And when he got to 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. They went and woke him, saying, "Save us, Lord, for we are perishing." He said, "Why are you afraid, oh you of little faith?" Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea and there was a great clam, and the men marveled, saying, "What sort of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey him?"
On June 9th, 1973, a horse by the name of Secretariat rode off into human history and catapulted onto the hearts of humanity. The setting was the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the infamous Triple Crown (the three most renowned horse races in the country). Secretariat arrived amidst great fanfare. He had won the previous two legs of the Triple Crown, so people were beginning to wonder, Would this be the first horse in years to win all three Triple Crown races? Yet horse racing experts were concerned because the Belmont Stakes wasn't necessarily suited to Secretariat's strength. Secretariat was given to strong bursts of speed and energy, but this was going to be more of a marathon race; the track was a mile and a half long. Could Secretariat pull it off?
When the bell sounded, Secretariat took off fast! The horse racing experts thought that surely Secretariat would not be able to maintain the pace and speed at which he was going, but as the race progressed, not only did he maintain the pace, but he ran faster and faster, lengthening his lead until he did the unthinkable: Secretariat won the race by 31 links, a record that had never before been seen.
Equally as astonishing as his record that day was the reaction of people in the crowd. Several eyewitnesses said that as Secretariat was racing his historical pace, people could be seen in the stands literally weeping. In fact, the great golfer Jack Nicklaus, who was at home watching the race on television, had tears trickling down his face as Secretariat won.
Several weeks ago my wife and I had a couple over, and we watched the ESPN Sportscenter documentary about Secretariat. When it got to the part at the Belmont Stakes, the wife of the couple said, "Watching this race just makes me marvel at God. It makes me want to worship him." When she said that, something in my soul leaped and clicked for me. God did not create Secretariat with his extraordinary gift, his extraordinary beauty, and his extraordinary abilities for us to worship the horse. He didn't create the horse for us to Ooh and Ahh at the horse. But he created Secretariat with all of his gifts, with all of his beauty, and propelled him onto the world stage at the Belmont Stakes, that we might look at his creation, as Paul says in Romans 1, and use creation as a means to worship the Creator.
I'm really convinced that in every generation, God does this: he gives an individual an extraordinary amount of ability, an extraordinary amount of giftedness, an extraordinary amount of beauty, and he puts that individual on the world stage, not so that we worship and gawk at the creation, but that we might worship him—the Creator. He did not create Muhammad Ali for us to worship Muhammad Ali. He did not create Michael Jackson for us to worship Michael Jackson. He did not create Michael Jordan for us to Ooh and Ahh at Jordan; but he created these individuals and gave them their extraordinary gifts that we might be in awe of God.
Hear this, American Christian: Matthew 8:23-27 is not ultimately given to us to say that God wants to calm the storms in our lives. In fact, this passage goes against our American culture and expectation. This passage about the sovereignty of God calls us to do what the disciples did in verse 27: "And the men marveled." Ultimately, this passage is not about you. It's not about your storms. It's about the beauty and majesty of Christ. As a secondary application, we can learn some things about navigating storms, and we're going to talk about that. But ultimately, this passage is about Jesus, his authority, his greatness. It's not about you.
Jesus' power and authority over all of life
A distinctive of Matthew's gospel is that he is writing to a religious people, namely, the Jews. He's writing to people who go to the temple and offer sacrifices. He's writing to people who memorize the first five books of the Bible. He's writing to individuals who give on average around 20 percent to the church. He's writing to highly religious people. The very fact that Matthew writes a gospel to religious people tells us that if a religious person dies without the gospel, he or she goes to hell. In Matthew chapter 7, in very horrific terms, Jesus says to a group of religious people: "I can't let you into the kingdom."They say: "Didn't we cast out demons in your name? Didn't we prophecy in your name? Didn't we heal in your name?" And Jesus says: "Yes, but I never knew you."
The great tragedy of hell will be that lying right next to each other will be virgins and fornicators, will be highly moral people and highly immoral people, will be huge philanthropists and huge hoarders. Lying right next to each other will be church attending people and atheists. No amount of giving, no amount of church attendance, and no amount of serving in ministry is enough to save you.
A couple years ago, two Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on our door, and we invited them in. There's a little game I like to play with Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. When they come to my house, they have no idea what they're getting into. Usually when there are two of them, it means that one of them is the expert and one is the novice, so I like asking questions to the novice the whole time. I like looking at the novice the whole time. So I invite these two people in, and I start talking to the novice Jehovah's Witness. I said, "So tell me about this 144,000 thing," and he says, "Well, the 144,000 to us is kind of like a first class section of heaven." I said, "Oh really? So there's like a coach section?" "Yeah." Then I asked him, "Well, are you trying to get into the 144,000?" He said, "Yeah." "So how do you know when you make it in?" He said, "Well, you know, we're trying to do all this stuff like knocking on houses like yours, and if I do enough sharing and other things, then I'll have a shot." I said, "At what point do you ever say, 'I've done enough?'"
This is the problem with religion. You never get there. You never arrive at "enough," so you're always in this rat race, always on this treadmill to do, do, do. That's why, for the most part, religious people know nothing of sustained joy. Some of the most miserable people are religious people who are basing their righteousness on their works. I said to this Jehovah's Witness, "You need to understand that the major difference between Christianity and every other world religion is that the gospel says: You can't do it. You can't give enough; you can't pray enough; you can't do enough moral things. That's why Jesus says: I'll do it for you. And then we don't have to do good things; rather, we get to do good things. That's the gospel.
In our text today, we see Jesus in the midst of a storm. As he has done to his followers and to those who have sought him in desperation, Jesus puts his finger to his lips and says to the elements, "Peace, be still." He exercises authority over the elements.
The word authority is a fitting word for Matthew chapter 8. We see him in the opening verses exercising authority over disease, in these verses we're looking at today, we see him exercising authority over creation, and later in the chapter, we see him exercising authority over demons. Everything about Matthew chapter 8 thus far has to do with the King Jesus exercising authority.
So, what is authority? Well, Matthew and all the New Testament was written in a language called Greek. There are two Greek words that point to the idea of authority. The first word is exousia. Exousia is unquestioned authority that is tied into a person's position. For example, as a parent I have authority over my kids. So if say to my kids, "Make your bed," I'm not saying, "Let's have a discussion about it." I'm exercising exousia. The other Greek word related to authority is the word dunamis, from which we get the English word dynamite. This speaks of explosive authority or power.
In the game of football, those with dunamis, explosive power, are your 300-plus-pound linemen. At a moment's notice, they can put someone out for the season. That's explosive power. But in the game of football, ultimate authority, exousia, belongs to some short, pudgy men donning black and white-striped shirts—the referees. In a moment's notice, the referee can blow the whistle and send the 300-pound lineman to the sidelines, drastically changing the direction of the game. And this is Jesus Christ. We see him in a moment's notice blowing the whistle, and a leper is cured. In a moment's notice, he throws the flag, and a Centurion's servant is healed. In a moment's notice, he calls the play and creation bows. He has exousia—authority that is so tied into his person and position so that even the winds and the waves obey him.
Jesus leads us into life's storms
The storm that takes place in our text happens on the Sea of Galilee. I've been there, as have several of you. The Sea of Galilee sits about 680 feet below sea level. Because of this, it is, for the most part, a warm, tranquil environment. But there's one problem—one geographical nuance of the Sea of Galilee: to the west, the sea is flanked by a succession of valleys and gullies. When cold air gets trapped there, these valleys and gullies will create somewhat of a funnel. Once this happens, the cold air will ultimately be pushed into the warm air of the Sea of Galilee, and in this collision, a storm is created. This sea is known from turning, in a moment's notice, from extreme peace and tranquility into a violent storm.
We see this immediate change in verse 24. Look at the first two words: "And behold, there arose a great storm." These words paint a picture of suddenness—Bam! Just like that they go from peace to storm. The text says in verse 24 that this is a "great storm"—in Greek, a mega seismic. It must've been a great storm, because these fishermen, who have spent countless hours on the Sea of Galilee, are afraid. The boat begins to swamp, to be covered by water, and these men fear for their lives.
