Sermon preached on Luke 8:22-39 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/26/2021 in Novato, CA.
We enter into another new section in Luke. We just finished a section dealing with hearing and heeding the Word of God. Today’s section returns to Luke developing the power and authority of Jesus, something he deals with throughout the rest of this chapter. Today’s passage will show Jesus’ power and authority over nature. Next passage will show it over the demons, and then after that, his power and authority over illness and even death. So then, today, we see Jesus’ ability to control even the wind and water. And as we study this power of Jesus, we see that it also speaks to questions of fear and faith. Let’s dig in.
We begin then with recognizing the danger that they were in on that boat. The background is given in verse 22. Jesus wants to go with his disciples across the lake. This is surely the lake known as the Sea of Galilee, which was a common setting for Jesus’ ministry. This is fairly good-sized lake, about 64 square miles in area, roughly 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. By comparison, it is just slightly smaller than Clear Lake in Lake County just north of us. So, it is a good-sized lake, with plenty of room to get yourself in trouble if a big storm developed.
And that is exactly what we find here. Verse 23 says that a windstorm came down on the lake. Now let me say that if you read commentaries, they like to point out that the topography of the lake makes it so that such windstorms are not uncommon. While I appreciate that windstorms in general might be common on that lake, I don’t think that comment does justice to what we read here. People were on that lake in boats quite regularly, and to my knowledge it was not that common to have a boat lost on the lake due to a storm. But, here you find that this windstorm was of such violence between the wind and the waves that it caused that boat to be in great in danger. This is told to us explicitly in verse 23. It says the boat was taking on water. It literally says they were in danger; that they were in jeopardy of sinking on that large lake. Their danger is also told us to implicitly in verse 24. That’s when we see how concerned Jesus’ disciples were when they woke him and told him that they were perishing. Realize four of the twelve disciples were previously professional fisherman who fished on this lake. They knew the conditions. They knew a bad storm when they saw one. They obviously had survived any previous storms they had encountered when on the lake. But this time, the urgency and seriousness of the disciples’ words show they fear that this time they won’t escape with their lives. Storms may be normal on that lake, but this storm was not normal.
I think it is important to understand that they were in real danger here. You know, when the professional sailors are worried about the storm, that’s when I would get worried too! Luke’s gospel is the only one to report in their words the twice call to Jesus, “Master, Master.” That surely reflects their panic and terror. It’s easy to look back at their fear and panic and find fault with them after the fact. But in the moment, under ordinary circumstances, their great concern seems like a very understandable and natural reaction.
And yet in contrast to the panic and concern of the disciples, you have Jesus. The wind and waves were raging and tossing the boat around. The disciples in their panic seemed to look a lot like those wind and waves. But in contrast, Jesus is asleep. He is calmly asleep with everything going on. I don’t know how you could sleep at a time like that, but Jesus was fast asleep through it all.
This leads us then to our second point. Next, we consider how they go and wake Jesus. Verse 24, “And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing.’” This story is recounted in all the three of the synoptic gospels. Each contributes some additional insight between what was behind their waking him. Mark’s account in Mark 4:38 records them essentially chiding Jesus, saying “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Matthew’s account in Matthew 8:25, shows them going to Jesus for help, saying to him, “Save us, Lord, we are perishing.” This diversity between the accounts might be accounted by the fact that there were twelve disciples and there may have been several things told to Jesus, all at once, when they woke him. So this may reflect that not all of the twelve were in the exact same frame of mind when they woke him. Or it also might express that they had all these competing emotions and concerns when they woke him. Certainly, humans can have multiple emotions going on at a time like that. So, the three accounts give us a nice picture of the sorts of emotions and concerns that were in their minds, in one fashion or another. And all three accounts are united in showing that they were concerned that they were about to perish. In fact, Luke’s account arguably brings out the terror and panic most clearly, in that repeated call of Master.
So then, they wake up Jesus. Yes, there was obviously some sense of sinful frustration on their part with Jesus that he would be sleeping and not panicking like they were. But, there was also some commendable sense of their looking to Jesus to help them. And that is sometimes how we too can come to Jesus in prayer today. We might come with a collage of emotions and concerns, some good and some bad. But let us come and bear our souls to Jesus and look to help for help whenever we find ourselves in need.
