Epiphany 4 – January 30th, 2011 – Matthew 8:23-37
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
By the time we reach the beginning of our text, Jesus has already had quite a day. That day began in chapter 5 with the sermon on the Mount – so a morning spent preaching and teaching, which is a tiring thing, in and of itself. Then, as He comes down the mountain, our Gospel lesson last week, the Leper and the Centurion are healed – and then that is followed by many other healings in Capernaum. And by this point, the crowd is whipped up into a frenzy, people are just so excited, and Jesus does what He normally does at this point… He leaves. Our Lord doesn’t want unruly mobs; He isn’t the Lord of the mosh pit, He doesn’t like crass pandemonium with people going all crazy. In verse 18, just before our text, we hear, “Now, when Jesus saw a great crowd around Him, He gave orders to go over to the other side.” And even as the disciples make ready, you still have more people come up, more things, more teaching, and then finally, finally, at the start of our lesson, in verse 23, Jesus gets into the boat.
“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep.” I had always used to think that it was a bit odd that Jesus was asleep – I mean, He’s on a boat trip, that’s exciting, and there’s a storm, surely He’d be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for that! Well, not with the day He’s had – He’s been on the run since early morning, it’s probably mid afternoon, and He’s tired. Fair enough. If you’ve ever had one of those afternoons where you were just gonna take a nap, that’s Jesus’ day. And so the disciples are tending to the boat, which makes sense, they are the experienced sailors. And then, a storm whips up. Makes sense – at least it should to us in Oklahoma. If it’s a nice spring day, when is nasty weather most likely to spring up? And that is exactly what happens this day – a squall springs up, something that wasn’t uncommon for the Sea of Galilee. And it’s a bad one. The disciples, seasoned sailors, rush and wake up Jesus saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” Wake up Jesus, because right now, right this instant, we are in the process of sinking and drowning and dying. And this isn’t baseless panic – this isn’t my out of town relatives hearing that there’s a tornado watch for the entire state and wanting to know if we should run to the fraidy hole right then – This is the sirens are going off, the storm is here now, and there on the sea, even the veteran fishermen are frightened. Save us, Lord; we are perishing.
Jesus wakes up, and then He says to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” I don’t wonder if this isn’t one of the most misapplied, most abused verses of all of the Scriptures. There are few verses which get used to make Christians feel worse, which get used to grind down Christians by false preachers more than this verse. “Oh, looks like you’re a bad Christian because you’re afraid. Looks like you’ve got a little faith. We can’t have that, you’ve got to have a big faith – and the way you get that is by sending me a nice, big old check. Big check means big faith, little check means little pathetic Christian, and you don’t want to be that, do you?” Okay, so maybe what we hear isn’t quite that crass, but we’re in the heart of the bible belt – we hear all the time how if we only had a big enough faith this or that, how if we only believed there’d be no more fear, if we had more faith then this or that would happen. And we sit, and we hear that, and we can think, “I have fears. I must not be a good Christian. I must have a weak, tiny, pathetic faith.” And then comes the manipulation – being broke down, being made to feel little, we’re tempted to do whatever that preacher tells us we need to do – buy his book, send him cash – whatever it is.
Fear is real. I want you to pause for a moment and think about what you fear. We all have them – our lives, our past, these have impact upon us, and we have learned to fear things. Some of your fears I know, some I can guess, some you’ve probably kept hidden from everyone else. Likewise, you probably know or can guess some of mine, and some I’ve kept hidden. And they are real. They deal with things that happen in this sinful, fallen world. Fear is part and parcel of life in a world full of sin – because bad stuff can and does happen here. And that doesn’t change because we pretend they don’t happen. Our Lord isn’t instructing us in this text that we are to just pretend things aren’t scary – He doesn’t say to the disciples, “Oh, just ignore the storm, you’ll be fine.” No, the storm is there, it is real. Sin is real, fear is real. It’s often big and nasty and scary. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise, don’t let people downplay sin and its impact.
The point isn’t that fear isn’t real – the point is that Christ Jesus IS real, that while sin and fear may be running around in this world, Jesus is God with us, and while sin, while fears may be big and strong and powerful, while they might be more powerful than us – they are not more powerful that Christ Jesus, God Himself come down to save you and rescue from sin and from fear. That very real storm comes – and what does Jesus do? “Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” That’s the point of this text. Not that the disciples’ fears were silly – but that Christ Jesus is God Almighty who is in charge, who is in control, always. That’s the point – there’s a reason the old song calls God the ruler of wind and wave – and that was something they knew in the Old Testament even before Jesus came. It was part of our Introit today. It’s sort of part of the point of Noah and the Flood – God Almighty is in charge – and those very real things, those very real fears – they don’t mean that God is no longer in control, and when He knows it is best, He will deliver us. He is God with us who loves us.
And this is where the false preacher will add, “but only if you have a big enough faith, so cut me a big old check.” Again, misses the point. “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” People will want to hit upon that phrase “little faith” and say, “Oh no, that’s bad, got to have a big faith, bigger, bigger, bigger…” To them I say, “Or what?” So the disciples are afraid, so their faith is “little” – what does Jesus do? He still cares for them, He still protects them. He still loves them. His love and care for the disciples is not determined by how big or little their faith is. It’s not as though Jesus says, “Oh no, sorry disciples, your faith is too small, I’m just gonna have let the storm rage cause you’ve got a little faith – good thing for Me I can walk on water. I guess I better go wander back to town and find Me some real believers. Hope you suckers can swim.” God isn’t petty like that. In fact, over and over the Scriptures tell us how He tends with greatest care to the weakest – how the bruised reed He will not break, the smoldering wick He will not quench. You see, it’s not about your faith, about how big our small it is – it’s about Jesus, the One you have faith IN. And He is good, and He loves you.
Why does Jesus say to the disciples, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Not because He hates them. Not even because He’s disappointed in them – but because He doesn’t want them to be afraid. Being afraid is lousy. When we are afraid – the object of our fears, what we are afraid of looms ever larger, ever bigger. Fear tries to make us focus on what we are afraid of. Faith, on the other hand, pulls our eyes off of that which we fear and causes us to look to Christ – not because what we fear is silly or small, but because Christ Jesus is the God who has redeemed and forgiven you, has died to forgive your sin, has risen to assure you that whatever this world throws at you, however real and scary it is, you will rise to perfection and life everlasting because of Him.
One of my fears is that I’ll end up preaching a lousy sermon, so forgive me if I belabor the point this morning. As Christians, we do not deny sin, we do not pretend the things that we are afraid of don’t exist. Rather, we confess. We see our sin, and we say, “I have done it, it is lousy and wrong, forgive me for the sake of Christ Jesus.” We see troubles, and pain, and heartache and whatever it is that we fear, and we don’t pretend that they could never happen – we pray deliver us from evil. But we don’t stop there. By the power of His Word, by the gift of the Holy Spirit and faith, whether it is faith big and strong that moves quickly, or whether it is a bit small, and a bit slow, God turns our eyes away from our sin, from our fear, and He holds before our eyes the Cross of the Christ Jesus, because that Cross is what is truly important. Are our sins great? Sure – but not greater than Christ Jesus and the power of His blood shed for us. Are our fears real? Sure – there are plenty of things to be afraid up, but Christ Jesus conquers them all, even death – behold the empty tomb. Is our faith small, do we tend to see the Storm Clouds more than we see our Lord? Many times yes – so God calls us to His house to hear Christ preached so that our eyes might be fixed on Him, calls us to His table, where receiving the Supper we hear, “Now may this True Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith” – we pray that as it strengthens us in love toward one another it would strengthen our little faith.
The world is a dangerous place, and it means to kill you, to grind you underfoot. But, despite what the world will tell you, what the world will try to make you think, what the world will try to scare you into believing – you are not alone, for Christ Jesus your Lord has come to be with you – He has claimed you as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism, and against the love that He has shown you there, the world can bluster and storm all it wants – He is Christ the Crucified who has won your forgiveness. And when those fears come, He pulls your eyes again to Him, so that you in the face of those fears, you would see Him and His love for you. Whatever the world throws at you, you are not perishing, not really, for you have life in Christ Jesus, for He is God come to save you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.