We are finishing up our sermon series by looking at one of the most visually incredible miracles in the Bible. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Peter’s Problem
The miracle itself is recorded in Matthew 17. But for a bit of context, we’ll start at the end of Matthew 16.
At this point, the disciples had seen Jesus do a plethora of miracles. As they sat down near a campfire, I wonder if they didn’t imagine the next ones:
What if Jesus suddenly made these rocks into delicious Steak dinners? Do you think I should ask him?
How about if he turns all the Roman soldiers into a bunch of chicken?
Speaking of the Roman empire, maybe he could take us to Pontius Pilate’s palace, and he could make it disappear!
I’ve got a better idea than that! Maybe he could make, you, Andrew, disappear!
Whatever they thought Jesus might be planning to do, it’s doubtful any of them considered what Jesus had planned:
Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (v.21)
You can cure leprosy.
You can banish demons.
You stopped the weather!
Why would you let these humans beat you up?
Why not give them leprosy?
Why not send the demons after them?
Why not cause a storm to take place within the walls of the Pharisee’s hideout!?!
But Peter was the boldest.
Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (v.22)
The disciples didn’t get it.
It didn’t make sense.
Jesus did all those miracles…
…so he could die?
To human reason, Jesus’ use of his power can seem ODD.
It’d be like going to a magic show where the magician has already levitated, sawed someone in half, and then, escaped a hyperbolic chamber filled with water while he was strapped into a strait jacket and then .for his final act, he pulls a quarter from a little girl’s ear.
How could death be Jesus’ final act?
I was talking to a friend the other day who whose aunt was very sick with cancer. The test results weren’t positive. The doctor’s predictions weren’t good.
So, the believer said this:
Isn’t this what Jesus is for? Isn’t the point of his POWER to help his people?
I wish I could talk to God. I’d set him straight on how he should be using his POWER.
I’d tell him, “NEVER Jesus! This shall NEVER happen.”
You ever thought something similar:
Jesus you’ve got power.
Here’s what you should do with it.
You should heal my aunt’s cancer.
You should fix my marriage.
You should end my job hunt.
You should give me more friends.
You should give me a child.
You should give me a husband.
God, if you don’t do that, you’re not doing a very good job with your power.
But do you know how Jesus responded to Peter’s rebuke?
He didn’t say, “Goodness, Peter. You’re right. Your sinful, imperfect, incomplete human reason has bested my sinless, perfect, all knowing divine reason.”
“Get behind me Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (v.23)
REBUKING Jesus’ use of power leads to Jesus’ REBUKE.
Because rebuking Jesus’ use of power is sin.
It’s like being a back-seat driver. If your spouse is driving, you may find yourself on occasion telling them where they are driving incorrectly:
Turn on your blinker sooner.
Speed Limit is 65.
Your hands aren’t at 10 & 2.
But can you imagine doing that to a professional race car driver? Like 2019 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Kyle Busch?
Excuse me, Mr. Busch. But…I think you’re taking the turns a smidge tighter than you should.
Kyle Busch is better at driving than you.
And God is infinitely better at using his power than you.
It’s why he’s God and you’re not.
And if you’re telling him what to do, don’t be surprised if his response is simply:
Get behind me Satan.
II. The Miracle
Six days later…
Six days of Jesus’ words echoing in Peter’s ears.
Six days of cooling off.
Six days of thinking about what Jesus had said about his “death.”
Then, …Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John…and led them up onto a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured in front of them. (17:1)
The Greek word for “Transfigured” is “morphe.” It’s where we get the word Metamorphosis. It refers to a transformation or a change in one’s essence. (Like a butterfly, the Animorphs, or even the Mighty MORPHIN Power Rangers.)
Jesus’ metamorphosis beats them all.
His face was shining like the sun. (v.2a) Not just reflecting some morning sunlight off it. His skin was luminescent. It was shining so brightly that the disciples must have had to squint to look in his direction.
His clothing became as white as the light. (v2b) A bit odd, since Jesus’ desert clothing would have contained a bit of desert dirt stains on it. A yellow or light brown. But instantly it transformed to a bleach white that was so bleach white it twinkled – like the light.
And as the disciples squinted in Jesus’ general direction, they noticed two other figures standing there with him.
Moses. A prophet through whom God did incredible miracles: 10 plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, and bread from heaven.
Elijah. Another prophet through whom God did incredible miracles: fire raining from heaven, birds delivering food, a young man brought back to life.
Two incredible miracles performers standing at the beckoning call of Jesus.
…they had both been dead.
Now they stood…alive.
And as Peter stood there looking at this ethereal, incredible, amazing sight, I think he came to one conclusion
Jesus’ miracles were only a HINT of his power.
The healing of incurable leprosy? Only a hint. Jesus could cure all disease with just a snap of his finger.
The enabling of the paralytic? Only a hint. Jesus could remove all paralysis with just a clap of his hands.
The resurrection of Jairus’ daughter? Only a hint. Jesus could bring all dead back to life, with only a whisper.
It’s like playing basketball, as a dad, with your 4th grade son. At first, you play easy. You let him score on you. You pretend to trip up. You only shoot three pointers.
But then, when your son gets a little cocky and starts to trash talk: “Your game stinks so much, you need a shower.”
So, the next time he goes for a layup, you swat it out of the air like Dikembe Mutumbo.
Just a HINT.
Jesus’ miracles were powerful.
But they were only a hint of his power.
Peter was so amazed.
He had seen snippets of Jesus’ power before, but now?
He was in full view of his glory.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, I will make three shelters here: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (v.4)
This whole face shine thing is pretty amazing
And I wouldn’t want it to go out because of a gust of wind and a bit of rain.
I’ll get some sticks.
I’ll get some leaves.
I’ll get you some protection from the elements…
While he was still speaking, the elements started to be controlled. A bright cloud overshadowed them.
It surrounded him.
It covered everyone else.
Till all Peter saw was bright cloud.
Then, a voice…
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” (v.5)
Jesus is GOD’S own SON.
That’s been the point of the miracles this whole time.
They were SIGNS pointing to the fact that Jesus was God!
Curing the incurable? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Eliminating paralysis? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Banishing a legion of demons? Only God could do that. Jesus did, so Jesus is God.
Walking on water? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Developing bread out of thin air? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
Raising the dead? Only God could do that. Jesus did that. Jesus is God.
III. A Two-Fold Reaction
All of this was overwhelming to Peter and the other disciples. When the disciples heard this, they fell face down and were terrified. (v.6)
They were trapped in the middle of a Divine cloud.
They were in the presence of God himself.
God was POWERFUL. They were WEAK.
God was DIVINE. They were HUMAN.
God was HOLY. They were SINNERS.
They hit the floor. Hoping that God wouldn’t be able to distinguish between them and the dirt.
Jesus’ power leads to FALLING DOWN in TERROR.
Yet, I don’t know that this happens all the time in church.
When you get ready for church in the morning, what do you think about?
I hope that one guy is there that I like to give high fives.
I hope that we can get in and get out in an hour.
I hope that the cookies are pretty good after worship. I’m starving.
Those are common things.
Things that I’ve thought of myself.
How often do you think?
I’m about to encounter, the face shining, clothing glowing, surrounded by dead prophets and a brilliant cloud, God.
Because it’s true.
In fact, the disciples were encountering that God long before being on the mountain.
Peter and the disciples had been walking with the divine Holy God himself for the last two years.
When they stopped for breakfast? It was God who stopped with them.
When they needed a break from walking? It was God who took a break with them.
When he complained out loud about not trusting God? It was the God whom he was complaining about that was in earshot.
And you encounter God, too.
You encounter ALL POWERFUL God when you gather to worship.
You encounter SIN HATING GOD, when you approach the Lord’s Table.
You encounter the ONE WHO CONTROLS THE CLOUDS, when you pick up a devotional book and spend 5 minutes reading God’s Word.
It’s why the disciples were lying face first on the ground.
waiting for the inevitable lightning bolt.
They felt a hand.
Jesus approached and as he touched them, he said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”
They opened their eyes.
No brilliant light.
Jesus’ mercy leads to STANDING UP in CONFIDENCE.
Yes, you are standing in the presence of ALL HOLY, SIN HATING GOD.
But you are also standing in the presence of your ALL MERCIFUL Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world.
But to save the world.
He didn’t come into the world to condemn us.
But to save us.
He didn’t come into the world to condemn you.
But he came to save you.
He is the Savior.
IV. The Aftermaths
As they disciples were walking down the mountain, they began to conclude that Jesus was the Savior after all. But one prophecy didn’t add up. It was a prophecy from Malachi that said Elijah would come before the Messiah. And since, they had just stood in the face of all holy God and not been destroyed, they were confident enough to ask about it:
Elijah is coming. (v.11)
In fact, he already did. (v.12)
They didn’t recognize him.
And instead killed him.
Just like they’ll kill me. (v.11-12)
There’s one more note about this interaction. It said that the disciples realized “Elijah” was a reference to John the Baptist.
Who had to come.
Who had to be killed for prophecy to come true.
But they were still missing one point.
Jesus had to suffer.
Jesus had to die.
For prophecy to come to true.
Jesus’ impending death was NECESSARY.
This was the whole purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth.
Not to do miracles.
Not to heal everyone.
Not to defeat the Romans.
Not to do impressive feats of strength.
He came to suffer and die for your sins.
To conquer guilt.
To conquer shame.
To conquer death itself.
In fact, this Mount of Transfiguration, it’s pretty glorious. But it isn’t the mountain on which God showcased his greatest glory.
Because on Calvary, Jesus suffered.
On Calvary, Jesus died.
On Calvary, Jesus displayed his greatest glory…
…and saved you.
So…LISTEN TO JESUS.
You’ve got to imagine that plagued Peter for a bit.
He hadn’t listened to Jesus.
He had rebuked the Divine God, to HIS FACE.
And now that thundering cloud’s voice rang in his ears.
“Listen to Him.”
Do the same.
Even when it looks silly.
Even when it looks odd.
Even when it looks like God is calling you to do something that doesn’t make sense…
Be baptized? Listen to him.
Take and eat? Listen to him.
Worship an invisible God? Listen to him.
Stay faithful? Listen to him.
The other day I was sitting over at the Preschool eating some peanuts.
A young friend happened to pass by. She entered the room and asked, “Whatcha eatin’?”
“Peanuts,” I said.
She said, “May I have one?”
There were only a few peanuts left. I gave her some and I popped the others into my mouth.
As I was lowering my hand from this delicious bite, I noticed another young friend at the door.
She came up to me.
Held out her hand and said, “Peanuts?”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any left.
Even after five minutes of tears and loud screams, I’m not sure that I was able to explain it to her.
I was out of food – and there’s nothing I could do about it.
We’ve been going through the MIRACLES of Jesus and we have seen his power over INDIVIDUAL health challenges and over NATURE itself. But what happens when a bunch of individuals need help at the same time?
Does Jesus have enough power?
Before we get into a miracle with that exact challenge, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The God of YOU
The miracle is written about in Matthew 15. It starts at verse 29:
Jesus moved on from there and went along the Sea of Galilee. He went up onto the mountain and sat there. (Matthew 15:29-31)
Jesus again stays near the Sea of Galilee. This has been one of his favorite places. It isn’t because the Sea of Galilee is such a “spiritual” place. There isn’t a temple there or quiet retreat center. Jesus went there because the people were there.
There’s a lesson for us. God wants us as his church to not just bring his message to this building, but to bring this message where the people are.
If Jesus were around today, he’d frequent a Starbucks.
He’d love the local library.
He’d be a big fan of Crabtree Valley Mall.
He’d be where people are – and we, as his people, need to be where the people are.
And the people, large crowds of people came to him. They brought the lame, the blind, the crippled, those unable to speak and many others. They put them down at Jesus’ feet and he healed them.
Granted – there aren’t any details in that sentence.
Maybe he grabbed the lame by the hand and pulled them to their feet or simply spoke, “Get up.”
Maybe he put his hands directly over a mute’s mouth or divinely patted them on the back to loosen their vocal cords.
Maybe he threw water on those with leprosy or maybe he had them dive into the Sea of Galilee.
Or maybe he just looked at the crowd and said, “All y’all are healed.”
I don’t know.
The point is that it happened. Jesus healed a crowd of people who came to him.
That’s important. Because look at the next sentence:
As a result, the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healed, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.
The Bible had mentioned the mountains earlier. More than likely, this is a reference to a group of hills down to the south east of the Sea of Galilee. That’s important because this was an area that wasn’t inhabited by the Israelites alone. It was filled with Gentiles (that is, non-Israelites). Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, North Africans, and West Asians.
This explains the exclamation! They call Jesus “The God of Israel.”
“He’s the God that dwells in Israel.”
“He’s a real powerful God, too. He healed my cousin. The ‘gods’ of my country couldn’t do that.”
“And apparently, he cares about me, too. Even though I’m not Jewish and I don’t dwell anywhere near Jerusalem.”
Jesus is the God of ALL PEOPLE.
Sometimes it’s easy to picture Jesus like the Genie from Aladdin. If you remember the plot, the Genie is only able to grant wishes and help the last person to rub the lamp. It’s the reason that near the end of the movie, Aladdin tries to get him to save his life, but the Genie can’t, because Jafar was the last person to rub the lamp and the Genie must listen to him.
You might think Jesus can’t help you.
As if Jesus only helps those people of one particular race.
Or Jesus only helps those “churchy” looking people over there.
Or Jesus only listens to people who have a middle-class salary or above.
Jesus is the God of all people.
He helps all people.
He died, rose, and proclaims the kingdom of heaven for all people.
Jesus is the God of YOU.
You don’t have to look any farther.
It’s not like looking for a Valentine.
You don’t have to create a dating app profile.
You don’t have to worry about God swiping left.
You don’t have to get yourself hyped up to go to a bar late at night hoping to bump into the “right god,” at least for a night.
Jesus is the God of YOU.
He came to earth for YOU.
He lived perfectly for YOU.
He died innocently for YOU.
He rose triumphantly for YOU.
He brings forgiveness for YOU.
He gives the promise of heaven for YOU.
He proclaims peace with the Father for YOU.
Talk about a Valentine?
This is more than just a picture of a Thomas the tank engine that says, “I chooo-chooo—choose you.”
This is Jesus, your God, giving his blood, to be with you now – and in eternity.
II. The Miracle
But we haven’t even gotten to the BIG miracle yet. Look at the next verse:
Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with me already three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they might faint on the way.” (v.34)
Jesus was preaching out on the mountain and some people had been sitting there, staying there, and listening to him there for three days. (Like some kind of Christian overnight camp…
…just without the egg & spoon races.)
Apparently, on the third day, the camp food that people had packed had run out. They didn’t have any bread. They didn’t have any meat. They didn’t have a Fruit Roll up, a Twizzler or even a marshmallow for a s’more.”
Jesus recognizes that.
And he cares about that.
And he speaks to the disciples about this.
The disciples respond, “Where can we get so many loaves in the wilderness to satisfy such a large crowd?” (v.33)
They were in the middle of the wilderness.
There wasn’t any civilization around.
It’s not like right here at church where there’s bound to be food in the Fellowship Hall. But…if we did run out we could head over to Chick-fil-A, Moe’s, Tropical Smoothie, Smashburger, the Mediterranean place, or even the gas station down the block (They’ve got a great deal of two hot dogs for $3).
“Jesus,” they said, “we can’t get food from anywhere close.”
“Emphasis on we.”
You on the other hand…
Jesus asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” (v.34)
Understand: a normal loaf of bread in Ancient Israelite culture would be about the size of a pita bread with a bit thicker substance to it. That’s not bad for one person to eat.
But seven of them?
That could maybe feed seven.
Or fourteen, but it wouldn’t fill them.
Plus, they have a few small fish. Currently, there is a list of 27 different types of fish that dwell in the Sea of Galilee. Some of the most commonly referenced in antiquity writing include are salmon and red-bellied tilapia.
The tilapia is the smaller. It’s about 12 inches in length.
A few of those? Feed a small family.
Add that to the bread? Maybe 15. But those 15 are all still hungry.
Look what Jesus does.
He instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground.
He took the seven loaves and the fish.
He gave thanks.
He broke them.
He gave them to the disciples.
The disciples gave them to the people.
They all ate and were filled. They picked up seven basketfuls of the broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. (v.35-37)
Dissect those words.
(1) All Ate
Not some. Not a few. Not half. Not even most. ALL ate.
It wasn’t as if one little kid missed out because his brother ate his portion.
It wasn’t as if dad had to forego food so his wife could eat.
It wasn’t as if there was some guy who stepped out to use the restroom and by the time he came back there wasn’t any.
Jesus cared for all of them.
He used his power to provide for ALL of them.
The word implies that food was completed in their tummies. There wasn’t any space left for anything else.
We’re talking full—full.
Golden Corral full.
Three bags of Family Sized Doritos full.
Jesus provided enough that ALL were FULL.
(3) 4,000 Plus
Back in the day, a group of people was counted by the able-bodied men. Men were the ones who joined the army. It made sense to have an accurate account of people that you could use as makeshift soldiers.
Scripture tells us that there were about 4,000 men who ate.
But there were also women and children.
If half of the guys had wives present…
And half those wives had one child present.
7,000 people isn’t hard to get to.
And yet all 7,000 some were fed by 7 loaves of bread.
(Can you imagine finding a loaf of bread in the grocer’s aisle that said that? Feeds 1,000).
(4) Seven Baskets Full of Leftovers
When Jesus is done, he has the disciples collect all of the leftovers. Remember – they only had one basket to begin with. After feeding 4,000 plus people, I would imagine there to be ZERO basketfuls left.
But the disciples…
Bring back seven.
This is a miracle.
It’s an amazing miracle!
It was witnessed by thousands!
And just like any miracle.
The miracle is a sign of Jesus’ power.
Here’s the TRUTH:
Jesus has power over the TINIEST MOLECULES of MATTER
He had power to create bread out of no more bread.
He created flour – without having to thresh the wheat.
He created salt – without having to mine the Galilean Sea.
He created yeast – without having to get yeast from wherever yeast comes from.
He created matter out of thin air because he has power over even the tiniest of molecules.
He has power over making sure you’re getting enough oxygen.
He has power to make sure that the hairs on your head remain on your head.
He has power to ensure that the raindrops don’t make the ground so wet that your car slides off course.
He has power to create a one celled little human life without the womb of a mother.
Since Jesus has power over the tiniest molecules…
And Jesus is the God of you…
Jesus has power in the TINIEST MOMENTS of YOUR LIFE.
Because sometimes there are moments in our lives that seem TOO small for Jesus.
Too unworthy of being cared about.
When you’re feeling a little blue, because your friends didn’t invite you to the movies, Jesus cares and has power to heal.
When you’re feeling a little guilty about those words you said, Jesus cares and has power to forgive.
When you’re feeling a little bit sick with a tiny headache coming, Jesus cares and has power to make you feel better.
When you’re feeling a bit nervous, because you’re the new kid at school, Jesus cares and has power to remain beside you always.
When you’re feeling a little intimidated at the work you have to do, Jesus cares and says, “I am with you.”
Look again at how well Jesus cares during those moments. During this miracle, he provided for the hunger of the crowd.
But he didn’t just dissipate it.
He didn’t just tide the people over.
He gave them food until they had ENOUGH.
Jesus changes the “I’m hungry” to “enough!”
He did that for the people physically. He literally created matter where there wasn’t any in order to make that happen.
Yes, I suppose he could do the same thing for us.
But normally Jesus provides for us in different ways.
He provides through…
…giving you strength to work and make some money.
…a Valentine’s Day gift card from a loved one.
…a night out with friend who pays for the appetizers.
…an awesome fellowship snack table after worship.
…a financial gift of a caring church member.
God provides so that we have enough physically.
But he also provides….spiritually. Because though the focus of this miracle is the bread that satisfies their bodies, but we can’t forget about what Jesus did the three days before this. He spoke to them the Gospel message.
In fact, that’s the reason that the people stayed listening to Jesus!
They were so enthralled by his three-day sermon.
Can you imagine a sermon that good? (Don’t answer that question).
Jesus provides spiritually even today.
He provides a plate full of forgiveness.
He provides a smorgasbord of salvation.
He provides an “eating out of your ears” amount of eternal life.
He provides for all your spiritual needs.
IV. What Now?
(1) Give Thanks
Did you see that in the story? Jesus, who is God, before he goes about created matter out of nothing, he takes a moment and gives thanks.
That moment focused everyone’s hearts on what God was about to do.
Do the same thing.
This isn’t just an encouragement to say your table prayers. You should.
Have you ever thought about the common table prayer?
The one from the Psalms?
“Oh, give thanks unto the Lord…”
That before a meal.
But also before.
Also after being able to buy a new pair of socks at Target.
Also after ordering a new DVD on Amazon.
Also after getting a stick of gum from your grandpa.
Also after receiving a 10th Starbucks drink free because of the Starbucks app.
All of these gifts are from God.
May we take a moment to GIVE THANKS.
(2) Find Satisfaction in Jesus
Because we are a nation of unsatisfied people.
The world knows that, and it tells you that it will offer you satisfaction….
…in THIS BEER.
…in this plate of NACHOS BELLGRANDE.
…in this CUP OF COFFEE.
…In this LEWD INTERNET PHOTO.
…In this RAUNCHY COMEDY clip.
…In this ANGRY Facebook rant.
…In this approval from other church members.
…in this approval from other family members.
…in this approval from a significant other.
But all those things?
Won’t fully satisfy.
All those things?
Will go away.
“I am the Bread of Life. The one who comes to me will NEVER be hungry.” (John 6:35)
Did you hear that?
In Jesus you are…
We’re in the middle of our MIRACLE sermon series where we’ve seen Jesus’ power over a variety of things.
We saw his power over SICKNESS as he cured a man with incurable leprosy.
We saw his power over DEMONS as he expelled a legion of demons from a man’s soul.
We saw his power over PARALYSIS as he helped a man walk who had never walked before.
We saw his power over DEATH as he brought a recently dead, 12-year-old girl, back to life.
But, to be fair, each of these miracles was very INDIVIDUAL in nature.
Jesus focused his power and did a miracle over one INDIVIDUAL person.
What if the element that Jesus needs to control isn’t in the body, but in nature?
This morning, we going to pit Jesus’ power against the power of NATURE itself. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Miracle
The miracle is written about in Matthew 14:
Jesus urged the disciples to get into the boat and to go ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed the crowd, he went up onto the mountain by himself to pray.
Jesus had just completed a day filled with preaching and teaching and he needed a moment.
Notice Jesus doesn’t take a moment to get on Facebook.
He doesn’t take a moment to get on Twitter.
He doesn’t even take a moment to check to see if he has the highest score on Candy Crush.
Jesus takes a moment…and prays.
There’s a lesson in that.
But before he goes to pray, Jesus sends his disciples on a boat across the lake. He tells them, “Go on ahead. Row across. I’ll catch up.”
When evening came, he was there alone. This signifies the end of his prayer time. Jesus comes down the mountain and is ready to catch up to his disciples.
But…how is he going to do it? By then the boat was quite a distance from shore, being pounded by the waves because the wind was against it. (v.24b)
He doesn’t have a jet ski.
Plus – the waves are roughing up the boat. It’s not the kind of weather that anyone should think about swimming.
It’s the kind of weather that the lifeguard blows his whistle and makes everyone leave the beach – a RED warning – high hazard.
Unfortunately, the disciples are in the middle of the lake when the worst of the weather hits.
The waves keep pounding the boat.
They are so rough that if a disciple pauses rowing to take a break – the waves push them back a couple of boat lengths completely negating their progress.
This slows them down.
In fact, they are still rowing during the fourth watch of the night (v.25). That’s a reference to the division of labor among the night watchmen. In the 1st century, the first watch was from 6pm-9pm. That’s evening. The time the disciples started rowing. The second watch was from 9pm-midnight, the third watch was from midnight-3am, and the fourth watch was from 3am-6am.
The disciples have been rowing from the 1st watch to the 4th watch - around 9 hours.
They must have been tired.
They must have been exhausted.
They must have been wishing that their Savior, their Powerful Savior, would have been with them.
In the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. (Matthew 14:22-24)
Read those words carefully:
It doesn’t say Jesus was doing a backstroke.
It doesn’t that he’s rowing a tiny boat.
It doesn’t say that he’s wading near shore.
He’s walking on the water.
Even the most common assumption among skeptics: that Jesus is walking on some strategically placed rocks, couldn’t be.
According to John, they were 3-4 miles out from shore. They had left from Tiberias down to the southeast and were headed for Capernaum to the North.
According to depth maps, that’d put them somewhere in the 25 to 30 feet deep region of the lake.
Way above any steppingstones.
Jesus has power over NATURE.
Whether or not an object sinks or floats depends on its density. The density of an object is based on the mass, size, and arrangement of the atoms.
To put it simply:
If atoms are more tightly compacted than water, the object will sink.
If atoms are less tightly compacted than water, the object will float.
A flat wax candle will float. The atoms are less tightly compacted than water.
But a piece of clay that weighs even less than the wax candle will sink. The atoms are more tightly compacted than the water.
For the record, a human foot supporting an entire human body sinks too.
More tightly compacted than water.
The human will sink.
Anecdotally, I remember trying this when I was younger. I’d go the local Aquatic Center, head over to the five-foot section and try to see how far I could walk on water before I would sink.
I never made it more than a step.
Even if I ran as fast as I could…
Humans don’t have power over nature.
But Jesus does.
Because Jesus is more than just a human.
Jesus is the one who INVENTED nature.
Jesus invented the moon.
Jesus invented the light.
Jesus invented the stars that were shining during the 4th watch of that night.
Jesus invented water.
Jesus invented storms.
Jesus invented winds that cause waves to pound.
Jesus invented the foot.
Jesus invented the human body.
Jesus invented the laws of density making it impossible for a human to walk on water.
