Monday, January 30, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 8:23-27, for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, "True Sense of Security"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Did you notice in our Gospel reading, that everything was calm and fine before Jesus and His disciples entered into the fishing boat, to cross the Sea of Galilee? Jesus was leading them into the storm. It reminds me of how the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness after His baptism, to be tempted. Undoubtedly Jesus did so for this reason—to test their faith, and show them who He was in a yet more marvelous way. Do we acknowledge that God may intentionally lead us into some rough sailing, some real, humbling difficulties in life? Not because He wants to harm us, or even that everything has a hidden “life-lesson”, but that God in His own mysterious ways, has crosses for us to bear, and wants us to lean completely on Him? If Jesus lead them into the storm, you see there is no promise or guarantee that we will be spared the storms and dangers of life, or even that we will be rescued from them as the disciples were. But we are promised that nothing, not even death can separate us from the love of Christ.  
While it’s a fact of life that we face dangers, threats, and storms—like losing everything in a house fire, drowning on a ship in a storm, or having a loved one killed in a car accident—none of these should cause us to stop trusting God. Rather, they should drive us to trust Him all the more, especially to find strength in Him to endure and face any outcome. It’s unwise, and even dangerous to our faith, to try to mystically interpret such events as some sort of coded message from God trying to punish us for some wrong or teach us some lesson. Rather, the Bible reminds us that the ravages of nature, both natural disasters and diseases, are proof of sin’s corruption of creation. Our epistle reading says the whole of creation is subject to futility and in bondage to decay. The whole world groans under this weight of sin and suffering. We ache with it and lament that God’s creation is not as it once was.
But even if we shouldn’t read into our own life events some secret, personalized meaning, this storm at sea and wild boat ride for the disciples was obviously recorded for our instruction. And it should teach us the kind of faith that endures all things and faces challenges and danger on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. The Bible does have many lessons on hardship.
A theme running through the stories just before the storm on the sea of Galilee, is the theme of Jesus’ authority. Crowds marveled at the great authority of Jesus’ teachings. His disciples saw His authority over leprosy, paralysis, and fever, as in short order He heals several different illnesses in Matthew 8. Then He casts out demons, showing His authority over evil. The miracle at sea completes the picture to show that Jesus even has authority over the raw forces of nature—the stormy wind and waves are obedient to His command—but even with all that so soon before, they still lacked faith in His power.
In the bulletin quote, John Gerhard points out that we always “glue our hearts” to other things instead of faith clinging to God alone, and that God uses great adversity or misfortune to strip away this false foundation, so that our faith is preserved and rests on God alone. Think of how easy it is to “glue our hearts” on to extra supports and objects of trust, that can actually weaken or replace our real trust in God. No doubt the seasoned fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James and John, normally put great faith in their navigational and sailing skills. They knew the waters and rough weather common on the Sea of Galilee. But now they were utterly beyond their abilities and confidence. Any false sense of security in good conditions, the trustworthiness of their vessel, or their own strength and ability, was all stripped away, and they were genuinely terrified. When we glue our hearts to something else, and then these fail us or prove incapable—we learn real fast that nothing or no one (and certainly not our strength) can take God’s place. Glued to something else, pretty soon we stop truly trusting in God, and rely on whatever other false securities we have constructed in His place.
Meanwhile, Jesus is doing just what you would expect in a storm where waves are swamping the boat, right?? He’s sound asleep, (just like Jonah, by the way). If you just ponder how astonishing this is—not that Jesus was really tired—but that He was able to sleep through all that tumult—it shows a beautiful picture of His complete peacefulness in the hands of God. Our sermon hymn, “Jesus, Priceless Treasure” sings of the peace of the Christian at rest in the arms of Jesus: In Thine arms I rest me; foes who would molest me cannot reach me here. Though the earth be shaking, ev’ry heart be quaking, Jesus calms my fear. Lightnings flash and thunders crash; Yet though sin and hell assail me, Jesus will not fail me” (LSB 743:2). The hymn contrasts terrifying danger surrounding us with the peace, calm, and rest in Jesus. No storm or danger frightened Jesus, as the Psalm says: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone Oh Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). A believer can find that perfect peace in God, just as Jesus displayed in this storm, because in Jesus nothing need frighten us. He is our true security. Jesus will not fail me.
On the one hand, in many situations in life we need that false sense of security stripped away. But then should we be vulnerable, exposed, and cowering in fear or cowardice? No! This is the very thing that Jesus reprimands His disciples for—their fear and their little faith! Fear and helplessness against the storm had stripped away their false security—but Jesus strongly implies that fear and cowardice should NOT have taken its place. “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” I imagine we all can feel the sting of those words.
All the times we have wavered and faltered in faith, and gave up hope that God was in control. All the times when we could only manage a shaky fear and cry for help, when life’s troubles overwhelmed us. Were the disciples just showing what it meant to be human, in their fear? Are we doing the same, when fear threatens to overwhelm our little faith? Or is what it truly means to be human found rather in these words: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding”? (Proverbs 3:5). Is not the true humanity that God desires instead, for us to have a sober sense of not leaning on our own understanding (false security)—but trusting in God with all our heart (true security!)?
Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to bring the boat safely to shore, or to quiet the storm themselves—He knew they couldn’t do that—this expedition showed that plainly enough. But He did expect them to trust that with Him in the boat, they didn’t need to fear. What was the worst that could have happened to them? Certainly, the boat could have sunk and they all could have drowned. But were they not His disciples? All they needed to know was that their true security was in Him. He would not fail them, even in death. Did Jesus not teach His disciples that they could store up treasures in heaven, that could not be lost? Are we not taught by Scripture that nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus? Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation? (Romans 8:38-39). None of this can separate us from Jesus! NOTHING!
So in other words, what Jesus did desire of them—what He desires of us, is that we find our true sense of security in Him. That no matter what we face, that we can face it with boldness and trust in Him. We don’t need to cower, but to stand! We don’t need to trust our own strength or understanding—we need only to trust His! This is the same spirit that St. Paul encourages young Timothy to have, “for God gave us a spirit, not of fear, but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Consider what it means to live with such a spirit!
For Jesus, it meant peaceful sleeping in the boat, while the storm rages. For the disciples it might have meant a calm reliance on Jesus to carry them through. For us it may mean that we can endure whatever lays before us, because nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus. Paul preached to crowds of disciples, “encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Who gives this spirit of power, love, and self-control but Jesus Christ?! And with that spirit, we don’t have false security in ourselves, but true security in Him. We know that we can endure all the tribulations and trials that we will face before we enter the kingdom of God, because Jesus is our strength and refuge. And who is He?
He is the Lord with complete command and authority over all of creation. The One who woke to make the storm be still, and to hush the waves (Psalm 107:29). The One who rebukes the waters and they flee (Psalm 104:7). “Jesus 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 the winds and sea obey Him?’” This man is Jesus, the Son of God, with complete authority at His command. He is Sovereign over all creation, yet man in human flesh. He is near to us as an offered prayer. He is our access to the throne of God’s grace. And once more, while He does lead us into storms in life, and doesn’t promise that we will always escape unharmed, He does promise that nothing, not even death can separate us from His love.
His love for those of “little faith” is to give them a greater measure of trust in Him. His love for those of little faith is to never refuse the prayer for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). His love for us of little faith is to take our fear and cowardice, and to replace it with a spirit of power, love, and self-control. His love is to create courageous disciples who know just how powerful and mighty our Lord is—who plunged Himself into the fiercest storm of death and the grave, and emerged alive and victorious. Who went down into the belly of the earth, and in three days arose. No less than Jesus’ love and power that gave spiritual growth and courage to the disciples, Jesus is working the same in you. Look to His power and know that since He can manage all things, then you are truly in good hands. Your true sense of security is in Him! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Matthew 7:28-29 the crowds marvel at the authority of Jesus’ teaching. As chapter 8 begins, Jesus shows His authority over leprosy, paralysis (and has a discussion about faith and authority with the centurion), fevers, and evil spirits. Now in Matthew 8:23-27, what does Jesus show He holds authority over? What does this combined picture tell us about who He is? Cf. Matthew 8:27.
  2. Notice that the lake was calm before Jesus got in the boat to cross with His disciples, and the storm rose after. What does this suggest about Jesus’ intention for bringing them into the storm? What about the likelihood of facing danger and storms while Jesus is with us?
  3. What is amazing about what Jesus is doing at first? Cf. Jonah 1:4-6. What does Scripture tell us about God? Psalm 121:4; but why does it sometimes seem like He does? Psalm 44:23-26.
  4. Why did the disciples not need to fear the storm? Psalm 46:1-3. Would the disciples have been “ok” even if they had perished, with Jesus in the boat? It’s worth considering that if we have Jesus with us, and we believe in Him, not even death can separate us from God’s love. Romans 8:38
  5. Read the other instances where Jesus rebukes the disciples for having “little faith”: Matthew 6:30; 14:31; 16:8. Why should trusting in God be the logical thing to do in each of these situations? Why is trust so hard for us? How does lack of faith cause us to act differently?
  6. What can be the results of trusting Jesus more boldly and more confidently? In whom does our security or confidence rest? What can we ‘afford to lose’ if we are secure in Him? Matthew 16:25-27
  7. What does this miracle tell us about the extent of Jesus’ authority? What does that say about who Jesus is, and why we should trust Him?

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