The Man Who Calms the Storm

 

Over the years, we have tried to drive home the truth that what separates true faith from false teaching is most clearly seen in one’s theology of Jesus. Every religion gives Jesus a favorable rating. However, only Christians see Jesus as true God and true man. This morning we will see why.

So far in Matthew 8 we have seen Jesus show His authority over a leper, a servant (or child) and over all other diseases. We have noticed that Jesus can heal with simply a word. We have also seen that Jesus has authority over His disciples and calls them (and us) to “follow him.” This morning that picture of the authority of Jesus expands greatly.

The scene is the Sea of Galilee. It is a relatively small body of water. It is 13 miles long and 7 miles wide. What makes it unique is the fact that it is 150 feet deep and the shoreline is 680 feet below Sea Level. It is surrounded by mountains. At times the wind comes off the Mediterranean Sea to the West, comes over the mountains and down into the valleys and suddenly turns the Sea into a turbulent and dangerous place to be. Usually, these storms took place during the daytime.

This account is from evening. Jesus, wearied by a day with the demanding crowd of people, suggests they head to the other side of the lake in, what we assume was a fishing boat.

A few years ago archaeologists found a sunken fishing boat that was dated around the time of Jesus. This boat was about 27 ½ feet long and 7 ½ feet wide. We don’t know if this is the type of boat Jesus was in but it does give us a frame of reference.

This is the background we need as we turn to Matthew 8:23-27

23 Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. 24 Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 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!”

Before we get deep into the story notice some interesting details that Mark adds to the account,

they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion.

(Mark 4:36-38)

We are told that they went across the lake and some boats followed them. Then we read not only that Jesus slept but that he slept in the back of the boat . . . with his head on a pillow! What makes this significant? Tim Keller writes,

One of the commentaries I was reading was by a major historical scholar from Cambridge University, and she said in the book she would be prone to believe this was a legend considering all that happened, except for the details.

Why would you, if you’re writing up a legend, write down there were all those other little boats around him when that doesn’t contribute a thing to the story? It doesn’t tell us anything. It doesn’t move the story along. There’s no meaning involved. It’s just there, and they’re never brought up again. Why does it tell us Jesus didn’t go back to shore before he got into the other boat? [Why tell us Jesus slept on a cushion?] Why these details? They don’t help the story. They don’t tell us anything about the story.

The answer is these are the memories of somebody. The only reason these details would be here is if somebody remembered them. They’re eyewitness, firsthand memory. They’re there only because somebody remembered it was true.[1]

These details create a problem for the skeptic. It creates a problem for those who simply want to shrug this off as a made up story or a parable. The details tell us that this really happened.

CRISIS

The disciples must have been some ways into their journey (since Jesus is asleep) when the storm struck. This is not just your ordinary storm. The word used here is seismos (as in an earthquake). It might be better seen as a hurricane force storm! These were experienced fishermen (most of them) and they were terrified. The gospel of Mark tells us the boat was beginning to fill with water.

I sense that first, the experienced fishermen relied on their knowledge of this Sea and the storms. Soon, however, they knew they were overmatched. The power and size of the waves combined with the wind more than they could handle. You wonder if everyone on the boat (except Jesus) was hanging on a trying to bail water at the same time.

We don’t know who it was who came to Jesus. What we do know is that they were in a state of panic. Note the words, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” This was a cry of fear and desperation! There may even have been a bit of anger here. They were drowning and Jesus was sleeping!!

We are told here that Jesus “got up.” It appears from the Greek word that was used, that Jesus stood up in the boat (which is usually not recommended, especially in a fierce storm) and the gospel of Mark tells that Jesus said, “Silence! Be Still!” I imagine this being like a parent (with enough anger to be compelling) saying, “Be Quiet!” to a group of children.

Don’t miss what happens next! The storm doesn’t settle down . . . it stops! The waves don’t lessen. . . immediately the water became like a sheet of glass . . . perfectly still.

I had an experience once that was much less than this but it still created a sense of awe within me. At one of the early car shows in La Harpe, a year when things had been pretty rough for the country and our community, car enthusiasts were registering and there was the commotion and noise that comes with the time of registration. I was introduced to pray and suddenly everything went quiet. . . everything! Not a voice. Not an engine. There was a deep sense of awe and reverence as if God had stepped into our midst. I don’t know if anyone else remembers this but I will never forget it. When the prayer was over, the commotion resumed (even though we were not finished with the opening). For a few moments, we sensed just a fraction of what these men felt.

Where is Your Faith?

Right before Jesus calmed the storm (or right after as reported in Mark and Luke) Jesus asked a penetrating question: “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!”

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure I would have responded just like the disciples. My “panic switch” would go on very quickly in this situation. And that means there is something important for us to learn here too. There is an area where we need to grow.

Why is it that we sometimes feel that God has lost control, or that He has looked away, or even that he has forgotten about us? If we believe in the sovereignty of God (that He has absolute control) and we believe the gospel message that He loves us and will never leave us, why are we ever afraid? What can come into our lives that has not filtered first through His nail-scared hands?

Tim Keller says it well,

if you have a God great enough and infinite enough and powerful enough to be mad at because he doesn’t stop your suffering, you also have a God who is great enough and infinite enough and powerful enough to have reasons to allow you to suffer that you can’t understand. You can’t have it both ways.[2]

We get into trouble because we panic when trials and difficulties come our way. We assume this cannot be the will of God. But why do we think this? As you read through the Bible there were no problem-free lives. In fact, many of the greatest victories came through the problems. One example would be Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his brothers, he was falsely accused of rape, he helped a prisoner who promptly forgot about him. This series of circumstances (that Joseph handled faithfully) resulted in him being given a position of power that made it possible for him to be the agent of God to save Israel.