Yet, it wasn’t (and isn’t) difficult for him to use his divine knowledge of nature to do things outside the natural laws of nature that were naturally set up!
In fact, this isn’t a very high degree of difficulty for him.
It’s not like me on a balance beam where I’m shaking and flailing my arms, and able to take about 3 steps before I come tumbling off.
He’s like a seasoned Olympic gymnast on the balance beam.
He’s walking on the very water that he invented.
II. The Response
Now remember – the disciples had been stuck in the middle of the lake for hours.
They were exhausted.
They were tired.
It was early in the wee hours of the morning.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified and cried out in fear, “It’s a ghost!” (v.26)
To the disciples, it was more logical to assume that a ghost was attacking them, than that Jesus was walking on the water.
Look at Jesus’ response:
“Take heart! It is I! Don’t be afraid.” (v.27)
I, the one who cured that incurable diseases of leprosy.
I, the one who healed the centurion’s servant from across town.
I, the one who drove out a legion of demons.
I, the one who gave that paralytic the ability to walk.
I, the one who brought that dead girl back to life.
I, the one who has traveled with you the past two years.
I, the one who has taught you the things of God.
I, the one who is your friend.
Jesus identifies himself as FRIEND.
It’s like when you come home late at night and your dog starts barking, even viciously. She’s afraid that you are there to break into the house and steal all her bones. She assumes you’re a bad guy or a, worse yet, a cat guy.
But, then, you identify yourself.
“Sparky, take heart. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus is doing something crazy, incredible, and miraculous.
But they needn’t fear!
Because while he is God, he is also their friend.
And with GOD as a friend, there is no reason to FEAR.
That’s important to remember.
You might not be on a boat in the middle of a storm.
But you might be in the middle of a life storm
Cutbacks at work.
Feeling betrayed by your friends.
Separation papers from your spouse.
Trying to get enough finances to keep your home.
The death of a dear friend.
You might be metaphorically paddling and rowing with all of you might to get out of danger!
Terrified that you might sink.
If that’s you, listen to Jesus:
“Take heart! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus’ presence calmed the fears of at least one disciple.
Peter…said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (v.28)
You commanded the leprosy to leave the leper.
You commanded the demons to leave the demon possessed man.
You commanded life to return to Jairus’ little girl.
If you want, command my feet to be buoyant – and they will.
To which, Jesus simply replied, “Come!” (v.29)
Can you picture what happened next?
Peter took a deep breath.
He grabbed a hold of the side of the boat.
He stood up.
He balanced himself.
He lifted one foot.
He hoisted it over the edge.
His sandal hit the cold liquid.
He took another deep breath.
He shifted his weight.
He planted his foot.
He lifted his other foot.
He planted it on the water.
He took a step.
He walked on water.
BOLD faith walks with Jesus, even among the STORMS.
Because for Peter, he didn’t see the storm anymore.
He only saw his Savior.
He saw his friend.
He saw his God.
He was filled with BOLD faith that Jesus would keep him up – and he did.
Granted, Jesus didn’t command us to walk on water.
But he did command us to walk with him.
To be PURE, even when our boyfriend doesn’t want to be.
To WORSHIP, even when none of our friends are.
To TRUST, even when the diagnosis is bad.
To BE GENTLE, even when everyone around you is harsh.
To MEDITATE on his Word, even when something cool is on Netflix.
To WALK WITH HIM, even when it means no longer walking with others.
This is hard to do.
Especially when the storms of life are happening all around you.
III. When Walking becomes Drowning
But that’s what Peter was doing.
And he was doing it well.
Maybe, even starting to strut a bit:
This was amazing!
The fish are underneath me.
The water is flowing under my feet.
My hair isn’t even that wet…
Off in the distance….
In his peripheral vision…
A big old wave.
Peter took his eyes off Jesus.
He took eyes of faith off Jesus.
Do you see his error?
Peter was able to walk among the storms as long as his eye was on Jesus.
But when he focuses was on the storm…
It’s the same for you and me.
Taking your eyes off Jesus will cause you to SINK.
You might be walking the walk of faith in the middle of a terrifying life storm.
But…the moment you take our eyes off Jesus?
Because life is overwhelming.
Life is challenging.
Life is filled with storms.
And on your own…
We’re like Peter.
Wildly splashing about.
Water in his nose.
Waves in his eyes.
Seaweed wrapping his feet.
As he’s sputtering and flailing, he manages a cry for help:
“Lord, save me!” (v.30)
To be fair, Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re on your own.”
He doesn’t say, “Ask me again when you have more faith.”
He doesn’t say, “Get to one knee and we can talk.”
Jesus stretched out his hand, took hold of him, and saved him.
“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I was walking on water.
You were walking on water.
Did you really think I’d let some wave ruin that?
When we’re drowning, GOD gives us a HAND.
He doesn’t abandon us.
He doesn’t leave us on our own.
He doesn’t just throw us a life preserver, tell us to float to shore and then, walk on ahead.
He rescues us.
Like when we were drowning in sin!
We were being slapped in the face by waves of guilt.
Shame was washing over us.
And death was about to take us to our watery grave.
Reached out his hands.
He reached out his hands to die on a cross.
He lifted us out of certain eternal death.
And rescued us to eternal life.
PRAISE THE LORD!
IV. What Now?
But maybe a few things from this lesson, to keep us from feeling like you’re drowning.
(1) Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
Because it was the moment that Peter took his eyes off Jesus, that’s when he began to drown.
It’s the same thing for us – the more time we focus on the storm and the less time we focus on Jesus, the more it feels like we’re drowning.
Keep your eyes on Jesus.
That’s why worship is so important. We’re putting our eyes on Jesus.
This is why group study is so important. We’re putting our eyes on Jesus.
It’s why studying the Bible, each day, is so important. You’re putting your eyes on Jesus.
Take a moment.
Think about it.
Are you keeping your eyes on Jesus?
If not, what are you going to do to keep your eyes on Jesus?
Make worship an every week thing.
Join a growth group.
Commit to an online Bible study.
Set aside 15 minutes each day to read and reflect on your Savior.
Keep your eyes on the one who walks on water which will empower you to walk on water.
(2) Worship Jesus as God
That is what the disciples did at the end of this event. When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. Those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God!” (v.32-33)
They bow down.
They start shouting Jesus’ praises.
They say to him, “You are God.”
God calls us to do the same thing.
To worship Jesus, not as a nice guy, nor a powerful angel, but as the Almighty, Divine Creator of Nature itself.
That makes all the difference.
Not that long ago I was spending time with a woman named Kaliyah.
She was struggling with finances because she was a single mother of two and didn’t have a job.
She had kids to feed and she didn’t have enough money for rent.
She also felt very guilty about this – if only she had made it work with the children’s father, then maybe they wouldn’t be in this mess.
After listening for a while, I said to her, “Why don’t we say a prayer and ask for Jesus to help?”
To which she responded, “Do you think he can handle it?”
Do you see the problem?
She didn’t see Jesus as God.
She saw him as someone wanting to help, but not able to help.
As a well-meaning human, but not God.
No wonder she didn’t have any idea if he could handle it.
When you worship Jesus as God,
You know that it’s the one walking on water who invites you to walk, too.
"Kobe Bryant died."
I was reading that message on my phone Sunday evening and my first reaction was that it was probably a hoax.
But I kept seeing reported by CNN, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC, and ESPN.
NBA Legend Kobe Bryant had been tragically killed in a helicopter accident.
There was even live video footage of the helicopter crash.
It was real.
And it really affected a lot of people.
Person after person on social media mourning the death of Kobe Bryant.
This is strange.
People die every day.
People die every hour.
People die every minute.
Why did Kobe’s death affect so many people?
Perhaps it has something to do with his celebrity.
Kobe was the best in the business.
He was at the top of his game.
He was the pinnacle of his craft.
He was involved in much charity work.
It looked like there wasn’t anything Kobe couldn’t do.
There wasn’t anything he couldn’t conquer.
Maybe it affects us so much because, “If Kobe couldn’t beat death, how can anyone of us?”
This morning, we continue our MIRACLE series, by pitting Jesus against death itself. The question: Who is more powerful? Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Jairus’ Last Hope
We’re going to look at an account that is written about by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each of them provides some different insight into the miracle, so by looking at them together we get a full picture of the event.
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. (Mk. 5:21)
Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house, because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. (Lk. 8:41-42)
Jairus was a synagogue leader, that is Jairus oversaw the upkeep and activities of this local place of worship. He was the one who made sure the synagogue was properly decorated for each religious festival. He made sure it was scheduled appropriately and the ladies’ group didn’t book the fellowship area the same night as the men’s group. He made sure that when little Hezekiah spilled cheerios in the back seats that those cheerios were picked up and removed before the next worship service.
And since Jairus worked with the synagogue, he also worked closely with the Pharisees.
Do you remember those Pharisees? They loved their synagogues.
They loved to have people watch them walk into synagogue.
They loved to have people watch them walk out of a synagogue.
They loved to have people associated them with synagogues.
They loved to have Jairus schedule activities for them to go to the synagogue so that they could be seen by others going to the synagogue.
And I doubt Jairus minded it.
Because if the Pharisees had your back, then you were a made man:
Well-liked and well taken care of.
That’s important. Because Jairus needed to be taken care of. Because Jairus was also a father. He had a little twelve-year old girl that he loved dearly.
Just like any father of a young girl, I’m sure that Jairus loved watching his daughter mature into a young lady.
He loved watching her discover her love for art.
He loved hearing about her dreams and goals in life.
He loved protecting her from all the “stupid” boys in her life.
He loved making her laugh funny faces, goofy noises…For some reason, I picture Jairus being a big fan of dad jokes. But…I won’t dogmatic about it, but…
“What did the drummer name his two daughters? Anna One! Anna Two!”
“Why did the picture go to jail?” “Because it was framed.”
“What do you call a bear without any teeth?” “A gummy bear.”
Jairus loved his daughter.
He loved her laugh.
He loved her smile.
He loved her twinkle in her eye.
Jairus would do anything for his daughter.
And that was being put to the test.
Recently Jairus’ daughter had been very sick. And I’ll bet he tried all things:
Getting her rest. Still sick.
Taking her to the doctor. Still sick.
Taking her to another doctor. Still sick.
Giving her over the counter medication. Still sick.
Giving her prescription medications. Still sick.
Even giving her Essential Oils like lavender and peppermint. Still sick.
He had tried everything.
Jairus knew about Jesus. He had heard how Jesus had healed many people. How he had cured disease after disease with just a few words.
But, do you remember those Pharisees that Jairus worked with?
Remember how they loved the synagogue so much they would take good care of Jairus as long as he did what they asked?
Those same Pharisees hated Jesus.
If Jairus went to Jesus, he might lose his friendship with the Pharisees.
He might lose his “in” with the Pharisees.
He might lose his job and his salary and his means of income to take care of his little girl.
I wonder if this gave him pause.
…made him wait to go to Jesus.
…made him think I’ll try everything else until…
Until, his daughter was almost dead.
Then, things changed.
The Pharisees’ approval wasn’t worth risking his daughter’s life.
He rushed off from his house, found Jesus, and threw himself at the ground.
An impressive, noble of a man, on his knees before Jesus.
“My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” (Mark 5:23)
So Jesus went with him. (Mark 5:24)
Jairus must have been excited.
The healer was coming with him.
Jesus and his miraculous power was going to do a miracle to his daughter.
His daughter wouldn’t die, because in Jesus there was hope.
As they kept walking…
And the crowd talked excitedly about other miracles Jesus had done.
And Jairus started to strut with confidence that his daughter would be healed.
Someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.” (Lk. 8:49)
Because she’s dead.
And so is her creativity.
And so is her laughter.
And so is her future.
Your daughter is dead.
TRUTH: Making Jesus your LAST hope may make you too LATE.
Jairus must have felt horrible!
If only he had come to Jesus sooner.
If Jesus would have been his first option way back when he daughter first was diagnosed, then she wouldn’t be dead.
Maybe you’ve felt similar.
If only I’d sought Jesus’ help with stress first, before I ended up addicted to Methamphetamine.
If only I’d sought Jesus’ guidance on my sexuality, not what I read in dark, pornographic chatrooms.
If only my spouse and I sought spiritual counseling sooner, before the infidelity, the yelling, and the moving out.
If only I’d taught my kids about Jesus first, brought them to worship, taught them about Sunday school, before they became a teen and turned their back on God.
If only I’d sought Jesus heart first, before I sought the heart of that guy who used me and abused me.
If only I’d gotten to the message of Jesus’ love sooner, before years of depression thinking that God hated me.
If only I’d worked through the Gospel to be reconciled with my friend, before…they died.
Making Jesus’ your last hope can lead to all kinds of regret.
But, even in the midst of Jairus’ like, “I-killed-my-daughter-because-I-didn’t-get-her-to-Jesus-soon-enough” regret….
Jesus offers hope.
II. Hope when there isn’t any
Back to the scene.
Jairus must have been in shock.
He’d never seen his daughter’s eye twinkle again.
He’d never get another hug.
He’d never hear another song.
The people were right.
He should send Jesus away.
His daughter was dead and there wasn’t any hope.
Before Jairus could muster the strength to dismiss him.
Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid.”
“She will be healed.” (Lk. 8:50)
From some hope.
To no hope.
To Jesus’ hope.
Jesus gives HOPE when there isn’t any.
When you can’t figure out where the finances are coming from, Jesus gives hope.
When the seventeenth job application has been rejected, Jesus gives hope.
When your heart hurts from that breakup, Jesus gives hope.
When you feel like you’ll never find “the one”, Jesus gives hope.
When you lose to that temptation again and again, Jesus gives hope.
When the parenting techniques aren’t working like they should, Jesus gives hope.
When the doctors tell you that it doesn’t look good, Jesus gives hope.
III. The World’s Hope
Jesus dismissed the crowd. Probably to spare Jairus’ from the embarrassment of his emotions. Then, Jesus, a few disciples, and Jairus made their way to the home.
Upon arriving, they came upon quite a scene.
When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. (Mk. 5:38)
At the time of Jesus, it was customary to hire professional mourners when someone died. These people would arrive and instantly develop a sad atmosphere. They’d sob and throw their heads back and make a big scene Matthew notes that there were flute players. (Mt. 8:23) They’d shed some tears, playing a sad song, and hand you a bill for their trouble.
It makes you wonder if they ever got together and practiced:
“Hold up guys. We are supposed to be professional mourners. Right now? We seem like a bunch of amateurs. Our choreography is all over the place. Bob, when I throw my right arm into the air and start wailing, “that’s your cue to throw yourself onto the ground and start convulsing. And Mary, it would be good if you shook your head back and forth while you screamed! You’ve got long hair and it really gives it that wild effect of wild sadness. And for goodness sake, Elizabeth, could you give us more tears? I’ll stick a cut-up onion in your sash if I have to.”
This is the best kind of hope the ancient world had to offer.
A distraction – at best.
But it doesn’t heal.
It doesn’t provide hope.
It’s nothing more than a SHOW.
The world’s HOPE is nothing more than a SHOW.
Think back to the Kobe Bryant Story.
Celebrities tweeted out all kinds of support and memories about Kobe.
Taylor Swift wrote, “My heart is in pieces hearing the news of this unimaginable tragedy… Sending my prayers, love, and endless condolences.”
Shaquille O’Neal said, “My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board,” he added. “I’M SICK RIGHT NOW!”
Khloe Kardashian simply said, “This can’t be true. My heart is broken.”
Scottie Pippen said, “I’m stunned. Words can’t even begin to describe how I feel about this tragedy.”
Now these people were hurting. They were sad.
And offering prayers to others is absolutely a blessing.
And it can be cathartic to talk to one another about your feelings.
But…Did you notice something?
None of these tweets brought Kobe back.
None of them promised LIFE.
Some of it, is just people going online, checking out the fact that others tweeted, and saying, “I’d better tweet about him – or I won’t look good.”
The world’s hope is nothing more than a show.
There’s a popular show on Netflix called The Casketeers It’s about a family owned funeral home in Hawaii. Each episode consists of a few funerals that they are planning for. In each episode, they work hard to make the funeral “nice.”
They practice ukulele.
They put out flower arrangements.
They polish the selected coffins.
The owner is kind of a clean freak and at least once per episode, he can be caught using a leaf blower to blow away the 4 or 5 leaves that have made their way into the parking lot.
The theory is that if they make it nice, it will help the family heal.
None of this gives ACTUAL HOPE.
Not the ukulele.
Not the flower arrangements.
Not the polished coffin.
Not even the leaf blower!
The person is still dead.
And there is no hope of LIFE.
The world’s hope is nothing more than a show….
Jesus is not “of the world.”
IV. Jesus’ Hope
Jesus had enough of the show.
“Go away, for the girl is not dead but is sleeping.” But they laughed at him. (Mt. 8:23-24)
“Oh? Does your pulse usually stop when YOU sleep?”
“Are you trying to say that you can fix this?”
“What a bunch of baloney! Stop giving Jairus false hope.”
Jesus did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother (Lk. 8:51)
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. (Mk 5:40)
And there was Jairus’ daughter….
No twinkle in the eye.
The pit in Jairus’ stomach was unbearable.
He grabbed his wife as she buried her tears into his shoulder.
But Jesus approached the girl.
He slowly got onto one knee.
He grabbed the girl by the palm.
He looked her right in the eyes.
“Talitha koum!” (Mk. 5:41)
Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around. (v.42)
Jairus was amazed!
He watched as she walked to Jesus and gave him a hug.
He watched as she walked to his wife and gave her a hug.
He watched as she made her way over to him, looked at him with that twinkle in her eye and gave him a hug too.
With a WORD, Jesus robs DEATH of its power.
He doesn’t do CPR.
He doesn’t hook her up to a defibrillator.
He doesn’t make her drink some kind of life-giving elixir made from the tears of a mythical Phoenix.
He just speaks.
This is how Jesus won life for you and me.
Because on the cross, Jesus defeated death with one word:
It’s the Greek word for the last thing that Jesus said on the cross.
It means, “It is finished.”
As in, “Sin is finished.”
“Guilt is finished.”
“Death is finished.”
I defeated them all and my work of defeated them is finished.
And now through faith in me….
You too will life.
Death is not the end.
You will be with me in heaven.
That’s REAL hope.
But that’s not even the end of the story. Because as Jairus and wife and child are all celebrating this amazing victory – and people start to flock in to celebrate this miracle, Jesus thinks about the girl. He told them to give her something to eat. (Mk. 5:43)
He isn’t showboating.
He isn’t flexing his muscles.
He isn’t taking a victory lap.
Jesus is caring.
TRUTH: Despite his ALMIGHTY Power, Jesus still cares TENDERLY.
There is no better combination.
He isn’t just able to defeat sin, but he tenderly speaks of forgiveness when you need it most.
This last week – I was able to visit a brother of ours in hospice.
Things didn’t look good when I went in.
I didn’t bring with me any medication.
I didn’t have any cures.
I didn’t even have a doctor’s nametag.
I simply had this message of forgiveness.
This message of God’s love.
This message that because Jesus lives, you brother, will live too.
Yesterday, we celebrated the fact that because Jesus has power over death, this man lives eternally.
And today we celebrate the fact that because Jesus has power over death –
You will live eternally too.
We’ve been in the middle of our MIRACLE sermon series. In the course of this study, we’ve seen Jesus miraculously help people before it’s too late.
He met a man with incurable leprosy and cured him before it became fatal.
He’s heard about a man sick in bed and healed him before it became his deathbed.
He met a man with thousands of demons coursing through his body and drove out those demons before any permanent damage was done.
What happens when the damage has already been done?
This morning, we continue our series, by examining an interaction Jesus had with a man who was paralyzed. His legs had already stopped working. He had no hope of walking again. Could Jesus help? Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The account we’re looking is found in three different parts of Scripture. It’s found in Matthew 9, Mark 2, & Luke 5. Each writer adds different aspects to our understanding of this incredible miracle, so we’ll be looking at all of them.
Jesus got into a boat, crossed over, and came to his own town. (Mt. 9:1) This would be Nazareth. The place Jesus grew up. It’s where he learned carpentry from his dad, where he went to Hebrew school with his buddies, where he played a game of baseball out at the local sandlot.
The people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door…
That means people were doing everything possible to fit into this room.
The three-person couch had become a five person couch.
The kids had to sit crisscross applesauce on the floor.
There were probably even a few people doing wall sits over in the corner.
It was like one of our hallways during a Christmas or Easter service – it was jam-packed full.
And he preached the word to them. (Mk. 2:1-2)
But there was one group of people that weren’t quite there yet.
Walking through the streets…
Huffing, puffing, sweating…
And taking a quick break to catch their breath…
Were a group of five friends.
One of them was laying down on a stretcher.
The other four were carrying him on that stretcher.
The man on the cot was paralyzed.
In fact, that’s all the Bible tells us about him.
Not his first name.
Not his last.
Not his favorite drink at Starbucks.
Not any characteristic of his personality.
Just that he was paralyzed.
He couldn’t walk.
He couldn’t run.
He could hop.
He couldn’t skip.
He couldn’t jump.
He couldn’t even stand up.
But his friends had a hunch.
They had heard about Jesus.
They had about his miraculous power.
They had heard about his compassion.
They thought that if they could get their friend to Jesus, he could help.
So, they took a swig of “Passover Power” Gatorade and lifted the cot once more.
“I think the house is just ahead. Don’t worry. We’ll see Jesus soon enough.”
The problem was that many other people had that same idea.
And, since they weren’t carrying anyone on a cot, they had already gotten there.
In fact, when they found the house it was so full of people that some were crowding around the outside windows just to get a glimpse of the Savior.
“Guys, I don’t think we can make it in.”
“Especially not with this stretcher.”
“What a waste of a morning. All this – for nothing!”
“Hey, paralyzed friend. I’m sorry. But I think you’ll have to remain paralyzed. Things just aren’t looking up.”
Did you say, “looking up?”
In 1st century Israel, roofing was a bit different than now. Rather than solid rain deterrent shingles made of fiberglass and asphalt granules that can withstand wind forces of up to 60mph from fine shingle companies like Owens Corning, GAF and CertainTeed that you nail gun into a wooden roofing frames, roofs at the time of Jesus were thatched of straw and mud. The higher-class citizens could afford pieces of tile that would be placed them into the mud concoction on top.
It wasn’t common practice for people to come into a house through a roof.
But in order to see Jesus…
The men took turns climbing up to the roof. With two on top, the two on the bottom hoisted up the cot containing their friend, grabbed a nearby rope and they climbed up themselves. Then, they began praying off the tiles, digging with their hands, and making a hole right in the middle of the roof.
On the underside, Jesus was in the middle of teaching. People were so interested in what he had to say that they had ignored the little kid crying. They had ignored the man with the cough in the corner.
But they couldn’t ignore this.
Because right above Jesus’ head, dirt started to fall.
Pieces of tile started to crack.
Light suddenly streamed in.
…lowered by ropes…
…with a man on it…
“Ummm….. Hiya Jesus!?!”
The room was silent.
What would Jesus do?
What would Jesus say?
How dare anyone interrupt him!
But Jesus smiled.
“Take heart Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)
Do you remember how the room was filled with people? The Gospel of Luke makes note that some of those people were the Pharisees. These were the religious leaders of the time that didn’t like Jesus very much. After all, these crowds of people that were there to see him, used to be crowds of people that came to see them.
And upon hearing what Jesus said, they started muttering.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Lk. 5:17-21)
Then some of the experts in the law said among themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming! (Mt. 9:3)
Blasphemy means saying you are God, when you aren’t.
That terrible sin in ancient Israelite society.
And with good reason.
If you tell people you are God (and you aren’t) and some of them believe (even though you aren’t), you’ll will be personally responsible for leading them to hell.
And since Jesus was telling this man that his sins were forgiven.
And only God can forgive sins.
Jesus was setting himself up as God!
Which would be blasphemy!
Jesus responded to their question with another question:
“Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? (Mt. 9:4)
To understand what Jesus is getting at, think of yourself in a conversation with a relative who can no longer walk.
Which is easier to write on a greeting card to that person:
“Your sins are forgiven” or “Get up and walk.”
I’ve visited a lot of hospitals.
I’ve visited a lot who are sick.
At Elmcroft retirement home, I run into people who can’t walk.
It’s not hard to tell them, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Have I ever said to one of these people, ‘Get up and walk.”
Why the difference?
If I tell someone their sins are forgiven, no one has any idea if that’s true or not.
Sins don’t go flying into the area.
A halo doesn’t appear on their head.
There isn’t a loud chorus of “Hallelujah.”
But if you tell someone who can’t walk to get up and walk…
If they don’t do that immediately?
You’re a fraud.
You’re a liar.
It didn’t work.
It is harder to claim a VISUAL miracle than an INVISIBLE one.
So, follow Jesus’ logic:
It’s harder to claim the visual miracle than the invisible one.
…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. (Mt. 9:6)
Allow me to claim the hard one.
Jesus turned to the paralyzed man.
Looked up right in the eye.
And said, “Get up. Take your stretcher. Go home.”
And the man….
Looked at Jesus.
Looked at his friends
Wiggled his toes…and…
Took his stretcher.
And went home.
II. The Truth about Jesus
Jesus’ miracles are VISUAL proof of the INVISIBLE truth.
Remember: There was a room full of people in that room.
And since this was a local miracle involving a local man, they probably knew him.
And their responses:
This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mk. 2:12)
They were filled with awe and glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Mt. 9:8)
Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” (Lk. 5:26)
Jesus speaks the truth.
Even when the truth is invisible.
That’s really important.
Because most of you here today aren’t physically paralyzed.
You can stand.
You can walk.
You can job.
You can run (just maybe not for all that long)
You may be able to walk, but you might still understand what it’s like to be paralyzed.
Paralyzed with guilt from that one sin you did last week.
Paralyzed with shame from the way you’ve been acting in front of your spouse.
Paralyzed with fear that God has abandoned you completely.
Paralyzed with sadness that God could never forgive you.
What’s easier to say?
“Your sins are forgiven” or “Kill me and three days later I’ll come back to life.”
But to prove that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins….
Jesus was said he would rise from the dead – and he did.
And this is proof that when Jesus tells you that your sins are forgiven – they are.
And does this throughout Scripture:
Your sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus’ name. (1 Jn. 2:12)
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” (1 John 1:9)
Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)
Jesus’ power is real.
Forgiveness is real.
Your forgiveness is real.
Not trusting Jesus’ power to FORGIVE is EVIL.
Look back at what Jesus said about the people who didn’t trust his power to forgive. He said, “Why are you thinking EVIL in your hearts?” (Mt. 9:4)
They were thinking that it was evil for someone who wasn’t God to claim to be God by forgiving sins.
But what if that person who is claiming to be God is God.
Then, the evil isn’t coming from God who is claiming to be God.
The evil is come from the one claiming that God isn’t God.
And granted – you might not actually say that Jesus isn’t God.
But you might say,
“I’ve sinned too much, Jesus.”
“I should have to do something.”
“God needs me to help myself.”
Which is another way of saying:
Jesus, you don’t have authority to forgive sins.
Friends, that’s evil.
If that’s you, turn to Jesus.
And ask him forgiveness.
And trust that he grants it.
Jesus has all AUTHORITY to forgive.
It’s like a set of church keys:
If you asked me to unlock the front door of church for you, I could because I have the key & authority to do so.
If you asked me to unlock the janitor’s closet, I could because I have the key and the authority to do so.
If you asked me to unlock the door to Precious Lambs, I could because I have the key and the authority to do so.
If you asked Jesus to unlock you from the guilt of your sins, He could…
…and he would…
…and he did…because he has the key and authority to do so.
And the key was his blood.
Jesus lived perfectly.
Jesus died innocently.
Jesus rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
When he tells you that he unlocked guilt, he means it.
III. What Now?
(1) Do Whatever It Takes to Get to Jesus
Do a quick case study of this man’s friends:
They were willing to carry him great distances.
They were willing to climb a roof.
They were willing to cut a hole in that roof…
They were doing whatever it took to get to Jesus…
…all because they trusted Jesus’ power to heal.
Do the same.
Because it’s so easy in this life to feel paralyzed.
Things happen during the weak that can paralyze you with shame, guilt, sadness, and fear.
Jesus heals that paralysis.
So, do whatever you can to get to him.
That means making worship a can’t-miss for the week.
It means Group Study is something that you don’t let a little traffic deter you from.
It means that you reach over to your bedside table – and open the Bible.
(2) Do Whatever it Takes to Get Your Friends to Jesus
Because these men didn’t get to Jesus for themselves. They did whatever it took to get their friend to Jesus.
Do you know someone in need of the forgiveness Jesus brings?
Could be a friend.
A family member.
Someone paralyzed by fear, guilt, and shame.
Do whatever it takes to get them to Jesus.
Because Jesus has power over paralysis.
Power to free from any paralysis.
Power to free so that you can walk.
With Jesus. Amen.
This morning, we will begin our miracle series, by examining God’s incredible power of sickness. But before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Defining Miracle
I think it’s important to start a study on miracles by defining the word “miracle.” So, here it is:
A miracle is an occurrence outside the NATURAL laws of the Universe.
Because miracle can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Over time, I think we’ve “dumbed down” the phrase.
For instance, we use it at childbirth. A baby is born and people post on Instagram: “Check out my child! #Miracle”
Is childbirth amazing? Yes. Is it a miracle though? Not really. That’s how God set up the universe.
We even use it in sports. “I can’t believe my favorite football team made the playoffs. It’s a miracle!” Might it have been impressive? Sure. But is it a miracle? Not so much.
But when the New Testament uses the word miracle it actually is talking about events that occur outside the natural order of things.
Seawater standing up like drywall? That’s not how water usually works.
A heavy rock wall tumbling because of trumpet noise? Not normal.
Three men being thrown into a fiery furnace and coming out unsinged? Let’s not test it.
A virgin giving birth to a child? Miracle.
In the New Testament, the number one miracle doer is Jesus.
But did you know that Jesus miracles aren’t often called miracles as much as they are called signs.
That’s interesting. Because a sign functions by pointing you in the right direction.
We have signs in our hallways that say “Restrooms” with a little arrow putting in a certain direction. The point of the sign? To direct you to the restrooms.
Even a traffic light. GREEN means “GO”, red means “STOP, and yellow means, “hurry up it’s about to turn red.”
Jesus’ miracles were SIGNS pointing people to his DIVINITY.
Think about it:
If God’s the one that set the laws of the universe into motion, then he is the only one able to act outside of those laws.
It’s like STAYING UP LATE. If the rule of your house is that kids need to be in bed by 9 pm, the kids need to go to bed, but the adult can stay up. (Granted, they might not. They might be in bed on the couch around 7:15 pm, but you get the point.)
Your kids can’t. You can. You set up the law; you can act outside of it.
Jesus acts outside of the laws of the universe set up by God, in all of his miracles.
Because he is God himself.
II. The Man with Leprosy
But it enough talking about it. Let me show you.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. Just then, a leper came to him and bowed down to him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mt. 8:1-2)
Notice. There are large crowds of people with Jesus. They had just heard Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount, a very famous sermon. They were all drawn in by Jesus’ speech and his ideas.
But someone that hadn’t made it up to the mountain was waiting as they came down.
He was a leper which means that he had the disease known as leprosy. It was a flesh-eating disease that slow dried out your cartilage and cause the tips of your fingers, your toes, your nose, and your ears to (brace yourself) fall off.
Leprosy was awful. Still is! If you want to know how awful, do a Google image search. (But not if you’re faint of heart.)
Besides being awful…
Leprosy was INCURABLE. This isn’t true anymore. There is a cure. But at the time, there weren’t any medicines, any acupuncture, any essential oil, any healthy diet, or any operation that anyone knew about in order to cure it. That means that if you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to quickly resign yourself to the fact that you would not be healed.
Leprosy was CONTAGIOUS. It was so contagious that if you were diagnosed with leprosy, you were sent into quarantine. Only the quarantine wasn’t a room in your house. You were sent outside the city walls, into the desert to live in what they called “leper colonies”.
Leprosy was FATAL. The end result, 100 percent of the time was death.
All these truths about leprosy left this man was without hope.
He had heard doctor after doctor tell him there was no cure.
He was alone, banished outside the city.
He knew what had happened to other friends – they died.
This meant -
He wouldn’t get to see his family again.
He wouldn’t get to hold his children again.
He wouldn’t get to kiss his wife again.
He wouldn’t feel better.
He wouldn’t regain strength.
He wouldn’t go back to his job.
He’d be by himself.
Outside the city walls.
Did you notice something about this man?
He approached Jesus with confidence.
He didn’t say: “If you are able…”
Or, “If you have the strength…”
Or, “If you have the right medicine…”
He said, “If you are willing…”
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean.”
And after Jesus says that, there aren’t months of radiation.
There aren’t weeks of chemo.
There aren’t even 15 minutes to allow the medicine to take effect.
Jesus simply speaks and…
IMMEDIATELY he was healed of his leprosy.
And if you’re thinking, “That’s impossible.”
Remember – there’s a crowd of people present.
It wasn’t Jesus by himself.
There were hundreds of witnesses to this miracle.
Many who had undoubtedly seen that man sitting around outside the city gates day after day after day.
In fact, Jesus has professionals corroborate the healing. He tells him to “Go, show (himself) to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (v.4) The priests at this time were similar to doctors. They were able to pronounce people as diseased or not.
They were probably the same people who once told the man, “You are diseased, away from us!”
Now? They were saying to him, “You’re healed! Celebrate with us.”
And remember – while this is 2000 years after the fact, this book is not. These words that we are reading right now were written down at a time when the majority of the people who witnessed this would have still been alive.
Jesus is able to CURE the INCURABLE.
Here’s where this is important:
You might know someone who has been diagnosed with disease.
You may have been diagnosed with disease.
And internet articles might not give you a chance.
Social media anecdotes might not give you a chance.
Doctors might not give you a chance.
You have Jesus. And Jesus can cure the incurable.
Do you want a second instance of this? How about sin!?!
It’s CONTAGIOUS – passed down from parents to children.
It’s INCURABLE – nothing we can do will ever remove it.
It’s FATAL – “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
But Jesus cured the incurable!
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently on the cross.
He rose triumphantly and cured you of all sin, guilt and shame!
By faith in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Incurable guilt – CURED!
This means that whatever you’re dealing with, as long as you have Jesus, you have hope.
Because Jesus provides HOPE in any ILLNESS.
He cured the incurable disease of leprosy with his hand.
He cured the incurable disease of sin with his death.
There is nothing that Jesus can’t do.
There is no disease too incurable.
There is no disease too contagious.
There is no disease too fatal for Jesus.
III. The Centurion’s Servant
Word of this miracle got around.
In fact, it made its way outside the Jewish community to a Roman centurion whose servant was deathly ill.
He must have heard stories of Jesus.
Yet he had a lot working against him. In fact, I’m sure his advisors gave him a host of reasons not to waste his time:
“Jesus is Jewish. You’re Roman. There’s too big a racial divide. He won’t help you.”
“You’re a high ranking official. What will it look like for a Roman elite to go looking for help from a homeless carpenter?”
“You’re a sinner. From what I’ve heard, this man is a holy man. He won’t give you the time of day.”
For some reason…
He trusted Jesus.
And as he looked at his servant growing pale, soaked in sweat, and approaching death.
[the] centurion came to [Jesus] and pleaded with him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed and suffering terribly.” (v.5)
Despite the racial difference…
Despite the social difference...
Despite the man’s sin…
Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (v.6)
But the man, thought this was too much.
He was a high ranking official and he didn’t make house visits.
And Jesus was higher ranking than him.
He didn’t need to do a house visit.
And so, the high-ranking government official said, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof.” I’m a sinful man. You’re holy. I don’t deserve anything from you.
But only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (v. 8-9)
You have authority too.
You tell diseases to leave and they do.
You tell health to return and it does.
You tell bodies to be healed and they listen, because you have authority over them.
When Jesus heard this, he marveled. He said to those who were following him, “Truly, I tell you: I have not found such great faith in anyone in Israel… Go. Let it be done for you as you have believed.” (v.10)
Here’s where it gets extra amazing.
Because when the man turned to leave, he made note of the position of the sun.
Maybe just to the right of the west of the cloud.
And when he returned home, he found the servant well.
But that’s not the amazing part.
After giving him a hug.
After doing the “happy dance.”
He asked one of the other servants.
When did this happen?
“At the time the sun was right to the west of the clouds! I remember. Because I was so excited, I ran outside to tell the others.”
Make no mistake.
This was a miracle.
This was Jesus.
Jesus provides HOPE even when he’s not VISIBLY PRESENT.
Because you won’t be able to see Jesus.
Look for Dr. Jesus.
He doesn’t work at Duke.
He doesn’t work at UNC.
He doesn’t work at Rex.
He doesn’t work at Wake Med.
He grants healing to those within those walls.
You can’t see Jesus.
But that doesn’t he isn’t with you.
And it doesn’t mean he won’t provide healing.
He’s all powerful. ‘
His power goes beyond physical, tangible presence.
Again – just like sin.
You and I weren’t physically there when Jesus died on the cross.
And yet Jesus didn’t have to come to 2020 in order to die in our physical presence.
His death and resurrection cross physical, temporal boundaries to bring healing and forgiveness.
His same healing power gives us hope in the face of illness.
IV. When Healing Doesn’t Happen
People die all the time from disease.
Some are even believers.
What’s the deal?
To answer that question – I want you to remember two significant things that these the two men in today’s accounts said.
(1) Lesson from the Centurion
Remember what the centurion said to Jesus?
“I’m not worthy…”
That’s a strange statement, because this centurion was a high ranking, Roman official.
He oversaw hundreds of soldiers. (Hence the name “Century-on”)
He had a good career.
Plenty of people who looked up to him.
And yet he didn’t say, “Jesus. I demand this, because I deserve it.”
He knew he was a sinner.
He knew he only deserved death.
He knew that any healing Jesus could grant was out of his mercy.
We need to remember the same thing.
I remember that I got sick for one of my birthday’s awhile back. And I thought….
“This isn’t fair! I work hard. I serve God. I serve God’s people. And now I get a day off to celebrate my birthday and I’m sick? God I deserve to be healed.”
Is that actually true?
Did I deserve healing?
Remember – the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s easy to think:
I deserve healing.
I’ve done nice things.
I’ve been a good parent.
I’m worthy of being healed.
None of us are.
If God heals us physically, it’s not because we deserve it.
It’s because of his mercy.
But in God’s mercy is real hope.
Because unlike human ‘goodness’ which isn’t nearly as good as we think it is.
God’s mercy? Is a mercy that caused him to die on a cross for our sins.
Mercy that saved us to eternal life – where there won’t be any sickness.
And mercy that sometimes heals us from sickness.
(2) Lesson from the Leper
Remember what the leper said to Jesus?
“If you are willing…”
It wasn’t a question of whether healing was possible,
But whether it was God’s will.
In this man’s instance? It was.
But sometimes God’s will is that the sickness won’t be cured.
Is it because he loved that person less?
If you are suffering a sickness and you haven’t been healed yet, is it because God loves you less than the healthy?
He died on the cross for you.
He doesn’t love you less.
He loves you the same as those who are health.
In fact, it’s because of his LOVE combined with his incredible wisdom, that God sometimes allows a disease to run its course.
Sickness has a way of driving people towards Jesus.
Sickness can be God’s way of
Bringing you to faith…
Or strengthening your faith…
Or working through you to be a witness to our friends and family of our faith in Jesus.
Bringing you ultimate healing in heaven.
In heaven, there isn’t any leprosy.
In heaven, there isn’t any cancer.
In heaven, there isn’t any sickness.
In heaven, there is only health.
Who here remembers King Herod?
Hmm, no, no not the King Herod who met with the wise men and then ordered all the infants in Bethlehem killed. That was his grandfather.
No, not the King Herod who ordered John the Baptist beheaded and later wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle. That was his uncle.
I’m talking about the King Herod who put the first apostle of Jesus to death and tried to do it again shortly after.
Of course, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were all the same king, right? The time-span is short enough that they could all be the same man and more to the point, they all behave very similarly. They have no regard for the true God. At best they are apathetic about it, and at worst they actively work against it just to further their own means.
And that’s exactly what’s happening in our reading today. This particular Herod, Herod Agrippa I, was just trying to secure his position as king. He was “king” of the Jews, but not in any way the Jews really recognized. He was put there by the Roman conquerors. The Jews hated the idea of any nation being over them, and this puppet king was just an ongoing reminder of it. So Herod had to deal with this constant distaste from them.
However, at this time, there was something else the Jews were starting to hate just as much. There were these men who were trying to subvert the Jewish religion. Followers of what was sometimes called The Way, but recently had started using the term “Christians”. The Jews hated these guys, too. And as the old saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Herod realized that if he attacked this new church movement, he’d earn himself some points in the polls with the Jewish people and that would make his job that much easier.
The first major target? James. Son of Zebedee, brother of John. Same John who later wrote the gospel of John, a few letters, and the book of Revelation. James was one of the original twelve, he’d walked with and learned from Jesus himself. And Herod, in true dictatorial power, had him executed. No trial or any sort of legal cause. Just, “you die.”
It’s not like being a Christian was a picnic so far, but this stepped it up even more. Yes, he wasn’t the first to die for Jesus, but he was the first of the twelve who was martyred. And this time it wasn’t just the Jewish leadership acting out, it was the Roman government. And not even because they opposed the message of Jesus, but because the king wanted to be popular.
So, if things weren’t already tense in Jerusalem for Christians, this was going to raise the bar. And it only went higher. The next target was Peter, probably the most prominent leader of the early church. And there was nothing Peter could do about it. Nothing any of them could do about it. Herod had all the authority, all the power. His word was law. He said kill somebody and it happened. Reasons didn’t matter. There was no law to protect from that. No justice. Herod was just in control of the situation and the Christians, the apostles were not.
And so, it happened that after his friend and travelling companion of the last four or so years was essentially murdered that Peter found himself in prison waiting a similar fate. Guarded by a rotating squad of soldiers, actually chained to the soldiers in the prison. The next day, probably, he was going to die. And it wasn’t going to stop there. Herod would keep on going until there wasn’t anyone left.
The rest of the believers, what could they do? They couldn’t storm Roman soldiers and force Peter free, they were just people, not fighters.
It’s a desperate situation. One of the most public leaders of the church was waiting to die. A man who opposed everything they stood for was in complete control. And the message of the gospel was in danger of being snuffed out by that man’s actions.
So why is Peter sleeping soundly? It wasn’t because he knew what was going to happen next. Because when an angel jarred him awake and the chains fell from his wrists, when he was led out of the prison unseen by any of the guards watching, Peter didn’t actually believe his eyes. He thought it was a vision, a dream. It wasn’t until he was out in the city proper when the angel left him, when he was hit by the cold of the night air and the silence that hung there after the angel left that he realized this was really happening. It was real.
Peter escapes. God rescued him. The believers had not sat idle but had prayed continuously for his rescue. God answered those prayers. He was free, and he would live to see another day.
And shortly after this event, Herod himself was struck dead by God. Go ahead and read the rest of the chapter when you get home today. Herod, being puffed up by some sycophants, was called a god. And he just soaked it in. God had enough and struck him down for such arrogance. The man in “complete control” died, just like that.
And the gospel spread. News of Herod’s death only set it further ablaze as it burned through the nations. Everything that seemed hopeless was overturned.
Brothers and Sisters, this is why Peter was sleeping soundly that night. Because he had utter confidence that it was God, not Herod that was in control. Peter thought he would die, but that didn’t matter to him because God is unstoppable. Peter knew that Herod’s plan couldn’t succeed in wiping out the gospel truth of Jesus because it was God’s gospel, with the power of God behind it. He knew for a fact that the gospel, by God’s power, is unstoppable.
Peter, by God’s power, was unstoppable. Every earthly power and authority came against him and it didn’t work because God didn’t allow it.
And before him, James, brother of John, son of Zebedee, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
You remember James, right? He was the first one Herod arrested and succeeded in killing.
Wait, let me rephrase that. He was the first one Herod tried to kill.
Maybe this whole time you were thinking about him. Maybe you were thinking “Great for Peter, what about James? God didn’t seem so keen on miraculously rescuing him!”
He didn’t? James was a sinner after all. We can even find that in the Gospels, like the time he and his brother arrogantly asked for a higher position than the rest of the twelve with Jesus. James deserved to die. And more than die, he deserved to be cut off from God and his mercy forever. He deserved hell.
But instead of that, God himself endured hell for James. He went in James’ place. And in return, he gave James the credit of a life lived without sin, in complete obedience to God. Jesus did those things for James. He lived and he died for James.
Herod did everything in his human power to stop James. But it didn’t work. The Roman sword that pierced him was what ushered him into the eternal arms of his Father. He didn’t die. He lives, forever, free of all pain and suffering and most especially free from the burden of sin. Peter was rescued from a cell. James was rescued from this life of pain and tears.
Peter’s time for that came eventually of course, but the point is that neither of these men were failed by God. And neither of them were overcome by the forces of this world. By God’s power, by the power of the gospel message, the message about Jesus, they were unstoppable.
I hope, by now, you realize this is not just a story about Peter and James. This is about you, too.
The gospel is unstoppable.
Peter, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
James, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
You, by God’s power, are unstoppable.
I don’t mean you can leave this building and go do whatever you want; that’s relying on your power and it’ll fail you every time. But the power of the gospel in you cannot be stopped.
It is this simple. You know the truth, that God lived for you, died for you, and rose to life for you. Because Jesus lived, died, and rose for you, you are forgiven and God will take you to be with him forever. That’s the good news that you know and trust, that is the gospel.
And there is no power here on earth that can stop you. Nothing can tear Jesus away from you. No human or natural agent can separate you from God’s love. And literally nothing that happens to you here on this earth can take away the salvation that God has given you freely by this truth. You are already saved. You are already rescued. Nothing can take that away from you. With the gospel truth in you, you are unstoppable.
It’s important to remember this perspective when your life seems anything but unstoppable. I doubt any of us will experience a night in prison awaiting execution, but that doesn’t mean we don’t find ourselves in situations where we feel beaten down, pushed around, and tempted to lose hope because whatever earthly situation we find ourselves in is not looking like it’s going to work out.
The message here is not “that earthly situation is going to work out”. It’s not “God will definitely miraculously free you from that earthly prison.” The message is that God has already freed you from a much more deadly prison. And that even if things don’t go our way here, it all leads to the same end – victory.
The troubles, the trials, the forces of this world will scream that they are in control of your life, and they will try to imprison you and beat you down. It may even seem like they are in control. Things we value, people we care about, even our own health might be taken away. But they can’t stop you. Because you have God and he cannot be stopped. Because of Jesus, you have already won. And the message continues.
I’m not saying God will never help you here and now either. He absolutely will. But that’s not where our hope is. Our hope is not in being delivered from bad bosses or car troubles or crushing debt or inoperable cancer. When it seems like he isn’t helping, when it’s like he’s not trying to rescue you at all, remember: he already has. Come what may, you are already saved.
God’s goal is to get you and anyone else he can to know and trust the gospel message so you can be safely brought to heaven with him. That mission will not be stopped. And while you are still here, God has chosen you to carry out that mission. Share the message that makes you unstoppable. The message cannot be stopped. No matter what powers try to stifle it, they will never succeed. Share it with confidence and share it out of love for those who need it.
You are saved, you are unstoppable in him. Share the truth so others may know the same rock-solid comfort. That is the path God has put before you: to speak his truth so long as you can. You will not be stopped on that path so long as God wants you to run. You cannot be stopped from sharing the truth so long as you are here.
Brothers and sisters, our God saves. Nothing in heaven above or on the earth below can stop him from carrying out his mission in you and through you. The gospel will continue.
Brothers and sisters, our God has saved you. Nothing in heaven above or on the earth below can stop you from being welcomed into his arms when this is all over.
Brothers and sisters, go out today, wake up every day after this absolutely secure in the certainty of this truth: God and his gospel are unstoppable.
For our sermon, we are continuing the story of the Promised Land conquest and we will be looking at Joshua 10. Joshua 10 is interesting – because it’s kind of like the climax. A group of nations join forces to fight off the Israelites. That’s one of their toughest challenges to date.
Will they win the battle?
Can God win the battle?
Can God beat 5 nations at the same time?
We are going to look at the answer this morning and I know it’s going to be a very encouraging story for you. But before we begin, let us pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Coalition
Adoni Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies. He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters. So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, and Japhia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon, “Come up and help me attack Gibeon, because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites.” (10:1-4)
Now I don’t know exactly how this look. For some reason, I picture them all around the table (kinda like a 1920s mobster movie). A few are smoking cigarettes and others are twirling their knives on the table – just to show that they have some skills.
Then Adoni-Zedek speaks, “Listen. I don’t like you guys. You don’t get along with me; I don’t get along with you; and you don’t get along with each other. But I ain’t asking us to be best friends. I’m asking us to get each other’s backs. There’s a bigger threat out there. Those Israelites – need to be defeated. They crossed the raging Jordan River. They knocked down the walls of Jericho. They routed Ai. Soon – they’re coming for us.
I say…We don’t let ‘em.
I say…We get ‘em.
I say…We fight this “LORD” and shut him up once and for all.
And they glare at each other.
And they nod at each other.
And they spit in their hands and shake on it.
It’s an alliance.
An alliance against God.
To be fair there are getting some pretty, nasty characters.
Adoni-Zedek. He’s the mastermind of the plans and the king of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was always a very rich city which would have allowed him to fund the upcoming battle.
Hoham of Hebron was the king of giants. That was the area that the Israelite spies had visited 40 years earlier and after seeing the men of Hebron decided, “These guys are like giants. We are like grasshoppers. We are gonna get destroyed.” Those same intimidating gigantic men were now a part of this coalition.
Piram and Debir were the kings of Jarmuth and Eglon. These cities were both located a hill. That allowed them a tactical vantage point. Like two fighter jets nose diving onto the playing field – their armies could bull doze down on their enemies and strike. Not to mention – that being on the top of the mountain – they likely had many skilled archers in their ranks.
Finally, there was Japhia, king of Lachish. Lachish at that time was under the control of the Egyptian empire. They would have had access to Egyptian technology and weaponry. Chariots. Horses. Javelins. And fine military training.
Together they were similar to any group of super villains.
The Injustice League.
The Legion of Doom.
They wanted to ban together for the sake of their common enemy:
II. God Fights Back
So, the Fearsome Five make their plan. They decide to attack Gibeon. It’s smaller than Israel and it doesn’t have a history of God helping them out like Israel does. So, it makes good sense. They come down. They attack. They put the city under siege.
But not before Gibeon gets a messenger sent out.
He takes the back roads.
He heads through the forests.
He makes his way into the camp of Israel and deliver a message to Joshua.
I suppose it sounded something like this:
Hi. Remember us? We are the guys who totally deceived and tricked you a couple of weeks ago. You were kinda angry. Sorry about that. Anyways…will you…and God…um…honor that treaty? Help us!!!
And Joshua crumbles up the message. He summons his army, but gets a bit nervous. This was bigger than anything they’d faced. 5 nations – all at once?
Could they handle that?
Could they defeat the Fearsome Five?
Would they be victorious?
And perhaps – right about then – Joshua remembered something that someone had said to him at the start of all this. “Do not be afraid; Do not be discouraged. I the LORD you God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1)
Only…he wasn’t remembering it.
God was repeating it:
Do not be afraid…I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you. (10:8)
So, Joshua nods.
