Fearless: Jesus’ Forgiving Love

All of us live on a continuum somewhere between fear and faith. Even as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead never to die again, we often struggle to understand what that resurrection power has to do with me. How can it help me cope with fears that threaten to paralyze me or imprison me from real joy in my life? God doesn’t want us to live in fear. He tells us in II Timothy 1:7, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.”

The story of the four friends who bring the paralyzed man to Jesus on a mat is a crazy and inspiring story of friendship and love. It is also a story of Jesus’ love in response to the needs of this man. Jesus is in a home sharing the Word of God. The home is so crowded with people who want to hear what He has to say that the paralytic man’s friends can’t even get in. So they take him up on the roof, tear a hole in it, and bungee him down on his mat, right in front of Jesus. You can almost imagine Jesus smiling as He commends them for their great faith.

In that moment, we would expect Jesus to say, “Rise up! Go register for a marathon,” “Get up and dance for joy,” or “Walk into whatever you want to do in your life, because you’re healed!” But Jesus does not say that. Instead He says to the man, “Take courage, son. Your sins are forgiven you.”

Immediately the religious leaders accuse Jesus of blasphemy. They question His authority to speak the forgiveness of sins, for it is God’s task only. Of course, that is just the point – Jesus is God, and He does have the authority to forgive sin.

Jesus says to them, “Does the Son of Man have the authority to forgive sin? Which is easier to say: ‘Rise up and walk,’ or ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ So you may know that the Son of Man (Jesus) has authority to forgive sins, I say to you, ‘Rise up and walk.’” Then the paralyzed man gets up and walks away to whatever his new life would be.

The beautiful truth is that Jesus’ words of forgiveness are the same words He speaks to you and me. Wherever we are, wherever we’ve journeyed, whatever we’ve done, Jesus comes to us and speaks the same words – Take courage. Don’t be afraid. I forgive your sins. He has the power not only to do miraculous things, but also to forgive us. He validated that power on the cross where He said the same words, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” Jesus then was raised from the dead never to die again so the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to everyone in His name.

Jesus was addressing the paralyzed man’s deepest problem –- his sin and alienation from the Creator God who made him. The world’s brokenness, illness, alienation, relational struggles, self-absorbed lifestyle, are all rooted in sin. Humanity – all of us – live not just in brokenness, but also in an estranged state from the God who gave us life. When we encounter Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and come to understand that He is our Savior who forgives our sins, then we are given power in His name to believe that we are graced, forgiven, and no longer defined by our failures. We are now forgiven believers in Jesus.

I don’t know what your journey of life is for you. I don’t know what your past might be, but I know that when Jesus says to you, “Take courage; your sins are forgiven you,” you are defined in your identity as a faithful, forgiven, follower of Jesus. You become Abba’s child, a child of your heavenly Father. You are unconditionally loved by Him, and in faith you can embrace your new identity. You are no longer defined by your failures, or your immorality, or your regrets. Your identity is a loved and forgiven child of God. You can believe that!

It is this profound truth that allows all of us to hear Jesus say, Rise up! Rise up out of your old patterns of life that might be destructive or far from the intended abundant life God desires for each of us as His children. Rise up and walk in newness of life.

I love the phrase, “Take courage.” What is it that allows the resurrected Jesus to so lay hold of our lives in His power that we lose all fear and become courageous in our faith and the way that we approach life? I believe it is our faith that understands we belong to Jesus. It is also the power of His Holy Spirit who dwells within us and beckons us to rise up out of destructive paths that do not give us life or bless others. Jesus asks us, Don’t you want something better? Rise up and embrace the life I have for you! Come walk with me, child, and I will give you new life.

I think of how the same word was spoken by God to Joshua when God asked him to be the leader of God’s people and take them into the promised land. Joshua, grieving the death of his mentor, Moses, and was overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy. God was now asking Joshua to embrace the destiny of the Godhead for him and his people. But God told him, Don’t be afraid. Be of good courage. Be strong and courageous for I will be with you wherever you go.

King David, in many of his songs, wrote words like this: Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord.

So when we know and believe that God is for us – not against us – fear melts away and is replaced with faith, with peace, and with courage. Our sins no longer create a barrier between us and the God who loves us. In fact, He sees us as people who belong to Him, and He wants to use our lives for His purposes.

I love a story that Brennan Manning tells in his book Ragamuffin Gospel. It tells about how, when Easter is celebrated in France, one phrase is found in the words of saints and sinners. It is spray-painted on buses and on buildings, proclaimed in alleys and cathedrals. It is, “L’amour de Dieuest foli,” meaning the love of God is foolishness, folly. As they remember Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, dying on the cross outside Jerusalem’s gates, they celebrate His victory over sin, death and the devil. And thus they shout, “The love of God is foolishness,” What kind of God speaks forgiving love to rebel people who run away from Him and live out of sync with Him? That is the heart of our heavenly Father. The love of God is foolish.

G. K. Chesterton, a great theologian and author, spoke of the intensity of God’s desire to have a relationship with us. He called it “the furious love of God.” That is the reason Jesus addressed the paralyzed man’s greatest problem before He healed him.

You don’t have to be afraid of God. You don’t have to wonder if God is disappointed in you, or if He’s lost patience with your repeated mistakes or regrets. Your sins are forgiven, son. Take courage.

Francis Chan, in his wildly popular writing debut in a book he entitled “Crazy Love” spoke about that same thing. “God’s crazy about you. He loves you, and He wants for you to put your faith in Jesus Christ and begin to live in His love and share a relationship with Him.”

I love the passage in Ephesians 3:16-19 where Paul writes, “I pray that you, being rooted and deeply established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, that you may know the Christ who loves you in a way that surpasses knowledge so that you may be filled up with all the fullness of God.”

Jesus comes to you again today, calls you by name, and asks you to be His. You see, when He forgives us, it’s not as if we stand before a judge who says, Well, the sentence of condemnation has been removed from you, but get out of here. I never want to see you again! Quite the opposite. In the name of Jesus, God says, “Your sins are forgiven. You are My son. You are My daughter.” He calls you by name so you would come to Him and allow His arms of love to embrace you, and, in faith, you can embrace your identity as a forgiven child of God.

Have you ever heard God call your name? He does love you, and He wants to live within you. On that first Easter, even though the disciples had seen the empty tomb and heard the angels tell them that Jesus was raised from the dead, they were still behind locked doors paralyzed by their failure, by their denial of Jesus, and by their desertion of Him. But Jesus came right through those locked doors to find His disciples trapped in their fear. He said to them, “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” Then He breathed on them and encouraged them to be receptive to His Spirit coming into them. Such was the close intimacy and level of dependence between the disciples and Jesus. When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” He not only wants to absolve you of your guilt, He also calls you by name. You are in a relationship in His love.

Finally, Jesus wants to fill you with His Holy Spirit and restore you to your mission. Then, full of His Spirit and free from your fear, you can live each day of your life sharing the forgiving love of Jesus and shining with the light of His love to everyone you meet.

May you this day believe the promise that, in Jesus’ name, your sins are forgiven. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg

Fearless: About the Future

I’ve discovered late-night news is a poor sedative. Some scary stuff is happening in our world, which can actually keep one awake at night. As we look at the news, we see terrorism; Isis; executions of innocent people right on the screen; nuclear warheads in North Korea; threats of biochemical warfare; ongoing, never-ending fighting in the Mideast and Afghanistan; global calamities; global warming; famine; and sickness. Some days it seems like things are only getting worse. Have you ever thought this yourself?

I actually believe every generation has probably felt this way. For instance, we are horrified that our kids in schools today have lock-down drills in case someone comes in with a gun. When I was a child, it was the Cold War. We had bomb drills during which we’d hide under our desks in order to avoid radioactive fallout in case of an atomic bomb. It was a bit unsettling for a little kid. The Cold War was unsettling for all of us.

The news can set a person on edge making them feel a little uneasy and fearful about threats of the world and the future of it. The interesting thing is though, Jesus tells us not to be surprised by this. Let me explain.