Have you ever been there? Have you ever been cruising along in life when all of sudden—Bam!—a mega seismic hits? In her powerful and painful memoir, A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown, Cupcake, as a little girl, wakes up one morning to find her mama dead in bed. Because Cupcake didn't know who her father was, she became a ward of the state. She was placed in a foster home where she was raped repeatedly. And this begins a succession of mega seismics. Have you ever been there?
My wife and I have. In the euphoria of our first year of marriage, we got pregnant, and we were so excited. We were telling everybody about it; and then—Boom!—just like that, we're sitting in a hospital room in Georgia being told there was no baby. Have you ever been there?
My wife and I have a dear friend name Connie Cross, one of the most godly women we've ever known. Connie loved Jesus, served Jesus, and discipled women. She was all about the Great Commission. But three weeks after she got married for the first time, in her mid-forties, Connie was diagnosed with cancer. Eighteen months later, she died. Mega seismic.
Here's a question we have to ask: how did these fishermen find themselves in the midst of a storm? How do they end up fretting for their lives? The answer is in verse 23: "And when Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him." How did they get into the storm? By following Jesus.
Let me make two statements here. The first is harmless; the second will rattle your cage. Statement number one: Following Jesus does not incubate you from the storms of life. Following Jesus does not mean you won't have problems or troubles. Here's the second statement, and it comes right out of the text: Sometimes God doesn't just allow storms, but he decrees them. Not all the time, but sometimes. Sometimes I experience the mega seismics of life, and I ain't done nothing wrong. This isn't me playing the part of Jonah. We know that Jonah's storm came because God needed to turn him around. But this text in Matthew tells me that sometimes I can dot all my theological i's, cross all my theological t's, tithe, do all that I can for God, and yet I can still find myself in the middle of a storm because he led me there. That is a very un-American thing to say, I know, because we subscribe to an American Jesus, who exists for our happiness. He would never do anything like that, would he? Well, with those statements, let me give you some Bible.
Let's go to Psalm 23. We love that Psalm, don't we? I mean, even if you're here today and you don't know Jesus, you probably know Psalm 23. We just love this Psalm's poetic language: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." David is picturing God as a shepherd, and at the same time posturing himself as a sheep. Here he is following his shepherd. Look where following God gets him: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." David tells us that he ends up in the valley. And how did he get in the valley? Like any sheep who ends up in the valley, he's been following his shepherd.
Let's look earlier at Genesis 45, the grand crescendo of the Joseph story. Talk about experiencing mega seismic after mega seismic. He has been betrayed by his brothers, left in a pit, and sold into slavery. Once in slavery, he is lied about by Potiphar's wife, and then he is thrown in jail. Once in jail, he is forgotten about. Finally, at the crescendo of the story, he stands in front of his brothers and says this:
I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt! And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me for you to preserve life. Famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest, hear it. And God sent me for you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and keep alive for you many survivors.
When Joseph looks at the span of all he's been through, he places it all under the sovereignty of God. God did it.
Let's go to Jonah 4, starting with verse 6: "The Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant." God does decree things for us to enjoy. But look at what else he decrees in verses 7-8: "When dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint, and he asked that he might die and said, 'It is better for me to die than to live.'" Are you getting this? Yes, God at times appoints things that we like, and it's wonderful. The same God at times appoints stuff that we hate, mega seismics.
Let's look at one more. I'm dismantling American Jesus for you. Job chapter 2 is right on the heels of when Job has lost everything—his possessions, his health, all of his children. Job :9-10 says this, "Then his wife said to him, 'Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die.'" And Job says, "'You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and not receive evil?"
Are you tracking with this? You can be in the middle of getting chemo injected in your veins and be right where God wants you. In fact, let me just say it: some of you will be blessed to have God trust you enough with cancer. Matt Chandler, a pastor in Denton, Texas, has brain cancer. He's 36 years old. I love what he says: "Thank God that he trusts me with this."
Sometimes God does not only allow the cancer; he does not only allow the unemployment; he does not only allow the wayward child. Sometimes he decrees it.
Why does God do this? Let's look at Romans 8:28 "And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose." All things. Good times, tranquil times, and mega seismic times. All things are working together for our good.
My youngest son, Jaden, is five years old. When he's at the doctor and a needle comes his way, the kid goes crazy. He's flexing all his muscles, he's screaming and hollering, and we say things to him like, "Jaden, calm down, this is for your good! You're sick, and this will help you! I know it will hurt for a little bit, but you just need to calm down." But he doesn't hear any of it. As a child, he can't see past the needle. I'm 37 years old. I've had surgeries. I've had needles and knives come my way. But at age 37, I don't freak out over needles and knives. I'm able to see past them and understand that the doctor isn't trying to inflict pain on me for the sake of inflicting pain. He's got good for me. Now, what's the difference between me and Jaden? Jaden can't see the good that's coming his way. I can see past the pain to that good. So many of you are like Jaden. You can't see past the mega seismics. God is asking you to trust him. He has good for you. Yeah, it's going to hurt a little bit, but he has good for you. Trust him.
Jesus walks with us through life's storms
You might still be asking, How do we navigate these storms? That is a secondary application of this text, so let me address that real quick here. So here are these fishermen, their boat is being swamped by water, and Jesus is asleep. My answer to the question of how to navigate the storms is this: look to the sleeping Jesus.
I travel a lot. The truth about traveling on an airplane is that you're bound to hit some turbulence. It's sobering to think of a plane that's 35,000 feet up in the air being rocked by wind. Whenever turbulence hits, I do the same thing: I look immediately to the flight attendant. If the flight attendant is still serving snacks, looking calm and collected, I'm good. But if they sit down, buckle in, and get a nervous look on their face, I start freaking out. They are the experts. Their demeanor has a profound impact on mine.
Likewise, the text tells us that if Jesus is asleep, you can rest. If Jesus isn't worried, it's not because he doesn't love you; it's not because he isn't concerned. He loves you and he is concerned. But if he can sleep, so should you. For some of you, your most courageous step of faith should be to go to sleep. Look to the sleeping Jesus.
Look also to the standing Jesus. When the fishermen wake Jesus, they say, "Save us, Lord, we are perishing." He says to them, "Why are you afraid, oh you of little faith?" The text says that he rose. This passage is rich in its Christological context. For here we see a sleeping Jesus and a standing Jesus. In this passage we see a Jesus who sleeps, showing us his full humanity, but we also see a Jesus who stands and rebukes the wind and the waves, showing us the deity of Jesus. In this passage, we see a Jesus who is fully man and fully God. Creation is his employee.
Colossians 1:15-17 expounds on this. It says of Jesus, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him, and he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." How is he able to stand and say, "Peace, be still"? Because creation works for him; it's not the other way around.
After Jesus rebukes the winds and the sea, Scriptures says there is a great calm. The mega seismic is now a mega calm. Just like that. Now we get to verse 27. Here is why the text is given to us: "And the men marveled." To marvel is to have your eyes pop out of your head. It means to be amazed, to be astonished. But notice that these men don't marvel that the storm stopped. They're not marveling at their new circumstances. They're marveling at the man who stopped the circumstances. To marvel at changed circumstances is as foolish as marveling at the basketball that goes through the hoop to gain the winning points. You don't marvel at the basketball; you marvel at the one who shoots it. Likewise, the fishermen are not marveling that the situation has changed; they're marveling at the one who spoke the words that changed the circumstance. They're marveling at Jesus.
When I fell in love with my wife Korie, it came time to get her a diamond ring. This posed a problem for me because I was broke. So I tracked down a jeweler who would let me do a layaway plan. But before I did that, I started talking to different jewelers. I would walk in and say, "I'm looking for this carat diamond in this kind of a setting," and they would take out the diamond and set it on a black piece of cloth. That black cloth caused the brilliance and radiance of the diamond to pop. That diamond would not have shown as brightly if it had just been on the glass counter, but when you put it on the black background, it shone.
The mega seismics in your life is the black cloth. The cancer is the black cloth; the unemployment is the black cloth; the wayward child is the black cloth; the relational stress is the black cloth. But God allows and appoints the black cloth to be there so that the brilliance of his son Jesus might pop. When people see you going through the storms, going through the health scare, may they marvel not at your deliverance but at the One who saw you through. For he alone is worthy. He alone is our Father. He alone is good.
Bryan Loritts is the Lead Pastor of Abundant Life Church in Silicon Valley, California