Sunday, 21 May 2017
Discovering Again Who Jesus Is (Matt. 8:23-27)
Life with Jesus must have been full of surprises for his followers. I suspect the disciples were anticipating a surprising experience on this occasion, although the one they went through was probably not the one they had anticipated. What would have been the surprise they imagined? They knew they were going over the lake to Gentile areas, as we can see from verse 28. Perhaps they imagined Jesus doing incredible works there and bringing in lots of new followers to the Jewish faith. Jesus had something else in mind for them.
At a more mundane level, they might have expected a smooth sail. After all, it was very calm when they set out. The description of the storm indicates that it was not expected. So in God’s providence the disciples did not get what they would have expected and did get what was unexpected. And I suspect Matthew is saying, ‘Welcome to the unexpected life of discipleship that the followers of Jesus have!’
Yet we must observe that Jesus did not abandon them when the going became tough. He remained with them throughout the period of trouble. Each of the disciples could observe that Jesus was with them. He was not present in a kind of hidden way that would require a great deal of searching before they could find him. Granted his method of being present may not have pleased them – he was asleep – but still he was there. Better to have a Jesus who is asleep than not to have him, is what Matthew is saying.
Jesus was leaving the crowd behind. He had taught many people and he had helped many people in Capernaum. I suppose the question could have been asked as to whether Jesus did anything with only his disciples present. Did they need to have special moments with him? Obviously, Jesus wanted that to happen, and was about to happen when they were out on the boat. Matthew is about to show his readers that disciples need space to see the abilities of Jesus.
There is another obvious lesson from what happened in the boat and that is that Jesus did not do what the disciples were expected to do. He did not take a turn in rowing the boat even although things were hard for them. Sometimes we can give the impression that Jesus should do everything instead of us doing what we should do. We may ask Jesus to bless the gospel in our community, but he may expect us to tell people about it and then he will bless it.
The sweet rest
Matthew tells us that Jesus was asleep in the boat. Why? An obvious answer to that question is the possibility that he was tired from all the exertions that he had engaged in recently. Matthew did highlight the emotional cost in Jesus’ ministry when he said that the Saviour took our illnesses and bore our diseases, with the sad aspects of that pain being to the fore in that quotation. We cannot estimate accurately what seeing the effects of sin in people had on the Saviour, but we know that it would have been very powerful and distressing.
Another obvious answer to the question of how could he sleep in such a situation is that he had perfect trust in his Father. Jesus was constantly aware of the care of God throughout his life. We have no way of knowing whether he had ever been in a storm at sea before – the Gospels tell us that he would experience later another storm on the Sea of Galilee. But this may have been the first one. Whether it was or not, we can see that he trusted in God and was conscious of his care.
Maybe there is a third feature to his sleeping and that could be connected to his contentment with his true disciples. Prior to setting sail, Jesus had to correct two wrong disciples for their assumptions about discipleship. Those individuals were not true disciples. But now he was with the twelve probably, and while one of them was false the others were truly his. Surely, there would have been gladness in his heart at being with them. We could say that Jesus preferred to be with them in the storm than in the calm without them.
The simple prayer
In the storm, the disciples reveal that they had discovered what to do in a crisis, which was to ask Jesus for help. How did they expect Jesus to save them? They probably could not have answered such a point apart from saying that they knew that he could, even if they did not fully know how. Sometimes we want to know what the solution is before the solution is applied whereas at times it might be better to trust the solver.
We do this in life in different ways. When we sense that something is wrong with us physically we will go to the doctor, not because we know the remedy, but because we assume that he will know what to do. We elect politicians because we assume that they, and not us, know what to do. Of course, such gifted people will face matters in which they do not know the answers. But with Jesus he never finds himself in that location of failure. Disciples know that he will always have the answer although they usually will not.
Connected to this is the content of prayer. We can see from their petition that it was short, reverent, united and precise. The shortness is seen in the number of words, the reverence is seen in that they address him as Lord, the unity is seen in that they all approach him, and the precision is seen in the petition they make.
