A couple months ago, I was re-reading Alfred Edersheim’s classic study of Christ – “Jesus the Messiah.” In the course of discussing Mark 4, and the other gospels about this event, he made a passing comment. For some reason or other it caught my eye, so I put the letter “S” next to it in the margin. All that Edersheim said was, “He (Christ) was in the ‘the ship,’ the well-known boat which was always ready for His service, whether as a pulpit, resting-place or means of journeying.” Eventually those three points were entered into one of my little sermon notebooks. When I am looking for a theme for a message, I often turn to those notebooks, asking the Lord for direction. Last Thursday I did so again, and when I found that little three-point outline, the Holy Spirit said, “This is it.” After a few minutes of prayer and meditation, the three points became five with the potential of a sixth.
Edersheim might be embarrassed at what I am doing with his original thought, but I am not the least bit embarrassed. What if we look at that little boat or “ship” and applied it to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ? Are there any lessons from looking at that boat, filled with Christ and the Lord’s disciples? Jesus used a variety of tools during His ministry as either illustrations or implements of service. And many of them can be used to remind us of our Christian responsibilities. Why not this boat?
First let me say that I was surprised at how many times the Lord used that little ship, or those ships. I found about twenty references in the gospels, with some of them being duplications. And reading through them, I found ways in which the Lord used them which Edersheim didn’t mention. Along with pulpit, resting-place and transportation, Christ used them as testing stations, and escape. Then finally, we could consider one of them as a potential sinful diversion – no offence to you boat owners.
Before we get to my outline, I need to make just a couple of initial comments. First, just as we might hear of a great crowd of people as a “sea,” perhaps a “sea of humanity,” the Bible sometimes implies the same sort of thing, although I wouldn’t push that image too hard. “The wicked are like the trouble sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters case up mire and dirt” – Isaiah 57. The Book of Revelation seems to use the sea to metaphorically speak of all humanity. A boat, of course, is supposed to sit on the sea. It is supposed to have the water outside, not on the inside. At the point when water reaches a certain level inside a ship, that vessel will sink. The same is true of the Lord’s church, or churches. Unsaved, worldly people sink ships. In fact, it doesn’t have to be water. Too much of any worldly thing will sink the ship of Christ. Each church needs to protect itself from sin, by teaching each member their Christian responsibilities.
Now, let’s go back to that outline.
First, Jesus’ boat was used simply as a mode of TRANSPORTATION.
Matthew 9:1 – “And he entered into a ship and passed over the sea, and came to his own city.” By the way, all of these references are to boats on the Sea of Galilee, which is also called the Sea of Tiberias and the lake of Gennesaret. As far as I know the Lord Jesus, never sailed on the Dead Sea; there was never any need. And He was never upon the mighty Mediterranean. He grew up and lived in Galilee and most of His ministry was there, right next to a good sized lake. Several times He had to meet someone, or to address a crowd, on the other side from where He was at the time. Rather than go around, since He had access to the brethren’s boats, He used one of those. Matthew 15:39 – “And he sent away the multitude and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.” Mark 5:1 – “And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.” Mark 5:21 – “And when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side, much people gathered unto him, and he was nigh unto the sea.”
Let’s say that there is a woman, one of God’s elect, in a nursing home here in Post Falls, who needs the Lord. How is the Saviour to get from our church building to that home? Should He rely on angelic transportation? He certainly could fly, but rarely does He do that today. He could use the radio or the television; He might use the internet – FaceBook or a church website. But these are not His chosen, or primary, means of reaching the lost. Brethren, His preferred more of transportation is to go by boat – by you and me. He has said, “Go YE into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” He has said, “YE shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and YE shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
There is a sense in which the Lord isn’t going anywhere except though us. But what if that boat leaks? What if the planks are rotting? What if that boat is tied up to the dock and refuses to be released? I assure you, the Lord is going to get to the other side of the lake, but it won’t be through you or me. We are designed to be the Lord’s transportation, and we need to prepare ourselves for that service. We need to be immediately ready just as we see the Lord calling on boats in the gospels.
Similarly, the Lord used that boat as His PULPIT.
Matthew 13:1 – “The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them…” This is repeated in Mark.
Most people draw up an incorrect picture in their minds when they hear the word “pulpit.” Technically, it is not the lectern which holds the preacher’s Bible; it is the platform on which he stands. In Nehemiah we read: “Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose. And Ezra opened the book (of God) in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen.”
Another example of a pulpit is at the dedication of the temple, but I admit that the word “pulpit” isn’t used. “Solomon, stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands. For Solomon had made a brasen scaffold, of five cubits long, and five cubits broad, and three cubits high, and had set it in the midst of the court: and upon it he stood, and kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven, And said, O Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee in the heaven, nor in the earth…”
In both these instances, we see and hear, what we might hear in any of the Lord’s churches today. A pulpit is a place from which the Word of the Lord is taught or preached. And Christ Jesus used a boat for that purpose.
Again, Calvary Baptist Church was created by the Lord for the purpose of proclaiming His word to the world. There is a sense in which it is not I who preaches the Word, but it is Christ’s Spirit through me. I am not supposed to insert my opinions and doctrines into the gospel message. I am not to create my own message, I am supposed to be the mouth and tongue of the Lord. And in my ministration, I am supposed to preach Christ, high and lifted up, to draw the lost to Him. You and I together, and individually, are supposed to be like that boat in which the Lord sits and reveals the will of the Lord to the “sea of humanity” around us.
The third thing Mr. Edershiem said about Jesus’ boat was that it was His RESTING PLACE.
