The True God Abides with You.
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 8:23-27
In Christ Jesus, our Brother, the eternal God, dear fellow redeemed:
Today’s sermon text is about faith. The simple definition of “faith” is “trust.” But it is not trust in what we can see and feel and experience. Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It was by faith that the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament were commended by God. Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Sarah and many more believed in what they could not see. They believed God’s promise of salvation and were saved through this faith. Genesis 15 says about Abraham, that “he believed the LORD, and [the LORD] counted it to him as righteousness” (v. 6).
This is the opposite of what we so often hear people say, “I will believe it when I see it.” What they really mean is, “My rational mind will accept it when I see it.” If they can see it, faith is no longer required. We fall into this sort of thinking too. For instance, we tend to think that God is pleased with us when life is going well. But when we have troubles, we wonder if He is punishing us or is too busy for us or has even abandoned us. We will happily believe in His power and mercy when a serious disease is cured, or when we hear about a Christian’s life changing for the better. But what about when sickness leads to death, or when someone loses everything she has? Do we believe in the Lord then too?
This is like the disciples as they stepped with Jesus into the boat on the Sea of Galilee. They had just watched Jesus perform miracle after miracle, casting out demons and healing the sick (Mt. 8:14-17). If anyone had asked them at that time whether there was anything Jesus could not do, the disciples would have almost certainly said, “No. He can do anything!” They felt no anxiety or concern as they pushed off from the shore. They were with the great Teacher Jesus. Who could be more fortunate?
But then the wind began to pick up. The waves rolled one on top of the other, higher and higher. The small boat tipped and tilted this way and that. Though they were experienced fishermen, the sailor-skill of the disciples was no match for the “seismos,” as it was called in Greek. It was a terrible shaking of the sea, a seismic tempest, as though a great earthquake was at work beneath the waters. The men bailed water as quickly as they could, but still the boat was filling up. If something about the situation did not improve, the boat would certainly go under.
Somehow, while the storm raged and the disciples grew more and more terrified, Jesus slept. The evangelist Mark tells us that “he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion” (4:38). How is this possible? Well if a person is tired enough, he can sleep just about anywhere. Jesus must have been exhausted from His full schedule of teaching and healing. And let us not forget that His suffering increased day by day as He came closer to His crucifixion. The weight of what was coming pressed down on Him. He must suffer the wrath of God and eternal damnation in the place of all sinners. This was a weight that none of us could carry for a moment. As true God, He could bear it. But as true Man, He felt human weakness and fatigue. The burden was heavy. He needed rest.
So the boat seemed sure to sink, and Jesus slept. You may not have had an experience like this on the open seas, but I’m sure you can relate to the situation in your own way. You may have gotten bad news about your health, or felt pain getting worse and worse and wondered, “Why doesn’t God heal me?” You may have watched someone you love dying, and Jesus never seemed so far away. You may have had classmates pick on you, friends turn on you, people lie to you, and felt very alone. You may have wanted God to save your marriage or keep your family from fighting so much, but nothing seemed to improve. A great storm raged inside you or around you, and as far as you could tell, Jesus was sleeping – unaware or uncaring.
But it is not your faith that tells you this. Faith is like a powerful telescope that zooms in on Jesus, no matter how far away He seems to be. The part of you that doubts Jesus and questions His love and second-guesses His Word is not the new man of faith but the old Adam of sin. It is the part of you that demands proof from God where He has not promised to give it. If you require Jesus to fix or heal or prosper as a condition for continuing to believe in Him, then we are no longer talking about faith. Preaching on this same text Martin Luther said, “For it is the great characteristic and power of faith to see what is not visible, and not to see what is visible, yea, that which at the time drives and oppresses us” (Church Postil, p. 94).
Luther points out that faith not only focuses on what is unseen; it also ignores what can be seen. In this way, faith is the opposite of our reason and senses. This is why Luther said in his Small Catechism that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe” (Explanation to Third Article). But it is very difficult—and even impossible for us sinners—to ignore the troubles and threats that we see and experience. What else could Jesus’ disciples do than to frantically wake Him up and cry, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”? It seems that this should have pleased Jesus. They came to the right place for help. Their plea was consistent with the LORD’s invitation in Psalm 50: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (v. 15).
To call upon the LORD in our trouble certainly does please Him, and He does help us. But it is one thing to approach Him with a quiet confidence in His care and goodness. It is another thing to pray to Him as a last resort, frantically, with hearts full of doubt, wondering why He did not anticipate our needs before things got so bad. This must be the state the disciples were in, which prompted Jesus’ rebuke, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” When we are full of worries, when we are stressed, when we cannot imagine any good outcome to our predicaments, it is appropriate for us to hear a word of law. By the law the Lord says, “Have I not made My promises clear? Is your faith in Me so weak?” And it often is weak like that. We often do think that what we can perceive is more powerful, either to do evil or good, than God Himself.
But the last portion of today’s text should put that wrong thinking to rest. Jesus got up from where He was lying and simply told the winds and the sea to “be still” (Mk. 4:39). And immediately the sea was calm. “What sort of man is this?” the disciples wondered. The answer is that Jesus was not Man only, but fully God, whom the winds and sea and all creation obey. It seemed unbelievable, but it was true. God had become Man, and this God-Man was with the disciples in the boat. They realized now that they had nothing to fear. Even those massive waves were no match for the Word of Jesus.
The same is true for your trials—they will never be greater than Jesus’ Word. His Word increases your faith which is constantly under attack by the devil and his forces. When your heart and mind are raging with memories of past sins and the struggle of current ones, He speaks His calming Word, “be still.” He brings to you forgiveness for your guilt, refocusing you once again on His cross and empty tomb. There is where He made atonement for your sins with His blood, and where He left your sins buried.
Through His Word He also assures you of His abiding presence. He does not simply speak His Word from afar. He is in the boat with you. And though you may wonder if He is sleeping or unaware of your trouble, He promises that He is not. He promises that He will bring you His blessings personally as you hear His Word and receive His Sacraments. The tempest of sin that threatens to overwhelm you, is silenced in the calm waters of Holy Baptism. And your fear-filled heart is comforted and filled with hope as you receive Jesus’ body and blood in Holy Communion.
You and I cannot see or feel Jesus’ presence in the means of grace. This is the place for faith, which trusts what God says. By faith, we cling to what is invisible, yet is very present, real, and powerful. The Apostle Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient—passing, temporary—, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2Cor. 4:16-18).
No matter what difficulties you are facing or may face in the future, The True God Abides with You. And He knows how to save you, strengthen you, and bless you.
What harm can sin and death now do?
The true God now abides with you.
Let hell and Satan rage and chafe,
Christ is your Brother—ye are safe. (ELH 154, v. 4)
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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