February 3, 2019 A+D
St. Matthew 8: 23-27
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In Matthew 8 we learn of the healing of the leper, the Centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law. We are also told that Jesus casts out some demons and heals many other people. Then a scribe comes to Jesus and says: “Teacher I will follow you where you go.” To which Jesus says: “Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” It seems pretty clear that the scribe didn’t follow Jesus. Then someone else says: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus says, “Follow Me, and leave the dead to bury the dead.” It seems most likely that he didn’t follow Jesus either.
Then we get the Gospel for today. Jesus gets in a boat and His disciple follow Him. It isn’t going to be easy. There will be a terrifying storm. They won’t respond perfectly. They will be rebuked: “O you of little faith.” But they followed Jesus. They asked Him for help. They accepted His rebuke and He saved them.
Such is the life of faith. It isn’t easy and we aren’t perfect in it, but Jesus hears our prayers and saves us.
The first lesson is that the prosperity Gospel people are wrong. The Son of Man has no place to lay His head. His goal is not to give you a mansion or earthly success and health. The reward the apostles gain for following Jesus is a storm that terrifies them and threatens to kill them.
The Greek grammar implies that this storm was not accidental but the Lord willed it, caused it. The grammar would lead us to think not that there happened to be a storm whose incidental effect was that the boat was swamped. Rather it is that the purpose of the storm, its intent, was to swamp the boat and that it was caused by God. There is also a redundancy in the Greek phrase translated “but He was asleep” so that a more wooden and literal translation would be rendered, “But He, Himself, kept on sleeping.” That emphasis stands as clarification for the swamping.
The Lord’s sleeping is not only a contrast of His calm to the disciples panic but also indicates that He is in control. He was behind the swamping while He was asleep. He was doing this but He was sleeping. Thus we get this important little word “Behold” to introduce the whole thing. “Behold – there arose a great storm.” Behold means “Look here! Pay attention. This is significant.” This isn’t a coincidence. It is a Divine plot. The plot is that the disciples would pray and be comforted by Christ not only for the moment but also as preparation for their ministries and as a model for us.
This is the religion of the cross, not of 70 virgins. It is not a diet plan or fitness regime. It is not particularly interested in time management, fiscal responsibility, or anything that the world considers useful and wise. There are, of course, both spiritual and bodily benefits, in this world and the next, for good works and keeping the Law, but those are corollaries of the goodness of God’s Law not the center of our religion. The good life upheld by our religion is not success as the world counts success but it is faithfulness lived in the presence of God’s mercy. It is not meant to help us escape storms, so much as weather them with faith. It is not meant to spare us suffering but to see its purpose.
This storm was calmed. The disciples were delivered. But that was not the end of their suffering. Rather, the storm is typical of their suffering. None of them will be bodily assumed into heaven. More sorrows are coming. They will know great sorrow and the shame of failure at the cross and will eventually be martyred. But they learn, over time, to live by faith. They learn that they are not perishing, that God is with them, that there is more to the storm than meets the eye.
The second lesson is we should not be afraid of pain or death. The disciples were right to call upon Christ and to arouse Him, but they were wrong to panic. They were not perishing. No one who believes in Jesus perishes. Suffering does not mean you have been abandoned.
Christ became flesh and blood, in need of food and drink and sleep, and made Himself mortal, under the curse of the Law, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver us, who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. The crosses that Christ places upon you, even the sorrows of this broken life and your own failures, are not meant to bind you into slavery but to show you what slavery is and to teach you that this world is not your home and that you are not perishing. You are more than your sins and your past. You are more than the circumstances of your life and your achievements. You are baptized and belong to Christ. He is with you.
He rebukes disciples and he rebukes wind and wave.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.