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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Nature of Power

Matthew 8:23-34, Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 4:36 - 5:20, Luke 8:22-39

One of the enduring problems of Christianity is the problem of evil. Put in its simplest form, the proposition goes like this:

·         You tell me that God is omnipotent -- He can do anything. Fine.

·         You tell me that God loves me, and indeed all people. Fine.

·         If those two things are true, then why does He not eliminate evil from the world? For surely evil pains his children and affronts Him.

·         Therefore, either He is not good, or He is not omnipotent. Pick one.

It is not my intention to resolve this difficulty entirely this morning. We may, however, pick up some clues to this. For this morning we shall see the nature of power as displayed in the life of Christ.

Let us begin with a question: why do we pursue (at such great expense) the sciences? I submit it is the same reason for which the ancients pursued magic (not sleight of hand as we see it today, but genuine magic). We want power. Goethe’s Mephistopheles held that “a sound magician is a mighty god.” Our view of power is distorted by this. We see power as something desirable, because (in general) we don’t have it. Perhaps our view would be different if we held awesome power. Perhaps not. We will try to see it this morning from God’s point of view.

Before this, we must clear up one point. Putting the phrase “God can” in front of a sentence does not make it “possible.” The kindergarten question, “Can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” is nonsense. One might as well ask, “Is yellow square or round?” The sentence can be diagrammed; it still makes no sense. So it is with God’s power; it cannot be divorced from His purposes. God is not the author of confusion.

Having so said, let us examine the Scriptures.

Calming the Sea

(Mat 8:23-27 NIV) 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!"

(Mark 4:36-41 NIV) Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. {37} A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. {38} Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" {39} He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. {40} He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" {41} They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

(Luke 8:22-25 NIV) One day Jesus said to his disciples, "Let's go over to the other side of the lake." So they got into a boat and set out. {23} As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. {24} The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!" He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. {25} "Where is your faith?" he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."

The first reaction to this account is emotional. This is (in my opinion) divine humor, God’s version of a practical joke. You can kind of imagine Peter being the one to get the Master up off the couch in the back.

However it starts, we need to see the feelings in the story:

·         Jesus is upset at their lack of faith. Now, please appreciate the fullness of this. He was asleep at the time. He seems to expect that they would have had such complete faith in Him that it wouldn’t matter if He was asleep or not. “No water can swallow the ship where lies the Master of ocean and sea and skies.” Is this realistic? Or is Jesus allowing the “evil” of the storm to arise so that their lack of faith might be demonstrated, and thus their faith strengthened?

·         The disciples’ reaction is obvious: they are terrified. You can picture them crowding to the front of the boat (in the hope He’ll lie back down at the stern). (Reminds me of my uncle’s brush with the artillery shell).

·         But also, note this: calming the storm is a trivial exercise -- for the Creator of the Universe. Christ sees no crisis. Perhaps God’s perspective is different, being on the other side of such great power. What we see as major crisis, he may see as trivial. His main effort may be to get us to see things His way!

Faith is indeed the key here. It is clear in this (and the following) miracles that one of the supreme purposes of God is to increase our faith in Him. Is it not probable, then, that the limitation of His power is in accordance with His purpose?

Have you ever watched a father teaching his son to ride a bicycle? All the talk in the world about how it works won’t help. Dad winds up running beside the bicycle to assure the boy that the bike won’t maim him. But at some point, dad takes his hands off the bike -- and his son has learned to ride. Sometimes God takes his hand off the bike.

Fear is the natural reaction of the disciples -- particularly when they discover they were not so much in control as they thought! Here is another reason God does not display his power; He does not want to frighten us.

May I put this humorously? Suppose I have a dog -- a retriever. As the years go by my throwing arm has declined in distance, and now the dog views my efforts at playing “fetch” with utter disdain. No problem, says I. This is one of those cases where technology comes to my rescue. I just go into the garage, get out my war surplus 75mm. cannon, show the dog the shell, pull the lanyard and yell “Fetch!” Stupid dog; he ran the wrong way.

There is one other aspect here. We see a parallel instance in the Psalms:

(Psa 44:22-23 NIV) Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. {23} Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

You see here an “anthropomorphism.” God is pictured as sleeping. We must make allowance for the artist here. But see this; sometimes we picture God as much like ourselves. If God is trying to get his message to us, He must consider how we see him. As such, He may choose to limit his power to whatever form we can discern it. Perhaps the eradication of evil would be invisible to sinners such as us.

The Gerasene Demoniac

(Mat 8:28-34 NIV) When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. {29} "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" {30} Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. {31} The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs." {32} He said to them, "Go!" So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. {33} 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.

(Mark 5:1-20 NIV) They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. {2} When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. {3} This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. {4} For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. {5} Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. {6} When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. {7} He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" {8} For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!" {9} Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" "My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." {10} And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. {11} A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. {12} The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." {13} He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. {14} Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. {15} When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. {16} Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man--and told about the pigs as well. {17} Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. {18} As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. {19} Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." {20} So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

(Luke 8:26-39 NIV) They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. {27} When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. {28} When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!" {29} For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. {30} Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" "Legion," he replied, because many demons had gone into him. {31} And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. {32} A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. {33} When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. {34} When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, {35} and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. {36} Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. {37} Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. {38} The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, {39} "Return home and tell how much God has done for you." So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Power from God is not like magic. Magic is like science. It says, “follow the rules, and you will have power over people and things.” (Science simply has a better set of rules, based on God’s own character.) If you think not, remember that the demoniac pictured here was ceremonially unclean -- he had been in contact with tombs and dead men’s bones. Jesus, however, seems to have the thought that the power of God is a living thing -- not subject to such rules.

The power of God is entirely His; it is under His control and works His will. Here is another reason for its restraint: it is not yet time. The demons recognize this power; they beg for mercy. (It’s one thing for your friends to testify for you; it’s another when your enemies do.) He has the power to send the demons to hell -- and they know it and fear it. But it is not yet time. Perhaps the reason God does not eradicate evil is that it is not yet time -- leaving us a little season yet for repentance.

God’s different view of things is shown in the matter of the pigs. Two thousand pigs represents a substantial investment. I suspect that the owners of the pigs thought this a great evil -- caused by none other than the Son of God. (The court case would be interesting). Is his view of evil different than ours?

Fear, again, is the reaction of the ordinary man. There is a definite relationship between fear and faith. Indeed, we may note these passages:

·         Those with a guilty conscience run where no one is behind them -- but those who are confident of their righteousness are bold.[1]

·         Our courage, indeed, is to be a sign to the wicked -- for they know that principle too.[2]

·         Indeed, the spirit given to us is a spirit of “power, love and self discipline.”[3]

·         But what do we do when fear comes? The key is not bravado, but love.[4]

One last point. Note that at the end of the story Jesus sends the man home to tell others. He does not permit him to join his traveling band. We must not confuse the use of His power for our benefit with His favor. Just because He has worked mighty things on our behalf does not make us great in the faith. On the contrary, the truly faithful are often deprived of such miraculous aid -- so that they might learn to rely even more upon the unseen God.

The Woman and the Ruler’s Daughter

(Mat 9:18-26 NIV) While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, "My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live." {19} Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples. {20} Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. {21} She said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed." {22} Jesus turned and saw her. "Take heart, daughter," he said, "your faith has healed you." And the woman was healed from that moment. {23} When Jesus entered the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, {24} he said, "Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep." But they laughed at him. {25} After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. {26} News of this spread through all that region.

(Mark 5:21-43 NIV) When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. {22} Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet {23} and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live." {24} So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. {25} And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. {26} She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. {27} When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, {28} because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." {29} Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. {30} At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?" {31} "You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?'" {32} But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. {33} Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. {34} He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." {35} While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher any more?" {36} Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe." {37} He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. {38} When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. {39} He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." {40} But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. {41} He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). {42} Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. {43} He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

(Luke 8:40-56 NIV) Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. {41} Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus' feet, pleading with him to come to his house {42} because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. {43} And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. {44} She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. {45} "Who touched me?" Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you." {46} But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me." {47} Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. {48} Then he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace." {49} While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," he said. "Don't bother the teacher any more." {50} Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, "Don't be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed." {51} When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child's father and mother. {52} Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. "Stop wailing," Jesus said. "She is not dead but asleep." {53} They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. {54} But he took her by the hand and said, "My child, get up!" {55} Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. {56} Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

This is one of the most astonishing miracles ever recorded. Often we see the Christ commanding that something be done; this tale records the fact that the power was drained from him by the faith of the woman. It tells us three things:

·         The power is intrinsically part of God’s character -- not something He conjures up. It is “native mode” as the computer types would say.

·         The power obeys His will -- even if the occasion does not rise to the consciousness of the human Christ.

·         It is His will to heal -- and it is His will that we have faith. He will reward that faith.

For our problem of evil, this is greatly heartening. There is no thought here of bargaining with God. There is only His character, His essence. Ultimately that will prevail, in His good time.

Jairus, too, gives us an example of the limits God has chosen to put on His power. Note carefully that Jesus removes most, but not all, the crowd before raising the girl to life. It is power in restraint. There are enough people to provide witnesses, but not so many as to make a show. Power from God is exercised in humility.

This is important for us. Often I have prayed that God would perform some spectacular miracle, arguing that it would be for His glory. Evidently I am easily confused between His glory and my vainglorying for Him. His works will be performed within His character, and that character includes the humility that Jesus has shown here.

In both these instances the key, again, is faith. We must distinguish between weak faith and no faith. It is the purpose of God that our faith be strengthened. But fear not! He understands our weakness of faith:

(Heb 4:15-16 NIV) For 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. {16} Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

So, when in the corridors praying for life, remember: his power is shown in weakness, in humility -- and always in accordance with his purpose. He knows that we don’t understand -- so go to Him boldly, asking in faith.

[1] Proverbs 28:1

[2] Philippians 1:27-28

[3] 2 Timothy 1:7

[4] 1 John 4:18

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