The Church in the World
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany| February 3, 2019| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. Matthew 8:23-27
Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” St. Matthew 8:23‑27
The Christian Church is pictured as a boat or a ship. The place where you are sitting is called the nave – where we get the word navy. The church is the ark of salvation. Eight souls found refuge in the ark and were saved from the worldwide destruction of the flood. Today, we find refuge in the church where we find our Savior who will rescue us from the impending destruction of the world on Judgment Day. It is surely appropriate for us this morning to look at the ship in which Christ slept during the storm on the Sea of Galilee as a picture of Christ’s church in this world. As we do so, we see first a picture of the dangers the church faces in this world. Second, we see a picture of the members of the church. Third, we see a picture of the protection that Christ provides for his church on earth.
We see in this event a picture of the dangers the church faces. I walk in danger all the way. So we sing. We don’t always feel the danger. Sitting in the boat on a calm sea with just enough of a breeze to cool you off, enjoying the beauty of the sun glistening off the water, you feel at peace. You are at peace.
Then the storm comes. The same body of water that gave us serene feelings of contentment has become a threat to our lives. The same boat is in the same water. What happened? Jesus is asleep. When the waves are coming over the sides of the boat and the pilot has no control over the vessel you are at the mercy of powers far more powerful than you. And Jesus is asleep.
The church is surrounded by hostile forces with fifth columnists within her ready to betray her to her enemies. Consider the depth of depravity of the self-appointed moralists of our day. When the governor of Virginia calmly promoted legal infanticide early last week few people paid him any attention, but when it was revealed later in the week that he participated in racist jokes while in medical school politicians from across America demanded that he resign from office. In America today, killing babies is everyone’s right. Making racists jokes is the unforgivable sin.
The church in America lives in a sea of open immorality, obscenity, blasphemy, and mockery of God. From without, the leaders of the popular culture despise the church’s very existence. From within, at least among those who claim to be Christian, fewer and fewer teach what the Bible teaches about right and wrong. The most holy mysteries of our faith – by which we are saved – are tossed aside in favor of self-help formulas for success. Most so called Bible-believing evangelicals in America don’t even believe that Jesus is the eternal God!
Well, he sure doesn’t look like he is. He’s sound asleep, apparently oblivious to the impending doom of his church. It doesn’t look like he’s doing anything at all to save the ship. The church is in the boat. The sea is the world. The boat is in the sea. The boat is surrounded by the sea, and at times the sea appears to overwhelm her. The church is in the world. Her gospel is true. It saves sinners. The world’s gospels are lies. They can only lead people to hell. And it looks like the world is going to overwhelm the church.
But he who is sleeping in the back of the boat is the Lord God of Israel, who neither slumbers nor sleeps. The murderous Muslim armies that defeated the Christian cities of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople, were not able to destroy Christ’s church. The Communist gangsters who ruled over the Soviet Empire for seventy five years and did their best to extirpate Christianity failed. The terrorists of our day, who have driven hundreds of thousands of Christians out of their homes in Iraq, Syria, and throughout the Middle East, will not succeed in destroying Christ’s church. She will weather every storm against her because her Lord remains in his church even when it appears that she is doomed to drown in the sea.
Second, in the ship in which Christ slept during the storm on the Sea of Galilee we see a picture of the members of the church. Let Jesus describe us to us. He says: “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” He doesn’t say we have no faith at all. Those without faith in Christ are not Christians. They’re not in the boat and they’re not out in the sea and they are not suffering the assaults that come upon the church. The church is those who believe the gospel and are baptized, as Jesus said, “Preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
But we who believe have such a pathetically weak faith. We confess the Creed in church Sunday after Sunday. “I believe” is so easy to say, and then we face experiences in life that appear to contradict what we confess to believe. Our weak faith is shaken by what we feel and what we see. If you’ve ever been in a boat in a lake with waves crashing over the sides of the boat, getting higher, and the wind howling louder, and the boat beginning to swamp, you know how fear can quickly overwhelm your confidence that your Father in heaven is watching over you and caring for you. It doesn’t look like he is.
Jesus is asleep. We see this. We see him apparently oblivious to our danger. Our faith flickers in the wind. And what does Jesus say? “Why are you fearful?” is not a question looking for information. He knows why. They have little faith. But they have faith. Clearly they do! If they didn’t have faith they would not have cried out to Jesus, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” Jesus doesn’t despise us in our fear and doubts. When our faith flickers like a candle in the wind, Jesus protects it and sustains us in it.
It’s one thing to have a weak faith. It’s another altogether to have no faith. Let me ask you this. You’re in a boat. It looks like it’s going to sink. What do you do? Jump off? Jump into the foamy waves? Where will you end up? You’ll go down and down and drown. That’s where you’ll end up.
The last thing you want to do is to jump ship. When you have doubts about God’s promises, when you begin to question why God permits what just happened to you, when you fall into a sin you thought you’d never do, but now you’ve done it and you don’t want to face it, whatever you do, don’t jump ship. Stay inside. Stay with the church. Don’t leave. This is where you are safe. It may not seem so, you it is so. You jump overboard and you will be lost. The ship isn’t going to sink. When it looks like it will you cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save me! I am perishing!” You cry out to him who loves you and is willing and able to deliver you from whatever troubles you.
And this brings us to the third thing that the ship in which Christ slept during the storm on the Sea of Galilee pictures for us. It pictures the protection that Christ provides for his church on earth. When those inside the ship cried out to Jesus to save them from the storm, St. Matthew records: “He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” How did he rebuke the winds and the sea? With a look? No, but with his word. St. Mark records his words, “Peace, be still!” Jesus commanded the wind and the waves and the wind and the waves obeyed him. The man who slept in the back of the ship while they were scared of drowning is the God who controls the wind, the rain, the snow, and every detail of the weather, including whether we are going to get a snowstorm on Sunday morning when God knows we gather together for church!
Now I want you to consider the implications of this. The God who controls what happens on the Sea of Galilee is the God who rules over this world. He is in charge of all creation. He is the man who slept in the ship on the storm tossed sea. He is the man who was betrayed into the hands of the Roman soldiers who brought him to Pontius Pilate who caved into the threats of an angry mob driven by bloodlust to have him crucified. He is the man who hung on the cross between two criminals, suffering and dying, and crying out: “I thirst.”
He was asleep in the back of the boat about to be overcome by the waves. He showed his power, did he not? He rebuked the wind and the waves – “Peace, be still!” – and stopped the storm in its tracks. How did this same Jesus manage to succumb to a fate far worse than drowning at sea? He was crucified, died, and was buried.
The answer is that just as the man who lay asleep in the back of the boat was the almighty God who controls the wind and the waves, just so the man who suffered the agony of the damned on the cross was the almighty God who governs everything in this world. And that tells you something. It tells you that the One in charge of the economy, whether you will have a job next month, whether your health will improve or not, and what will happen to your children when you’re not around to watch over them is the One who will never abandon his church in need.
If he died for us, will he forget those for whom he died? If he bore you sins in his own body, will he ever forget your need for forgiveness every single day of your life? Will he ever fail to forgive you when you come to him in sorrow over your sin? Your brother who stands beside you and stays with you even when it looks like you’re going to sink like a stone is your God who rules over this world in such a way as to save his chosen people from all trouble.
“Anthems be to thee addressed: God in man, made manifest!” His disciples marveled at what he did. “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” They knew. They witnessed what we Christians have been celebrating in the church for nearly two thousand years now. Jesus is Immanuel: God with us. He stays with us. Jesus protects his church by never leaving her. He protects her with his word.
He says it and it is so because he says it. He says to the wind and the waves, “Peace! Be still!” The storm is gone. He says to you, “Peace, I leave with you, my peace I give to you, let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. And it is so. He says, “I forgive you all your sins,” and it is so. He says, “Take eat, this is my body, given for you. Drink of it all of you, this cup is the New Testament in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It is so.
He says so here in the ship, that is, the church. The world sees her slipping under the waves, but she doesn’t sink. She sails on until the end of the world. When this world is destroyed, the church will survive, and inherit a new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness. It is a place where the sea cannot rage against God’s people anymore. It is God’s kingdom of glory. Those in God’s kingdom of grace, the holy Christian church, the Communion of Saints, the Ark of salvation, will inherit the kingdom of glory in which all sin and sorrow will be gone forever and ever. Amen