Matthew 8:23-27 | ‘Calming the Sea’ | Divine Service | Epiphany 4 | 30 January 2011
Jesus calms the sea. That’s our Gospel text today, and our consideration now, and there is much here in the text to terrify us and comfort us.
First, we notice that whenever Jesus is in the boat, there’s always a terrible storm. There is no smooth sailing with Jesus. Jesus promised the same thing to us, “In this world you will have tribulation.” The Christian life is a life of suffering, of two-fold suffering. We suffer first because we are sinners and we live in a sinful world. Sickness, hunger, danger, death, Christians and non-Christians alike suffer these things. But we have added to that the constant assaults of the devil, his temptations, lies, and wickedness.
Some of you know this trouble acutely. In fact, so desperately do you feel the trouble of this life that you think, “How can Jesus possibly love me and let me have all this trouble?” And this is made worse by the popular teaching that Jesus is supposed to make things better in this life. You know what I’m talking about, the preachers that say that things get better when you’re a Christian, that life is easier, or whatever. There are even preachers who preach that it is the will of God for you to be healthy, rich and happy. Tell that to the martyrs in Sudan. Tell that to the Christians who suffered under the godless communists in Russia. Tell that to the Christian fighting cancer, or depression, or the death of a loved one. Tell that to the disciples in the boat. It doesn’t float. There’s no smooth sailing with Jesus.
I’ve given you this illustration before, but I thinks it’s helpful. Imagine an airplane; there’s a person riding in first class, and another in economy. Now the flight attendant brings the person in first class a parachute and says, “Keep this, it will make your flight more comfortable.” So the person puts on the parachute, but is doesn’t make the flight any better; in fact, it’s rather uncomfortable. They take the chute and put it in their lap, but it just keeps getting in the way. They can hardly reach around and get their champagne. Every time there’s a little turbulence this parachute jostles around and messes everything up. In fact, this passenger thinks that he looks funny with this dirty parachute messing up his suit, and he’s worried what all the other passengers think about him with this silly parachute in his lap. The longer the flight goes the more annoying this parachute gets, until the passenger stuffs it under the seat in front of them, and then (because they don’t have enough leg room), the parachute is stuffed into the overhead bin.
Now another flight attendant goes to the person sitting in economy, a they tell the truth, “Sir, the plane is crashing. Put on this parachute. It will save your life.” You see the difference? Now every time there’s any trouble, any turbulence, the person clings tighter to the chute. Every time the plane jostles they reach over and tighten the straps. And unlike the person in first-class who’s chute it safely packed away, when the plane crashes, this person lives. (Credit to Ray Comfort for this illustration. I keep praying that Ray’s understanding of law and Gospel will one day bring him to the true confession of faith.)
Jesus did not come to make your life on earth trouble-free, He came to save you from sin and death and eternal damnation, and so it is that every time there’s turbulence in this life, trouble, and temptation and sorrow and death, we cling tighter to the One who can rescue us from this life, we trust in Jesus for forgiveness and life eternal.
Now some of you might be thinking, “Pastor, I really don’t know what you’re talking about. Things aren’t so bad with me. I have all that I need; I know I’m forgiven, and it seems like the devil mostly leaves me alone.” There might be a little truth in the saying, “Ignorance is bliss.” We don’t see the arrows, the flaming darts that the devil is constantly shooting at us. We’re like the blindfolded man walking ignorantly across the interstate, cars whizzing by us, missing by inches, almost being flattened time after time, and we don’t even know it. We get to the other side of the highways and say, “Things aren’t so bad out there.”
But not only are we ignorant of the devil’s temptations, we are ignorant of our own wretched sinfulness. But this Gospel text will help us with that. Jesus will teach us that fear is sin.
This, dear saints, is difficult. The first commandment, which is the chief and most important commandment, forbids fear of anything but God. “You shall have no other gods.” What does this mean? “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.” We can diagnose our keeping of the first commandment by asking this simple question: “What am I afraid of?” Any and every answer we offer to that question is a sin. Every answer to that question is our idol.
And now we begin to see how utterly wretched we are, how utterly sinful. We are so afraid. I don’t know how this list is for you, this list of the things you fear. I want to pause and have you all think about this now, but this sermon is long enough already, so I’ll offer some suggestions. Are you afraid of dying? Of suffering? Of losing your memory? Of getting older? Are you afraid of losing your job? Losing your pension? Are you afraid of the government? Of violence? Of natural disaster? Of spiders? Of terrorists? What else? Are you afraid that your children have lost the faith? Are you afraid to forgive the person that sinned against you? Are you afraid to talk to the person you sinfully said you would never talk to again? Are you afraid to call the person you know is mad at you? Are you afraid that your parents will find out what you did? Are you afraid that your children will find out what you did? Are you afraid to admit that you are afraid? Are you afraid to admit what a wretched sinner you are?
Are you afraid? The question exposes our idolatry.
I’ve heard someone say that there are two miracles in the text: Jesus calming the seas and Jesus sleeping through the storm. But the sleeping of Jesus is not a miracle. His lack of fear is not a manifestation of His divinity, it is His humanity without fear. Jesus sleeping on the boat is His perfect righteousness. He is not afraid, and you would not be afraid if you were not a sinner.
The disciples are in the boat, and the waves are crashing over them, and the boat is sinking, and they, like you, are afraid. But these men have faith, little faith, but faith. They know that they cannot rescue themselves. They know that they cannot save themselves, but they also know that there is One in the boat who can help and save them. Jesus.
They cry to Him.
And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”
And then, and dear saints, these words are for you, for your comfort:
…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. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:25-27)
With Jesus there is nothing to be afraid of. You are safe in His hands. Even, and listen carefully to this, even your fear is nothing to be afraid of, for He has died to forgive you of your sin, all of your sin. He even forgives your fear, and gives you faith in Him. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller | Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO