The man who calmed the sea

The man who calmed the sea

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See the stricken boat as it is tossed upon the sea; Hear the fearful cries that wake the man from Galilee. He stands before the raging, speaks peace and harmony: Winds and waves obey, he is the man who calmed the sea. [‘The Man who calmed the Sea’ by Stuart Townend]

Who then is this?

If you open your Bibles and cast your eyes over the passages that follow our reading from Luke, then you’ll see that this is the first of four miracles that come in quick succession. Jesus calms the sea and heals a man with demons, then he heals a woman who’d been sick for a long time and brings a child back to life. 

If you look even further to the chapter after this one, then you’ll see that these four miracles are followed by preaching and more healing, then Herod gets interested, Jesus next feeds the thousands, then Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ – and God declares that Jesus is his Son, the Chosen. 

All the while, Luke is asking: “Who then is this?” – and all the while he gives us the answers. I say answers, because there is more than one.

In Luke, we’ve already had Jesus as the Son of Man, Jesus as King, then Jesus the bringer of good news to the poor. In today’s reading he is the Master. The man who calmed the sea.

Chaos and evil

It’s important to know that at the time the sea was thought to be a place where demons lived. It represented chaos and evil, thanks to ancient stories of God having to combat and defeat monstrous forces when he separated the dry land from the waters of the sea at creation. You can read this in Job 38:8-11 and Psalm 89:8-10.

And the accounts in Luke and Mark seem to draw upon another psalm, Psalm 107: 23-30  

Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters;

They saw the deeds of Yahweh, his wondrous works in the deep.

For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, 

which lifted up the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;

their courage melted away in their calamity;

they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end.

Then they cried to Yahweh in their trouble,

and he brought them out from their distress;

he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Then they were glad because they had quiet…

In that psalm, it’s Yahweh, God, that’s stilling the storm. The Gospels will have been given by word of mouth first before being written down and the tellers of the tales of Jesus were making connections that their hearers couldn’t fail to miss. A connection that the disciples in the boat will have made for themselves – and it made them more afraid than of the storm itself. The man in the boat with them, the man who calmed the sea, had to be God. 

To make sure we don’t miss the point, the waking of Jesus is like the cry in Psalm 44:23 ‘Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever’.

The hero can’t die yet

In words reminiscent of the next story, with the man possessed with the demons, Jesus rebukes the storm, he muzzles it. Is it evil, is he exorcising it?  Or is it just a really bad storm on a lake that was prone to them? The wind rushes down, funnelled, through the surrounding hills which rise up to two thousand feet above Galilee, which itself is 700 feet below sea level. If it was just a bad storm, then even the seasoned fishermen seemed afraid. And as someone who gets seasick even on a ferry, I’ve every sympathy.

The boat here is getting swamped. And for us we’re only in Luke chapter 8 and we know there are more chapters to come, so the hero can’t die yet! They must all get through it somehow. But the disciples there in the boat don’t know that. They’re miles from shore and they’re sinking…

And initially Jesus doesn’t take charge and tell them what to do. He’s so tired he’s asleep in a storm. The disciples had to try and figure it out for themselves – and then they ask the carpenter for his help.

Jesus is in there too

And, after all, it was Jesus who got them into this. He told them to sail across the lake and they were being obedient – and he was with them – but there was still a storm. Being Christian and obedient won’t keep you free from storms. But Jesus is in there with you too. 

As we’ve seen, in this chapter Jesus takes them into a storm, encounters a man with demons, an older woman with a long-term illness and a young child who has just died. Following Christ doesn’t protect you from these things. Perhaps you’re even more likely to meet them as you go to places that you wouldn’t have done and get more wrapped up in the lives of others?

Adverse circumstances; illness of mind and personality; physical illness – and the final enemy that waits for us all. How will we face these?

We may face them – but it’s Jesus who overcomes them. The closest the disciples come is to cry for help. That’s a lesson for all of us. Our ability to cope with these things relies on us being with Jesus, here and now. Present in individual hearts and in the loving friendship of other believers. 

And the response in times of trouble might not always be what we expect. This storm was stilled quite quickly but in Acts 27 Paul had to endure one for 14 days before then being shipwrecked off Malta.

These miracles in chapter 8 seem to be a training ground, a formation, to teach the disciples how to cope. In ch 9 Jesus sends the disciples out and in ch 10 he sends 70 more. Their message wasn’t a trouble-free life but the power to cope with it when it comes. They are neither free from trouble or helpless in trouble. 

Consolation

And why? It’s so that we can help others. Luke’s friend Paul says this: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us all in our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God’. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

We need to remember that the Gospels would have been spoken and written at a time of persecution and hostility for the church. They would be asking themselves: was Christ asleep? They were to learn from this story that even if they’re being buffeted and seemingly out of control, they must trust and have faith as long as they had Jesus with them. Jesus, the man who calmed the sea.

Similarly, the passages from Isaiah and Psalms with which our Gospel strongly echoes, were written at times of tribulation and disaster, either individually or for Israel as a nation. It was God who would bring them through. All the force of the Hebrew Scripture was brought to bear here for the early church. The confidence of the psalmists and the prophets were focussed by the Gospel writers onto Jesus. In Jesus, Yahweh’s own power and authority was walking on earth and sailing on the sea. 

He calms our seas too

Christ’s words can still bring a great calm to bear in our own storms, our own times of chaos and turmoil, which are often about health or finance. He can calm our seas too. 

“Where is your faith”, he asks? If the divine stilling of the storm is the first point, then this is the second. Luke assumes the disciples do have faith – it’s just not very apparent here. It’s easy to fake it when the water is calm. It’s the storms that show up new areas for us to trust him.

Today’s story follows the parables of the sower and the lamp under a jar which are earlier in Luke 8. These were about opportunities to demonstrate the strength of the disciples’ faith. And in this test on the water their deeds didn’t come out too well versus Jesus’ words. The lesson for them was to hold on, even in the most extraordinary of situations. Perhaps for us too, these things happen after we’ve taken a new step of obedience – maybe we’re expecting a sign to confirm that we’ve done the right thing and something bad happens instead. Perhaps we’re not exempt from storms but led into them?!

The wind and waves obey him

“Who then is this?” they ask. This story is about Jesus’ identity as well as the disciples’ faith. He was someone who could master the elements, the man who could calm the sea – and only God could do that. The same creator, maker God that got his hands dirty in our reading from Genesis 2.

The winds and the waves obeyed him – do we? Trust and faith come from practice. We need to start now, in the small things, whilst the seas are calm, and not be surprised when the test comes. This is to equip us for what may happen in the future. Because sometimes people don’t get well, sometimes the boat does sink – and then we’ll need that peace that passes all understanding that only comes from learning to trust God.

No fear shall overwhelm me, for Lord, I do believe

You’re the Master and the Maker, You’re the man who calms the sea.

I’ll trust You for tomorrow and seek You for today:

For You’re the Master and the Maker, You’re the man who calms the sea. 

Amen

‘The man who calmed the sea’ was delivered by Ian Banks at St John with St Mark Bury on Sunday 20th February 2022. It was baaed on Luke 8:22-25

References:
  • Evans, C.F. (1990). Saint Luke. TPI.
  • Hendrickx, H. (1987). The Miracle Stories. Harper & Row.
  • John, J. (2001). The Meaning in the Miracles. SCM Press.
  • Wilcock, M. (2020). The Message of Luke. IVP.
  • The verses at start and finish are with thanks to Stuart Townend, The Man who calmed the Sea: https://www.stuarttownend.co.uk/song/the-man-who-calmed-the-sea/

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