Luke 8:22-25 “One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’”
Sudden storms are a feature of the Sea of Galilee which is surrounded by mountains except in the south where the Jordan flows down to the Dead Sea. Winds blow in from the Mediterranean in the south-west and create violent squalls known to every fisherman on the lake, but this particular storm was so horrendous that even fishermen thought they were lost. Four of the men in the boat had plied their trade fishing. Peter, Andrew, James and John had probably known the Sea of Galilee and its unexpected squalls from their boyhood. The sight of Christ commanding the winds and their obeying him would have particularly impressed these fishermen. So the conclusion of this extraordinary voyage is the fear and amazement of these men who knew him best, and knew the Lake best; “‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him’” (v.25).
This incident is recorded in the gospels to reveal the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. What other person in history speaks to the winds and waves and they obey him? That’s why we worship him and not any of them. King Canute and his fawning courtiers soon discovered that he had none of this power. You need to know the one with whom you have to deal, and all of you will have to deal with this Jesus because he says in the Sermon on the Mount that one day you and all the world will stand before him to be judged. Shouldn’t you know? Wouldn’t a motorist know something about the reputation of the motor mechanic to whom he is taking his car? Wouldn’t a woman know something of a man who is asking her to marry him? Shouldn’t parents know something of the background of a child whom they are considering adopting? If a girl is offered a job in the Middle East shouldn’t she know the men she’s to be working for, and the nature of her work before she gets on the plane? If a mother hires a child-minder shouldn’t she want some references? Beyond doubt these things should be so. So Luke wrote this gospel for a thoughtful inquirer named Theophilus for this same purpose, that he should become familiar with what Jesus of Nazareth is all about. The evangelist is saying, “Let me tell you what really happened one day when they were all together in a boat going across the lake.” Surely we must all prick up our ears and pay attention. You cannot learn enough of Jesus; you cannot know this Christ too well. We should be familiar with every incident in his life especially this occasion. It was set up by him because he said, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake” – and then this miraculous event happened; it occurred not in Narnia but on this planet, on a large inland lake in Israel called the Sea of Galilee. The event brought another dimension into this extraordinary life of Jesus which is revealed to us in this gospel.
It began so simply, a journey of five miles across the lake was interrupted by a growing wind which was worse anything these fishermen had ever seen. It could have been the middle of the Atlantic in a force ten gale. There seems to be even something preternatural about it, as though the god of this world wanted to send the boat and all on board to the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. The waves beat into the boat and the men couldn’t bail out fast enough; “The boat was being swamped and they were in great danger” (v.23). They were going to be drowned and they were terrified, while Jesus was sleeping through it all. The frightened disciples roughly roused Christ from his slumbers. “Master, master we are gong to drown” (v.23). Then “He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.” He mildly reproves the disciples for their unbelief and fears; “Where’s your faith?” The whole incident is over. That’s what happened on this occasion early on in the life of Christ. Let me use J.C.Ryle’s outline and material in his sermon, “The Ruler of the Waves,” in his indispensable book, Holiness.
1. STORMS ALWAYS COME INTO THE LIFE OF CHRIST’S DISCIPLES.
They were in the midst of the lake because of Christ. He had said, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake” (v.22). If he hadn’t asked them to do this they’d have been back in Capernaum that evening, smelling the supper being cooked, and looking forward to a night’s sleep, but he’d said, “Let’s go,” . . . and they went. Every day they accompanied him to the lakeside or mountain where he spoke, and then on the Sabbath they went with him to a synagogue. They had been drawn to him and they followed him, no matter the disapproval of the Herodians, or whatever the scoffing Pharisees said that they were following a servant of Beelzebub. Christ had become their example, their teacher, their lord, and they had faith in him. He’d summoned them from mending their nets, or from the tax office, and they’d obeyed. They’d given up everything for him, and soon they are discovering that it was not all plain sailing. There were times when he took them into a storm.
Had they imagined that they would be occupying places of authority in his new kingdom, or that soon they would be raising the dead, and healing the sick, and feeding multitudes with a few loaves and fishes? Would they be able to cast out demons with a word? Surely they themselves would be delivered automatically from sickness and bereavement. Yet this evening they were staring in the face death by drowning, and more scared than at any time in their lives. James and John had been in their boat a thousand times with Zebedee their old father and they had never been afraid as they were now.
