Sermons

The Winds and Waves Obey His Word

April 19, 2020 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: The Gospel according to Luke

Passage: Luke 8:22–8:25

The Winds and Waves Obey His Word

I’m not really a religious person, but I don’t know who else to turn to but God.” That is what a young man posted recently on the website of the Billy Graham association. “I’m not really a religious person, but I don’t know who else to turn to but God.” You can guess the reason for the young man’s confession. It’s the same reason that has turned all of life upside-down. The young man was afraid of the coronavirus pandemic. He looked out at a world unsettled and shaken, and the young man knew he could not weather this storm on his own. His fear became a wake-up call.

Just a few weeks ago, this young man was probably going through his life like most other people – oblivious to God and not thinking about the reality of death and eternity. It’s easy to ignore eternity when everything is calm, isn’t it? But when that calm is broken – when that ease of life is shaken, that’s when the fear creeps in. Where do formerly content modern people turn when that happens?

They apparently turn to the Internet. Websites like the Billy Graham Association are reporting tremendous spikes in traffic and interaction. People are looking for something solid in the midst of the crisis. And though our culture has moved far beyond our Christian heritage, people still can’t escape what is hard-wired into their hearts. They can’t escape the thought that God is where they should turn – that God provides some certainty when everything else is shaken.

What does all this mean for our culture? We can’t know for sure at this point. Does this young man represent the beginning of a renewed awakening in our culture, where people are genuinely open to the things of God and to the gospel? Or does this young man picture a passing convenience – an interest not in God, but in what God might do for me? Which option is more likely? We can’t know and we won’t know for some time. But even so, we should recognize that on some level, the crisis is confronting everyone with fragility of life. It is confronting people with things we’d rather ignore – things like death and eternity and the state of our souls before the Creator. That is the surprising value of a crisis. It reveals our hearts, particularly things we’d prefer to overlook, and it forces us to reckon with reality. Our lives are short. Our existence is fragile. The peace we enjoy does rest on a knife’s edge, and in an instant, all of that can vanish. In an instant, the storm can crash down upon us, and then, where will we turn? That’s the question many like that young man are wrestling with – Where will we turn?

And in God’s providence, our passage this morning meets us precisely where we are in this moment in time. I don’t know how the Billy Graham Association responded to that young man’s statement, but there are few places in Scripture that better answer his question than our passage this morning. Quite literally, our text today shows the Lord Jesus’ response to the storm. Of course, what Jesus does in this passage is a historical fact. He’s not responding to a metaphorical storm, and this is certainly no myth that Luke invented to teach a nice moral lesson. This is the stuff of flesh-and-blood history. The waves and wind were real, and Jesus’ response was real too. This is no myth or fable. It’s history.

And that is exactly why the passage is so valuable to the church today. Myths and fables excite the mind, but they can’t steady the heart when things are unraveling. What Luke recounts in this text is the stuff of real life, and that’s why we should listen. Here we find the Lord Jesus in the storm, and by listening to his Word, we can also find his grace for our lives as well.

Before we look at the details of our text, I do want to give you a brief overview of where we are in Luke’s Gospel. We’ve just finished an extended section that focused on the need to faithfully hear God’s Word. This started back in v1 of ch8, and the refrain of that section was this – “Be careful how you hear.” This priority is so urgent, you’ll remember, that Jesus said his mother and brothers are those hear the Word of God and do it.

But as we come to this text, Luke’s emphasis shifts somewhat. Today’s passage is the beginning of a series of miracle stories. Luke tends to group miracle stories together in his Gospel account, and this section is no different. The next three passages – from vv22 till the end of the chapter – all flow together. And what makes this series of miracles unique is how instructive they are to Jesus’ disciples. Through these miracles, Jesus reveals more of his identity – more of his power – and with that revelation comes further instruction to the disciples on what it means to follow the Lord. Those two purposes – revelation and instruction – shape the remainder of Luke 8. Jesus is revealing more of his identity and power, and that revelation, in turn, instructs us on what it means to follow him.

With that overview in mind, let’s consider today’s passage. What do these verses reveal about Jesus, and how does that revelation instruct us in following him? You could sum up our passage like this. These verses remind us there is a Word that calms the storm, and that Word also calls us to faith. That’s the summary for vv22-25 here in Luke 8. There is a Word that calms the storm, and that Word calls us to faith. Let’s consider together both sides of that statement.

 

The Word that Clams the Storm

First of all, in vv22-24, we see very clearly the Word that Calms the Storm. The details of the scene are not hard to follow, and even though Luke’s presentation is brief, the action is no less griping. The disciples – who are experienced fishermen, remember – set out across the Sea of Galilee with Jesus. But very soon into the journey, they are assailed by a sudden windstorm. I’ve never been to the Holy Land, but the commentaries do a good job of describing how the geography of the Sea of Galilee makes the area prone to sudden and unexpected storms. The Sea is set down below a ring of hills, and that depressed setting makes these sudden storms somewhat frequent. In Mark’s Gospel, we also learn they are making this trip in the evening, so it’s very likely that the sun has set and the disciples are unable to see even the early warnings signs of such a sudden storm.

All of that to say, this is a dangerous situation. We know how the story ends, so we might be prone to downplay the danger. But Luke is clear – this is an unnerving moment. The boat is filling with water, which is never a good sign, and it’s so bad that even these experienced fishermen are afraid. Think about that. Peter and Andrew, James and John – they’ve likely spent their entire lives on this lake. They know these waters, they’ve seen these storms, and still, these fishermen are afraid at this moment. It’s dangerous. The winds are howling, and the water is rising.

But in the midst of this dangerous storm the Lord Jesus does two remarkable things. The first is surprising, while the second is stunning. First and surprisingly, Jesus sleeps. Notice again how the passage begins, v22 – “One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep.” That is remarkable, and it’s something we should be careful not to overlook. Remember, Mark’s Gospel tells us this happens in the evening, at the end of a long day of ministry for Jesus. And what does Jesus do at the end of that long day of ministry? He does what you and I would do – he falls asleep! The hours of teaching catch up to him, his eyelids get heavy, and as the boat rocks across the rhythms of the lake, Jesus falls asleep.

Why is that remarkable, we ask? It’s remarkable because it reminds us that Jesus is truly and fully human. He wasn’t some automaton who robotically plowed through life on earth, merely appearing to be human. He wasn’t immune to the stuff of life. No, Jesus was truly and fully human. He got tired. He had those moments when you can’t keep your eyes open and you’ve just got to sleep.

This is why the writer to the Hebrews can say that Jesus sympathizes with us in our times of weakness. He experienced life in this world as we do. He lived through storms. He got sick at times. When he banged his thumb in Joseph’s carpentry shop, it hurt. And when the days were long, Jesus got sleepy and needed to rest. We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weakness. Not only was Jesus tempted like us, but he also had to live in the world like us – a world full of storms and long days that wear us out.

In other words, brothers and sisters, what we have in Jesus is a Savior who can relate to us. What’s more, this is why he is able to save us – because he became like us in every way, yet without sin. He took on flesh and blood, including all the weakness, so that he could then shed his blood to save weak and frail sinners like us. And we’re reminded of all of that here in v23, as surprisingly, Jesus sleeps.

The second thing Jesus does is more stunning than surprising. In v24, Jesus speaks. Notice again what Luke writes, v24 – “And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm.” Jesus speaks, and amazingly, the storm obeys. Jesus speaks, and the waves settle down, the winds cease howling, and calm returns to the Sea of Galilee. And there’s no delay here. Jesus speaks, and the storm stops period. With only his words, Jesus calms the storm.

Now at this point, there are all sorts of biblical alarm bells that should be going off in your mind. The Scriptural echoes here are astounding. The echo with Genesis 1 is perhaps the quickest to get our attention. On the first page of the Bible, we learn that creation exists because of the word of God. God speaks, and life happens. The world is subject to the word – the speech – of God.

When Jesus calms the storm with only his words, we hear the echo of creation. Just as God’s word brought order and life to the formless void of creation, so also Jesus’ word restores order to the chaos of the stormy sea. Jesus, then, exercises creation power. The winds and waves are subject to Jesus’ word.

But along with Genesis 1, there are also numerous echoes here with the Psalms. All through the Psalter, we hear how God commands the waters, and the waters obey him:

Psalm 104, for example, is a poetic reflection of God’s work at creation, and in v7 of that psalm, it says that the waters fled at God’s rebuke. Here in Luke 8, what happens? The waters flee at Jesus’ rebuke. Jesus does what only the Creator can do.

Or for another example, consider Psalm 65, which is a song of praise to God for his abundant provision. The psalm proclaims God’s salvation of his people, and in v7, God stills the roaring of the seas so that the ends of the earth are in awe of God’s power. Here in Luke 8, what happens? Jesus stills the water, and the disciples are in fearful awe, v25. Again, Jesus does what only the Creator can do.

But most striking of all is Psalm 107. The middle of this psalm celebrates how God delivers those who go out upon the seas. The parallels with Luke 8 are incredibly powerful. Storms arise, and those who sail in ships are afraid. They call out to Yahweh, and he delivers them by calming the storm. He quiets the waves with his power. It’s almost a preview of Luke 8, isn’t it? The storm rises, the disciples cry out in fear, and Jesus saves them through his powerful word. He calms the storm and delivers his people.

