Today is part two of the “The N Commandments.” Now before those of you who weren’t here last week ask what does the N stand for, let me first encourage you to watch or listen to last week’s recorded message. You’ll hear the why of this new series, have the scene set for the coming weeks, and hear more about what the N stands for.
To catch you up real quick, here’s the just of what happened. Jesus showed up, launches something brand new, a new kind of relationship with God, a brand new covenant, a brand new movement known as the Church. Then He died, and when He died it was like game over. Everything that you just believed in, all that you were working for and were following was gone.
That is until Jesus rose from the dead and everything He taught and everything He claimed to be, finally hits home and makes sense.
When Jesus announced this new movement, He essentially unhitched it from ancient Judaism and the Old Testament. As we saw in Acts 15 last week at the first church council meeting, they could not go back and re-embrace the temple approach. That would have left all of us out and would have signaled the end of this faith.
But unhitching from ancient Judaism left a gap. There wasn’t a lot to go on. At this point, the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not written. Peter and James hadn’t written anything yet. The Apostle Paul, who wrote about half the New Testament, hadn’t even started writing.
Now don’t get me wrong, even though they didn’t have much to go on or didn’t have the Christian Bible yet, the followers were fired up. They were excited. After all, someone died, and then they had lunch with Him afterwards. That doesn’t happen very often. They were absolutely convinced, they just weren’t left with a lot to go on.
But here’s what Jesus did leave them with. First, a Resurrection religion. Their faith was founded on an event…the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. That certainly makes up for no manuscripts. He also left them with two commandments that He said stood above all others: Love the Lord your God and love one another. And He left them with something else. He left them with an odd assortment of commands that all start with the letter N.
Before Jesus’ resurrection, these commands were impossible to imagine, but once Jesus rose, suddenly what sounded so extreme wasn’t extreme at all. In fact, along with Love God and others, these commandments fueled the movement for the first 50+ years. And keep in mind, Jesus’ commands weren’t really commandments in the traditional sense. They were more like attitudes, approaches, and perspectives.
So, in this series what we’re going to do is step back in time and ask the question, what would it be like to be one of those first Jesus followers who had only what Jesus taught? So, imagine you don’t have a Bible. You’re a gentile, you have never read the Old Testament. Adam and who? You’ve never heard that story. Noah and the what? You don’t know that story either. You’ve heard about Moses, but you don’t really care. You know there were like 600 commandments, but you don’t have to do any of those. However, you do know that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead.
We’re calling these the N Commandments because on at least five different occasions, in more than five different teachings, Jesus gave His early followers five things not to do, hence the N. The N stands for “not”. So, here’s the first not, one of Jesus’ N Commandments that He taught His earliest followers.
Wait, Fear not? Is that even possible? No fear? Jesus says, Yep. Follow me, and I’ll show you how. Fear not. Don’t be afraid.
Over and over, Jesus would tell His early followers, “Stop being afraid.” Matthew does a good job of capturing this theme for us. One day in Matthew 10, Jesus gets His followers (the twelve) together, and He says, “Look, we’ve been together for a while, now we’re going to split up into teams of two and I’m going to send you out to do a bunch of stuff. I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves.” You’ve heard that phrase before.
He says, you are the sheep, they are the wolves. I’m sending you out and you’re going to eventually be arrested, some of you are going to be beaten, some of you are going to have to sacrifice a great deal for following me. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and unbelievers about me. So don’t be afraid.” It’s like, “What?”
And then He gave them the specific teaching. Here’s what He said.
28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Okay, wait. Are we supposed to be afraid or not? We don’t have any fear, but then we do have fear? And then I think Jesus grinned, because the disciples are looking at Him like, “You’ve got to go slower.” To which he said, “Okay, let me give you an illustration.
29 What is the price of two sparrows (which were almost worthless in that culture)—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
They’re like okay, wait a minute. So, you’re saying there’s nothing to be afraid of and we’re supposed to go out and represent you. And when we do, we’re going to get arrested, and after you told us we’re going to be arrested and probably suffer for being your followers, then you said, “Don’t be afraid.” Okay, so, we’re not really sure what to do with that.
However, I believe they were actually beginning to connect the dots because they had an experience about two chapters before this that kind of put this teaching into context. It’s a famous story found in Matthew 8.
Jesus Calms the Storm
Jesus is surrounded by a crowd, He’s worn out, ready to leave, and the only way Jesus could escape the crowd was to get on a boat. Jesus didn’t have a posse, didn’t have like six black, tricked-out Escalades that He could zoom away in and leave. Jesus’ only way to get away from the crowd was to get on a boat.
Here’s what happens. Matthew was there, so he tells us.
23 Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples.
Sometimes the Sea of Galilee is referred to as a lake, but it’s much more like a sea because the large lake is in a valley, and when the wind funnels through the valley, furious storms can kick up.
24 Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.
So suddenly, not just a storm, but a fierce storm Matthew says, came upon the lake. Waves swept over the boat. The boat was taking on water and things were getting pretty scary.
Now many of you can relate to this because you’ve had some kind terrifying experience in your life either on airplanes, a boat, in lightning storms, tall buildings, tornadoes, hurricanes. If you could just think to that time in your life. It may not have lasted long, but you were suddenly scared to death and scared for your life. You were in panic mode. That’s where these guys are.
Now remember, Matthew was there and he writes that Jesus was sleeping. Now, this is just my interpretation, but I’m not so sure Jesus was really sleeping. I think He was doing that thing we’ve all done with our kids when you pretend like you’re asleep, and you just sit back and listen to all their chattering.
I don’t think Jesus was asleep because I think He set this whole thing up, but Matthew was convinced He was asleep and so maybe He was. One thing is for sure, the disciples think they’re going to drown and they think Jesus is asleep.
Now, here’s why this is an important passage. Some of you have left the faith because there was a tragedy or event in your life that you prayed for, but Jesus was asleep. Jesus did not respond the way you thought He should. God did not respond the way you thought God should. And you just basically said, “Well either God doesn’t exist, or is asleep, or doesn’t care.” And you walked away from the faith. Listen very closely, and then I’m going to move on in the story.
I want you to consider coming back to faith, and here’s why. Because you’re not the first person that happened to. The people that brought us the Gospel, the people who knew Jesus best, the people who Jesus loved the most, experienced exactly what you have experienced. They thought their lives were falling completely apart, and not only did they imagine that their God was asleep, they saw Him asleep.
The story goes on.
25 The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. 27 The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”
To which I’m sure one of them thought, “Did you not see the fierce storm and waves sweeping over the boat? We could have drowned, and when you come that close, you’re afraid. What do you mean why are you afraid? What kind of ridiculous question is that?”
Now, this is so fascinating. You really should read the Bible. Mark, who probably got his information from Peter, takes the noun form and the verb form of the Greek word ‘fear’ and he puts it together at the end of this story, literally talking about the disciples that after Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples feared a great fear.
This is so powerful. In other words, they were afraid of the storm and drowning, and then suddenly Jesus does a miracle and now they are even more afraid of Jesus because, “Oh my goodness, who is this in our boat?”
Perhaps, they begin to put two and two together, that they’ve been afraid of the wrong thing all along. Perhaps, suddenly they realized, don’t fear the one that can kill the body, but can’t hurt the soul. Don’t fear the thing, the storm, the disease, the person, the Empire in their case. All they can do is destroy the body. Instead, fear or reverence (respect, admire, worship) the one that controls your soul. Because in that moment, their fear was covered by a greater fear of the one with whom they shared the boat.
Jesus Walks on Water
And then time goes by and Matthew says the lesson isn’t over. A few chapters later, the disciples are feeling pretty good about themselves because they were just part of a pretty cool miracle that fed 5,000 people with just two fish and five loaves of bread.
And then, Matthew says immediately, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat. Now, do you know why Jesus had to make the disciples get into the boat? Because they remembered the last time they got in a boat with Jesus and it didn’t go so well. But, things play out a bit differently this time. Listen to what happens.
22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.
So Jesus made the disciples get into the boat, but this time is different. Jesus doesn’t get in the boat. He had them go ahead of Him to the other side while He dismissed the crowd.
So now you’ve got the same guys probably in the same boat in the same lake, but now they’re without Jesus. Jesus says, I’ll dismiss the crowd. You guys go to the other side. They know better than to ask how in the world He’s going to get to the other side.
So, they obey Jesus. He did just do this amazing miracle, so they want to follow what He says. Maybe that’s why Jesus had to insist that they get in the boat, because they didn’t want to leave His presence. But they decide they are going to do exactly what Jesus told them to do. Jesus told us to cross the lake. We’re familiar with this lake. We’re fishermen. It’s our boat. We will row across the lake, and we’ll just do what Jesus told us to do.
After He dismissed the crowds, Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray and later that night, when the boat was already a considerable distance from land, it was getting pounded by the waves because a strong wind had picked up. It’s not a storm per say. This time they are rowing into what’s called a headwind.
24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”
Now when you put all the accounts together, you find out that they are out there fighting against the winds, getting nowhere for hours and hours, trying to row across the lake because, “By golly, Jesus told us to row across the lake, and we’re going to row across the lake.” But it’s pitch dark. They’re worn out. They’re tired and soaking wet. They were out there all night long trying to obey Jesus.
Shortly before dawn, Jesus went out to them walking on the lake. When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified!
They’re like, “Here we go again.” And they cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them, “I’m trying to teach you something about fear. We’ve already been down this road. You should have seen this coming. I mean, last time we were out here…remember that whole fear thing? I fell asleep, calmed the storm and remember how you feared a great fear?”
“Here we are again. You think it’s a ghost and once again, you’re afraid when there was something to be afraid of. Haven’t you learned? I’m trying to teach you not to be afraid when there’s something to be afraid of.”
Then He says to them,
27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”
It’s like wait a minute. You weren’t with us, but apparently you were watching us. Yes. Because one day I will not be with you, but I will be watching you. And just as you did not need to be afraid when I was asleep in the boat or pretending to be asleep in the boat, either way, and just as you really did not need to be afraid when I wasn’t with you in the boat, you don’t have to be afraid even when there’s something to be afraid of. Fear not.
How to Fear Not
This is what Jesus taught His early followers. So I want us to take a shot at least getting this into our minds. We’re going to change the first word though. Let’s make it more personal: I don’t have to be afraid even when there is something to be afraid of.
For some of you, this is exactly what you needed to hear today. You’re right in the middle of the storm. And let me just say again, I don’t believe Jesus is asleep. Instead this is Jesus’ response to our fear. Say it with me…
I don’t have to be afraid. Even when there is something to be afraid of.
Now here’s something that’s really encouraging. They did not learn this lesson right then. Right up to the very end, remember when Jesus was arrested? What do they do? Do they stand by their fearless leader? No. They were terrified. They all ran away. They lied, they denied, and they hid. They didn’t even show up for His funeral.
They didn’t want to be associated with Him because if they came for Him, the religious leaders would come for them too. They were scared to death. They did not ‘Fear Not.’ Instead of fearing the one who can control the soul, they feared the one that can only harm the body. Throughout all the teachings of Jesus, the miracles, the walking on water, all the stuff, at the very end they all ran away because they were so afraid.
Yet then they emerge after the Gospels fearless. It’s like somehow they finally got it, and the thing that made all the difference in the world was not another lesson, it was not another boat ride, it was not another lecture. It was that they saw a Resurrected Savior and once Jesus rose from the dead they became fearless.
Why? Because the ultimate enemy of death had been defeated. And when they lost their fear of death, they feared not. It’s the only explanation. Teaching didn’t do it. Miracles didn’t do it. But seeing a Resurrected Savior changed everything.
And here’s the fascinating thing, and here’s why we’re kind of camping out on these nots for the next few weeks. Because somehow, the early followers of Jesus got this, and somehow us American Christians miss it. Mind you, there are other Christians in other parts of the world that do get this though.
