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4501 Waller Rd E
Tacoma, Washington
INI
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 21, 2015
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor

CHRIST: THE PERFECT PILOT FOR A STORMY SEA
Matthew 8:23-27

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, Amen. Our text for today comes from the eighth chapter of Matthew, beginning with verse 23, as follows (KJV):

And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! Here ends our text.

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Stiller of Storms, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

I found an interesting website the other day. You may have seen it; it's called LightningMaps.org. It lets you look down on a map, say, of the United States, and see where lightning is striking in real time. They show up as bright orange dots with circles radiating outward, and gradually disappearing with the passage of time. Yesterday at noon, for example, I could see multiple lightning strikes happening in Columbia SC, Atlanta, GA, and Alexandria VA. If you happen to know people who live in those areas, as I do, it's a little unsettling to think that they may be going through a rather frightening severe weather situation, and you'd never have known about it if you weren't looking at the map. Normally, of course, you only hear about such storms later, if you hear of them at all.

What if you had a map like that for people? What if you could look at a map and see the places where people are going through severe storms in their lives? Like real-time lightning strikes, you'd see a bright orange dot appear whenever a person lost a loved one, or lost their job, or was diagnosed with cancer. What if a circle appeared each time a Christian's faith was in danger, or every time a believer was led to despair over his sin and to doubt whether he could ever be saved?

Such a map exists, but only God can see it. On any given day all over the world, our Lord sees people who are weathering various kinds of storms. He sees the Christians-those who are His beloved children by faith-enduring storms of trouble and sadness in their personal lives. Perhaps you've had that kind of storm blowing in your life recently. In our text for today, Jesus' disciples have a lesson to learn about handling stormy weather, and it will do us a lot of good to go along for the ride. Our theme for today is:

CHRIST: THE PERFECT PILOT FOR A STORMY SEA
I. You can't trust the weather.
II. You can't trust yourself.
III. You can always trust your Savior!

One of the blessings of living in western Washington is the mild weather we normally enjoy. Yet severe weather is not unknown even here, and the conditions can change in the blink of an eye. Whenever I comment to someone about what a beautiful day it is, they always say the same thing: "Wait five minutes!" The account in our text takes place at the Sea of Galilee, in northern Palestine. It, too, is subject to severe and sudden changes in the weather. It's skirted by mountains on the east, and long, narrow gorges on the west. Meteorologists say that these gorges can funnel strong winds down onto the lake, instantly turning the calm waters into dangerous, crashing waves. And this is exactly the trouble that the disciples found themselves in on the lake that evening. And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves. They couldn't see it coming, and there wasn't anything they could do about it once it arrived. All of a sudden the storm was just there, and the huge waves threatened to sink their boat. But the disciples were about to learn that CHRIST IS THE PERFECT PILOT FOR A STORMY SEA.

And boy, do we need one! Everyone goes through storms in their lives. Crises, problems that seem to have no solutions. And anyone who thinks that Christians have smooth sailing all the time, well, probably hasn't been a Christian for very long. God promises to deliver us from storms; He never said that they wouldn't happen in the first place. Why, the Bible is practically a catalog of the troubles that believers have endured through the ages! You can go right down the time line of history: Moses, Abraham, Job, Jeremiah, the Apostles, the martyrs. What terrible storm must King David have going through when he wrote, "I am weary with my groaning; All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears." -- Psa 6:6. St. Paul tells of some of the rough weather he ran into: "In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep." -- 2 Cor 11:23-25.

These believers never had smooth sailing in life. They went through the mill, and they often suffered specifically because they were Christians. It's the same for the children of God today, in the twenty-first century. The simple fact is that you can't trust the weather!

You just don't know what's around the bend. One day everything's rosy, and the next day it seems that the sky is falling. One week ago we were talking about how we were pretty much caught up with special projects around the church and parsonage. And the next thing you know a vehicle crashes into our building. None of us saw that coming, especially with our new guard rail in place. But there it is.

Speaking of storms, this week the Supreme Court of the United States raised a storm of trouble for Christians by redefining marriage to include the so-called "marriages" of homosexual couples. This decision goes directly against what God tells us in His Word. The real definition of marriage comes not from the Supreme Court, but from the Son of God, Who said, "From the beginning of the creation, God `made them male and female.' 7 `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 `and the two shall become one flesh.'" -- Mk. 10:6-8. In fact the Bible condemns as sinful any sexual relations outside of the marriage of a man and a woman. And sexual relations between two men, or between two women, is clearly condemned as sin in both the Old and New Testaments. God's Word in Romans chapter 1 applies directly to the events of this week: The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. . .22 Professing to be wise, they became fools . . . 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. -- Rom. 1:18,22,25-27. It's true that we're all sinners. And homosexuality is not the unforgiveable sin. But it is a sin, and to say otherwise is to deny the truth of God's Word. And for us Christians who refuse to deny any part of God's Word, I fear that this particular storm is just beginning. In the event that the laws of our government conflict with the Word of God, we must say with the Jerusalem apostles, "We must obey God rather than men." But as one of our members recently reminded me, even in the midst of this national storm that is so distressing for us Christians, our Lord Jesus is still firmly in control, still ordering events for the benefit of His Church. Even now-especially now!-we can sing with the hymnist,

When the wild tempests rave,
Ruler of wind and wave
Do Thou our country save
By Thy great might.

