You can be amazed by things that you don’t actually put your faith in. Such was the case for the disciples at the feeding of the 5,000. Now, at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus proves he is Lord of Creation, the great “I Am,” taking the disciples where they haven’t chosen to go in order to produce in them what they could not achieve on their own.
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
Pastor Mark: Are you guys ready? Are we ready? Are we ready to film? All right, howdy Mars Hill. I’m really excited to introduce you to my friend, Dr. Paul Tripp. He’ll be preaching for us. He’s taught for us a few times. We love him. He’s helped us a lot with Redemption Groups, our view of biblical counseling, and also Community Groups, so we’re very honored to have him back.
I know you’re going to really enjoy him. And he’s been able to bring his mustache as well, so we’re excited to have them both with us. And this is part of our great series My Best Sermon Ever. I’m out for five weeks this summer, and because you are the best, I wanted to bring in the best Bible teachers I could find, and I asked them to share the best sermon they have ever preached. So, we’ll see what Dr. Tripp has for us.
Paul Tripp: It’s not really a mustache; it’s a mutation. I have three of them on my back. My mom had one right here. It was so sad. We’d say, “Mom, shave. We’re going out to eat.”
Well, if you’re God’s child, if you’ve been redeemed by his blood, if you’ve been saved by his grace, you haven’t just been forgiven. Now, check this out: you’ve been called to live in a brand-new, radically different way; you’ve been called to live by this thing called “faith.”
Now, here’s the rope: Faith isn’t natural to us. Doubt is natural; worry is natural; fear is natural; discouragement is natural; anxiety is natural; looking over the fence and envying the life of somebody else who seems to have it better than you, is natural; waking up in the morning with a knot in the pit of your stomach because you beat yourself up all night with an endless catalog of what-ifs, is natural; bringing God into the court of your judgment and questioning his goodness and love is natural; wondering if God’s promises really are true is natural. But faith isn’t natural for us.
And so, I’d like to think with you this afternoon about how God works to craft in us faith, to transform us into people who really do live by faith. We’re gonna look at the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6, beginning with verse 45.
But before we do that, I want to make a distinction for you. It will make more sense later, but it’s important to make it now. Here it is: there’s a huge, even significant, difference between amazement and faith. You can be amazed by things that you don’t actually put your faith in.
I live in Philadelphia, and we raised our children there, and we had the habit, like so many families in Philadelphia, to go down to the Jersey Shore for a week’s vacation. We always said we’re going down the shore. I don’t know why people in Philadelphia say that, but that’s the way they say it.
We would go to a very quiet, family-oriented community called Ocean City, but our children would always beg us to go, at least for one evening, down to the next community down the beach called Wildwood, aptly named Wildwood because it was a bit of a wild place. Big, huge boardwalk there, and off the boardwalk were these big, huge piers, and on these piers were big amusement parks.
There’s a ride there at one of the parks that just amazed me. It was a big, about 50-foot-high metal frame. From it were hanging elastic bands. The bottom of the elastic bands was a pouch where they would strap some otherwise sane human being into, and they’d pull him or her back, and launch them back and forth over the Atlantic Ocean in the night. It’s one of those rides where you’d text somebody, “I paid $7 tonight and almost died, yeah!”
Now, that ride amazed me. The first time I saw it, I was transfixed. I was sort of like this [mimics staring at awe]. My family went off to ride rides; I was stuck there. They came back and got me. But I can tell you for sure, you will not strap Paul Tripp into that pouch and pull him back and launch him over the Atlantic Ocean in the night. That ride amazed me, but I would not put my faith in it.
Now, let me say some things about the book of Mark. I love Mark. Mark’s Gospel is hard-hitting and fast-paced. It’s a very modern Gospel in that way. And Mark has these two themes that course their way through the Gospel. The first one is that Mark’s intention is to demonstrate to you that Jesus of Nazareth is, in fact, the Son of God, and Mark doesn’t leave you any room for neutrality. He puts that right in your face.