That is, when you come to the conclusion and you finally stake your eternity on the fact that Jesus Christ really died for your sins, was buried and rose from the dead, and was seen, and offers us resurrection life, your fear of death begins to evaporate. And once you are no longer afraid of that, once you learn as Jesus said to fear not the one that can only harm the body, the disease that can only harm the body, the people that can only harm the body, but you learned to reverence and fear the one that controls your soul, something happens on the inside. The command Fear Not, becomes a way of life.
The Early Church
In the late 2nd century, Marcus Aur-rel-ius was the emperor. He oversaw what is considered to be the fourth major persecution of Christians. During that time, there was a famous Roman doctor and philosopher named Claudius Galenus. Claudius wrote a whole lot of things that had been preserved through ancient times, and in his writing about a half dozen different times, he actually mentions Christians.
Now back in those days it was illegal to examine a dead body. They couldn’t do autopsies. So what doctors would do is they would hang around in the places where people were dying because they could examine dying bodies, just not dead ones. So this famous Roman doctor, who apparently examined lots of dying bodies, even examined the dying bodies of Christians during the persecutions.
Now get this, this isn’t 20 years after Jesus, this is about 160 to 170 years after Jesus, and Christians are being not just put to death, if you read this section of history, they are being tortured to death. And in his writings, Claudius wrote the following about Christians. “For fearlessness of death, and the hereafter, is something we witness in them every day.”
That’s amazing. It’s like no matter what they put them through, no matter how much they wanted them to recant their faith, in efforts to extinguish the Christians faith, every single day they were fearless of death and the hereafter. In other words, they were not afraid to step into whatever is next.
It was the fearlessness of early Christians that captured the attention of the Roman Empire because everybody fears death except those who believe in a Risen Savior.
Do you know why Jesus could say to His followers 2,000 years ago, and why He can say to you in spite of what you’re facing, in spite of what you’re dealing with, in spite of the terror that may grip you because of the circumstances you just found out about, do you know why He can say to you fear not?
Because He’s been on the very boat you’re on, in the very circumstances you are in, and He can say to you, “You do not have to be afraid even though there is something to be afraid of, because I am with you. Therefore, you need not fear anything or anyone that can only harm your body.”
You are invited to surrender your fears to a God who loves you, who is with you, who’s not surprised by anything that’s happening to you, and will walk with you through it all. And if you think that’s pie in the sky, and that’s wishful thinking, that’s just something to comfort us, remember this.
Jesus punctuated His command to Fear Not with a big explanation point, not with just another miracle, but with His own resurrection. “I have conquered death. And as my followers, you need not fear what I have conquered.” Jesus has been there, done that, and came back to prove that He has authority over death.
So those of who’ve placed your faith in Christ, those of you who claim to be His followers, Jesus says to you, “Fear not, even when there’s something to be afraid of.”
So here’s how I want us to end today. Even if this isn’t your thing, just play along. I want everyone to close your eyes. You don’t have to bow your head unless you want to, just close your eyes, and I want you to think about the thing you fear most. For some of you, it’s losing a child. For some of you, it’s losing another child. For some of you, it’s financial. For some of you, it’s in your marriage. For some of you, it’s your health or the health of someone you love.
What is it that you fear most? What is it that is your storm, that is the waves coming over the bow that makes you question is Jesus asleep? Is God paying attention? Does God care?
What is it you fear most right now? I just want to say to you on behalf of your Savior, with your eyes closed. “Fear not, I am with you. Fear not, I am with you. Fear not, even when there’s something to be afraid of.”
Heavenly Father, thank you for preserving the eyewitness accounts of the men and women who have emerged on the other side of the resurrection fearless. Not because of their character, not because of the way they were designed and created, but because of someone and something they’d seen. Give us in our generation the same fearlessness and an overwhelming reverence and fear of the God who controls our destiny, and who sent His son into this world because He loves us more than He loves the sparrows. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear. In Jesus’ name. Amen.