Brothers and sisters, I’m stringing together these biblical echoes so that we will hear clearly what the Holy Spirit is revealing in this passage. All through Scripture, only God has the power to control creation. Here in Luke 8, Jesus of Nazareth controls the creation, which means this man is God in the flesh.

And the use of only his words is key. This is the point. With only his words, Jesus commands the creation. Moses struck the Red Sea with his staff at God’s command, but Moses didn’t speak the sea apart. Joshua prayed for the sun to stand still, but Joshua didn’t command it. Elijah prayed for the fire to come down from heaven, but Elijah didn’t control it. Jesus commands, and it happens. He doesn’t need a staff to strike the storm, and he doesn’t even pray, though Luke often presents Jesus as praying. No, Jesus speaks as the Creator spoke, and at his word, the storm obeys. This, then, is God himself in human flesh.

In fact, notice, brothers and sisters, how the two essential truths of Jesus’ nature are present in this one passage. Jesus sleeps, and he speaks. Jesus is fully human – he needed sleep just like we do. And Jesus is fully God – he commands the storm, and the storm obeys. The reason Jesus is able to save his people is on display right here in this remarkable moment on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is fully human, and thus able to represent us before God. And Jesus is fully God, thus he is able to effectively deal with our sin once and for all. It’s remarkable, and it’s the foundation of our gospel hope. The One who walked among us, the One who was in the boat during the storm is none other than the Word made Flesh, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. And in the amazing connection of his humanity and his divinity, our hope for salvation is realized.

 

The Word that Calls Us to Faith

Even so, how does this revelation of Jesus’ glory call us to respond? Remember, these miracles in Luke 8 both reveal and instruct. What is the response God calls us to in this passage? Look at v25, where we see how the Word that calms the storm is also the Word that calls us to faith. The storm at sea is not the only thing to receive Jesus’ rebuke in this passage. The disciples are rebuked as well. Notice the Lord’s response, v25 – “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?’” After the storm, the disciples begin to ask the right question, don’t they? In Luke’s Gospel, fear usually indicates the recognition that one has been in the presence of divine power. Which means, the disciples ask the right question – “Who then is this?

But it’s important to note that the disciples ask this question in response to Jesus’ rebuke. Hear it again in v25 – “Jesus said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’” Now, let’s be clear – Jesus is not rebuking the disciples for having no faith. He’s not calling them unbelievers. Rather, Jesus is asking them, “Why wasn’t your faith put into action? Why didn’t you exercise your faith in the midst of this crisis?” Do you see the difference? Jesus rebukes the disciples for focusing more on the storm than on him.

And that is a key point for listening to this text. We may be tempted to think that Jesus is being harsh here. It was a dangerous situation, after all, so why shouldn’t the disciples have been afraid? But that conclusion overlooks what the disciples know to be true. Think of all that they have witnessed so far in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has defeated demonic spirits. He has healed diseases. He has cleansed the unclean. He has forgiven sins. He has even raised the dead. And that’s only since chapter 4! Yes, the storm is dangerous, but remember who is with you in the boat! Remember who Jesus has shown himself to be, and instead of looking only at the storm, trust in the One whose power and authority has been so consistently displayed right before your very eyes. That’s what Jesus means when he asks, “Where is your faith?” He’s essentially telling the disciples, “Are you so quick to forget who I am, what I’ve done? Why do your eyes shift so quickly to see only the storm? Remember who I am, and trust me.”

And with this rebuke, brothers and sisters, Jesus brings this passage home to us. God’s Word always calls us to respond, and so, there is much we ought to learn from this rebuke in the boat. The Lord is speaking to us as well through his Word. What should we takeaway from this powerful moment?

First and most importantly, we should remember that faith must be exercised. Faith in Christ must be put into action. When the storm swooped down upon the disciples, they faced a critical fork in the road, you might say. On the one hand, they could focus on the storm and let fear swallow their hope. Or, they could exercise their faith in Christ and find refuge in who Jesus is. Of course, the disciples chose fear at that moment, but don’t miss the instruction there is for us. In the moment of crisis, faith in Christ is not our natural response. We tend toward fear, which should remind us that faith in Christ has to be put into action. It has to be exercised. Trusting in Jesus does not mean simply sitting on the sidelines of life, twiddling your thumbs hoping that you’ll feel close to the Lord. No, faith has to be put into practice.