But there’s another theme. Jesus has collected disciples, followers around him, and his intention is that they wouldn’t be just recipients of the work of his kingdom, but that they would be instruments of the work of that kingdom as well. And in order to do that, they would have to be men of faith, but these were not men of faith. And so, Jesus is working to build, to craft faith in them, and the way he would do that is he would introduce them to some kind of life difficulty, and in middle of that difficulty, he would reveal his glory.
There’s a bit of a divine equation that works its way through Mark—a gospel equation. It’s great to be on your mirror that you look on in the morning or on your refrigerator. Here it is: “divine power plus divine compassion equals everything you need.” “Divine power plus divine compassion equals everything you need.” “Dp + dc = eyn,” for you mathematicians in the room.
Now, let’s look at Mark 6:45. “Immediately he”—Christ—“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. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly amazed”—or astounded—“for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
Now, the disciples find themselves, in the beginning of this passage, in another one of these moments of difficulty. They’re trying to row their way across the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida on the other side. They’re facing an impossible head wind. They’re facing angry seas. If you look at the larger time clues in the past, they’ve probably been rowing for eight hours. They were way beyond their strength. They were way beyond their ability. They’re in a situation that’s futile and exhausting and potentially dangerous.
Now, when you’re reading the Bible and you see God’s children in this kind of situation, you ought to ask yourself the question, “How in the world did these guys get themselves in such a mess?” Maybe they had been disobedient to the command of Christ. Maybe they just made another foolish choice. Maybe they’re just full of themselves thinking that they had greater strength and greater wisdom than they actually had.
Well, if you look at the passage, none of those things are true. That first verse says, “Immediately he”—Christ—“made his disciples get in a boat.” These disciples are in this situation precisely because they’ve been obedient to Christ. They’re exactly where Jesus wants them to be. This mess is Jesus’ mess. It’s not a result of their failure. It’s not a result of their lack of wisdom. It’s a result of them following his precise commands.
Now, you should ask yourself, “Why would Jesus, so full of grace, so full of mercy, so full of tender love, so faithful, so patient, ever choose for his disciples to be in this kind of situation of danger and exhaustion and futility and difficulty? Why, why, why? What’s up with that?”
I’m about to hurt some of your feelings, but I think it’s my job. If you can’t answer that question, you don’t actually have a clue what God is doing in your life. You just don’t.
You see, Jesus knows something about the boys in the boat. He knows how self-righteous they can be. He knows how full of a sense of their own strength and wisdom they can be. He knows how much their allegiance of their heart is more to their little own self-oriented little kingdoms than it is to the grand purpose of his kingdom.
So, hear what I’m about to say. Jesus will take them where they haven’t chosen to go in order to produce in them what they could not achieve on their own. God will take you where you haven’t chosen to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own. God will take you, and you and you and you and you where you haven’t chosen to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own. You know what the Bible calls that? Grace. That’s grace. But it’s not a cool drink. It’s not a soft pillow.
I think, for many of us, there are moments when we’re crying out, “Where is the grace of God?” and we’re getting it. But it’s not the grace of relief, and it’s not the grace of release. Largely, those are to come. We get them in pieces, but largely they’re to come, because what, right now, we need is the grace of refinement. We better become committed to teach, comfort, preach, and encourage one another.
Get this terminology with the theology of uncomfortable grace, because very often, this side of eternity, the grace of God comes to us in uncomfortable forms. You may be saying, “Where, where, where is the grace that God has promised me?” and you’re getting it, but you’re getting uncomfortable grace because that’s exactly the grace that you need.
You see, if you’re God’s child and you’re going through difficulty, you’re going through an unexpected moment that you would have never chosen for yourself, you’re going through trial or suffering, you better not name those difficulties as a sign of his inattention and unfaithfulness. Those difficulties are a sure sign of the zeal of his redemptive love. You’re not being forgotten. You’re not being forsaken. You’re being loved. It’s grace. It’s grace. It’s grace. It’s grace. Uncomfortable grace, because that’s exactly the grace that we need.
Look at what it says next. “And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.” Walking on the sea. Walking on the sea.
Walking on the sea. You’re way too passive here. Don’t try this at home. I think there’s a tendency for us to read the Bible with such a mental monotone, a state of spiritual paralysis where we don’t interact with what is actually happening in the passage. That phrase, “Walking on the sea,” is the linchpin, the turn point, the exploding moment of this passage. Because the minute Jesus takes that walk, there are two things that you’re confronted with.
Here’s the first one: This is Lord God Almighty. This is King Creator. He can do anything with his creation that he wants to do. This is the Lord. The average dude doesn’t take a walk on water. If what Mark is trying to do is demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is, in fact, the Son of God, case closed, deal done, argument won. This is the Lord—bow down and worship.
But there’s something else you need to notice, very critical for understanding this passage. Think with me. The minute Jesus takes the walk, you now know what he has in mind. The minute Jesus takes the walk, you now know what his intention is for this moment. You may say, “Paul, I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Well, think about this. If all Jesus wanted to do was to remove the difficulty, he wouldn’t have had to take the walk. If all Jesus wanted to do was remove the difficulty, he wouldn’t have had to take the walk. All he would have had to do is, from the shore, say these words, “Peace, be still.” The wind would have died down, the waves would have got calm, and the boys in the boat would have rode the rest of the way across the Sea of Galilee.
The minute Jesus takes the walk, you know, hear what I’m about to say, that he’s not after the difficulty, he’s after the boys in the middle of the difficulty. He wants to do something in the heart and lives of the men who are in the middle of the difficulty. He’s not after making life easy in this moment. He’s after transforming the guys who are in this moment that’s anything but easy.
Now, think about it. When you’re in one of those unexpected difficult moments, what’s your high priority prayer? Be honest. “A little more redemption? Bring it on, Lord. A little more difficulty? I’m surely a person who needs to be redeemed. Make this moment tougher for me. In those moments of difficulty, do you sing to yourself, “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it. Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.” Do you? Or do you get a little bit fidgety and say, “Come on, God. You’re God, you’re sovereign, you can remove this. Just make it a little bit easier for me. You can handle it. I’ll sing ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness’ afterwards.”
You see, here’s the sad thing. You laugh, but maybe this is very sad. Maybe, for many of us, we actually want our comfort more than we want redemption. We esteem a predictable, easy life more than we esteem the awesome, transforming work of the Redeemer. We would rather be around unmessy people. We would rather live through weeks that are quite easy and predictable. We would rather have our plans and dreams come to be rather than being transformed by grace. What kind of Redeemer do you want to serve? What kind of Messiah do you long for?
I mean, for some of us, it doesn’t take much. A flat tire makes us question the goodness of God. “I can’t believe it. I thought you loved me. I’m just trying to serve you, and once again, my tire’s gone flat. If you loved me, there’d be air in my tires. Why, oh why?” It doesn’t take much. You lose your keys, 15 minutes you’re 75 percent of the way to atheism. It doesn’t take much. Someone in your family has the audacity to disagree with you and they won’t bow to the glory of your always-rightness, and you question if God exists. Don’t be too hard on the guys on the boat. The minute Jesus takes the walk, you know what he has in mind.
Now, here’s the scene—you gotta get the scene in your brain: The wind is still blowing. The waves are still crashing. The boat is still bobbing up and down, but Jesus has now injected himself in the scene. He’s right there with the disciples. Look at what it says: “He meant to pass by them. It doesn’t mean he needed a GPS. He wanted to do a big enough arc so all the disciples could see him, but when they saw him walking on the sea they”—immediately began to sing “‘Amazing Grace.’” Is that what your Bible says? No, I think not. “But when they saw him walking on the sea”—now check this out—“they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified.”
Now, here’s the sea. Jesus has defied all of the laws of nature. He’s injected himself into this moment. He means to do that. He has set the whole thing up because this moment is meant to transform everything these disciples think about themselves and think about life, yet they’re not encouraged, they’re not comforted, they’re not heartened at all. They’re absolutely terrified, and the only thing they can figure out is it must be a ghost.
It’s shocking. You should be shocked that these guys in this boat seem utterly unprepared, utterly unready for this moment. They had seen the glory of the one who is standing next to this boat. They had seen him raise a little girl from the dead. She was dead. Dead dead, certifiably dead. They had watched him feed a large multitude of people with a little boy’s lunch with lots of leftovers. They had experienced him calm another storm. Yet in this moment, they seem utterly unprepared and terrified all over again.
What about you? When you go through difficulty, what happens to your heart? Where does your heart go? Do you panic all over again? Do you wonder why the person’s life next to you is easier than yours is? Do you question God’s goodness and love all over again? Do you panic trying to answer questions that you have no ability to answer all over again? What happens to you when you go through moments of difficulty? Where does your heart go?
I say this all the time, and when I say it, people tend to laugh, but I’m really quite serious. No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do. You laughed. It was a quiet Seattle titter, but you laughed.
Now, you have to understand that you are in a constant conversation with yourself. It’s important not to move your lips, and don’t change places. They’ll think you’re crazy. They’ll put you away. But the things that you say to you about you are profoundly important because they’re formative of the way you will act, react, and respond in those moments.
Everyone in this room is a theologian. Everyone in this room is a philosopher. Everyone in this room is an archeologist who will dig through the mound of his existence, trying to make sense out of his life or her life. That’s who we are. You know, the people up here like me who preach at these services that you regularly attend are not the only preachers that you listen to. There’s another preacher that you listen to much more often, and in case you haven’t figured it out, that preacher is you. And you’re always preaching to yourself some kind of gospel.
It will be the true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that will encourage and comfort your heart, or it will be some anti-gospel, a gospel of poverty, partiality, aloneness, inability, weakness, and doom. I would ask you to be honest—when you’re going through the unexpected, when you’re going through what is difficult, where does your heart run? What kind of gospel do you preach to yourself in that moment?
Well, what happens next is one of the most beautiful pictures of patient, loving, tender grace that you have in all the New Testament. Now, here’s a scene: The wind is still blowing. The waves are still crashing. The boat is still bobbling up and down. Nothing has changed in the context of the scene, except Jesus has now injected himself into the scene. But the disciples aren’t heartened; they’re panicking all over again. And in this moment of storm and panic, Jesus speaks, and what he says is beautiful. He would have had the right to say, “I’ve had it. I’ve taught you, and I’ve taught you, and I’ve taught you. I’ve demonstrated unbelievable glory. You have heard teaching like human ears have never heard, and you just don’t get it. I’m tired. Get out of the boat. I’m choosing new disciples.”
He doesn’t say that. He speaks transformative words of grace. He says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Look, sadly the English translations don’t do a real good job with this passage. I’m deeply persuaded that in the middle of this storm, Jesus is taking one of the names of God, and he’s saying this: “Don’t you understand the ‘I Am’ is with you? The ‘I Am’ is here.”
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The One on whom all the covenant promises rest. The One who’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. The One who created the world by spoken word. The One who holds it together by his power. The One who is sovereign over every experience you will ever be in. The “I Am” has invaded your life by his grace. It’s impossible for you ever to be in any moment of difficulty by yourself because the “I Am” has invaded your life by his grace. The “I Am” is here, the “I Am” is here, the “I Am” is here, the “I Am” is here. Yeah, you better be excited. The “I Am” is here.
You see, this is what this moment is about. This is why Jesus set this whole thing up. This is why the disciples needed to be in that storm, because he’s manufacturing this moment where now he would reveal the heart of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every miracle of Jesus is meant to reveal something about the gospel. Here it is: “Don’t you understand that I am with you, always, forever?”
You’re never alone. You’re never left to your little wisdom. You’re never left to your little strength. You’re never left to your spiritual resources because the “I Am” is with you. There’s the gospel.
You see, if you’re a parent and you’re at the end of an unusually exhausting and discouraging parental day because it seems as though your children have conspired together to be particularly rebellious, and you’re walking down the hallway to break up one more fight, you better say to yourself, “I’m not alone in this discouraging parental moment because the ‘I Am’ has invaded my life by his grace.”
If you’re facing things in your marriage that you thought you’d never face, and your heart is broken, and you don’t know what to do, you better say to yourself, “I’m not in this marriage moment by myself because my life has been invaded by the grace of the One who is the ‘I Am.’”
If you’ve lost your job because somebody in a city a thousand miles away has made a decision that has ended your division of that company, and you’re driving home, and you don’t know what you’re going to say to your family, and you don’t know what the next several months is going to be like, you better say to yourself, “I’m not in this moment by myself because my life has been invaded by the grace of the ‘I Am.’”
If you’re facing a disloyalty in a relationship, and you’re so hurt, and you try to let it go, but you can’t—it seems like it haunts you—you better say to yourself, “I’m not in this moment by myself because my life has been invaded by the ‘I Am.’”
If you’re facing physical sickness, and your body feels weaker than it’s ever felt, and you’re haunted by little pains that you wonder if it’s the disease taking control, you better say to yourself, “I’m not in this physical moment alone because my life has been invaded by the grace of the ‘I Am.’”
If you’re an elderly person and you’re facing the weakness of old age, and you wonder how much strength you have left for how long, you better say to yourself, I’m not in this moment alone because my life has been invaded by the grace of the ‘I Am.’” The “I Am” is here, the “I Am” is here, the “I Am” is here, the “I Am” is here.
Now, hear what I’m about to say. Now you know why Jesus sent his disciples into that storm. Now you get it. Hear what I’m about to say: Sometimes you need the storm in order to see the glory; sometimes it’s in the middle of the storm, when you feel weaker than you’ve ever felt, that actually you begin to get it. You begin to realize who you are and what you’ve been given; that it’s not all on your shoulders; that it’s not all left to your strength; that it’s not all left to your wisdom. Because you’ve been given glorious, powerful, big, right here, right now grace, because the “I Am” is with you.
Well, look at what happens next. It says, “And he, Jesus, got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased finally. And they were utterly amazed.” Now, that’s not a compliment in case you didn’t know that because Mark makes an explanatory comment next. Mark almost never makes editorial comments. He’s just history, history, history. Luke is a doctor. He’s more analytical, makes a lot of those kind of comments. But Mark can’t resist, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to make an editorial comment here. It says, “And they were utterly amazed,”—or astounded—“for”—or because—“they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
You see, there really is a huge, even significant difference between amazement and faith. You can be amazed by things that you don’t actually put your faith into. Here’s what amazement is: amazement is when you’re taken beyond the categories that you’re carrying around to explain or understand something. Let me say that again: Amazement is when you’re taken beyond the categories that you have to explain or understand something. Faith is when you accept God’s declaration of himself and his plan, and then you turn and live on that basis. Faith is not just something you do with your brain; faith is the way that you live your life.
Hebrews 11 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to him”—listen to what it says—“must believe that he exists.” That’s the acceptance thing. That’s my willing acceptance of God’s declaration of who he is and what he’s doing. And then it says, “And he rewards those who seek him.” That’s the lifestyle part of faith. I live on the basis of what God has declared. That’s faith.
Let me give you a silly example of amazement: Pretend that we’re outside this building talking, and a beautiful, very cool, low-slung, bright yellow, European sports car roars up in front of us. Throaty 12-cylinder engine. It’s about this high at its highest point. And that engine turns off, gull-wing doors open, and the man who’s driving slithers out of the car because he’s more laying down than sitting down. And you’re very interested in this vehicle. You walk around it, looking at all of its beautiful angles. You ask him if you could get inside of it, and you slide inside of it, and you’re more laying down than sitting down. It’s more like a rocket ship than a car to you.
You get out of the car, and you can’t resist asking that impolite, impertinent question, but you just—you’re going to. You say to him, “How much did this cost?” And he says, “$450,000.” I heard a whistle. You’re impressed at that point.
His cell phone rings. He says, “I’ve got to go.” He hops in the car, gull-wing doors close, he clicks that 12-cylinder engine into throaty life, puts it in gear, and it levitates out of sight. Now you’re amazed. You don’t have any categories for describing this. You’re sort of like this: you’re hoping the person next to you saw the same thing so you won’t be crazy.
You see, there is a significant difference between amazement and faith. You can be amazed by things that you don’t put your faith in. You can be amazed by the grand sweep of the redemptive story in Scripture and not be living by faith. You can be amazed by the labyrinthine logic of the theology of the word of God and not be living by faith. You can be amazed by the preaching that you hear week after week and not be living by faith. You can be amazed at the worship music that you participate in and not be living by faith. You can be amazed by the love of your small group and not be living by faith. You can be amazed at the ministry opportunities that are available to you and not be living by faith. You can be amazed at the wonderful resources that are available to us in our generation to grow and mature us and not be living by faith.
There’s a huge, yes, significant difference between amazement and faith. This was a moment of drop-dead amazement for these men, but it was not a moment of faith because if it had been a moment of faith, they would have both been prepared and they would have not been terrified.
Mark describes to us why. He says, “They did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” When he says, “They did not understand about the loaves,” what he means is that they hadn’t learned their lessons. He’s taken the example of the feeding of the 5,000, saying, “Having seen all those miracles, they hadn’t learned their lessons.” And they hadn’t learned their lessons because—hear this—they were hard of heart. They had hard hearts.
Now, here’s what you need to understand: it’s possible to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and have a hard heart. And there’s actually a physical word picture here. It’s the picture of a stony heart. Imagine that I would have, at this moment in this sermon, a stone in my hands about this big. And imagine that I would push on that stone with all of my might. What would you expect to have happen? Well, look at the size of my arms. What do you think? The answer is obvious for those of you who are frantically searching for an answer. Nothing, because that stone, as hard as it is, is resistant to change. It’s not malleable; it’s not moldable.
It’s possible to be one of God’s children and be of hard heart. And why are people hard of heart? Why are they resistant to change? Because we get all too satisfied all too quickly of where we are. I don’t think the big struggle of the church of Jesus Christ—spiritual struggle—is dissatisfaction. I feel the big struggle of the church of Jesus Christ is satisfaction. We’re all too quickly satisfied. We’re satisfied long before God’s work of grace is completed in us.
You have to know this: you serve a dissatisfied Redeemer. He will not abandon his work. He will not stop what he has begun until every microbe of sin is delivered from every cell of every heart of every one of his children. He’s a dissatisfied Redeemer. His dissatisfaction is, in fact, your hope.
Do you have a hard heart? Are you resistant to change? Luella, my wife, who’s here with me somewhere in the audience, and I gave birth to a son who just didn’t understand the concept of gifts. (Well, Luella actually gave birth. Got to get the biology right here.) We would buy Justin a gift—and this happened again and again—he would open the gift, discard the toy or whatever, and play with the box. It drove me nuts. It happened Christmas after Christmas and birthday after birthday.
And so, there came one particular Christmas where I was determined that I was going to experience parental victory. We would find a toy that he would actually play with. And I grabbed Luella, and I drug her out for a longer period of time than really made sense because I was determined we were gonna find this gift. And we actually did. We actually found what we thought was the quintessential Justin gift. It was like it was made for him. We bought the gift. When it came to that moment at Christmas for him to open that particular present, we were surely more excited than he would have ever been.
He tore open into the box like a little boy would, not thinking of recycling, and actually began to play with the toy. I had such feelings of fatherly triumph. I went into the kitchen to get something to drink and got engaged in a conversation with another one of my relatives and came back out into the living room, and he was sitting in the box.
Now, you may think, “Why is this man telling us this cute family story at the end of this sermon?” Well, here it is: you’ve been given, if you’re God’s child, the most awesome, glorious gift that you could ever be given. It’s a gift that’s gorgeous from every vista, every perspective. It’s a gift you could never earn, you could never achieve, you could never deserve. It’s the one gift that every human being who has ever taken a breath desperately needs whether they know it or not. It’s the ultimate gift of gifts. It’s the only gift that you’ll ever be given that has the power to change you and everything about you. It’s the glorious, awesome gift of gifts. What is it? It’s the gift of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But I’m persuaded, in the face of being given that gift, there are many believers who are content to play with the box. They’re content with a little bit of biblical literacy. They’re content with a little bit of theological knowledge. They’re content with episodic moments of ministry. They’re content with a little bit better marriage, a little bit better parenting. But they’re not holding onto that gift of grace and saying, “I can’t believe I’ve been chosen from the mass of humanity to be given this gift. I can’t believe it’s happened to me. This gift isn’t part of my life; this gift is everything in my life; this gift is my life. I’m gonna hold onto that gift of grace with both hands. I want to be with people who love this gift. I want to celebrate this gift. I want to learn more about this gift. I want this gift to do everything it was intended to do for me, namely transform my life. I’m not letting go of this gift of grace until it’s finished its work.”
No, they’ll come on Sunday morning or Saturday night. They’ll joyfully sing worship songs. But if you’d watch the video of their lives, their lives are driven and shaped by other values.
You see, Jesus injected himself into that storm because he knew that boat was filled with identity amnesiacs. These men just didn’t understand who they were and just didn’t understand what they’d been given. And because they didn’t, their lives were driven by other hopes, dreams, and values. What set of values determines your schedule? What set of values shapes your relationship? What set of values forms the way you make decisions? What set of values determines your schedule? Are you holding onto that gift of grace with worshipful hands or are you content to play with the box? There really is a significant, even profound, difference between amazement and faith.
Maybe you’re one of God’s children here this morning and you say, “Paul, that’s me. There are moments I just completely panic. There are moments where I forget who I am. There are moments where I doubt God’s goodness. Oh, there are moments when I live by faith, but it’s spotty and irregular.”
Well, I have good news for you. You don’t have to run away in fear. You don’t have to wallow in guilt and shame. You can run in the presence of a holy God, weak and failing as you are, and here’s why. I don’t know if you’ve thought about this or not, but the most significant aspect of the suffering of Jesus was not physical. The most significant aspect of the suffering of Jesus was relational. It’s that moment on that cross, that horrible, dark moment where the Father turned his back on the Son, and Jesus cries out in utter torment, “_Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?_ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Hear this: Jesus took every aspect of your rejection so you, as God’s child, would never ever again see the back of God’s head. You see, you can run to this holy God because Jesus carried your rejection. And you can run to him with the knowledge that there’s nothing that could ever be revealed about you that isn’t already covered by the blood of Jesus. And you can know this: that faith also is a gift of his grace.
Maybe you would say today, “Paul, I don’t know any of this way of faith. I don’t know this one who is the ‘I Am.’ I think I’ve lived my life based on my own strength. I’ve tried to be—tell myself that I’m capable in my own strength and wisdom. I tell myself that I’m one of the good guys, and I’ve realized right now that I need the grace of this One you described, but I don’t know how to find that grace.”
I would plead with you, don’t leave this room until you do. Grab someone next to you, come forward at the end for help. Don’t leave until your life is in the hands of the One who is the “I Am.” Yes, there is a big difference between amazement and faith. May we be people of faith, and may we be that because of the operation of powerful, transforming grace.
Let’s pray. Lord, we are thankful for this little vignette in your life with the disciples. We’re thankful for the way that it reveals us and our struggles. We’re thankful for the way that it reveals you and your character and your purpose. And we would pray, oh, won’t you continue your work of crafting, of building faith in us that we may live by faith. Thank you for big grace that is up to that task. We thank you that our lives will never again be the same because they’ve been invaded by the grace of the One who is the “I Am.” We pray this in his sweet and strong name. Amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.