Posts tagged ‘Matthew’

August 13, 2014

Getting out of the boat

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(Photo: Inishbofin Ferry, July 2014)

Sermon for Sunday 10th August, 2014.

Text: Matthew 14:22-33

As we look at the gospel reading this morning, many of us (if we are honest) will find ourselves identifying with the disciples in the boat. If you think about it, it is a picture of much of the church in our part of the world today. As we look beyond the confines of the boat, we are intimidated by the height of the waves and the strength of the wind. The world is in such a mess, with seemingly endless numbers of spiritually starving people all around us, and the world beyond appears to be nothing but war and rumours of war, disease and disaster, with countless numbers of innocent men, women and children caught up in it all. “It’s much better to say in the boat”, we say to ourselves, “where it is safe, where it is dry and where we can hide from the oceans of need all around us”.  

I have a memory from when I was about five or six years old of watching an episode of Dr. Who on TV – there I was, eyes glued to the old black-and-white television when all of a sudden a scary screaming monster type thing came on to the screen and I was terrified. I got up and ran around to the back of the sofa, occasionally peering over the top to see if it had gone away and then ducking for cover once more. My mother then came in to the room and told me not to be afraid, it was just a man dressed up in a silly costume and it was nothing to be frightened of. I didn’t need to hide behind the sofa any more after that.  

But staying in the boat, or hiding behind the sofa or just keeping ourselves busy with church activity is not where the Lord wants us to be. He does not want us to live in fear, He wants us to trust Him, He even wants us to get out of the boat…  

The reading starts off with the Lord Jesus telling the disciples to head out in the boat and go over to the other side of the lake whilst he goes up the mountain by himself to pray. Did the disciples know that their master and friend was going to pray? I’m not sure, but if they did, then perhaps they didn’t need to fear what was going to happen next. The same is of course true for us. In Hebrews 7:25, the Bible gives us the wonderful promise that Jesus prays for those who come to God through Him. Isn’t it a very special thing, to know that Jesus prays for us?  

So whilst Jesus is alone on the mountain, the disciples are making their way across the lake, but a storm has arisen, the boat is being battered by the wind and the waves and they are far from the shore. It’s quite a contrast don’t you think? Picture the serenity of Jesus in the place of prayer up on the mountain and then in the distance out on the water are the disciples, being lashed, buffeted and bashed by the waves and the wind which are coming hard against them. Remember that a number of the disciples are experienced professional fishermen, they have encountered many storms before, but this is a bad one. The disciples are in a state of panic and in fear of losing their lives and yet they were in fact perfectly safe, Jesus was praying not only for Himself but also for them and He very soon would come to them. How many times have we been in a state of anxiety and fear only to realise later that God was with us all along, looking after us, holding and protecting us?  

In verse 25 it says “In the early morning he came walking towards them on the lake”. In the original it says “In the fourth watch of the night”, which is between 3 am to 6 am. So the disciples had been battling the storm most of the night, and they were no doubt by this time not only frightened, but exhausted. The waves were still large and the wind still strong and there had been no let up. But Jesus comes to them ‘actually walking on the rising and falling waves’ (Hendriksen). ‘The disciples must discover that they have a Saviour who is able not only to still the storm but even to use it as His pathway’ (Ibid.) Initially they don’t realise that it is Jesus coming to them across the water, in the dim light and overcome with fear they cry out ‘It is a ghost!’ But now close to them Jesus says:  

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Beautiful words, words that give us strength and comfort to this day. If we look at the literal translation of what Jesus says, it is even more powerful, He says: “Take heart, I AM”. When Jesus says ‘I AM’, it is very significant, because this is the name for God in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14). Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, that He is the great ‘I AM’, so there is no need to fear. In whatever situations you are in today, this is a huge reassurance to your heart that Jesus is in control.[1]   DSC_0801_wp

(Photo: “Jesus walking on the Water”, Stained-glass window, Church of the Ascension, Timoleague)

I think Peter is just such a great, larger-than-life character. He sometimes gets criticised for being a loud mouth who always seems to put his foot in it, but what we learn from him is that it is much better to do something and fail whilst trying, than to do nothing at all. It is much better to get out of the boat and sink and be saved than to never take the step of faith at all. Peter wants to be wherever Jesus is, even if that means doing something that is impossible, something that contradicts the laws of physics, such as walking on water. Of course it was Jesus who created water in the first place, it was He who determined the laws of physics and nature, He is Lord over all He has created and it is subject to Him in every way.  

Peter has enough faith and enough courage to step out of the boat, which at this time is still being buffeted about. To begin with it all goes well, he is actually walking on the water towards Jesus. But the initial wonder of what he is doing evaporates as Peter takes his eyes of Jesus and notices the strong wind. In so doing his faith is replaced by fear and he begins to sink. Turning back to Jesus he cries out “Lord, save me!” Jesus’ response is immediate, He reaches out and catches hold of him. Perhaps it is then as the two of them are walking back to the boat that Jesus says: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ In other words, Peter should have taken to heart that He was in Christ’s presence, and he should not therefore have been afraid.  

Perhaps some of us can relate to Peter, yes we have faith, but mixed in with that faith is fear and doubt (Wright). It can seem that what Jesus has asked us to do is impossible, whether that is being a witness for Him in the home, in school or in the workplace; whether that is being involved in ministry of some kind to those in the church or to those outside; whether it is in helping those around us or helping those in far away places. It can all seem, at times, overwhelming. If like Peter we look at the wind and the waves we will conclude that what God has asked us to do is impossible. All we have to do though is keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, in prayer, in His Word, in worship and praise and as we go out into the world. Spending time with Him is key so that not only will we know what He wants us to do, but we will have the power, energy, strength and faith to do that which He asks of us.  

As Peter and Jesus get back into the boat all is calm, the wind stops and the disciples cry out now not in fear, but in worship, saying to Jesus ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’  Worship is of utmost importance.  

One of my favourite books of recent years is John Ortberg’s “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.” He writes:   “When human beings get out of the boat, they are never quite the same. Their worship is never quite the same. Their world is never quite the same. Whatever the results, whether they sink or swim, something will have changed… Jesus is not finished yet. He is still looking for people who will dare to trust Him. He is still looking for people who will refuse to allow fear to have the final word. He is still looking for people who refuse to be deterred by failure … Just remember one thing: If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.”[2]  

Let’s pray: Lord, we ask that You would give us courage to get up and to step out and to follow You and Your will and plan for our lives, now and always … Amen.  

Further Reading:

  • William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Matthew, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1989
  • John Ortberg “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001
  • Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, SPCK, London, 2004

[1] http://acs.alpha.org/bioy/commentary/765

[2] John Ortberg “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001, p.202

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December 20, 2010

To be rescued from ourselves.

Yesterday’s Sermon from Matthew 1:18-25 “The Birth of Jesus the Messiah”.

As one of the most important events in all history, the birth of the Lord Jesus stands out so much it cannot be ignored.  It stands out not for its splendour and pomp and ceremony, it stands out so much because it is so humble.  When we hear about it we cannot help but be intrigued and fascinated.  Now if we didn’t know better, we’d have thought that the King of kings, God Himself made flesh would have a very dramatic entrance on to the stage of humanity – but no, quite the opposite is true.

We’d have thought that at the very least He would have been born to very important people, in a big palace in the wealthiest of cities.  But the reason why the events surrounding the birth of the Lord Jesus stand out as much as they do is because everything is just the opposite from what you would expect them to be if you had never heard the story before.

First of all we have an ordinary young girl called Mary; she’s not a daughter of a King, she doesn’t wake up in royal splendour every morning, her every whim is not catered for by an army of servants.  Mary lives in an ordinary house in a little village called Nazareth, she is engaged to be married, not to a prince or wealthy merchant, but to a carpenter named Joseph.  We don’t know much about Joseph except that Matthew describes him as a “righteous man”.  He needed to be with what would happen next!

No doubt Joseph was looking forward to getting married to Mary; they had the whole of their lives together to look forward to.  But then Mary tells Joseph that she is pregnant and that the child is from the Holy Spirit!  Understandably, Joseph panics – in those days a woman could be stoned to death for adultery, (which is what it would have been seen as).  Clearly Joseph thinks that Mary no longer wants to be his wife so he thinks about divorcing her from their engagement on the quiet so that nobody would find out about it.

Somehow, Joseph manages to get some sleep with all this milling around in his mind.  While he is asleep, an Angel appears to him in a dream to explain what is really going on.  Yes Mary is telling the truth, the child really is from the Holy Spirit – Joseph must not be afraid to take Mary as his wife – she will give birth to a son, and Joseph is to give him the name “Jesus”.  (Jesus being the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua), which means “The LORD saves”.  The angel finishes off by telling Joseph that the son that his fiancée will have, whom he is to call Jesus will save his people from their sins.

Have you ever been told a piece of news that is so big that you cannot take it all in at once?  Sometimes on telling a very significant piece of news, a person will say, “you might want to sit down before I tell you this”.  It was just as well then that Joseph was lying down at this point, otherwise he might have collapsed with the news of all that he was hearing and seeing!

So upon waking, Joseph did what was asked of him, he took Mary home as his wife, but had no union with her until after Jesus was born.

Matthew then is keen then to emphasise two things: Firstly (as we have just seen), that Mary was a virgin, her child was of the Holy Spirit.  Secondly, that Jesus’ birth is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.  Quoting from Isaiah 7, he says:

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Immanuel” – which means, ‘God is with us.’

In other words, Matthew is telling his audience that Jesus is the Messiah.  He is the one who will save his people.  Israel had been waiting for hundreds of years for their Messiah.  They were just so fed up with being oppressed; If it wasn’t the Egyptians, it was the Babylonians or the Assyrians, then along came Greeks and after the Greeks came the Romans.  The people of Israel had been under the oppressive rule of one foreign power or another for most of their history.  They wanted so desperately to be free – free from foreigners telling them what to do the whole time.

So the Messiah was going to be the one who was going to set them free from all this oppression.  In the mind of the average person, the Messiah would be some kind of superhero who would send the Romans packing.  Like a kind of spiritual Arnold Schwarzenegger, He would terminate the enemy and restore Israel back to the days of when king David was on the throne, a nation that was both feared and respected by the other nations of the world.

But few realised He was going to do something far more significant, something far more powerful and something that would have consequences not just for the people of Israel but for all people throughout history.

What did the Angel say to Joseph?

“… for he will save his people from their sins”.

The biggest enemy that the people of Israel had was not the Romans.  The enemies of the past, the Greeks and the Babylonians were not the real problem either.  No the real problem and the real enemy was themselves (or more specifically, their sin).  It was these people’s rebellion against God that was the real enemy.  They had turned away from Him.  Their worship had become dry, empty and meaningless.  They were not so much concerned about living their lives for God; it was all about outward show, to be seen to do the right thing.  (Sound familiar?)

In His ministry, the Lord Jesus brought this subject up many times, for example in Luke 18, where the religious leader, the Pharisee goes up to the temple to pray.  He makes sure that everyone can see how religious and holy he is and no doubt with a fake serious expression on his face he says, ”I thank God that I’m not a sinner like everyone else, I don’t cheat, I don’t sin and I don’t commit adultery.  I fast twice a week and give away a tenth of my income”.  In contrast, the outcast of society, the tax collector stood at a distance with his head bowed and said “O God be merciful to me a sinner”.  The Lord Jesus tells us that it is of course the second man who returned home justified before God.

The Lord Jesus had a much bigger job to do than ridding the people of Roman oppression.  Hearts that were hardened towards God needed to be softened; minds that were only concerned with the things of this world needed to be re-orientated towards heaven.  The people didn’t need to be changed on the outside, no people needed to be changed on the INSIDE….

That is why Jesus’ birth is so humble.  The Lord wants us to get the message that outward appearances count for nothing in God’s Kingdom.  In the Old Testament, speaking to the prophet Samuel, God says:

“The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 – NLT)

This is a lesson that we need to learn again and again throughout our lives.  We all know the saying “don’t judge a book by the cover”.  Thankfully God does not judge us by our outward appearance, but He looks at our hearts.

Now if it weren’t for Jesus, this would be a very heartbreaking truth.  We know that our hearts are not very pretty.  We are full of sin.  We might look not too bad on the outside, but inside, if we are honest, it’s not too good in there.  We might be like a nice ripe apple on the outside, but all mouldy and rotten on the inside!

But the reason why we celebrate Christmas is because God came down as Jesus to save us, so that when God looks at the hearts of his people He finds Jesus there, it is no longer rotten and mouldy, it is clean and made new.

Why do we give each other presents at Christmas?  We do so to remind ourselves of the best gift of all, the gift of forgiveness and the gift of new life that the Lord Jesus has won for us.

If we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are free from oppression.  Today we are not oppressed by Romans or Babylonians or even the IMF, but we are oppressed by ourselves, our own sin and rebellion against God.  And that is what the Lord Jesus frees us from.

So this Christmastime let us receive into our hearts and lives that greatest gift of all, Jesus.  What does the name Jesus mean again?  “The Lord saves”.  Amen.

November 28, 2010

In the days of Noah.

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Today’s Sermon.  Text Matthew 24:36-44

Even just a short time ago hardly anyone would have predicted the enormity of what is now happening to our country. The thought that we would be plunged into a recession so low and debt levels so high that we will never be able to afford even the interest on the loans let alone the loans themselves would have been laughed off. In the midst of the ‘Celtic Tiger’, whilst the Property Bubble was still expanding, no one predicted how great the fall that we are now experiencing would be. Anytime an economist came on the radio and said that the whole thing was unsustainable, they were laughed at and not taken seriously. The mentality of so many was ‘eat drink and be merry’; with no thought to the consequences of endless spending and borrowing of money that was not ours. It turns out that predicting the future is a hard thing to do.

When I was a boy, I was fortunate enough to go with my parents on a holiday to Italy. My favourite part was when we visited the ancient city of Pompeii. This city in Roman times was full of life and home to 18,000 people. They were just living their lives when, out of the blue, there was an enormous volcanic eruption which rained down hot ash on the city. Many managed to escape, but 2000 people didn’t, they were buried alive. Today you can walk through the city streets and see ancient shop signs, houses, and theatres and it’s not hard to imagine that the people there had no idea when they woke up that morning on August 24th AD 79 that it would be their last day on earth.

The second coming seems all a bit like something from a Hollywood movie, something fantastic and theatrical. I think it’s one of those times when the Bible uses metaphorical (or picture) language to convey to us what it will be like.

The most important thing about chapter 24 in Mathew’s Gospel is to remember that it is primarily about the end of the world’s history. History is in a real sense “His Story”. The Kingdom of God came with Jesus’ Incarnation; when He lived among us. The Lord’s disciples, both then and now are citizens of two countries; we belong to this age and in the age to come. As Micheal Green puts it “”We are not what we were, but equally, we are not yet what we shall be”(1). History is steadily moving to the day when God’s Kingdom will be “Consummated”, that is achieved and fully realised. Jesus’ return will settle forever the destiny of all people. There will be no sitting on the fence, either we are with Him or we are against Him (cf. Matthew 12:30)

Our reading begins with the Lord saying:

‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father…’ (36)

Only the Father knows when the end will come, not even the Lord Jesus in His human nature knew, nor should we give any heed to anyone who claims they know when it will be either! There have over the centuries been many people who have tried to predict when the second coming would be. One of the most famous was a chap called John Napier, a sixteenth-century mathematician. He applied logarithms and all sorts of clever formulae he had invented and applied it to the book of Revelation (the last book of the New Testament). He then calculated that Jesus would return sometime between 1688 and 1700. His book sold like hot cakes and went into twenty-three editions – until 1701, when sales unaccountably plummeted!(2)

To help His disciples understand what His second coming would be like, the Lord Jesus then says:

For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. (37-39).

The people In Noah’s day would have had a hard time believing the warnings that a great cataclysmic flood was going to sweep them away, even though Noah was building a great big Ark (as a more than subtle hint)! If they really suspected that the end was coming they would have asked Noah if they could get on board. The people in Noah’s day were just getting on with their lives, just like we do today, they were eating and drinking and marrying right up until the end. The warnings are there for us too, though we have something much greater than an Ark to find safety in, we have the Lord Jesus Christ; He is our Ark, it is through believing and trusting in Him as our Lord and Saviour that we find eternal safety and salvation.

We do not know when the end will come but the door of the Ark is still open and there is still time to get on board, why wait, we do not know how long we have, it may be tomorrow for all we know?

The Lord Jesus explains things further when He says:

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (40-42)

It is clear that once the final day arrives, all opportunity for repentance will be gone, the door is shut. These are very sobering verses which act as a clear warning to us. If we are not on board the Ark of Christ we shall be left behind, lost forever, there will be no second chance.
Jesus is pleading with us – ‘get on board, take my hand, quickly, now before it is too late.’

He continues:

But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. (43-44)

Anyone that has had their house broken into will be able to relate to this. It happened to Sonja and I once, in our previous Rectory. We came back one evening to see a couple of windows broken open and saw that they had tried to break into the very strong filing cabinet in the study, making quite a mess of it in the process. Of course, if we had known what time the burglar was coming we would have been ready, we would have had all the lights on in the house and let it be obvious that we were there, so the burglar would not have bothered trying to break in. The Lord Jesus urges us to live lives of constant readiness for His return, to live in joyful hope and expectation that He is coming at an unexpected hour.

Probably most of you have heard of or read some of John Grisham’s novels, such as The Firm, Pelican Brief, and The Client. Despite his fame and wealth, Grisham makes a concerted effort to focus on things that have lasting meaning, including his faith in God. Grisham remembers, as a young law student, the remarkable advice of a friend:
“One of my best friends in college died when he was 25, just a few years after we graduated from Mississippi State University. I was in law school, and he called me one day and wanted to get together. So we had lunch, and he told me he had cancer. I couldn’t believe it.
“What do you do when you realize you are about to die?” I asked.
“It’s real simple,” he said. “You get things right with God, and you spend as much time with those you love as you can. Then you settle up with everybody else.”
Finally he said, “You know, really, you ought to live every day like you have only a few more days to live.”
Grisham concludes: ‘I haven’t forgotten those words’”.
Will Norton, Jr., in Christianity Today.Christian Reader, Vol. 32, no. 6.(3)

Let us make the very best use of the time we have left, because no matter who we are the time is short and will go very quickly. Let us make sure that we know Christ as our Lord and Saviour and let us make sure that we are living lives of readiness and expectancy: What would we like Jesus to find us doing when He returns? Then let us be doing that thing. Amen.

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(1) Matthew for Today, Michael Green, Hodder & Stoughton, 1999, p.229
(2) From Scripture Union Bible Notes “Closer to God”, No.12, 2001.
(3) http://preachingtoday.com/search/?type=scripture&query=Matthew%2024:36-44&start=21