Scripture: Psalm 107:1-31 and Luke 8:22-25
Speaker: John Johnstone
The storms of life reveal far more to us about where people are truly at than life’s calmer times. This is true for both individuals and for churches. A crisis can be a window into our hearts. Each crisis that comes along is a test for us. Will we be found trusting in God, or in our own resources? Will the crisis bring us to a place of greater dependence upon the Lord, or make us bitter towards him?
In one way, the pandemic has been a test for the church. It’s never been easier to opt out of church, and reduce our commitment to attending and serving in the church. In that sense, the pandemic is a spotlight shining on our hearts, testing our faith. Has it brought us closer to God? Or has the lack of fellowship made us long for Christian company all the more? Or have we found that we’re not really missing corporate worship that much anyway? I hope that’s not the case.
As we know, the storms of life come in all kinds of different forms: chronic pain, unemployment, overwork, marital strife, loneliness, disillusionment, besetting sins, mental health problems, terminal illness, family worries, money worries, problems with a loved one, and the attacks of the evil one. The list goes on. Do these experiences drive us to our knees, or harden our hearts? Last time, in the parable of the sower, we saw that times of testing and of worry can strangle the seed of God’s Word. For Christians, testing times are meant to be a crucible in which our faith is strengthened and proved genuine.
The miracle of Jesus calming the storm is well known to most of us. It’s only 4 verses long, yet these verses are so full of instruction for us, as here we have a crisis which reveals not only the hearts of the disciples, but also the strength of the Saviour. This storm reveals much that is of great importance.
1. A sudden storm
When Jesus and the disciples set sail in verse 22, all seemed well. But remember, they are sailing on the Sea of Galilee. This lake is 5 miles wide and 13 miles long. The fact that it is several hundred feet below sea level and that it is surrounded by mountains with deep ravines through which winds could funnel in, make it the perfect location for a sudden storm. One moment all is well, and the next we have experienced fishermen, who knew these waters like the back of their hands, fearing that they might lose their very lives.
Friends, is this not what our lives can be like? Our circumstances can change so quickly. It just takes one visit to the doctor, or one terrible argument with our spouse, or a cut-back at work, or a pandemic or an economic crash or the death of a loved done, and our world is turned upside down. Water starts to pour into our boat, and it is all too easy to panic.
It is reckoned that the average person experiences some kind of crisis every 6 months. Christians don’t have a ‘get out of jail free card’ when it comes to life’s storms. In fact, each one of us must be realistic and appreciate that these storms are a normal part of our journey as Christ’s disciples.
‘Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. We’re told that storms are not strange and we are told to expect them, but the truth is they often wind the people of God, taking our breath away, and we can begin to doubt the goodness and love of God.’ (1 Peter 4:12)
2. A planned storm
This storm is no accident, but is part of God’s plan to teach his people by revealing their lack of faith and by revealing more about the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. It is not like the example of Jonah, who ends up in a violent storm because of his own disobedience. In fact, v22 tells us it is Jesus’ idea that they cross to the other side of the lake! The disciples are doing as they are told. They are following Jesus’ instructions. Yet in doing this, they still end up in a storm. Sometimes life’s storms can come about because of our own folly; other times (like here) they come for a different reason. Surely, it ought to be a tremendous comfort to us to know that God uses life’s storms in order to test, prove, strengthen and refine us. The circumstances of our lives are not accidental, but are brought to us from the hand of God with good reasons, even when we don’t understand that at the time.
‘… we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’ (Hebrews 12:9-11)
‘It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.’ (Psalm 119:71)
I think the disciples would have looked back on this day and said with the Psalmist: ‘It was good that we were in this storm; it taught us just how weak our faith was and just how trustworthy Jesus is.’
Are you able to say the same? When have you been closest to the Lord? I think for many of us, it is when we are in times of crisis. When all is going well, we can quickly forget God, become proud, self-reliant and hard-hearted. And so, the Lord disciplines us as his children, sometimes with a storm.
“… it was no casual storm which disturbed the lake…But he took the occasion to show the Apostles how slight and feeble their faith was at this stage…as often as adversity arises, our faith is being tested by God… If ills weigh heavily on us, so as almost to overwhelm us, this is done by the same purpose of God to try our endurance, or to bring our hidden weakness, by this means, into the open.” (John Calvin)
In his love, God takes the pruning scissors and cuts away at us. It is painful, but makes us fruitful. In his love, God exposes the weakness of our faith and often brings us to the end of ourselves. It’s here, battered in the storm, exhausted, that we stop trusting in self, and trust in the Rock instead.
