This is a second draft of a sermon I started working on last month (see the original here).
I’ve entitled today’s message, at the risk of sounding like a certain fantasy author, “A Tale of Storm and Silence”.
Our passage in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ life presents a tale of sharp contrasts. It is set at a point of transition in the gospel, where Matthew changes the focus of the story from Jesus’ teaching to Jesus’ miracles; although more than one commentator suggests that this story could also be considered as a parable of sorts, a practical one.
This particular event occurs in all three of the synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—and I have to admit that most of my past study of this event has been in Mark’s version, since I spent most of my bible college studies learning under a professor whose life’s work has been in the Gospel of Mark, so you may catch me pulling in some additional detail from Mark’s account, and for that I will beg your indulgence.
There is something else buried deep within this story, however, that isn’t obvious right away; and to bring it to light I will be referring to a message that Pastor Chris presented to us during our “Summer in the Psalms”, because it will have a significant bearing on what is going on in this story. We’ll get to that shortly.
To provide us with some context, Jesus has been teaching a crowd of people on the hillside, what we now call his “Sermon on the Mount,” and now he’s seeing that the crowd is getting a bit too much so he gets on board a boat and invites his disciples to travel to the other side of this body of water that we’ve ultimately determined is the Sea of Galilee. This is an important detail for a few reasons.
Slide: Israel Topo Map
What you see on the slide deck here is a topographical map of Israel, and up at the north end you see a small body of water; that’s the Sea of Galilee. What I want you to notice, though, is that there’s this long, deep valley that cuts in from north to south until you get to the Dead Sea and points further south. Why is this important? It explains a lot about the kind of weather you got. That valley is basically a channel for wind to come rushing through, so having a freak wind storm on the Sea of Galilee isn’t anything unusual.
There are another couple of bits of information that I want to draw your attention to—who remembers when Jesus called his first disciples? Do you remember where he was, and what his first disciples were doing when Jesus called them? Let’s refresh our memories a bit by going to Matthew Chapter 4, starting at Verse 18:
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
What are the two details? First, he called them at the Sea of Galilee, the very same body of water that they are now trying to cross. Second, what were these first disciples? They were fishermen. What does that mean? It means that they would have known the Sea of Galilee pretty well, including its reputation for the kind of weather that happens there. It’s kind of like us here in Florida when we have hurricanes—unless it’s, like, a Category 3 or higher we generally don’t care unless we live right on the water like Daytona or Tampa. Or like me, I was born and raised in southern California, which meant earthquakes; if it was the middle of the night and things started shaking you’d wake up, and if nothing was falling off the walls you went back to sleep.
So, a wind storm should be easy for these guys. But, for some reason, this one wasn’t. Why?
What is the Source?
This brings me to my first point of application. To prove I took homiletics in bible college I have at least three points, this is my first one. A “storm” in our lives, whatever that may consist of, is often the evidence of a much greater battle in the spiritual or supernatural realm. So my question is, “What is the source?”
Now, where the heck do I get this from Matthew chapter seven?
To answer that question, I’m going to take us back to Pastor Chris’ sermon during our “Summer in the Psalms”. I don’t have the time to go into a great deal of detail so I highly recommend you visit CCC’s YouTube channel and look for the sermon on Psalm 82, which was entitled “When God Judges the Gods”, where he goes into a lot more detail than I can this morning and what I’m about to explain will make a lot more sense. But he makes reference to something interesting in the book of Daniel, Chapter 10, if you want to turn there. Daniel receives a vision in response to his fasting and prayer, and this being who visits him tells him this, starting in verse 12:
Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”1
This information from the Old Testament suggests that among these lesser “gods” talked about in Psalm 82 are supernatural rulers over specific territories, and there is literature from other sources that also suggest this.
The other detail is in the language Matthew uses in Verse 26. He writes that Jesus “rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” Mark’s version uses the same term, and the particular scholar I mentioned earlier that I had studied Mark’s gospel under writes in his study that it is the technical language of exorcism.
Do you see where this is going? Jesus wasn’t just speaking away a storm. He knew there was something (or someone) more powerful and sinister causing it, and he was—using my very loose Buehler translation—commanding that someone to “shut up and sit down.” And that someone obeyed.