In today’s text, the disciples are with Jesus. In Matthew chapters 21, 22, and 23, He had been teaching in the Temple. When we get to chapter 24, Jesus is finished teaching and leaves the Temple. As they leave, the disciples admire the Temple’s beauty. The stones were an impressive 24 feet long at places! How did the builders move those things into place? The disciples thought it looked so beautiful, so permanent.

But Jesus tells them the stones won’t be standing around for very long. They would all be coming down. (Seventy years late, the Temple was in ruins.) The disciples were taken aback by this, I’m sure. It would be like you and me standing in front of the White House and hearing someone say, Well, it’s beautiful but before long it is going to be gone. A statement like this would make you curious. That is how it hit the disciples.

Later that day, the disciples are up on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem with Jesus. They sit down and say, “Lord, tell us when this will happen. What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus then goes into this prophetic mode and begins to describe some troubling, difficult times that will happen in the interim between then and the end of world history. False teachers will teach heresy to distract you and lead many astray. Beware of them. Be ready for them. Know your answers so they cannot confuse you. There will be wars and rumors of war. Nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom. In other words, we’re never going to see peace this side of heaven.

Jesus also points out global calamities, famines and earthquakes – all sorts of horrible things will occur. It will be a time of great pain, like labor pains. People will look for a scapegoat when these times arise. Needing someone to blame, they’ll point their fingers at Christians, followers of Jesus. They will blame you, persecute you, question you.

We hear these statements today even. If these religions weren’t so strong in their beliefs, there wouldn’t be wars, some people reason. If those Christians were just not so narrowminded and exclusive, if they just would back down a little bit in their beliefs, the world would be a better place!

We have professors in colleges teaching our young people that faith is a bunch of craziness they should not believe in anymore. Jesus tells us when this happens, people will begin falling away from the faith, walking away from the church, denying Jesus himself, and lawlessness will ensue as the commandments of God are not followed. People won’t know the Ten Commandments, which will lead to love going cold in many people. Love toward God and love toward other people will die because everyone will look out simply for themselves to survive.

Now I know some prognosticators say we are in the end times now. Perhaps they are correct. But practically every generation since the time of Christ has been trying to read those signs and believe it is the end times. Jesus is not giving us a timeline. He told the disciples, “Not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son knows, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36).

I like what Michael Green, a biblical scholar, has written in regard to this text. He says, “The purpose of this prophecy is not to give us history written in the future tense, but, like film previews and hazard warning lights on the motorway, lift our hearts in expectation or in warning.” Jesus is giving us a taste of reality. He is telling those disciples – you and me as well – life will be difficult, even terrifying at times, because we live in a broken world, and these things happen.

Jesus also attaches a challenge to this taste of reality. “See to it that you’re not alarmed by these things.” See to it literally means to be resolved. Make up your mind. Be ready. Then, when these things happen, you will not be alarmed by them. The word “alarmed” literally means freaked out, wailing, crying aloud, panicked. When everybody else is going into a panic, not my followers, Jesus says. Be ready!

We need to be very sturdy in our own belief. How do we stay sturdy and strong in it? We reinforce our faith life with daily Bible readings and classes. We get into Bible study groups with other Christians. We have regular worship. We need to see the big picture again and again in the worship services. We need earnest communion with God in prayer because “Courage is fear that has said its prayers,” as someone once said.

Jesus goes on to say, I expect you to endure. Hold on. Keep your nerve. Stay faithful to me and to the gospel. Be a witness for the cause of the kingdom of God.

When I see the word “endure,” I always think of the last stretch of a marathon I ran years ago. People were dropping off right and left as we hit the final hill before the finish line. Those last three miles were like hitting a wall, and you had to make up your mind to endure. You plan for it. You’re ready, and you’re going to make it to the finish line.

Jesus says, Endure to the end. Stand firm in this faith. Don’t give up or give in, even when it seems everyone else is deserting. Don’t be fooled by crazy, counterfeit teachers. You know your doctrine. You know the Word of God. Be a student of it.

Did you notice that along with these orders, Jesus also offers promises for us to hang onto. He points to the ultimate victory – Those who endure to the end will be saved.