3. An unconcerned Saviour?
Dr Luke clearly states in verse 23 that the disciples are in ‘great danger’. And yet Jesus seems unconcerned, indifferent, perhaps even uncaring. In Mark’s account we hear the disciples crying out ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown’? Let’s just be blunt about this – right in the middle of the storm, it seems as if Jesus doesn’t care. The disciples think they are going to drown, and it appears like nothing is changing. In fact, things are getting worse.
Can you relate to that? I can. You are in one of life’s storms, and your faith is weak, and you pray for a time, but nothing changes. Your circumstances might even get worse. You might have prayed for years. It’s easy for us to come to the same conclusion as the disciples: God doesn’t care. And our hearts can harden to the Lord, and we can stop praying. Have you ever been in the middle of a storm and thought, ‘Lord, why don’t you care about me’? You’re not alone. This is exactly where the disciples are at here. ‘How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?’ (Psalm 13:1-2)
“The disciples forgot everything but the sight and sense of present danger, and, under the impression of it, could not even wait until Christ awoke. It is only too true that sight, and sense, and feeling, make men very poor theologians.” (J C Ryle)
What a helpful quote! God is invisible. So often we assume he doesn’t care because our circumstances don’t change. But that’s terrible theology. He cares. He cares to the point of giving his Son to die for us. It is because he cares that he sends the storm. Through the storm, he loosens our grip on self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. He brings us to the place where we see our need of him, and cry out to him in faith for mercy.
When you are in the storm, Satan wants you to trust your feelings and focus on the wind and the waves. He’ll fire the flaming arrows of doubt at you. Hold up the shield of faith. Trust in God’s promise that, ‘All things work together for the good of those who love God.’ (Romans 8:28) Trust that he always hears and answers our prayers. (Psalm 34:15)
Far from being unconcerned, Jesus wants to expose the weakness of their faith, and he wants to build it up. This is not the intentions of one who doesn’t care but one who loves. Jesus’ response to their reaction to the storm is clear: ‘Where is your faith?’ Jesus doesn’t want disciples who trust him only when the sky is blue, and the birds are tweeting, but he wants disciples who keep holding on to his promises, even when circumstances seem to point in the opposite direction.
The Lord wants Abraham and Sarah to believe they will have a son of their own, even when their bodies are as good as dead. He wants them to trust in his bare promise. The Lord wants you to keep on trusting that he has a plan for you, even in the midst of problems with work, with marriage, with kids, with health, with church with whatever it might be. Keep holding on to him.
4. The Saviour’s identity – the God-man
For raging waters to become suddenly calm it totally miraculous. For a person to ‘rebuke’ the wind and the waves is something only God can do. And yet that’s what Jesus did. The wind and waves recognised the voice of Jesus, and obeyed. After all, is not Jesus not the Creator of all things?
When we read the Old Testament, who is able to calm a storm? Only God.
‘You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.’ (Psalm 89:9)
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.’ (Psalm 107:27-30)
It’s only God who can forgive sin. It’s only God who can calm a storm. It’s only God who can raise the dead by his own power. Jesus does all of these things and more, proving and demonstrating that he is God-become-flesh. Yes, we see Jesus’ humanity in this passage too, as he is exhausted and falls asleep on the boat. But this morning, let’s marvel at his deity. Jesus is God. And that’s why we should be able to trust him in our storms.
What does this mean for us today? Were Jesus just a great moral teacher, we could take him or leave him. We could ignore him, and plot our own course in life. However, if Jesus is God – and he is – then he deserves or allegiance, our worship, our obedience, and our trust. Jesus’ identity as God-in-the-flesh changes everything for everyone. It means he is a mighty Saviour.
Just as Jesus brought supernatural peace to the surging sea, so he has the power to bring peace to our troubled souls, by forgiving our sin, and assuring us of his everlasting love for us.
And just as Jesus rescued his disciples from their storm, let us leave church today with renewed confidence that there is no storm, however big, and there are no circumstances, however overwhelming to us, where Jesus lacks authority and power. Trust him with your problems, whether relational, health, financial, struggles with sin or whatever they might be. Trust that he hears and answers your prayers. Don’t believe that he doesn’t care.
May the Lord help us not to panic in the storms of life. He won’t keep us from them, but he will sustain us in them, and even use them to purify and strengthen us.