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August 25, 2019

Sermon Matthew 8:26 . . .“Jesus said, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’”

“Jesus said, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’”

Matthew 8:26

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

On March 11, 2011, at 2:45 in the afternoon, life was normal in Japan.  People were working.  Students were studying.  Shoppers were shopping in local grocery stores.  Trains were running, and passengers were boarding their planes.  Banks were open, government officials were in meetings, and friends were planning dinner dates for later that night.

One minute later, at 2:46, the earth began to shake.

When it comes to earthquakes and tsunamis, Japan is the most prepared country in the world.  Immediately, power was cut off to all power plants.  Warning signals blared across the land.  Students dove under desks, and military and law enforcement officials sprung into action, just as they trained to do.  And buildings swayed, but didn’t fall, just as they were designed to do.

But the earth kept shaking.

Eighty miles out, in the deep blue waters of the Pacific, six miles above the massive movements of the earth’s plates, salt water was being churned and tossed with a force far stronger than any ever created by man.

Two hours later, the first waves slammed into the beach, towering twenty-three feet above the shore.  Literally tons of water swept away cars, ships, houses, bridges, and roadways, destroying everything in their path.

Then came the aftershocks, one after another, one dozen after another dozen, until more than fifty had been recorded.

By the time the first waves receded back out to sea, preparing for yet another blast, hundreds of bodies lay buried among the debris.  At sea, a ship loaded with a hundred people was swept away.  Tankers were flipped in their harbors.  An entire passenger train was missing.  Buildings burned out of control, because firefighters couldn’t reach them.  Roads were broken.

Inland, thirty miles from the coast, fifty miles from the worst of the damage, a dam broke, immediately sending a torrent of water through residential neighborhoods.  Eighteen hundred homes that should have been spared, were destroyed.  As far south as Tokyo, ambulances lined up outside a school where a roof had collapsed on an unknown number of students, teachers, and parents that had gathered for a graduation ceremony.  Six million more lost power, food, and fresh water.

Then came the worst news of all.  Critical, potentially devastating, problems began to develop at a nuclear power plant.

When it was over, eighteen thousand lives were lost, with a cost of $360 billion.

Such is the nature of an unexpected storm.

The book of Matthew talks about another unexpected storm.  This one was on the Sea of Galilee.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1033, as I read the words of our text.  Matthew chapter 8, verse 23:  “And when He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.  And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep.  And they went and woke Him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’  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.  And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?’”

It had been a busy day in the life of Jesus.  That very day, He had preached His Sermon on the Mount.  When He was done, the Bible says at the end of chapter 7:  “...the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”

Chapter 8 begins as He came down from that mountain, with huge crowds following Him.  That’s when, in verse 2, a leper came and knelt down before Him, saying, “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.”  And as Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, He said, “I will; be clean.”

Then in verse 6, when a Roman centurion came to say:  “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home suffering terribly,” with a word, Jesus healed him.  In verse 14, when He came to Peter’s house and saw his mother-in-law sick in bed with a fever, He healed her.  And in verse 16, He cast out demons and healed all who were sick.

It’s no wonder then, that just as soon as He climbed into a boat with His disciples in verse 23, He fell fast asleep.

It’s really a beautiful picture, if you think about it.  The One who created the sky, the One who created the water, the One who created the wood of the boat in the water, and the One who created sleep, fully Man, yet fully God, completely exhausted, fell asleep.

Now to better understand what’s about to happen, let me explain a little about the Sea of Galilee.  Over time, it’s been known by quite a lot of different names.  In Old Testament times, many called it the Sea of Kinnereth.  Later, they called it the Lake of Gennesaret.  When the Romans took control, they called it the Sea of Tiberias.  But since it sat in a region called “Galilee,” a name that means, “rolling” or “revolving,” or simply, “out in the country,” it was usually known as the Sea of Galilee.

But to call it a “sea” is a bit of a stretch.  It’s really more of a big lake, some thirteen miles long and eight miles wide.  At its best, it’s a hundred and fifty feet deep.

But what makes it different than any other lake in the world is that, not only is it the lowest freshwater lake in the world, (sitting nearly seven hundred feet below sea level), it’s surrounded by mountains, reaching as high as three thousand feet.  Put it together, and you don’t have just a lake.  You have a bowl of a lake that’s subject to it’s very own special kind of weather.  All of a sudden, without warning, a cold wind can come roaring down off the Golan Heights, hit the warm air that sits in that bowl, and whip it up into a boiling caldron.  Pity anyone who’s on that water in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

And sure enough, as Matthew writes in verse 24, on one cool, dark night, that’s exactly what happened:  “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves.”

