Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 29 2013 - Luke 8:22-39 – Fear and faith

Fear features in both of the stories we have read this morning. In the first we read of Jesus and his disciples crossing Lake Galilee in a boat. Jesus is asleep when a fierce storm blows up and threatens to swamp the boat. No doubt the disciples were afraid for they woke Jesus saying, "Master, Master, we’re going to drown!" (Luke 8:24). But it is only after Jesus has rebuked the wind and the waves and all is calm around them that we read of their fear. Jesus asks them, "Where is your faith?"; by way of response we read, "In fear and amazement they asked one another, 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.'" (8:25). They are filled with fear and amazement. They have seen something wonderful, something quite beyond their comprehension, and they tremble in the presence of one who can command the storm. But theirs is a wondering fear that draws them on rather than drives them back.

In the second story we read of a man possessed by many demons. He lived among the tombs outside the town and was unable to be constrained even by chains. He was wild, strong and naked. He must have been a fearful sight. Jesus cast out the demons, but permitted them to go into a herd of pigs that was feeding nearby. The pigs rushed over a cliff into the sea and were drowned. When the townspeople came to see what all the fuss was about they were amazed to see the wild man, clothed and in his right mind, calmly sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to him. The narrative continues, "Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear" (8:27). Here also were a people who had witnessed something wonderful that Jesus had done and they too were filled with fear. But their fear made them want to be rid of Jesus. They would rather be left with the familiarity of their troubled world than live with one who could transform the storm and create peace.

Living with Jesus is not a comfortable experience. He is liable to disturb our world for he has come to heal, transform and subdue. He brings peace – the storm is stilled and the troubled mind restored – but he also unsettles. He calls disciples to leave the familiar routine of their lives and to follow him. He will rob us of satisfaction with the way things are for he has given us a glimpse of how they could be and shall be. And he has shown us that he alone has the power to make things new for he is the resurrection and the life. Jesus robs us of the quiet of the graveyard and the inactivity of death. 

Those who proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord in the first century were viewed as a threat to the Pax Romanum – the peace established by Caesar and maintained by the Roman Empire. In many parts of the world today Christians are viewed as an unwelcome and unsettling presence in societies that want to live without regard to the claims and power of Jesus. And so we face the temptation to privatise and internalise our faith so that it cannot disturb others. But that is to deny its very nature; Jesus cannot but disturb. He has disturbed our lives with his transforming presence and he intends to disturb the lives of others through us.

It is a fearful thing to be in the presence of the living God and to know his power at work. The question for us is whether that will be a fearful wonder that draws us on, or a fear that will make us want to be rid of him at all costs.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your transforming power that has disturbed my life. Continue your holy disturbance in me and make me a gracious disturber of the peace of death that by your power all things may be made new.

Mar 29 2019 - Joshua 3:1-17 – Crossing the Jordan

The majority of the Israelites who had been rescued from Egypt had died in the desert over the last forty years. The Israelites now camped beside the Jordan opposite Jericho had heard what God had done for their parents and grandparents in bringing them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea – as also had the inhabitants of Jericho, as we saw yesterday. God will now demonstrate that he is the same God. What he did for their parents and grandparents he can do also for them. He will lead them into the land he has promised to give them.

The Ark of the Covenant is more than a box for the tablets of the law, it is the symbol of the presence and power of the living God among his people – he sits enthroned between the cherubim. The Ark, carried by the priests, will go before the people; God himself will lead them. The moment the priest’s feet get wet in the shallows of the Jordan, the water will cease to flow. It was as if the water had been dammed up at some point upstream and downstream the waters simply drained away. The priests carrying the Ark stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed while all of the Israelites marched safely over on dry ground.

Some forty years before, when the Israelites had seemed to be trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, Moses had told them, "Stand firm and you will see the deliverance that the Lord will bring you today" (Exodus 14:13). The waters of the Red Sea had parted to allow the Israelites to cross on dry ground. Now the Lord does another amazing thing for his people, repeating the miracle at the Red Sea. No longer are these Israelites a people who have merely heard of the saving power of their God, they have experienced it for themselves. Now they know that God is with them just as he was with their parents in the days of Moses, and they know that the Lord is with Joshua just as he was with Moses.

The same is true for us, it is not enough to be told what God has done for former generations – though such stories can provide us with great encouragement. We want to experience and know God acting for us in our day and generation. We want to know that God is with us and that he plans to lead us into the blessings he has promised to give us.

But did you notice that the priests who were leading the people needed to go down not just to the water's edge but to put their feet into the river before the water stopped flowing and the river dried up. They had to trust God that he would do what he promised and that they would not be carried away by the harvest floods of the Jordan. To mix the metaphor by making reference to the New Testament, in the words of John Ortberg, "If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat." God performs miracles for his people but he also calls for us to exercise faith in him. And every act of God's salvation, witnessed in response to our faith, will add to our confidence that God will not abandon us but continue to work in us and through us to establish his kingdom (see v. 10).

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are the same yesterday and today and forever. You did great things for your people in generations past; we thank you that you will do great things for us today – and for our children tomorrow. May our knowledge of all that you have done for us in the past – especially in saving us through your atoning death and glorious resurrection – fill us with unfailing faith in you.

Peter Misselbrook