We are seeing a lot of reminders that this time of the year is in fact the most wonderful time of the year. This is the time when we celebrate Emmanuel, God coming in the flesh to be with us. He came as a babe in a manger to live among us. He healed us, he fed us, and he counseled with us. He was arrested, crucified and resurrected for us. This time of year is particularly important to me because this is the time of year when I came to faith. On a Thanksgiving night I was invited to go to a Christian camp at a church in Brooklyn, New York. They invited me and three other friends when I wasn’t a Christian and paid all my expenses to attend. I don’t know why I agreed because during that time in my life a lot of things were going wrong. I remember after the pastor finished preaching they had an altar call. The pastor kept standing there saying there was someone else that the Lord was calling. I literally held on to my chair and was shaking. I felt something moving in me and wanting me to go forward but I wouldn’t do it. I went back to Brooklyn but something was different and I couldn’t get back to my regular life. I started seeking and asking questions. People opened up their Bible with me to explain Scripture. So for me this is truly the most wonderful time of the year because I accepted Christ as my Savior. We all have a lot of reasons to rejoice because if you are in him you are an heir of God.
However, there are so many people in the country, community, and this congregation who are going through tough, difficult times. There are many people for whom this time of year is a time of hopelessness, trial, tribulation, and depression. This is not the most wonderful time of year for them. The National Institute of Health said that Christmas is the time of the year when patients report a higher frequency of depression. One survey actually said there is a spike in patients claiming they are depressed and needing help during this time. Another survey said that among all the people they’ve talked to 45% of respondents say this is not the greatest time of year for them. They feel this way because they are experiencing tough and difficult times.
You might be expecting a Christmas type of sermon but when I asked God what he would have me to preach this is what he gave me. I was going back and forth between two scriptures but God confirmed to me this is where he wanted me to be. So today we are looking at Matthew 8:23-27. This is part of a series of teaching moments that Jesus was having with the crowds that were following him and his disciples. You will see the boat becomes a classroom where Jesus is about to teach a new lesson. The Lord is going to teach the disciples some lessons that are quite applicable in our lives today.
23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
The big idea that I got from this passage is that when storms of life hit bend like a palm tree. Have you ever seen a palm tree in a storm? When the winds come a palm tree will bend as low as it can and in that way they survive. Jesus is taking his disciples into an experience that will test their faith. Each one of us as we go through our lives will realize there is application in here for each one of us. The first lesson that we get from this passage is that storms are inevitable.
Storms are inevitable.
There is nothing that we can do to stop physical storms. We now have technology that can predict when it will hit and what will happen but we can’t stop them. It is the same with spiritual storms. These storms usually come without warning. None of us like to go through storms. Most of us would like to avoid going through storms altogether. Unfortunately, as we see in Scripture, storms come when we least expect it. There are times when we ourselves cause storms to come into our lives.
Look again at verses 23 and 24. Notice there was no warning that a storm was coming. Some of the disciples were fishermen who were probably used to making this trip. They probably got on the boat not thinking that anything was about to happen. Isn’t that what we do often times as people? We get up in the morning and go about our business as usual. We are not thinking that something is going to happen or go wrong. The morning before the terrorist attack on September 11th was one of the most beautiful mornings recorded. Then, without warning, there was an attack on the city. Some of us here may be going through some stuff and we are hiding it.
I once heard it said that there are three kinds of Christians. There ones that are actually in a storm right now. There are some that are getting out of a storm. Those that are about to get into a storm. Storms are inevitable for each of us. Our response to it is what counts. I want to remind us that when the storms of life come that we bend like a palm tree in front of Emmanuel.
23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.
Storms will come even when you are in step with Jesus.
Storms will come to you even when you are closely following Emmanuel. We know that in our culture there are some who preach that if you walking in step with Christ then you will not have storms. I have heard some preach that they have never been sick in their lives. They say that you will not experience storms if your faith is big enough. That is a lie! That is not what the scriptures teach at all! Storms will come even when you are following Christ.
Let’s look again at verse 23. The disciples were following Jesus. They were as close as possible with Jesus. They were where they were supposed to be at that appointed time. They could see Jesus, they could touch him, they could eat with him, they talked with him and they prayed with him. Yet, Jesus allowed them to go through this storm. In John 16 Jesus is warning them of the storms that are about to come into their lives. He talked of when we would be taken from them. They thought it was crazy. In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” In Emmanuel you may have peace even in the midst of the storm. Jesus then says that in this world we will have trouble. That is a certainty. Jesus says to take heart because he has overcome the world. There is assurance that if you are going through a storm right now Jesus says to have peace through him. That is why I tell you to bend like a palm tree. Bend in front of him because he is the peace that we seek.
23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.
Storms can cause us to lose our bearings
Sometimes when storms come into our lives we lose our minds. If you see a storm on the radar and it is coming over your house it is a scary thing. I think it can be even scarier when you hear the tornado sirens going off. I went crazy last time I heard it go off. My kids went into hiding and were looking up to me to do something but there was nothing I could do. The only thing I could do was to pray that the storm would not hit us.
37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.
23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
Is your boat being swamped? Are you desperate? Is the storm beating on you and you feel like you are about to sink? You can imagine the disciples were doing as much as they could to keep the boat afloat. None of their efforts were working this time. You and I do the same thing when we go through storms. We forget who’s we are. We forget that we are God’s people and we start counting on ourselves. We do everything we can to keep the ship from going down. All the while we forget that Emmanuel is on the boat with us. Sometimes we pray and cry out to God but the moment we get up off our knees we decide what we are going to do next. We need to put it in his hands and bend like a palm tree before Emmanuel.
There are three things to be one guard about. Be careful to not always ask God for a quick way out. Be careful not to do things that will make the situation even worse. In our society people turn to quick answers that only make the situation worse. The absolute best that you and I can do is to bend before him, to wait and listen. Be careful not to jump overboard prematurely trying to escape from the boat. A lot of us do that! During the financial crisis that took place in 2008, I was pastoring a small church in Georgia. I saw how that financial crisis devastated that small church. Some of the people who were losing their homes decided to jump ship. They would divorce and a family would be broken up and devastated. Be careful not to jump overboard prematurely. Instead bend, bend, bend before him. Bend before Emmanuel.
Sometimes we think there is no ending to the storm. Any of you face storms like that? Have you ever been driving in a storm and you think that storm covers the whole world because you can’t see the whole picture. God can see the whole picture! You may be driving through blinding rain and be scared. You may want to even pull over to let the storm pass but as you keep driving you come out of the storm. The perspective we have from where we are is that the storm will never end. What we learn from scripture is that storms are always temporary and purposeful.
Storms are actually always temporary and purposeful.
All of the storms that you and I face God tells us are temporary and he is using them for a purpose. Imagine being on that boat at the mercy of the sea. Even if the storm only lasted two minutes I would have lost my mind. I am not a water type person, especially at night. Even if it were only two minutes I would feel like it lasted five hours. That’s how we feel when we are going through storms.
What are some of you going through right now? The Lord wants you to know that it is temporary and it is purposeful. The devil would like you to think it will last a lifetime and you will die with it. No, it is temporary!
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Consider it joy! Why!?! Because every time a storm comes into our lives we know that God has a purpose. James says that the testing produces perseverance. That means that the testing allows you to hold on even when it looks desperate. There is a purpose for the storms that you and I go through even in this time of the year.
1 Peter 1:6-7
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
This is why we rejoice when a storm comes. Not because we are happy to go through it but because we know that God had a purpose. In Jeremiah 29 God is speaking directly to his people. Many times this verse is taken out of context as people try to apply it directly to themselves. This was actually written for a specific people at a specific time for a specific reason. The Israelites were about to be sent into exile for seven years because of their sin. Even before they go God is giving them hope.
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Verse 11 reminds the people that they have a future. And, that the storm they were about to go through would not be the end. The word “future” tells you that no matter how long the storm lasts God has made a promise that all will be well. I urge you to read about Paul in the book of Acts. He went through many storms. God gave him a mandate that he would bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. As you read Paul’s life you keep thinking that he is going to die due to all the storms. Even while going through the storms Paul could rest assured that God had a purpose. Hold on to the hope that God gives you even though you are going through that storm. God reminds his people in verse 12 that they will call on him and he will listen to them even in the storm. This is a time for you and I to focus on the Lord. He will not hide his face from you even while you are going through a storm. You bend toward Emmanuel. Cry out to him because he promises that he will hear. The disciples had to refocus and remember who was on the boat with them.
In verse 25 the disciples woke Jesus up. They thought they were going to die. When I think about impossibility I think about what the children of God faced on their way to the Promised Land. They came to the sea with nowhere else to go and the Egyptian army was closing in on them. These were not military people. They were about to die. But God showed up on the scene.
Storms are absolutely powerless against an all powerful Jesus
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
What did God do when he showed up on the scene for his people? He opened the sea. Can you imagine that sight? He allowed his people to walk across on dry ground. Storms are absolutely powerless against Jesus. The Lord has absolute dominance over nature.
Jesus responded to the disciples by asking them why they were afraid. Afraid is a sin because we are not focusing properly. We are not looking at the world with our spiritual eyes but with our fleshly eyes. Fear is the evidence of things that we can see but can’t control. If you can control it then you aren’t afraid of it. Then Jesus got up and rebuked the wind. Jesus did it in his time. The appointed time is coming. Don’t lose heart right now. Our Lord Emmanuel is powerful! The storms in your life are powerless against our Lord. Emmanuel is the holy One! He is the King of kings! He is the Prince of Peace! He is the Son of God! He is the Word! Emmanuel is the Alpha and Omega! He is the great I Am! He is the true God! He is the Author and Perfector of our faith! Put your faith in him through the storm. Bend before him. Cry out to him and he will rescue you.
For some of us here, perhaps the worst storm hasn’t come in your life. Perhaps you are here and you don’t know Christ and the storm is raging in your life. The only One who can calm the storm in your life is Jesus. Turn to him!
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- What are some key similarities and differences in the way Job (in the Book of Job), Joseph (in Genesis 50:20) and the Apostle Paul (in 2 Cor. 12:1-10) responded to storms in their lives?
- How does the way you responded to the last storm you faced compare to their response?
- Think about one Bible character that actually caused a storm to invade his/her life: a) Name this individual and b) what lesson do you think you could learn from this individual?
- Why do you think Jesus responded to the disciples with the statement “O ye of little faith”?
- How would Jesus respond to the way you handled your last storm or the way you are handling your current storm?