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“He Calms the Storm”

Matthew 8:23-34
Bob DeGray
October 6, 2013

Key Sentence

Jesus has power over every storm.


I. A Physical Storm (Matthew 8:23-27)
II. A Spiritual Storm (Matthew 8:28-34)


What’s the most violent storm you ever been in? In my 30 years living on the Gulf Coast, I've sat through direct hits by two hurricanes, Alicia in 1983 and Ike in 2008. Sitting through a storm like this gives you an incredible sense of the sheer power of God. And coming out the other side of a storm shows you his power not only to create it, but to calm it.

But there are many different kinds of storms in our lives. Last week we looked at the truth that the healing we need may be physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. We saw that Jesus can heal in any of these arenas, or in the complex mixture of these things that actually characterizes most of our lives. Another way to look at those needs is as storms in our lives. We have physical storms, we have emotional storms, we have spiritual storms, and we have mental storms. And all those things are related and interact.

People who went through Ike or Katrina were often diagnosed with posttraumatic shock syndrome, which means they have a mental storm going on long after the physical storm. Actually, our dog Theo has PTSD. Before Ike he was relatively calm in a thunderstorm. But he stayed with me when the family went to Oklahoma, and was terrified by the long night in the eye wall. He’s never been the same. At the first hint of thunder he looks desperately for a safe place to curl up. If no one is downstairs, he may violate his training and come up to one of the bedrooms. He’s never quite calmed the mental storm.

So it may well be that the worst storm of your life was not a hurricane, but something emotional, something that wrenched apart your family, some tragedy as a child, or as an adult. Maybe the worst storm of your life was financial, when you lost it all. Some of you may feel you're entering that storm this week with the government shutdown. Maybe the worst storms of your life have been sickness: chronic sickness that wears you to ashes, or sudden catastrophic illness or injury that changes your life or overwhelms you with pain.

Maybe the worst storm of your life was mental, as your mind began to take you to places you didn’t want to go, into depression or despair, into inability to think straight, into paranoia, fear, or hatred. Maybe your worst storm has been spiritual, as you wrestled with doubts, and fears, maybe even hatred of God, with oppression from spiritual forces that you couldn't control. For some the worst storm has been the constant struggle against sins that characterize and torment us, and from which we feel we can never completely get free.

All of these are storms. And Jesus can calm these storms. The king is among us, and he has power over every storm, and every kind of storm. Jesus wants to calm the storms in our lives. We’ll see this today in a physical storm, Matthew 8:23-27, and a spiritual storm, Matthew 8:28-34. Jesus has power over every storm.

Let’s begin with the familiar physical storm. And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26And 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. 27And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

We’re not skipping many verses in this part of Matthew, but we are skipping a brief conversation in verses 18 to 23 that takes place essentially while Jesus has one foot in the boat. It’s a conversation about the cost of following Jesus – he says if follow me you have to be willing to be like me, with nowhere to lay your head, and you have to be willing to hold lightly to all merely human ties.

Having said that, Jesus steps into the boat and heads for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. His disciples, more aware of the cost of following him than they were before, follow him into the boat. But after a while a great storm arises. It is well known that violent squalls develop quickly on Galilee. The surface is more than 600 feet below sea level, and rapidly rising hot air draws violent winds from higher elevations whose cold air churns up the water.

The boat he got in was probably something like this, based on the remains of an approximately 2,000-year-old fishing boat found on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It could hold 15 men, and was 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet high. If you’ve done any sailing you’ll know that a 26 foot boat feels really small when the wind starts to blow and the waves start to mount. Even an experienced sailor can be terrified in a storm.

And that’s exactly what happens here: ‘there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves.’ Several of the disciples were experienced fishermen, but they were terrified. So they wake up Jesus, who is asleep in the boat. Why was he asleep? Probably he was tired after a long day of ministry: the Son of Man had no place to lay his head. More than that, he was not afraid of the storm or of anything this world could throw at him. He knew his time had not yet come, and until that time he was content in his Father’s hand. His confidence in the Father gave him peace.

But the disciples were afraid, and said “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” They had enough experience of Galilee to know mortal danger when they saw it, but not enough confidence in Jesus to know that no mortal danger could threaten while he was with them. But, as we’ve seen in Matthew, they speak better than they know. Their cry, ‘Lord, save!’ uses the word sozo, used in Greek for physical rescue, healing and ultimately spiritual rescue. This is the word used by Matthew when the angel tells Joseph ‘he will save his people from their sins.’ When Zechariah describes the mission of John the Baptist it is “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.”

