Authority to Calm and Restore
Matthew, chapter 8, introduces us to the authority of Jesus and how people react to that authority. Last week, we heard how He had the authority and will to cleanse the leper. That was followed by healing the centurion’s servant simply by speaking His powerful word (Mt. 8:1-13). Then He authoritatively healed Peter’s mother-in-law, helped many who were oppressed by demons, and healed other illnesses. He fulfilled the prophecy that said, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Mt. 8:17; Is. 53:4).
Then came a scribe. He wanted to follow Jesus wherever He would go. Jesus had to warn him: unlike foxes and birds of the air, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Mt. 8:20). The scribe could not conceive that Jesus was not about self-promotion or His own comfort. Nor could the scribe comprehend that following Jesus means surrendering all guarantees of a comfortable, secure existence in this fallen world. He missed it on the purpose of Jesus’ authority. That authority will lead Jesus to sacrifice Himself upon a cross. Those who follow Him may expect the same cross-shaped life of self-sacrifice.
Then came another of Jesus’ disciples. “First, let me bury my father,” he instructed Jesus. Sounds reasonable. But who knows how long until that would happen? This guy was putting family obligations above allegiance to Jesus. He missed it on the priority of Jesus’ authority. So Jesus gave a stern command: “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Mt. 8:22). Translation: Jesus calls those who follow Him to make their allegiance to Him the first and top priority. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37), He would also say.
Now we come to today’s Gospel. It answers the question: what is the extent of Jesus’ authority? Jesus reveals He has authority even over storm and sea—in fact, over all creation. He also reveals the frailty and fear of His followers, yes, including you and me.
They’re all in the boat. A great storm arose. Great waves swamping the boat. Literally, the boat was hidden or covered by the waves. How did the disciples react? Remember, some of them were fishermen on this very lake called the Sea of Galilee. You’d think they would know the waters, the weather patterns, and how to handle the waves. Their reaction this time? “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” In Mark’s account of the same event, the disciples cry out, “Teacher, [don’t you] care that we are perishing?” (Mk. 4:38).
It’s what happens when you’re not so sure about the extent of Jesus’ authority. You conclude Jesus doesn’t care. You fear He’s not always there for you. You wonder if you will even survive. It could be a wind storm on a lake or a snow storm on land. It could be a personal diagnosis of illness or a global pandemic of a disease that still, after two years, has a survival rate of 99 percent. It could be the stresses of family conflict or the confusing, ever-changing policies and practices at work. It could be the constant drumbeat of fear by the news media or the arrogant antics of power-hungry magistrates. When your fear and frailty come out of the closet of your heart and mind, you too echo those disciples in the boat. “Lord, we’re dying here! Don’t you care? Do something! Save us!”
Where has Jesus been all this time during the boat-tossing storm? Sleeping. As though He had not a care in this blustery, tempestuous world. Calm in the midst of chaos. Actually, let’s thank Him for this revelation. This One truly is human. He got tired and needed rest, just as He got hungry and thirsty and needed food and drink. This is also a wonderful contrast. Winds blowing, waves crashing, boat floundering, sailors frantically flailing about. Yet Jesus sleeps with great calm. Even in sleep, Jesus is still in control. Soon enough, He would reveal His divine, almighty power and authority over winds and waves.
First, though, let’s ponder what He said after His fearful followers woke Him from His peaceful slumber. “He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’” His comment about “little faith” is not so much a measurement of their faith itself. It’s more of a “divine insult,” if you will—appropriate and accurate in revealing their frailty. He called them “little-faiths.”
What led them to being “little-faiths”? They were afraid. No doubt, we can relate. This is a curious term in the Greek. It’s not the usual term, phobos—the common Greek term for “fear,” which we use for our various “phobias.” When you look up this term in the dictionary, you get a different, perhaps deeper, slant with some related words. “Why are you cowardly, craven, vile, worthless, miserable, wretched, or unhappy?” It’s what fear will do to you—make you cowardly and miserable, wretched and unhappy.
After rebuking His cowardly Christ-followers, Jesus “rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” The creation responded to its Creator. No, this Man is not the Father, nor the Holy Spirit. But He is God, nevertheless. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (Jn. 1:3). Since He made it, He can and does control it…and calm it. He rules over it and preserves it, even in its fallen, frequently dangerous, chaotic state.
The creation itself groans because it is subject to futility. Who subjected it? Adam in his original sin. Because of Adam’s sin, all of creation was also subjected to bondage of decay, danger, and death. No, the creation is not the “very good” place that God originally made it to be. Even the brightest noon-day sun and the most stunning evening sunset are actually muted and dull, compared to what they should be. And all because of us sinful humans. But, as St. Paul says, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19).
And Jesus in the boat has revealed Himself to be the very Son of God who will set free both the creation and you, His followers. When Jesus calmed that storm, He also made a promise to you, me, and all who trust Him. Not only can He still a storm on the Sea of Galilee, not only does He still the storms of sin, doubt, and cowardice within you, but He will one day also restore the whole creation to God’s good design.
This Jesus—this Man who is God; God with us; Emmanuel—He has the authority to repair the creation, undo the damage caused by sin and death. In fact, He has already begun His “fixer-upper” renovation project. You can see it begun in His death and resurrection—on the cross, in the tomb, and as He came out of that tomb on day three. “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt. 12:40). Just as Jonah was thrown into the sea and “the sea ceased from its raging” (Jonah 1:15), so also Jesus was thrown into the sea of our sin, the depths of our decay, the chaos of the cross, the tomb of our death. And He calmed the storm of God’s judgment raging against us. Not only does your Lord have the authority to calm storms, but He also has the authority to forgive your sins, calm your craven fears, and restore you to life with Him.
So you enter the boat of His Church through the peaceful waters of Baptism. You hear the calming words of His Absolution. You feast on His Body and Blood under bread and wine to be strengthened and sustained in the face of all things that cause cowardly fear. You may take courage and be brave. You live under Jesus in His kingdom. You “serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.” What does this mean? You belong to Him. He grants you His strength and protection. He supports you in all dangers. He carries you through all temptations, especially temptations to craven fear. It also means that we “look forward to the day when sin, death, and the devil will no longer hinder us from serving Him with complete devotion in peace and joy forever” (Expl. of SC, #179). Amen.