Listen, I’m afraid this is why we are so often unsettled in times of crisis. It’s because we fall prey to the same mistake the disciples made – we focus on the storm, and we fail to exercise faith in the Lord. Trust in Christ is not our natural response – it has to be exercised in that moment of trial.

What does that look like, you ask? How do you exercise faith? Quite simply, it looks like reminding and remembering. You remind yourself of what is true about Jesus – how he has all power and authority; how he laid down his life for his people, eternally securing his church so that nothing can ultimately harm us; how even now he is reigning over the universe, orchestrating all things for the good of those who trust him. You remind yourself of what is true from God’s Word.

And then you remember how God has proven faithful in the past. You remember his care for his people throughout Scripture, and you remember that God doesn’t change. He’s the same God today as he was when he fed Israel with manna in the wilderness. He will feed me today. What’s more, you even remember his past faithfulness in your own life – how God met needs and answered prayers; how he demonstrated himself to be mighty and good and near to you in times of need. You remember. And here’s the point. In those acts of reminding and remembering, what are you doing? You are exercising your faith in Christ. You are putting faith into action.

That’s how faith happens in the crisis. Both reminding and remembering shifts our focus away from ourselves, away from our circumstances, and it puts the focus on the Lord God. This is one of the surprising things about faith – it’s actually not about finding strength inside of us to keep believing. Faith is always outward oriented, toward God. Why is that? Because faith takes its strength from its object. To find strength in times of trial, what do I do? I remind myself of what is true about God in Christ, I remember his faithfulness in the past, and in that exercise of faith, I find strength. That is the first lesson from Jesus’ rebuke – faith in Christ must be exercised.

A second lesson is this – faith in Christ is no silver bullet against trials. We ought to be careful not to have this passage say something it doesn’t say. Faith in Christ would not have prevented the storm from coming. That would be a mistaken conclusion. It’s not as though the disciples could have avoided the storm if only they had stronger faith. Jesus delivers the disciples through the trial, but he doesn’t promise to keep them from it. Trials and hardships are coming in life, and just like the storm in Luke 8, they often swoop down without warning.

And when that happens, brothers and sisters, it is not a sign that your faith is weak. I want you to hear me on this point. The presence of trials is not a verdict on your spiritual health or lack thereof. Trials will come – they are part of the Christian life.

But the point we should take away from Luke 8 is that we do have a refuge for those storms. We do have a reason for hope in the midst of trial. And our hope is this – that there is nothing in this world that can ever stand up against the power of Jesus Christ. He is the Word who commands the storm, and therefore, he is the Word who is worthy of our trust. We can bank on lives on this man Jesus, and we can do so with confidence that nothing will snatch us from his hand.

Think of it as an expression of gospel logic that leads to faith. I’m serious – work out the reasoning in your mind. If Christ can command the winds and the waves, then he can surely sustain and protect me in time of need. The storm will come, brothers and sisters, but praise God, the storm cannot overcome the Lord Jesus Christ.

And when we embrace that reality – when we learn, by faith, to see the One who is always in the boat with us during the storm, then we will find our hearts settled, rather than unsettled, in the face of trial. I’ll confess – this is hard for me to do. I am, by nature, an anxious person, and I am often unsettled by trials. But I praise God that there is an answer for anxious hearts like mine, and that answer is the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ.

As we close, I want to share with you a short selection from a sermon I read this week. The sermon is entitled, “God’s Sustaining Presence,” and it is by a theologian named John Webster, who is now with the Lord. The sermon is on Psalm 121, but I found this selection very fitting for our passage today. Webster describes how we can cultivate trust in God’s present help. This is what he writes:

God will watch us as we journey. God will keep us. It’s simple enough. But to get to those affirmations, we have to climb over a lot of rubble inside ourselves. We have to learn what is extraordinarily hard for us to learn: not to listen to our fears, not to be tossed around by whatever comes across our path; not to give credence to the lies that God has fallen asleep or just given up protecting us. Those things take a lifetime to learn for most of us, because learning them involves overcoming some of our most basic drives and desires and foolishness. But it’s only as we learn those things that we begin to live with a measure of Christian composure. Christian composure is a very particular thing, however. It’s an equanimity that it given to us, which we don’t make up from our own resources. It is given to us as we make our confession of the lordship of God, as we learn to praise God, how to trust the gospel, how to see all things in light of God’s mercy, how to keep our hearts by God’s promises.”

Christian composure. That’s what Jesus is calling us to here in Luke 8 – the response of a settled heart that is exercising faith in the lordship of Christ. Brothers and sisters, may God make us a community that is marked by Christian composure, rooted in faith, looking to our sovereign Lord, Jesus Christ. And as the world around us begins to scramble for something solid in this present storm, may we be steady in faith and ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. Amen.

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