We need this word in all its meaning. I attended the Steven Curtis Chapman concert last week, and he gave an impassioned plea for those there to be followers of Christ, and he promised God’s rescue from the brokenness of this world. All good stuff, and a great concert. But I was a little saddened that he said we are also saved from our sins. If you don’t have that aspect of this word, you’re leaving out perhaps the most wonderful part of the good news. My wife Gail, when she gives her testimony, says that it was not until she moved to Texas, where the question ‘are you saved’ was common that she realized she was lost – separated from God by sin. Then she cried like the disciples ‘Lord, Save!’

So when they wake him up, he rebukes them before rebuking the waves. “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” The fact that the disciples cried out to Jesus for help shows they thought he could do something. They’d seen his miracles and at some level believed he could rescue them. Jesus' rebuke is therefore not against doubt of his ability, nor against their fear of drowning. He rebukes them because they didn’t see that the one so obviously raised up by God as the Messiah King could not have died while that work remained undone. They lacked faith, not so much in his ability to save them, as in his identity as Messiah. As Matthew Henry says “He does not chide them for disturbing him with their prayers, but for disturbing themselves with their fears"

Faith is the great enemy of fear; faith calms the storms that fear brews. The old hymn ‘Give to the Wind Thy Fears’ which we sang to Hannah’s wonderful tune tells us “Give to the winds thy fears, hope and be undismayed. God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears, God will lift up, God will lift up, God will lift up thy head. . . Through waves and clouds and storms, He gently clears the way; Wait thou His time; so shall this night soon end in joy, soon end in joy, soon end in joyous day.” So do you have a fear quenching faith? That’s what Jesus was looking for in these disciples, who knew him. Fear is banished when faith knows Jesus.

Having rebuked the disciples, Jesus then turns and rebukes the winds and the sea. And Matthew tells us that there is a great calm. Earlier he had said there was a great storm. Now there is a great calm. And the disciples marvel: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” They had, on some level, already believed that he could help them, but their faith was small and their fears were great. Now their fear is gone and their faith gives him the glory he deserves for his rescue: even the winds and waves obey him.

Last week we saw Jesus’ authority over every disease and every aspect of our brokenness. We saw his power in the arena of human need. But these verses show us his power over all creation. The sea cannot defy him, neither can the wind, for these things are but servants sent out from His Father’s storehouses.

But we have to remember that Matthew is using these accounts to reveal even larger truths. Actually there is no larger truth than that Jesus the Messiah King has power and authority over all creation. But the related truth that this applies to us in every storm of our lives is vitally important. That’s why we sing songs like “I Praise You in this Storm,” and “Sometimes he calms the storm; other times he calms his child.” We know at a gut level that whether the storm is a hurricane coming up I-45 or a relationship in turmoil, or the tragedy of sinful choices or the tornado of chronic sickness or the death of our closest loved ones, without a harbor, without a refuge, without a comforter, we cannot weather the storms of life. We need a savior with power over storms. Fernando Ortega’s setting of another old hymn captures this “Jesus, Lover of My Soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly, While the nearer waters roll, While the tempest still is high. Hide me, O my Savior, hide, Till the storm of life is past; Safe into thy haven guide; Oh, receive my soul at last.”

And Matthew, by his ordering of these accounts, shows that the king among us has power over even spiritual tempests. Verse 28: And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce no one could pass that way. 29And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

This account appears in the gospels of Mark and Luke, as well as in Matthew, and Matthew abbreviates the story in several ways. I normally don’t mention the parallels to accounts we study in the Gospels, because I want to let each of the Gospel authors give their own emphasis. But in this case the differences between what Matthew says and what you remember from Mark and Luke could make your head crazy without a little explanation. So, all three Gospels place this incident after the calming of the storm, and in the same Gentile region, though Matthew names the chief city rather than the village.

Mark and Luke, most notably, describe only one demon possessed man living among the tombs of a graveyard. Matthew says there were two, a point the others probably left out in order to emphasize the dramatic change of one of the men. Luke describes the demoniac briefly, Mark more fully, and then all three have the possessed man – or more accurately, the demons - recognizing Jesus as Son of God and begging him not to torment them. Matthew does not mention the fact that there were many demons; Mark and Luke call them ‘Legion.’

All three describe a large nearby herd of pigs – Mark and Luke say there were 2000 - that the demons beg to go into, and when Jesus complies they rush down the cliff of the Sea of Galilee and drown. All three report that the people of the village beg Jesus to leave, but Luke and Mark add a description of the freed demoniac and the ministry he will have to his own town.

Why does Matthew abbreviate his account and skip many of these details? I believe it is to emphasize the authority that Jesus has in the spiritual realm, adding to the overall picture of his authority: the king among us is the king who heals, the king among us has power over every storm and every kind of storm.

So notice that the demons know who Jesus is, the Son of God, and that he has power over them, and the power to bring them to an end: they say ‘don’t torment us before the time.’ There is a time coming when they will be tormented, and Jesus is the one with the power and authority to put an end to them.

The destruction of the herd of pigs pictures that. We don’t really know why the demons picked the pigs to inhabit. Some say that ‘this kind’ of demon must have a living creature to dwell in. Others say they simply the destruction of the pigs is just their hatred of all life. Still others think they recognized that the loss of this herd would inflame the materialist Gentiles against Jesus. Certainly that was an evident outcome in all three accounts of this event. The townspeople, probably including other herd owners begged him to leave after they saw what had happened.

So is demon possession a kind of storm? Well, the men so possessed are described a fierce, violent, so that no one could get past them. Mark describes them as possessing more than human strength, always crying out, cutting themselves, unable to be chained up. This sounds like misery. It sounds like the perfect emotional, mental, spiritual, physical storm. The mere mental image of a man so stuffed full of demons that they call themselves Legion feels like the worst of storms. Storms are by nature chaotic and unpredictable, and that’s what this man is like, as are all under spiritual oppression, I believe.

Is this what spiritual oppression or demonic possession always looks like? Both the Scriptural data and the experience of the church worldwide make us cautious in settling on just one description. Here the demons are clearly in possession of the men and can make them do violent and irrational things. But elsewhere, as we said last week, the line between demonic supernatural activity and the physical reality of sickness or mental illness is often blurred. In the same way, physical events that seem merely coincidental can have demonic origin, as we see in the book of Job – though never apart from God’s permission.

To give an example I didn’t use last week, I’m fascinated by Paul’s testimony in 2nd Corinthians 12. He’s talking about spiritual revelations he has received, but then he says in verse 7: “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” A thorn in my flesh which was a messenger from Satan. This sounds like a physical affliction that is at the same time a direct demonic oppression – a messenger of Satan. Paul isn’t possessed: I don’t believe a Christian, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells can be possessed. But even he is harassed, oppressed.

But don’t miss what Paul goes on to say “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Paul did not have the power in himself to calm this storm of Satan’s oppression or to lift himself out of weakness. But God did. Jesus did. Just as Jesus had the power to calm the physical storm, so also Jesus had and has all power to calm every spiritual storm, and emotional, mental and relational.

That’s shown in this passage. Matthew doesn’t give details about the transformation of these possessed men, but Mark and Luke, focusing on one of the two say something that blows me away. Luke 8:35 “Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.”

This is the perfect picture of the calmed storm; when the storm is passed the man is clothed – that is, his life is put back together, and he is in his right mind, that is, his mental and emotional chaos and confusion are stilled. Most important of all, he is sitting at the feet of Jesus, the Messiah King, the one with authority and power, the one who cares about him. What an amazing miraculous transformation – the one who was flooded with the demonic, so tossed about in every way now at peace at the feet of the Savior. His storm was so bad he couldn’t even cry out ‘Save Me’ like the disciples did. But Jesus saved him anyway! I love it. And in Mark and Luke we learn that he was so grateful to Jesus that he wanted to follow him and was more than willing to receive instead Jesus’ commission to tell those in his own home region what had been done. He became an evangelist to the Gentiles, proclaiming the one who rescued from the storm.

So what kind of a storm are you in? A relational storm? Your family is in turmoil and more often than not characterized by verbal war, by thunder and lightning, by bitterness and anger, hatred and abuse. The only place you’ll find peace is at the feet of Jesus. The only voice that can bring calm is the voice of Jesus. Maybe it’s a financial storm. No matter how hard you try, the expenses and the bills, the debts and the creditors pile higher and higher like a tsunami, and the wave threatens to overwhelm you. This sea can only be calmed by the voice of Jesus. Peace is found at the feet of Jesus. Or maybe this is a storm of sickness. We saw last week that Jesus can and does heal. He doesn’t, we know, always heal physically, but so often he does heal emotionally and spiritually in the midst physical illness. If you are in this kind of storm, calm is found as you hear the voice of Jesus. Peace is found at the feet of Jesus.

So you need to quite literally and practically put yourself in the place to sit at his feet and hear his voice, by spending time in his word, spending time in prayer, spending time in conversation with him, in relationship with him, depending on him. All of this allows you, as it allowed Paul to hear the voice of Jesus saying ‘My strength is made perfect in your weakness.’ The storms are mysterious, maybe even mystical, certainly supernatural. But the voice of Jesus is the most natural thing in the world to the believer, calling you his own, calling you to himself, calling you to peace. He speaks into the storm, he speaks into the chaos, and he simply says what Scripture says, but to you: “I am with you in this storm. I have power over this storm – and every storm.”