Epiphany 4 – February 2nd and 3rd, 2019 – Matthew 8:23-27
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
One of the problems with just having readings in the Church is that we miss what comes before the reading, the context, how the stage is set. Last week the healing of the leper and the Centurion's servant was set up by the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. This week we're still in chapter 8 of Matthew, and Jesus has been healing a bunch of people, including Peter's mother-in-law, but finally, it is so much that Jesus wants to cross the sea to get some rest, to get away from the crowd for a bit. Jesus even laments, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Jesus is true man, and He is just worn out. And then we hear this: “Another of the disciples said to Him, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' And Jesus said to him, ' Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'” That's a heavy, hefty saying. Following Jesus means sacrifice, it means sometimes no longer having a home, it means being made weary in service and love to the neighbor. But think on this – the last thing we hear before our Gospel is Jesus talking about death.
And then Jesus gets into the boat, and the disciples follow Him. Good. But then we hear this: And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep. Jesus was plum tuckered out. He was out like a light. Again, True God but also True Man. And while He is sleeping in the boat, a storm whips up. And this is an unusual storm – we know this from the “and behold” and the word “great.” Do you know how bad a storm this was, how unusual? Many of Jesus' disciples are seasoned fishermen, folks who lived and worked on the Sea of Galilee, who knew how to handle boats well and knew this sea in particular. And they panic – And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, LORD, we are perishing.” If you're on an airplane and is hits some turbulence, and the passenger next to you is nervous, that's one thing. If the flight attendants start running up and down the aisle screaming, “We're all going to die!” that's something else. This is a BAD situation.
And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. If you want to understand how this plays out, think about kids trying to wake up a parent from a nap – where they crack their eyes for a moment, grumble, and then shout out orders, expecting to be obeyed, and then go back to sleep. That's what this is. That “rose” isn't waking up bright eyed and bushy-tailed – it's being shook awake a bit. It's being “roused.” And then Jesus rebukes winds. That word rebuke implies that He acted as though He had authority over them and told them what to do and they did it. Remember the Centurion from last week talking about being under authority – well, Jesus speaks and acts as though the winds and the sea are under His authority. And... they are. They stop. The great storm, the unbelievably big storm suddenly becomes a great calm. This too would have been really eerie to the disciples. You didn't normally have a calm on that sea – in fact, as you were using sails, you generally didn't want a total calm. And Jesus probably falls right back asleep, because He doesn't say another thing. Maybe with a great calm, He can rest.
Think for a moment how intimidating this would be. You've been up on the ship fighting the weather, trying to pull lines and rigging and bailing water and working your hardest to stay alive, and you can't, it is beyond your strength and you are dying... but then Jesus rolls over and just casually fixes everything. Boom – it's still. The boat stops rocking and rolling in the waves. The sails stop rippling and raging in the wind. The lines go slack – and all that your strength had been fighting against is gone. And Jesus goes back to sleep. This is why they marvel, this is why they say What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?” Well, let's answer their question. He is the Man who is also True God. This man Jesus is the LORD who told Jonah to go to Nineveh and who whipped up a storm and shut it down. This man Jesus is the LORD who put the land and the sea in their own places at Creation and fixed their bounds. This man is the Creator of all things. True God. Yet, think on what else you see. He is true man. The Creator there is sleeping exhausted. The Almighty God is there, frail and worn. God has taken up human frailty and human weakness. It's such an astonishing contrast of strength and weakness that would have been and still is mind boggling. True God and True Man.
There was another question in this text that we would do well to ponder. Before He rebuked the waves, Jesus asked the disciples a question: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” I mean, the simple answer is, “there's a great storm.” That's a pretty good reason to fear, right? But Jesus is asking something a bit deeper than that. Why are they afraid when Jesus is there? This is why He calls them “little faith.” He's been preaching and teaching, He's shown that He is the Messiah... and don't they know, don't they believe that the Messiah has come to win salvation? Don't they know that He's not going to die in boat on a lake? He's taught, He's preached. They've heard that He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, they've heard Him tell His mom that His hour had not yet come... but they weren't thinking about Christ winning salvation with His death and resurrection, as He taught them over and over. In fact, until it actually happened, the disciples excelled in ignoring prospect of the Crucifixion. Why are you afraid – this isn't the Cross, it's nothing. And even the Cross isn't really to be feared, for I'm going to defeat that. I'm going to rise and the dead will be raised, the sea will give up the bodies that perished there in and they will live because of Me – so why are you afraid, o ye of little faith?
Quiz time. I am going to ask a question, and I expect you all to answer it... (why are you afraid, o ye of little faith.) What is the First Commandment? - Thou shalt have no other gods before Me/ You shall have no other gods. Very good – now a second question. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Seriously – memorize that. I'd love it if you had the whole small catechism memorized like Sauer and Royer and the other pastors before me tried to get you to, but at least have the first commandment and its meaning down pat. Because it is profound and explains how every single temptation works. Every temptation that you will face in this life is an attempt to get you to fear something more than God, or to love something more than God, or to trust something more than God. And we could have sermons on each of these – but let's ponder this idea of fearing God. It's a common phrase throughout the Scriptures – fear the Lord. Why? The point is this – you and I are often driven by fear. And fear can make us do some very stupid things. We fear what our friends might say, and we either remain silent or even join in with wickedness. We fear how things in the world are going, and we become despondent and desperate. We fear our neighbors, and we stop loving and serving them. We should fear God above all these things. We should remember that this man, Jesus Christ, who suffered and died and rose again, is indeed stronger and more powerful than our friends' opinions, or the troubles and violence of the world, or even our mean and wicked neighbors. When we see all these things that we are fearful of, we ought to see Christ Jesus instead – come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. “But pastor, what if things are really bad – what if we lose our money or they decide to outlaw Christianity or we get killed?” So what – that's not bigger than Christ Crucified. And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife – though these all be gone, these scary things that we become fearful of can in truth, in Christ, harm us none. Our victory has been won. The kingdom ours remaineth, because Christ Jesus says so. Because He died and He rose, and it doesn't matter what the world does to you – you will rise in Him, and you will rise forgiven and redeemed and glorified and rise to life everlasting.
And in the moment, we tend to forget that. We forget that whenever we sin – sin is forgetting the reality of Christ's strength and what He has done for you. That's why we pray that God would create a clean heart in us, and take not away His Holy Spirit from us. Why we ask that we would see the joy of His salvation. Satan and the world and sin all want to distract you from Christ Jesus and His love and forgiveness. They want to scare you out of receiving it, they want to terrify you out of showing it and proclaiming Christ's love and forgiveness. But Christ Jesus is indeed stronger than the world, and even His weakness, weakness that leads to His death upon the Cross is nothing but His means of delivering you. And the fearful things we see in life – our own frailty and even our death, or the hatred and wickedness of others, or the raging of the winds and sea and snow – these are not stronger than God. No, indeed, in Christ they simply become opportunities to proclaim the wonders of His love. All the fraility and weakness and trouble in the world is swallowed up by Christ Jesus – and He rebukes it all – He calls out “Father forgive them” and He cries out, “It is Finished” and you, my friends, are redeemed and forgiven and more than conquerors in Him. This is what H e gives you to.
What is the first commandment? And what does this mean? Indeed, you have nothing to fear from anyone, for Christ Jesus is your Lord, and He has redeemed you and loves no matter what comes down the pike. Rest secure in Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +