Matthew 8:23-27: “Why Are You so Afraid?”
Sunday morning worship, July 22, 2018
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 fishermen were now disciples: Jesus “got into the boat and his disciples followed him.” That’s what disciples are supposed to do. That’s what we are supposed to do. Jesus is supposed to lead us and we are supposed to follow. Only this time following Jesus led the disciples into a furious storm. While the waves were sweeping over the side of the boat, Jesus was sleeping. Life was sweeping; Jesus was sleeping.
Doesn’t life often appear to happen that way? Doesn’t it often seem like the more committed we are to following our Savior the more life overwhelms us? Maybe it’s the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. Maybe it’s a sideway attack—one of our children or parents are in trouble. Maybe it’s a dear friend. In those moments when life overwhelms us, don’t we, like the disciples, often cry out from the depths of our being, “Lord, save us!”? Whether we think we’ve done everything right and still gotten into a mess or whether we know we’ve made horrible decisions, haven’t we all at one time or another cried out, “Lord, if you’re there, if you’re listening, help me! Save me! Save my love one!” while the tears cascade down our reddened faces?
And just as often doesn’t it seem like Jesus or His Father is asleep. In our heads we know, “He he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). We know, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
But in those darkest moments, in those moments where we know our life is no longer under our ability to control, it so often seems Jesus is sleeping while life’s waves of despair, defeat, and desperation are sweeping over the sides of our boat. We know without help we’re about to go under. We don’t have a lifejacket and there is no one on the horizon to rescue us. No one would hear that stupid whistle or see that tiny light even if we had a lifejacket. The water is soooo cold, too.
So how do we keep going when life has overwhelmed us? Jesus wasn’t kind to the 12. Jesus didn’t offer any sympathy. Jesus didn’t offer to dry their tears or hold them tight. Instead Jesus seemed to rebuke them just like he was about to rebuke the winds and the waves.
The problem in this story is that “the winds and the wave obey him” while we struggle so mightily to do the same thing. That’s why Jesus rebuked the terrified disciples: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” So why do we live so much of our lives dealing with our fears? Why can’t we live above the storms of this world?
Is it because life has shattered our illusion of being in control? That’s what got Adam and Eve into trouble. They wanted to know the difference between good and evil so they could make their own decisions. Trusting God to know when it would actually be okay to eat that forbidden fruit gave way to their impatience and curiosity.
How many times have we run ahead of the Lord? We want to know the pleasures of intimacy, but the economics of our world delay our abilities to live independently. We want to experience the release from the pressures of this world, so we let loose in an occasional out-of-control party-type of experience. We want the bodily pains of this world to go away, so we take one more and then one more and then one more pill than we should. We just have to have an object we can’t afford. Someone offers us a have now, pay later way to have what we think we need and soon we can’t do anything because our debt is overwhelming.
God wants us to be intimate with another and truly become one flesh. God wants us to experience life to full. Jesus said that’s the reason He came to earth to die. God promises us one day we will be free from pain and experience a new world in a glorified body. He just tells us we have to live life here and now His way, which usually means waiting on Him to provide, if we want what He is offering. Jesus never seems to take a short cut. Jesus never seems to be in a hurry. Jesus never seems to give in to our pained cries and excuses. Yet we fight to be in control instead of giving the responsibility of our lives over to Him and living by faith.
I believe we struggle like the apostles struggled in the beginning, like they did in this story. I believe the apostles only changed after they saw Jesus in the flesh, after they saw how Jesus lived by living day and night with Him for those three years. I believe the apostles only changed after they saw Jesus die on a cross, saw His body placed in a tomb, and then saw Jesus alive once again. I believe the apostles only changed after the Holy Spirit came upon them in power and explained all of this to them.
Go again to John 21 and read what Jesus said that day, once again beside the sea. On that day, after forcing Peter to confess his love for Jesus three times, Jesus told Peter, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (21:18-19).
The command hadn’t changed from beginning. The command was still, “Follow me!” But Peter was still afraid of death, still afraid of the unfairness of life in this world, even after this world crucified Jesus and Jesus still overcame death. Peter’s reply was, “Lord, what about him?” meaning John (v21), as if to say, “If I’ve got to die a horrible death, what do you have in store for the one you love? It’s not fair if he doesn’t have to go through what I have to go through.” Jesus simply said what happens to John is none of your business; worry about following me. That’s what I told you. I told you how you would die not to scare you, but because I know when the time comes you will do the right thing. I have faith in you; now you must have faith in me.
Are we afraid of death today because we wonder about the impact our lives have had on others? Do both our lives and our deaths have to have meaning? Do our lives and our deaths have to have purpose without which we fear we have failed? Are we afraid to be wrong to the point that we simply don’t try?
I remember a poster I found in high school which I carried with me for many years: “Live boldly for there is a hand above that will guide you.” It had a picture of a sail boat whose sail was full from the wind gliding across an open sea into the sun. Are we afraid of the consequences if we are wrong? No, I don’t think we are to become adrenaline junkies testing fate every moment of our lives seeking out some thrill without which our lives are dull and boring.
But I remember the first time I repelled off a cliff. I knew the person who hung the rope. I knew the person at the top of the cliff. I knew he trusted the rope. I went right over the side. It wasn’t that big of an adrenaline rush; it was simply fun. Knowing I was safe because I trusted the one who watched over me set me free to try something new. Are we afraid to fail or to lose? I’ve failed at so many things in life. I’ve lost so many things I’ve treasured or desired usually because of something that I could have prevented had I known more or known better. I didn’t fail for lack of trying or for lack of effort. I gave my all. But I still failed.
But I’m still standing because I’ve learned in Christ no failure is ever final. I’ve learned, God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). I’ve learned to “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then” (Ephesians 6:13-14a).
Are we afraid to love, to laugh, to live or are we simply afraid? When we want to do what God wants us to do, do we let our fears keep us from trying? Have our fears simply made us lazy so our lives are an excuse instead of a victory?
I was raised on Dumbo—alone, afraid, lost—until Timothy J. Mouse came into his life. Snow White would have died in the woods without the 7 dwarfs. Pinocchio wouldn’t have made it off Pleasure Island without Jiminy Cricket. Even the Lone Ranger wasn’t alone; he had Tonto. Even before sin entered the world God knew we wouldn’t thrive alone.
An often quoted passage in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
This church worked when the Friendship Bible Class and the Second Milers shared their lives together. The year I was born this church saw right around 20 babies born. Those families raised us together; many of them are still each other’s best friends. If we ever learn to really do church the way God intended, none of us would ever be afraid again. But Satan and our own selfish desires keep us apart. Not everyone has a Timothy J Mouse, 7 dwarfs, a Jiminy Cricket, or a Tonto. So when we are afraid, too often we fall down.
I pray with all my heart the day will come when we will learn to help each other up instead of going our own way, to be the good Samaritan who cared. That’s my impossible dream. That’s why I wanted to be here and why I’m still here 20+ years later. I still believe. I’m not afraid to say that. I choose to believe! How each of us chooses matters more than we know.