Who Can This Be?
Epiphany Four Sermon| February 2, 2003| Matthew 8:23-27| Rev. Rolf Preus
Who is He? He’s a tired man worn out by hard work sleeping soundly in a boat. Who is He? He’s the almighty God of heaven and earth who neither slumbers nor sleeps. Jesus said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Yet this Son of Man is the God over all who owns the whole world and everything in it. In few portions of God’s word do we see Christ’s true deity and true humanity revealed so clearly as we do in the Gospel Lesson appointed for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany.
We see that Jesus is a real man. He sleeps because He is tired. He needs His rest. He sleeps soundly. The boat in which He is sleeping is being swamped and He sleeps right through it. The disciples wake Him up. The storm that threatens the lives of everyone in the boat does not awaken Him. When you are tired, you sleep.
There is nothing in Jesus’ humanity that makes Him less than a genuine human being in every single respect. It’s true that He is without sin. It’s true that He is incapable of sin. But if we were to argue that one must be sinful in order to be a man we’d also have to argue that God didn’t create a man in His image. We’d have to conclude that neither Adam nor Eve was fully human until the devil had his way with them and they fell into sin. As a matter of fact, it is precisely in Jesus’ purity as the one and only man who never sinned that he is more human than anyone else is. He is what God created all of us to be. He is holy. He wants only what is good. He is full of love. He forgives even His enemies. He trusts God without any doubts of any kind. He loves His Father in heaven with a fervent, pure, and unflagging love. When He is mocked, He does not respond with hatred or anger. When He is slandered, He doesn’t issue threats. The perfect love required by every one of God’s commandments is perfectly met in Him: in His every thought, His every word, and His every deed.
No man ever lived who was like this man! He treated the high and the low alike. His heart went out to the poorest of the poor. Yet He also sought out the wealthy and lovingly taught them about heavenly riches more precious than anything in all of creation. His love knew no bounds.
And His true humanity is impossible to deny. It was not a pretend sleep in the boat, but a real sleep of a man worn out by doing good. And it wasn’t a pretend hunger He felt when being tempted by the devil in the desert after fasting for thirty days. It wasn’t pretend blood He shed in the Garden of Gethsemene and when He was being whipped on the back and when nails were pounded through His hands and His feet and thorns were forced into his scalp. This real man suffered real pain. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. This same man descended in hell to declare His victory over the devil. This same man rose from the dead on the third day after He died. This same man ascended into heaven forty days later in order to fill all things and be present with His church here on earth until the end of times.
Yes, He most certainly was, is, and ever shall be a man.
Who can this be? He is the Son of Man. He is the Son of Man, but He is not the Son of a man. He is the Son of a woman, but not a man. His humanity comes from His mother alone because she did not know a man. He is the virgin born Son of Man.
And He is the eternally begotten Son of God. He is the Lord God. He is the creator of heaven and earth. While He chooses to set aside the full use of His divine powers, He cannot choose to be anything less than what He is. He is almighty God. He is equal to the Father who begat Him from eternity. He is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. If all things were made by Him, He Himself was not made.
I can think of no miracle by which our Lord Jesus more emphatically showed His true deity than the miracle recounted to us in our Gospel Lesson for this morning. Consider the order of events as St. Matthew provides them for us. First, the storm comes upon them suddenly and threatens the lives of everyone in the boat. Second, Jesus’ disciples wake Him up from sleep. Third, they cry out to Him in fear, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” Fourth, Jesus asks them why they are so filled with fear and tells them they have little faith. Fifth, Jesus stands up in the boat and orders the wind and the waves to be still and so they were still.
What a wonderful event this is! It is not enough that God governs the wind and the waves. We already knew that. Only a fool would deny that. Who else but the Creator can be in charge of the creation? That is not such a wonderful fact all by itself. What is so wonderful about this event is that it is not just God who commands and controls the laws of nature. It is the God-man who does so. We worship a God who has become a man. Our Creator is our brother. Our Lord has assumed our own flesh and blood and has chosen to live with us as one of us. He not only comes to us where we live, but He actually lives with us, that is, He lives within our own humanity.
There is nothing we face that He hasn’t faced. There is no sorrow or pain or loss that any human being has ever experienced that our God become our brother has not experienced. True, He has not committed any sins as we have, but He most certainly has experienced our sins. As St. Paul puts it, “God made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us.” (2 Corinthians 5:21a) God has joined us, and not only for a time. He has joined us for eternity.
Why were the disciples afraid? They based their faith on what they experienced with their five senses. They saw the waves pour over the side of the boat. They felt the spray of water on their faces. They heard the raging of the wind. Their senses were filled with disaster, and they saw Jesus sound asleep. They were afraid because they grounded their faith in what they could feel and experience. The faith that trusts in what it feels is a false faith. Notice again the order of things. First Jesus tells them not to be afraid. First Jesus speaks His words to them, encouraging their faith, strengthening their faith. Only after He speaks His divine word to them does He then speak His divine word that calms the wind and the waves.
The power is God’s word. The same word that calms the wind and settles the waves settles and secures our faith. Throughout our lives God directs our faith back to where it was born. We are not born again in Holy Baptism because of any power in the water. It is only on account of the power – the inherent power – of God’s word. God’s word is what makes water a washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. We are not strengthened in our faith by eating bread and drinking wine and remembering Jesus. But by the power of God’s almighty word the sacramental bread and wine are the body and the blood of Jesus by which the world is set free from its sin.
Our faith cannot live on anything less powerful than God’s almighty word.
If we could see the miracles that Jesus’ disciples saw, could we then know for a certainty that we have nothing to fear from the powers of this world? If we could see our Lord Jesus display His divine power over nature, could we from such a sign find assurance for our faltering faith?
No, for the assurance of faith cannot come from seeing. It can only come from closing our eyes to what we see and listening to what God says. Tell me, what do the eyes see when they look at Jesus? Do they see changing of water into wine? Do they see the healing of the paralytic and the casting out of demons? Do they see the stilling of the storm and the raising of Lazarus from the dead? Is this what our eyes see when looking at Jesus?
Or do they see a man who is sound asleep in the back of the boat? Do they see this man forsaken by His friends and left alone in the clutches of Roman soldiers? Do our eyes watch as this forsaken man is taken from the judgment hall to the cross and there, stripped of His clothes and His honor, He is nailed to a cross to be shamed in front of the whole world? Because, you know, this is where our eyes should be directed if we really want to understand this holy man, this perfect man, this God become man.
The displays of His deity saved no one in the end. If one drowns or lives to die in bed matters little in the end. The displays of His power took away no one’s sins. In fact, all of the displays of Epiphany never had the power to forgive a single sin of a single sinner. The Jesus we love to watch is not saving us by what we are seeing. It is the Jesus we cannot bear to look at who is taking away what we cannot bear. It is the Jesus from whom we turn our faces. It is the Jesus who is no beautiful Savior, but whose “visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.” (Isaiah 52:14) The only thing that could finally and forever take away our fear was when and where Jesus displayed to the world what the world regards as weakness and failure. It was when and where He suffered as the condemned man. It was where and when He drank the bitter drink of God’s eternal wrath against sinful humanity. It was when His innocence bore the sin of the world. It was when in what appeared to be shameful weakness He destroyed forever the power of death.
Christian, you don’t have to be afraid to die. The coward dies a thousand deaths; the brave man dies but once. And we have died. We were crucified with Christ and we died. We drowned. When God baptized us, He drowned us in the sea of Christ’s suffering and death. We rose from that watery grave. Now we live in Christ and we live forever. We don’t have to be afraid. What can hurt you? There was nothing wrong with the cry, “Lord, save us!” That’s the cry of faith. There was something very wrong with what followed that cry: “We are perishing!” They were not perishing. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We cannot perish. We cannot die. We know the One who faced death for us. We know the One who has washed away all of our sins by His innocent suffering and death. We know Him by His voice that says, as recorded by the prophet Isaiah:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
It may appear that He is sleeping, but He is not. It may appear that He is weak. But He is not. It may appear in every which way to prove He cannot help us out of the trouble we face. But what appears to be is not what is. The truth is never what appears to be true. It is always what God says is true. And what God says to you and to me is that there is no storm of life that can destroy us. The God who joined us by becoming our Immanuel is the One who suffered and died for us. He is the One who christened us by joining His name to our name. And there is no power in heaven or on earth that can tear us out of his gracious hand.