The Divine Lord

Today is World Mission Sunday when we all should be challenged by that great commission of Jesus to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Mat 28.19). But what precisely is involved in our mission to the world? To help us answer that question this morning we will be looking at Matthew 8. 23-34 - the section of Matthew's Gospel we have reached in our Sunday morning studies. And first, I want to consider THE MESSAGE and then secondly, two of THE PROBLEMS. First, THE MESSAGE What should Christians say - what should be their message when they go into the world to all nations? Paul went to Corinth in the early days of the Church. He found two sorts of people in that multi-cultural and very permissive society. Some people wanted tangible proof - they wanted signs and wonders. There was another group and they wanted intellectual arguments. You still get those two types today. But what did Paul do? How did he respond? He gave in to neither group. He said:

I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2.2).

He kept his message focused on Jesus. He is to be the message of our mission. Essentially Christianity is Jesus Christ. Everything is built on his person and work. If he is not who he said he was, and if he did not do what he said he had come to do, everything collapses. If Jesus Christ is not God incarnate - God come in human form - it is all a hoax. If, on the other hand, Jesus is a uniquely divine person, the existence of God is proved; the character of God is made clear; the reality of heaven, hell and life after death is confirmed; and the truth of biblical ethics is established. So what is the evidence for Jesus? It is four-fold. There are his claims. There is his remarkable character. There are his miracles that climaxed in his resurrection. And there is the change he has made over the centuries and still makes today by his Holy Spirit in the individual lives of believers. On his claims Archbishop William Temple said:

It is now recognized that the one Christ for whose existence there is any evidence at all is a miraculous figure making stupendous claims.

On his character Carnegie Simpson said:

Jesus is not one of the world's great. Talk about Alexander the Great and Charles the Great and Napoleon the Great if you will ... Jesus is apart. He is not the Great; he is the Only.

But what about his miracles? And what then about the Christian belief that Christ was the divine Son who "took man's nature," as the Church of England Article says,

so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man.

You say, "do we have to believe all that? Isn't that all from later philosophy? Didn't the apostles keep things simple; but the early Christian fathers made things complicated?" No! That is not true. There is no particular philosophy in these classic statements of the Church. Words like "person" and "substance" were in common use in the early centuries. They were trying to make explicit what was implicit in the bible. You can see that clearly in Matthew 8.23 - 27, the first part of our passage:

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. {24} Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. {25} The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" {26} He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. {27} The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!"

That, implicitly, is the Christ of the creeds. But you say, "can we believe that incident?" The answer, is "Yes!" This incident is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels - Matthew, Mark and Luke. So it is in all the sources - and in more or less the same form. If it was fiction you would expect differences. Historical fact seems to be controling the tradition. And four of the disciples were fishermen. They knew it wasn't normal for a violent wind to be followed by a complete calm. If it was fiction they would have made the account more plausible. Also, if this was a story made up by early Christians they would hardly have put these great heroes - the apostles - in such an unfavourable light. "You of little faith" is said to the leaders and founders of the church! So what have you got in this passage? Answer: a man - a very human man - who is tired and exhausted - verse 24, "Jesus was sleeping". This wasn't some semi-mythical divine figure that you have in the other religions. Here was a man of real flesh and blood - completely shattered after a gruelling timetable. But this very human Jesus then, "rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm." No wonder "the men were amazed and asked, 'What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!'" That is the Christ of the creeds. Look at verse 25:

The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us!"

He is the Lord - the Lord of glory. He has the power of the creator. And that is what Paul claimed:

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. {17} He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col 1.16-17).

So that is Jesus, God incarnate, very God and very man. That is why you must tell others about him because he is Lord over all. Do you really believe that? Then how can you not put all your effort and energy into telling others - or helping others know? And there is huge encouragement if Jesus is truly a creator and truly human. He can understand us, but as the almighty one. So ...

... we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin (Heb 4.15).

Who is going through a difficult time at the moment? He understands all about your problems. But the one who understands is also God almighty - the Lord of creation and with him nothing is impossible. Of course he can handle your problems and difficulties. But let's move on; for he is not only Lord over nature. He is also Lord over the devil. The second half of our passage this morning, Matthew 8.28-34, is all about "two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs". You remember how Jesus cast out the demons who invaded a herd of pigs that then were drowned. Again this is in all three Gospels; again there is the "ring of truth" about it (to use J.B.Phillips phrase). If this had been fiction you would have expected Jesus to have gone into the town and performed more miracles. He would not have been rejected. So what does this second incident tell us? First, that there is a devil - he is real. Oh! don't be put off by all the pictures and caricatures of the devil. Realise that the bible teaches simply this - that evil is more than the sum total of all human individual wrong doing. And that that "more" needs to be thought of as a "he", not an "it". Secondly, the devil is cruel and powerful in his wickedness. Here he has got two men in a grave-yard violently attacking any who dared walk by. The devil, though, can be more subtle in his wickedness and, therefore, more dangerous. He can appear as an Angel of Light. He can be in board rooms, in lecture theatres, in council chambers, in surgeries and even in churches. But, thirdly, this incident suggests you should not be neurotic over the devil. It was C.S.Lewis who said that the trouble over the devil is that some ignore his existence and others make too much of his existence. The power of the devil is limited. These demons, verse 31, had to "beg" Jesus. They can't do what they like. And they know that their freedom is until an appointed time. Verse 29:

"Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?"

On the cross Jesus Christ was the victor over Satan (Satan by the way is Hebrew; devil is Greek). Between now and the judgment day, the devil is still active though defeated. That is why you still have to resist him, in Christ's strength. But ultimately in Revelation there is that terrifying end for the devil:

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur ... [and] will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev 20.10).

So don't play around with the devil or the occult. But equally don't get neurotic about them. Jesus was, and is, the victor. He was in control when he met these two men and he delivered them. And he still delivers men and women from Satan's power. Sometimes the devil still invades human bodies. It may be rare. But don't say that it never happens. However, the devil is certainly having a field day in more conventional ways today. Paul talks about Satan being in bad relationships where people won't forgive one another. In such a situation "Satan", he says, might "outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes" (2 Cor 2.11). Are you giving Satan house room in that sort of way. Who needs to say "sorry" to some one? Who needs to forgive some one? You better do it. Otherwise Satan can get the better of you. Paul also talks about Satan in terms of false teachers in the church. And don't we have those today? 2 Cor 11:13-15:

such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. {14} And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. {15} It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

And the whole world outside Christ is in bondage currently to the evil one. Paul describes how his friends used to live before they became Christians like this:

you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (Eph 2.2).

Christ alone can deliver from Satan. All over the world people are in bondage to the evil one. In Muslim countries there is bondage - where Mohammed usurps the place of Christ. That is why in this years Mission Gift Week we are supporting Arab World Ministries and Peter and Elspeth Gray. They are soon going to work with that mission. There is also bondage in pagan and Catholic countries like Mexico where the absence of biblical faith has been one factor in people's poverty and destitution. And that is why evangelism there has to go hand in hand with helping the poor. So that is why we are supporting the Armonia project as well. And there is bondage in the UK that is as decadent as anywhere. We are now the divorce capital of Europe. One in three babies are born outside marriage. There is a blatant campaign to homosexualize our schools, the church and the media. And there are many, many other issues not just on marriage and the family. There needs to be a Christian response, that is well informed and effective. That is why we are also supporting the Christian Institute as Home Mission. But it is Christ alone who is the deliverer. He alone, by his Spirit opens spiritually blind eyes in Muslim lands. He alone, by his Spirit, gives the love that is needed in a places like Armonia. And he alone, by his Spirit, can give lasting change nationally in this country. So that is why our message has to be about Jesus Christ - for he is the Lord. He is the Lord over nature; and he is the Lord in "super" - nature. I must move on quickly to the problems. If Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, why isn't the world all Christian by now? Why is there a need for world mission? To answer that let me now give you two of THE PROBLEMS. This is my second heading this morning. First, there is the attitude of Jesus own disciples. Here were disciples who had actually followed Jesus "wherever he went". And they weren't "burying their dead". They were in his presence. And when the pressure was on, they had the sense to say: "Lord, save us!" (verse 25). But they didn't really believe in Jesus. Look what they went on to say: "We're going to drown!" How many times have you been like that? You pray, but you hardly believe. And the consequence is that you are not only faithless but afraid. So, verse 26,

[Jesus] replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?"

The world today, more than ever before, needs "fearless" Christians. You have to be able to be in a minority of one, if you are going to be faithful to Jesus Christ. Often the problem with World Mission is just us! You and me. So this year, with God's help, let's say, "I am going to trust that Jesus is the Lord over nature and the devil; so of course he can help me as I try myself to get involved in World Mission - as, for example, I try to invite someone next Sunday for the Remembrance Service, and those Christmas Services; or as I try to talk to others about my own faith; or as I pray for our own missionaries and mission needs at JPC." The second problem with World Mission is the world itself. Look at the end of our passage. Verses 33-34:

Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. {34} Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

These people just didn't want Jesus. It is still the same today. It is OK to talk about New Age beliefs, Hinduism, Islam, even some of the cults - on the Radio or TV, at dinner parties, or in school. But talk about Jesus and people will be distinctly cool. There is prejudice against the Christian faith and Christian values. And you certainly had this prejudice here in Matthew 8. What does it suggest? Answer - that people prefer their pigs to Jesus! Oh! it didn't matter that two desperate men were now made whole. Some people were just concerned at their financial losses in terms of the pigs. Isn't that true today? So many are more interested in money than in Jesus and what Jesus can do for men and women. Let me be blunt. Much Christian work - I am talking about good Christian work - is not being done because of lack of resources - financial resources. People prefer money to Jesus. Let that not be true of us this mission gift week that begins next week. Give as God enables you to and you believe right. I must conclude. Let me summarize. Jesus is Lord. That is the message the world needs to hear. He is Lord of nature by creation and over the devil by the cross where he bore our sins - every kind of sin; and no one is too bad to be saved or too good not to need saving! That is why you must submit to him as Lord. If you have never done so, why not do that this morning? Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not always easy - there will be storms, so to speak. Christ, though, is greater than any of, and all of, the forces of the evil one. But there are problems that often frustrate the message of the gospel. First, there is our faithlessness and our fear. So pray for increased faith and courage. And, secondly, there is the love of money. Beware of the love of money and material possessions. In the world they so often choke God's message. So also pray for strength to resist the devil's temptations to greed and materialism.

Back to top