Jesus Calms the Waters

Title: Jesus Calms the Waters


Text: Matthew 8:23-27

Date: October 12th, 2008

Today, we continue in our study of the Book of Matthew, with chapter eight, verses twenty-three to twenty-seven: “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ’Lord, save us! We’re going to drown.’ 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. The men were amazed and asked, ’What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’” Here is the classic scene of Jesus and the disciples in their boat during a great storm at sea. I always think of the famous painting by Rembrandt showing this scene, but other artists have captured it on canvas as well. It’s a very dramatic moment in the life of the apostles, less so in the life of Christ because he was sleeping through most of it. It always strikes me when I read the account how Jesus could be sleeping through a storm, how fearful and anxious the disciples’ were, while at the same time how calm Christ was during the whole thing. There are some great lessons that this little account gives us about faith as we compare and contrast the reactions of the disciples versus Jesus’ own reaction to the situation. How many situations come up in life where we find ourselves afraid? How often do we become anxious and over-burdened by the things of life? Then, in light of this description in Matthew 8, how much of our anxiety is entirely un-necessary? How much of it is mostly self-generated? How much of it is because we do not look to God and trust his promises? Who can deny that life today is very disturbing and fearful? Terrorism is a threat always. Weapons of mass destruction, like the atomic bomb, are always in the back of our minds, and with terrorists out there running around waiting for an opportunity to strike, it’s just a matter of time before they do strike. That’s always a big concern. Then lately the economy with the stock market sinking and the banks failing left and right, nobody knows what might happen next. Will there be another recession? Or maybe even another great depression? The evening news seems to be filled with more and more anxiety-producing reports. Who can help but become depressed just watching it? In the midst of all our modern worries, who can doubt that a lot of our problems stem from our collective turning away from God and faith, a turning towards trusting in ourselves and our own systems and strategies for survival? And that may just be the problem. Our world is geared toward self-help rather than trust in God. From government on down to the individual, society is designed around man helping self rather than man looking to God for help. But the result has been more anxiety, more worries, and more fears. The story of Jesus calming the sea can teach us a lot about trusting in God and reminding us of the problems of looking only to ourselves. It’s a lesson modern twenty-first century people need to learn. Let’s examine the account more closely. I’ll make five observations.

First, true disciples follow Jesus everywhere. Matthew 8:23, “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.” Now you can criticize the disciples for the way they reacted but at least they were following Jesus — they got into the boat with him, they were with him. In another account of the same incident, in Luke 8:22-25, it describes how they found themselves in the boat: “One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.’ So they got into a boat and set out.” Jesus invited his disciples to go with him in a boat to the other side of the lake, so they simply believed him and went along with him. They didn’t question him at all. They didn’t doubt or put up any resistance to the plan. Of course, there was no storm on the horizon at that point. It reminds me a lot of the typical believer’s faith, my own faith sometimes. When there are no storm clouds on the horizon, when all is well, when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping beautifully, in short, when everything is going well, we all have faith, we all believe. But the real test of faith is what happens when the sky turns black, when the storm clouds appear, and when things get difficult in life. Then where is our faith? I think most people are willing to follow Jesus, at least say they follow Jesus, when things are going good. Although there are more and more people today who see no need to follow Jesus precisely because things are so good for them in life. The hardest thing to do is to talk to someone who seemingly has everything going right in life. When a person has a good job, money in the bank, a nice marriage and family, a beautiful home, health, etc. — that’s a hard person to talk to about God, because they don’t see the need for faith when things are so good. For a long time here in the United States, that’s the way things have been going — things have gone pretty well for Americans. After all, our economy has been the strongest in the world, our lifestyle the highest, we’ve been the richest population and had life easiest of all nations. It’s been easy to have faith in God during the prosperity, or on the flip side, it’s been easy to not have faith in God at all during good times. But we may be entering into a time in this country and around the world that the prosperity and good times are ending, at least on the level they were. What will the faith of millions or the unbelief of thousands look like then? But we see the disciples appear to trust Jesus absolutely and agree to go with him in the boat on the sea. You may be a disciple of Jesus today. You may feel you’d be like the disciples, willing to follow Jesus wherever. But what if your sea turns ugly? Would you be willing to follow Jesus into a storm?

Second, wherever Jesus is, that is the best place to be. Matthew 8:23-24, “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.” Now as hard as this may be to believe considering all the dangers of following Jesus, the safest and best place to be is with the Lord no matter what. The problem is that it takes faith to believe that. Many people don’t believe it and their lives show that they don’t believe it. For example, today we read in the newspapers about all the economic problems facing our nation. People are having their homes foreclosed; they can’t pay their bills. How many of the millions facing economic hardships today are following after Jesus more closely than ever? Probably not many. You might think that when the hard times come people would instinctively draw closer to God. After all, doesn’t it say in the Book of James, “Draw close to God and God will draw close to you?” Yes, it does say that, but one must have faith in order to take advantage of that great promise. But the problem is that we’ve become a very secular and godless population here in the United States. Our new instinct is to look deep within ourselves to solve our problems instead of turning to God in greater faith. For example, remember back a few years ago when hurricane Katrina hit? In the aftermath of that great catastrophe, after the whole city of New Orleans had been devastated, the talk wasn’t about turning to God in faith, but the talk was about the citizens digging deep within themselves to rebuild and carry on. That’s not faith in God, that’s more self-help and self-dependence. So the new instinct reaction of secular people is to try harder and turn to self and each other to pull through times of trouble. But the Bible teaches us to stay faithful to God and during tough times to even draw closer to God. As hard as it may be to understand, those disciples in that boat with Jesus with the storm gaining strength, still, they were in the best possible place to be. And we need to look at problems, struggles, and difficulties in our lives from that perspective. Are you with Jesus in your difficulty? If so, then that’s the best place to be. If not, if we are in trouble and we aren’t close to God, then that’s a good motivation to get close to God, especially when the storms of life hit. Are you close to Jesus? Are you as close as you could be, as close as you should be? Get there today, because you never know when a storm will come up.

Third, look to Jesus not to self, follow the Lord not your gut feelings. Matthew 8:25, “The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown.’” Now up until that moment the disciples were the model of faith. They followed Jesus into the boat and into the water. But their great faith melted away as soon as the storm clouds appeared, as soon as the water became choppy, and as soon as the wind picked up. Then, it was as if they had no faith in Jesus at all. They turned from looking to Jesus and began to look entirely to themselves. How do we know that? Because they started to panic, they became fearful, they showed anxiety. They actually stopped following after Jesus at that point as their fear kicked in to gear. How do we know they stopped following Jesus? Because if they had followed Jesus they would have relaxed or even gone to sleep like Jesus. They didn’t follow Jesus in their emotions, their feelings, or their minds. Jesus was sleeping! Jesus was relaxed! Jesus was totally unconcerned about the storm. And so the disciples tried to wake Jesus up so that they could get him to worry like they were. Or maybe they thought that the only reason he wasn’t worried was because he was asleep, but surely if he were awake, he’d join them in anxiety over the storm. But that is not true. Jesus wasn’t at peace because he was asleep, he was calm because he knew that it was going to be ok. They thought they knew more than Jesus! They thought Jesus was ignorant of the danger that they were facing! No. Jesus was fully aware of all threats potential and actual, but he was unconcerned because he knew in reality there was nothing to be concerned about. Have you ever tried to talk to someone who was afraid of something? It’s almost impossible to talk someone out of fear. Why? Because fear is an emotion and largely a non-rational, non-logical process. I was once hiking up Pike’s Peak with someone who heard thunder and saw lightening off in the distance. This basically paralyzed her and she wouldn’t go any further. She wouldn’t continue up the mountain, but was so scared that the only thing she’d do was take cover in some big rocks. I tried talking her out of the rocks by explaining to her the best plan was to continue up the mountain, that the thunder was off in the distance, that the lightening was far enough away to not pose a threat. But nothing would convince her of it. Fear had taken over. Reason gave way to anxiety. It was probably the same with the disciples. We’ve got to learn to look and follow Jesus with our emotions. We need to turn to God’s Word and adjust our emotions and feelings to conform to God’s instructions, not to turn inward and trust our gut feelings or raw emotions. James Dobson wrote a book called, “Emotions, Can You Trust Them?” His thesis was that you can’t trust your emotions to make decisions. That is especially true for faith. We must look to God and not to our feelings. We must put God above our feelings, and trust God’s promises, not the circumstances in life that we find ourselves in.

Fourth, fear comes from an absence of faith. Matthew 8:26, “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.” We’ve all heard the studies that show that 75-90% of all our fears never materialize. I think of that often when I get worried or become afraid. If the disciples had ever heard of that bit of wisdom they might have thought of it after Jesus calmed the storm in their presence. All that worrying over nothing. I can think back in my life over times when I really worried a lot about something and then got through it and all the wasted time and energy I spent worrying — all for nothing! Now I’m not saying that there aren’t things that we should really worry about; there are. For example, there was the time I found out that my gas furnace had a leak and it was spewing out carbon monoxide inside of my house. That could have killed me if I had breathed that in long enough. That is something to worry about, and worry about it I did, enough so that I bought a gas detector to measure the levels in my house so that I don’t get caught in a dangerous situation like that again. But most of our worries aren’t about things in themselves, they are about things that might be. The disciples were worried that their boat might capsize and kill them all because of the storm. But they shouldn’t have been worried because Jesus wasn’t worried. When we worry it’s usually a sign that we don’t believe by faith as we should. For example, if I worry a lot about the future, it’s probably because I’m not praying enough to God about the future and bringing all my plans before him in pray on a regular basis. I find in life that if I don’t pray every day, I become anxious about many things. Remember what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:6-7, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The disciples obviously didn’t trust in Jesus or else they would have all gone to sleep as well, following their Master. That would have been quite a sight, a boat full of men sound asleep on the raging storm at sea! But it’s what would have happened if they’d all had perfect faith. Now we must give them credit for something — they went to Jesus with their problem. And that’s the least we can do, even if we lack the faith to follow Jesus with our emotions, we at least need to drag ourselves to pray to God for help. Yes, they were rebuked by the Lord for not having enough faith, for worrying, but at least they came to Jesus with their problem instead of turning inward or looking to themselves. We need to resist the temptation of our secular age to look to ourselves for all things. Self-sufficiency has its place, but not in place of faith in God. We need God’s help to help ourselves. We need God’s wisdom to know what to do for ourselves. Faith is the only cure for fear.

Fifth, we must never underestimate the power of God to help us. Matthew 8:27, “The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’” They had already seen so many of the miracles of Jesus before, but yet again, they were still amazed at Jesus performing another one. Here the disciples are a lot like the children of Israel out in the wilderness with Moses. Time and time again God would perform mighty miracles for them, but time and time again they would doubt and drift away from following God. That’s like us too today, by the way, we do that also. But we must learn to never underestimate the power of God to deliver us from any and all trouble in life. We forget how big God is, how smart he is, how he is everywhere at all once. We get caught up in our own little world and we start thinking of God in human terms, with human limitations. I’m reminded of the foolish statement that someone made in bragging of the ill-fated Titanic ocean liner. When someone voiced a concern about the ship possibly sinking — a reality for all ships of any kind — this person boasted: “Even God himself couldn’t sink the Titanic.” How foolish. God can do all things. God is God. The disciples acted shocked that Jesus — God in human flesh — could stop the storm. If you remember, they were shocked that he rose from the dead on resurrection Sunday. They were shocked when he appeared to them on numerous occasions. It seems they had this streak of unbelief in them. But don’t we all have that same unbelieving streak in us? I’m surprised how sometimes I catch myself in unbelief when I should believe. I remember in seminary I used to think of myself as a strong man of faith, but I’d constantly amaze myself at my unbelief. One time we were all trying to raise enough money to go on a mission trip to Mexico for the summer. I was starting to doubt whether it could be done in my case, when a woman said, “God will do it, have faith.” It shocked me to hear someone telling me to have faith in God because I was usually the one saying that kind of thing to other! Anyway, it showed me my unbelief. I repented and asked God to help me have more faith to trust in his resources. It worked. By the time the mission trip began I had my money! Praise God. Are you tempted to doubt God’s ability to help you in life? All I can say is that from my experience, if you are in God’s will and you pray to God for his help in doing his will, he’ll do whatever is necessary to help you continue on doing his will. Even if it takes a miracle or two, he’ll do it because doing God’s will is what life is all about. If we trust in God and not ourselves, if we look to God instead of to ourselves or other people primarily, he’ll help us. Proverbs 3:5-6 says the same thing, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he’ll direct your path.”


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