Dear Congregation of Christ: In October last year, a cult leader in the Philippines announced that he stopped an earthquake in the country. Many people made fun of him for this false claim, since anyone can claim that he stopped an earthquake if no earthquake occurred. Then in December, there was a destructive typhoon, so he claimed he is able to stop it, but did not because he will again be severely ridiculed. Then, this March, he claimed on a YouTube message that he will intervene on behalf of the world to spare the world of the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, his prayer to his “Father” did not work again. How could he claim to have such power over nature? His cult name and title is, “Rev. Apollo Quiboloy, Appointed Son of God,” and he has millions of deluded followers.
The first part of our text is the well-known story of Jesus commanding a storm at sea to be still. He also cast out a legion of demons from a man, healed a woman with a blood flow, and raised a girl from the dead. Jesus is able to perform these signs and wonders because he is God the Son. He has all the divine authority and power of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. In these events, we read three different reactions to his divine authority, one negative, two positive.
So our theme this morning is, Three Reactions to Jesus’ Divine Authority, under three headings; first, “And They Were Filled with Great Fear”; second, “He Proclaimed How Much Jesus Had Done for Him”; and third, “She Came in Fear and Trembling and Fell Down Before Him.”
“And They Were Filled with Great Fear”
Previously last Sunday, we learned that Jesus spent the whole day teaching beside the Sea of Galilee. He taught four parables about the kingdom of God, both publicly and privately to his disciples alone. At evening, he was probably fatigued, so it was not surprising that he wanted to cross to the other side of the sea to rest. He is fully human after all.
However, when they were in the middle of the sea, a sudden violent windstorm came. Big waves pummeled the boat, and it was being swamped by water. But Jesus was so tired that he did not wake up from his sleep in the back of the boat while the storm was raging. His disciples therefore were terrified that the boat would capsize and sink and they will all drown. Even for seasoned seamen, the storm was too much and too powerful. They woke Jesus up, rebuking him, “Don’t you care that we’re all going to die?”
Somehow, they have a halfhearted faith in him, “He has power, but he can’t save us if he’s sleeping. Wake him up, so he might save us.” They had some faith that Jesus would help them in this crisis. They were not superstitious like the people in Jonah’s boat who believed that the storm was caused by a passenger being punished by God. Jonah was also sleeping inside a cabin in the boat during the storm. The captain also woke him up, angrily telling him to pray to his god. The great difference between Jonah and Jesus is that Jonah was fleeing from God’s commission to him to save the people of Nineveh from death because of God’s wrath on their wickedness (Jon. 1:4-6-10). But Jesus was fulfilling his Father’s mission to save his people from their sins.
The people in Jonah’s boat had no hope in God. They were superstitious. They prayed to their own pagan gods. They sacrificed Jonah to appease their gods. We often hear sermons about this incident rebuking the disciples for their little or no faith. But the disciples, however little faith they had in Jesus, came to him to rescue them from certain death. At this early stage in their discipleship, they are starting to develop their faith and hope in their Master.
When Jesus awoke, he rebuked the wind and the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind and the sea obeyed him. This is clearly in opposition to the current hysteria about “climate change,” formerly called, “global warming.” God gave us the task to till and guard the earth, to keep the environment clean and green and conserve its resources. But man has no contribution to the changes in the earth’s climate. God does the change, according to his sovereign command. Psalm 148:8 says, “fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!” It was God who sent the wind and the storm when Jonah was on the ship (Jon 1:4). Who sent the great flood in Noah’s day? Who sent all the natural calamities against Egypt? Who sent the wind and the storm when Jonah was on the ship? Who sent the east wind to part the Red Sea and the River Jordan? Who sent the three-and-a-half year drought during Elijah’s time?
In 1588, Roman Catholic King Philip II sent a great armada of 130 ships and 30,000 troops towards England. The situation for Protestant England was hopeless. But while in the North Sea, a big storm stopped them in the middle of the sea. The small English fleet under Sir Francis Drake harassed them, so they fled north around Scotland. But the fierce storms continued, and only half of the Spanish forces were able to limp back home. This prevented England, Scotland and the Netherlands from being subdued by Spain and the Roman pope
What does Christianity call these kinds of events controlled by God? We call it the “providence” of God. Our catechism reading says that providence is God’s almighty power upholding his creation and ruling it so that “leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years” come to us only through his Fatherly hand.
How did the disciples react? They were filled with great fear, but not the cowardly fear of which Jesus rebuked them. They asked each other, “What kind of a man is this whom the wind and waves obey with just a few words?” This fear is not the reverent fear of God. For sure, they knew that they were with God, for only God has authority over nature. And if they were face to face with God, then they would die, for no one can see God and live. They knew their Scriptures. It is the fear that sinful man has before a holy God. They were terrified because, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).
“He Proclaimed How Much Jesus Had Done for Him”
The next episode is also familiar to all Christians. After they had crossed to the other side of the sea, they came to Gerasa, a small coastal village. Here, they were met by a demon-possessed man. According to Matthew, this village is in the area of Gadara (Matt 8:28). Also, according to Matthew, there were two demon-possessed man, but Mark focused on the more horrifying demoniac. He was screaming, naked, violent and bloody. No, he was acknowledging Jesus’ power and authority over him. Recognizing Jesus as “the Son of the Most High God,” the leader of the demonic legion cried out in fear begging Jesus not to torment them before their time (Matt 8:29).
When the herdsmen of the pigs saw Jesus’ power over the demons, they fled in terror, and told the townspeople. When the people saw the demon-possessed man as normal as a man could be, they too were afraid. Luke elaborates that the people were also “seized with great fear” (8:37). Even the Pharisees, in their hostility against Jesus, feared him (11:18). They were all terrified at the divine power and authority of Jesus. From where does his power and authority come? The demons knew: from “the Most High God.” Paul says that in Jesus, “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1”16). Even Satan and his demons are under his power and authority.
