First Baptist Church

“The Sign Of Fear” Sermon by Dave Stebnitz

The Sign Of Fear

Aug 20 2017
Scripture: John 6:15-21
I once read the story of a man who was hitch hiking on a very dark night in the middle of a storm. It was late at night and no cars were passing. The storm was fierce and the winds strong he could hardly see a few feet ahead.
Suddenly, he saw a car coming towards him and stop. Without further thought, he got in the back seat of the car and the car began to slowly make its way down the road. But when he looked up front to thank the driver… he realized THERE WAS NOBODY behind the wheel.
Just then he noticed that the car was headed for a curve but just before the car reached the curve,
a hand appeared through the window and slowly turned the steering wheel. He closed his eyes and began to pray… and when he opened his eyes again he saw that the car was approaching another curve. And again a hand appeared and steered the car around the curve.
Filled with fear, he leaped from the car and ran for his life. Before long he saw a diner alongside the road and shaking from the cold and from his fear he ordered a hot cup of coffee. As he drank his coffee he told anyone who’d listen about the horrible experience he’s just been thru.
A silence hung over the diner as the man began to weep.
About half an hour later, two guys walk into the same diner… and one says to the other,
“Hey Bob, isn’t that the guy who jumped into the car when we were pushing it down the road?”
Now, who did that hitch-hiker THINK was driving that car? (Ghost) Keep that in the back of your mind for now as we consider a little background on our story this morning. It’s retold in Matthew, Mark and John.
The disciples have been out on the Sea of Galilee headed for home. And it’s been a rough night. They’ve been rowing hard against a stormy sea for several hours and now it’s about 3 in the morning.
The day before was when Jesus had fed the 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, and we’re told that after that miracle, Jesus “…made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.” Mark 6:45-46
The Gospel of Matthew tells us a little more about this incident: … “the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night (3:00 a.m.) he came to them, walking on the sea.
But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. Matthew 14:24-26
Matthew goes on to tell us the story about how Peter asked Jesus if he could come walk on the water too… and Jesus said “Well, come on out.” And Peter actually walked on the water himself… but when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the wind and waves… he began to sink.
But this morning – we’re not going to talk about that part of the story. For some reason, God left Peter’s experience out of our Gospel reading this morning. Apparently there’s something else here that God want us to see, something about the idea of fear of the unknown.
I. In fact that’s the one fact that stands out in this story. The disciples were afraid.
The Gospels of Mark and Matthew say that WHEN they saw Jesus they thought they were seeing a ghost. Now why would they think He’s a ghost?
Well… because nobody walks on water! In fact NOBODY should be here… unless they’re in a boat! But this person is walking ON the water. That’s not normal… that’s not supposed to happen. It’s a miracle… but they’re not prepared to see a miracle.
Lots of folks aren’t prepared to see miracles.
ILLUS: About 10 years ago, a physicist and Templeton Prize winner named Paul Davies found – in the laws of nature – tentative evidence for design (i.e. he had apparently found evidence for an intelligent designer – God) but then he said: “As a physicist, I feel very uncomfortable with a God who intervenes” in human affairs.
What’s he saying? He says he’s not prepared to see miracles. Why? Because he rejects the idea of a supernatural power that would have the power to change the laws of nature that he IS comfortable with.
ILLUS: But (of course) he’s not the only one to have ever rejected the idea of God intervening.
Thomas Jefferson believed in God… but he was so offended by the idea that God could/would intervene in the course of human history that he put together his own Bible – The Jefferson Bible. He literally cut and pasted numerous sections from the New Testament with a razor and glue and excluded all of the miracles of Jesus and most mentions of the supernatural, including sections from the gospels that told the story of the Resurrection.
Why would he do that? Because folks shouldn’t be able to walk on water; or feed 5000 people with just a little bit of food; or heal the lame and the blind and the leprous with a single touch. And they DEFINITELY don’t come back from the dead. It’s just not natural.
You know maybe we can understand that thinking from agnostics and atheists. Those folks don’t buy into our God anyway! But these are Jesus’ disciples out in that boat… they’ve SEEN Him do miracles! Why should they be surprised at His walking on the water?
Well, 1st – they’d never seen Him do that before.
And 2ndly – because the nature of miracles is that… they’re not normal.
You may have seen God do plenty of supernatural things. Maybe you’ve seen God heal people who should have died. Or you’ve seen God supply money where no one thought that money would come. Maybe God has interceded in your life or the life of someone you know. You’d think, after a while you’d get used to that. But even after having seen all God’s power time and time again EVERY TIME we see it happen… I am sure you’re STILL amazed at what He does.
Miracles amaze us because they’re not normal.
One man once said: “If they were happening every day, they wouldn’t be called miracles. They’d be called regulars.” Gary Richmond
So I’m not troubled by the disciples struggling with this miracle. They weren’t rejecting the idea that Jesus could do miracles. They just weren’t ready for THIS ONE. (PAUSE)
II. You see, part of the reason the disciples didn’t recognize this event as a miracle was because they didn’t recognize Jesus.
But what about the fact that the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, they had been with him for a while and certainly should have recognized him.
But I don’t think that’s so.
ILLUS: Have you ever been to the supermarket and meet somebody and you just know that you know them, but you can’t place them? Then you realize they’ve been in church with you? Of course you have. Even I’ve done that.
But why didn’t we recognize them? Well… because they’re NOT WHERE you’re used to seeing them.
You see… the disciples weren’t looking for Jesus. As far as they knew, He was still back on the other shore. They’re not expecting Him to show up at this moment.
III. Some might say that the disciples were at fault because they’d left Jesus behind
But that’s not true. Mark 6:45-46 Jesus “…made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.”
It wasn’t their fault that Jesus wasn’t with them. Jesus had MADE them get into their boat. He probably said something like “You guys go on home and I’ll catch up with you later”.
But now, that begs the question of WHY Jesus would do that. Well the most obvious reason is the one stated in the text: Jesus wanted some ALONE TIME to pray
But maybe there’s more to it than that. I think Jesus knew all about the storm the Disciples were about to encounter. I think He knew the wind and waves will be against them. He knew how they’d have to struggle with the oars. AND He knew how they’ll react when He shows up… walking on the water.
I think Jesus did this on purpose! I think He intended to teach them a lesson on fear.
You know, I’ll often look at other preacher’s sermons as I prepare for our Sunday worship. And it seemed almost every one of them believed the disciples were afraid of the storm they encountered on the sea. But there’s nothing in the text that suggests that.
Yes, the disciples have been out on the sea rowing hard for hours. Yes, the water was rough, the winds were harsh… and it was 3 in the morning. But THAT doesn’t seem to bother them. These are things they know. Things they’re familiar with. They’re not afraid of the sea.
So what is it that they’re afraid of?
They were afraid of the unknown. They didn’t think they were seeing Jesus on the sea… they thought they were seeing a ghost.
Fear is a response to the unknown. People get afraid of all kinds of things: financial difficulties, unemployment, sickness, death, etc. etc. etc.
But almost without exception the one thing folks get most afraid of is something that hasn’t happened yet. And that fear of the unknown robs them of their life and their joy.
Max Lucado tells us “Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors.”
ILLUS: It’s fear of the unknown that often traps us in despair. There’s a true story about a woman who came to a counselor in despair. She was an older woman whose son lived with her in a small apartment. Her son was lazy good for nothing free loader who did nothing all day except sit in front of the TV or sleep while she worked several hard hours a day. When she would get home, he’d ask her what was for supper.
She had just been to the doctor and had been informed that she MUST take time off and get bed rest and not do any significant labor if she was to regain her health. She came to the counselor hoping he could help her figure her way out of her situation.
The counselor then asked if she was a Christian. “Yes,” she replied.
“What will happen if you take the time off?” he asked.
“Well, we’ll run out of money, our food will eventually run out and the rent will not get paid.”
“Then what will happen?” he asked.
“I’ll probably get sicker each day.” she responded.
“Then what will happen?”
“I’ll probably die!”
“Ok, then what will happen?”
She paused for a few moments considering this and then said, “I guess I’ll go to be with Jesus.”
He looked in her eyes and then asked, “If you’re a Christian, isn’t that an acceptable alternative?”
Somehow this gave her a new insight and courage to face her difficulties. So, she went home to her apartment and went to bed. Then her lazy son came home. Finding her in bed, he asked what was wrong.
“I’m sick,” she responded.
“Well, aren’t you going to work?”
“I can’t. I won’t be able to go back to work for some time?”
Taken back, he looked around and then asked “but how will be buy food?”
“I don’t know, I guess we won’t be able to get any.”
“But we’ll starve! What are we going to do?”
“I guess, we might die.”
The next day, he went out and got a job.
Fear of the unknown traps us in despair. And that’s situation Jesus placed His disciples in. He wanted them to face that fear in their own lives. And then, He gave them the cure for that fear.
Do you remember what He did to help them deal with their fear?
It wasn’t another miracle or a sign from heaven. We’re told “… They were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” John 6:19-20
And that was it! Those few simple words removed their fear.
Someone once said that 365 times in Scripture we’re told “Do not fear. Fear not. Don’t be afraid”. That’s once for every day of the year we’re told. I hate to burst anybody’s bubble… but that’s not really true. It’s more like 150 times in Scripture… but that’s still a hefty number of times.
365 ‘Do not be afraid’ verses?
Here Jesus is saying: “It’s me. Don’t be afraid”
Or another way of saying it… “I’m here now. It’s OK. I’ve got it under control.”
It’s kind of like the time when Joshua was about to up against Jericho. God says to him
‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your GOD WILL BE WITH YOU wherever you go.’ Joshua 1:9
And that’s OUR promise as well. God has promised us “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
That’s the Jesus we believe in. The Jesus who can heal the sick, raise the dead, feed 1000s with little bit of nothing. The Jesus who can walk on water. But more than that He’s the Jesus who not only has such great power… but has such great love for us that we need to fear NOTHING.
It’s little wonder, that after Jesus stepped into the boat with His disciples, Matthew 14:33 tells us: “… those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
Once they recognized Jesus… it changed their fear to joy.
CLOSE: A preacher named Doug Goins told of a woman he went to see in Seattle, WA.. Her name was Helen Hayworth Lemmel. She was in her nineties. She’d been born and raised in wealth in England, and was well-known as a songwriter. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Lemmel probably wrote 70 or 80 Christian hymns and gospel songs that were popular in the 1920s through the early 1950s.
She’d married into nobility; her husband was a lord. But she was stricken with blindness as a very young woman, and her husband divorced her because he didn’t want to be married to a blind woman.
Eventually she ended up in Seattle, Washington. Destitute. A ward of King County. Living in a tiny room in a home where the rent was paid by the county. Every time (he said) we would visit her or she would come to our home, we’d ask her how she was doing, and she would always say, “I am fine in the things that count.”
One final thing about Helen: in her room she had a little plastic organ on a table. It was like a child’s chord organ. She would play that and cry and sing. She had this vision of getting to heaven and having a mighty, thundering pipe organ. She didn’t see the little plastic organ as a disadvantage. It was just a foretaste of glory. This was a down payment on what God was going to do for her. One of her sayings was “I can hardly wait!”
You probably know the most famous song that she wrote
” O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior, and life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”
I want you to pay special attention to that chorus. Here were the words of a woman struck with blindness. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth…” The things that frighten you, the things that worry you, the things that make you anxious – the things of this “earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
It’s when we “turn our eyes” upon Jesus that we realize the promise of His presence. It’s a promise no one else has and it gives us an advantage the world does not have.

Posted in Written Sermons on August 22, 2017.

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