So then, Jesus comes to the rescue. He wakes up, rebukes the wind and the waves, and they obey him! The wind suddenly stops. The waves immediately stop crashing. It says there is a calm. A calm, like Jesus had been calmly sleeping, comes upon the water. That’s not how storms on the water normally die. Even after the wind stops, surely the waters will take a little while to come to a calm. I think of earthquakes. When the earthquake stops, stuff in house is still shaking for a little while afterwards. But here, Jesus tells the winds and water to stop, and they immediately stop.
Notice that verse 24 describes what Jesus told the wind and waves as “rebuking” them. That’s language to describe how you are correcting someone. It sort of personifies the wind and the waves to describe Jesus rebuking them. But when I think of Jesus rebuking these natural elements, I remember the effects of the curse. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, not only was all humanity affected by that, but God cursed the creation. The creation which should be in submission and service to mankind who was created in the image of God is not. In fact, there are things like this. There are things we call natural disasters that kill people and destroy property. Certainly, many a storm have capsized boats and brought people to a watery grave. Earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, drought, coronaviruses, and so much more, have cause trouble to us humans. They are evidence that we live in a world under God’s curse due to sin. It’s what we read about in Romans 8 that says this current world groans in its bondage to corruption until the day when God will deliver it. That will be when Christ returns to usher in a new creation. But for now, things like this happen. People lost at sea are just one example of a creation gone awry. Jesus, as the one in whom we ultimately find deliverance from the effects of sin and the curse, rebukes this groaning creation that would have taken their lives that boat ride.
And yet, we see then after Jesus calms the storm, that he chides the absent faith of his disciples. Verse 25, “He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’” I mentioned at the start of our sermon that this passage raises questions of fear and faith. Jesus questions them about where their faith was in this incident, and his question is surely connected to the fear and concern and panic that they were experiencing and expressing even as they woke Jesus. The Bible teaches that fear is not in itself wrong. Fear, like any emotion, is not wrong inherently if expressed for a right reason and handled in a right way. There are lots of things we should be showing fear toward, like how the Bible commends a certain right fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom. The Bible commends other kinds of fear too in various places. Surely, under normal circumstances, a right fear will spur you to bail the water out your boat if it starts to fill with water. Under normal circumstances, it very well may make you turn the boat for shore if the storm really picks up. There is certainly a fear that promotes prudence as a positive duty of the sixth commandment in looking to safeguard life. Yet, here, was not normal circumstances, as they were starting to realize. That’s because here, they had Jesus in the boat with them. There is a time for a fear and there is a time for a faith that would dispel those same fears. This was one of those times. Jesus says that had they had the faith that they should have had, then they wouldn’t had the fear and panic that they had here. Have you ever started to panic that you lost your keys and found that they were in your pocket or hand the whole time? In that case, you feared for no good reason. Well, here, given that Jesus was in the boat with them, they were fearing for no good reason.
There is certainly an idea present here of how fear and faith can relate to each other. I’m not saying that as a Christian we can or should get rid of all fear. I’m not saying that if you but have enough faith that you don’t need to ever have any sort or sense of fear. I’ve already mentioned that fear can be good and prudent if for the right reason and handled rightly. But surely, our faith in Jesus, in his bigger picture and ultimate plan for our lives, has to color our fear. Surely, there is no danger in this world so big that we should feel the need to succumb to fear in defeat. For not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. If we have faith there, in that one truth, that has to inform any fear that comes before us. If such faith is present and not absent, that will put our fear in service to us, and not a master over us.
Let us now turn to our third point which will further make this point that the disciples’ problem here was that their faith was absent. In this last point, I’d like to consider verse 25 where they ask each other, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” You see, that they had to ask that question shows the absence of their faith. Their faith needed to know the answer to that question and trust in that. They needed to come to know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the eternal Word become flesh who spoke this world into existence. If they truly had such faith, and that one was there with them, then they had no need to fear that day in the boat.
It is right to see the divine power of God behind Jesus’ calming of the storm. Psalm 89:9 says this to God, “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” God as the creator and sustainer of all things providentially governs all his creation. He can speak the storm silent. That is what Jesus did. That’s because Jesus is God. What mere human prophet has ever wielded such authority? But Jesus spoke and the wind and the waves obeyed him.
Notice in verse 25 that this caused the disciples to both fear and marvel. That seems right. Surely, there can be some right, healthy fear here. You are in the presence of such a one who can command nature. This is where that idea about the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom would apply. And certainly, there was reason to marvel at the wonder and awe of it all. Jesus spoke the storm and sea quiet.
Under this question of the disciples asking what this tells us about the identity of Jesus, I thought it might be edifying to do a little compare and contrast with Jonah on the boat in Jonah chapter 1. That’s when the prophet Jonah was trying to run away from God instead of obeying his call to go and preach to Nineveh. There, is enough similarity between today’s passage and Jonah 1 to invite some comparison.
Jonah, like Jesus, is fast asleep on a boat when all of a sudden some huge storm shows up. Like Jesus and his disciples, the storm is so big that it threatened to destroy the ship. It is somewhat amazing that Jonah could so sleep when he knew he was on the run from God. If ever a time to have some fear, it’s when you are willfully disobeying God. If ever a time to lose some sleep, that would be the time. For surely, that storm came upon Jonah as judgment from God for Jonah’s sin. And yet Jonah essentially gets the storm to cease and become calm by offering himself to be thrown overboard. He essentially sacrifices himself to save the ship with all its people.
Jesus, in comparison, could sleep in faith and trust in his heavenly father. He knew God’s plan for him, and that he trusted that he would be safe. He did not worry or panic but in his calm trust he slept soundly. So then, the great storm did not arise as a judgment against him, rather, he judged the wind and waves in his rebuke. Jesus would indeed one day sacrifice himself to save God’s chosen people; but he knew that day was not that day. So, he was calm and brought his calm to the storm by the word of his power. At one point in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus compares himself as one greater than Jonah when comparing how Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, like how Jesus would remain under the power of death until the third day. This similar boat incidence is another example of how Jesus was one greater than Jonah the prophet.
We can also compare here how the pagan sailors with Jonah responded compared to the disciples with Jesus. When the great storm came upon Jonah’s boat, the heathen sailors became afraid. They tried all practical matters to save the ship, like lightening the load. They also all prayed to their various pagan gods. They too wake up Jonah like the disciples woke up Jesus, but the sailors wake Jonah up in order to get him to start praying too. Well, when Jonah explains to them what was happening, how his God was the one true God and that the storm was God’s judgment, it worked a godly fear in them. Jonah insists that they throw him in the water, and when they finally do and the storm stops and the sea is calmed, the end result is that the pagan sailors begin to fear and worship the LORD, the one true God.
Yet, in contrast to the pagan sailors, the disciples aren’t recorded as trying to bail the water out. They aren’t recorded as praying. I can only hope they did some of both. But the text doesn’t tell us. What becomes clear at the end, is that their faith is beginning to be awakened. They are starting to see who Jesus is. But we note they don’t answer the question they ask here. The sense is that they are starting to ask the question, but still wrestling with the answer. In that case, arguably the Gentile sailors of Jonah 1 end up with a more commendable response than the disciples do here with Jesus.
Interestingly, the book of Jonah is a book that shames Israel for their lacking faith and obedience towards God and he uses Gentiles to do it. Jonah 1 shows those pagan sailors responding better than Jonah. Jonah goes on to show the evil Ninevites (of Assyria) responding better to the prophet’s call to repentance than Israel had been doing. And interestingly, what will Jesus do in the very next passage here in Luke? He will go do some ministry among Gentiles on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The message God brought his people in the book of Jonah is subtly then here too. Where is their faith? Confronted with the power and presence of God in Jesus, will they put their faith in him? Will they hear and heed his word as the Son of God come to them? A right fear and a right faith in Jesus will drive out the fear that shouldn’t be there in their hearts and give them the calm that Jesus himself embodied and the calm he brought to the sea that day.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, this is the call that comes to us again today. Will you see Jesus for who he truly is? May your faith not be absent. Place it in Jesus and find the calm for your soul that he offers. There are many real dangers today that would tempt you to have a form of fear that you need not have as a Christian. Yes, we should have a certain fear for dangers that promotes prudence. But no earthly or even spiritual danger should be cause for ultimate fear if you are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8 gives a nice list of things that with Christ we no longer need to ultimately fear. We don’t need fear tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, not demons, not anything in all creation, not even death. Let not our faith be blown and tossed about by the many dangers of this world, but rather may our faith know the calm that comes who know the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.