“A great storm,” it says.  In the original language, it’s a “seismos megas.”  Another way to translate it would be, “a huge earthquake.”  It was that bad.

And bear in mind, these men weren’t novices.  This wasn’t the first time they had ever been on that lake.  In fact, at least four, and as many as seven of them, were fishermen.

What did they do?  What would you do?  They came to Jesus, tired as He was, asleep as He was, and cried out, in verse 25:  “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”

And why come to Jesus?  Because that very day, He had healed the sick, cleansed lepers, and cast out demons.  They didn’t know exactly who He was, but if He could all those other things, just maybe He could pray to God to help them too.

As one author put it:  “It’s a dark day when sailors call on a Carpenter to get them out of the storm.”

Besides, maybe they remembered the words of Psalm 65:  “O God of our salvation, You...still the raging of the seas, and the roaring of the waves.”  Or the words of Psalm 89:  “You rule the swelling of the sea; when its waves rise, You still them.”

And what did Jesus do?  No theatrics.  No effort.  He simply spoke to the wind, and called out to the waves.  And in an instant, each obeyed its Master’s voice.  The wind lost its breath and the water became as smooth as glass, as placid as a pond.  As it says in verse 26:  “There was a great calm.”

And what did the disciples do?  Verse 27 says, “And the men marveled.”  Another text says, “They became very much afraid.”

Why?  Because in that awesome, jaw-dropping, nature-defying moment, they realized that the one thing more terrifying than having a storm outside your boat, was to have God, the Creator, and the controller of His creation, in your boat.

No wonder they said:  “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?”

John Carmody, professor of religion at Santa Clara University in California, was dying from bone cancer.  That’s when he wrote a book called, Psalms for Times of Trouble.  

This is what he said:  “Trouble is everywhere.  You can have completely healthy bones and still suffer severe pain, physical or emotional.  You can face huge problems that threaten to plow you under.  Though you avoid alcohol and drugs, you can lose your job, or suffer a heart attack.  Though you do your job conscientiously and say your prayers at night, you can find yourself the victim of gossip or aching loneliness.  Teenagers can be desperately unhappy, but so can old people.  Women can worry themselves sick, but so do men.  Trouble spares no one.”

Just like the disciples, we too can’t help but sometimes cry:  “Lord Jesus, don’t You care that my child is sick?  Don’t You care that my friends have deserted me?  Don’t You care that my husband has died?  Don’t You care that I want to give up?  Don’t You care that I feel so alone?”

It seems we never question our Lord’s compassion when things are going well.  But when winds roars and waters rage, that’s when we cry, “Lord, don’t You care?”

But He does care!  He cares just as much when the tempest is raging as He does when the seas are calm.  His mercy is never limited to the sunlight nor to the stillness of the waves.

Notice that for me--though Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves, He didn’t rebuke His disciples.  Instead, He said, in verse 26:  “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

The story is told of a blacksmith who trusted Christ as his Savior, and was working at his anvil, when he was confronted by a man who didn’t believe.  The man asked, “Why is it you have so much trouble?  I’ve watched you since you became a Christian and you’ve had all kinds of problems.  I thought that when a person gave himself to God, his troubles were over.”

A smile ran across the blacksmith’s face as he replied, “Do you see this piece of steel?  I’m going to use it for the springs of a carriage.  But first, it needs to be heated.  Then I hammer it, bend it, and shape it the way I want.  Sometimes, the steel’s too brittle, so I have to throw it in the scrap heap.  As scrap, it’s worth nothing.  But as a carriage spring, it’s invaluable.”

No matter who we are, there will be storms of all kinds.  Of that, there is no doubt.  But just as Jesus stood with His disciples in the middle of that storm, so He stands with us.  He’s stepped into the darkness, the evil, and the suffering of this world, and He’s taken it all to the cross.  As the prophet Isaiah once wrote, He truly was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  He’ll never leave us behind.

So when the storms come, and they will come, know that they’re not a place of fear and terror.  Instead, they’re a place where we meet God.

Back in the late 1800s, Pastor Edward Hopper put it like this:  “Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea.  Unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treacherous shoal.  Chart and compass come from Thee.  Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”

 

Sometimes, dear Lord, we wonder and we worry about what the future will bring.  Help us to remember that You are with us.  And because You are with us, we are safe.  Hear us as we pray in Your name.  Amen

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