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Ben Fleming: In the Middle, Matthew 8:18-27

February 5, 2024

Audio Recording

While following Jesus we will encounter genuine challenges to our faith, but Jesus’ presence and power remain constant throughout life’s storms.

Westside Church Podcast
Westside Church Podcast
Ben Fleming: In the Middle, Matthew 8:18-27

Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us. What's happened up to this point is that Jesus has been born. He's been baptized, he's experienced temptation in the desert. He's preached a sermon on the mount, which serves as essentially the textbook of our christian faith. It's how to relate to God, how to relate to each other, and how to care and to serve and to love the world that we're in. And then he goes into a string of miraculous healings. And it's punctuated by this. In Matthew, chapter eight, verse 16 says, that evening many demon possessed people were brought to Jesus, and he cast out the evil spirits with a simple command, and he healed all the sick. This fulfilled the word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah, who said he took our sicknesses and removed our diseases. So a lot of momentum happening in the life and the ministry of Jesus. Right if Jesus was into marketing himself, right. If he was trying to become a christian influencer or a businessman, this is this important point in the growth of a business where people are starting to hear the message. They're beginning to catch on. And even crowds, huge crowds, are beginning to wander around with him, wondering what could happen next. And so then we come to the next scripture, the next verse. We come to this interesting break in the action where he's not healing, but he gives a brief instruction based on people's enthusiasm around his healing. So this happens in verse 18. It says, when jesus saw the crowd around him, he instructed his disciples to cross to the other side of the lake. And then one of the teachers of religious law said to him, teacher, I will follow you wherever you go. But Jesus replied, foxes have dens to live in and birds have nests. But the son of man has no place even to lay his head. And another of his disciples said, Lord, let me first return home and bury my father. And jesus told him, follow me now and let the spiritually dead bury their own dead. Let's pray real quick, and then we'll get all the way into this. Father God, we believe that your presence is here. Lord, I pray that this message wouldn't be simply a product of Ben or of Westside. Lord, this is nothing. It's just words. Unless your life is breathed into all of this. And so I pray that our spirits, our souls, would hear something that's not even said from my mouth today, but instead is spoken from the spirit. In Jesus name, amen. Have you ever run into a gatekeeper? We don't really have a whole lot of gates, actual gates that you need to check in with and then walk through. I'm talking about, like, cultural gatekeepers. There's a lot, as we build up to the Super bowl, for a lot of reasons right now, people telling. Giving people reasons why or why not. They can't be a real football fan. Have you seen this? I'll just leave that right there.

This is our game.

So stupid and silly. But I've noticed in myself, I can be a gatekeeper for people's expectations of marriage. Right? I meet with a lot of young couples that are very enthusiastic and excited about their relationship as it is. We say things like, this relationship that we have. It just feels like such a blessing. It just feels like Jesus. And I'm going, yeah, mine right now feels like a seven year old's birthday party with 30 of her loudest. Her best friends. Her best friends at the big play thing. And it's party favors and balloons and helium and exhaustion. And I want to look at young couples in my weaker moments and go, oh, you think this is about blessing and fun? You are so ignorant. Don't you understand? And it's difficult because you're living together.

And you don't agree and you think.

You could change each other, but here's the news. You cannot do that.

They can't be changed by you. And then you're adding people into the picture, these little, small children that need.

You all the time. And then before you know it, you become a taxicab driver or a limo driver or an entertainer. And all you want is 30 minutes of Netflix at the end of the day. But then, even when you open the app, you're too exhausted to stay awake to watch anything.

And then you wake up in another day and start it. This is something out of the writings of Dante. This isn't a blessing. They're looking at me like, great, we're going to find someone else to do our weding. This was fun. I'm sorry. What a miraculous mystery, as Paul says, that two have become know. I want to gatekeep. No, you think this is going to be great and good and fun. I've got news for you.

