Matthew 8:18-34 | Why Are You So Afraid


Why Are You So Afraid

Matthew 8:18-34

Key Verse 8:26


“He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, and it was completely calm.”


In this chapter, Jesus demonstrates what the coming of the kingdom of God through all the work that he does among people. A man with leprosy begged Jesus to heal him, and Jesus did with the gentle touch of a Shepherd. Then came a Centurion who also begged Jesus to heal his sick servant, and Jesus again did with the power of his Word. Both of them, the leper and the centurion were men of incredible faith. The leper was certain that Jesus had great compassion to heal him. And the Centurion was certain that Jesus’ Word had the power to heal his servant. I think that you couldn’t find such incredible faith in the whole world, not even among the disciples themselves. This kind of faith can accomplish great things no matter who the person who uses it is! The leper received healing by that faith, and the centurion’s servant was also healed by that same faith. These things teach us much about Jesus. He came to take up our infirmities and to carry our diseases. He came to heal us. And his healing wasn’t confined to the healing of the body alone. Jesus’ healing touch reached to the heart and soul of those who suffered from inner diseases sometimes even worse than leprosy. In our passage today, there are three stories that deal with such inner healing. He heals his disciples’ troubled hearts. And he heals the troubled hearts of some miserable souls tormented by demons.


Look at verse 18. “When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.” This crossing of the lake is interesting at this time! Why? Because it was now time for the disciples themselves to grow in their own personal faith in Jesus. They had seen a hopeless man with terminal leprosy come to Jesus with shining faith. And they had seen Jesus fulfill this miserable man’s hopes, cleansing him inside out. They had witnessed a foreigner, an enemy soldier show faith in Jesus’ Word. And they had all been amazed! And maybe these disciples’ own faith was strengthened through every act of Jesus’ grace and mercy. But it wasn’t enough! What they needed now more than anything else was to make this faith very personal, and experience it themselves in a personal way. Otherwise they couldn’t mature into Jesus’ servants and imitate his life and ministry as he wanted them to. That’s not hard to understand! People witness the hand of God working and experience the power of the kingdom of God all around them. Yet they miss out on personal faith. They don’t know how to put that faith into practice. Unless our faith is personal and we experience it personally, nothing usually happens in our own lives. Unless we exercise our own faith in Christ in practical every day things, we cannot experience the kingdom of God in our midst.


Jesus really wanted his disciples to have this faith, to experience it personally— to know its power in their own lives. So how to help them do so? They needed to face difficulties in life— difficulties that require faith and which only faith can overcome. So Jesus took them for a ride across the lake to teach them something powerful about faith— that they might experience faith on a very personal level. He wanted to show them that faith is more powerful than all the powers of nature. He wanted to show them that faith is more powerful than fear— the kind of fear that so often paralyzes people and makes them helpless and powerless and ultimately useless to God. Why was Jesus so concerned with teaching them that personal aspect of practical faith? Because these disciples were the instrument through which Jesus wanted to reach the whole world with the gospel. If they were going to serve God as Jesus did, they really needed to overcome their fears— their inhibitions— their lack of confidence— and whatever else their hearts and souls were burdened with. And this particular evening was going to be a dreadful evening for them.  But Jesus knew that it was also going to be a time of great inner healing for them— the very healing that would ultimately shape them into the great servants of God they were called to be.


But before they began this unforgettable journey across the lake, something very interesting happened. One of the disciples (not one of the twelve) made a comment. Look at verse 19. “‘Teacher’, he said, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’” We really don’t know what made him say this. Maybe he was moved by Jesus’ compassion for those who are suffering. No one had ever come near a leper, let alone touch him! This on-the-fence but sincere disciple witnessed a remarkable act of love here which he had never seen before, and decided to follow Jesus because in Jesus he found meaning and purpose to his life. Maybe he had been searching for some true meaning to his own life which he obviously couldn’t find as a teacher of the Law. Many people live and die without ever finding the true meaning of their lives. They search in the wrong places, and find some meaning in the wrong things, only to be terribly disappointed in the end. But this man watched the Son of God pour out unconditional love on so many undeserving people. When he beheld such amazing grace in Jesus, he suddenly knew where he belonged. He belonged with Jesus and would follow him. Actually many people get this sudden emotional impulse to do just that. But regretfully, emotional decisions never last long. As soon as Jesus was getting ready to get on the boat, this man shouted: “Teacher… I will follow you wherever you go.” He was inspired to do what every person needs to do in their life, which is to follow Jesus. But he had a serious life problem he needed to deal with, otherwise his life in Christ wouldn’t last long! What did Jesus see as his life problem?