Well, that "storm" wasn't much of a surprise; our society's been heading that way for a long time. But maybe you've got a storm in your life right now that did hit you by surprise. Perhaps you've suffered a devastating financial loss, or gotten laid off your job. Maybe someone you love has been struck with a serious illness. Or even worse-perhaps it's something spiritual that has blindsided you-you're deeply troubled with a guilty conscience, or you have a particular sin which is weighing on your soul. The point is that you cannot trust the weather in life. Sooner or later, those waves will be crashing against your boat, threatening to take you under. And when that happens, you need to know what to do!

But can you really handle those storms by yourself? Look again at our text. If anyone should have been able to handle a storm on the Sea of Galilee, it was those disciples. At least four of them were professional fishermen, who knew how to handle a boat, and were well-acquainted with those waters. They were the sort of men you'd rely on in a crisis. But how did they react? And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. A more literal translation would be, "Save us, Lord; we are certainly going to die!" They panicked! All their seagoing know-how went right out the window in the face of that terrible storm. They found out that they weren't so skilled after all. They found out that you can't trust yourself to handle the storms in life!

It was Aesop, in one of his fables, who said, "Self-conceit leads to destruction." If a person thinks he's equal to any problem that might come along, he's headed for trouble. And there's a special danger there for Christians. It's ironic that the stronger a person becomes in his Christian faith, the more he's tempted to relax and become complacent about spiritual dangers. "Now that I've become such a strong, spiritual person, I guess I can handle just about any situation." The danger is that his faith may end up being more in himself than in his God. Well, if we sometimes forget our own weakness, we can be thankful that God never does, "For," as the Psalmist says, "He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust." -- Ps 103:14. And He constantly brings us back to this truth, that while you can't trust the weather and you can't trust yourself, you can always trust in God.

CHRIST IS THE PERFECT PILOT FOR A STORMY SEA. If you think about it, the disciples -- even in the midst of those crashing waves -- had plenty of reason not to fear, but to be fearless! Not only was God protecting them as He always does His children, but on this occasion they had the very Son of God physically in the same boat with them! And Jesus, far from being panic stricken like the disciples, was peacefully asleep in the stern of the boat. Yet they were convinced that they were about to die. They said, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! We can imagine how sheepish they must have felt when Jesus, with a few simple words, made this impossible crisis simply disappear. And you'd think that such a graphic demonstration of Jesus' power would cure them of their fears once and for all. That never again would they be so timid and faithless. But the disciples were slow learners. Many months and hundreds of miracles later, they would find themselves in exactly the same situation - out in a boat on the same Sea of Galilee, with a powerful storm running. And would react in exactly the same way - with panic and despair. In that instance, as you may recall, Jesus came to them walking on the water, to once again calm the storm.

CHRIST IS THE PERFECT PILOT FOR A STORMY SEA. The disciples had to be reminded, over and over again, that with God as their guide and protector, they had absolutely nothing to fear. Jesus told them, "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." -- Mat 10:29-31.

And are we any better than those disciples? You tell me. When problems begin to come up in your life, what's the first thing you do? Do you go some place quiet and ask God to help you and guide you through your problems? No, I'm afraid that even we Christians seldom do that. Generally, we try everything we can think of to get ourselves out of trouble. And then, if things get really bad, as a last-ditch effort, we pray to God for deliverance. My friends, that is simply the wrong way to go about things! God doesn't want to be your last resort. The Bible tells us to "pray without ceasing." I'm convinced that we'd have a lot fewer big problems if we'd just had the good sense to pray about them when they were still little problems! For CHRIST IS THE PERFECT PILOT FOR A STORMY SEA. He will guide us through those troubles in life that seem so serious and threatening.

You can always trust your Lord Jesus. It's that simple. I love the old story about the Scottish farmer who had endured three years running of failed crops. One day his pastor came to visit. "Your friends are worried about you," said the pastor, "they thought you might be about to break." "Aye," said the farmer, "I'll break. I'll break when the Fiftieth Psalm breaks in the fifteenth verse: 'Call upon me in the day of trouble; I shall deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.'"

Above all, Jesus' death on the cross provides peace for a stormy conscience...and once you've got that, all the other storms become storms in a teacup. No longer can Satan send waves of accusations beating against you, for the price has been paid. Jesus is in your boat. His righteousness covers you. It is His sacrifice on the cross that has set you free from sin. And if the storms in your life are getting you down, you can take comfort from the fact that Jesus went through far worse, for your sake. The writer to the Hebrews says, "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls." -- Heb 12:1-3.

It was long the custom in the world's major harbor cities that approaching ships would take a local pilot onboard, who would guide the ship safely over the bar and into the harbor, avoiding those perils and obstacles with which he himself was so familiar. Well, CHRIST IS THE PERFECT PILOT FOR OUR STORMY SEA. For Scripture says, "He was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." Are we sinners? Yes. Is our record perfect, as God demands? Far from it. Yet Jesus' record was perfect, ". . . who committed no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth." And the miracle of the Christian faith is that Jesus' perfect record of righteousness and obedience now belongs to you! It is now your very own possession by faith. The perfect righteousness of Christ is like a suit of clothes in which you stand acceptable in God's sight, both now and on the Day of Judgment. As we sing in the favorite hymn:

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in that great Day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully through these absolved I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame. (TLH 371:1-2)

Someone once observed that sailors who are trying to bring their ship into a distant port don't look down at the sea and the waves for guidance; they look up, and navigate according to the stars. I pray that you and I may learn to look away from our problems, and look only upward, to the cross of our Savior Jesus Christ. Whether it's an illness, a lost job, or a guilty conscience, God has promised to hear our prayers, to forgive our sins for Jesus' sake, and to deliver us, in His good time, from every storm! God grant it for Jesus' sake, AMEN.