Lord of All - Luke 8:22-25
On June 8th 1958, the Edmund Fitzgerald was launched into the waters of Lake Superior from the Great Lakes Engineering Works in Michigan, USA watched by more than 10,000 people. She was one of the largest vessels ever to have ploughed through the waters of the Great Lakes, weighing 13, 632 tonnes and being more than 700 feet in length. The Great Lakes form the largest body of freshwater in the world and have an area the same as that of Great Britain. So it's no surprise to the people who live and work on the lakes that bad storms are a frequent occurrence. On the evening of 10th November 1975, Lake Superior was experiencing the worst storm of 30 years. Gale force winds of 80-100 miles per hour were whipping the lake up to produce waves in excess of 30 feet high, about the size of a three story building. Men who were on the lake that night say that it was as if a hundred wrecking balls were crashing against the sides of their ships. And it was in that same storm that the Edmund Fitzgerald was making her way from Wisconsin to Detroit. But shortly after 7pm the Edmund Fitzgerald's 700 foot hull, bent, and then snapped like a broken twig. Her two pieces foundered momentarily and then plunged 500 feet to the bottom with all 29 men on board. Some say that the wreck happened in as little time as ten seconds, such was the force of the storm that night. And to this day no-one knows exactly how the Edmund Fitzgerald was lost.
Of all the natural phenomena in the world, the sea is perhaps the most feared. Those who know it well give it at the very least a healthy respect, and will not treat it lightly. And to us frail human beings it appears that the natural world, like the sea, is one of chaos and disorder, and that we who live in this world are victims of the blind forces of chance and Mother Nature. Certainly if you watch films like Twister or The Perfect Storm, that is the impression you get. No-one controls the world and if you try and push nature too far, or get too close you will pay the ultimate price.
But when we come to the Bible we find a different story. We discover that the natural world in which we live is the creation of a loving God, who made a beautiful and perfect world. And whilst this world is not what it was, because of the rebellion of human beings against their creator, yet God is still in control. And in world where chaos seemingly reigns, and where we often have to go through some terrible storms in our own personal lives, no truth could comfort us more than the fact the God who made the world is with us in the storms, and is in control.
And that is what we find in our passage this morning from Luke 8. For here Luke shows us Jesus Christ calming a storm, a storm of seismic proportions. And throughout his gospel Luke is at pains to show us that Jesus is God in the flesh, come to rescue his people from their rebellion. And he is the one who is in control and the one who we must trust if we are to stand firm in the storms which we face. And as we have often seen in our studies in Luke's gospel, faith is not simply about confessing belief in Jesus. Rather it is trusting him and doing what he says. For in the verse just before our passage in verse 21, Jesus says: 'My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice.' Jesus' spiritual family consists of those who believe God's word about Jesus and do it in practice. And that is precisely his challenge again in this passage. We need to be people who have faith, trust in Jesus which acts, knowing who he is, God our Saviour, the one who made the lake. And when we understand that, then whatever storm we face, be it a storm of nature or a storm in our personal lives, we can have complete confidence that Jesus will not let us go. So let's turn to this passage and we'll look at it in the form of three questions that are asked in these verses, two by the disciples and one by Jesus.
1) Why don't you act?
2) Who is this man?
3) Where is your faith?
1) Why don't you act?
And the first question that is asked in this passage is asked by the disciples to Jesus: 'Why don't you act?' Well actually if you're awake this morning, you'll notice that no-one asks that question at all, but certainly it reflects the mood of the disciples in verse 24: 'Master, Master, we're going to drown!' And in Mark's gospel it's even stronger as the disciples say to Jesus: 'Don't you care if we drown?' Lord, why don't you do something? Why won't you act? That was their question. So why were they asking that question? Well, let's backtrack a little bit and find out why. Now Jesus has had a busy day. Matthew and Mark give us more of the background, and they tell us that Jesus has been healing and teaching and huge crowds have been chasing him all day long. So he says in verse 22 that he wants to get to the other side of the lake, perhaps to have a break. And as soon as he steps into the boat and lays his head down he falls asleep exhausted. Let's notice in passing just how human Jesus is. He too gets tried and needs to rest. He knows full well what we feel like after a long day or a lot of stress. In fact, his job makes high flying management consultants look like kinder garden children!
