recorded in 2 Samuel chapter 22, praising the Lord for deliverance over his enemies.

“David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence.  I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

In Isaiah chapter 42 another song is sung, a new song about the coming deliverance of the Israelites from Babylon, the lyrics of which are reminiscent of our text in Exodus 15. In response to God’s goodness in granting them a child, Hannah and Mary sing a song of praise to the Lord for giving them Samuel a prophet, and Jesus Christ, prophet, priest, and king, and the Savior of the world! Songs of praise continue to be sung by God’s people to this day. As believers, we have so much to be thankful for and therefore so much to sing about. We have been delivered, are being delivered and will ultimately be saved to spend eternity with our Lord. Like the saints in the bible, we should delight to sing praises to the Lord every day He graciously blesses us with, for salvation is of the Lord. There is no one like our God, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, and mighty to save!

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Rev 5:12

A Messiah Who Costs Everything – Matthew 8:18-22

“Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.”

Subsequent to Matthew’s report of three healing miracles in chapter 8, he includes the brief stories of two quite different men with dissimilar levels of interest in following Jesus. The insertion of instruction on discipleship into the miracle narratives points to the fact that faith in Jesus must be united with discipleship. Jesus did something deeper than heal – He made disciples. A string of accounts about healings with no teaching in between, might give the impression that Christ and His church’s main mission is the social ministry of healing, comfort and consolation. While this certainly is one occupation of the body of Christ in society, this function flows out of the central objective of being and making disciples. This does not mean that we abandon physical concerns, as Jesus did not abandon the physical needs of people; but like Jesus, we are to reach beneath the physical need to it source.

First we read of a zealous scholar who makes a remarkable, resolute, ready, and unreserved offer to follow Jesus wherever he goes. The only thing more remarkable was Jesus’ response to him, which seems to be opposite from what we might expect from someone recruiting followers. He tells the man, “the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head;” whatever one thinks of this reply, it is far from an enthusiastic exhortation for the man to follow.

In contrast to the zealous scholar, a second man, “a timid son,” expresses a less-than-enthusiastic desire to follow Jesus, after he first buries his father. At first sight this appears to be a very legitimate priority; and that’s the point – that NOTHING – even the most legitimate of matters – ought to take priority over following Jesus. Rather than discouraging him, Jesus summons this timid son with a strong exhortation to forsake his familial obligation and follow Him.

There is something deeply significant in both of Jesus’ replies; they show us that people who desire to follow Jesus ought to be warned plainly to count the cost before they begin to follow. In our day, thousands of church members are never warned of the cost, perhaps out of fear of scaring away potential disciples. Nothing has done more harm to the church than the practice of filling our pews with professors who have joined our ranks under a false pretense of glory without a cross. The cost of discipleship must be included in our presentation of the gospel. Let us keep nothing back from new believers; let us tell them plainly of the glorious destination; but no less plainly of the cross they must bear on the way.

This We Proclaim – 1 John 1:1-4

“. . .that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3 ESV)

What is the basis of your salvation?

If you answer that question with anything other than “The Lord Jesus Christ,” your heart may need to be recalibrated. Even if the answer seems obvious, we can all benefit from having our eyes adjusted so that we would focus less on ourselves and more on the One who finished the work of our salvation.

The First Epistle of John is primarily written to Christians so that they may know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Assurance of salvation is the main theme. Many are familiar with the evidences that the Apostle John gives us in order that we may see God’s work in our lives and conclude with more certainty that we are indeed found in Christ. Some of those evidences include confessing the right doctrine, walking as Jesus walked, and loving the brethren. However, as with everything our sinful hands touch, we can still have a deficient view of assurance if we only focus on looking for the changes that salvation has brought into our lives. To avoid this abuse, we should start where the epistle divinely starts: with the person and work of Jesus Christ.

When you doubt, feel discouraged, or “don’t feel saved”, start from the beginning. Before looking to yourself, look to Christ. Let the Word of God written point you to the Word of God Living as you read the opening to John’s epistle and fix your eyes on the Son of God who “was from the beginning”, that is, eternal, and yet “made manifest” so that he can be “seen with our eyes” and “touched with our hands” and then proclaimed in the world!

Our study in First John will provide us assurance in both objective and subjective ways. First, our salvation is rooted in the objective reality that the Son of God became incarnate, performed miracles, obeyed the Father, died on the cross, and rose victorious from the grave. Then, our assurance is corroborated by the subjective witness of our growth in holiness. While we may flounder from time to time regarding our subjectivity, the objective reality will never change – and that is why we begin there!

Believer, thank God that our salvation isn’t dependent on us! John writes these things to bring about joy (verse 4). There is great joy in knowing that the Son of God is perfect and we’re saved by his death and resurrection. There is great joy in knowing that the message of the gospel has been proclaimed for 2,000 years and counting and nothing can stop it. There is great joy in knowing that our identity is first and foremost in the Lord Jesus Christ. May he receive the honor as we believe on him and proclaim him in this world.

