And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea,
insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but Jesus was asleep.
(St. Matthew viii. 24)
Throughout the season of Epiphany-tide you and I are subject to the wonderful manifestations of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. We have learned that He has revealed His Divine Kingship to scientists or Magiseeking Him out through the study of nature. We found too that at the age of twelve He was already lingering behind in Temple at Jerusalem, wholly consumed with His Heavenly Father’s business, studying the Word that would define the whole of his life. Next, we discovered that He makes the best of all wines and saves them at last as a reward for them that will follow Him through death and resurrection to His Kingdom. And last week, we saw that the key to supplicating and securing His healing love is to trust that He need only pray and send His Word and all manner of sin might be overcome. In sum, I pray that we have been allowing ourselves to be moved both by who Jesus is and how we are called to respond to His Mission of Salvation.
Today, we continue to learn more about both Him and us. In our prior lessons, we have discovered the great wonders wrought in the life of our Saviour. Those signs and wonders were done on land in the security and stability that we rely on with too much ease and too little thankfulness. In the wisdom of our Master, the Lord Jesus, we must now launch out with Him onto the stormy sea of human life. The stormy sea, its proclivity to uncertain and abrupt movements, its threat of instability and impending doom, are all in the mind of the Saviour as He takes us through it to another place. We must endure, withstand, and persist through the stormy seas of life if we are to cultivate that faith in Christ that not only yields protection and care from nature’s vicissitudes but that also attacks and defeats our inner demons.
So, today we read that when Jesus was entered into a ship, his disciples followed
Him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but He was asleep. (St. Matthew viii. 23, 24) Matthew Henry reminds us that Christ does not have us follow Him across the sea in a pleasure-boat but in a common and less comfortable fishing vessel. He tells us also that They, and they only, will be found the true disciples of Christ, that are willing to go to sea with him, to follow him into dangers and difficulties. (M.H. Comm.) Christ shows us that the way to Heaven is not easy and that we must be willing to follow Him into uncertain times under unpredictable conditions. We ought not to seek out the comfortable and safe way necessarily. Christ intends to bring us into a state where our faith in Him must be strengthened and our hope in His power securely established no matter what the circumstances.
The Apostles in today’s Gospel were eager to follow Christ in faith. Through what next transpires, Christ shows us the state and nature of their faith. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. (St. Matthew viii. 25) Origen of Alexandria tells us that Christ allowed the storm to arise and Himself to fall asleep to elicit the fear that lay concealed in the hearts of His disciples. (Origen: The Testing of the Apostles) Christ comes to us to reveal not only His wisdom, power, and love but the condition of our souls in relation to Him. How often are we eager to follow Christ, on land, in the near reach of security, stability, and safety of kith and kin? How often do we want our spiritual journey to be a bed of roses, bereft of any thorns and worms! How often does our faith fail when we must struggle with some great storm. The storm might come to us, not in the form of being tossed about upon the wild seas, but it might come to us in another way. Perhaps we learn that we have contracted a deadly disease. Perhaps we have finally admitted to ourselves that we have been living a life of extreme unhappiness under the pretense of peace and joy. Perhaps we have found ourselves in the grips of an addiction that we cannot beat. Whatever the form the storm takes, it hits us and we are full of anxiety, worry, and fear. Origen reminds us: But the Lord was asleep. O great and wondrous thing! Does He who never sleeps now sleep? Does He now sleep that rules the heaven and earth? Is it He who never wearies or falls asleep that here is said to fall asleep? (Idem) The storms of life overtake us, we are tempest tossed, we reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at our wits end. (Psalm 107: 27) And all the while we feel that the Lord Jesus does not care, He couldn’t be bothered, He can no more be intreated, His mercy is clean gone forever, and His promise has come utterly to an end for evermore. (Ps. 77, 8,9) Jesus is asleep! we exclaim.
The Apostle and we must learn that in the body of His humanity, Jesus sleeps. In the power of His Divinity, he both brings on the storms of life and then proves His mastery and control over them. Jesus intended that the fear of the Apostles should be revealed and manifested in the storm at sea. Jesus intends that our fears should be disclosed and exposed as we are assaulted by the storms of earthly life. We must overcome all fear and despair if we would follow Jesus. Origen insists:
O blessed and truthful disciples of the Lord! You have with you the Lord our
Saviour, and you are in fear of danger? With you is life, and you are fearful of
Death? Fearful of the tumult of the sea, you thus waken its Creator, who is beside
You, as if, while sleeping in His Body, He could not calm the waves or hush
Them to rest? (Idem)
Jesus is with us always and yet we fear and despair. Jesus can calm all of the storms that our fallen condition is called to endure. Jesus can overcome all of the storms that He visits upon us. He brings them to us so that we might trust all the more in His power over them. He carries them to us so that our faith in Him might be greater than our fear of what earthly sickness, natural disaster, human sinfulness, and spiritual poverty can do to us. Down upon us, He showers these storms so that we might put our whole trust and confidence in Him! He says to the Apostles: Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? (Ibid, 26) Next, we read: Then He arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of Man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him! (Ibid, 26, 27)
We fear and tremble in the midst of the storms of life. Our faith is weak. We struggle with besetting sins so that we might discover our utter dependence upon Jesus’ healing power. Jesus says, Draw near.We are stricken with illness and sickness so that we might find spiritual health in His presence.(Idem)What do we fear? We fear sickness and disease. We fear death. We fear uprooting and overturning the false forms of peace that have dominated relations with family and friends. We fear ourselves and the sins that we hide deep within our souls. We cry: Lord save us. Carest thou not that we perish? (St. Mark iv. 38)
We want to be saved from the storms of life. Christ will save us from them. We must put our whole trust and confidence in Him. But He might not save us in the way that we desire. He will not save us from all suffering. Sometimes He requires that we suffer in order to build our faith and trust to hope in His Grace. He might deliver us from sickness or He might not. He will deliver us from sin, that is for sure. But He will require us to work with Himas we die to sin and come alive to His righteousness. Jesus is not a Magician. He respects us too much for that. He wants to perfect our minds and purify our hearts as they learn to suffer gladly for Him in order to be made good. So He will require that we play our part in His work as we die to sin and come alive to righteousness. It does no good for God to work miracles in our lives. Miracles are like fine jewelry and clothing -they fade in worth, value, and meaning as soon as they are obtained. God in Jesus wants us to work with Him as we are in the process of being perfected and saved. Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?
We fear because our faith is small. Our faith ought to be the anchor of our souls. It ought to secure and ground us in the knowledge and love of God that we find in Jesus Christ. Our faith ought to remind us that though we be tossed about by storms on the sea of life, we aim for the distant shore where rest will be secure in the Lord. Jesus wasn’t bothered or awakened by the storm. He was sleeping and resting because He was preparing for a far greater storm that He would endure before He obtained salvation for all of us. The great storm of His own affliction in His suffering, passion, and death awaited Him on the horizon. And yet, what could He do, but approach it with courage! He was perfectly wed to the goodness hidden in His Father’s will. He was perfectly determined to carry it out.
So, today, dear friends, we must pray for an increase of faith in the Lord. Let us pray for that faith that feeds upon the saving power of Jesus Christ whose sovereign power can vanquish all sin and overcome all evil. Let us pray for that faith that trusts that the Lord who has died, risen, and ascended and ever makes intercession for us with the Father. Let us pray for that faith that rests confidently in the Holy Spirit who always longs to steady our hearts and anchor our souls as we sail through the tumultuous seas of life. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons