“Storm-tossed disciples are the objects of God’s all-powerful, all-knowing care.” This was one point I attempted to make during my sermon on Mark 6:45-52 this past Sunday. When the disciples were completely exhausted and in their deepest despair during the darkest part of night, Mark tells us that Jesus “saw” their struggle and “came to them (v.48).” He didn’t shout out rowing lessons from the shore nor did he scold their insufficient efforts. He came to them. This is grace.
In illustrating this point, I shared a story about a time Kathy cried out to God during a season of struggle with depression. She was completely exhausted and in deep despair during arguably the darkest time in her life. She cried out. God heard her cry, and though the circumstances were (are) slow to lift, Kathy has since experienced a growing knowledge of, trust in, and love for God and his good gospel purposes in her life.
Like Peter (Matthew 14), and like all of us at some point, God was sinking Kathy to save Kathy rxcare.co.uk.
She had nothing else to offer God but a weary prayer, “Lord, save me!”
Just as with Israel in Egypt (Exodus 3:7), and with the disciples in their storm-tossed boat, Jesus “saw” my wife’s distress and “came” to her in the middle of her storm-tossed life and delivered her—no so much from her circumstances which continued for some time—but from the spiritual tyranny that comes from doubting God’s sovereign goodness. By God’s grace, in the midst of her pain, she began to experience joy and endurance. That endurance began to give birth to Christ-like character, which led to hope! In the middle of her darkest storm, my wife began to hope! Why?
Because Jesus saw her struggle, heard her cry, and came to her with all-knowing, all-powerful, Creator care.
IS GOD BOUND BY THE OUTWARD, MORAL QUALITY OF OUR BROKENNESS?
Yet this raises an interesting question that, in hindsight, I wish I had been more clear in answering: Was God gracious to my wife because of her crying out or did Kathy cry out because of God’s grace?
The question is dealing with the matter of causation. Did my wife’s brokenness cause God to act? In other words, was there something meritorious in her cry—a certain moral quality to her cry that bound God to act? And was God bound to not act until she reached a certain degree of brokenness? Perhaps you’ve been waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting for God in the midst of a dark, storm-tossed night and left our gathering wondering, “Have I not acted broken or repentant enough? Do I need to pray more like Kathy prayed? Will God then come to me?”
Self-righteous people would respond, “Yes, of course!” (Matt. 6:5-7; Col. 2:20-23)! Friend, let me assure you: God’s deliverance is not bound by the outward, moral quality of your brokenness. According to the gospel, your brokenness is God’s deliverance!
SELF-RIGHTEOUS VS. GOSPEL BROKENNESS¹
Religious brokenness is self-righteous. Brokenness can easily turn into an attempt to convince God (and ourselves) that we are so truly miserable and regretful and broken, that we deserve to be delivered.
In the gospel, however, we know that Jesus has suffered and was broken by our sin. We do not have to make ourselves suffer to merit God’s forgiveness or deliverance. By faith, we receive the forgiveness and deliverance earned by Christ alone. God saves us because he’s good and just.
Self-righteous people try to earn deliverance with their brokenness. In the gospel, we simply receive it. Gospel brokenness is God’s deliverance in that, like Peter, God sinks us in order to save us. Brokenness is not the means to God’s grace but is the fruit of God’s grace!
Milton Vincent (from whom I read on Sunday), expresses this gospel-reality well:
“More than anything else could ever do, the gospel enables me to embrace my tribulations and thereby position myself to gain full benefit from them. For the gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me.
When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the image of Christ.
Preaching the gospel to myself each day provides a lens through which I can view my trials in this way and see the true cause for rejoicing that exists in them. I can then embrace trials as friends and allow them to do God’s good work in me.”²
¹Adapted from Tim Keller’s article “All of Life is Repentance.”
²Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love, p. 31-32.