Jesus taught his disciples that when he came, the kingdom of God has come. When he came preaching the gospel of repentance and faith (1:15); when he released Satan’s captives from demon-possession (Matt 12:28); when he healed the sick (Luke 10:9), the kingdom of God has come. When he was crucified and raised from the dead, Satan was defeated (John 12:31; Heb 2:14). Finally, the demons knew that when the kingdom of God comes in perfection on Judgment Day, Jesus the King would throw them and their leader Satan into the lake of fire to be tormented forever (Rev. 20:10).
Should we Christians fear demon-possession? No, true Christians cannot be possessed by demonic, evil spirits of Satan. But we also affirm that unbelievers are under the authority of Satan. Jesus says this to the Jews, who were not “demon-possessed,” “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44). Paul also tells us that when we were unbelievers, we followed Satan (Eph 2:1-3). We speak today of exorcising the demons of murder and alcoholism. These are manifestations of sin in unbelievers, who are under the tyranny of the devil.
Clearly, Scriptures tell us that there are only two kinds of people: those who are possessed by Christ, and those who are possessed by Satan. You belong to one or the other kingdom. But the Bible also says that Christians can never be demon-possessed. How can the Spirit of God and an unclean spirit dwell within a person at the same time? What fellowship has light with darkness? How can the temple of the Holy Spirit be the temple of unclean spirits?
So, after he was healed, the demoniac wanted to follow Jesus. But Jesus instead commissioned him for a different task: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And the man obeyed and proclaimed what Jesus had done for him, not only in his hometown, but all over the region. Jesus had something better for him to do: to preach the gospel to all the Gentiles in his region. To preach Christ’s victory over all kinds of diseases and demons. To preach the mercy and grace of Christ in the forgiveness of sins. To preach the coming of the Kingdom of God in Jesus.
What a difference in reaction from the herdsmen of the pigs and the townspeople! They were all seized with fear of Jesus. Instead of rejoicing over the salvation and restoration of the man, they begged Jesus to leave them alone. They hated Jesus for killing their livelihood of 2,000 pigs. But what they most resented about Jesus was the power that he has shown over the demons. If one man can have power over 6,000 demons, he can surely have power over them who were mere mortals. Only a holy God can have authority over accursed demons. And the unholiness and unrighteousness of the people were exposed by the holiness and righteousness of the Son of the
Most High God. Leave us alone. Don’t meddle in our affairs. We want to do whatever is right in our own eyes.
“She Came in Fear and Trembling and Fell Down Before Him”
After casting out demons by the sea, Jesus had more work before him as he returned to his home region of Galilee. There, he was met by Jairus, a ruler of a synagogue. Jairus was exposing himself to ridicule, as he was a prominent man in his town, falling down at the feet of a mere carpenter. He prayed a simple prayer, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And Jesus promptly went with him.
But then, his mission to heal Jairus’ daughter was interrupted by a woman who was desperate to be healed of her bleeding. She has bled for twelve and has spent all her money on healers, maybe even quack healers. Her faith in Jesus was strong, as she thought, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” She did, and she was healed. But Jesus knew that she took some of his power, so he asked, “Who touched my garments?” To which his disciples replied with confusion because those around him were jostling and pressing against him. The woman was fearful that she may have caused Jesus or others to become unclean, because she was unclean (Lev 15:19-27). So she came out of the crowd “in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” And just like Jairus, she fell down at Jesus’ feet. And Jesus confirmed her healing, “Daughter, your faith has made
As this was happening, a man from Jairus’ household came with the bad news that her daughter has died. His hopes for her beloved daughter were dashed. But Jesus told him, “Do not fear. Only believe.” When they arrived at the house, there was weeping and wailing. But Jesus rebuked them, saying, “The child is not dead but sleeping,” at which the crowd laughed. Like most other times, the crowd took his words literally. But the apostles and us Christians often speak of death as sleep, because one day Christ will awaken us from our sleep of death (Matt 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor 14:20). So Jesus said to the young girl, “Little girl, arise.” At once, the girl got up, walked and ate. Those who saw this event were completely amazed so that they were beside themselves. Seeing someone raised from the dead almost made them lose their minds, the original meaning of the Greek word ekstasis. They were astounded, bewildered and even terrified.
The reactions to these two healings were two-fold. The first is humility and submission, even worship, in falling down at Jesus’ feet. The second is astonishment and even fear.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have learned today of three reactions to Jesus’ divine authority and power. The disciples were terrified when they saw that they were face to face with the Almighty God, because they knew no one can see God and live. No unholy and unrighteous sinner can stand before the face of God. Therefore, you have no need to fear God’s wrath on you because he has cleansed you from all your sins. Our Lord
Jesus Christ has done it all for you. Do not fear Covid-19 or even death, because Christ has given you eternal life. Let Psalm 1:5–6 be your assurance, “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
The villagers who saw the power of Jesus in casting out demons were not just terrified. They also hated him for destroying their livelihood. They rejected him because they loved money and the pleasures of this world more than the treasures and pleasures of Christ. Do not fear the loss of livelihood and money because of Covid-19, because Christ has promised, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Rather, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2).
Jairus and the woman with the uncurable blood flow were not terrified of Jesus’ power and authority. Instead, they sought him, already believing even before they saw him that he would restore his daughter and her health problems. If you fear your serious health issues, Jesus has promised you full restoration at his coming, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).
Rev. Nollie Malabuyo is currently pastor of Big Springs Community Church (URCNA) in Montague, California. He is the founding pastor of Zion Cornerstone Reformed Churches in Pasig (Metro Mania) and Imus, Cavite.