The Christ who calms - Matthew 8:23-27
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Who is in control of the world? Well, the Hollywood mega-hit movie - Twister tried to supply the answer - Mother nature.' The film centred on a climatologist who was convinced that tornadoes were deliberately trying to kill her. Why should she think that? Well, the trailer to the film provided the answer, namely that nature will in a kind of psychotic fit, go completely, randomly mad.' A few years earlier another film, called Outbreak carried the same message, suggesting that if humans mess with rain forests, then nature will send a nasty virus to kill us all. Outbreak was based on the best - selling book, The Hot Zone in which the author, Richard Preston writes : the earth is mounting an immune response against the human species. It is beginning to react to the human parasites.' In other words the earth is being viewed as more than a living organism, it is being endowed with conscious like qualities - mother nature deciding to wreak revenge if we delve too deeply into her secrets.
Now all of this is far removed from the view of the Bible which sees creation as just that, the work of an all knowing, all powerful creator, whose intention it was to place the care of the earth under the loving rule of the crown of his creation - human beings. It was this belief which gave rise to modern science of course, seeing nature as not some semi-divine goddess to be feared, but the handy work of a Creator to be explored and harnessed for the common good. And I would suspect that as our society moves further and further away from its Christian base, science is going to have an increasingly hard time and pagan superstition and fear with be in the ascendancy. And maybe that is why less and less young people are studying for science degrees than ever before.
And this morning we come to an episode in the Bible which answers the question: who is in control with crystal clarity and conviction. That in the midst of all the storms of life, in the face of all the unpredictability of events, there is one who is in complete control - and that is Gods man, the Lord Jesus Christ. So do turn with me to Matthew 8 as we look at this fascinating account under four headings.
First of all, the rage - vv23 - 24: Then he, (Jesus) got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came upon the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.'
Now when you think about it, what we have here is a little cameo picture of the nature of the Christian life. The disciples had been privy to some of the most amazing teaching and events they had ever witnessed. They had seen Jesus heal lepers, cast out demons, and in one instance heal someone at a distance with a mere word. And when Jesus in the previous few verses issued a most uncompromising challenge Let the dead bury the dead, as for you come and follow me.' they had passed the test with flying colours - follow Jesus they will, right into the boat and out onto the lake. And that is when it hit them - a storm of literally seismic proportions. In fact the word used in the Greek which is translated furious storm is the word seismos. So this is not just a strong wind, this is cataclysmic - a dark deluge which would melt the heart of even the most seasoned sailor, and of course that is exactly what many of them were. These were experienced fishermen, they had seen it all, and they were terrified. And often it is like that in the Christian life isn't it? No sooner have you made that decision to follow Christ, and there is the full joy of a new conversion and everything looks so different because now life has purpose and meaning, for you are friends with the one who made you and saved you - what happens? You encounter difficulty. Maybe a bereavement in the family, a failed exam, loss of a job, opposition from a loved one and your new found Christian life all seems to be unravelling. You feel that you are going under, swamped by the doubts and the circumstances. And where is Jesus when you need him most? Why, he is fast asleep. What is wrong, doesn't he care if we drown?
Now as we know, appearances can be deceptive. Imagine you are in a supermarket and you see a youth pounding the chest of an old man lying on the floor. What do you do? Do you phone the police or do you phone the ambulance? Is he a mugger or a Samaritan? Initially you think he is a mugger, it is only later you discover he is in fact a Samaritan trying to resuscitate a dying man.
So it is here. The fact that Jesus is fast asleep isn't a sign that he does not care, but, as we shall see, that he is in control. In a moment we shall witness an awesome display of his divinity, but at this stage we see a touching picture of his humanity. Jesus was absolutely shattered. He slept so soundly that not even the tossing of the boat, the noise of the wind, or the blowing of water on his face could awaken him. Here was the man of faith par excellence, confident in his heavenly Fathers control over all events - even the storm - because he had a job to do. And it was into the hands of his Son that God had given all authority. And while Jesus was in that boat with his disciples, all the storms in the world could not sink them. Oh yes, it may disturb them, it might frighten them, but it cannot destroy them. And I don't know about you, but when I am suddenly faced with the unexpected which rocks my little world of its order, how would you want to face it? With Jesus by your side, or without Jesus struggling and left to your own devices? So what is God doing when storms are sent our way?
Well, lets look at the reaction vv 25 - 26a The disciples went and woke him, saying Lord, save us, we are going to drown.' he replied, You of little faith, why are you so afraid? ' Now you can be pretty sure that those in the boat did everything humanly possible to save themselves - that is what professional fishermen do. No doubt they too, like Jesus, were tired, collapsing on the brink of exhaustion, but were far too afraid to sleep. And it is only when they reach the end of their tether, that they turn to Jesus. But to the God who does reign, they were exactly were he wanted them to be - right there in the storm. For sometimes God has to use extreme measures to get our attention, to make sure that we are open to learn the lessons he wants to teach us - the lessons of faith - active, saving trust in Jesus. You know it is often when people exhaust all their own resources that with a glimmer of faith and more than a hint of desperation they cry out to Jesus. Lord, save us.' And you know God is not offended by that cry. He would rather us turn to him in blind desperation and find him, discovering that he is a God who saves, than for us to be lulled into a feeling of false security, complacent about our own spiritual state as we idly drift through carefree life, until eventually we perish when the waves of Gods final judgement comes crashing over us. He cares for us too much to let that happen he would rather shout at us, than ignore us.
You know, even atheists in times of tragedy cry out to God. One of the American CNN reporters said, at the moment the world trade centre was hit : It is at times like this that even people who don't believe in God hope that there is something there who can offer salvation' Isn't that true? It is all right to be militant in our unbelief when all is going well, when the children are healthy, when the job is secure, when the bar is still open. But it is not so easy to be convinced of the absence of God and the meaninglessness of life when the veneer of our existence is stripped away and we stand on the brink of eternity. Then belief in a God who rescues and redeems, able to bring good out of evil, becomes more than a hope, it becomes a necessity.' Lord - we cry - save us.'
And as always with the Lord Jesus, every crisis is taken as an opportunity to teach : You of little faith. Why are you so afraid.' Now we might think that the answer is obvious - how else should they feel when you are on the Titanic? But that is not the point of Jesus rebuke. - having feelings as such. The problem you see, is that fear was driving out faith. It is not that the disciples had no faith, otherwise they wouldn't have come to Jesus.. What was necessary was for faith to put a check on their fear. Faith was to restrain and direct feelings. All that the disciples saw was the immediacy of the situation, the frightening dark power of nature which was threatening to kill them. What Jesus does is to point them to the one who stands behind such forces, to the larger picture of Gods power and purposes for his people. In effect Jesus is saying this: Havent you seen enough of my power and experienced enough of my love to know that you are safe with me? You have seen me perform miracle upon miracle on behalf of those who never even trusted me or even bothered to thank me. You should know that because of my power I can help you and because of my love I will help you. But even if you should drown, wouldn't that mean instant heaven for you? The problem is that they were looking at the waves, they were not looking at Jesus - little faith you see.
So why do the storms come? Well, to test and to strengthen the quality of our faith of course. The quality of our emotions - how we react - is dependent upon the quality of our faith - what we believe. And in turn, the quality of our faith is dependent upon the quality of our understanding - believing the right things. Here the disciples only had an inkling of who Jesus was, after the event as we see in v 27, they are much nearer to having a deeper understanding of who he was. The fact is, if we have a reduced view of God, one who is a small helpless bystander standing on the edges of the universe, we shall be overwhelmed by tragedy every time. Our prayers will be feeble and fitful, and we shall be the slave of every emotion which tugs within us. But if we have a view of God as the Bible presents him, then though there will be times we may be knocked down, we shall never be knocked out. And what God wants to do in our difficulties is to lead us on from fear to faith. And that faith is forged not only in the crucible of adversity but strengthened in the day to day routine of Christian discipleship. As we feed on the Scriptures, as our minds are expanded, our hearts enlarged, as we get on with the business of putting it into practice, it is those little acts of obedience which prepare us for the big trials when they come. My friends, never underestimate the effect that coming to a place like this has week in week out. Missing church is like missing meals. We may be Ok for a while but if it persists we shall suffer from spiritual malnutrition, devoid of the necessary vitamins which will help our spiritual immune system combat the disease of sin in its many guises. My concern is that unless the Christ of the Bible is taught and people get to know him, rather than the Christ of popular imagination and preaching, especially amongst some of our younger people and they in turn see some of the older Christians and their parents, taking it seriously themselves - then when tragedy does strike, they will have nothing to hold on to and will throw in the towel, saying I thought everything was meant to be easy as a Christian, when in fact God promised no such thing. Feelings are to follow faith and faith rests upon understanding.
So what about the rescue? v26b Then he got up, and rebuked the wind and the waves, and it was completely calm.' We really must try and grasp the dramatic nature of this miracle and how absolutely stunning it was. You have to imagine a storm like those gales which hit our country a few years ago, tossing caravans around as if they were made of matchsticks, lashing rain, howling winds, black bellowing clouds. It is a scene of utter chaos and devastation - a seismos. And then Jesus stands and in the midst of the noise and over the thudding sound of their own hearts, the disciples strain to hear the words of Jesus Peace be still as Mark tells us, as if he were taming a wild animal. And that very second, as if caught up in a time warp and magically transferred to an entirely different place and time, the air is still, the sun is shining and the sea is like glass. That is what is meant when Matthew records it was completely calm - literally mega calm. Had they dreamt it all? Had they not been riding the back of some uncontrollable gigantic beast a moment ago and now nothing?
Now this event for a Jew would have been brim full of significance, because for the Jew the sea was a powerful potent symbol of everything that is opposed to God - the forces of chaos and evil as we see for example in Psalm 74 : 13 It was you (God) who split open the sea by your power: you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.' - The home of the beast lurking just beneath the surface representing all that is unruly, which strikes terror into peoples hearts, the dark and unexpected - like the terrorist attack - that is what the sea stood for - calm one moment, then rising to engulf you the next, leaving nothing but driftwood in its wake. So when Jesus with a saving word calmed the storm do you see what message is being conveyed? This is the master who is in control who saves by the word of the Gospel, who can rescue us from the forces of darkness, the rebellious nature of our own hearts. He is the one who can speak words of peace into a world hell bent on self - destruction, so that people even in their distress and lostness can turn to him and discover a peace which passes all understanding and which ultimately will transfer them from the turmoil of this life into the peace and calm of the next life. Why, that split second shift of the disciples from the brink of death one moment to total heaven the next is like the experience the believer will have when they die. There he was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1556 tied to the stake just outside Balliol College, Oxford with flames eating at his arms and legs because of his evangelical faith - in utter agony, crying out to his saviour to receive his spirit. The next moment he finds himself in the arms of his Saviour in the tranquillity of paradise. No longer surrounded by the baying crowds but by the singing angels - feeling as if it had all been a terrible dream. If you are a Christian believer here this morning that will be your experience when you die,. If you are not a believer, it can be - if you come to this Jesus.
And the response? - v 27 The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and waves obey him. " Good question. And I hope it is the question that has been going through your minds too as the story has been unfolding. These men would have known the hymns they used to sing as children in the local synagogue - equivalent to our Eternal father strong to save.' And one of them would have been Psalm 107: 23 - 30 - just listen to these words which might well have been passing through the disciples minds at this point: Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters; they have seen the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep. For he spoke and raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. they rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; their soul melted away in their misery. They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, and were at their wits end. then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad because they were so quiet; so he guided them to their desired haven.' In the immortal words of Rolf Harris Can you see who it is yet? They cried to the Lord - the disciples cried to Jesus. The Lord caused the storm to be still - Jesus caused the storm to be still. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to make the connection. Jesus is the Lord. Jesus is in control.
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