Did you catch it? “Those who endure to the end will be saved.” He gives us a picture of the ultimate victory, which can actually give us ultimate courage in terrifying times. Have you ever heard this statement: Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present. Jesus seems to be speaking to this. He gives us faith in the future. There is an end. We see the big picture in the statement, the whole campaign. Those who endure to the end will be saved. History is not “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” as Shakespeare has said. It is headed toward an end – God’s end. History is His story.

Adm. James Stockdale was a POW for eight years in the Vietnam War. Many years ago, he was asked by author James Collins how in the world he survived this experience. Adm. Stockdale replied, “I never lost faith in the end of the story.”

There you have it! Jesus tells us not to lose faith in the end of the story. He gives us a picture of the end.

I love this little story I heard years ago about some kids playing baseball out on a ballfield. A guy comes walking by, stops at the right-field fence, and sees the game going on. He yells at the right fielder, “Who’s winning?”
The boy answers, “They are.”
“What’s the score?”
“Eighteen to nothing.”
“It doesn’t look too good for you,” says the guy.
The little boy smiles and says, “Ah, we just haven’t been up to bat yet.”

This is the big picture. Jesus is saying God is the home team. It may appear like it’s eighteen to nothing, it’s out of control and evil is winning, but God is in control.

Did you notice here that Jesus used the word, “must”? “These things must happen . . .” It is a curious word. Jesus used it when He talked about the Son of Man as He predicted His death and resurrection. Three times He told His disciples the Son of Man must go up to Jerusalem. He must be rejected, He must suffer and die, and on the third day rise again. It is a divine “must,” a divine necessity. Jesus seems to be implying a divine control is involved – God is in control.

All these things must happen. He describes the calamities as birth pains. (I love the picture here.) Women who have gone through labor know the misery of this experience. But what comes at the end? A new birth! We know a new heaven and a new earth awaits us.

Jesus then goes on to say, Though it looks like evil is winning, know this: the gospel will be spread to the ends of the earth. God’s purposes will not be thwarted. In the end, God’s will is done – like the prayer: “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” “In this world,” Jesus says, “you will have tribulation. Fear not, I have overcome the world.” God’s will will be done.

What are the grounds for us to hope in these promises of Jesus? It is basically this: the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We see the pledge of the final triumph in the risen Christ. In movie terminology – this is a trailer for the main film. I may not know the future, but, because of the resurrection, I know the One who holds my future.

Yes, life can be ominous, appear out-of-control and terrifying. But Jesus says, Don’t be alarmed. Don’t freak out. Trust God. Stand strong for me.

I know a song I love to sing to myself now and then when it looks like things aren’t looking good. It goes like this:

♪ I know not what the future holds.
Lord, I have no way of knowing.
But I know the One who holds my future.
so I have no fear of where I’m going. ♬

This is the song Jesus wants to put into your heart as you watch the late night news. Amen.

Fearless: You Matter

Have you ever felt invisible in a crowd? Have you ever felt like no one notices you, or maybe you don’t matter? You are not unusual if that’s happened to you.

Meet Brian in the children’s book, The Invisible Boy. Brian is a little boy at elementary school. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their groups or their games on the playground or invite him to their birthday parties. He just sits alone at his desk, unnoticed. He’s invisible.

Skyler, a young lady who wrote a song that was on the radio a few years ago, described herself as being invisible.

“I take these pills to make me thin.
I dye my hair and cut my skin.
I try everything to make them see me
but all they see is someone that’s not me.
Even when I’m walking on a wire;
Even when I set myself on fire.
Why do I always feel invisible?
Even when I try to look my best,
even though inside I’m such a mess.
Why do I always feel invisible?”

Meet Natalie Brown, a blogger, who describes feeling invisible. “Feeling invisible – it’s that pain when no one understands you. When you need to talk to someone, or you need a giant hug, but you feel left alone. Invisible – it’s when you ask for help, but no one listens. Invisible – it’s feeling totally alone, even when surrounded by people.”

Tamra, a therapist, writes, “I first heard about this a few years ago at a cocktail party. A friend in her late 60s was lamenting about not being taken seriously at her workplace. She humorously remarked, ‘No one in the world sees me anymore because I’m an older woman!’ I then began to hear more of my older patients describe this experience of feeling invisible. And then it happened to me! I realized that when I walk down the street, younger people simply don’t see me. It was as if I actually disappeared from the sight of people in my neighborhood who are much younger than me.”

No one – no one – likes to feel invisible, like they don’t matter and are insignificant. Yet, the world sometimes has a way of making us feel this way, as we feel ignored, overlooked, unnoticed, or forgotten. When it happens, we experience the fear that perhaps our life doesn’t count. Maybe I am insignificant.

Over the ages, people have tried a variety of ways to overcome this feeling. Some use name dropping. If I just drop a few well-known names of people that I claim to know, people might look up to me.

The fashion world takes advantage of our need to be noticed. Just wear a particular set of jeans with their name on the back pocket, and people will notice you.

Some people try to hook their wagon onto someone else’s rising star. Hang tight with the “in” group at school, for instance – the people whom everybody seems to notice.

We can become driven for success in our work so others will recognize the value in us. I’ve heard teachers talk of kids who act destructively in the classroom. It’s like they don’t get enough attention so they seek even negative attention. They put others down and gossip about others, thus making them feel better about themselves.

We pretend to be busier than we really are. We want other people to notice and say, “Oh my! You are so busy! You must really be important!”

A lot of us are using social media today. I believe a lot of the blogs, Facebook postings – even twittering – are happening because people want to be noticed. They’re not getting face-to-face attention, so they use the Internet. As people respond to them, pay attention to them, become their “friend,” and communicate with them, they feel validated that they do matter and their life counts.

What an awful way to live your one and only life – being fearful that you don’t matter. Struggling with all your power and might to get people to notice you a little more.

Well, Jesus has a word for us today as He offers some insights to His disciples in Luke’s Gospel. He had been confronting the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, telling them, You don’t care about people. All you care about is looking good, appearing religious, getting the best seats in the synagogue, the best places in public, and having people look up to you. You are playing for the applause of the crowds by trying to look important.

And so, when Jesus begins this text, He says, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.” The ancient Jews used the word “yeast” to mean evil. “Beware of the evil of the Pharisees . . .” They were playing a role in order to get people to look up to them and treat them as important. Jesus is telling us not to be like them. The day is coming when their hypocrisy will be exposed. “Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.”

Jesus tells us, Don’t fear people. Don’t play for the crowd. Instead, fear the One who can take your life and cast your soul into hell. Jesus is talking about God, our heavenly Father. He is the One who matters the most, for He holds your eternal destiny in His hands.

Perhaps you’ve heard of this verse from the Old Testament, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). What does it mean to live in the fear the Lord? I thought a couple snapshots might help us understand its meaning.

A young fellow in my Bible study group said something that was helpful to me. He said, “I think of my relationship with my earthly father. I knew he loved me. I knew he cared for me, and I trusted him. But I also feared him in a very healthy way. He was the authority in my life, and I obeyed him. I submitted to his wishes.”

Someone else writes about the fear of the Lord. “I used to think that living in the fear the Lord was like driving down the street while watching the policeman in your rearview mirror. Actually a better picture of the fear of the Lord is a teenage driver who suddenly spots her father’s car in her rearview mirror. Seeing him back there puts her on notice to be on her best behavior – use the blinkers, stop at the red light, and keep both hands on the wheel.

“But it also tells her that her father cares enough to follow her. It tells her that she’s safe. Her father is not trying to trap her or trick her. He’s trying to help her develop good habits – to not just be careful on this trip but to obey all the laws and stay safe until she gets home. She is driving on her own but not completely on her own.”

And so it is for the people of God. The fear of the Lord means we live life with our heavenly Father always in our rearview mirror. We glance up and not only see His brilliant holiness, but also His love and His care. Our response – the fear the Lord – is a mixture of reverence, trust, and love. To live fearing God, then, means to live with Him, as Martin Luther says, “. . . with love, trust, and obedience above all things.” It means to submit to Him.

God doesn’t want to be a partner in your life; He wants to take over. His good pleasure (living in the fear of the Lord) is your bottom line. Jesus tells us to play for an audience of one – the One who matters most, the One who holds your eternal destiny in His hands.

Then Jesus tells us what this One thinks about you. He uses his “how-much-more argument” with His disciples. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies . . .” In other words, they are not worth much. “. . . yet not one of them is forgotten by your heavenly Father. Even the hairs on your head are numbered.” If God cares so much about these things that seem so insignificant to us, and not one of them is forgotten, how much more does He care for you?

Then Jesus finishes by saying, “Fear not! You are of more value than many sparrows!” In God’s eyes, my dear friends, YOU MATTER. You are valued.

When I was teaching confirmation years ago, I had the kids memorize this statement: “I am an important and precious individual in the eyes of God.” Jesus makes a statement something like that when He says, “Fear not, you are of more value than many sparrows.”

It is because Jesus knew His Scripture, didn’t He? Look at Genesis 1:26 where we read we are created in the image of God. You are created in the image of God, my dear friend. You have a mind with which to think, a will to make decisions, and a soul with which you will spend eternity with Him in heaven. No other part of God’s creation can make that claim. You are valuable and important in His sight. You are the crown of His creation. He knows you. Psalm 139 says you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Second, Jesus knew He was going to die on the cross for you. In Romans 5:8, Paul looks back on the cross and says God loves us so much, He gave His Son to die for us while we were still sinners. He made a costly payment to make us His own. Jesus did not die on the cross for a sparrow, or for a whale, or for anything else in all creation. He died on the cross for you that you might be His own.

Finally, the Apostle Paul, looking at his life now as a follower of Jesus, writes in Ephesians 2:10 to other believers in Christ, “You are God’s masterpiece, his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared for you to do beforehand.” In other words, you are on call. You have been made a member of the team. You have a calling to stand up for Jesus Christ, serve Him and His cause in this world. You are a masterpiece in His sight.

Dear friend, isn’t that something! Say it with me –

I am an important and precious individual in the eyes of God.

Glory in that!

So, what will I do with this? Jesus calls us to claim it, trust it, and build your life upon it. You matter to the One – our heavenly Father – who matters most. He knows you; He notices you; He sees you. He knows your every thought. He cares about you. He gave His Son to die for you. He has a plan for your life. You are His masterpiece.

One Sunday I had my congregation take a card home. It said “Fear not! You are of more value than many sparrows.” Then it listed the Bible verses I just shared with you. I told the congregation to tape the card on their mirror so it is the first thing they see every morning.

Finally, the context of this passage tells us to live our life for an audience of one – for His good pleasure.

A young violinist was known to be an excellent, musician but wouldn’t hold public concerts because of stage fright. Finally the critics talked him into performing, and he put on one whale of a concert. However, as the crowd stood and applauded, it was like he didn’t hear them. Instead he simply looked out into the audience. Finally his eyes rested on someone or something, and he acknowledged the audience.

When he was asked backstage why it took him so long to respond, the violinist said, “I had heard that my master teacher attended this concert. I was looking for him. I wanted to see what he thought. When I saw him standing and smiling and applauding, then I knew he was pleased and everything was okay.”

That is how Jesus calls us to live the rest of our lives: knowing the Master is the only One who really matters. We play for an audience of One.

My friend, you are not insignificant but valuable in your heavenly Father’s sight. Play out your life for Him. Amen.

Fearless: Why Are You Afraid?

We all could use a shot of courage now and then, for life has its scary, overwhelming moments making it difficult to be brave. The world is full of fears.

We have many kinds of fear – fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of finishing last, fear of going broke, fear of getting cancer, fear of getting older, fear of losing our health. As a child, I was afraid of the dark. According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. One comedian said in regard to the fear of death, “Does this sound right to you? This means the average person at a funeral is more comfortable lying in the casket than giving the eulogy!” It’s humorous, but it’s fear.

Fear holds many people captive – followers of Jesus as well as nonfollowers of Jesus. Fear offers no life to us whatsoever. Instead it sucks the joy right out of living. I’m sure you’ve never heard the statement, My phobias put such a spring in my step! My doctor says if I don’t begin fretting, I’ll lose my health. No. We know better.

Fear can paralyze a person. It can make us unwilling to step out and live adventurously. Think of the high cost of fear when we are paralyzed by it. Bill Hybels in his book, “Simplify It,” talks of a destructive fear, the kind that tricks us into believing beyond what is reasonable. The world is an ominous and dangerous place, and we’re paralyzed.

Hybels writes, “History is filled with men and women who said ‘no’ to this kind of fear and changed the world, but imagine if they’d given into the paralyzing effects of fear on their lives. Imagine the Apostle Paul fearing resistance or rejection, choosing to stay home rather than embarking on the missionary journeys that took the message of Christ throughout the known world. Imagine Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. giving speeches filled with gentle hints about the evils of segregation because he feared pushing too hard. Imagine Rosa Parks, during the same era in American history, submitting to the bus driver’s command to give up her seat to a white person. Imagine Nelson Mandela looking the other way when he witnessed and experienced Apartheid in South Africa because he didn’t want make a fuss. . .

“And imagine yourself, fully aware of the mission and vision God has placed in your heart to advance His kingdom in this world, yet held hostage to fears, irrational worries, phobias about failure, harm, and rejection. If you don’t fulfill the mission God assigned to you, who will?”

Did you know there 125 Christ-issued imperatives in the Gospels? Somebody actually has counted them! Twenty-one of them are to not be afraid or to not fear. They say ‘have courage,’ ‘take heart,’ ‘be of good cheer,’ ‘don’t be alarmed.’ Hearing this, do you get the feeling that Jesus Christ didn’t want His followers being captive to fear? Even though fear may fill our world, it doesn’t have to fill our hearts.

We’re going to take a few weeks to look at some of these passages where Jesus tells us not to fear so we might become more fearless. Our story for today is a classic. Jesus ordered the disciples to get in the boat with Him and go across the Sea of Galilee.

It’s important for us to know that the Jewish folks were basically landlubbers at heart. They left the seafaring business basically to the Phoenicians and the Egyptians. They saw the sea as a dangerous and ominous place. Yes, some were fishermen, like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, but as a whole they were not crazy about going out on the water. I am sure, as the disciples got into the boat, at least some of them must have had a bit of hesitation.

As they went out into the lake, a storm suddenly came up in the midst of their trip. The word used for the windstorm in the story is, “seismo.” It is the word from which we get “seismograph,” which is a device to measure earthquakes. This was a huge storm. There’s a whole lot of shaking was going on.

(A little reminder for those of us reading this story: Jesus does not promise smooth sailing all the time.)

As the disciples are paddling and bailing water that’s swamping the boat, they are on the verge of giving up. But then they find Jesus asleep in the back of the boat. Some people (scholars for instance) will say we see the humanity of Jesus here. He was tired after a long day of preaching. I know that feeling. After a morning of preaching, I like to go home and take a nap. But is that really why Jesus was sleeping, or is there another reason. Perhaps He was sleeping in the midst of the storm because He had complete confidence that God was in control. He knew His hour, for which God sent Him into this world, had not yet come. So while the disciples are screaming, Jesus is dreaming. While the thunder is roaring, Jesus is snoring. They wake Him up. Lord, Save us! We are perishing! Grab a can and start bailing, Jesus. We’re as good as dead.

When you stop and think about it, Jesus has a very interesting response to the disciples. He doesn’t jump right up and stop the storm. First He gives them a quick little lecture in which He chides them for their cowardice. “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” He is getting after them for their small faith. He’s not talking quantity here; He’s talking quality. They had a baby faith, and it was manifested as a crisis of trust in the midst of the storm.

Think about this. These disciples had already seen some amazing things Jesus was capable of doing – healing the sick, feeding people, casting out demons, even bringing a little girl back to life. They seemed to have forgotten all these things.

It’s funny how fear can create spiritual amnesia in us. We forget what our Savior is capable of. Think of it: If He truly is the Messiah as they believed, would God allow His Messiah to drown in the sea before His purpose was accomplished? In Matthew six, Jesus taught them about a heavenly Father who loves them, who knows their needs. We heard Jesus say, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt. 6:26).

I once heard someone remark about this story: The disciples had faith in Jesus but not the faith of Jesus in His heavenly Father. Jesus knew this sea in which they were experiencing the storm was but a puddle in His Father’s hands.

After the quick lecture (for which I’m sure the disciples were grateful it was short), Jesus stood up in the boat and rebuked the sea, and it became calm immediately. Note the word “rebuked.” It’s the word Jesus used when doing battle with evil. He rebuked Peter when he tried to stop Jesus from going to the cross: “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus rebuked the demons that cried out to Him. Perhaps we are getting a bit of an image here about the spiritual battle that is taking place. It is an attack on Jesus Christ to snuff Him out before He gets to the cross. The power of Jesus overwhelms the storm, and it becomes calm.

The end of the story is basically the climax. The disciples think, “Who is this who has such authority even over the power of nature?”

When you think about it friends, “Who is this Jesus?” is the ultimate question. Who is this Jesus? It’s a faith question. Jesus is setting faith over against fear in this episode as He chides the disciples for their little faith.

Who is Jesus in your life? This is a question for you. How do you regard Jesus? It is all very well to say in church or in our private devotion that He is the Son of God, the Lord, the Messiah, or whatever. But do you actually view Him and treat Him as if He has authority over every aspect of your life and your world? What if faith – not fear – was your default reaction to the threats and challenges in your life? This is what Jesus is encouraging in this story. Trust me. Trust my power. Trust God’s goodness and His care for you. Trust. Have faith.

In this world filled with storms and challenges, how do we grow as followers of Jesus, with a fearless faith?

First, we need to keep walking with Jesus and learning from Him along the way. The disciples didn’t jump out of the boat when they hit the other shore and run back home. They stayed with Jesus and heard Him speak to some of their fears. They heard Him talk again and again about the various fears in life. He showed them His greatness and the power of God, and He showed them His wisdom. They began to grow in their faith and learn to trust Him.
This is what we are going to talk about for these next few weeks. We want to spend some time with Jesus and let Him speak to us in some Gospel stories. Keep tuning in and listening.

I encourage you to also be in the Word daily. (The disciples lived with Him daily.) Read a chapter a day of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John everyday. Live with Him! Let Him show you who He is, how smart He is, how strong He is, and how faithful He is so you can learn to trust Him and stand on His promises – even during the toughest times.

Second, we need to pray. That’s novel, isn’t it? Peter, in one of his letters, tells us to “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (I Peter 5:7). He is speaking from personal experience.

By the way, a lot of grace is found in this story. Although Jesus was disappointed with the disciples, He does not abandon them to their fears. Instead, He assists and sustains them. He answers their cries as they call to Him for help.

We can call on Jesus for help and learn that He answers our cries. We can call out to Him: Lord, help me see this situation with eyes of faith.

How is your prayer life these days? Is it your steering wheel or your spare tire? It is our choice to allow our fears make us its victims or to challenge fear to work for us by driving us to a deeper dependence on our heavenly Father in prayer.

Finally, remember Easter. “Lo, I am with you always” were the last words of Jesus to those disciples on the mountaintop. He is with us! I’m so glad, aren’t you, that Jesus is in the boat with me at all times – whether it’s smooth sailing are not – to call upon.

John Newton wrote the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace.” He wrote many other hymns as well. I came across one of his hymns that refers to this particular episode in Jesus’ ministry. It goes like this:
Be gone unbelief. My Savior is near.
And for my relief, will surely appear.
By prayer let me wrestle
and He will perform.
With Christ in the vessel
I smile at the storm.

This is Christ’s vision for you and me – to smile through the storm, make us fearless, and hang tough so we might do great things for Him and His cause in his world. Don’t be afraid; He’s in the boat with you today, no matter what you’re facing. Amen.