A faith in God that only exists when things are going well is really not faith in God at all! Such faith is the equivalent of carrying a rabbit’s foot, lucky penny, or anything else in your pocket for luck! When such faith “doesn’t work” any longer, we cast it aside.

We should know that whenever Jesus is in the boat with us there is absolutely nothing to fear. As long as we walk with Him, He is in the boat! The problem is that we often feel He is not in the boat! The disciples have an advantage in that they could at least could see Jesus sleeping near them. Because we can’t see Him, we fear.

However, we can’t use that as an excuse. We have a huge advantage over the disciples. We have all these historical accounts and can look back on them. We know about the Resurrection, we have the Bible, we have benefitted from the coming of the Holy Spirit, and we have the church, and the people of God to support us. We have thousands of year of Jesus showing His faithfulness. We even have more years of walking with Jesus than the disciples had. It is our job to take the resources God has given us and TRUST HIM.

Terrified

The story ends with these words,

27 The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”

Mark says the disciples were terrified. Don’t miss what is being said. They were no longer terrified by the storm . . . they were terrified by Jesus! There is only one who can command the wind, the rain, and the sea . . . and that is the Lord. What these disciples saw was the very power and authority of the Lord God Almighty in Jesus. They have just taken an “advanced class” in the nature of Christ.

Why would you be terrified? Why not celebrate? You are terrified, because any time we are truly in the presence of the Holy, we become acutely aware of our own sin. Think of it this way, let’s say you lived near and worked in a coal mine. Life is OK. You have a lot of good friends and you feel you have a great life. Then one day someone that doesn’t live in those parts comes by. Perhaps they drive into town in a motor home. You are stunned by the way they are dressed immaculately. Colors are vibrant! For the first time you see how you look compared to someone not like you. Your home and belongings are covered in dust. You notice that your skin is darkened by the coal. What is your response? Most of us would cover up or try to stay out of the line of sight. We suddenly feel very dirty and exposed.

This is what happened to the disciples. They caught a glimpse of the power, holiness, sovereignty, and the authority of Christ. Suddenly they are aware of their sin and the stains that permeated their lives. These human beings were in the presence of God and they became terrified knowing instinctively that sinful people cannot stand in front of a Holy God. The threat of the storm was nothing compared to the greater threat of standing before a Holy God!

The more clearly we see Jesus . . . the more aware we become of our sin . . . and the more humbled we are by God’s grace. Arrogance evaporates when you see yourself in comparison to the holiness of God. The notion that you can appease God with your religious deeds is exposed for the foolishness that it is.

In the calming of the storm at sea the disciples caught a glimpse of the real nature of Christ. . . and it terrified them!

LESSONS TO LEARN

The primary point of this account is clear and uncomplicated: Jesus is God. He is all-powerful. He has authority over all creation! He is much more than just a great man. He is in a category all by Himself.

This should lead us to do several things. First, it should lead us to repent and then  worship. As long as we see Jesus as “like us”; as long as we can dismiss some of these stories as myth; we can feel pretty good about ourselves. We can justify our sin by pointing to those who are more stained than we are.

When we catch a glimpse of the holiness of God we don’t talk . . . we become silent. We don’t justify our sin, we confess it. We no longer treat the Lord in a caviler manner but we bow before Him in reverence. We no longer look at worship as something that is to benefit me . . . we see it as a time to give honor to the Lord. We sit straighter, listen more intently, sing fervently as an offering to the King, and we give, not to pay the bills of the church, but to express our gratitude and our recognition that everything belongs to Him.

Second, having seen His power and also the evidence of His love, we should trust Him ABSOLUTELY.

  • Instead of trying to fix things with our power plays, lobbying groups, and our attempts to intimidate and force things, we put these things in His powerful nail-scarred hands. We turn to prayer rather than the weapons of the world.
  • Instead of panicking in tough times, we will trust God’s wisdom, His power, and His staggering love. Even when we don’t understand, we will trust Him. So much so that we might even take a nap.
  • Instead of grumbling about difficult circumstances, we wait, we watch, and we listen to see what God is doing. We look for opportunities to honor the Lord in the time of crisis.
  • Instead of punishing others for their offenses against us, we forgive as we have been forgiven.
  • Instead of running away in anger because things did not go our way, we draw closer to Him knowing that He alone is our refuge and strength.

This passage reminds us that Jesus is more powerful than any storm we will face. But we must not think that this account is meant to merely give us strength for hard times. The focus of the passage is not us . . . it is Him. It is not about our problems; it is about His greatness. But the irony is this: the more clearly we see Him, the more minor our problems seem to be.

I hope you will take some time with this passage this week. Imagine yourself sitting in the boat with the disciples. See the wave. Feel the panic. Imagine the things that would be going through your head. Then watch as it all changes in an instant . . . the storm turns into uncommon calm. Feel the sense of awe. Be convicted by the holiness you see. And when you have done all this–recommit your life to the One who rules over all; the One who is absolute in His holiness. Bow before Him and be overwhelmed that such a One as this would give Him life for you.

If you have never made that commitment to Jesus as the One true Redeemer, as God come in person to rescue us, then do so today. He is far more than a great teacher or a good man. He is the Lord of life. He is the Creator, the Redeemer, the One and only ruler of the world. Bow before Him and trust Him to make you new.

[1] Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).

[2] Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).

Scripture:

Matthew 8:23-27