The Lord's Day Morning
December 6, 2009
“The Winds and Waves Still Know”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Luke tells groups of miracle stories in his gospels. It's obvious when you read them and then you compare them side by side that he has different things in mind that he wants to emphasize to you about these different miracle stories. For instance, if you look at an earlier group of miracle stories in the gospel of Luke they are focused upon occasions when Jesus does these miracles in front of the multitudes. Clearly He does it in an evangelistic context, to reach out to those who don't know Him, to reveal Himself to them as the Savior, and to draw them savingly to trust in Him.
But in these miracle stories, the next set of three or four stories that Luke tells beginning here in the middle of Luke 8, the context is with His closer disciples and it is clear that Jesus’ teaching and miracles in this passage and the ones to follow, and Luke's recording of Jesus’ teaching and miracles in this story and the ones to follow, are particularly designed to teach believers how they are to live the life God has called them to live in this fallen world. In other words, there are not just evangelistic purposes in view in this passage, there are actually purposes for teaching you how to live the Christian life in this passage because Jesus is revealing Himself in an extraordinary way to His own disciples who already believe in Him but who need to learn about what it means to live the Christian life and they need to learn it in the context of tribulation and they need to see Him miraculously respond to their context of tribulation in order for them to learn how to live the Christian life.
Now let me quickly say that it's just this kind of passage that our liberal and skeptical friends love to latch on to and say, “Ah-ha! This is yet another example of where the New Testament borrowed from dominant redeemer myths in the culture around them which depicted god-men or demi-gods coming to the rescue of people who were in a helpless estate and doing miraculous things in order to do it.” And so they would point to characters like Horace in Egyptian literature or Dionysus in Greek and Roman literature or Zoroaster or Hercules or some other demi-god or part god/part man that comes to rescue people in their time of need. And they would say, “Now see this is all that's happening. The New Testament writers are copying these dominant myths, they’re attributing these things to Jesus, and thus sort of borrowing other ideas that come from other religions and sort of making it up as they go along.”
Now there are two insuperable problems to this particular theory. The first is simply this: You will scan all of the pages of Jewish literature and you will not find any of these kinds of god-man redeemer myths populating what would have been the common inheritance of the people who wrote the New Testament. You have to remember that these are Jewish writers who believe in Jesus Christ, who in the first place are attempting to commend Jesus Christ to other Jewish people and then to Gentiles beyond them. And in their cultural heritage they do not have any of these god-man myths. And by the way, in their cultural heritage, it is God Himself who is always the rescuer. He is the one that comes to the rescue of His people, not some demi-god, not some super-human, but God Himself comes to the rescue of His people.
But secondly, and beyond this, these people were emphatically rejecting any form of religious syncretism. They abhorred combining other religions with the religion of Israel to come up with some amalgamation. The whole history of Israel had been about not doing that. Every prophet since Moses had said, “Don't borrow stuff from the pagans. Don't borrow stuff from the Gentiles. Believe the religion that God has revealed in His Word.” So the idea that these Jewish believers in Jesus Christ borrowed from pagan myths in order to interpret and elaborate the story of Jesus Christ is absolutely incredible. It is literally unbelievable. No one who came to the text fairly could come up with this idea unless you had a preexisting agenda.
But I want to suggest to you that there is something that is helpful about the parallel and it is simply this: in those stories in Greek mythology or from Egyptian mythology, there is a recognition that there are problems in the world that are beyond our control as humans and that there must be some other answer than within ourselves. Isn't it interesting that in the Greek mythology so often the problem that exists in the world are the gods themselves are squabbling amongst themselves and it's messing life up for us. And along comes a demi-god like Hercules and his job is to establish a little bit of justice and goodness in life for people who have fallen victims of the squabbling of the gods. Well of course that story is totally different than the Biblical narrative of how life really is.
The problem of this world is not up in the world of the gods; the problem of this world is in our hearts — it's our sinfulness and rebellion against God and the way that we relate to one another. And so it's an entirely different problem and an entirely different solution, but it's helpful to notice that parallel.
And of course we even recognize things like this in our own popular cultural mythology. You know from about the fourth quarter of the 19th century into the first quarter of the 20th century, one of the dominant cultural myths in America was the Horatio Alger myth, and it was essentially a rags to riches myth — that if you worked hard and did right you’d end up rich. And of course that fit the amazing expansion of America across this country and the building up of the nation during those times.
But it's very interesting if you look past the 1920's, especially into the 1930's, the dominant cultural myth changes. Now why would you think that might be? Well, let's think about what was happening — the Great Depression — and suddenly people realized that it didn't work out that if you just worked hard everything turns out right, your life is great and you get rich. And during that time, it's fascinating that popular cultural mythology like Superman and the Lone Ranger and other super heroes began to arise.
Now some of you will remember from the Superman comic strips and the Superman movies that when Superman arrives on the scene to save the day there is a standard verbal formula that is used to greet him by whoever is the hapless victim waiting to be saved — “It's a bird! No, it's a plane! It's Superman!” And this announces to you that the person who is coming to fix the hopeless situation has arrived. Now this is a common formula in the mythologies that pervaded the popular culture from the 1930's on. For instance, some of you over fifty are old enough to remember a western mythical figure who rode to defend the oppressed and to help the weak and to set wrongs right and to stand for goodness wherever it needed standing for. And whenever he would arrive on the scene to save the hapless victim he would never ever identify himself. And as he rode away, invariably the ones who had been rescued would say, “Who was that masked man?” And the only answer that could be given, because his name was never known, was, “Why, it's the Lone Ranger!” Now depending how much older than fifty you are, you may have heard that on the radio. Or maybe like me, you saw it in black and white on television. But it's the picture of people in a situation where they can't defend themselves and someone from the outside who has almost super-human powers is able to come in and help them.
Now closer to our own time in 1989, when they began remaking the Batman stories or movies, you may remember that Michael Keaton, who plays the first Batman in the Batman movies that started to be made in 1989, there's a scene where he has gotten hold of muggers and these muggers have taken all the money of these helpless people and he's shaking all the money out of their pockets and then he takes one of the muggers and he hangs him over the head of a roof, over the ledge of a roof, and says to him — the man begins to say, “Don't kill me man! Don't kill me!” And Batman says, “I'm not going to kill you. I want you to do something for me. I want you to go back to all your friends and I want you to tell them who I am.” And he says, “Who are you man?” And the response is, “I'm Batman.”
Well, you understand that in those circumstances the questions in the literature are designed to focus you on the one who is the hero and the solution to the problem. That is exactly what happens in this passage. The question that is asked at the end of the passage is designed to focus you on the person and the power of the one who is the solution to the problem. But in this case, it is not a demi-god, it is not a mythical theological figure, much less a pop-cultural character. Now, Luke makes it clear to you who this is by how he describes Him to you.
So let's prepare to hear God's Word together. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, what we are about to hear literally billions of people on this planet have never heard – billions of people alive now and many more who have lived in the past. So help us to understand the enormous privilege that we are about to receive the Word of God living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, read aloud freely in our hearing for our eternal wellbeing and edification. Help us to remember that this Word is more valuable than gold, it's sweeter than honey, and it's more necessary than food. Help us to listen to it accordingly, in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's Word:
“One day He got into a boat with His disciples, and He said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they set out, and as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke Him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And He awoke, and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, ‘Who then is this, that He commands even winds and water, and they obey Him?’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Where is your faith when the unexpected, the shocking diagnosis comes? Where is your faith? How do you react? What do you think? Where is your faith when a family issue that's entirely unexpected, in fact you've lived with it for years, royals with heats until it bubbles over with boiling? And though you've lived with it for so long you’re overwhelmed and you wonder to yourself, “Lord, what in the world are You doing in my life? I don't want this. I've never wanted this. Why is this here? What is going on? What is the message? Is there going to be any relief?” Where is your faith? Or maybe it's right now in this economy and you’re saying, “Lord, I'm an honest worker. I'm a hard worker. I even work smart every once in a while, but everything I do right now is going wrong and I don't see a way out and I don't know what You’re doing to me.” Where is your faith? To these and a thousand other questions that are in the hearts of the people sitting before me this morning, Jesus has a question for you — “Where is your faith?” – because in this passage, in this miracle, in this circumstance, He is teaching His disciples something very, very important about two things. First about Himself, second about how they’re supposed to live the Christian life in just the kinds of situations I've just described, and in so many more that I haven't because this is a passage that is designed at its culminating point both to show us who Jesus really is and also to teach us how to live the Christian life in the midst of the trials and tribulations that populate our lives.
Now to do that, we have to understand three or four things. First of all we have to understand what kind of a life it is that we are called to live here. Secondly, we have to understand where our hope comes from in the living of the Christian life in the life we have been called to live in the here and now. Third, we have to understand that there is meaning and purpose in these experiences that so often don't make sense but are very painful. And finally, we need to understand what the key to coping with them is. How is it that we make it through? And all of those things are taught to us in this passage. Let me draw your attention to four particular things in this marvelous story. I wish we had a whole month to consider it, but as we look at the miracles that follow it we’ll begin to see the similarities and draw attention to each of these details. But four things in this passage I want you to see in particular.
I. Your Savior knows what it's like to be human.
The first thing I want you to see is how Luke reminds you that your Savior understands what it's like to be human. Notice in the passage that as Jesus tells these fishermen to take the boat where they don't normally go, all the way to the other side of the lake. The fishermen would have rather stayed a little closer to home but He tells them to take it all the way to the other side of the lake. What does Jesus do? He lies down and He goes to sleep. And furthermore, we are told by the passage that even the storm that comes up on the lake of Galilee does not wake Jesus up. He is sleeping soundly in a fishing boat in the middle of a storm on the lake of Galilee.
Now I hope I'm not reading too much into this, but let me tell you what I think that tells you. It tells you that Jesus was tired. This is not the Queen Mary, folks, and He's not on the platinum deck! You know, this is not the three bedroom Admiral Suite; this is a fishing boat. The only possible place that I think he could have slept was up near where the helmsman would have sat. Maybe there was a pillow or something like it that He could have laid His head on, but He would have been scrunched up in an uncomfortable position. He must have been tired.
I remember the first time RTS sent me to Hong Kong to teach a course. I was way back in seat 72Z in coach class in the tail of the airplane and halfway over the Pacific I woke up and I could not feel my body from the waist down. It was the most terrifying experience I've ever had. I reached down to grab and see if there were still legs there. It was twenty minutes before I could feel my toes. I had gotten into some awkward position and just cut off the blood supply.
Well it must have been even more uncomfortable for Jesus on this fishing boat but He was dead asleep, tired from doing the work of His Father which He joyed to do. Tired from bearing the burdens of the world, He was tired. Some of you are dead tired. Some of you are dead tired. You’re going all the time. You’re wondering when it's ever going to stop. I want to tell you, your Savior knows what it's like to be tired, dead tired. He's been touched with the feelings of your infirmities and weaknesses. He's embraced that because He loves you and He knows exactly what it feels like to be tired.
But that's not even the best part. The best part is how Jesus wakes up. Did you notice that? It's in verse 24. The storm's going and Jesus is still sleeping, but when His disciples come to Him and say, “Master, Master, we're perishing!” immediately the Savior is awake. A storm doesn't wake Him up, but the cries of His frightened, needy disciples immediately arouse Him to their aide. I don't want you ever to forget that my friends. A storm is of no consequence to your Savior. He will sleep right through it. But the minute your weak and fretting and faithless voice cries out to Him, He is instantly at your aide. You see what that tells you about His readiness to hear and answer your prayers? The storm doesn't bother Him, but the cries of His people awaken Him to your help.
And then what does He do? After stilling the storm, He immediately asks a question to His disciples — “Where is your faith?” Now understand what Jesus is not doing. He is not rebuking them for being frightened in the midst of a life threatening situation. These men could have died. It would have been very easy for this boat to capsize and for them to sink to the bottom. But what Jesus is asking them to consider is if they have adequately understood who is it who is with them on the boat and if they have factored that reality into their life threatening situation and if they have put their faith in Him adequately for the living of the Christian life. “Where is your faith? Is it in Me? If it is, I'm right here. I didn't go anywhere. I was right there with you. Where is your faith?”
He was drawing attention not just to the size of their faith, certainly to the importance of their faith in responding to their situation, but especially in the object of their faith — “Do you trust in Me? Do you know who I am? Do you know what I'm able to do?” And of course He answers that question and here's the fourth thing I want you to see in the text — He answers that question by speaking to the wind and to the waves and telling them to cease. The hymn puts it this way — “The wind and the waves still know Him who ruled them when He dwelt below.” You see this passage is what lets you know that Luke is not talking about a demi-god. Every good Hebrew knew that God had created the wind and the waves and only God could control the wind and the waves and when Luke tells you that Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves – and don't you love it, “He rebuked them.”
Have you ever rebuked the wind and the waves? If ever there is a picture of a force out of our control it is the force of the weather! And I think it is one of the astounding idiocies of our worldwide generation that we have rallied together and we are going to solve climate change! What are we thinking? This is a picture of a force entirely beyond the control of the disciples but it is not beyond the control of their Savior. He speaks and it ceases. What is happening? Luke is drawing your attention to the person and power of Jesus and he draws that attention especially through their questions. “Who is this? Who speaks to the wind and the waves and they stop?” Precisely — and Luke's answer is, “Only God.” And this is why those men fear — because God was in that boat. Well they feared, not the winds and the waves anymore, but the One who made them and the One who controls them. He was in that boat.
Now my friends, in this we see four lessons that Jesus is teaching all of us about living this life. The first one is simply this: You need to know that the life you are living now is a life filled with tribulations and those tribulations are not the exception, they are the rule. Each of these miracles that are recorded in Luke in this section deal with trials and tribulations that plague the human experience and they remind us that those tribulations are not the exception, they are the rule. Jesus Himself said, “In this world you have tribulations,” but so often we respond when tribulation comes in our experience, “What's going on Lord? This shouldn't be happening to me.” And it's because the Lord has blessed us with so much that we've come to expect that experience of uncontained and unbounded blessing to be the normal experience in this fallen world, whereas the normal experience in this fallen world is in fact tribulation. Why? Because this is a world filled with sin and sin brings with it what? Misery. And it will be ever so until the Lord Jesus changes this world and He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. But until then we live in a world of tribulation and it takes us by surprise.
My friends, when the diagnosis comes and the problem boils over and the economy wrecks your retirement and has you at your husband or your wife's throat, welcome to the fallen world. And not only that, you understand that Jesus Himself was subject to these forces in His life. And should the Master walk a path that His disciples do not walk? What does Jesus teach His disciples in John 15, but that what happens to the Master will happen to the disciples. No, He walks the path of trial and tribulation — we will walk it too. There is no surprise in that, but we have to work that down into our bones because we're still surprised aren't we? Trials come and immediately the question is, “Why is this happening?” And why is the question, “Why?” so quick to come out of our lips? Because fundamentally we don't expect it. We’re taken off-guard. And Jesus has taken these disciples out into this boat precisely to teach them this lesson. When trials come, that is the way it is in this fallen world. It's the rule, it's not the exception. Don't be surprised.
II. This earthly life is filled with trials.
But there's better news than that and that's the second point of the passage because Jesus not only wants you to understand what this life is like, the life that by design is filled with trials, He also wants you to understand the solution. And of course the solution is Him. It's not looking within yourself and finding the resources to go on, it's not “man it up,” it's not “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” it's not “pull yourself up by the bootstraps,” it's not “if you’ll just work hard and do what's right it will all turn out right,” it's not “the sun's gonna come up tomorrow” — none of those are the answers that He gives, however much homespun wisdom can exist within those particular saying. No, His answer is entirely outside of ourselves because our problem is entirely too great for us. The answer is in Him and He is more than a match for any tribulation that we face.
Don't you love this picture? The disciples don't fully understand it as they go into that storm, but the Man who is sleeping at the helmsman's seat of that boat not only spoke this planet into being by the Word of His power and created all the oceans and the mountains and this tiny little lake comparatively, and brought into being wind, He also flung a universe that now as we speak is over 14 billion light years across and expanding and He brought into being the Orion nebula and He spoke into being galaxies. That's who's sleeping on that boat! And when they cried, “Lord, we're dying!” He says, “Oh? Stop.” and it's done. Now that doesn't mean that His answer to our cries is, “Okay, you’re going to be healed. Okay, you’re going to be rich. Okay, all the family problems are going to go away. Okay, in the end it's all going to work out right in this life.” Oh, for a happy few, they can testify that the Lord has done that in their lives, but for most of us, for most of us the answer is, “Though He slay me, yet will I praise Him. The Lord has given. The Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. But the answer is still Him. And the answer is Him, because however He chooses to save, whether He save me in life or through death, I am secure in His hands. I do not look within. I look to Him.”
III. There is meaning in our trials and tribulations.
Now here's the third thing we need to understand. It's not just that there is tribulation in this life and He is the only hope and answer of His people in that tribulation, it is that there is meaning in that tribulation. For those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no such thing as meaningless suffering. You understand that? Oh there is such thing as suffering that we don't have a clue how to explain. Yes, there is such a circumstances, looking at your life and saying, “I have no idea what You’re doing with this God,” but there is no such thing as saying, “Lord, what You are doing in me and to me and on me has no meaning. It has no purpose. It has no design. It just is.” That does not exist for the believer.
And do you understand that in this passage the very purpose of this tribulation is what? – That His disciples would come to know who He is. Wouldn't you have loved to be there the day that He spoke to the winds and the waves and be able to say with the disciples, “Who can do this?” Don't you know that they knew Him afterwards in a way that they had never known Him before? And what is the chief end of man but to glorify and to enjoy Him in knowing Him as He is. And the purpose, whatever other purposes there are, the purpose in every trial of every Christian who has ever lived is that you might know the Living God. And my friends, that is enough — to know Him in the face of Jesus.
But there's one last thing. Okay, Jesus is the answer and there's purpose in the tribulation, but how do I cope, how is it exactly that I cope Lord? I know that tribulations are to be expected, I know that Jesus is the answer, I know that You’re doing something in this even when I don't understand it, but how exactly is it that I cope?
Jesus has already given you the answer in the question. “Where is your faith?” You see, here's the life lesson — “Disciples, the only way you’re going to make it — and Jesus is in effect saying to the disciples, “Understand Me My dear friends, there’re going to be worse trials than this that come along for you. There’re going to be worse trials than squalls on the Galilean lake that could sink you to the bottom. There’re going to be worse trials. But here's the only way that you’re going to cope with them — faith in Me. Believe who I am, believe what I can do, and trust Me, even when all the lights go out, even when nothing else makes sense. You will not make it unless you learn that.”
So where is your faith? In that trial that you’re facing right now, where is your faith? Do you understand that it's not the exception, it's the rule? Do you understand that Jesus is the answer, whether He cures you or not? Do you understand that there's purpose in what He's doing in it? And do you understand that unless you trust the One who can speak and control the winds and the waves, you've got no chance in this life, no chance? By God's grace, I trust that your answer to “Where is your faith?” is in Jesus Christ.
Our Heavenly Father, we are blown away at what You teach us. In the Bible, as faithful men guided by the Holy Spirit record for us what Jesus did, and we're blown away by how this instructs us in living the Christian life. Grant then, O Lord, that we would put our faith in Him. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
In this passage it says that when Jesus spoke to the winds and the waves that after He spoke there was calm. For all you who trust in Him, hear God's Word of calm: Peace be to you who are in Christ. Amen.