January 10, 2016 | text: Matthew 14:22-33
This is Part 2 in the Things Change After Jesus series.
There is an image, and various permutations of it, going around social media that claims the phrase “Do not be afraid” appears in the Bible 365 times. While positive and encouraging, those stats are wildly exaggerated. (The most occurrences I have found in any English translation is 70 in the NIV.) Sharing questionable facts online is certainly nothing new but in this case it not only bears false witness but also fails to rightly divide the Word of Truth. How many of you learned in elementary school that George Washington could not tell a lie about cutting down his father’s apple tree? Hold on to that thought, we’ll come back to it later.
We often worry about things we have no control over. Will the stock market continue to fall? Who will the Republicans nominate to run in November? Who will the Democrats run? (Don’t worry about it too much; they never give us good choices and no matter who is elected president, Jesus is the King of kings.) What will happen to the economy? How will climate change affect us? What if I get the flu? Most or all of those things are beyond our control. Motorcyclists know this: You can check the tread on your tires, use your turn signals, break early, wear all the leather and a properly fitted helmet but there is nothing you can do about the way other people drive. The guy on the bike has to watch what he is doing and what everybody is doing as well. Worrying about stuff that we have no control over is kind of like rocking in a chair; it gives you something to do but doesn’t really help anything. Things beyond our control, however, are not beyond God’s control. He has ordained the events of history. Think about the Hebrews in the land of Egypt. After 400 years, just like he told Abraham in Genesis 15, God brought them out of Egypt, plundering the land and destroying the army of Pharaoh in the process. Not even a sparrow falls from the sky that God does not notice; are you not much more precious in God’s eye than sparrows? What if all those things we worry about happen? Recall the three Hebrew children; God will either deliver you from the fire or go with you through the fire. So maybe you will get the flu. You will then either get better and thank God for his healing or get worse and go to the hospital. God is also at the hospital. Your pastor will visit you in the hospital and pray for healing and wisdom for your doctor. You will either get well and come home or pass away and go home, welcomed into the arms of Jesus. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. So what’s the problem?
Keep your eyes on Jesus. We spent some time last week with Peter on a boat. In Matthew 14, Peter and the other disciples are again on a boat but this time Jesus is on the water without one. Peter tells Jesus that if that is really him, bid him come to him. Jesus does and Peter walks on the water toward Jesus! As long as he is looking at Jesus and walking toward him everything is fine. It’s only when he is distracted by the wind and waves that he begins to sink. But pay attention to what happens next. The wind and waves made him afraid but he calls out to Jesus who saves him! Peter lost his cool but did not lose faith in the one who saves. You’ve probably seen horse drawn carriages in movies or perhaps even in real life. If two or more horses work in a team with a driver, the blinders on their eyes keep them looking straight ahead. That prevents them from being distracted by other things going on around them. Paul (in Philippians 3:14) keeps his eyes on the mark and prize, the high calling of God in Jesus Christ. Keep your eyes on Jesus. And if we do get distracted by things that make us afraid – and it will happen from time to time when we forget who we are and whose we are – we can call out to the one that will never leave nor forsake us and is with us until the end of the age.
The worst they can do is kill you. Recall that flu example from a few minutes ago. Just before Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7, he said he could see Jesus standing at God’s right hand. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” is 2 Corinthians 5:8. One of the real fear not passages of scripture is Matthew 10:28 in which Jesus tells his followers “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The worst anyone can do in this world is send you home, which will happen to all of us sooner or later and never before God wills it. We are all immortal until our work for God is finished.
All of this to the Christian believer. I think it’s safe to assume than an atheist or someone that hates God would never have read this far. If you are one this fence, if you plan to make a decision later, if you have been putting it off until a better time then you really do have good reason to be afraid. A car running a red light, a bout with e coli or a single stray bullet could take you from this world and you will not walk into the arms of Jesus; you will wake up in hell. Good people, hard working people, religious people etc. die and go to hell everyday. Any religion will do to live by but only one that places your faith in Jesus as savior will do to die by. Here’s a truth of scripture: the only way to God the Father is through Jesus the Son. That is the difference Christ makes.
For the record: George Washington never cut down a cherry tree and told his father that he could not tell a lie. That was one story in an early reading and grammar book that used well known characters from history as the subject of stories that also taught a few lessons about good clean living. Everyone knew at the time that they were just stories meant to teach children reading skills with a moral lesson but as time went by the story about Washington became part of our collective consciousness until most people believe it to be from American history. So ironically the story about a man that cannot lie became a lie itself. Be careful what you repeat; but do not be afraid.