Our opening scripture is repeated in essentially the same way in each of the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. When I was reviewing them, another three point message appeared. In Matthew Jesus ultimately asked the disciples: “WHY are ye fearful, O ye of little faith,” then in Mark the question was worded a bit differently: “WHERE is your faith?” And finally in Luke we read: “HOW is it that ye have no faith.” I’m going to table that sermon for a few minutes while I go back to something else. In each of those gospel accounts we are told that Jesus went to sleep under the gentle rocking of the waves against the boat. And He remained asleep even after the rocking became so violent that water was pouring over the gunwales.
With Austin’s lessons on the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 in mind, I think that the One who holds the stars of His churches in His right hand, would like to be able to trust them with His truth. Metaphorically speaking, I think that the Lord would like rest peacefully in the back of the boat, while God’s people carry Him to His intended destination. Why can’t He rest while in the power of the Holy Spirit we earnestly contend for the truth? Why does He have to write those letters rebuking the churches for their lack of faith and faithlessness? Why is it that so many churches, and so many Christians in those churches, begin aright in their faith and in their service, but over time fill their lives with so much garbage that they come near to sinking their ships?
Of course our God never slumbers nor sleep, but I’m trying to illustrate a point. And speaking in a human sense, the Lord would like to trust us. The Lord would like to rest in us even while the world, and the “sea of humanity” falls apart around us.
Now, going beyond my original notes, didn’t Jesus sometimes use that boat to ESCAPE?
Matthew tells us that after the murder of John the Baptist, “When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart…” And after he cured a man with a withered hand, creating a stir among his enemies and excitement among the common people, “Jesus withdrew himself with this disciples to the sea… and he spake to his disciples, that a small ship should wait on him because of the multitude, lest they should throng him” – Mark 3:7-9. Three chapters later, after a particularly busy period of time, “he said unto (his disciples), Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately” – Mark 6:31-32. After the feeding of the four thousand, He might have done it again. “And straightway he entered into a ship with his disciples and came into the parts of Dalmanutha” – Mark 8:10.
If I had to make an application of this, I’d point to the fact that sometimes – oftentimes – God’s people need to get away to be alone with the Lord – just Christ and His boat. The only way for the spiritual engine to remain strong it needs to be serviced and maintained by the spiritual engineer. “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” There are times when that boat needs a visiting pilot, who, with a different vision, can remind the crew of their responsibilities and to build them up in the faith. Sometimes we need a Scot Silvers, or a Raymond Johnson, to stir our hearts and feed our souls, refreshing us in the things of the Lord. Our ship is still carrying the Saviour, but sometimes we need to be brought back to the basics – transporting and uplifting the Saviour so that outsiders might see and hear Him.
Our opening text reminds us that God’s boats and their crews are sometimes severely TESTED.
It was the Lord Himself who said, “Let us pass over unto the other side (of the sea).” Then Jesus proceeded to get into the boat. He was the first one in. It was all His idea. And of course, He knew exactly what was going to happen. But didn’t those experienced fishermen know there was a storm coming up? Did they even look? It is possible there was no indication of an upcoming storm. It may have been especially ordained. Or even if John or Andrew saw some ominous clouds, they may have considered themselves to be safe with Christ in the boat. Then Jesus went to toward the stern and went to sleep, while a few hours later the storm broke upon them. When the disciples woke up their Saviour, then came the questions: “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith,” “Where is your faith?” And How is it that ye have no faith.”
As I say the Lord knew what was coming, and I have no doubt that He ruled over it, perhaps even organizing it. And that should remind us that the life of the disciple of Christ, and the life of the church of which he is a member, will not always find smooth sailing. But remember, the Lord has designed life to be difficult so that those faith questions may be brought up. When you hear of all the problems in the world – politically, technologically, socially, and religiously, does your heart fill with fear? Jesus asks us “why?” “WHY are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” As I read about the blasphemies and heresies in many so churches, the question arises, “Where is YOUR faith?” Is your faith in the God of the Bible, or is it in some fictitious deity you call “Jehovah?” Having spent three months looking at the subject of faith, when our little boat seems so fragile in the midst of the gale, Jesus asks, “HOW IS IT that ye have no faith.” What is wrong with us that we can’t trust the Lord to take us through this little category five hurricane? He is greater than a category ten storm.
In the last thirty years, how many people have come and stayed with us for a few weeks or months, but eventually left again? Several dozen? A hundred. Each time our little boat has been tested, sometimes by those visitors, and sometimes by the Lord. And when our attendance and membership fell to dangerous levels, how prone were we to cry out, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” Actually, the letters to those churches in Revelation indicate that He cares a great deal. The phrase “into every life a little rain must fall,” may not be a quote from Proverbs, but it is Biblical. Jesus said, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich)… Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly…” I have no doubt whatsoever that the Lord wants to use, intends to use His little boat, this little boat, for His glory, but we need to pass through our storms with faith, keeping an eye on Him.
One more thing that this boat was to do was to facilitate the CATCHING of FISH.
Please turn to Luke 5 – “And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
From what is it easier to catch fish: an airplane, or boat? A luxury cruise ship or row boat? Is it easier to catch fish out of the Spokane River from atop the bridge at State Line or from the shore at Corban Park? It is impossible to miss the Lord’s lesson to those first fishermen/disciples. They were to use their limited skills to catch spiritual fish. They were to be “fishers of men.” And in the context, they were to use their “boat” for that purpose. Again, I take you back to what Paul said to the Ephesian elders: “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you… testifying… repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is our primary purpose – as saints of the Lord – and as a church. We are to carry Christ to lost; we are to be His pulpit; we are to preach repentance and faith. We are to catch fish. We may not be the fanciest yacht in the harbor. We may not be a thirty-foot Hewes Craft or Bayliner. But the Lord is not as much interested in our appearance as He is in our usefulness.
May God bless us in our endeavor to be of service to the Master.