Chapter Seventeen – Matthew 8: The Storms of Life

rough seas

Let the waters rise
I will stand as the oceans roar
Let the earth shake beneath me
Let the mountains fall
You are God over the storm
And I am Yours

  • Lauren Daigle, I Am Yours, from the 2015 album How Can It Be

The Sea of Galilee has been described as an unusual body of water because it is small but deep with a shoreline that sits almost 700 feet below sea level. There are surrounding mountains and as a result, when storms appear, it can often be without warning. The wind can whip the waves into 20 feet tall monstrosities. The ancient historian, Josephus, recorded that at any one time there could be over 300 fishing boats in the water. Some of Jesus’ disciples had been fishermen on the Sea of Galilee and were very familiar with the storms that could arise at a moment’s notice.

So, when a storm begins as they are crossing to the other side and Jesus is somehow asleep in the boat, the disciples panic. It is important to note the danger is real.  It always seemed growing up that whoever was preaching on this passage would chide the disciples for their reaction, which is hardly fair. We all have the luxury of knowing how it turns out. Even though the disciples had recently seen some pretty miraculous things from the Christ, they cannot be blamed for believing their lives were on the line. They were. It’s no small exaggeration they ask Jesus if He cares whether they drown because without His intervention, that is a real possibility.

This story appears in three places in scripture; here in Matthew 8, but also in Mark 4 and Luke 8. Just like the differences in personality between the writers, there are minor differences in each version but one thing is abundantly clear: when things get scary, the disciples do the right thing and ask for the Christ to save them. I don’t know what they wanted Him to do. I don’t know if they knew what they wanted Him to do. They just wake Him up and state He needs to do something.

Isn’t that just like us? We see God do amazing, unexplainable things in life and yet when we find ourselves in trouble, we immediately seek His deliverance. I once saw a meme that said: Sometimes God calms the storm, sometimes He lets the storm rage and He calms His child. The general consensus from all three writers, is that the last thing they seemed to expect was for Jesus to calm the storm. Words that can be translated as “amazed” and “terrified” are used to describe their reaction to the fact that the Christ demonstrates His authority over nature. They even ask amongst themselves who this man can be if the wind and waves obey Him.  I may not be a first century fisherman, but the answer seems kind of obvious even to me. He’s no one to be trifled with, that’s for sure.

You have to understand, as Jews these disciples were familiar with the incredible stories of the old testament. They knew men of God could perform astounding tasks. Now here was someone right in their midst doing the very things they had heard talked about in the synagogue. If it ever happens to me, I bet I use words like terrifying and amazing, too.  For either He is God and we are not, or we are in trouble. The question we need to ask ourselves is: are we His?

 

Chapter Sixteen – Matthew 8: The Cost of Following

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Consider the cost of building a tower / It’s a narrow way that you must come / For to do the will of the Father is to follow the Son / To love Him more than father or mother / To love Him more than your own flesh / To give all that you are for all that He is – this is the gospel according to Jesus

  • Steve Camp, Consider the Cost, from the 1991 album of the same title

Whenever I go shopping, I have a habit of counting how much everything is going to cost me before I get to the register to check out. I hate to be surprised by the total, especially when I’m on a tight budget (which is most of the time). I will literally add up my purchases in my head as I put them into my cart, rounding up as often as possible. I didn’t used to do this and there were times I got to the register and was shocked to see what I owed. I also don’t want to overspend. One of my unspoken fears is that I’ll owe more than I can afford to pay. So, I keep track as I go along.

Toward the end of Matthew chapter 8, a few individuals approach Jesus with the intent to follow Him. And Jesus is very blunt about how much it is going to cost them, which I like. He doesn’t want them or anyone “joining the team” under any illusions. If they, or we, are going to make a decision, He wants them and us to be fully informed.  It was that way then, and it’s the same way now. And there is a cost. There are no free rides, contrary to what some preachers may say.

In this part of Scripture, Jesus wants everyone to know it may not always be comfortable or easy to follow Him.  In fact, it may often involve great cost and sacrifice with no guarantee of earthly rewards or security. For example, Jesus did not have a place to call home. Those of us who choose to live according to His rules may find it costs us friendships, popularity, leisure time, and treasured habits. The payoff may only come in the afterlife.

In fact, one could argue that if following the Christ hasn’t cost you anything, you may not be truly following Him. And what He asks from each one of us may be different. For some, Jesus may ask you to put Him before your family, your paycheck, your love life, your plans for the future, etc. He may ask for chunks of your time. He may ask you to walk away from friends. One thing is certain: He will require change to occur in your life if you are serious about following Him. Why? Because He loves us too much to leave us unchanged. And because He knows He is the only one, the only one, who can control us without destroying us. It will not always be easy but it will be worth it. Why do you hesitate?

