[Matthew 8:23-27] And when he 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?”
[Read also Jonah 1:1-17]
Jonah, Jesus, and Substitutionary Atonement
You have followed Jesus onto the boat. You are baptized – baptized into the ark, the great ship, of the Christian Church, the body of Christ. You are baptized onto this boat of faith in Christ, and the waters you pass through together are often rough, wavy, tempestuous. Tidal waves and storms.
In our Gospel today, the disciples have followed Christ onto a boat, set out to sea. They are soon beset by such a storm that the boat is covered by the waves. Swamped. It will sink. The disciples are afraid. But Jesus is asleep. They went and woke Him, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”
“Save us, Lord! We are perishing!” In Mark, we hear them say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” [Mark 4:38]. Why, how are you asleep, Lord?
Many Christians have found themselves afraid in the midst of literal storms, on land or water. Or, while flying. Such events do and should inspire prayer, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”
However, most of your time – while riding in this boat of following and trusting Jesus through life – is spent in longer and, often, more frightening, frustrating, or agitating storms. Or more painful ones.
Long illness. Severe illness. Prayers which make stark the reality, ‘I may die’, or, ‘I may have to live with this’. The wait for answers, the sting or relief of getting them – is it false hope, real hope; hopeless, or a time for faith? Waves, up and down.
Deep, besetting sins. Temptations – of the flesh or addiction. A daily snare. An evil mind. Real, shameful sin – in the life of God’s child? Pleas for help – “Save me, Lord; I am perishing” – Does He ever finally awaken to aid me? “Teacher, do you not care that I perish?”
Many of you are getting older – though sickness and death does sometimes come at a young age – but as you get older you are more likely to face it sooner. And you’ve seen in others the storm that is often present in the body in those events that lead up to death.
Some go home to the Lord peacefully in their sleep. Some you know have. Most of us don’t. There is a storm at the end of our life – in those last days – and in the years, sometimes, of illness and battle which precede our falling asleep in the Lord.
What a storm death is. What a storm life is. What a storm sin is. And that’s the root – human sin. Why are death and life such a storm? Because sin has entered man’s reality. We have a life and body and soul which are out of sync with God who created us.
There are always storms – not because of this or that sin, nor because you’re more a sinner than others – but because sin has spoiled the whole human batch. Original sin which infects us all. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and so death spread to all men (all of us) because all sinned” – “All Mankind fell in Adam’s fall, one common sin infects us all” [TLH 369] – there is a common storm assailing us all, even the greatest of believers.
In fact, Christians face all the same storms – the same sicknesses, the same broken families, the same temptations to sin, the same storm of bodily death, the same tragedies – that all people face. We have the same fallen flesh of Adam. The difference is that you have Christ in your boat. Or rather, you are now in His boat where He is. And Jesus does wake up.
In our Gospel today, Jesus does not remain asleep. Though it must have felt like an eternity to the disciples, Jesus woke up at the right time. Though they have little faith, He does calm the storm. They make it to port safely. The wind and sea do obey Him; and He loves His disciples.
The real question is, “How can it be?” “How can it be that He calms the storm for such a sinner as I? For such sinners as us?” “Will He help though I have little faith?” He will. “How can that be?” The answer for how and why Christ can and does calm the storm for such sinners as us is something we call ‘Substitutionary Atonement’ – that He entered your storm and made it His.
Jesus calms the storm of the sinner because He became the sinner’s substitute – He made your storm of sin and death His to make peace yours.
We should back up for a moment for an illustration. Jesus is not the first person in the Bible to be found asleep on a ship in the middle of a storm. Jonah the prophet, in today’s Old Testament reading, is the one other man in the Bible found in such a similar circumstance.
There is this difference, that Jonah’s storm was his – he was the sinner fleeing from the presence of the Lord. Jesus’ storm is that of others, yours, and He is the sinless substitute who enters the storm in your place.
It’s not exact, but we do see a picture of Jesus in Jonah. Jesus Himself tells us so elsewhere. Jonah is, in fact, the one and only prophet that Jesus compares Himself to by name – “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” [Matthew 12:40].
We often remember Jonah for being in the belly of that great fish, and for fleeing from the Lord, but in today’s reading we see what leads very directly to his being swallowed up – an act of self-sacrifice to save others, his shipmates.
Jonah is on the boat along with many others. A great storm arises. The ship is going to sink. The storm is because of Jonah – because of His fleeing. He admits this. The shipmates ask Jonah, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?”
Jonah tells the truth; he says to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you.” “Throw me into the storm and it will quiet down for you.” Jonah gives himself to spare them. Jonah wasn’t perfect, but our Lord has reason for the comparison. “Throw me into the storm, and it will quiet down for you.”
The men throw him; Jonah hits the water; the storm is calmed; Jonah is given to spare the rest; he spends three days in the belly of the fish to be offered back up alive on the third day.
Jonah was cast into the storm that arose from his own sin. He was cast into God’s wrath which was coming after him on the waters. Jesus was cast, not into his, but into my storm - the storms of my wrecked body, and even into the storm of God’s wrath against my sins – in my place, as my substitute to suffer for me – and into my grave. And, on the third day, He came out alive, treading all those storms underfoot.
Every storm you face in this life of flesh – and that frightful storm which would rightly come upon us after death – Jesus was thrown into it in your place on the cross. An act of self-sacrifice. Jesus, the Innocent One, suffered the storm meant for the guilty so that by His innocent suffering the sinner’s sin is atoned for, forgiven, and the sinner’s death is extinguished. Jesus was willingly thrown in as your substitute. By His death the storms end with calm waters.
Pray. Jesus has woken up. He is risen. He gives the calm waters at the right time. Now the storms are only discipline and exercise of faith – to strengthen and grow you – until the right time when Jesus rebukes the wind and waves over which He has complete control, having tread them all underfoot.
How and why will He give peace to you? Not because you’re worthy. Not because of your works. But because He is your substitute who has made your storms His. Now, even in the middle of the storm, His peace is yours. Amen.