Heavenly Father, help us through your word by your Spirit to see your beloved Son Jesus more clearly this evening, and to learn to trust him more deeply. In his name we pray. Amen.
Would you turn, please to that account of Jesus calming the storm in Luke 8.22-25. You can find it on page 865 in the Bibles. I want us to think about this remarkable incident from three different angles; first - the storm, secondly - the Lord, and thirdly - the disciples.
Let me just ask you first of all though: how do you react to storms? I’ve been thinking about my memories of storms I have known. Out of many over the years, three stand out very vividly in my mind. The first was when I was nine. I had recently started at boarding school in a big house in the country. I was in bed in my dormitory of about ten boys – iron bedsteads lining the walls. I suppose life felt pretty uncertain – away from home for an extended period of time. And I remember the thunder and lightning crashing right overhead and the heavy rain lashing down. Above all I recall the large old sash windows rattling furiously in their frames as they were buffeted by the wind and rain. It was a fearsome storm but the feeling I had was not one of fear – rather of comfort tinged with excitement. Tucked up in bed with my blankets tight around me, I knew I was safe. I could marvel at the power of the storm, but I didn’t feel threatened by it. I was right in the storm, but protected from it.
The second of the great storms I remember was when I first travelled into Kenya, overland from Tanzania. The minibus was descending from some height on to the plains south of Nairobi, in the early evening as the sun was setting. And in the distance I saw a storm slowly crossing the plain. There was the whole thing – the dark clouds, lightning, torrential rain, the clouds blown by a strong wind. It was an awesome sight. But again, I didn’t feel threatened. Why? Because I wasn’t in it. I had a long range perspective on it.
The third was last year. On Saturday 29 January, Storm Malik threw up a hurricane force gust that caused a catastrophic collapse of the tall brick chimney stack on our home. It smashed up our roof. Bits of it came through our ceiling. Our neighbour across the road happened to be looking across, and managed to warn a passer-by before bricks showered down on the pavement. Vivienne was downstairs at the time. It was frightening. Thankfully nobody was hurt. We had to move out until the house was made safe.
A storm is not a problem if you have secure protection, or if you have a long-range perspective. It is a problem when you are exposed, unprotected, and right in it. And that, of course, was how those disciples saw their situation on the Sea of Galilee that day. So my first heading is:
1. The storm that threatens to overwhelm
One day [Jesus] got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out…
Mark’s account of the same incident gives us a bit more detail on what lead up to this. So Jesus had had a long hard day teaching by the Sea of Galilee, and (Mark 4.1):
…a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things…
Perhaps the press of the crowd was too great to land by the end. In any case (Mark 4.35-36):
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. [No opportunity, I suppose, to fetch the oilskins and the life jackets] And other boats were with him.
No doubt a little flotilla following after him, reluctant to let the celebrity go so easily, with sons calling out to their incompetent fathers, ‘Come on Dad, overtake that one in front, get alongside him.’ Clearly Jesus is tired, because (this is Luke 8.23):
…as they sailed he fell asleep.
And then, as apparently happens not uncommonly on the Sea of Galilee (Luke 8.23-24 again):
…a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!”
A situation that was probably quite festive suddenly turns nasty, and mere tiredness for the disciples turns to terror at the prospect of being drowned.
Not many of us make our living on the sea nowadays. So not many of us have experienced a storm that was genuinely dangerous for us – even life threatening. But of course storms don’t just come at us in the form of weather. Nor are we told about how Jesus calmed this storm in case we get caught out one day by a freak wind when we’re fishing on the Sea of Galilee. For the Sea of Galilee read ‘life’. For the storm, read any set of external circumstances which are beyond our control and which threaten to overwhelm us. It doesn’t take long for our calm lives to be shattered. There’s a powerfully descriptive verse in Acts 27. The apostle Paul was crossing the Mediterranean, as a prisoner under guard on his way to be tried by the Emperor in Rome. A hurricane force storm battered them violently (Acts 27.20):
When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.
No light at the end of the tunnel. No let up to the battering. Seemingly no hope. Have you been there? Do you feel that’s where you are even this evening? Such storms come into our lives in all shapes and sizes. When I was a young curate in the East Midlands, one day I was asked to visit a young mum whose husband had died, to arrange his funeral. He’d gone out to play a game of football with friends. He hadn’t played for some time, and was out of shape. Half way through the game he collapsed. He’d had a heart attack. Soon afterwards he died. His wife was suddenly left alone with their child. Storms threaten to overwhelm us.
For recent generations in this country the storms of war have been something we watch across the plain from the vantage point of safety. But the shocking events in Israel and Gaza are a reminder that for so many people around the world today this total disruption and deadly danger is all too real. Much as might like to think so, we have no divine right to be free from war here.
For some of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world it’s persecution that hits them like a storm as they try and bear witness to their Lord and Saviour. When I was at GAFCON (the Global Anglican Future Conference) in Kigali in Rwanda back in April, I met a northern Nigerian bishop over our lunchtime sandwich. He told me that many of the churches in his diocese had been razed to the ground by militant Islamists, and many Christians killed. At one time his wife had been kidnapped, though thankfully she had come safe home. I asked him how he kept going in ministry. He said he had given over his life to the Lord (live or die) and simply had to trust God for whatever was going to happen to him. Nonetheless, it did take a toll on his health, he said. We may not be at risk of severe persecution, but other things may threaten to overwhelm us – like a serious illness; or an exam failure that wrecks a life-plan; or unemployment; or financial disaster; or a child gone badly and dangerously off the rails; or a breakdown of a relationship central to your life but out of your control such as the divorce of your parents.
Now, there may be questions in your mind. Perhaps you’re thinking: ‘How is that relevant to me, because I have never experienced such a storm that has threatened to overwhelm me?’ Answer: the storm will come. Even the most protected of lives has to face the storm of our own death. Or maybe you’re thinking: ‘Surely if you’re a Christian, God prevents such storms from happening in your life?’ Answer: we have no such promise. As J.C.Ryle puts it:
Christ’s service does not exempt His servants from storms.
Maybe you’re well aware of that, because the storm has already hit you. One of the humbling aspects of having been on the ministry team here for a long time is that I get to see how so many of us have powerful storms to deal with in our lives – even if they’re not always evident to other people. But if that’s not your experience, and if you’re comforted by the hope of a storm-free life, then you’re depending on a false hope. We do best to look to the Lord who stills the storm. And that’s my second heading:
2. The Lord who stills the storm
To feel the full force of what happened next on the Sea of Galilee, we need to understand the Old Testament background. Storms at sea and storms in life were well understood. For instance Psalm 55.4-8 recounts the experience of King David:
My heart is in anguish within me;the terrors of death have fallen upon me.Fear and trembling come upon me,and horror overwhelms me.And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!I would fly away and be at rest;yes, I would wander far away;I would lodge in the wilderness;I would hurry to find a shelterfrom the raging wind and tempest.”
Something else is well understood too. Who is the one who controls and orders the wind and the waves? It is God alone. So God rescued Noah – Genesis 8.1:
But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.
So also the almighty God rescued his people from Egypt – Exodus 14.21:
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
No wonder Psalm 89.8-9 says:
O Lord God of hosts,who is mighty as you are, O Lord,with your faithfulness all round you?You rule the raging of the sea;when its waves rise, you still them.
Back to the Sea of Galilee – Luke 8.24-25:
And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?”
Here are five simple but profound lessons that we can transplant from that moment deep into our own lives, so they’re ready to draw on when the pressure mounts:
i. Jesus is present with his disciples.
Seeing Jesus calmly sleeping in the stern of their boat should have been enough for those disciples. For the Israelites in the wilderness there was the cloud by day and the fire by night which showed the Lord’s protecting presence. The disciples had the Son of God himself just an arm’s length away. If they had truly understood who he was, that would have been sufficient for them. What do we have, as the disciples of Jesus today? We have his promise: I am with you always, to the end of the age. That’s Matthew 28.20. He is right with us, by his Spirit. In every situation. However fierce the storm. No exceptions. Have we really taken hold of that promise?
ii. Jesus cares for his disciples.
With the sea crashing around them and the boat taking water faster than they could bail it out, the disciples shake Jesus awake and say to him: Master, Master, we are perishing! And in Mark’s account, one of the disciples gives an extra twist to that and says: Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? It’s not a question even worthy of an answer, and Jesus doesn’t give it one – except through the eloquence of his actions. Does Jesus care for you? He cares enough to die for you. Will that do as proof? What more could you want? Jesus cares.
iii. Jesus has the power to protect his disciples.
The presence and the care of Jesus would not be enough to assure us of deliverance from the storm if he didn’t have the power to deal with it. This incident is intended as a graphic illustration of the almighty (literally almighty) power and authority of Jesus. Luke 8.24:
…And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm.
Jesus is the Lord God who rules the raging wind and waves. Let’s allow this to penetrate our minds and sink deep into our hearts. Jesus Christ rules over the surging sea. The whole creation is his footstool. If a storm is raging around us, it’s not because Jesus can’t handle it. He can deal with the storm. It takes just a word. If he doesn’t calm it straight away, he has his reasons. Perhaps it’s because he wants to teach us and change us first. And that’s the fourth lesson:
iv. Jesus may not end the storm immediately.
Why did he even allow that storm to rise on the Sea of Galilee? In this case the reason is clear. He wanted to teach the disciples more about who he is, and more about faith in him. Through them, he wanted to teach all his future followers, including me and you. We can’t always see such a clear purpose. But it’s still there. Jesus isn’t arbitrary and capricious in his dealings with us. He always acts with loving purpose as well as irresistible power. Then the fifth lesson is simply this:
v. The storm passes.
The sky may look black as black. The force of the wind may be as fierce as ever. But in God’s good time the rain will cease. The sun will shine. The sea will grow calm. There’s no point in denying that there are times when we find that hard to believe. But that is a deficiency in our faith. It’s a result of having our eyes on the storm-swept sea and not on Jesus. Luke 8.25 again:
He said to them, “Where is your faith?”
Jesus will never leave us. He cares for us. He has absolute power. He may not end the storm immediately. But he will end it. He will make everything new. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. No more death or mourning or crying or pain. That is his promise. So to my final main heading:
3. The disciples who live in fear
Fear is inevitable for all of us, because we’re such puny creatures, always surrounded by powers that are way beyond our control. The question is, who or what will we fear? And what kind of fear will it be? Those disciples began with fear of the storm, fear for their own safety. They end with quite a different kind of fear (Luke 8.25):
And they were afraid, and they marvelled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
They were scared stiff of the storm. They thought the storm was powerful. And so it was, in comparison to them. But in comparison to Christ it was just a ripple on a puddle. They are given a mere glimpse of the majesty of Jesus. And the focus of their fear is transformed. Many people are driven to Christ by some kind of storm in their lives. They realise their weakness and glimpse his glory. That was the experience of John Newton, the writer of Amazing Grace. He literally committed his life to Christ during a storm at sea. Maybe you are finding yourself drawn to Christ as the result of some kind of storm in your life. Well now is a good time to transfer your fear away from the storm and onto Jesus. He deserves to be feared. And you will find that fear of one who loves you and protects you, like Jesus, is very different from fear of impersonal or hostile forces. But there’s a message for all of us here. Let’s not wait for storms to come and drive us into the arms of Christ. The risen Jesus who is alive today is the same Jesus who was in that boat. Today he has the same heart, the same power, the same sympathy, the same patience as he did that day on the Sea of Galilee. Draw near to him today. Put your faith in him today. Let’s bow our heads to pray:
Lord Jesus, help us to learn what the disciples began to learn on that boat in the storm: that when you are with us, we will still go through all sorts of troubles – but you care for us, you are powerful and stronger by far than any troubles, and you will protect and rescue us from them. Help us to fear you, and to trust you, so that we need not be afraid of any storm. Amen.