Like the young man who told Jesus he would follow Him after he buried his father, Jesus would not accept the delay (v. 22). It’s interesting to note the young man called Jesus “Lord”. Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus claimed that not everyone who calls Him Lord would enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21). Any person who is puts off following the Christ may well forfeit their soul. That’s a pretty steep price to pay. Jesus’ direct challenge forces us to ask ourselves about our own priorities in following Him. I know what mine are. How about you? Either way, there is a cost. Are you willing to pay now or later? The world is counting on us.

Chapter Fifteen – Matthew 8: The Impractical Christ

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I know if You wanted to You could wave Your hand / Spare me this heartache and change Your plan / And I know any second You could take my pain away / But even if You don’t, I pray / Help me want the Healer more than the healing / Help me want the Savior more than the saving / Help me want the Giver more than the giving / Oh help me want You, Jesus, more than anything

  • Natalie Grant, More Than Anything from the 2015 album Be One

 

Matthew picks up his narrative of the Christ on a healing bender across Galilee by mentioning how He restored Peter’s mother-in-law who was suffering from a high fever Later, while she is feeding Jesus and the disciples dinner, word spreads that she has been cured and people begin coming out of the woodwork to show up on her doorstep so the Christ can heal them. And He does; He heals ALL of them. How impractical.

Doesn’t He know He’s encouraging those who are struggling with disease and illness to rely on Him? Our current healthcare system knows there’s no money in healing people; only in keeping them sick so we can pump them full of prescription drugs. And it’s EVERYBODY who comes to Him. He’s not the least bit discerning. He doesn’t ask what they want to trade before He meets their need. There’s no quid pro quo. He doesn’t quiz them on the last time they attended synagogue. He doesn’t ask them to recite the Ten Commandments. He doesn’t ask for proof of citizenship. He doesn’t seem to care that He’s going to make the other healers look bad. They might even go out of business and what would they do then for a living? He’s not the least bit bothered by the wide-range of disabilities and illnesses He’s asked to cure. He just does it; He just cures them. He didn’t turn anyone away.

Do you know how attractive I find this Jesus? The one who is so impractical and brazen. Matthew doesn’t say He stops when He gets tired. Matthew doesn’t record how far into the night He worked. He accepts EVERYONE. He is so busy dispensing grace that there is no time for judgment.  I love it. And I love Him.

And I have no doubt that every single individual who is healed by Him is made completely whole, like the leper who started this chapter. I have no doubt that while he is healing the spoken need, He is also meeting the unspoken need. Can you imagine the new trajectory of these lives? They are forever altered. From the point of healing on out, there is now a new jumping off point in each life.

My challenge is to ask how much of a healing presence am I? How regularly do people walk away from time with me feeling and being better than when they first walked up? Am I selective in who I offer grace to? And the answers whispered back to me are that I am falling short compared to the Christ. I often put conditions on my giving: if you treat me well then I will treat you well. If you don’t, then forget it. I wonder how many of the people He healed thanked Him? How many eyes did He open that would go on to lust? How many tongues did He loosen that would go on to speak hateful words? He didn’t heal them because He expected them to be perfect afterwards. He knew they would stumble. He knew they would be ungracious. He went ahead and healed them anyway.

What if we sought to do that? How powerful of an influence for good the church would be. We might even run the pharmaceutical companies out of business when it comes to certain drugs. We might shutter therapist offices. We might close down substance abuse rehabilitation centers. We might even empty prisons. Maybe not. But wouldn’t it be fun to try?  The problem we often have is that there is a cost to us. We have to give up free time. We have to sacrifice hard-earned dollars. We have to reach out and give up a piece of ourselves. Oh, but to be so impractical…just like the Christ!

Chapter Fourteen – Matthew 8: An Unexpected Faith

CORNELIUS

I’ve seen dreams that move the mountains
Hope that doesn’t ever end
Even when the sky is falling
I’ve seen miracles just happen
Silent prayers get answered
Broken hearts become brand new
That’s what faith can do

  • Kutless, What Faith Can Do, from the 2009 album “It Is Well”

Let me set the scene for you: Matthew records the Christ returns to Capernaum, a town north of the Sea of Galilee under Roman rule like the rest of the surrounding countryside. Here, a Roman Centurion approaches Jesus and asks for a favor. Two things stand out immediately: 1) the man is a Gentile, and 2) the man is part of the oppressing regime. Undoubtedly, as Jesus was growing up, He had been raised to stay away from such people and He had probably witnessed first-hand some of the brutality associated with them. This man was a career military officer with control of over 100 soldiers. To be sure, these people were hated by the Jews.  Yet, Jesus gives the man an audience and hears him out.

What the Centurion wants is for Jesus to heal his servant – someone who is not present at the scene and someone who is very ill. What is not surprising is that the Christ agrees. What is surprising is what the Centurion says next. He dissuades Jesus from visiting his house, saying he knows a word from the Christ will do the job. And Jesus is astonished. This hated Gentile’s faith put to shame the pompous piety of many of the Jewish religious leaders.

Jesus then tells the crowd that many religious Jews who should be in the Kingdom would be excluded because of their lack of faith. Entrenched in their religious traditions, they would not accept the Christ and His new message. I don’t know why the Jews gathered were surprised. Anyone who had studied the book of Isaiah would know that when the Messiah came, His blessings would be for Gentiles too (Isaiah 66:12, 19). Furthermore, several of the Old Testament prophets had stated the Christ’s message was for everyone (see Isaiah 56:3, 6-8; Malachi 1:11).

So what do we do with this story? For starters, we must not apply Christ’s promises so culturally that we forget to see what God wants to do to reach all the people He loves. Secondly, accepting Christ is an individual mandate. We can belong to Christian parents but membership in the Kingdom is not granted based upon heritage or connections. It is a decision each person to walk the Earth must decide for themselves. Finally, we must not become so set in our religious habits that we expect God to work only in specified ways. God should not be limited by a mindset or lack of faith on our part.

Over and over again in Scripture, Christ interacts with people from a wide-array of backgrounds and upbringings. Notice, He never turns anyone away who seeks Him out. That’s how we should be. The question I am asking myself now is: Am I the type of person that others seek out? And if not, why not?

Chapter Thirteen – Matthew 8: The Master’s Hand

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You know there’s many a man with his life out of tune,
Battered and scared with sin
and he’s auctioned cheap to a thankless world much like that old violin,
Oh, but then the Master comes…a
nd the people cried out what made the change? We don’t understand.
Then the auctioneer stopped and he said with a smile,
It was the touch of the Masters hand.

  • John Kramp, The Touch of the Master’s Hand

Having concluded his coverage of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew turns to discussing the various miracles Jesus performed during His time on earth. First up is one of my favorite stories. It involves a man with leprosy which, at the time, was a terrifying disease because it had no known cure. There were several different forms of leprosy, some of which were contagious. Often times, someone with the disease was sent to live in a separate community outside the city with other lepers until that person either got better or died. There was a huge social stigma associated with leprosy, as well as a physical cost.

In the first few verses of Matthew chapter 8, a leper approaches the Christ and asks Him for healing. Of course, Jesus is willing but it’s HOW He heals the man that I find interesting. Personally, in those days, if someone with leprosy had approached me I would have made sure they kept their distance. One can’t be too careful with contagious diseases, after all. But Jesus is different. Verse three reads as follows: “Jesus reached out and touched him.” Can you imagine that?

Here is a man who has probably not been touched by a well human being for quite some time. He might have a contagious form of a disease with no known cure. Jesus, being the Christ, could certainly have healed the man with only His words. The physical aspects of the disease would certainly have left the man. But Jesus is interested in healing the whole man, so he reaches out and touches him too. In doing so, He removes the social stigma associated with leprosy as well. Which tells me something about this god wearing skin: He doesn’t do things half-assed. When He invests Himself in another human life, He goes all the way. Who wouldn’t be at least interested in getting to know a god like that?

It also tells me something about how His people are to act. When we come into contact with a dirty, disease-ridden world, we are not to settle for half-measures of interaction. We are not to do the bare minimum. Rather, we are to immerse ourselves in the most basic needs of the people we encounter and seek to meet them where they are. Anything else is less than the real healing the Christ seeks to impart.  Today, there are diseases like AIDS/HIV and there are social stigmas such as poverty and autism which plague our world. How is the church doing in its effort to reach out and remove as much of the shame as possible? I think the way in which we are reacting versus what we could be doing is the difference between a band-aid and true healing; an amateurish-effort and the touch of the Master’s hand.

Chapter Twelve – Matthew 7: Building and Renovating

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I see this hurting world of humanity, Your beloved ones / I see construction crews, principalities, we’ve been overrun / I see the walls going up like towers / hiding our bleeding hearts from Your healing love and Your power / I’m on my knees in prayer, volunteering, and I can’t wait for You to send Your demolition down from the sky / these walls have got to fall / I’ll be Your Joshua / Swing me back and let me fly / I’ll ride Your wrecking ball

  • 4Him, Wrecking Ball, from the 1992 album The Basics of Life

I had a hard time with this entry, primarily because I’m not a contractor – I don’t know the first thing about building a structure. Looking at the picture above, it’s difficult for me to know if the foundation is bad or if the house was just poorly built in the first place. I suppose both could be true. I know some lives that look as bad as this house.

Matthew wraps up his coverage of the Sermon on the Mount by including the Christ’s illustration of the wise and foolish builders.  Here, Jesus is saying to use Him as the foundation to build your life upon, and the result will be a structure that can withstand even the most brutal of difficult times. The challenge for me is to ask what kind of foundation am I building on? Is it the solid rock of Jesus and His promises and words? Unlike a physical building, which lays only one foundation and then begins building…in my life I need to repeatedly choose to start with the principles and words of the Christ every day.

But what I find especially interesting is that Matthew arranges the story of the wise and foolish builders right after Jesus’ words about producing good fruit in our lives. There’s a definite correlation. It’s almost as if Matthew is trying to make the point that a wise builder will ultimately produce a good structure (or fruit) while a foolish builder will not. It’s the same point just with a different scenario. And anytime something is repeated in Scripture, it’s usually a good idea to pay close attention to it.

To build on “solid rock” means to be a hearing, responding disciple. It involves practicing obedience (see James 1:22-27). Action is meant to be taken.  Without it, to be a hearer of the word and not a doer of the word, is like building upon the sand. It’s a useless foundation. A difference needs to exist in my life or I am no better than the fool who says there is no God. In fact, I may be worse than the atheist or agnostic, in that I will ultimately do harm to the cause of the Christ and drive nonbelievers away. I see this happening across Christianity today where so-called “Christian Leaders” have compromised key elements of the faith just to score political points.

If your belief system requires you to support a racist, bigoted adulterer and habitual liar for the Oval Office, you may be in need of a renovation of your faith. If your belief system requires you to refuse service to someone based upon their lifestyle, you may need to renovate your faith. If your belief system requires you to support a policy of separating families crossing the border, you may need to renovate your faith.

Are we placing our faith (laying a foundation) built upon the rock of Christ? Time will tell. The storms of life that come (and they always come sooner or later) will reveal the material upon which we’ve chosen to build our lives – and whether the resulting structure stands or falls. Moreover, if your faith has you living in a dilapidated structure, it may be time for some renovation to occur. Bring on the wrecking ball.

Chapter Eleven – Matthew 7: Good and Bad Fruit

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“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” – Galatians 5:22 (NLT)

The Christ is finishing up his Sermon on the Mount and he has covered a lot of ground: being salt and light, not worrying about tomorrow, the refrain to avoid judging others, and more. He finally gets to the crux of the whole dissertation: You’ll be able to tell what kind of person you are dealing with based on the “fruit” they produce in their life. Good trees will produce good fruit.  Bad trees will produce bad fruit. It’s that simple.

There’s an old saying that goes: They (the world) will know we are Christians by our love. It echoes what John writes in his first letter: “…let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love (4:7-8, NLT).  The act of showing love is only the first of several fruits the apostle Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatians. Prior to his list (noted above) he gives a very definitive list of what he considers bad fruit (see verses 19-21): selfishness, hostility, quarreling, outbursts of anger, dissension, division, sexual immorality, and so on.

The question each child of God needs to challenge themselves with daily is: What kind of fruit am I producing in my life? Because depending on the fruit I produce, I am either a good tree or a bad tree. And Jesus states very clearly what happens to bad trees; they are “chopped down and thrown into the fire”.

In our country, Christians seem to have a hard time discerning good trees from bad trees. I would look no further than the highest office in the land. The current occupant of the White House seems to exhibit nothing but bad fruit on a continuous, regular basis. And yet, supposedly – evangelicals support and promote this individual as being “chosen by God” to lead our nation. I am perplexed. Maybe this is true – but this should in no way imply he is a godly man (ie: a good tree).

You can argue with me, but I hope you wouldn’t argue with Jesus, Paul, and John. Not everyone who talks about heaven belongs in God’s Kingdom. Jesus is more concerned about our walk than our talk. He wants us to do right not just say the right words. What we do cannot be separated from what we believe, and what we believe will be shown by what we do.  Just as James wrote in his letter: “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that faith save anyone?…faith by itself is not enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless…Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (2:14, 17, 26, NLT).

Jesus was very clear: Just as you can identify a tree by it’s fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. No ifs, ands, or buts. Let us stand up and speak out. Let us call out bad fruit when we see it in ourselves and each other. Let us remove bad trees from our fellowship. Bad trees have no business in God’s family and they sure shouldn’t receive our support. It makes the whole orchard bad.