My point is this, that when we follow Jesus may he not take us into painful encounters with death? A few years ago Gracia Burnham and her husband Martin were kidnapped for 376 days by Muslim terrorists in the Philippines and she in particular had a lot of thinking to do. They had gone to the Philippines at the call of God to make Jesus Christ known, and there in the Philippines they were abducted at gun point, and there in the Philippines her husband was shot dead. She speaks of his courage and quiet wisdom through their abduction but speaks disparagingly of her own weak faith; “Martin learned what an emotional wretch I am,”she said. “Poor guy! Yeah, we found out a lot about each other. He just stayed steady. I became miserable and I cried all the time.” She was no different from any of Christ’s disciples.
J.C.Ryle says, “If you are a believer, you must reckon on having your share of sickness and pain, of sorrow and tears, of losses and crosses, of deaths and bereavements, of partings and separations, of vexations and disappointments, so long as you are in the body. Christ never undertakes that you shall get to heaven without these. He has undertaken that all who come to him shall have all things pertaining to life and godliness; but he has never undertaken that he will make them prosperous, or rich, or healthy, and that death and sorrow shall never come to their family” (J.C.Ryle, Holiness, “The Ruler of the Waves,” James Clarke and Co., London 1956, p.198). As God’s people in the world we face suffering from various quarters:
i] For one thing, we are not immune to the ordinary sufferings and privations of human life, those things that William Shakespeare summed up in the phrase, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Illness, family break-up, miscarriage, senility – they come into Christian homes as they come into every home.
ii] Again, we face collectively as God’s people, hostility for our beliefs. Though we know it in only a modified form in Wales today, yet it is developing here and we know of brothers and sisters all over the world who are being called upon to endure real sufferings because of their faith in Christ.
iii] Again, we know that Christians are exposed to the buffetings of Satan. In some mysterious way the devil sometimes has direct access to believers to torment, to tempt and to depress them. That is a reality again for many of God’s people today. It is certainly a factor in my life. There are ordinary trials which we experience which are compounded and made worse by the devil himself.
iv] There are sufferings that come in the course of Christian service. This was the first taste the disciples had of being taken somewhere by their Lord and facing death. God was to lay new obligations on them, and soon these Galilean fishermen would be travelling from one place to another, facing separations, privations, physical demands and opposition. James here in the boat, was soon to be killed for his faith in Christ. There was the great sadness they experienced as false teaching quickly arose in the churches which they had planted from other professing Christians and false brethren. All these things were incidental to their service.
Remember when God first called Saul of Tarsus he said to the perplexed, “I will show him what great things he must suffer for my name sake.” I am saying that these are still realities for Christian people; the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; the persecution that emanates from the world’s hatred of the people of God; the additional sufferings of Satan; the privations that are often a part of our Christian duty. Such things are still part of our believing experience.
More than that, Christ’s disciples are not supermen. We are told of the twelve that their faith vanished when the storms blew. “Where is your faith?” he said to them. We are not stoics, or Buddhas; we are not Christian computers, programmed to take things in our stride. Our bodies feel strain; our bodies feel pain; our bodies feel weariness. We have a central nervous system which works like anyone else’s; it is going to feel stress; it is going to buckle under the pressure of our own providence. We have minds and psychologies which are vulnerable to fear, regret, sorrow, anxiety, just like any other human psychology.
We delude ourselves if we imagine that if we had been in a boat looking at Jesus asleep there we could have faced any storm. We would have been the cool, calm, collected men. No way! We would have been no different from them. The objective reality of suffering, and the physical sensitivity to pain, and the emotional vulnerability – all are here in the ship. God is showing us through the reaction of these disciples that the Lord makes sure we feel the strain. We see these disciples placed by God’s providence in situations of extraordinary rigour, and we watch them buckling and panicking. In the crucible they react no different from ourselves. We say, “Thank you Lord for showing me that you allow your children at least to bend in the face of the storm.” God’s people survive today in the storms of Afghanistan, China, Congo, India, Pakistan, Iraq – I mean that they survive meaningfully; they hold to their faith in that kind of situation. On the resurrection morning we shall all acknowledge, “It was good for me that I was afflicted.” We shall thank God for every storm.
Graham and Tessa Pole of the Hook Evangelical Church in Surbiton had spent a total of sixty years in hospital and residential care before they were married. They both suffer from cerebral palsy. They became Christians and were married. They are both in wheelchairs. You might ask them, “If there is a God, why are you in a wheel chair and so disabled?” They will reply like this. “Because this is how God wanted me to be, and also it shows what you can do from a wheelchair.”
2. OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST WAS REALLY AND TRULY A MAN.
How does Luke begin his Gospel? In the same way as all the other Gospel-writers begin theirs, with a statement concerning the divinity of Jesus Christ. Matthew begins by introducing to us the person who is “Immanuel, God with us.” John tells us, “the Word was God.” Mark begins, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Luke in his opening paragraphs gives us an angelic announcement: “the holy thing that is born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” I say to you that that is always where the New Testament begins, not with the humanity but the Godhead of the Redeemer. It does so for this reason, that he was God before he became man. The Godhead is the first thing, and the Godhead gave him identity. He is the Son of God before he comes, when he comes, and after he comes. If we are asked his identity then he is always the Son of God.
But this divine Creator becomes man. Then, what kind of man is he? He is a true man. In other words, he is a very weary man who sleeps deeply on a cushion on the deck of a pitching boat in the middle of a horrendous storm. Ghosts don’t sleep. Shadows don’t sleep. A god disguised in human form, the mere seeming-to-be-a-man – he wouldn’t crash out exhausted, but Jesus Christ does. He is a true man with a real human body. This isn’t a sham or a show, something that looks like a man. He is truly and genuinely man. None of this incident was caused by ‘special effects.’
We must never be embarrassed by that humanity so that we try to qualify, or distort it, or lessen, or weaken in any way the great concern that the New Testament has to tell us time and again that he was true man. Now that is especially important concerning the body of Christ. His body wasn’t a ghostlike shell. His body had the same chemical constitution as ours. It had the same anatomy, and the same physiology. It had its own peculiar and distinctive genetic inheritance, and a normal man’s physical limitations. It was not a body of measureless stamina or limitless energy. It was finite so that it could be weary . . . exhausted . . . utterly enervated . . . pierced . . . lacerated. He sweated, he spat, he wept, he killed some fish. Ghosts do none of those things.
The Lord Christ had everything that consists of humanness – every constituent . . . component . . . faculty . . . attribute. Everything that makes manliness and manhood – those were all there, a body and a soul. The human psychology of Christ was also perfectly human. His soul lacked nothing of ordinary humanness. He had a true human mind which grew in wisdom. He had true human affections, so that he knew not only holy divine love for God, but he knew the love of family affection. His brotherly affection for John was rich and special. He knew the human emotions of joy and sorrow, fear and apprehension. I am saying that his physique was similar to mine, and his psychology too was identical with mine, sin only excepted.
Nothing that was human was alien to him, none of our sinless infirmities . . . thought processes . . . decision-making processes . . . emotional experiences. He has entered into all of these in a humanness of the same constitution and of the same composition as our own. He needed the Holy Spirit; he confessed his faith in baptism; he read and memorised the Scriptures; he went to the throne of grace and addressed his Father in heaven; he experienced sorrow and bereavement; he was sensitive to the sufferings of others, he knew a fear of death. In so many quarters today there is a denial of our Lord’s deity while an exclusive attention is paid to the human Christ, but we must never react against that and ignore his humanity, because the glory of God is that he became frail flesh and died.
Many of our problems stem from the absence of a controlling awareness of the Lord Jesus and a reluctance to let his humanity discipline and inform our own ambitions. We are the followers of an enfleshed Christ, an involved . . . emotional . . . humiliated . . . serving . . . despised Christ. All of these great facts are of enormous influence while we come to decide on the tone and quality of our own lifestyle, both collective and individual. That is why it is important for us to keep coming back constantly to a scene like this, the Word who was with God and was God, who made all things and upholds all things, and he is exhausted, sleeping on a cushion. So we have a true man, and we have a perfect man, and then we have this, a permanent man.
In other words, the Son of God didn’t take humanness just for a little. When he was humiliated he did not cease to be God, and when he ascended and was exalted he did not cease to be man. Jesus today is still that man who was once in the boat. In the midst of the throne of God he sits with a human body and psychology. He is recognisable to Peter and Andrew and James and John and the three Marys. Of course that body of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, exhausted and asleep is now transfigured and transformed. He who watches over us neither slumbers nor sleeps. He no longer prays with strong cryings. God has glorified that body. It looks very different from the body in the boat. God has given him all power on earth and in heaven. God has ended the weariness and weakness. Jesus knows no more heartache, and sheds no more tears, but he is still, and for ever, a true man, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.
Let me say again, that it is enormously important that we should rid our minds altogether of any sense of embarrassment at the humanness of Christ. We are not as evangelicals going to defend his deity better by ceasing to emphasise his humanness. We are utterly wrong if we think that Jesus was only pretending to be tired and asleep to test the disciples. Jesus had really crashed out. That is his glory. He was so gracious that he became a true man and dwelt amongst us. His example would be of no value to us unless he was a man like us.