And there's something to all of this. That's something that God is dealing within me, right? And I think I've interpreted sometimes this message that Jesus sends to these people that are so enthusiastic right after miracles and incredible things that they've never seen before, they're coming to him, going, I would do anything for you. And I think there's been a time where I've read this and I've heard Jesus, and I almost feel like he's gatekeeping. Right. I don't think you understand what it takes to follow me. This is way harder than just all the miracles. All right? This is the beginning. You just need to relax, calm down, and reconsider whether or not you want to follow me. But that's not what Jesus is doing. Jesus is actually creating an invitation into something deeper, and he's making them aware that this is the beginning. It's a beautiful beginning. He's not discounting or dismissing their enthusiasm. Right. Probably the majority of our walks with Jesus or in this christian faith, there was some kind of moment or encounter that created this overt energy and enthusiasm. And this is not a dismissal of that from Jesus. Instead, it's a, this is just the beginning, and you will see even greater things than these. There's a whole walk and a journey that I want to take you on. It reminds me a little bit of, I have a complicated relationship with the new Star wars movies. Again, gatekeeping. This isn't real Star wars. This is something. I don't know why I do this all the time, but the journey arc of Luke Skywalker, right? If you watch him in a new hope, the very first Star wars that ever happened, he's this young, excitable. I want to get into the fight and get into the fray. And he tells Obi Wan, I want to be a Jedi knight like my father was. And he says things like, I just.

Want to go to the tashi station to pick up the power know. And you watch Luke and you're like.

Oh, sweet, innocent, enthusiastic boy. And then by the time the Last Jedi comes out, which is one of the newer movies, he's angry and alone and frustrated with anybody that thinks that they can actually change the world. But of course, the journey's not over for Luke. At that wall, at that point of frustration, he's led kind of into this dark moment, this dark night of the soul, maybe, or this wondering and this questioning of in the movies, right? It's their kind of faith which is the force. And he's led to this beautiful place by the end of it. I want you to understand that maybe you're at a point in your journey with God where you've heard the warnings that a fox even has a hole and a bird has a nest, but you won't even have a place to lay your head. And you've been walking enough along with Jesus that you've reached a point where maybe you've hit some of that wall again for the second, 3rd time, maybe the first time, and you're beginning to feel that I don't know if this works or if this is real or if this is good. My enthusiasm has been replaced by this dark, difficult night of the soul. I want to encourage you that this is not a place where your faith has failed, or you should quit, or you've been unfaithful or you've given up. Instead, I want to encourage you that this is actually a place that God exists as well. You haven't been abandoned or left, but actually this pit of the journey is part of the journey. It's not a symptom of your sickness or your failure. And so Jesus invites these people into this next thing, and I believe that he's inviting us into this as well. This enthusiastic, energetic stage leads to questions and wondering sometimes pain and even loneliness. But ultimately, God is with us through it all. And I'll show you even more of that as we continue the story. And so after that, it says that Jesus then encourages the disciples to get in the boat and they're going to go across this lake, also known as the Sea of Galilee. It says in verse 23. Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, lord, save us, we're going to drown. When Jesus responded, why are you afraid? You have so little faith. Then he got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, and suddenly there was a great calm and the disciples were amazed. Who is this man? They asked that even the winds and the waves obey him. So a little info about the sea of Galilee, is that pretty close by is this mountain called Mount Herman. It's about 9200ft above sea level and you have the sea of Galilee, that's about 800ft below sea level. And so what happens, because these two different climates are at play, is you end up with these quick, pretty incredible storms. And of course, it's a real place. It still happens. This is me being a weatherman today. Have a sparkling day, west side. So what happens is you can get these quick, sometimes really violent storms. But the thing about these sailors, these disciples, is that they're fishermen, they know this place, and they've probably been taught from a very, very early age how to predict when this storm is going to show up and when it's safe to go out and to fish or to cross the lake or what have you. And so they go out into the middle of this water, and they engage with what I believe to be one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful and mysterious forces of our earth, and that is water. I have a terrifying relationship with water. I know there's not sharks in Lake Billy Chinook until I get in it and I float there for a. I'm. I'm that guy that. When. How many of you guys took up wake surfing over the last couple years? Because we got a little bit older and discovered that wake boarding is going to shred our knees. And I've gone out with some families that are so sweet and really wonderful, and they encourage you. You got to go. You got to try it. You got to try it. And then after about 15 or 20 times where they try to get you up on the board, you guys know this story. They go, and then you fall down right away, and then the boat slowly comes around, and you're just kind of going. And then there's always a couple of guys that are giving instruction that I don't really understand.

No, you got to bend your knees more because then you got to straighten.

Your knees, and then you get up, and I'm like, you guys, it's somebody else's turn.

You're so great.

I can't figure this out, but there's something about water and everything that could be or whatever below it, right? And I'm not the only one. This has been a human nature thing. Any, especially ancient people, has developed an incredible mythology around water. Why? Because we just don't understand it. My kids were watching a National Geographic thing not long ago, and somebody said that more than 80% of the ocean has never been explored, mapped, or seen by humans. The US Geological Survey says that less than 10% of the world's ocean and less than 50% of us waters have been mapped. Some say that humans have spent years wondering if there's life on other planets similar to our own. However, scientists have yet to discover how many marine species exist in oceans. Currently, around 226,000 ocean species are known. I heard someone say, we know more about space than we do the ocean of the earth. And I'm going, well, let's go backward, then. Let's finish what we started. Figure some of this out.


But, of course, again, in ancient cultures, there's all these things about sea monsters and there's the Bermuda triangle. There's all these superstitions and things around it.


Because water is unruly. We don't understand it.

We can't fully comprehend it.

We can't predict exactly how or when it's going to work. And so for these people who are brave enough to be fishermen themselves, simply just go across the top of it and mildly interact with it by harvesting food from it, they still have this good, healthy fear for what the water can do. And so one of the expressions of Jesus's power is that he actually hones the most wild and unruly piece of this entire earth. And so it leads to this point where in Mark, actually, the book of. Mark shares this story with the book of Matthew. But Mark adds the detail that at the end, after Jesus comes out of the boat and he calms the storm, Mark says, at first they were afraid because they were in the storm, and then Jesus stopped the storm, and they were terrified.

Please help us. All right, I'll help you. Oh, my gosh. Excuse me. Oh, my God. Literally, oh, my God. I think he might be it. The fact that he was performing physical miracles and these people were being healed, maybe they felt like they had seen.

Something like that, or there had been some kind of healing, or maybe a.

Doctor could do whatever they had seen.

Maybe something like that. But nobody had ever controlled the wind and the waves as Jesus did. And this expression of this magnificent, powerful, unruly nature of Jesus is overwhelming for these disciples. It leads them to the conclusion that this God that we hoped that Jesus would be is even bigger and greater and more powerful than we could have possibly imagined. And I want you to know that the same is true for you today. I think sometimes we think that Jesus, his nature is exactly like this, and God works just like this. And our prayers will create this kind of motion and movement. And we've got these formulas, even in church, for how we or how God can save the world and we can find peace and still will come into these moments and these storms, where it's very evident that God's power and his way is so far beyond ours. And I would love to say that that's comforting, but really, it's terrifying. It's easy for a preacher to preach that, right? It even kind of sounds catchy. But then you're the person in the hospital that needs the miracle, right? And you say, well, the Bible even says that you go and the elders of the church will lay hands on them, on the sick, and then they'll recover. And then you find, that's happened to you, and people have come and prayed for you, and you're going, the formula is not working for me. And now I'm scared because I need this thing from God, but somehow, and I can't pretend to understand it. All right? Just like my fear of the ocean, I often have a fear of my lack of understanding of the greatness of God. The beauty of it is this, that God is with us through all of it. So the disciples encounter the storm. It scares them. It must be a substantial storm for experienced sailors to be so afraid. And they run into Jesus. Now, again, I think I've been reading this wrong for most of my life. Jesus comes out to the top of the boat, and he rebukes them. Yes. Why are you so afraid now, I think I've read this as Jesus saying, this is not a big deal, what you guys are worried about. You have to relax, get some perspective. Please. I'll do this with my son. My son is nine years old, and he just knows how to say things just right. To push whatever button exists in a father to make them feel like somebody must be bleeding on the ground right now.

They'll go, dad, dad, dad, dad.

And then he started to add this one.

Oh, my gosh. Dad.

What? I'm trying to warm up a cinnamon roll. A microwave's not working. Excuse me. Joel, I need you to understand that when you speak in such a way, I believe that someone is mortally wounded. Oh, no.


I'm hungry. Okay, hit clear before you try to put in the numbers, okay? Yeah. Can you do.


Sometimes I believe that Jesus is talking to us like this, but he's not. Jesus'rebuke is not trying to remind them, hey, this storm is nothing, you guys. Sometimes we use our faith like this. Just so you know, we encounter a difficulty in life. So let's call it a storm, right? We encounter a storm in our life, and the temptation is, and maybe even we encourage other people in this way, is you'll find out that this is not a big deal. This is just a speed bump. It's just a blip on the radar. It's just a small thing. And then we minimize how we're experiencing a certain moment. I love to look at 20 year old self and 21 and 22 and look back and go, oh, my gosh. So many things you thought were important were so stupid. Come on, Ben. Get embarrassed for myself. And then I think, but, man, that thing was so real. And those feelings and this is all part of a journey for me. They don't matter to me right now, but they mattered right then. That storm is real. And I want to tell you today, I want to affirm this for you that you don't need to dismiss the pain that you're feeling, that the storm you're going through right now is a storm. It's a big one. It's waves that you've never understood how to navigate. It's something in your marriage or with your kids or with your job or in your education or wondering about the next stage of life or the diagnosis that you just received. It is something that it will be tempting to say, well, other people have it worse, and I should just be grateful for what I have, and I'm going to be thankful. I'm not saying that all those things are not true, but I want to confirm to you today your storm is real. And Jesus agrees that it's real. And so instead of crying out to God, we can call again on our own willpower, which is just such a small thing in comparison to the greatness and grandeur of Jesus. And we'll call upon our own willpower.

And we'll pick ourselves up by our.

Own bootstraps, and we'll use our New Year's resolutions and we'll push forward and.

We'll say, look, this is not as bad as it feels like it is right now. And Jesus is saying, I don't need you to minimize the storm. I don't need you to pretend that it's not raining. I don't need you to pretend that you're on land instead of on the sea and that you don't feel the waves beneath your vessel rocking everything inside your being. I don't need you to ignore all those things. He doesn't condemn them or ask them to repent because the storm isn't as bad as they think it is. But what he does condemn them for.

And he encourages them in also, is.

That they would come to the understanding or the belief that he would let.

Them drown in the first place. Again, in the book of Mark, who also has this story, Mark adds the detail and says that they went down to the bottom of the boat and they looked at Jesus. He said, it's like you don't even care. And Jesus is like, I care so deeply. This isn't about the size of the storm or whether or not it exists. It's I want you to know in your heart of hearts that I will never leave you or forsake you. And that while you find this loneliness and you find this dark night of the soul. And sometimes I know this so well right now in my own life, it feels like nobody can understand. And you are all alone and you haven't been fed in so long. And Jesus is saying, the one thing that I do need you to hold on to is the fact that I am with you always. And once we come to that conclusion, now, this is the beauty of what the disciples do. The disciples don't just hold on to their own willpower, right? They doubt Jesus'love and care for them, but they don't just start saying, okay, you grab the ropes and you grab the masks and you grab the wheel. And clearly Jesus doesn't care about us anymore and he's just going to let us die. So we're going to try to gut this out as best we can. They accidentally do the right thing and.

They come down to Jesus and they say, look, we don't even think you care anymore, but we're going to come.