The call to pray raises the question as to whether we ever pray in non-urgent circumstances. Do disciples ever find themselves in a situation in which prayer is not made in a crisis? Which day last month did our prayers for the cause of Christ in our country not occur in a situation of crisis? We know that such a day did not happen. Which day last month did the devil or our own sinfulness not tempt us to say, think or do something wrong? It is possible for us not to regard it as a crisis, and the strength of our prayers will reveal what we think.
Moreover, we can see in this petition its suitability in a wide variety of situations. We have mentioned several of them already, but surely we can see that it is a suitable prayer for someone who wants to become a Christian. Why would anyone want to become a Christian? I sometimes hear people speculating why that would happen. At conversion, there is only one reason why genuine persons would want to become Christians and that is because otherwise they will perish. Why would anyone who did not believe they were perishing want to become a believer?
There are other situations in which this prayer is very suitable. They arise in the lives of disciples every day and therefore it is one we should use all the time. And it may be that using this petition will lead to a conversation, or at least to the awareness of a searching question.
The searching question
We may find it surprising that the first response of Jesus was to get the disciples to think about their spiritual state rather than deal immediately with their request for rescue. Of course, he did not take long to deal with the problem, but we do get a hint here of the priorities of Jesus.
It is important to realise that Jesus asked the question lovingly rather than in an accusing manner. We could say that he is speaking as a pastor rather than as a prosecutor. Or even as a doctor rather than a policeman. The Saviour mentions the cause of their problem. The problem was that they did not have a big enough faith in Jesus and this lack of grasping who he is led to fear.
Yet they had just expressed faith in Jesus when they brought their concerns to him. He wanted them to think about why they had the concerns in the first place. One reason was that they had not paid sufficient attention to his instruction in verse 18, which was that they would get to the other side. They had allowed the crisis of the moment to blur the certainty of his Word. We do that often, daily, hourly! In our troubles, we forget his promises and instead of expressing confidence in our faith we express panic. It is still faith, but it is little faith.
Do you think this statement is true: ‘A believer has no doubt that Jesus can bring into existence the new heavens and new earth, but he often has doubts that Jesus can bring him to dwell there?’ Why is that the case? The believer will mention his sins and his failures usually. Yet often he mentions them through his own assessment rather than by what the Bible says about them. The Bible tells us that we will be sinners until our last breath, that we will need to be forgiven, that we will be forgiven, and that one day those who trust in Jesus will be sinless. We either base our faith on our own assessment or on what the Bible says. And the base will determine whether we have confidence in Jesus or whether we will be like the disciples and panic.
This is not to suggest that we take our sin lightly. Obviously, we must treat it seriously. But what does it mean to treat it seriously? We take it seriously when we consider the greatness of the Saviour as well as the gravity of our sin
The staggering action
We can read the words of an eyewitness in the description in verse 26. Although it did not take long, the description is almost in slow motion. Jesus spoke to the disciples, then arose, and then rebuked the wind and the sea. The description invites to join in and watch the spectacle.
There is the process and there is the outcome and both reveal that Jesus is God. Here is the controller of creation, although here the creation is depicted as a possible enemy (he rebuked the winds and sea). Yet it obeys his command immediately. Here we have a visible reminder that there is nothing in the whole creation that can separate us from the love of God.
Matthew mentions that it was a great calm. I wonder what he meant by that. A great calm indicates more than the cessation of the winds and the pacifying of the sea. Maybe thinking of peace helps us. Peace is more than the absence of war and includes the sensation that all is well. No doubt, there would have been the contrast with the storm and the rapidity of the change. There would have been the external sight of a calm environment and the inner experience of amazement and delight.
Surely, Matthew is saying that here was the Prince of peace towering over the problems that prevent peace. Jesus gave to his disciples a window into the world to come, and through his servant Matthew he has given us the window as well. We should look through it often.
The striking question
Of course, the point of including the question is not for us to wonder about what they thought but about what we think. In a sense, we are better able to answer the question than they were, even although they were actually there. We know what kind of a man Jesus is. We know that he has all power in heaven and on earth. Does our knowledge lead us to be full of wonder at the glory and the grace of the Saviour? Because that is what a true disciple does.