Because he has known manhood in our lowly condition then he is able to sympathise with us today. He has known what it is to be exhausted, to weep at the death of one he loved, to give, and give, and give of himself; to be misunderstood and misrepresented; to be absolutely alone; to be surrounded by unsympathetic and hostile people; to feel that he had reached the end of his strength, to doubt whether he could take any more. He remembers we are dust because he has been dust. He knows our frame because it continues to be his frame. He has been in the deepest condition of our predicament and the most appalling extremities of our situation. He has been in them all, and so he is touched by the feelings we have of how infirm and weak we are.
Here is God the Son, and what a strange place to see him, sleeping in exhaustion on a cushion in a boat. But there will be a stranger place where soon he will be found, nailed to a cross between two thieves. It is a man immolated on Golgotha. It is a man who was made sin. It is a man who became the anathema. It is a man who became obedient unto death. It is a man who cries at last, “It is finished.” He dies there as the last Adam. In his manhood he obeys, and as a man he offers the glory of perfect human obedience. His righteousness is human as well as being divine.
So I am saying lay hold of this humanity sleeping on the Sea of Galilee. Do not underestimate it. It is because he is man that there is example for us to walk in his steps, and atonement for our sins, and compassion for us.
3. OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AS GOD, HAS ALMIGHTY POWER.
You hear men say that in the gospels you have the humanity of Christ while in the epistles you have his deity. That is a gross over-exaggeration. In it in this gospel we are told that “He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm” (v.24). That is Deity! You are aware that none of the miracles of our Lord are discontinuous with the works God has been doing through his servants the prophets during the Old Testament. Even when Jesus raised the dead we remember the mighty works of Elijah and Elishah when by the power of the same God they raised some boys to life. The marvelous teaching of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount is full of Old Testament Scripture. But it is particularly in Jesus’ power over the forces of creation that we are reminded of the God of the Old Testament. There are the acts of creation in Genesis one, how immediately light and life are made. The sun and moon and stars are created by divine fiat. Birds and fishes are made, and so are the animals. Man is made from the dust of the earth, fully developed by an act of God, and then woman is made after Adam, from Adam, and for Adam. Nothing that is made is a part of God, in other words, it is not an extension of God. We say it is ontologically distinct from God. It has a different ‘being’ from the essence of God. It is created stuff with a beginning and end. It needs to be sustained by him. It has no independent existence apart from its Creator. It lives and moves and has its being in him. He upholds all things by his mighty power. So the creation is not to be worshipped. But it is to be respected as made by him. So the Christ in the boat was once there in Genesis one.
Then you will recall there was the great flood at Noah’s time which destroyed the world. It operated by God’s decrees. It can only be understood by a supernatural judgment of God. We can ask questions about it for which we have no possible answers, because its origin was an act of God akin to the last judgment when the world as we know it today shall end. How he will destroy and rebuild new the vast universe as we see it we have no comprehension.
Then you remember the children of Israel living for four hundred years amongst all the idols of Egypt. There the Egyptians (who were then the mightiest nation in the world) worshipped the river, and they worshipped creatures like frogs, and they worshipped blood, and their worshipped cattle, and they worshipped the sun, and they worshipped their firstborn. Then Jehovah acted and he rebuked them. His judgment fell upon on all those things; he destroyed them, even turning the sun to darkness. He showed his power over all the things they worshipped. Then you remember how he opened up the waters of the Red Sea so that the children of Israel could cross it dry foot. What is a desert to its Creator? He can make springs flow from a rock.
I am telling you that throughout the Old Testament the power of the Creator over his creation is evident. He can withhold rain for three years, and then he can pour it out. He can make an axe-head float. He can make the sun stand still. He can put a shield around his servants in a burning fiery furnace so that they are not burned. The psalmist said that God “stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven” (Psa. 107:29&30). Agur in the book of Proverbs says that God “has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands” (Provs. 30:4). Nahum says that “God’s way is in the whirlwind and the storm . . . He rebukes the sea and dries it up” (Nahum 1:3&4).
So this mighty Creator and Sustainer of everything who has spoken to us by his prophets, has in these last days addressed us intimately and incarnationally by his own dear Son the Lord Christ. There in the boat on Galilee is Jehovah Jesus. From eternity he has been with God. He has shared fully in the glory of God. He has all the attributes of God, and all the perfections of God. His are all the names of God, and all the divine functions, like creation, providence and judgment. He has all the rights, prerogatives and entitlements of God. Without him God made nothing, and everything that was made was made by him.
So the Lord Christ is sovereign over the material universe. We see it here. We feel the wind; it has mass and it has weight. The weight of the atmosphere exerts a pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch at sea level. So we can estimate that on the ship the weight of the atmosphere was about 20 tons. Then there is the acreage of the Lake and the weight of the atmosphere on it, and our Lord controls it all. There are the billions of molecules in the air and sea and he is Lord of them all. He must be if he is the Lord. If there was one maverick molecule in all the universe not under the control of Jesus Christ then he would not be Lord.
There are no rogue elements in the heaven or on the earth or under the earth that are free of his control. If you took the wings of the morning and flew outside of the Milky Way to new constellations and galaxies the first thing you would find there would be the King of creation. His rule is over all the cosmos. He governs every star with its planets, their composition and movements. He appoints, determines and controls every system. He has imposed upon them all his laws and they submit to his will. My whole environment is one made by my Saviour. It expresses the mind of the Saviour and is coherent with all the intelligence of the Saviour. He is wisdom, and grace, and love; he made the world. The world cannot contain anything in it which is at variance with him.
4. HOW TENDERLY JEHOVAH JESUS DEALS WITH HIS OWN PEOPLE.
We are told that Christ slept through this raging storm and it was necessary for the men to rouse him: “Master, master,” they shouted, without tenderness. He was going to enter the lake of fire for them. That’s why he was with them, because he loved them and was going to save them from that, but they didn’t appreciate how deep was his love, just like we don’t. They allowed the storm to come between them and the assurance of their Master’s devotion. He had said to them, “Let’s go over to the other side”. That is where they were going, because he had said it. Read his lips, “to the other side.” They were not going into the depths of the sea. They had failed to hang on to his word. They had forgotten so soon their Master’s power and care for them. All they thought of was their present peril. The noise of the wind and waves had silenced the voice of Jesus.
J.C.Ryle says, “The apostles believed in Christ, loved Christ, and gave up all to follow Christ, and yet you see in this storm the apostles were afraid. Learn to be charitable in your judgment of them. Learn to be moderate in your expectations from your own heart. Contend to the death for the truth that no man is a true Christian who is not converted, and is not a holy man. But allow that a man may be converted, have a new heart, and be a holy man, and yet be liable to infirmity, doubts and fears” (J.C.Ryle, op cit p.206).
How tender was Christ! He didn’t say, “You disappoint me! Have I been with you so long and you think I don’t care? Shame on you.” Before he said a word to them calmed the sea and then when there was a complete calm he asked them a question: “Where is your faith?” (v.24). “What do you see in our Lord’s behaviour towards these disciples all through his ministry? You see nothing but unchanging pity, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, and love. He does not cast them off for their stupidity. He does not reject them for their unbelief. He does not dismiss them for ever for their cowardice. He teaches them as they are able to bear. He leads them step by step, as a mother does an infant when it first begins to walk. He sends them kind messages as soon as he is risen from the dead . . . He restores Peter to his place, and bids him ‘feed his sheep'” (J.C.Ryle, op cit p.210).
Jesus is talking about our trust. There’s a great principle in Scripture: “Be it unto you according to your faith.” The famous 11th chapter of the letter to the Hebrews tell us of those men and women who did so much for God because they trusted in him. They trusted in his promises, and in the crosses he sent them, and even through the losses. They trusted in him when he opened doors and when he closed them. How is it with you? When Charles Wesley was sailing back across the Atlantic returning from his hapless time in Georgia a great storm struck the ship and Wesley was terrified. Yet the Moravians, the evangelical Christians on board, gathered together and prayed and sang some psalms. “Alas,” wrote Wesley in his diary that night, “I have a fair-weather Christianity.” And you, when storms erupt in your lives do you show that you are trusting in the Lord? Cry to him for more and more faith, and do not stop>
You have heard this day four things.
First, that following Christ will not keep you from storms. The best of Christians are liable to experience them.
Second, that Jesus Christ was really and truly a man.
Third, that Jesus Christ has all power as God the Son.
Fourthly, that our Lord is so tender in dealing with us.
Remember these lessons and you will have learned much. Best of all read more of the four Gospels. Become better acquainted with Christ. Let those of you are who are not yet Christians know more about the Lord Jesus Christ that you may have eternal life through believing on him. Let those of you who know him get to know him and trust him far more than you do, that you may become more happy, more holy and ready to be with him for evermore. As J.C.Ryle ends his classic sermon on this incident, “He will be the holiest man who learns to say with Paul, ‘To me to live is Christ.’”
2nd November 2008 GEOFF THOMAS