3rd Sunday after Epiphany January 27, 2019
383, 649, 457, 269
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
In Christ Jesus, who is the Lord of the wind and the waves, dear fellow redeemed:
When the TV weatherman gives his forecast, it often seems that he looked at his forecast, and then said the exact opposite of what he thought that the weather was going to be like. Even with satellites, computer weather models, and sophisticated meteorological equipment, it is difficult to determine what the weather is going to do next. It is especially difficult to do so over large bodies of water, such as Lake Superior. But what if the weatherman could not only predict the weather, what if he could make it do what he said? Instead of saying, “It looks like snow tomorrow,” what if he could make the snow fall from the sky, or, stop it just as quickly? No one who is a mere human being could do such a thing. Man cannot control the weather, for it is, as Scripture says that it is the LORD who, “…commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea.” (Psalm 107:25)
So when the Lord Jesus used only His Word to stop the wind and calm the sea, the disciples asked one another, “WHO CAN THIS BE?” Our text for today reveals that Jesus Christ is, not only (I.) TRUE MAN, but that He is also true God, who exercises His divine power in behalf of sinful human beings.
You don’t need to live near Lake Superior for very long before you witness the terrible weather that can kick up on the lake at almost a moment’s notice. The enormous waves, the howling wind, and storms capable of sinking the largest ships have made Superior famous worldwide for its deadly weather.
Knowing that, it is easy for us to imagine what happened in our text. Having spent the day preaching to the multitudes concerning the kingdom of God, the Lord Jesus grew tired, sent the multitudes away toward evening (Mark 4:35), and, “when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.” Jesus and His disciples were sailing from Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee down almost the full twelve miles to the region of the Gadarenes in the south.
“Suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves.” The Sea of Galilee lies well below sea level and is surrounded by high hills. When the weather comes inland from the Mediterranean Sea, it blows across unobstructed Palestine until it reaches the Sea of Galilee, where it gets trapped between those high hills and blows around in a circular motion, whipping up a sudden series of high, confused waves that blow every which way. The effect is, as Matthew says, that the storm was literally like “an earthquake on the sea.” In a parallel account, Mark tells us that it was like a “whirlwind.” The boat would have been violently pitching in every direction, making very little headway against the storm. No doubt there was a lot of noise, both from the weather, and from the disciples, who were experienced fishermen, calling to one another as they battled the storm.
And where was Jesus? We are told that, “He was asleep.” Any doubt that Jesus Christ is true Man should be dispelled by the fact that this Man was so worn out from preaching all day long, that He slept through this terrible storm and everything that went with it.
As Jesus shows Himself to be true Man it is comforting to us, for, He who was born of a Virgin Mother in a stable in Bethlehem, who grew up as a Child in Nazareth, did so in order that He might be “born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law.” (Galatians 4:4f) Who is this Jesus? He was, and is, truly human, yet without sin. He had human needs, including sleep, hunger, human feelings, etc., so that He can, we are told in Hebrews, “sympathize with our weaknesses.” (Hebrews 4:15) From experience, Jesus understands that we are weak human beings who need to be saved by a Savior who is true Man as well as (II.) TRUE GOD. And this Jesus, who is true Man and true God, was ready, willing, and able to save His disciples from certain death on the Sea of Galilee.
We are told that, “the boat was covered with waves.” Mark tells us that, “the waves beat into the boat,” (Mark 4:37) and Luke adds that, “it was filling with water and [they] were in jeopardy.” (Luke 8:23) There, on the waters of their home fishing grounds, the disciples, who were experienced boatmen, had done everything that they could to keep their little boat from being lost in the storm. But even their best efforts were not enough. The waves were towering over them, tossing them about, and filling their boat. They were certain that they would sink. Having exhausted every human effort, their last hope was that perhaps their Lord might be able to do something for them. But where was He? “…in the stern, asleep on a pillow.”
Gordon Lightfoot, in his moving ballad of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” asks the question, “Does any one know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” And this is exactly what the disciples were asking themselves as they feared for their lives in their little boat in that terrible storm. Mark tells us that they awoke the Lord Jesus, asking, “Master, do You not care that we are perishing?” In our text, they prayed, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” We read that He said to them, “‘Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?’ Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”
Why had the disciples been fearful? After all, they knew that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Savior. By this time they had seen Him turn water into wine. They had witnessed His miracles of healing. He is true God, and He was with them, bodily, in their boat. Yet still they had feared. Why?
We might ask ourselves the same question. Through the Scriptures we have witnessed Christ’s miracles. We have seen God’s power in our lives, as He has preserved us through many troubles and hard times. And yet, we still fear. When our lives are smooth sailing it’s almost as though we forget God for a time. Then, when troubles come, we try everything that we can to help ourselves, and, when the waters flow over our heads we finally remember God, as the psalmist says, “In the day of trouble I will call upon You, for You will answer me.” (Psalm 86:7) But, at times, our prayers go up, not in faith, but almost in frustration. “Are you sleeping God? Don’t You see what’s happening to me?!”
And the LORD asks us, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” The songwriter asks, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” From God’s own Word, we know the answer to that question.
As true Man, Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat. But, as true God, Christ Jesus certainly knew what was happening there in that little boat, for it is written, “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:3f) Why was Jesus sleeping? That is, why wasn’t He awake and concerned about the disciples? Because He had complete trust in His heavenly Father, and that perfect trust removed any reason to fear. Whether or not we think our Savior God is watching over us, we know that He is, and we know that He is always ready to answer our prayers.
“Even if the disciples had drowned in the stormy water, they still would have had no cause for fear.” We have no promise from God that He will never allow a dangerous situation to result in death. Believers die every day. But we do have His promise that in the hour of death He will never forsake us. That He will deliver us, even from death. In death the believer enters into the place that Christ has prepared for us in eternal life.
We have this confidence for we know that our Savior is not only a Man. He is true God, who has power over heaven and earth, as He proves in our text. When Jesus rebuked the wind, it didn’t taper off to a breeze. It stopped. The raging waves didn’t just gradually subside, they stopped and the sea was immediately calm. Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him? He is the LORD, strong and mighty. He created all things with only His Word, for “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:3) He stopped the wind and waves with only His Word, in answer to the prayers of His disciples.
He who is the Lord of heaven and earth exercises His almighty power in our behalf. As true Man we heard that Jesus put Himself under the Law to redeem us. In order to redeem us He had to be true God. Only true God could offer a sacrifice free from sin in the place of every sinner. Only true God could have such great love for us undeserving sinners as to offer Himself in our place. Knowing that Christ Jesus has done all of this for us, how can we think that He would not exercise His almighty power and His unlimited grace to save us from the troubles that we face every day in this life? Even at the point of death He is there, to guide us safely home to heaven.
Who is this who commands the wind and the waves and makes them to serve to His glory? Who is this who gives the forgiveness of sins and eternal life? He is our Brother, the Son of Man, who understands our weaknesses, and came in the flesh to save us. He is our God, who controls all things so that they all work together for good, through whom we are the children of God and heirs of eternal life. He is true Man. He is true God. He is our Savior. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.