Winds and Waves Obey Him (Matthew 8)

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Service Notes

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany + February 3, 2019
  • Order of Service: Divine Service 1
  • Hymns: LSB #710, 557, 752, 761

Theme Verse

And the men marveled, saying, "What sort of Man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?" (Matthew 8:27)

Sermon Text

This week’s readings have a very nautical theme. Jonah takes a boat in the opposite direction and gets swallowed by a fish.[1] “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it.”[2] The subjection of all creation, including the sea, to futility because of sin.[3] Then Jesus and His disciples cross the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum to the region of the Gadarenes.[4]

During this trip across the sea, a trip they would make often, a “great storm” comes upon them.[5] To illustrate the greatness of this storm, the word that Matthew uses is seimoV, used elsewhere for “earthquake.”[6] This storm was so violent Matthew says, “the boat was being swamped by the waves.”[7] The seasoned fishermen were being outmatched by nature.

It is very similar to Jonah’s trip across the Mediterranean. “The LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.”[8] The one major difference is that Jonah’s storm was God’s judgment on him not listening to His command to go to Nineveh. Jonah sought to go the opposite way into Tarshish, the furthest place on earth from Nineveh.[9] Trying to hide away from God. But you can’t hide from God. The Psalm says:

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.[10]

There is no place to hide from God’s commands or His judgment for breaking those commands. Why? “For the creation has been subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it.”[11] You can try to run away like Jonah, but it will not work. God’s violent judgment against sin will find you. There is nowhere to hide.

But the storm on the Sea of Galilee was natural. This was the creation expressing itself against the futility to which it had been subjected. Trying to break the boundaries God had set for it. Nature itself lashing out at God in the flesh as He was in the boat with His disciples.

But what is Jesus doing in the boat? He’s asleep![12] While the storm rages around Him, violently lashing at the boat, Jesus is peacefully asleep in the back of the boat. Why is Jesus able to sleep? He is secure because He is the Word through whom everything was created.[13] Nothing in all creation can overtake Him. Nothing can stop Him from His ultimate goal.

What is His ultimate goal? Rebuking the winds and waves of the storms of this world once and for all. Eternally stilling all of nature’s lashing out so that His people can live in peace and security. That’s what He does when He calms this storm. But we’re not there yet. He’s not even conscious of the storm in his human nature. He is still securely sleeping in the back of the boat.

Jonah was also sleeping securely.[14] However, his security is extremely false. He is secure in his idea that he has hidden himself from God. That God can’t find him in the belly of the ship. As a prophet of God, he knew the Psalm we spoke of earlier. However, he let his sinful human nature decide which of God’s commands and revelations he would give to the people. And he decided that the Ninevites were unworthy of God’s revelation. They weren’t worthy enough to be warned about God’s impending destruction.[15] We know what happens to him because of his false security. “The LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”[16] Hiding from God doesn’t work for you.

Neither does being irrationally panicked. Now, all panic can be seen as irrational. But panic can take over everything, including reason, in the face of crisis and calamity. Just look at the mariners sailing to Tarshish or the disciples sailing across the Sea of Galilee.

The mariners were very superstitious folk, as are most pagans. “Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”[17] Each of the mariners were calling out to their own god—and any other god they can think of—for deliverance. Without the knowledge of the one true God, we’re left to our own devices to explain how and why things happen. Since the mariners had gone through every god they knew, they frantically woke Jonah up. Maybe he knew another god that would save them if petitioned properly.

When they cast lots to place the blame for the storm, the lots fell to Jonah. They hadn’t questioned him when he paid his fare to go to Tarshish. Now, they were filled with questions. Jonah replied, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”[18] Jonah proclaimed the LORD as the one true God. He admitted to fleeing from the LORD. And they wanted to know, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?”[19] They were panicked enough to do and try anything to save their skin. They had someone to blame. Now, they just needed a plan of action.

Seven centuries later, in the disciples’ boat on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples frantically wake Jesus up, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”[20] The storm was getting to be too much for them. They call upon Jesus, the man whom they have followed for a while, who had done miraculous healings,[21] who had taught “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes,”[22] maybe He could do something. Say some prayer that would appease God, since He obviously had a closer relationship to God than the rest of mankind.

They had attempted to bail the water out of the boat. If there was any gear or cargo, they had already dropped it into the bottom of the sea. They had done everything humanly possible to try to save themselves in the midst of this storm. But the storm kept growing. They had come to the point where they knew that they were going to die in that boat. But maybe, just maybe, miracle-working Jesus could do something that they could not. They woke Him up, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”[23]

When Jesus woke up, He shook His head at His disciples and their panic. As He got to His feet, He began His rebuking with them. “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”[24] He rebukes His disciples for having such little faith even though He would later praise those with little faith: “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”[25] Little faith is good, but it can’t be overcome by fearful panic. Faith and fear don’t get along.

Jesus’ second rebuke is for the storm. Matthew doesn’t tell us what He said to them, but whatever He said was enough for a “great calm” to immediately happen.[26] Jesus spoke and there wasn’t a gradual decline in the wind’s speed or the waves’ height. The change was immediate. Just as the change was immediate for the mariners when Jonah hit the water.[27] The change is instant when God brings it about.

But that’s not the way the Christian life goes in this world. Many people want to use this miracle as a parable of what discipleship looks like. They want to make this entire thing one big allegory, but it isn’t. This miracle is a promise to the disciples and to you. And the promise comes in the answer to the disciples’ question: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?”[28]

As with the healing of the leper and the centurion’s servant last week, Jesus calms the storm as an example of His authority. Not what He can do, but how far His authority extends. Not only can He teach God’s Word better than the scribes.[29] Not only can He heal leprosy and paralysis.[30] He can control nature itself. He, the Creator of all that is, has come into the flesh to restore creation to what it had been before it was “subjected to futility.”[31]

St. Paul picks up this idea in his epistle to the Romans. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”[32] We see ourselves in both Jonah and the disciples. We want to run away from God’s presence because His thoughts don’t typically align with our thoughts.[33] We are members of Christ’s body, the Church, but we are still perishing.

There are many times when we wish that Jesus would just appear, rebuke the problems in our lives, and grant a “great calm” in our lives.[34] But Jesus doesn’t do it. We still suffer. We still panic in the midst of our problems. And Jesus looks at us and says, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”[35] And when Jesus asks this question, as with many of Jesus’ statements, He asks it on different levels with different meanings.

“Why are you afraid?” Because you don’t have control. You can’t control the world around you. And that makes you afraid. The little control freak inside of you wants complete control, but it doesn’t have it. It can’t have it. There is only one who has complete control. God. He has complete control, but we often lose sight of that in our panic. In His complete control, He has promised that the “great calm” will come. And it will be eternal. But it is on His time frame. By His Word. And we are to have faith in that Word.

You have “little faith.” That’s understandable. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen.”[36] What is it that you hope for? What is unseen that you really want to see? You want to see the Day of the eternal “great calm.” The Day when Jesus “will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness.”[37]

Jesus will judge the world in righteousness. This is what everyone and everything is waiting for. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”[38] There is only one way for the sons of God to be revealed. Through righteousness. The righteousness of the Son of God who offered Himself on the cross to make you righteous. To make you as one of “the sons of God” to be revealed on the Last Day.

As righteousness personified, Jesus didn’t have an easy life. He had a hard life that led to the cross on Golgotha’s hill. Righteousness brings on hardship because Christ’s righteousness is the opposite of the world’s futility. The world lashes out because of this opposition. But the world cannot overcome Christ’s righteousness. The darkness cannot overcome the Light.[39]

Jesus will judge the peoples in His faithfulness. He doesn’t concern Himself with your faithfulness. His judgment is all about His faithfulness. And He has been faithful in all things.[40] He was faithful in coming to earth, dying to pay for your sins, and rising to open the gates of Heaven. When He returns to judge the living and the dead, your eternal destiny is secure because He has written your name in His book of life.[41] All those who have been claimed by Him as part of His body, the Church. Those who even have just a “little faith” will be calmed.

The Day will come when Jesus rebukes the world and the eternal “great calm” will begin. For now, it may seem that Jesus is asleep in the back of our boat. But He is still in control. He still has the power and the promise to keep us safe. The journey has its struggles, but He has promised to see us through to His calling of life everlasting in Heaven. Amen.


  1. Jonah 1:1-17
  2. Psalm 96:11
  3. Romans 8:18-23
  4. Matthew 8:14, 28
  5. Matthew 8:24
  6. Matthew 24:7; 27:54; 28:2
  7. Matthew 8:24
  8. Jonah 1:4
  9. Jonah 1:2-3
  10. Psalm 139:7-12
  11. Romans 8:20
  12. Matthew 8:24
  13. 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:1-2
  14. Jonah 1:5
  15. Jonah 1:2; 3:4
  16. Jonah 1:17
  17. Jonah 1:6
  18. Jonah 1:9
  19. Jonah 1:11
  20. Matthew 8:25
  21. Matthew 8:1-17
  22. Matthew 7:29
  23. Matthew 8:25
  24. Matthew 8:26
  25. Matthew 17:20
  26. Matthew 8:26
  27. Jonah 1:15
  28. Matthew 8:27
  29. Matthew 7:29
  30. Matthew 8:1-13
  31. Romans 8:20
  32. Romans 8:18
  33. Isaiah 55:8-9
  34. Matthew 8:26
  35. Matthew 8:26
  36. Hebrews 11:1
  37. Psalm 96:13
  38. Romans 8:19
  39. John 1:5
  40. Hebrews 3:1-6
  41. Revelation 20:15