A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 10/30/94
In the last several weeks we have been studying Jesus' teaching on the importance of hearing the Word of God with a teachable spirit. Today we begin a series of incidents which show the Word of God not simply as a word of wisdom, doctrine, or redemption, but also as a world of authority, power, and command. And the first of these incidents is the familiar story of The Stilling of the Storm. It highlights two truths.I. THE COMMANDING CHARACTER OF THE CAPTAIN
In this story we have represented graphically in concrete action a doctrine that our minds can never completely grasp in the abstract: the two natures in one person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the God-Man, not half God and half Man, but fully God and fully Man, two natures united in one person without mixture or confusion, not the pouring of Godhood into a finite man, but the taking up of Manhood into Divinity. This truth is beyond anything our intellects can adequately comprehend. How can one person be infinite and finite at the same time? Omnipotent and weak? Eternal and born in a manger? Immortal yet crucified, dead, and buried? Holy and a friend of sinners? It is more than we can get our powers of analysis around, but we can see the truth of it being acted out in front of us frequently in the Lord's earthly life. There are some things that can be profitably said in explanation of these conundrums, but today we simply want to follow our text in portraying their truth in all its paradoxical profundity. This incident is one that shows both sides of it most clearly.A. His Humanity.
Scripture tells us that the Lord was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. The Gospel narratives emphasize the physical trials of Jesus' life in the narrative leading up to this passage. He has just gone through a strenuous time of ministry in which he didn't even have time to take out for a meal (Lk. 8:19, cf. Mk. 3:20-21). This boat trip was apparently undertaken at the end of such a day (Mk. 4:1, cf. 4:35). And though Jesus had places like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus' house in Bethany where he could sometimes rest, during most of the three years of his ministry he was apparently camping out, roughing it--he had "no place to lay his head" (Mt. 8:18-20), a comment which Matthew puts right before this very boat trip. What is the point of all this? Jesus was not sleeping through the storm, as some pious interpreters would have it, because of the incredible depth of calm and peace in his soul. He was bone tired. His great, unbearable weariness, indeed his weakness, is stressed as the reason he was asleep--so exhausted that he slept right through a storm that was threatening to wreck the boat! The disciples lived with Jesus. They experienced his humanity close up and first hand. They knew he was fully man; they never doubted it. They couldn't. That is why the Gnostic heresies that emphasized Jesus' divinity to the exclusion of his humanity, that treated his humanity as an illusion, were made up by pious fools who had never known the real Jesus. You never get a hint of anything like that from the eyewitnesses. They knew that Jesus was fully Man.B. His Divinity.
In fact, it was the very inescapability of Jesus' humanity that made the equally inescapable evidence of his divinity all the more astonishing. The disciples had already seen the miraculous draught of fishes. They had already seen demons cower and crawl in abject fear. They had already seen the lame walk, the blind see, and the dead raised. Nevertheless, these things happened at special crisis moments, while they saw their master's humanity day in and day out, hour by hour, as he ate, drank, slept, and relieved himself in the bushes just like everybody else. So they still found the miracles astonishing; they never quite got used to them. And this one hit home especially hard for a couple of reasons.
First, as with the miraculous draft of fishes, these men knew the sea. Many of them had lived and worked on it their whole lives. They knew its power; they knew that, like the men in "A Perfect Storm," they were in "deep" trouble (if you'll pardon the expression) and might well not have survived. And they knew what many un-nautical modern readers miss: there is no way that furious waves driven by a vicious wind are going to suddenly become a complete calm, a surface clear as glass, once they have been stirred up. Even if the wind had stopped on Jesus' orders, the waves ought to have continued to surge for a long time anyway, perhaps for hours. What Jesus did here was absolutely inexplicable and completely unprecedented. What kind of man could do this? It's no wonder they were asking that question!
Second, as serious religious Jews looking for the consolation of Israel, these men knew the Old Testament. They wouldn't have had the technical expertise in it that the Scribes and Pharisees had, but they had absorbed its content and its very language and turns of phrase through synagogue school and a rich oral culture. And so they knew that in the Old Testament the sea is often used as a symbol of nature's wildest, most uncontrollable realm. They knew that there was only one Person who could say to it, "Thus far shall you come, but no further; here shall your proud waves stop!" (Job 38:11). They knew who it was that "dost still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves" (Ps. 65:7). They knew who had made a path right through the Red Sea for their fathers and commanded the same waters which had been held back to drown the Egyptians (Ps. 106:6-12). They knew that there was only one Power in the universe sufficient to command the winds and the waves--and it was not a man! Only Moses had ever done anything remotely approaching this--but he had told the people, "Stand by and see the salvation of Jahweh, which He will accomplish" (Ex. 14:13, emphasis added). And Jesus by contrast had just up and rebuked the winds and the waves in his own voice and by his own authority. What manner of man is this?C. Fully God and Fully Man.
That indeed is the question: What manner of Man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him? What manner of Man is this who does what only God can do, more directly even than Moses had done? How could the fully incarnate, that is, embodied, that is, fleshed out Man whose exhausted flesh we just woke up from an irresistible sleep suddenly make us think that God himself is here in the boat? Again, it was the very inescapability of Jesus' humanity that made the equally inescapable evidence of his divinity all the more astonishing. It just did not compute. What manner of Man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?
What we see here is that the doctrine of two natures in one person, the full Humanity and full Divinity of the person of Christ, is not some later embellishment, a rationalization made up by over-intellectual Greeks, but was implicit in the Gospel story from the beginning. The Gnostic heresies that emphasized Jesus' divinity to the exclusion of his humanity, that treated his humanity as an illusion, were made up by pious fools who had never known the real Jesus. And modern heresies that claim Jesus' divinity was added to the story of a simple carpenter by naive myhtologizers were made up by impious folls who never knew the real Jesus. A person claiming credibly to be God simply would not show weakness. A godly person claiming merely to be a prophet would avoid Old Testament allusions that could be nothing less than blasphemous--yet, far from avoiding them, Jesus goes out of his way to bring them up. And a prophet merely acting for God would do things in God's name, but Jesus says, "I command you . . . ." You cannot say he was simply an appearance of God, like an Old-Testament theophany; you cannot say he was just a great prophet, but really just a man. All such answers are too simple. The only doctrine that works, that gets in all the facts, is the one the Church came up with and codified in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds and the Definitions of the Council of Chalcedon. The disciples were not there yet. They were still in the head-scratching stage. What manner of Man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him? But this was head-scratching that would lead inevitably to the full doctrine of the two natures, fully God and fully Man--because the only explanation of Jesus that fits in all the facts is that this is just the way it was.II. THE FICKLE FAITH OF THE FOLLOWERS
The disciples were not there yet. In fact, they were farther from being there than they knew. Jesus' question to them is one we should ask ourselves as well: "Where is your faith?" I find it a curious question. Had the disciples not recognized that they had a problem? Had they not come to the right place with that problem, to Jesus? Do they not seem to recognize that if anyone is going to keep them from perishing it has to be him? This would pass for pretty sound faith among an awful lot of believers today! Yet Jesus' question implies that their faith was defective. How so? The text gives us a couple of hints.
The disciples' faith was good as far as it went. They knew they had a problem, and they brought it to Jesus--and so should we. But they seem to have brought it to him with a certain lack of confidence in what he might be able to do about it. There was a level of desperation in their voices that was not rational or justified for people who have Jesus in their boat. Interestingly, Luke says that they were "in danger" (vs. 23). But the disciples say, "We are perishing!" (vs. 24). They are not the same thing. I take it that Luke was writing from a critical distance with objectivity, and the disciples were speaking in the present with undue desperation. They ought to have come to Jesus with more confidence in what he could do. The second defect in their faith is evident in the wonderful question they ask at the end: "What manner of Man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?" I say their question is wonderful because it was at least intelligently and pertinently phrased, and therefore helps drive us to the answer, and would eventually help to drive them there as well. But at the moment it reveals that, despite everything they had seen and heard, they still did not have an adequate understanding of who Jesus was. Such an understanding is a necessary component of a truly robust, spiritual, and healthy faith.
What then do we learn from Jesus' question? We learn a useful and important definition of faith: Faith is an understanding of who Jesus is that produces confidence in his solution of our problems. Let me repeat that. Faith is an understanding of who Jesus is that produces confidence in his solution to our problems. Do you understand? Biblical faith is not an emotion, it is not a leap in the dark, it is not just constitutional optimism, it is not a religious "experience" that may be not much different from a drug trip, it is not a psychological trick we play on ourselves, it is not wishful thinking, it is not presumption or a form of intellectual blindness or naivety or any of a number of other things that sadly pass for faith in modern Christianity. Faith is an informed and correct answer to the question, "What manner of Man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?" It answers, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!" And on the basis of that answer, on the basis of its truth, it means a confidence in, trust in, and commitment to his solution to the problems of life. Faith accepts his diagnosis of those problems: They are not ultimately due to lack of education, lack of money, bad luck, or the unfairness of others (though any of these things may be contributing factors). They are ultimately due to sin. And faith embraces his solution: his death on the Cross for us, and our death to self for him. And finally, faith means confidence in the ability of obedience to his Word to correct the consequences of sin, in so far as they can be healed in this life. Why do we say, "Lord, Lord," if we do not do what he says? Faith is an understanding of who Jesus is that produces confidence in his solution of our problems.CONCLUSION
Do you wrestle with guilt? Do you need direction for life? Guidance in setting your priorities, determining what is really important? Do you have trouble coping with everyday hassles? Are you torn by bitterness, anxiety, fear? The answers to all those problems are here, in this book! Why do we not read them? And if we read, why do we not apply them? Because we do not really think they will work. Why not? We lack confidence in Christ's solutions because we have not really come to grips with who he is. We need first to ask the disciples' question afresh: What manner of man is this? And we must not be content with repeating the right formulae in answer to it. We must really believe them! Our problem, as theirs was, is simple: unbelief. It is often unbelief walking around disguised as faith because it is able to say the right words. But faith is an understanding of who Jesus is that produces confidence in his solution of our problems. We profess to believe that Jesus is Lord. May God help us to live by faith, that is, to live as if we really thought it was true.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams