Sexagesima Sunday February 18, 2001

INI

Sailing on a Stormy Sea

Matthew 8:23-27

Hymns

246, 435, 528, 388

And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! Here ends our text.

In Christ Jesus, the Stiller of Storms, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

Have you noticed the storms which have hit our area in recent days? Some old-timers in the area say they haven’t seen a three-month period this wet and this windy for as long as they’ve lived here. And it seems to have hit the whole Pacific Northwest. Just yesterday I happened to be speaking on the phone with a woman in Pendleton, Oregon, when an 80-mph gust of wind took most of the roof off her home. But the storms we’ve experienced in recent weeks aren’t the only storms going on in the world. In point of fact, weather experts estimate that at any given moment of any day, there are hundreds of electrical storms occurring somewhere around the globe.

In the same way, across this nation and around the world, there are Christians who are weathering different kinds of storms. Storms of trouble and sadness in their personal lives. Perhaps you’ve had that kind of storm blowing in your life recently. In our text for today, Jesus’ disciples have a lesson to learn about handling stormy weather, and it might do us some good to go along for the ride. Our theme for today is:

SAILING ON A STORMY SEA

  1. You can’t trust the weather.
  2. You can’t trust yourself.
  3. You can always trust in God!

If there’s one thing you don’t have to tell the folks in western Washington, it’s that you can’t trust the weather. Whenever I comment to someone about what a beautiful day it is, they always say the same thing: “Wait five minutes!” The account in our text takes place at the Sea of Galilee, in northern Palestine. It, too, is subject to severe and sudden changes in the weather. It’s skirted by mountains on the east, and long, narrow gorges on the west. Geographers say that these gorges can funnel strong winds down onto the lake, instantly turning the calm waters into dangerous, crashing waves. And this is exactly the trouble that the disciples found themselves in on the lake that evening. And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves. They couldn’t see it coming, and there wasn’t anything they could do about it once it arrived. All of a sudden the storm was just there, and the huge waves threatened to sink their boat!

People go through storms in their lives. Crises—problems that seem to have no solutions. And anyone who thinks that Christians have smooth sailing all the time, well, probably hasn’t been a Christian for very long. God promises to deliver us from storms; He never said that they wouldn’t happen in the first place. Why, the Bible is practically a catalog of the troubles that believers have endured through the ages! You can go right down the time line of history: Moses, Abraham, Job, Jeremiah, the Apostles, the martyrs. What terrible storm must King David have going through when he wrote, “I am weary with my groaning; All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears.—Psa 6:6. St. Paul tells of some of the rough weather he ran into: “In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep.—2 Cor 11:23-25.

These believers never had smooth sailing in life. They went through the mill, and often simply because they were Christians. It’s the same for the children of God today, at the end of the twentieth century. You simply don’t know what’s around the bend. One day everything’s rosy, and the next day it seems that the sky is falling. Perhaps you’re deeply troubled with a guilty conscience, and have a particular sin weighing upon you. Maybe it’s something else—maybe you’ve suffered a financial reversal, or gotten laid off your job. It could be that someone you love has been struck with a serious illness. The point is that you cannot trust the weather in life. Sooner or later, those waves will be crashing against your boat, threatening to take you under. And when that happens, you’d better know what to do!

But can you really handle those storms by yourself? Look again at our text. If anyone should have been able to handle a storm on the Sea of Galilee, it was those disciples. At least four of them were professional fishermen, who knew how to handle a boat, and were well-acquainted with those waters. They were the sort of men you’d rely on in a crisis. But how did they react? And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. A more literal translation would be, “Save us, Lord; we are certainly going to die!” They panicked! All their seagoing know-how went right out the window in the face of that terrible storm. They found out that they weren’t so skilled after all. They found out that you can’t trust yourself to handle the storms in life!

It was Aesop, in one of his fables, who said, “Self-conceit leads to destruction.” If a person thinks he’s equal to any problem that might come along, he’s headed for trouble. And there’s a special danger there for Christians, too, because a Christian is often tempted to say, “Now that I’ve become such a strong, spiritual person, I guess I can handle just about any situation.” The danger is that his faith may end up being more in himself than in his God. Well, if we sometimes forget our own weakness, we can be thankful that God never does, “For,” as the Psalmist says, “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.—Ps 103:14. And He constantly brings us back to this truth: you can always trust in God.

If you think about it, the disciples even in the midst of those crashing waves, had plenty of reason not to be afraid, but to be fearless! Not only was God protecting them as usual, but on this occasion they had the very Son of God physically in the same boat with them! And Jesus, far from being panic stricken like the disciples, was peacefully asleep in the stern of the boat. Yet they were convinced that they were about to die. They said, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! We can imagine how sheepish they must have felt when Jesus, with a few simple words, made this impossible crisis simply disappear. And you’d think that such a graphic demonstration of Jesus’ power would cure them of their fears once and for all. That never again would they be so timid and faithless. But the disciples were slow learners. Many months and hundreds of miracles later, they would find themselves in exactly the same situation—out in a boat on the same Sea of Galilee, with a powerful storm running. And would react in exactly the same way—with wild despair. In that instance, as you may recall, Jesus came to them walking on the water, to once again calm the storm.

The disciples had to be reminded, over and over again, that with God as their guide and protector, they had absolutely nothing to fear. Jesus told them, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.—Mat 10:29-31.

And are we any better than those disciples? You tell me. When problems begin to come up in your life, what’s the first thing you do? Do you go some place quiet and ask God to help you and guide you through your problems? No, I’m afraid that even we Christians seldom do that. Generally, we try everything we can think of to get ourselves out of trouble. And then, if things get really bad, as a last-ditch effort, we pray to God for deliverance. My friends, that is simply the wrong way to go about things! God doesn’t want to be your last resort. The Bible tells us to “pray without ceasing.” I’m convinced that we’d have a lot fewer big problems if we’d just had the good sense to pray about them when they were still little problems! We, too, have nothing to fear from those troubles in life that seem about to drag us under.

Above all, Jesus’ death on the cross provides peace for a stormy conscience—and once you’ve got that, my friend, all the other storms are storms in a teacup. No longer can Satan send waves of accusations beating against you, for the price has been paid. Jesus is in your boat. His righteousness covers you. It is His sacrifice on the cross that has set you free from sin. And if the storms in your life are getting us down, you can take comfort from the fact that Jesus went through far worse, for your sake. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.—Heb 12:1-3.

You can always trust God. It’s that simple. I’ve told the story before about the old Scottish farmer who had endured three years running of failed crops. One day his pastor came to visit. “Your friends are worried about you,” said the pastor, “they thought you might be about to break.” “Aye,” said the farmer, “I’ll break. I’ll break when the Fiftieth Psalm breaks in the fifteenth verse: ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble; I shall deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.’

Someone once observed that sailors who are trying to bring their ship into a distant port don’t look down at the sea and the waves for guidance; they look up, and navigate according to the stars. I pray that you and I may learn to look away from our problems, and look only upward, to the cross of our Savior Jesus Christ. Whether it’s an illness, a lost job, or a guilty conscience, God has promised to hear our prayers, to forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake, and to deliver us, in His good time, from every storm! God grant it for Jesus’ sake, AMEN.

—Paul Naumann, Pastor

Sermon Preached February 7, 1999
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA


Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.