What’s this mean to me, to you? I have to admit that more often than naught, when I have storms in my life, and most of the storms I’ve had in my life in the past if you know my story, were because of my own glorious absence of smarts and self-control. My own bad decisions in my past got me in trouble and cost me just about everything. I like to say, “Don’t blame Satan for mankind’s own stupidity.”
But I find in my life, and I’m sure you find in yours, that such is not always the case. We can be doing everything right, living out our faith just fine, but we still encounter those storms that seem to come out of nowhere. It’s not from any stupidity on our part, but I would suggest to you this morning that it just might be the evidence of a larger battle that’s always happening. Thankfully, we know who wins, don’t we?
So we should ask ourselves that first question—what’s the source? It is because I did something stupid that I need to repent of and make amends for, or is there something much deeper, much greater going on that I just need to trust Jesus for that he’s got it and it will pass?
Who’s in Control?
Which brings me to the second question.
Back into our story, at Verses 24 and 25. All this commotion is going on, and what’s Jesus doing?
How can anybody sleep at a moment like this? Does he not care that the rest of us are gonna die here?
I said this was a story of contrasts—you have the disciples on one hand, battling this storm under their own power when it was clearly beyond their skill and strength as fishermen to deal with; and then on the other you have Jesus, who knows that until his purpose in becoming like us is accomplished, he’s not going anywhere. He’s protected by his Father. And neither is he going to allow any one with him to be lost, except for the one that his Father had chosen to betray him (Judas).
So my second question is this—who’s in control? Am I fighting these storms on my own strength, or am I resting in God’s sovereignty that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”?2
I look at Paul, who pleads with Christ to take away this “thorn in the flesh” but then ultimately rests in Jesus’ assurance that “my grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in your weakness.” He goes on, “therefore I would rather glory in my weakness that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”3
Enjoy the Silence
Third point, and this is a statement that I’m going to borrow the title of a song from the band Depêche Mode: Enjoy the silence.
Let me set this up for you.
There’s this massive, perhaps even demonic, windstorm blasting across the sea. I’m on this boat with supposedly skilled fishermen battling like crazy. There’s all this shouting, this noise, this sound of waves crashing into the boat and water being bailed and howling and thundering and suddenly Jesus is standing there and shouts (again, Buehler translation) SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN! And...
Silence. Not too long, but long enough to make people uncomfortable.
Whispering... Silence is weird, isn’t it? I watched you out of the corner of my eye; the longer I didn’t say something I see someone start to fidget and squirm in their seats, what do I do? Silence is uncomfortable. Especially if you’re a parent, silence usually means the toddler has found something and is about to ruin your day.
But here’s my point: We take the silence for granted, don’t we? We are so good at crying out to God and pleading when we’re in the storm, but we forget to praise him and thank him in the silence. We forget to take the time in the silence to stop and listen for his voice.
When I was in bible college I did a course in spiritual disciplines and one of the assignments was to spend an entire day in complete silence, as much as we could. We were allowed to explain ourselves if needed or speak when it was absolutely necessary, but otherwise we were to go about our day in silence—no music, no speech, just doing our daily things and listening. That was hard, and I’m not one who talks much unless you give me a couple of Red Bulls.
So, let’s pull back ot the big picture: storms are going to come. That is life. It could come in the form of a financial crisis, a psychological crisis, the loss of a loved one, a son or daughter who’s rebelling against your authority as a parent and going down a path of self-destruction and you feel powerless to stop them... the toddler just ruined your day... it can take many forms.
I need to take a moment, ask myself—what’s the source? Again, my glorious absence of reason that I need to repent of, or is there something greater, deeper going on here?
Again, ask myself—who’s in control? Am I trying to fight this on my own? Am I trusting in my own understanding or am I trusting and resting in God’s sovereignty and allowing Him the space to take care of it and take care of me?
And, finally, this too shall pass. (I saw a image that said, “It might pass like a kidney stone, but it WILL pass.”) And when it does, enjoy that silence and honor God with your thanks and praise and don’t take that for granted.
Let’s pray, and as we do, take a moment and consider what storms may be going on in your life right now. Be specific, name them. Now present those to Christ. I don’t know how to fight this on my own, I need you to rise and either rebuke this storm or give me the grace and rest to get through it and teach me what I need to know.
And, if you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, now is the time. As long as you keep trying to fight your battles on your own I can assure you that the wind and the water will beat you up and wear you down until it seems there’s nothing left, and I can speak that from experience even as a follower of Jesus. Or you can find rest in Him.