Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

9/4/2016

Grace, Grace, God’s Wonderful Grace

 Tom Lowe

 

Text: Psalm 91:1-7; Mark 4:35-41

The first thing I want to share with you is about sleeping in the back of the boat. That is what Jesus did in the well-known passage of Mark 4:25-41. But listen to Psalms 91 first to hear how God invites us to rest in Him.

Psalm 91 (NLT)

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you,
    these evils will not touch you.

 

I dedicate this message to all weary disciples, all those struggling with depression, all those who are chronic worriers, all those struggling with fears and doubts, and all those who like to say, “If you want something done you have to do it yourself!”

I have never yet invited anyone to sleep through a sermon, though I have seen some do it on their own, but I do want you to listen and rest in the Lord through this one.

Let’s begin by hearing the Word of the Lord—“(Mark 4:35-41; NLT)

35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

 

I went to college before hand-held computers were popular; you know, the dark ages when everyone could add, subtract, multiply and divide using what was called a pencil. Computers were a wonderful invention, but we have become dependent on them. When they breakdown nothing gets done at the office until they are fixed. Compare that to a pencil; when the lead breaks all you need to fix it is a pencil sharpener.

Then came the “slide rule.” It could do arithmetic much faster. I remember thinking, “If I had a slide rule I could do my homework much faster.” And it was so impressive to carry it in a holster hanging from my belt. I could whip that slide rule out of its holster faster than Marshal Dillon could draw his gun, and with a few manipulations of the slide I had the answer before anyone else.

Then someone invented the desk-top computer. My company bought me one and I just knew that I could get more work done, and during lunch I could play computer games. Now that’s the kind of thinking Hewett-Packard wants you to have, since their goal is to sell computers. And it’s true; you can get more work done with a computer than you can with a slide rule or a pencil. But a Biblical reflection on this might be, “God gave me two hands, 10 fingers, and 24 hours in which to work, but my hands and fingers need to rest occasionally or they will stop working. Bodies need to rest and computers need to be turned off or they will wear out.”

But we don’t say that. We buy into the good old American way of “more, more, more, bigger, bigger, bigger, faster, faster, and faster.” We super size our lives like we do our “fast food.” But like super sizing fast food too often, our spiritual arteries can be weakened by the stress of more and bigger and faster.

Years ago I was very busy with church work and with giving devotions at nursing homes and apartment complexes and filling in for pastors in the area.  My own pastor once told the congregation that I preached more than any preacher in the county; I don’t know whether that’s true are not.  But I do know that I became exhausted. At the same time I taught a Sunday school class, I was chairman of the deacons, and church treasurer. I was exhausted and I couldn’t see a way out. I needed to rest.

I needed to go to the Lord and take in the lessons for life seen in the Savior asleep in the back of the boat. I learned that I really needed to spend more time with Jesus in the back of the boat, because if you don’t slip away with the sleeping Savior in the stern of the boat, you will become fearful in the storms of life.

So, when you can’t go on, go in. Go into the hull of this boat, go to where Jesus is and take these four principles of resting in God’s sovereign grace for your own life as His child.

Here are the four lessons we learn from being with Jesus in the back of the boat during the storm.

I. PUBLIC MINISTRY DEPENDS UPON PRIVATE MOMENTS.

I am not just talking about preachers; anyone can take on too much at church, at work, at home, at school, etc.

The Lord is in this passage, not preaching, healing or teaching. He is sleeping. Jesus is resting in the back of the boat. He is resting because He knows that His human body needs to rest, for His physical body was just like yours and mine. Listen as I read two verses from Psalms.

“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” Psalms 4:1

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” Psalms 4:8

The Lord often withdrew from the crowd that followed Him from place to place and even from His disciples, in order to saturate His life with God. Rest itself is a way for us to say, “I have done what God has called me to do, and I will now rest. My rest is an act of faith that says, ‘without time alone with you Lord, I cannot be authentic when I am with others.’”

Many of us remember the great actor Michael Landon; I know you have watched his TV show—Little House on the Prairie. In the final year of his terminal illness, he was asked if the knowledge of his impending death caused him to love his family more. Landon’s response was, “No, I can’t say that I love them more. I’ve always loved them. I do notice them more.” What a response!

What we learn from Jesus is that time alone with the Father sharpens our appreciation for His gifts, for the wonder of His love, for Him and for others. Christians need to know this, and God showed it to me recently. I want to live each day in a way that says to my readers that my writing depends on my private moments with Him. Because it does.

Are you spending enough time alone with Him; not in the multi-tasking world of today, but truly in the back of the boat, resting in Him alone?

Here is a second lesson we learn.

 

II. THE EFFECTIVENESS OF OUR WITNESS AS CHRISTIANS IS NOT DEPENDENT UPON HOW HARD WE WORK AT IT, BUT ON GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY.

Jesus’ ministry effectiveness was not dependent upon His ministry efficiency, but rather His Father’s sovereignty.

There were always crowds pressing in on our Savior. But the greatest thing He needed to do at that time was rest in the storm. What we learn is that His effectiveness was not gauged by how much He did, but how He did it.

Over and over God teaches us this. Gideon was called by God to take on the enemy of God’s people, the Midianites, who had 135,000 fighting men. Gideon had 32,000. Then 22,000 got scared and left. He had 10,000. But we read something amazing:

The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Judges 7:2

So God began to whittle down the numbers of soldiers until Gideon had 300 soldiers. But that was small enough so that when victory came they would be the few and the faithful, and God would gain the credit.

Listen to these verses and think about what they teach us about how to live our lives as His people:

Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts (Zechariah 4:6),

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God (Psalms 20:7).

Isn’t God telling us that when the wind and waves toss our lives to and fro, we can rest in His sovereign grace? Doesn’t He tell us that great things happen not by our ingenious insights and awesome talent, but by His power?

Likewise, our Lord didn’t go to the ends of the earth. He was obedient to God in a relatively small area of the earth and was obedient even unto death on a cross. But the cross and the grave gave way to resurrection, and this became the sign of God’s power. That power has spread to the ends of the earth.

I want to tell you about the lives of several men, and you may already know their story—John Bunyan, William Cowper and David Brainerd. Do you know what really struck me about these men? John Bunyan’s ministry effectiveness was not dependent upon his efficiency, but God’s sovereignty. You see, John Bunyan spent most of his ministry in jail. In fact, it was there he wrote the great Pilgrim’s Progress. William Cowper, who wrote such hymn classics as “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” spent his whole life afflicted by severe depression. But William Cowper’s ministry effectiveness was not dependent upon his ministry efficiency, but God’s sovereignty.

David Brainerd, a man expelled from Yale, a washed up minister, a man afflicted with hypochondria, and a naturally gloomy disposition, was a man mightily used by God to reach the Indian nations of colonial America. Yet he only lived 29 years, 5 months, and 19 days. He only ministered for four short years in that time. What was it that caused Jonathan Edwards to take his diaries and publish the “Life of Brainerd” in 1749? The book based on that one short-lived life and extremely brief ministry was used by God to send Henry Martyn to India. William Carey called Edward’s “Life of Brainerd” “precious and holy.” David Livingstone of Scotland and Andrew Murray of South Africa and Jim Elliot of 20th century America all looked upon Brainerd as a man who inspired them to give their lives to missions. Why has David Brainerd’s life, so short, so sickly, and a ministry so brief been used so powerfully by God?

Piper has the best answer: he said, “The answer is that Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to Him day and night to accomplish amazing things for His glory.”

The Lord rested in the back of the boat because He was resting in God’s sovereignty. The Lord would multiply His ministry through His disciples. The Lord God would bless His quiet talks with His disciples and cause them, through the Cross, to be read the world over, with awesome results.

And, my friends, God will sanctify even your sorrows to use you as His instrument in His kingdom.

A third important lesson we learn from Jesus in the back of the boat is this:

III. OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FATHER IS NOT DETERMINED BY OUR INCESSANT LABOR, BUT HIS STEADFAST LOVE.

The Savior could sleep during the storm for He knew that His relationship with His Father was not determined by His constant labor but by His Father’s constant love.

There are some beautiful Psalms that reflect this truth. Listen to these and just let the wave of peace come over your heart right now:

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.” Psalms 62:5

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalms 91:1

“Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.” Psalms 116:7

I think that many of us, especially those involved in a church ministry, are tired. We confess that we are saved by Christ alone and we rest in Him, but we live like the future of the world depends on us. I am not discounting the truth that God has given us a glorious task to do—to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth—but I am saying that when we have done our all, we can leave it with the Lord.