So Jesus is asleep as suddenly a storm breaks on the Sea of Galilee. Now I guess like me you might think that the Sea of Galilee is a small boating like, the likes of which you find at seaside resorts. But this is a big lake. It's about 8 miles across and 15 miles long and either side of the lake there are steep gorges which means that it is about 600 feet below sea level. The wind blows down the gorge and so the sea is churned up causing severe storms. And that's what happens here. Verse 24: 'A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.' Now many of these disciples were experienced fishermen. They were not tourists trapped on a pedalo and out of their depth. They knew that lake like the back of their hands. They had seen plenty of storms before. But even they were scared by this storm. Matthew uses a word for the storm which literally means earthquake. It was as if the whole sea was shaking. And the waves were sweeping right over the boat. Every time the small boat went into a trough it was as if there was a wall of water towering over them. It was a rough storm and the men feared for their lives. They were in great danger, says Luke.
Now I have never experienced a storm quite like this one. The nearest I have got is in choppy seas in a ferry going to Ireland. But you often see pictures of atrocious seas on the TV and it looks very frightening. I have a friend who was in the Royal Navy for a number of years and he said that sometimes it was so rough that his ship which was a big frigate, not a small fishing boat, used to what he called aquaplane, which was when the boat used to face the waves head on, be picked up by them, and then plough down the other side sometimes as much as 30 or 40 feet. And here the disciples, experienced sea-farers though they are, are fighting for their lives and so they cry out in desperation to the sleeping Jesus. Verse 24: 'Master, master, we're going to drown!' Actually the original is even more dramatic. The disciples cry out: 'We're dying.' It seems like they are within seconds of death. The next big wave that comes over that boat would be end.
And it looks to all intents and purposes as if Jesus does not care. Here are the disciples utterly terrified, battered and spun around, completely it seems at the mercy of this awesome display of a natural disaster, while he sleeps in the back of the boat. No wonder we read in Mark that the disciples shout at Jesus: 'Don't you care if we drown?' Lord, we don't you do something? Why don't you act? Why are you allowing this to happen to me? And surely that is one of the first questions that we ask when we too go through stormy seas. Lord why don't you act, why don't you do something? And it may well be that we are feeling exactly like these disciples at the moment. Completely overwhelmed by the storms of life. It may be work, it may be family, it may be illness, it may be a spiritual battle you are facing, a particular temptation that you just cannot shake off. Whatever it is you are feeling as if one more wave will sink your boat. And you're crying out: 'Come on Lord, do something. Why is it that it feels like you're doing nothing?' And it's important to realise that that is a normal reaction to being in a storm. Christians aren't immune from the storms of life. Christians get ill, they lose friends and family, they get cancer, they suffer and they struggle with work and family and money and relationships. But the difference for the Christian is the there is someone in our boat who will not let us go and who will guide us through the storms. Someone who cares very deeply and who has the power to act as we will see. And even the non Christian has to admit that that is something they so desperately want and need. Listen to these words of the writer Douglas Coupland: 'Now here's my secretMy secret is that I need God, that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me to give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me to be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me to love as I seem beyond being able to love.' And the brilliant news of Luke chapter 8 is that we are not alone and we can receive help. There is Someone with us. It's just that we need to see properly who that is. And that was what the disciples failed to realise. They simply cried out: 'Lord, why don't you act?' It was a cry for help! But they had not twigged just how powerful and loving and trustworthy that man sleeping in the back of the boat really was. And that brings us to our second question.
2) Who is this man?
Who is this man? Because if they'd realised exactly who he was they wouldn't have panicked so desperately! Now if you are fisherman and you're in a storm, then the last thing you'd probably do is ask a carpenter for help. But that's what these disciples did that day. Verse 24: 'The disciples went and woke him, saying, 'Master, Master, we're going to drown!' He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 'Where is your faith?' he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.'' Now to my mind there is nothing more spectacular or frightening than watching a storm at sea from a safe distance. A few years ago, Debbie and I went to Whitby at a time when there was a fierce storm battering the coastline. The waves were so big that they were splashing over the lighthouse on the pier. It was a breath taking sight. But let me tell you what is even more staggering. For a man to stand on that pier and say to those waves crashing in: 'Be still!' And then instantly for there to be complete calm. Now that would be power. That would send a shiver down your spine wouldn't it? And that's exactly what happened that day on that boat. No wonder the disciples were scared. Jesus simply gets up, rebukes the wind and the waves and there is complete calm. It's as if he's telling his puppy off. Utterly staggering! And it's not as if the wind and waves die down over the next few hours. In fact the swell on the Sea of Galilee after a big storm can last for days. But with Jesus it's different. Our versions say that the storm subsided. Actually the original simply says: 'It stopped.' It was a definite, miraculous act. And this is no trick that a mere man can play. To stop a storm in mid flow requires extraordinary power. Of all the miracles Jesus did, surely this is the most breath taking. Of course people have tried to shackle nature. King Canute tried to hold back the tide a few centuries ago and failed. I myself even tried it at Hornsea beach a few years ago. When I said to the waves, 'Be still!' all that happened to me was I got wet feet and my wife walked on down the beach to avoid embarrassment. But when Jesus commands nature to stop, it stops. And the disciples' reaction is fear and amazement and they ask each other: 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.'
So what do we conclude about this man? Who is he? Well the OT gives us the answer. Only one person can wield such power over the forces of nature, over creation itself. And that is God. Listen again to these verses from the psalms which are speaking about God. Psalm 89 verse 9: 'You rule over the surging sea, when it's waves mount up you calm them.' Or try Psalm 107 vv 26ff: '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.' God alone has such power. And that is what Luke wants us to grasp. That Jesus is God in the flesh. That God has taken on human form and has become a man. That Jesus is the Lord of creation. And as the Lord of heaven and earth, there was no way that this storm was going to take Jesus with it. Jesus wasn't going to die in some freak boating accident. That's what the disciples failed to grasp. And it wasn't as if the disciples didn't have enough evidence. It was there staring them in the face. Just in the last few chapters Jesus has healed a man without even setting eyes on him, he's broken up a funeral by raising the dead boy from his coffin, he's told John the Baptist he's the Messiah by reminding him of all the miracles he's performed, and he's forgiven a woman of her sins. If only the disciples had put two and two together, they'd have not been afraid in that boat. They would have known that their Lord and God was asleep in the stern. And that is often the root of our fear and worry is it not, that we forget just who it is that is in our boat?
Of course, sometimes people simply don't want to believe that Jesus is the one who can help, that he is the true and living God in the flesh. People will do anything to avoid the conclusion that the gospel writers drive us to. Thomas Jefferson was like that. In the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC in the States, there is a leather bound book which belonged to Thomas Jefferson, the second president of the United States. And in this book he pasted all the passages from the gospels which had no miraculous element in them. That was the Bible that Jefferson read. In his own mind, he had shut off the possibility that Jesus was a supernatural Saviour, that he was God himself. He'd made the mistake of the disciples and thought that Jesus was just a good teacher, or a nice moral man. Well if you do that, then you've missed who Jesus is completely, and when the storms come you will find yourself facing them alone. Because only God himself could get a force 9 storm to obey him.
No, this Jesus is the Lord of creation, the one who made the heavens and earth, the one who controls the winds and waves. It's this Jesus we worship and serve. This is the Jesus we call Lord and Saviour. It's this Jesus we sing to and praise each week. This is the Jesus who promises to be with us to the end in all the storms we face. Who is this man? That's the question Luke wants us to answer. Will we swallow the often peddled myth that Jesus was just a good teacher or moralist? Or will we bow before him as the King of Creation, Jesus our God.
3) Where is your faith?
But of course, it's one thing to believe about Jesus. Quite another to trust him. And that is what our final question tackles. And this time it is Jesus' turn to ask a question. As the disciples stand in the boat dripping with sea water, seaweed in their hair, mouths open, utterly staggered, Jesus says to them in verse 25: 'Where is your faith?' Because it's only when we see and understand who Jesus is that we will truly put our faith in him. And that was the disciples' problem. Their faith was misplaced. They had failed to see that Jesus was the one they should trust. All the miracles they'd seen, all the words he'd said pointed to one fact. That Jesus was their Lord and God, but they still hadn't got it. And so their faith was elsewhere. Perhaps they trusted their own boating skills, maybe the boat itself that they'd made with their own hands. But wherever their faith was placed, it was not where it should have been. In the only one who could have helped them that day. In Jesus, their Saviour.
And our problem is that we are so slow to realise that the only place where our faith should be placed is in Christ. All too often our faith is in ourselves. This was brought home to me recently when I was watching a programme about Ellen Macarthur, the yachtswoman who has taken the world by storm by becoming the youngest woman to sail round the world solo. During her trip down to the South Atlantic and back, she was on her own for months on end. She had no physical contact with anyone else for about 3 months. And she sailed past some of the most beautiful sights in the natural world. And yet for all that natural beauty, for all her survival through some terrible storms, did she look to Jesus as her Lord and Saviour? There was no hint. In fact when she got to the half way point at the Antarctic and started to turn back, she threw a packet of biscuits into the sea which was her offering to Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea as a peace offering to get her home safely! Of course it's superstition, but it shows her trust was far more in own abilities than in the true God who made the sea. In fact she said during the programme that she was the only one in control. We human beings are so prone to trusting ourselves. And that is often what happens when the storms hit.
I guess it's a sort of self mechanism for many of us. We fell that we cannot trust anyone else, so ourselves are all we have left. It may be perfectly understandable if we've been let down or hurt. But it's at that point that we need to remember who is the only one who will get us through the storms. We are not alone. And that actually may be a clue as to why God allows us to go through the storms. Why doesn't God just allow us any easy time? Can't we just stay in the harbour! The Bible doesn't give us a complete answer, but one answer is that our faith might be strengthened. So that when tough times come, when the illness strikes, when work becomes harder, when the family is under great pressure, then we are forced back on the one who made us and loves us. Christ won't necessarily stop the storm for us. He may not take the problem away. But there is no doubt he will never leave our side. He will not jump out the boat and leave us to it. He will not stop loving us. If we trust him he'll bring us through, however stormy the seas get.
Listen to these words from Paul's letter to the Romans chapter 8: 'I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' Nothing, says Paul, absolutely nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ. And how do we know that? Are these just words? My storms get pretty stormy you know! Well all you need do is look at the cross which we'll be remembering in a moment as we share bread and wine. Because Jesus showed his love for us when he rescued us from the most terrible storm we could ever face, the judgement of God upon our sin. He did it so that we need not ever face that storm. And if he's done what is necessary to get us through that storm, then there is no doubt whatsoever that he'll bring us safely through all the storms we'll ever face in this life. Be assured, if you trust him, he'll bring you safely to heaven. Don't be in any doubt.
Yes, sometimes we might cry out to God 'Why don't you so something?' But the fact is he has. He has done enough to bring us through the greatest storm, and he's proved that he is well capable of bringing us through any storm in this life. For we're in the hands of his Son, Jesus Christ, the best helmsman we could ever want. And he ends by asking us a question: 'Will you trust me? Will you place your life in my hands? And I promise I will never let you go.'
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