Sept. 17, 2023
Central Congregational Church, UCC
Pastor Rich Knight
We’re studying the Gospels this Fall. First, we’re looking at 2 themes in all 4 gospels.
Last Sunday we looked at Jesus’ favorite topic to teach on – the Kingdom of God.
We said, the Kingdom of God happens when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
The Kingdom of God happens when we live as if God were our king.
The Kingdom of God is when God’s love is in charge, when God’s love reigns.
Today we’re going to look at miracle stories.
Let me mention that next Sunday we’re going to start on the Gospel of Matthew. Suggestion: Read ch. 1-7
Prior to this passage, Jesus had been teaching all day. He gave some of his most well-known teachings – the Parable of the Seed & the Sower, and the Mustard Seed analogy.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And waking up, he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Be silent! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
I have to admit that this passage reminds me of one of the most memorable TV theme songs ever written. It’s the Gilligan’s Island theme song. And it fits this passage! Please allow me to demonstrate.
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port, Aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a mighty sailing man, the skipper brave & sure
13 passengers set sail that day, for a 3 hour tour, a 3 hour tour
The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed,
Now, here’s where we have to make a few changes;
If not for the courage of the fearless crew.
The Minnow would be lost, the Minnow would be lost.
We’d have to change that to, “If not for the Power of the Savior on board, the Minnow would be lost.”
(My preaching professors would be so proud!)
I think part of the popularity of that show was the theme song. I always got a kick out of the fact that the professor could build anything – a washing machine, a Geiger counter, a pool table, and a battery charger, just to name a few. He could build anything except a boat to get them off the island!
Well, Jesus was also a handy guy to have around when you’re on an adventure. And unlike the Professor, Jesus always seemed to know just exactly what was needed in every situation.
Let’s walk through the story.
Jesus has apparently been teaching all day. At the start of this chapter, the crowd was very large, so large that Jesus goes out into a boat by the water’s edge and addresses the crowd from the boat. The Sea of Galilee has beautiful rolling hills surrounding it, with a number of places that form natural amphitheaters. With a breeze coming off the water, Jesus’ voice would carry quite a distance.
Well, it’s the end of the day, the sun has set & Jesus says, “Let’s get out of here. Let’s go to the other side of the lake.”
We read in the next chapter that they land in the region of the Gerasene. This was an area made up of 10 Greek states, and a largely Gentile population.
So, they’re sailing off into the dark into the unknown to an area that could be unfriendly to them. Their stress levels were probably already elevated as they head out, but the worst is yet to come.
Mark says, “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.”
When Luke tells this story, Luke says, “A windstorm swept down on the lake” (Luke 8:23). That’s probably a better description – sweeping down. There are some larger mountains around the Sea of Galilee, particularly in the northeast region, and the ravines between the mountains act as a funnel for the winds. It’s like the winds are compressed, and then they suddenly blast onto the Sea of Galilee.
And this happens to this very day! I lost my favorite hat on the Sea of Galilee last summer! We were on a boat in the middle of the lake; everything was calm, and then suddenly the winds grew strong, and my favorite hat was in the water.
So, the disciples and Jesus are in the boat. It’s now dark. And a windstorm sweeps down upon them, stirring up the waves that are now smashing into the boat and filling it with water, and they’re afraid it’s either going to tip over or just fill up with water and sink.
And Jesus is asleep!
He’s in the back of the boat, the stern, and he’s lying on a cushion. This would have been a comfortable spot and a fitting place for Jesus to rest. You can tell how tired he is by the fact that he sleeps through the storm. – the boat is being tossed about
Imagine the disciples yelling to wake him up! “Jesus wake up! We’re sinking! We’re going to die!” ‘How can you sleep through all of this?”
I’m sure that they said things like this, but did you catch what Mark records them saying, “Don’t you even care that we’re perishing?”
Those are strong words to say to Jesus – quite an accusation. It reminds me of the words Martha said to Jesus following the death of her brother, Lazarus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21.) In other words, “Don’t you care? Why didn’t you come right away?”
Now, us polite Congregationalists wouldn’t say things like that to God. It’s just not our style.But remember the name that God gave to God’s people in the Old Testament – Israel – those who wrestle with me. The Jews believed they could say anything to God, and God could handle it. Sometimes they even accused God of sleeping! – just like Jesus sleeping in the boat. And they put these accusations into the Bible!
Psalm 35:23 – Wake up! Rouse yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord!
Isaiah 51:9 – Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago!
Imagine if I prayed a prayer like that on a Sunday morning. “Lord, we need you to wake up! Don’t you even care about us? Wake up, Lord! And get some strength, would you?” If I prayed a prayer like that, you might wonder if I was losing my faith.
There was a pastor in Pennsylvania that I knew pretty well and visited his church on some of my vacation Sundays. His prayers were very honest and open about life’s struggles and disappointments. “God, we’re stressed and overwhelmed about our chronic illnesses, our financial fears, our family obligations and civic duties, and much, much more!” Yikes! And each time I heard him I wondered if he was okay. He was fine. His faith was fine. His relationship with God was better than fine. He was simply telling the truth in his prayers – life is filled with struggles and heartaches and storms. And if we can’t tell the truth about that in church, where can we?
This part of the story reminds us to always be honest to God. It teaches us that we can say anything to God. God’s not going to be blown away by our strong words that come from desperate hearts. Philip Yancy – “God would rather have us angry at him and expressing it, than not talking to him at all.” God can handle our anger, our deepest strongest emotions. God can handle our questions and our doubts. Those who walk or sail with the God of Israel are allowed to wrestle with their faith.
In fact, “if we’re not wrestling from time to time, we’re probably not doing it right. We’re not engaged.” (That’s a quote from one of our deacons, Bryan Norman)
Let’s keep going.
Jesus does indeed wake up and he has some rather strong words to say – not to the disciples – but to the storm. “Be Silent!!! Be Still!!!” Other translations capture it more dramatically: Silence!!! And a dead calm comes upon the water. Complete silence.
“Even the wind and waves obey him.”
Then Jesus says this to his disciples: Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? The type of faith he’s talking about here is trust. Don’t you trust me yet? I’ve been with you for a while now, and you still don’t trust me?
Jesus turns this incident into a Teachable Moment.
Here’s what I’d like you to remember about the miracle stories.
They teach us about the Divinity of Christ – the divine nature of our Savior. – fully God, fully man.
They teach us this by showing us that Jesus can do what God does.
God created nature, the heavens and the earth.
God spoke the world into being. “And God said . . .” (Gen. 1)
Jesus speaks to nature as well, and nature obeys.
Jesus can do what God does.
God created human beings and breathed life into their bodies.
Jesus healed a number of those bodies, bringing them fullness of life.
Jesus can do what God does.
God is a God of Goodness, Righteousness, and Justice.
Jesus cast out the powers of darkness and brought God’s light into the world.
Jesus can do what God does.
So, the miracles reveal the divine nature of Jesus Christ. But we shouldn’t stop there! That’s the mistake that we too often make. The real point of the miracles is not, “Isn’t it great that Jesus could do miracles!” The messages of the miracles is found when we ask, What does the miracle mean? What does it symbolize? What’s the message within the miracle?
Miracles in the New Testament are often called “signs.” The phrase, “signs and wonders” occurs a lot. What do signs do? – they point to something.
The miracle stories point to the things that God cares about.
God cares about our physical struggles. Jesus healed folks. Jesus took notice of humanity’s physical struggles, and we should, too.
Jesus also fed people – more than 5000 people on more than one occasion. God cares about those who are hungry, and so do we.
God cares about our emotional, psychological struggles, the things that can torment us – Jesus cast out demons. Jesus brought healing and wholeness to people.
God cares about us when the world seems dark and we can’t find our way – Jesus opened the eyes of the blind.
God cares about our lives and our deaths – Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and conquered death himself, and said to his disciples, “Because I live you will live also.” (John 14:19)
The miracles show us what God cares about!
I’ll close with this . . .
There’s something really funny and ironic in this passage, something worthy of an episode of Gilligan’s Island. It’s this: at least 4 of the disciples were fishermen. They would have been skilled mariners – and quite experienced on the very body of water that they were sailing on!!! But they got frazzled just like Gilligan.“We’re gonna drown!!!!”
And who do they turn to for help?
The Carpenter, the Itinerant Preacher in the boat. And we would be wise to do the same.
We can trust him – in calm, quiet waters and in the midst of the storms of life.
In Jesus we trust.