Talk to you anyways. Don't let your discounting of your own storm and situation create a pride in you that won't even go to the father to speak with him in the first place, as there's a level of pride and arrogance that we can achieve that just says, look, right, like Luke Skywalker all alone in the last Jedi. This doesn't work. Nobody cares. It's all a fallacy. And Jesus is saying, don't retreat into your own self, but instead come and talk to me, even scream at me, because I can handle all these things. I'm going to have the band back up and we're going to close. And this one last way that Jesus expresses his power is through the tradition of the jewish stories. And so if you're familiar with Old Testament scripture or not, I'll give you a refresher on the story of Jonah. So Jonah is a story about this guy who God calls and says, you're going to go to this place called Nineveh and you're going to tell them to worship the one true God. And Jonah, Jonah's kind of a stinker, man. Jonah doesn't want to really do anything. And he says, no, I don't want to do that. And God's like, well, you really should. And then he gets on this boat, and the boat is taking him somewhere that's not Nineveh. And this storm comes, and the workers on the boat, the sailors go to Jonah in the bottom of the boat and they wake him up and they say, we don't know what's going on, but we need you to save us. And Jonah's like, look, the only way that this storm is going to stop is if I get off the boat and so he throws himself into the sea, and the storm stops, and they're saved. And if you want to continue down this story of Jonah, right, three days in the belly of a whale, and he comes out and he preaches the gospel, or he preaches the one true God and Nineveh is saved. The thing about Jonah is that a lot of this nature never quite works out of him all the way to the end. It sounds like a really nice, clean story. But just as Jesus goes into the tomb for three days, and then he rises again and brings salvation, Jonah goes into the belly of a whale for three days, comes out, preaches, and then discovers that the people have been saved and finds himself rotting in bitterness. But even in this bitterness, the character of the story is a hero for the jewish people. And so anybody at this time that would have been reading the story of Jesus calming the storm, they would have immediately drawn a connection to the story of Jonah, but they would have also seen that Jesus's version is way better. And Jesus says, actually, in Matthew, chapter twelve and verse 41, we'll go over this a little bit more in a couple of weeks. He says, now someone greater than Jonah's here. I want to encourage you again. Maybe the biggest thing I want to encourage you in is to just acknowledge that you might be in a storm. And you don't have to tough it out. You don't have to pretend that it's not really happening because it's here. And Jesus didn't say, look, if you follow me just right, I know you've seen all these miracles, then this is. I just want you to know, if you walk after me, this is how it will always be. You'll just be walking around and you'll have shelter over your head, and you'll have food in your belly, and you'll see the most miraculous healings possible. He doesn't say that. He says, this is a beautiful moment, and we'll continue to do this, and you'll experience hardship. Jesus himself says, you're going to have trouble in this world. It's inevitable. But fear not, because I've actually overcome the world. So I want you to acknowledge and take a moment right now, or as we take communion in just a few moments, or in your car at home, if you're in a storm, let's acknowledge that together and not run away from it. And I also want you to understand this, that just like in this story with Jesus now, someone greater than Jonah is here, that what will happen as a result of you walking this life with Jesus is greater than you possibly thought that it would be. It's even better now. These jewish people, they practically worship these old stories and these old characters and the people, Moses and Elijah. For Jesus to come in and say, I'm better than all of this is a massive statement. And I believe that your younger self has promised maybe your older self a different kind of future, that maybe your job has promised you a different kind of lifestyle and success, that maybe your relationship has promised you something that it hasn't quite turned out to be. All of these ideals and stories are beautiful and wonderful, but Jesus is even better than what you thought your marriage or your future or your job would be. And there's many things in this life that you feel like are just so wild and so untenable and so unstoppable. It's only God's power that indeed can stop them and bring peace to rough waters himself. I want you to take just a moment to consider a storm that you may have been through that you're thankful that God has brought you through. Have you noticed a lot of times we can come through storms, and in the middle it was so crazy and wild, and then we make it out. We have a tendency to forget the grace that was on us in that moment. Or I want you to acknowledge the storm that you're in right now and not come to any perfect conclusion about your next steps, but instead be reminded that Jesus is in that boat, in that storm with you, even if you feel alone.