The Miracles of Messiah’s Grace – Matthew Chapter 8

Having concluded recording the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew continues in chapters 8 and 9 to describe the events that follow, as Jesus comes down from the mountain where he taught. These chapters describe ten miracles that Jesus executed. The same Jesus who is the Preacher of the Sermon of the Mount, now cleanses a leper, heals a Centurion’s servant, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, stills a storm, and casts out demons. The same author who recorded the words of Jesus’ sermon now describes the miraculous, and the apposition of these two occasions (the sermon and the miracles) is not arbitrary. One might be tempted to marginalize the valley of healings of an unnamed leper or demoniac, compared to the mountain top of ethical and spiritual teaching of Jesus’ great sermon. In fact some who claim to admire the ethical teachings of the Preacher, at the same time do not care to deal with the supernatural Person who heals and casts out demons. After all doesn’t physical affliction pale in comparison to great spiritual truth? Yes … unless you’re the one who is afflicted; to the one afflicted, healing becomes very important. I’m sure if we could ask Peter’s mother-in-law or the demoniac, they would agree, as any of us would who have experienced Jesus’ healing touch.

Jesus not only powerfully preaches on mountains, but He graciously heals in valleys. The Lord who preached the Sermon on the Mount is the same Lord who calls us to dependence upon His power for our very life. His personal work and power are inseparable from His teachings – one is the demonstration of the power of the other. In chapters 8 and 9 we see the loving care of Shepherd Jesus for individual sheep. It is His tenderness and concern for individuals that actually embodies the words of the Sermon. Commentator Frederick Bruner observes that the five miracles relayed in chapter 8, uniformly and dramatically teach the doctrine of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. As such he calls this chapter, “The Five Miracles of Grace.” We as a church, understanding the grace of Jesus and Christ and following after our Master, must not only seek to learn and apply the teachings of Jesus, but also regularly pray for and care for the sick. So as we come down from the mount of the sermon, to the valley of real suffering, may we be a known as a people of the book – both in our learning as well as in our mercy for those individuals who are in need around us.

Salvation and Judgement at the Red Sea – Exodus 14:15-31

We have reached the climax of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. All that happened from the opening of the book of Exodus, when the Israelites were persecuted and made slaves, leads to this epic event on the edge of the wilderness of Egypt. In one miraculous act the Lord sets His covenant people free while finally judging Egypt for her sin against His people and their God, Yahweh. The Lord told Moses in verse 16 of chapter 14, “Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.” Yahweh divided the Red Sea in this way so that He would be glorified in His action against Pharaoh and his army and charioteers – that all shall know once and for all that Yahweh is Lord! In verses 19-20 the angel of the Lord, manifested in the pillar of cloud and fire, moved between the Egyptians and the Israelites so that the Lord’s people would be protected as Moses raised his staff; miraculously, the sea parted revealing the dry ground. Imagine the sight; the waters of the sea are described as walls on both sides of their passage! The Israelites, who by all accounts were two to three million, passed through the sea in a passage estimated to be a half-mile wide. The Lord is mighty to save and at times does so miraculously.

God’s people were saved as the Egyptians were held back by the pillar of cloud. After a while, as the children of Israel passed through the sea, the Egyptians were released to again pursue them. But the Lord threw the armies into confusion as they realized that they were fighting against Yahweh Himself (14:23-25). Finally the Lord told Moses to once again stretch forth his staff, and the waters returned and not one Egyptian remained alive. The text ends saying Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses (14:30-31).

 What an amazing God we serve – the One who declares the beginning from the end! You can be sure at the end of the age that there will be a final judgment where those who are apart from Christ will be judged unto eternal punishment. But those who are saved by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus, by His grace, will be found righteous by an imputed righteousness that comes from Christ alone. God is righteous in both judgment and salvation. (see 2 Thess 1:5-10).

Two – Matthew 7:13-29

One can argue that the crowning creation of man is the computer. As complex as its function is, every computer exchanges and processes information using only the zeros and ones of a binary system. Binary numbers simplify processing as this is the smallest numbering system that can be used. The computer’s CPU only recognizes two states – on-off, yes-no, true-false – from which all of its complex logical and mathematical operations flow. Similarly God’s crowning creation, mankind, as complex as we are, function in essence on a series of binary decisions. Jesus teaches this in Matthew chapter 7 where He describes two roads, two trees and two houses.

Jesus begins by describing entry into the Christian life which occurs by a choice of one of two gates that open onto one of two roads. People must choose between entering through the wide gate onto a road of “whatever pleases you,” and a narrow gate, which leads to an uneasy road of self-denial. These two roads lead to two equal and opposite destinies – the narrow road to life, and the wide road to destruction. The sad truth is that most choose the wide gate and easy way, rather than Christ and the challenging course of a disciple.

We see a binary function even within our own Christian community as Jesus describes two kinds of prophets. Though both kinds look the same outwardly and seem to produce good and even miraculous deeds, there are within our population true and false prophets. Though they look and act like sheep and seem to fit into the fold, they are in fact ravenous wolves sent destroy sheep. Jesus says quite simply that these two types of professing Christians are a product of only two kinds of trees – those that bear good fruit and those that bear bad fruit. So we can judge between the true and false prophet, not by their profession, or how they look, or even by what they do, but by the fruit of the Spirit evident in their lives.

Finally this binary system which separates the church from the world and true Christians from false, works within each of us, as well. Using the analogy of two houses, one built on sand and another built on a rock, Jesus again shows that there are but two ways to live the Christian life. One who hears the word and acts on it, while the other hears the word but does nothing. Once the storms and trials of life hit, again the binary sequence leads to a binary result – a house that stands and a house that falls.

Which road are you on? What kind of fruit are you producing? What foundation are you living on?