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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

[Matthew 8:23-27] And when [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

What Sort of Man Is This?

No matter the size or strength of the vessel – no matter how strong a swimmer you are or how hard you can row – no matter your expertise – you cannot always overcome the weather. If the waves are too big, they’re too big – there is no strength in us that can overcome the movement of the sea. There is nothing in you that can stop a wave from doing what a wave is going to do – somethings are too strong for us.

So it is with sicknesses – even a microscopic little virus can defeat the body of the strongest man. Without a cure from the outside, it can beat you. And so it is with death – no matter our strength or intelligence or effort, we cannot stop it.

The disciples in our Gospel reading today followed Jesus into a region man has no strength to control – the sea. “When Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him.” In doing so – in following where Jesus led them – they found themselves in chaos - in a less secure situation – even in danger. In following where Jesus goes – in being on Christ’s vessel, His boat – they were brought into the overwhelming rolling waves of the sea. And, in fact, they were sinking – “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves” – the boat was disappearing under the crash of the waves – “but Jesus was asleep”.

Jesus was asleep. Amid the overwhelming storm and waves, the disciples seem to have found Christ doing nothing for them. It didn’t appear that His presence was of any benefit - He was asleep. This paints a picture of what we will often experience: These storms come in many forms – bodily, mentally – sickness - sin, guilt - or harm done by another – all the storms of a sin-broken existence - when one of these storms in life rises high up against you, crushing you under its waves, Christ first does what? Often, it seems, He first goes to sleep. For a time, He seems to be of no help. But your prayers do wake Him. It’s God’s will that we be persistent in prayer and believing. Christ’s sleep in crisis draws the prayers out of us. He awakes at the right time and delivers.

Christ does awaken for these disciples today: “they went and woke him, saying ‘Save us Lord, we are perishing.’” In the Gospel of Mark this is rendered, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” [Mark 4:38] Christ awoke and said to them: “WHY ARE YOU AFRAID?” “WHY ARE YOU AFRAID, O YOU OF LITTLE FAITH?” In other words, “do not be overwhelmed with fear, but be believing people”.

Did they not know who Christ was? Were they not aware whose boat they were in? Did they not believe Christ to truly be who He truly is? These disciples of little faith had in the boat with them the One through whom God created all things – the One through whom God made the very elements which were storming. As we confess in the Nicene Creed: “And [I believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ … By whom all things were made.” The Father made all things by means of Jesus. Or as John’s Gospel says, “All things were made through him.” [John 1:3]

The waves, the wind, the wood, the boat, their bodies, their very breathe – all things were made through Jesus who sleeps in their boat. Why do you fear? Why be afraid? Your body, your mind, your money, your house, your food, your heat, your family, your health, your faith, your very life – the Father made all these through Jesus, the very One who resides with you. Why do you fear for your life and your security? What do you need for life? You have the One who made it. All things are created through Jesus Christ. Christ is God over it all.

The disciples entered the boat with Jesus. You are baptized into Christ [Romans 6; Galatians 3:27]. Through your Baptism, you are traveling through the storm on Christ’s Ship, His Vessel.

Why do you fear uncertain circumstances and unforeseeable situations? Christ is already God over every circumstance. All things visible and invisible have been made through Him. He is God and Lord and SAVIOR – that’s what sort of Man you have with you.

But the disciples did fear – as we often do. They came to Jesus afraid and with “little faith”, yet Jesus heard their prayer no less – “Then Jesus rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” Christ’s Vessel, His Church, is never totally swamped, and, at the right time, He will give great calm to all those dwelling within it.

What happened next? First the disciples were afraid of the storm - now they are astonished at the calm: “….there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” What sort of Man is Jesus? He is God and Lord and SAVIOR. And He is SELF-SACRIFICIAL.

Today’s storm in the Gospel lesson is not the only storm we read about today. The prophet Jonah, who was fleeing the presence of the Lord on a cargo ship, had a storm which was sent after him. Yet this same fleeing prophet showed himself, at this time, to be a man of self-sacrificing love. When Jonah saw that his shipmates – who were foreigners to him – would perish, he said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you.”

The men were hesitant, but they hurled Jonah into the sea as he requested. Jonah, sacrificing his life (as far as he knew) for these men, hit the water. But God had “appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah….” who was in the belly of that fish for three days and three and came up alive.

Christ likewise threw Himself into a storm to save. And likewise, Christ rose on the third day. Unlike Jonah, Christ threw Himself into a storm that was not His but ours.

The storm of death and sin and hell and the grave is not Christ’s storm, but ours – it is the sin-earned storm which we bring upon ourselves (“the wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23). Yet Christ, the Innocent One, threw Himself into the sinner’s storm and died for the sinner. Jesus died death for the guilty and made it calm – He made your death into life. He has now forgiven by His shed blood (“the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23). For you, in Christ, even the storm of hell, of judgment, of God’s wrath, is now calm because of the atoning death of this Man and Lord Jesus Christ. His boat is the boat to be in. Because, What kind of Man is He? He is God and Lord of all creation. And He is the Savior. Amen.

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