God approves of the rescue.
There may be five nations against them; but they had God on their side.
And God is full of surprises.
(1) All Night March
Joshua summons his army and he takes the best fighting men marching through the night. It’s a 20-mile journey from Gilgal – where Israel was camped – to the battle scene at Gibeon. Think about that – the armies of the Fearsome Five sleep in their tents with complete confidence, but wake up to see the army of Israel approaching in the distance. It’s not a pleasant sight while you’re drinking your morning coffee.
But that’s God’s swift hand! When we need rescue, God acts swiftly to save us.
And I do mean God. Because the second surprise is found in verse 10. The LORD threw the Canaanite armies into confusion before Israel. Now I’m not exactly sure what confusion means – but I’ve noticed that just about every iteration of confusion that I can think of doesn’t serve an army very well.
Whether it’s dizziness so they can’t see where they are going.
Or color blindness so they can’t tell which army is on which side.
Or that kind of weird haze that you get after a nap where you aren’t really sure if you’re awake or not – and whether the dog is licking your hand or not….
Whatever the confusion was – it is not something that an army wants to deal with while fighting.
And look who causes the confusion. Notice the subject.
It’s not the well water.
It’s not the bourbon from last night.
It’s not something that a group of soldiers were smoking close by.
God is the one causing the confusion.
God is the one fighting the war.
Which leads to the next surprise:
(3) Victory for the Underdog
Verse 10 continues, “Joshua and the Israelites defeated the Canaanites completely at Gibeon.” Even though they are only one army – they easily dispatch the 5 armies they are fighting against.
Because they’ve got one God on their side.
One God is stronger than 5 armies.
He’s stronger than 10 armies.
He’s stronger than all the armies of the world armed with swords, daggers, spears, machine guns, F-150s, tanks and an ocean liner of nuclear bombs.
God is undefeated.
But God isn’t done.
Because look at what happens next – as the armies of the Kings flee and retreat. The Israelites pursue. They try to overtake them. But the armies have a head start and Israel is having a hard time cutting them off.
Verse 11: As they fled before Israel, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them.
Have you ever seen hail before? To be fair – you don’t want to be trapped in a hailstorm. It smarts to have a marble sized piece of hail hit you in the right spot. And golf ball sized hail is the kind of hail that will dent your car --- even ruin your roof – where hopefully your hailstorm insurance will take care of the damage.
How big are these stones?
More of the Canaanites died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites. (v.11b)
Wow. That’s miraculous.
(5) The Day Lengthens
But still. There were a lot of soldiers. There were a lot of nations. And as Joshua is watching this battle take place he’s smiling. He’s happy. But as he watches from a hill to the south, he looks at the horizon. In the distance, he can see the sun about to set in the west and the moon is already making its appearance to the east.
It’s about to be dark.
It’s about to be impossible to battle.
It’s about to be time for this incredible day to end.
Too bad. God was on a roll too.
It’s too bad it had to end.
Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you moon, over the Valley of Aijalon. (v.12)
What happens next is another incredibly puzzling and yet amazing event. One that contradicts everything that we can observe in day to day science. One that we take incredible cosmic powers to accomplish: the ability to manipulate gravity and the fortitude to hold giant rotating rocks in their exact place in the universe.
The sun stopped…and delayed going down about a full day. (v.13)
Think about that.
The sun doesn’t move.
Or rather – the earth stops rotating to allow day to continue.
III. What Now?
The author of Joshua – who wrote well after these events were finished wrote this in verse 14, “There has never been a day like that day before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a human being.” He literally did that incredible, amazing thing that Joshua asked of him.
And it was an awesome day. But how does that awesome day affect today for you?
(1) Be Confident in Your Savior
Because that’s the God that is on your side.
He sends his enemies into confusion.
He protects his people with hailstones.
He literally controls the solar system in order to save his people from their enemies.
And this wasn’t the only time.
Because…Do you know what happened 1500 some odd years later? God controlled the solar system again. It was midday and God blocked out the sun. There was pitch black darkness all over the land from Noon to 3 pm.
Around the time that Jesus was hanging on a cross.
Then, three days later – early in the morning – God put his hands around the sides of the earth. He lifted it up. He shook it. He shook it hard. He shook it hard until the stone that was sealing off Jesus’ tomb was rolled back.
And as the dust clears, he sends the devil into confusion.
He sends hailstones of his righteousness to crush our sins.
He raises his SON to STAND firm that day…and always.
Be confident in your Savior.
Be confident in his Victory.
(2) Be Bold
Because Joshua prayed a pretty bold prayer, wouldn’t you say?
He prayed for God to break the regular rules of time and space in order to keep the fight going.
But God listened.
Be bold in your prayers, too.
Pray for healing from your sickness.
Pray for help finding a job.
Pray for your marriage to be repaired.
Pray for full forgiveness from your Lord.
Prayer for peace with your heavenly Father.
Prayer God to take you home to heaven.
No matter the prayer – how big OR how small – prayer it to your incredible God!
Because God answers prayer.
God doesn’t answer halfheartedly.
God doesn’t answer a bit.
God doesn’t answer but act sometime next week.
God comes to fight.
In fact, that’s how this section of God’s Word ends: The LORD was fighting for Israel. (v.14b)
Here’s the truth -- The LORD not only fought for Israel.
The LORD is fighting for you.
Breathing is kind of important. Agreed?
(Who knew we’d all be on the same page within 10 seconds of the start to a sermon?)
Breathing is important, but …some breaths are more meaningful than others:
The deep breath as you ask your first crush on a date.
A gasp when your significant other gets down on one knee.
The final Lamaze breath as your child enters the world.
Your first breath as you enter the world.
But…what if I told you the most important breath of your lifetime didn’t even take place in your lifetime?
MAIN BIBLE PASSAGES:
Matthew 27:45, 50-55
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” 55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,[f] and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
I. The Most Important Exhale
It was Friday afternoon. Almost 2000 years ago. The people were doing one of the things they did for fun back then. No, they weren’t checking Instagram. No, they weren’t sampling their favorite sushi. No, they weren’t leaving work early to get on I—440 before it got hectic.
They were watching a crucifixion.
It was a larger commotion than normal. Three men were being executed. Two of them were fairly routine culprits — everyday thieves. But the third was of intrigue:
His name was Jesus. He was famous in the land of Israel. He had had quite a following and it was reported that he had done many miracles. And he wasn’t being killed for any of those. He was being crucified because he claimed to be the Son of God.
Now that is a strange claim, agreed? We’re getting used to strange claims though. Politicians make them all the time. “I’ll save you billions.” “You’ll never have to pay taxes again.” “I’ll fix America in a few months.”
But as outlandish as some of their claims are, I don’t think any of them have claimed to be the Son of God. If they did, we could go on Factchecker.com just to confirm, it ain’t true.
Here’s what’s interesting though – the fact surrounding Jesus seemed to point to the fact that it was true! He was reported as making the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear. He walked on water, stopped storms and changed water into wine. He healed the sick, drove out demons, and raised the dead.
Even his death had some strange, significant events surrounding it.
Around the 6th hour (which in Jewish time was about noon. 6 am was the first light and was therefore the first hour…making the 6th hour, 6 + 6 = 12 noon)…around the 6th hour darkness covered the earth. (Matthew 27:45) That word “darkness” there doesn’t refer to slightly overcast day. It’s a word used to describe the much thicker darkness of nighttime.
Nighttime darkness at noon? Strange.
Still the crucifixion continued as planned. In the darkness each one of the condemned slowly crept closer to death. Until in a loud voice, Jesus cried out “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then, he exhaled.
And His followers watched.
They held their breath.
Nothing. His chest didn’t move. His mouth made no sound. His breath didn’t return.
But then, something.
Matthew 27:51 says, “The Curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Notes on that curtain. (Cause if we don’t talk about it, it isn’t that impressive.) It wasn’t made from silk. It wasn’t made from Kleenex. It wasn’t made from those hippie beads that you can hang from the ceiling and tear in half with a wave of your hand. It was a long, woven veil. 60 feet long, 30 feet wide and 1 inch thick. It was heavy. In fact, it was so massive that it the Israelites used hundreds of priests to manipulate it. That’s not something that’s torn easily. Probably not torn without heavy machinery.
The fact that it was torn, completely half at the time of Jesus’ death? Strange.
But that’s not it. Matthew continues, “At that moment…the earth shook and the rocks split and the tombs broke open.” This wasn’t just a tremor. It was large enough on the Richter scale to split through large rocks that were used to mark the graves of the people. Also strange.
Now maybe if one of those three things happened the day Jesus died – the darkness at noon, the earthquake, or the curtain ripped in half, I’d say: It’s a coincidence. Even two? I can understand. Three…that might be pushing it, but not impossible.
But then a fourth thing happened that would be impossible if it happened all alone. Let alone in conjunction with the other things we have already mentioned. “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the city and appeared to many people.”
Pastor, you don’t believe that! That’s impossible! It could never happen. Dead people don’t come back to life. That would be a miracle!
Um…isn’t that the point?
And notice that these resurrected people appeared to many people. It wasn’t just one guy saying, “I think I saw Aunt Edna last night.” It was a whole city that awoke to unexplained sightings. It wasn’t just the crazy guy down on the corner of Fayetteville St. It was real, everyday, respectable people. They all had seen these incredible thing!
Understand what the Bible is. It’s a record of some fairly incredible things. True. But it was written down at the same time that the people who saw these things had lived. It was written down, shared, made public, and approved by hundreds of people who saw the very things that Matthew wrote down happened.
That means that these incredible things aren’t a myth.
They weren’t an accident.
They weren’t a coincidence.
They were signs.
And just like you can head to the mall after church and find signs everywhere that say, “Meet Easter Bunny Here!” “1/2 OFF Easter dresses there” “Egg Hunt POSTPONED." These incredible signs were telling the people that something incredible just happened. Today these incredible signs are telling you – when Jesus breathed his last – something incredible happened.
What incredible thing happened? Take a look at Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins,” “on behalf of our sins,” or "because of our sins.”
Why? Because...God hates sin.
Like drunk driving. Does drunk driving make you angry? If you’ve ever been affected by it or lost a loved one, I bet it does. In fact, that message has gotten out there enough that – I imagine almost all of us – Republicans and Democrats are Independents – are against drunk driving. Mothers can belong to a group dedicated to prosecuting offenders (MADD). Even Budweiser ran a Super Bowl ad against it. So…when someone is caught drunk driving – there is punishment. We get it. We are ok with punishing that sin because that sin makes us angry.
Get this: That sin makes God angry, too. Actually, all sin makes God angry. Not just big sins like murder, theft, and adultery, but smallers sins: like a grabbing a few dollars from your co-worker's wallet, taking a quick peek down the secretary’s shirt, or making a tiny racist remark about your friend from another culture.
God hates those things. He hates it because they hurt others. These things hurt his children.
So he prosecutes sin.
He threatens to punish all sinners.
If you’re a sinner, he threatens to punish you. If you don’t like to hear that, tough. God will not be stopped.
But if you’re hearing me, if you’re convicted, if you know your sin and you know you deserve punishment, hear this: God doesn’t want to punish you. He never did. That’s why he died.
He was delivered over to death for your sins. To save you from sin’s consequence!
Which is a nice thought. But, how do you we know this worked? He died. How do we know this whole thing isn’t just one big made up, pretend thing that we celebrate at Easter to make the day a little sweeter?
II. The Most Important Inhale
Enter the inhale.
Same week. Three days later. Early in the morning a group of women were on their way to the graveyard. They brought with them some spices and special herbs. Traditionally these were things they would use to honor their dead – kinda like grabbing a bouquet of flowers to take and place on Grandpa’s tomb.
And as the crisp morning air awakened their senses, the tears started flowing. They missed him. He was their dear friend. He had shown them love when no other man had. He had rescued them from dark places. He had given them hope…and a future.
When he died, that hope had been ripped away. It felt like her heart was gone. They had killed him. They had killed her hope.
But their sadness was interrupted.
2 There was a violent earthquake. And an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Have you seen pictures of these stones? Jesus had been buried in a standing tomb. It was a rich person's tomb. And rich people won’t be buried in the ground with a tiny little grave marker. No. They had these big, cut out of a cliff walk-in tombs – with enough space for a small dinner party – if you wanted to have a small dinner party in a tomb.
For a door? They would use giant rocks to withstand grave robbers. I don’t know the exact size and weight of these rocks. But…I think it’s safe to say that rocks the size of a door are pretty heavy. I could probably do about a dozen bicep curls with these. And it isn’t even close to door sized.
Tomb door rocks were so big that they needed to be moved in place by a soiree of heavy duty Roman soldiers. In fact, this was such a problem that the women were even discussing amongst themselves whether they had made a mistake in coming out there in the first place. Who was gonna move the stone? There were guards in front of the tomb, but were there enough?
Turns out…they didn’t need to worry. An angel moved it out of place like Arnold Schwarzenegger moving a pair of 2&1/2 pound ankle weights.
