Sermon preached this morning at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York. You will see how to recognize the demonic in the storms of your life and trust in God. Sermon audio available from here.
Have you ever obeyed God and then felt like everything went wrong? I was reading last week about Pastor Bakhrom Kolmatov who has been detained by Tajikistan police since April and sentenced to three years in prison in July. Secret police raided the Good News of Grace Protestant Church, where he was the Pastor, and harassed and beat church members and arrested the pastor. Officers of the State Committee for Religious Affairs and other law enforcement agencies have been openly persecuting the church since February. At that time they had interrupted worship, beat church members, and demanded that the believers renounce their faith. The reason for the persecution is that the government wants the church’s property and is demanding that the pastor sign over the deed to someone else. The government claims that the book More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell and that some of the hymns sung at the church are extremist materials. Such was the decision of the Muslim imams who work for the secret police in this country that used to be a part of the USSR. The Pastors whereabouts and condition are unknown. Let’s just say that prisons in Tajikistan are not like prisons here, so odds are good that he is in rough shape whether he is still in a cell or he has already been moved to a prison camp. So here Bakhrom was obeying God and then everything went wrong. If it were me, I would be tempted to despair – even to cry out to Jesus – don’t you care that I’m hurting? And I doubt that any of us have been in a situation quite that dire, but we can think of storms in our lives – times when we were obeying God and then the bottom fell out of everything, maybe even times when we were enthusiastic about telling people about Jesus and then our lives got incredibly messy. Our passage today shows the twelve disciples in just such a situation, it shows us why everything went wrong in their case for the storm they were in was more than a storm, and it shows us what we can do about it if we find ourselves in the same place. Hear the word of the Lord.
- The twelve disciples got off to a good start in this passage – they obeyed Jesus to go across to the other side – but then they found themselves in a terrible storm that threatened to overwhelm their boat and caused them to despair.
- So the disciples started with good intentions – they obeyed Jesus when He said to go across to the other side. These are the twelve disciples that Jesus had appointed to be with Him that He might send them out to preach the good news and have authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:14-15). And when Jesus said that they were going across the sea, they obeyed even though it meant that they would be going to the Gentiles. If you look ahead to the passage that immediately follows our text today you can see that to go to the other side of the sea was to go to the land of Gentiles where Jesus would heal a man possessed by a Legion of demons, which would then enter pigs and rush off a cliff into the sea. The Jewish people did not raise pigs. So the disciples are being obedient and they are quite willing to take the good news of the kingdom of God to the Gentiles.
- But then while the disciples were on the sea a terrible storm arose that threatened to end it all and led them to despair for their very lives while Jesus was asleep. Thus they did get off to a good start obeying Jesus but then when trouble arose then they panicked. Jesus had just taught them a bunch of parables including the parable of the sower, the parable of the growing seed, and the parable of the mustard seed. The parable of the sower said that a sower went out to sow and he spread seed over lots of different kinds of soil. The seed that fell along the path, for example, birds came and ate, which Jesus says represents Satan taking it away, but the seed that fell on the “good soil…produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:8). The parable of the growing seed also was one where a sower scattered seed on the ground and he doesn’t know how it grows – “the earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” (Mark 4:28). Then when the grain is ripe the man harvests it. The parable of the mustard seed tells us that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds but when it grows up the plant is larger than all of the other garden plants. This was a parable Jesus used to describe the kingdom of God. Repeatedly we are told that these parables are for those with ears to hear – a play on words because Jesus describes grain – think, for example, of corn stalks that produce ears of corn. Thus if anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. These parables showed that the kingdom of God was going to grow from small beginnings to be incredibly fruitful. But the disciples seeing the storm thought it was the end.
- And indeed Satan will do whatever he can to thwart the spread of the kingdom of God.
- This storm was one such attempt to prevent the growth of God’s kingdom.
- One of the hints in the text that this storm was not a natural one but a demonic one is that curious comment in verse 36, “and other boats were with him.” The reason that Mark tells us about other boats on the sea, though they do not play a role in the rest of this story, is to show us that experienced sailors did not foresee any coming storm. Those familiar with this particular sea would have known when a storm was coming and wouldn’t have been out on the water when one was coming, but this one took them all by surprise because it was not a normal storm. The storm was more than a storm. The disciples should have recognized this storm for the Satanic attack that it was.
- And then we read that Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ”Peace, be still.” The only other times thus far in Mark when Jesus has rebuked or said ”be still or silent” was when Jesus was talking to demons. In Mark 1:25, Jesus says to the unclean spirit, “Be silent, and come out of him!” It is the same Greek word used here when Jesus says to the sea, “Be still.” He also sternly ordered the evil spirits not to tell anyone who he was in Mark 3. Thus Jesus, who not long before this was teaching the disciples that He is more powerful than Satan—Jesus, who not long before that had resisted the devil’s temptations in the desert, was rebuking the Satanic in this storm that was more than a storm. The twelve had been given the authority to cast out demons and could have taken care of this storm themselves, but they failed to recognize that this storm was more than a storm and thus they failed to trust God and rebuke the prince of demons. (And we too need to realize when the storms in our lives are more than a storm – to recognize the demonic in a storm and to rebuke the devil.)
- Satan continues to try to obstruct the growth of the kingdom of God today. The biggest promoter of abortion ‘rights’ is Satan himself because he will stop at nothing to stop the spread of the kingdom of God on earth. It isn’t a new strategy for him. Satan had all of the children under two killed in the region of Bethlehem after the birth of Christ. King Herod ordered that slaughter. Or recall Pharaoh whose three orders regarding enslaving and killing Hebrew baby boys were meant to stop the growth of the Hebrew people. The pastor in Tajikistan that I mentioned earlier has been imprisoned as a part of this Satanic effort to hinder the growth of the kingdom of God. To a much lesser degree than these examples of death and imprisonment, I have seen it myself. Things will be going well and the kingdom advancing and then some kind of storm comes up to stop the progress. Often Satan targets leaders in the church, but you may have experienced this too. I think this is the number one reason that people stop obeying the Great Commission to go and make disciples. All of us who trust in Jesus want to see more people come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. And then with good intentions we will obey God when He asks us to go and share. Often it is new Christians who have the most zeal for doing so. And then opposition arises when we are sharing the gospel and sometimes even storms happen in our own lives that divert our attention from sharing the good news. These are incited by Satan himself. He does not want the kingdom of God to grow. And we need to be able to recognize the demonic in these storms. That is the first step. But we are not to then surrender in fear or panic and seriously wonder if Jesus really cares about us.
- This storm was one such attempt to prevent the growth of God’s kingdom.
- We can resist Satan’s efforts and trust God’s power.
- Jesus rebuked Satan and encouraged the disciples to trust God. He did not cry out to the Father, “Don’t you care that your Son is about to drown?” He trusted His Heavenly Father. He discerned straightaway that this storm was from Satan and He knew that God had empowered Him to overcome Satan’s efforts. Thus He rebuked Satan and He went on to heal a man possessed by Legion. Jesus then sent that healed man to tell the Gentiles living in ten cities (the Decapolis) the good news. Jesus Himself went back across the water to Israel since the Gentiles weren’t very happy that Jesus had allowed economic hardship to plague them when He allowed Legion to go into a herd of pigs that plunged to their death off a cliff. In any case, Jesus had crossed this sea to heal that one man so that the man would be able to share the gospel in ten cities.
- And the lesson in all of this for His disciples, both the twelve then and us today, is that we should resist Satan and trust God. The certainty of the kingdom depends on the King and nothing will hinder very long the power of God. We are to trust Him. That pastor in Tajikistan surely needs encouragement in the face of the persecution that he faces. You can go to prisoneralert.com and compose a letter with phrases that he will be able to read in his own native tongue. We cannot be assured that they will let him read the letters, but no doubt God will allow him some way to know that you are praying for him. But let me be clear: This is not the first time that a Christian has been imprisoned and the gospel still went forth boldly – one of the most famous examples being the apostle Paul. Thus Satan’s purpose in the imprisonment of that pastor is to hinder the spread of the gospel, but it will somehow backfire and God’s purpose will triumph. And when you and I are facing much less opposition and storms that are not nearly as fierce, we too can resist Satan and trust in God’s power and continue to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. Thanks be to God.