Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Matthew 8:23-27 23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
This Gospel reading presents us with an example of faith and unbelief. Here we learn what great a power faith is and that it must deal with great and terrible things and accomplish even miracles. Here we also learn that unbelief is a timid and frightened thing which can do nothing at all. Let us look into the hearts of the apostles.
When they get into the boat with Jesus, all is calm. There is no storm, no terror, they perceived no evil or danger. Had anyone asked them if they believed, they would have said “Yes!” They are like us when all is well. When there is no sickness, no misery, no problems, no death coming near; when we see nothing but prosperity and comfort and ease, we say “Yes! I believe. I trust in God and Jesus Christ, his Son.”
But this is not faith at all. This sort of faith clings to the visible, the things we see and perceive. This sort of faith is not faith in Christ, but rather faith in the calm we are experiencing. All is well. All is peaceful. The apostles had this sort of faith. They trusted in the calmness and in the fact that there was no storm, and it was based on visible things. But when the bad weather came and the waves fell over the boat and they started sinking and death was upon them, their faith was gone, for the calmness and peace which they trusted were gone. “We are perishing!” was their cry. Fear and terror gripped their hearts. They saw nothing but death before their eyes.
What does this sort of faith do? It does nothing! For it sees nothing more than it perceives, and it does not perceive life and security, but only the waves coming over the boat and the sea which offers them only death and every danger. Because they see only danger and death and pay attention only to the waves and sea, fear and terror grip their heart and trembling does not cease. The more they look at it, the more fear and death work in them. Unbelief has nothing else to which it can cling, and in which to take comfort. That is what happens in hell where there is nothing else but fear, trembling, and terror that will never cease and has no end.
Like the disciples, as long as there is calm and peace, we fear nothing and put our faith in the calm. Then, as the disciples, when the storm comes, when the waves spill over the boat, when the sea is a dark, bottomless pit of death, when we are dying, when we see our nation in turmoil, when our lives are being ripped apart from financial or health problems, fear grips our hearts, and like Peter on another occasion, we begin to sink into the quagmire of the turbulent seas.
But if faith had been there, it would have happened this way: faith would have put the wind and the sea out of their minds, and would have pictured for them only the power and grace of God, promised in the Word. Faith would have relied on the Word as if the sun was shining and they were standing on a rock and it was calm and there were no storm. Likewise, for us, if faith were present in us, when disaster strikes, when illness afflicts us, when death is approaching us, that faith would perceive only the power and goodness of God promised to us in his Word. When we perceive our sin, faith would see only the grace of God poured out upon us from the cross of Christ. When the world afflicts us and persecutes us, faith would see only the blessings he promised when he said, “Blessed are you when you are hated and reviled on account of my name.” (Mat 5). It is the power of faith that it sees what is unseen and does not see what is still perceived by the eyes. In the same way, unbelief sees only what it perceives and cannot at all cling to what it does not perceive.
God gives faith, not so that it can deal with insignificant things, but to deal with things the whole world cannot handle, such as death, sin, world, and devil. All the world cannot stand against death, but flees from it and is terrified of it and overcome by it. But faith stands firm, faith opposes death, and faith prevails over it.
Likewise, no one can stand the world’s raging, persecuting, slandering, hatred, and jealously. Everyone becomes weak and gives in and the world conquers and wins. But faith mocks the world and tramples upon those who persecute and rage against us.
So, who can overcome sin and the devil? With the devil’s many desires and temptations, doubts, errors, and heresies, who can stand against the abominations of the devil? All these things are the work of the devil. But, faith is that which keeps the devil away and puts him to shame, so that his deception has no force. It is faith which grasps the grace and mercy of God from the cross of Christ and clings to forgiveness and salvation. No one can silence even the smallest sin for the conscious roars so that nothing can comfort and assist such a person. He must go down to hell. Here faith is the hero who quiets all sin and releases the conscience from judgment and hell.
Is not faith a mighty and powerful force that can withstand such powerful enemies and obtain the victory over sin, death and the devil? St. John says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (I John 5:4). This does not happen in peace and calm, for it is a battle that cannot end without wounds and blood. In this battle, death, devil, flesh, sin and the world are so strong that the heart perceives that all is lost, that sin and death have won, and that the devil has prevailed.
As it happened to the disciples in the boat, so it must happen in all the other attacks of sin and the devil. We perceive that sin has taken us captive, that nothing but wrath and hell remain, and we call out, Lord, we are perishing! But, this Gospel is a comforting example of how we should not despair in sin and the agony of death. Though the waves rage and swamp the boat, we are not lost; we will not go to hell. This is the great lesson of this Gospel.
But, what spiritual meaning is there here for our lives today? First, in Christ we see the life of the Christian, especially the proclamation of the gospel and the deeds of love for the neighbor. Love is shown by Christ when he rose, cut short his sleep for their sake, took an interest in their need as if it were his own, and helped them. He neither seeks nor takes anything for his own, but has them benefit from his goodness. This is Christian love. It takes nothing for its own, but does everything freely for the sake of others and the glory of God. As Jesus said, “I have not come to be served, but to serve, and give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mat 20:28). So must we.
Secondly, the boat is the church. The sea is the world. The winds are the devil, sin and death. The winds must necessarily blow against the church in the world. Notice this, that before Christ stepped into the boat, all was calm. But when Christ entered it with his disciples, then the storm began. The boat, that is the church, must suffer because Christ is in it. When Christ is preached, the storm begins. The world cannot tolerate Christ or his message. For he preaches what is right and rebukes all others. This preaching and rebuking causes the storm and dangers to the boat. When persecution arises because of God’s word, it is because Christ is in the boat, and for that reason the sea rages and the winds roar. But that persecution will last no longer than he permits. Even if death overtakes us, still death and the devil are subject to Christ, since he is Lord over everything. Nothing will harm us. It is a comfort for Christians, that when they preach Christ, they must suffer persecutions, but nothing will come of it. It is a good sign that their preaching is truly Christian when persecutions come. But here our Gospel teaches us to seek our comfort in Christ, not from the world. For Christ alone is our help in time of need, our salvation in time of distress, our life in time of death. The men marveled and praised the Lord because the wind and sea obeyed him. Christ alone saves us from the winds and sea.
This signifies that through persecution, the Gospel and God’s word only advance and become stronger, and faith increases. Christ’s kingdom increases in affliction and decreases in peace and luxury, as God tells St. Paul, “My power is made stronger in weakness.” May God help us so that we do not despair in unbelief! Amen.