If the earthquake and opened tomb wasn’t enough to stir up some excitement, the angel did! 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. In other words – he was glowing. Long before the days of face paint and special effects. There isn’t a pyro guy off in the corner trying to trick the women. It isn’t David Copperfield using the illusion of the camera to throw the ladies off guard.
In fact, the women weren’t the only ones to see the angels. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The big, tough, I’ll get killed if I screw up my job, Roman guards – fainted!
5 The angel held up a hand. He calmed them. He spoke gently to them. “Don’t be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
Process that for a moment. Jesus – the guy who died in front of hundreds – whose death was confirmed by the Roman soldiers at the cross, the Roman soldiers who took him down, his followers who left with tears, his buriers who took his body, the Roman governor who allowed them to take his body, and the Roman soldiers who had closed the rock door over Jesus’ dead body – that Jesus – who had really died….
…was alive again.
And just in case the women didn’t believe the angel, he let them see it for themselves. Go ahead. Look! He’s gone. He should be here; he died. But he’s not here. Miraculous? Yes! Impossible? Not with God.
This brings us back to Romans 4. He was delivered over to death for our sins, but raised to life for our justification. Justification is a courtroom term. It’s the opposite of condemnation. If we are guilty we are condemned; if we are innocent, we are justified. Condemnation bad. Justification good.
Jesus’ resurrection is proof that we are justified! It was God’s almighty, Divine declaration about you and your life. Listen to it: Hear the rumbling of the earthquake, listen to the cracking of the rocks, and the shrieks of the guards and the voice of your LORD:
You are justified.
You have been declared innocent.
By faith in Jesus Christ, you are saved.
This is why the inhale is so important. If Jesus doesn’t take that breath in the grave on Easter Sunday morning, then you and I are still in our sins. Jesus’ death didn’t work. His promise of forgiveness didn’t mean a thing. You and I have to face God standing in the filthy, disgusting cesspool of all our awful sins.
In fact, 1 Corinthians 15:14 takes it a step farther. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” In other words, if Jesus doesn’t take that breath in that tomb, then the Christian faith, is one big useless, irrelevant, irreverent, cruel joke! And I’m a big old fool for teaching it to you.
But…if Christ does take that breath, if his lungs do move again, if blood starts to circulate in his veins and brain activity returns to his nervous system. Then…there is no moment more important.
That breath means you are forgiven.
That breath means you are at peace.
That breath means that all will be well.
That breath means that God did what he said he’d do.
That breath means that God was victorious.
That breath means that you are victorious.
That breath means that God rose from the dead.
That breath means that you will rise from the dead.
Treasure it. Celebrate it. Take a breath…breathe out with joy! Jesus has inhaled. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!
It came down to a coin flip.
Did you hear? People were so confused about who to vote in the Iowa caucus that certain districts decided their vote via coin flip. The same completely random device that decides whether I should have ham or turkey was used to decide who the next leader of the free world would be.
I can understand why they did this. The political landscape is confusing right now. It's confusing enough that people on the Democratic side voted within .1% of the lead candidates. On the Republican side, there is still a crowd of people left to vote for. The inundation of information has certainly fogged my brain. Vote for this guy because this. Don’t for this guy because this. Vote for this guy and you're this. Vote for that guy and you're that.
As confusing as the political landscape is, religion can seem just as confusing. The same inundation of information is readily available on the internet. Information that says Jesus is the Savior; next to websites that say Buddha spoke the truth; besides articles that say Allah is God; scoffed at in the comment section by a scientist who links to an article “proving” that the world evolved billions of years ago without any god at all.
They all seem like nice people.
They all make interesting points.
There plenty of people believing all of them.
How then do you cut through the confusion and get to a moment of clarity? How do you figure out what's right?
Listen to whichever answer makes you feel good?
Ask that know-it-all at work?
Close your eyes and point?
Or maybe now is where we flip the coin?
Today Jesus will help you out as we take a look at the final sermon in our series: Jesus’ First and only Transfiguration. His goal is to clear away the clutter and make it very clear to us who your Savior is.
I. The First Century Confusion
Check out Mark 9:28-36. That’s about halfway through the book of Mark (and about halfway through Jesus’ ministry). At the time, there was a hubbub surrounding Jesus. People came from far and wide to see him. They had heard of his miracles. They had heard of his wise teachings. They had even heard rumors that he might be the Messiah. Amazing if it were true, but blasphemy if it wasn’t.
People were confused --- Who was this Jesus?
Simon felt the same way. To be fair – he had a moment of clarity a few days ago. Jesus had asked all of them, “Who you think that I am?” Peter had tensed up. He had looked around to see who was listening. He had taken a deep breath.
“You are the Christ; the Son of the Living God!”
Jesus’ reply made him smile. “Blessed are you…This has been revealed to you by God!”
Peter was pretty proud. He had gotten it. Lots of other people didn’t get it, but he did. He was impressed with himself. The other disciples were impressed with him. Jesus was even so impressed with him – he had changed his name to Peter – which means “rock,” as in “That was a solid rock of a confession of truth.”
But then Jesus started talking about something strange. He mentioned that he would go to Jerusalem, be betrayed, arrested, falsely tried, sentenced to death, and crucified.
Peter was quick to speak up. “Never Lord! That’s a terrible idea. It won’t happen because I won’t let it.”
Peter stood there. Arms at his side. Anticipating the adulation of the Lord that was undoubtedly on his way. “Well done Peter. You’re so smart Peter. I’m going to change your name to Super Peter – Defender of All Things God."
But he didn’t get that nickname:
Get behind me Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of humans.
Peter sat down faster than he stood up. He stared at his sandals.
That was embarrassing. But it didn’t make any sense? If Jesus was the Messiah, why didn’t he want to ride into Jerusalem and conquer? Why wasn’t he building up an army of soldiers? Why did he did he want to go to Jerusalem and die? That was an awful plan for a Messiah to have.
Maybe…he wasn’t the Messiah.
II. The Transfiguration Cuts through Confusion
These kinds of thoughts had been swirling in his head for days. As he stood at the top of a mountain, he yawned – one of those three seconds yawns. Here’s something that wasn’t confusing. It had been a long journey to top. He was mentally exhausted and physically drained. Jesus was over saying a prayer.
Shutting his eyes for a few moments wasn’t a bad idea.
Then…a light. A bright light.
At first, it seemed like a part of some strange dream, but then his eyelids felt the unmistakable coolness of the evening air. He looked over at his disciples friends. Their eyes met his and they nodded in astonishment.
He was definitely awake.
The light wasn’t coming from a dream. It was coming from Jesus’ own face. It was bright – like the sun – like staring up to the sun on a morning day. He had to glance down and blink a few times.
When he looked up again, he noticed that Jesus' clothing was different too. It was a brilliant white. Not just any white. Peter had a white robe that was stained brown from the sand and had that fish guts stain on the back which his wife had scrubbed repeatedly to try and get it out. That was white–ish.
But the clothing on Jesus – it was whiter than white. It was whiter than the bleachiest, bleach white. It was whiter than humanly possible. It shined too. Like lightning.
Is that what had happened? Had Jesus been struck by lightning?
No. No, he was still standing. He was fine. In fact, he was talking to two others men. Peter listened carefully. Jesus called one “Moses” and the other “Elijah.” Peter looked at John and mouthed the words, “Are you serious?” These two were legends in the Jewish world.
Moses had been responsible for the first five books of the Bible. He had led the Israelites out of Egypt. God had split the Red Sea through Him and given the Ten Commandments to him.
Elijah had been a prophet of God during the time of rampant apostasy in Israel. He had opposed the false prophets of Baal in a fiery showdown. He had been fed by ravens. He raised the dead. He had heard the whisper of God with his own ears.
Elijah & Moses. Before his very eyes. It was amazing. It was incredible. It was…impossible.
Moses and Elijah had both been dead for thousands of years.
But as he watched their conversation unfold before his very eyes and as his two friends witnessed the same things besides him (and as he confirmed that electricity with the power to pull off such a swoon wouldn’t be invented for another 1800 years), Peter realized something.
This was real. It was real… real. It was real and it was one of the most incredible things He had ever seen in his life. His faith was surging. “Lord!” he shouted, “It is good for us to be here. Let me set up three shelters. One for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
As his words hung in the air, they were enveloped by a cloud. A thick cloud. A cloud that covered up Jesus. A cloud that covered up Moses and Elijah. A cloud that covered up Peter himself.
Then…he heard a voice. A booming voice. “This is my Son; whom I love. Listen to Him.”
With that, the cloud subsided. Moses was gone. Elijah was gone. The blinding light was gone. Only Jesus remained.
But something was different. While Jesus had changed back, something had changed within Peter. He could see clearly – not just because there was no longer any cloud or blinding light. Peter could see clearly that Jesus was the Messiah.
Do you remember your first Transfiguration?
Does your mom tell you, “Honey, you’re face was so cute. It was shining just like the sun.” Does your Grandpa hike up his shorts and say, “I remember the booming voice of God just like it was yesterday.” Do you have a few photographs that are nothing more than a brilliant white light with the faintest trace of your facial outline? (At least, you think).
Probably not. I don’t remember my first Transfiguration because I didn’t have a Transfiguration. You don’t remember your Transfiguration because you didn’t have a Transfiguration.
Neither did Buddha. Neither did Joseph Smith. Neither did Mohammed. Neither did Charles Darwin.
Jesus’ Transfiguration is one of a kind. It proves that He is one of a kind. It makes it clear that He is the Savior.
Jesus said this, “Believe me when I say that I in the Father and the Father is in me; at least believe me based on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” Transfiguration fits right up there at the top! A brilliant shining face? Whiter than white clothes? Talking to two guys who have been in heaven for thousands of years?
Do you remember the Spin Doctors? They sang the song, "One, two, princes kneel before you. That's what I said, now, Princes, Princes who adore you." Do you remember them? No? I once met their bass guitarist and their roadie. That’s the extent of famous people I’ve met.
Jesus is rubbing shoulders with Moses and Elijah! Years after they were dead. This is incredible! Then, the voice. The booming voice of God Almighty. A voice that had been heard before --- in the Garden of Eden – “I will send someone to crush the devil’s head;” – on Mt. Sinai – “Here are commands, if you break them you will need a Savior.” – at Jesus’ Baptism – “Here is that Savior. It’s my Son. Jesus.”
Listen to God.
Your Savior is Jesus!
Forgiveness comes from Jesus.
Heaven comes from Jesus.
There is no one else. Only him. PERIOD.
III. A Clear Directive
Listen to God and listen to his clear directive at the end. “Listen to Him.”
There is a lot of application here. There are a lot of questions in the world that have a lot of different answers depending on who it is you talk to:
Is homosexuality a sin?
Should I live with my boyfriend before marriage?
Should I really be giving money to the church?
Should I even be going to church?
Is salvation really by grace or should I get to work on doing good things?
What are good things?
Is every religion really just the same religion which all end up leading to heaven anyways!?!
When you’re looking for the answer, it doesn’t have to be confusing! Don’t listen to Facebook. Don’t listen to Twitter. Don’t listen to Instagram, Wikipedia, or your College professor with his fancy, hipster goatee.
Listen to Jesus.
It doesn’t have to be confusing! It can become confusing when we make it confusing. We do that when, like Peter, we don’t like the answer.
Think about it. He had already identified Jesus as the Messiah prior to the Transfiguration. But it was after He called Jesus the Messiah that he turned around and told his confessed Messiah that his plan – to die on the cross – was foolish! He didn’t like it so he wasn’t going to listen to him.
But on the mountain – it was abundantly clear that Jesus was the Messiah – he, Peter, was not. He needed to listen to Jesus, not the other way around.
Can I tell you something? Jesus is smarter than you. Please don’t be hurt by that. (He’s smarter than me too.) I’m not just talking about Math facts and science facts. I’m not just talking about Jeopardy trivia either. (Although I’m sure Jesus would be buzzing in answers before Alex Trebek even asked the questions.)
Jesus is smarter than you when it comes to what’s bad for you. He’s smarter when it comes to what’s good for you. He says sin is bad for you. He, your Savior, is good for you.
Listen to Him.
AND THANK GOD that Jesus didn't listen to Peter. If he would have, we would still be in our sins. (Even as believers.) We would be destined for eternal damnation in hell. Our lives would be one fatalistic train ticket to destruction.
But Jesus didn't listen. He went to Jerusalem. He held out his hands to be arrested. He listened to his death sentence. He waited as nails were driven into his hands. He died.
He died and completed God's perfect Messiah plan for salvation. He saved you from sin. He saved you from from death. He saved you from the devil.
LISTEN TO HIM!
But that wasn’t it. Jesus didn’t stop there. He went to the next phase in the plan. The phase that Peter had totally ignored when he rebuked Jesus. Take a look at it:
On the third Day, I will rise again from the dead.
Yeah, I’m listening to that guy.
BOTTOM LINE: Don’t let your eternity come down to a coin flip. God has made a clear to you. Jesus is the Way. Jesus is the Truth. Jesus is the Life.
Listen to Him. Listen to your Messiah. Amen.