Look at verse 20. “Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’” It seems that he had a serious security problem he hadn’t solved yet. What are we talking about? We’re talking about the security problem that often haunts people and keeps them slaves to fear and uncertainty, even those who have a holy desire to serve Christ. “Where will I live? What will I eat? Who will provide for my needs? Who will take care of my family? I need some assurances before I begin serving the Lord. What if my money runs out?” Those who worry too much about their security are usually consumed with such thoughts. Jesus really understood this man’s struggle. We all want some assurances before we dedicate our lives to following and serving the Lord. It’s the smart thing to do, since this world constantly teaches us that security and stability are of paramount importance. Wanting some security and assurance seems to be the right thing to do! But Jesus challenged this man from the start that when you dedicate your life to Christ and to following Christ, your security and assurance must be in Christ alone. In other words, you must live by faith from first to last! Jesus was honest with this man. Christian life isn’t easy. There are no guarantees of sanctuary or of comfort. When you decide to follow Jesus, you must just trust him with everything in your life, your present and future, your marriage, your children, your job. If you are consumed with worries about these things, you will not be able to serve him nor to be a holy influence on others. So Jesus challenged him to repent of any worldly hope or security he had and to commit himself to Christ at any cost.


There was another incident with yet another disciple. Look at verse 21. “Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’” This on-the-fence disciple was also sincere in his desire to follow Jesus. You can tell that he was a terribly responsible man— especially towards his own family. His heart convicted him to follow Jesus. He felt the call as surely as so many people feel the Lord’s call in their own lives. How to act upon that conviction is entirely another story. And this particular man was reluctant to heed Jesus’ invitation. Why? He too had a life problem that he too needed to resolve if he were to follow Jesus. The problem he had is that he had his priorities mixed up. Yes, he wanted to follow Jesus! But no, he didn’t want to disappoint his family or friends or anyone else to whom he felt responsible (since he was a terribly responsible man!). Strangely however, he didn’t mind disappointing God as long as others still liked him and were happy with him. He didn’t mind making the Lord wait for him, while he waited on his other responsibilities! This is really a huge problem in people’s lives, especially Christian people— the priority issue. But here’s the truth. As much as our worldly responsibilities are great and significant, they never end. So I deceive myself if I think that one day when all my other responsibilities are taken care of, I’d be free to follow Jesus and serve him with the full commitment the Lord demands of me. But that day would never come! He really needed to carefully listen to Jesus’ words and to take them to heart. Jesus counseled him like this: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Jesus isn’t being cruel. Jesus isn’t asking him to sever ties with his family nor to shirk his responsibilities. Jesus just wanted to heal his divided heart, and set a priority in his heart that nothing will ever hinder or challenge. Make Jesus your top priority in life! Or remain an imaginary disciple like so many are. Good intentions don’t bear fruit. What bears fruit is a severe kind of faith which you put into action that usually does! It is better that others are disappointed in you than to disappoint God and his holy cause in your life.


We have no idea how these two good intentioned disciples reacted. But after counseling them, Jesus got into the boat with his twelve disciples to cross to the other side of the lake. I think that the disciples were happy that they finally could have some quiet time from the noisy crowds. But they really had no idea what was waiting for them. Yet it would be the experience of a lifetime! A perfect spiritual discipline to mold them in the power of faith! Jesus understood his disciples’ spiritual ineffectiveness and the many fears which plagued their hearts and hindered them from making any kind of noticeable spiritual progress. And he understood that what they really needed was inner healing. If that were to happen, they might begin to face life’s problems with faith rather than with fear.


Here we see two incidents Jesus used to train these frail men. Both incidents were storms of a sort— storms of life that were in a way life-threatening and at the same time impossible to overcome. Look at the first storm they had to face. Read verse 24. “Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.” They were rowing peacefully, making subtle jokes and jabbing one another. Then suddenly high and powerful waves began to beat on the boat until it was about to capsize. Most of them were skilled fishermen, and had handled storms before. So they tried to remain calm. But whatever they did, nothing in their lives had prepared them for this situation. Really this time, they were helpless. They came face to face with death. And when all their efforts failed and they were standing between life and death, they now finally decided to call on Jesus! He was sleeping peacefully undisturbed by the storm.


Read verse 25. “The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’” Why were they so desperate even when Jesus was right there with them? And how often is this same scene played out in our own lives as well. We know that Jesus is right here with us, yet we fear and panic for something or other, thinking the worst! Here’s why! Read verse 26. “He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” Shouldn’t Jesus be a bit more understanding about this life-threatening problem they were just in! Shouldn’t he say something comforting! Instead, the Lord of grace and truth rebukes them! Why? Because, they had no reason to be afraid of anything when Jesus was with them! Jesus rebuked them because they let fear darken the faith in their hearts. Faith should always outshine any fear especially in Jesus’ presence. And as I said, how often we are the same!


Fear is your and my worst enemy and the greatest hindrance to the Lord’s work in our lives. Fear usually settles in the heart until we becomes so paralyzed to think, to do anything for myself or for others, especially to serve God’s purpose in any given situation. What makes you and me helpless isn’t usually the situation itself but fear itself. There are many kinds of fears that paralyze us. The fear of persecution! That fear makes us think twice before witnessing to the gospel. Then there’s the fear of losing someone we love trapped in sin. That fear makes us lose hope that they would ever be rescued. There’s the fear of rejection, and so many are captive to that. That fear makes us hypocrites living two lives, one a Christian life when we’re with Christians and the other a worldly life with those who are worldly! Then there’s the fear of commitment. And that fear prevents us from walking with Christ as he wants us to, and making excuses why we don’t! There are many fears some of which are so vague— like the fear of future security, or fear of marriage, or even of fulfilling God’s purpose in our lives. After reading or studying the Bible, some people feel strong and full of faith, as if they could do anything for Jesus. But as soon as they go out into the stormy world, they again let fear into their hearts and become helpless and useless to do anything spiritually significant. And these fears often linger until they become a habit— the habit of responding with fear rather than with faith. Especially disciples of the Lord need inner healing from fear!


Jesus understands our fears as he did his disciples’ fears! And his method of healing for them and for us is to rebuke the fears when fear shows itself. Jesus also healed them by daily planting faith in their hearts from situation to situation. There is no formula to overcome or defeat fear! But what’s clear is that Jesus simply rebuked them not to be afraid, but to have faith instead. Some Christians want a miraculous remedy for inner healing which is quick and painless. And when someone tells them “repent and have faith in God”, they take offense! But Jesus who loves us rebukes our fears, time and again! “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Jesus would teach all of us the power of faith that calms the storm every time. There is great power in faith. Faith itself is the power that can make a fearful person not only overcome the storm, but also ride the storm until you have fulfilled what God wants you to do!


The disciples had just experienced the faith discipline caused by a severe storm, and they needed some rest. But as soon as they landed, there was another storm waiting for them. It was a storm of the evil working in this world to hinder the work of God from taking place. And this storm also needed faith. Look at verse 28. “When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way.” Matthew tells us that they were demon-possessed and violent. Perhaps they had hated the rules and regulations that society puts down in order to maintain order. Some people love freedom so much, they would break every rule that prevents them from being themselves! Maybe they abused their lives and other people’s lives until they couldn’t live in society any more. “I say what I want to say and do what I want to do” may be the philosophy of some people, but eventually it doesn’t end well for them. It didn’t end well for these two rebels. Their actions invited demons to come and live in them. In the end, they weren’t themselves any more. They had lost their personality and had become the crazy men who live in the graveyard. They were totally free, but they lost their souls to the devil.


Look at verse 29. When Jesus came to help them, they were so sick at heart they thought Jesus had come to torture them. The demons in them blinded them to all the love and compassion Jesus had for them. Jesus however, was not offended at their obnoxious behavior. He stood up to them with the love of God and also with faith. Jesus knew they really needed healing from the devil’s deception in their lives. Jesus also wanted to teach his disciples something! Do not fear these terrible kind of people. Help them instead with the love of God and with faith in God. When Jesus challenged the demons in these men, they gave in and begged to be allowed into herd of pigs. And when Jesus allowed them to destroy the pigs, Jesus was demonstrating something amazing and significant to all of us. He showed us the truth that one person’s soul is more precious than anything else in this world. There is nothing that God would not sacrifice in exchange for saving one troubled soul, even a whole town’s industry. And God showed us this more clearly when he sacrificed his own Son to save our souls from sin and death.


In order to serve God’s work in our lives and in the world, we need to overcome our fears and be filled with the power of love and faith. There is no room for fear or indecision in serving the gospel to suffering people requires. We must be ready to sacrifice anything even if one person can be healed and restored to God. And as we do this, many storms will come in our lives. Don’t fear them and don’t avoid them. Instead have faith to ride such terrible storms to spiritual victory. In all of our trials we should know that Jesus is greater bigger more powerful than any storm. Read verse 26 again. “He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, and it was completely calm.”

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