Dr. Richard Swenson, a physician who wrote The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live within Your Limits, said: “[We must] stop believing that chronic exhaustion is normal, that a listless spirit is inevitable, that burnout is piety…[but rather our goal is] sustainability, service, passion, and joy.”

Could we be honest and say that some of us have not trusted God for our children, we have not trusted God for the salvation of our loved ones, we have not trusted God with our careers, and we are tired and we have even lost our joy? Listen to the Savior who slept in the back of the boat in the midst of the storm. Listen to Him as He speaks to you: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

And hear God say to you from the Book of Hebrews: “…for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest…” Hebrews 4:10, 11

Some of us need to rest from working so hard to please God. He is pleased with His Son. Rest in Jesus and you will be resting with the Beloved. Some of us just need to rest from our anger, our troubled spirits which desire to gain the upper hand, our desire to repay for an evil we think has been done, or a great need that we think only we can meet. Rest! Rest with Jesus! He is the Lord of life, including Lord of the storms.

And this leads us to the last truth I want to show you out of this passage.

 

IV. OUR LIVES CANNOT BE DESTROYED BY EARTH’S WIND AND WAVES, SINCE OUR SOULS ARE SUSTAINED BY GOD’S PROMISES AND POWER

Jesus could sleep in the storm. Jesus’ mission could not be destroyed by earth’s wind and waves since His life was sustained by His Father’s promise and power. Jesus’ disciples had to learn that the storms could not destroy the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus scolded them before calming the sea. The Savior asleep in the stern while the saints were afraid in the storm was a call for us to rest in His sovereign grace.

Bonhoeffer wrote of the German Church’s weakness during the storms of Adolph Hitler’s reign of terror: He said, “We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of evasion and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?”

Sometimes I have fought the storms to learn that they are more powerful than I am. I too learn to pretend to have faith in the storm. And then it must be asked, “Am I still of any use?”

But God used Bonhoeffer in his storms. Christ in the stern, resting quietly, and calling us to rest in Him, reminds me that storms can bring fear or fresh faith.

It is about to be hurricane season again for those living in the South, on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. I thought of them this week. I remember August 24th, 1992. That was when Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida. I will never forget the scenes that came through our TV sets when that great storm began to bear down on the cities and towns in its path; and the winds were whipping through the streets, and the trees were snapping, and the lights went out, and people huddled together in any place that appeared safe. After the storm had moved up the coast they interviewed a man who slept through the whole thing. The well-rested man said that when he woke up the worst of it was over. His wife greeted her husband a little sarcastically and it reminded me of Alice Cramdon talking to Ralph on the Honeymooners, “Well, Bob you just slept through the greatest natural disaster to ever hit North America.” And do you know what his reply was? He said, “Well, ‘Shirley girl’, a good conscience makes for a good night’s sleep.” Everyone got a good laugh, even me. But it was one of the best theology lessons I’ve ever seen on TV.

 “Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

My friends, here is the truth: our lives cannot be destroyed by the storms of fear, or hate, or divorce, or mistakes, or hurtful words, or diabolical deeds, or sin—since our souls are sustained by God’s promises and power. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39

 

CONCLUSION

So those are the lessons, my friends (four of them.):

(1) PUBLIC MINISTRY DEPENDS UPON PRIVATE MOMENTS.

(2) THE EFFECTIVENESS OF OUR WITNESS AS CHRISTIANS IS NOT DEPENDENT UPON HOW HARD WE WORK AT IT, BUT ON GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY.

(3) OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FATHER IS NOT DETERMINED BY OUR INCESSANT LABOR, BUT HIS STEADFAST LOVE.

(4) OUR LIVES CANNOT BE DESTROYED BY EARTH’S WIND AND WAVES, SINCE OUR SOULS ARE SUSTAINED BY GOD’S PROMISES AND POWER

Here is a quote from a man by the name of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He said: “You will never find Jesus so precious as when the world is one vast howling wilderness. Then he is like a rose blooming in the midst of the desolation, a rock rising above the storm.”

I am still learning these lessons. Maybe you are too. But our Savior is a gentle instructor. He is careful to awaken and come to us and show us His power over the storms. That’s the message from Psalm 91.

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