There are times in life when you become aware that there are forces beyond your control.
We all like to live in a bubble that says we can determine our own destinies. But then something goes badly wrong, an unexpected illness cuts across our plans, life bowls us a ball we’d never seen coming, and we start to realise we’re not in control.
How do you feel when it sinks in that you’re not in control?
Matthew tells a story about when this happened to Jesus’ disciples. They came face to face with the forces of nature, and they were not the ones in control.
The way Matthew tells the story, he’s showing us the emotions of the disciples. How they felt. How they reacted. Jesus’ disciples provide a foil against which to look at our own emotions in life.
Let’s look, then, at this story, using two headings:
Fear at the storm
First, fear at the storm. Fear at the storm.
Let me read again verses 23-26. Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’
Lake Galilee was prone to storms. The surface of the lake is just over 200 metres below sea level, which causes some weird wind conditions.
But we need to be clear. Jesus’ disciples were not like landlubbers, taking a boating trip on the Serpentine, worried when the boat wobbled as they got in. If you remember Matthew chapter 4, at least 4 of them were fishermen by trade. They knew this lake, its weather, and its storms. But this one was bad. They were so terrified, they thought they were going to die.
So they woke Jesus. Not to help them bail out the water. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us.’ That’s why they wanted Jesus awake. They had seen Jesus heal the sick. Now it was time for him to sort out this lake.
Jesus wakes up, and he’s totally calm. Totally in control. He’ll get to the waves in a moment. But first it’s time to address the turbulent hearts of these fishermen. You of little faith, why are you so afraid? He tells them off. They should have trusted him.
It’s not that they had no faith. They’d woken him up because they thought he could help. But if they’d really believed that they had God’s Messiah, his rescuer, sat there in the boat, they’d have realised that they had to be safe. God wasn’t going to let his rescuer-king die in a storm. They hadn’t thought it through. They didn’t really grasp who Jesus was. So they reacted with fear at the storm.
Storms are still terrifying today. You think of the railway line washed into the sea at Dawlish. You think of the tragedies when the sea is stormy, and someone gets swept into the sea from the promenade. The force of the ocean is phenomenal. The sea is to be treated with respect.
No wonder they were afraid. This was one of those moments when they knew they were not in control. They were at the mercy of the waters.
Fear at the storm.
Fascination at the saviour.
But second, fascination at the saviour. Fascination at the saviour.
Let me read again verses 26 and 27: Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’
Notice two details about the way Jesus deals with this storm. It’s very similar to the way he dealt with the leprosy, the centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law, earlier in the chapter.
First, he did it simply with a word. He simply rebuked the winds and the waves. He told them off. Told them were to get off. Asked them to get back in their box. Just as he gave the word and the centurion’s servant was healed.
Secondly, it was instant. You’ll remember Peter’s mother-in-law, instantly better, back on her feet and serving tea and cakes. So it is with this storm. Massive waves like that would take hours, if not days to calm down. Not this time. The moment he issued the command, the wind went quiet and the sea went flat. There was no doubt at all that this was a miracle. The sea had met its maker. It wasn’t a coincidence that things started to get a tiny bit better, just as Jesus embarrassed himself by pretending to control the sea. The waters went flat as easily as you or I could smooth out a duvet, substantially more easily than we could give a dog the order to sit.
They called on Jesus to save them. And he did.
The men were no longer in fear at the storm. They were in fascination at their saviour.
They knew their Old Testament. In particular, they’d have known the Psalms well. Including Psalm 107, that contains these words in verses 23 to 31:
Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
God is the one who stirs the seas up into a terrifying storm, so that sailors’ courage melts away. God is the one they cry out to in their trouble. And God is the one who stills the storm to a whisper, who hushes the waves of the sea, who brings about a great calm.
This is for God to do, and God alone. And they’ve just watched Jesus do it. Just who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him! You see why they were amazed. Awed.
They must be in the presence of God himself.
Back in chapter 1, the angel said to Joseph that Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecy of Immanuel, God with us. Now it seems that, with Jesus, God really has come to live with us. It’s the only conclusion to draw.
Fascination at the saviour.
There’s a phrase insurers use to describe events in the natural world over which we have no control. They call them “acts of God”. Earthquakes. Volcanic eruptions. Hurricanes. Blizzards.
God causes them. No man can cause them, control them, or stop them. Only God can.
Only there is one man who can. That person is Jesus. He’s in full control of what we call acts of God. No wonder these men were amazed. Fascination at the saviour.
We often look around, and we ask who’s in charge around here. Not just in charge of you and me. In charge of the natural world.
The answer is Jesus. He can do anything he wants. He wrote the so-called laws of nature. He upholds them. He can break them when he wishes. He’s totally, fully, and functionally in charge.
If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be worth a second look. He could make all the promises he likes about a future that is free of pain and suffering. But he couldn’t guarantee that any of it will happen. He simply isn’t powerful enough to underwrite his promises.
That’s if he’s not in charge. But he is! He controls the forces of nature. So nothing, but nothing stands in the way of Jesus delivering the things he died to secure.
Which brings us back to where we began. Sometimes, you look around, and it dawns on you that you’re not in control of your life. How do you feel when that happens?
It’s easy to feel frightened. But there’s an alternative. Allow it to dawn on you that Jesus is in control at precisely those points where you are not. And then to allow that to soak in, until you’re fascinated and awestruck at the thought that he really is totally in control.