The Matthew Series 5. Calming the Storms
Matthew 8:23-27 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Calms the Storm
23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
Tonight’s sermon and next week’s sermon are linked, and are essentially answering the same question actually posed in the text tonight; “What kind of man is this?”
Tonight and next week will give insight, profound insight into the reality of who Christ is. So I would encourage you to see both parts of the picture that Matthew paints. For they complement each other and find fulfilment in each other.
Tonight, the story of Jesus goes to a peculiar but strangely biblically familiar story of people on a boat and a great storm coming suddenly upon them. Now, storms and the sea is a common story plot point in biblical narrative. Now there are two reasons for this; firstly Israel, the central landscape of the bible is surrounded by seas the Mediterranean on the one side the sea of Galilee on the other.
Now, both of these seas are very unpredictable, and in fact the sea that the disciples were on in this story are very prone to sudden and unpredictable storms, in fact it was quite common to leave the shore on a sunny and beautiful morning and by early afternoon a terrible and sudden storm would be upon you. Now, Matthew includes this part of Jesus life because in it we see something quite amazing about who Jesus is; so to understand this we must first start by;
1. Understanding the storm (Chaos and the sea)
It is in understanding the Hebrew understanding of the sea that the next story of the demoniac makes clear what Matthew is trying to get his readers to understand about who Jesus is.
To the Jewish/Hebrew mind the sea is philosophically and conceptually chaos. We see this in Genesis 1:1-2.
“1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Spirit of God hovered over the “depths” or symbolically chaos where evil dwells. To the Jewish mind the sea was synonymous with chaos and chaos was synonymous with where evil dwelt.
The Psalms are full of this symbolisation; we see the sea as depicted where great evil lies where Leviathan dwells (who is the great dragon) but we also see that YHWH alone can control and hold back evil and the sea!
It is a profound thought that we don’t have enough time to get into completely; but it is YHWH who brings order out of chaos, who by his power holds back the chaos and evil of this world and ultimately it is YHWH – the one true God – who will abolish evil once and for all in the resurrection.
So, a storm coming out on the sea is this idea of chaos rearing its ugly head and threatening human life.
Now, we who live in this century are blissfully unaware of the ever present danger of chaos in the world. Especially us who find ourselves in the middleclass. However, more and more as we move into this 21 century we are being confronted that the peace and relative security that we experience on a daily basis is rare. Just consider this; you get sick, you go to the doctor, you get robbed, insurance pays out, there are no great wars that threaten you, no treat of invading forces on the boarder, we live in peculiar peace. I say peculiar peace, because in the grand scope of human history it has not been like this.
As I read through the rise of socialism in Russia and china, you can see how quickly a country can turn from peace to brutality and chaos that is indescribable. It happens unexpectantly and unpredictably like the sea. Like these disciples it is peaceful and “Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat” the peace that you are accustomed to, church, can be broken in a second.
And when that peace is broken, when chaos is given reign in our lives we cry out just like the disciples, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”. In the Greek it is Lord save now we are going to die! We want to know in this moment where is God? Where is the power of Christ when chaos breaks out upon us! But Jesus doesn’t pander to their concerns and he doesn’t to us, he asks them a deeply offensive question; especially in light of the real, and impending danger that these disciples find themselves in.
Let’s look at this in;
2. Understand the question (Why are you so frightened? You of little faith)
I would have loved to see the disciples faces when Jesus says to them, why are you afraid? Get yourself into the scene, these disciples boat was literally capsizing in a great storm, their very lives were in danger, they had made that clear, “Jesus, we are going to die.” And he says, “why are you afraid?”However, then Jesus confronts the source of their fear; your faith is little. And here is the crux of what Matthew is trying to get across. Their fear although real is a product of their faith. It is rooted in the fact that they have not internalised and realised who Jesus was. They had seen the many healings, they had sat under His teachings, they were getting a glimpse of who Christ was and yet their faith had not yet grasped who was in the boat with them. This is why Jesus contrasts their faith and their fear.
The reality is, church, that our faith and our fear are intrinsically linked. This will be difficult to navigate but hear me out. Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is being confident in what we do not see.” In other words our heart is settled by what we know rather than what we see. Our perceptions define our experience and not the other way around. Our hopes define our feelings. For example (and this is not my illustration but an illustration used by Tim Keller) imagine two people who had to do the same menial job of repetitive filing every day for a year, but to the one you paid him R5,000 a month and the other R5,000,000 a month. The one would come to work every day and complain how menial the work was and how tough it was, but the one who was earning R5,000,000 a month would say, what are you talking about this is the best job ever!
Why? Because he hopes to get a big pay-cheque at the end of the month. His hope drives feelings. Church our hope drives our fears and the experience of those fears. If we have a world where we are listening every day to everything that is going wrong in the world and then we are going on social media and seeing everyone either complain about the same wrongs in the world on one hand and then spend the next boasting in what they are doing and enjoying. Guess what your hope, your perspective is going to be very materialistic, very negative and you are probably going to be wracked by general sense of dread and fear. Your hope is bound to the things of this world and things getting better. This is always why I warn people to watch out when politicians start promising the new Utopia, a new dawn. Because we create a materialistic hope that can never be fulfilled!
We need a strong hope, a hope that endures all circumstances, that holds us in the good times and the bad, that gives us the courage to face our fears with certainty. This is why Jesus questions the disciples faith; if they knew who God was, and who was with them in the boat. If they believed that the plans of God will never be frustrated, that God is in control no matter the storms. If they actually believed that God is good and that “Therefore we know that God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.” Would the storm terrify them. The worst that could happen is that they die, and then they would be with God!
Church, life is going to throw some truly terrifying things your way; things that will threaten your very being, but where is your hope? Where is your faith? If it is in the good life, if it is in things going your way, then you have every reason to be terrified. However, if you believe that you were made for Jesus, that He will protect you and ensure that He brings you to His peace no matter what? Well, nothing can take that away! Because your hope is bigger than anything in this world.
The point is this church; we need to know who Jesus is. Which is my third point tonight;
3. What kind of man is this? (Words fail…)
The disciples look to the calmed storm and together says, ““What kind of man is this?” the Greek here makes it sure that the readers understand, the disciples where terrified at this display! They had encountered Jesus unmasked and they were terrified. And let’s be real, if you saw someone say “quite” and a giant storm instantly stops, you would back off and be a little worried about who was in the boat with you.
That kind of power is insane, and yet this is the unveiled Jesus. Church, I believe that many of our problems of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, lack of joy etc in this life is because we have not yet realised, “what kind of man this is?” We have a personalised Jesus, a Jesus of our own creation, who meets our needs, who is responsible to us. We don’t see Jesus as unrestrained power, God of gods, King of kings, the ultimate power in all the universe without equal. And He is for us and not against us if we believe His gospel. He gave up His life for yours to show you that He is for you!
Now, someone might say, but bad things happen to good people. How do we reconcile these two realities? Simply, church, either your hope is bound in things going well for you in this life (which Jesus promises the exact opposite)and then all I have said is a lie it will not carry you through fear, it will fail you when you need it most, or Jesus has promised another life, a life secure with Him. A life that no one in this world can come close to taking away from you, not even you, because it is dependent upon Christ and Christ alone.
Let’s apply this to the story that Matthew is telling here, this story reflects profoundly the story of Jonah and his storm, however, to calm the sea Jonah had to be cast into the sea, sacrificed to calm the storm. Jesus never had to be scarified here? He simply spoke. But church, the story points to the end of Jesus’ life, you see Jesus was thrown into the storm, into our chaos, our evil on the cross. He endured the horror and terror of our evil so that our own storms could be dealt with, so that our chaos would subside.
So, who is this man? He is the perfect Son of God who lived a life of complete obedience so that we church who believe could be inheritors of that obedience through faith, because on the cross Jesus took all of our sins, all of our chaos upon himself to appease the judgment of God. Church, that hope will endure all storms, because for you the real storm is dealt with, death has no fear, life has peace and meaning. So, who is this man to you tonight? A good man, a teacher? Or Lord and saviour! The way you relate to Him will be the way the storms in your life are experienced.