24 June 2018

The Peace of Christ in the Storms of Life

“Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!?”

It is, for the most part, a rhetorical question.  The wind and the sea must ever and only obey the Lord God, their Creator.  Just as the same Lord makes clear in His response to Job, when even that great man of faith began to question the tragic events in his life.  But who was Job, and who are you, to question the wisdom of God, the Almighty, the Maker of the heavens and the earth?

He shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth and issued from the womb.  He made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band.  He fixed His limit for it, and set bars and doors.  He said, “This far you may come, but no farther; here your proud waves must stop!”

He is the almighty and eternal Son of the living God, by whom all things are made, and without whom there is nothing — who now tabernacles with you in His own flesh and blood as true Man.

There is particular significance in His command of the elements, especially the wind upon the waters.  For these are the waters of Creation, upon which the Spirit of Yahweh is moving.  And they are, again, the waters of the Flood, which cleanse the world of sinful unbelief and damnable idolatry, but which deliver the righteous from death and give them life by the Spirit of Yahweh.

We all know the importance of water as one the most basic components of life at all levels.  For the Lord Jesus to control the waters of the sea, therefore, is the evidence and exercise of His life-giving authority as the Creator.  At the same time, there is also a destructive potential to water, and no doubt you have experienced for yourself the terrifying fury of storms: thunder and lightening and torrential rains, driven by gale-force winds, threatening the safety of both man and beast.

Confronted by the deadly power of water in those and similar situations, you might well ask why God allows such things to happen to you and to others.  That was the question of Job, and of the disciples out there in their little boat upon the lake.  But whatever else ought to be said in response, it must first of all be said that the gracious Creator of all things is not the Author of death.  He uses death to punish sin with sin, to be sure; for He is the Lord, to whom all flesh is held accountable.  But He is, by nature, the true and living God, the Author and Giver of Life and Light and Love.

When Adam rebelled against his Creator and Lord, by rejecting and disobeying the Word that God had spoken, he brought death into a world that was created for real life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  If not for the gracious preservation of our Lord, we should already suffer the eternal death of damnation, which is to exist apart from Him.  As it is, He allows the consequences of sin to afflict and discipline the children of man, in order to drive them back to Himself in repentance.

The “storms of life,” both natural and metaphorical — beginning already with the Great Flood of the Old Testament — are the judgment of God against sin.  But not so much as a retribution for this or that particular sin, as it is that He curses the creation in the hope of His Redemption.

Regrettably, among the consequences of sin are the persistent doubts and fears of unbelief, such as you have heard in the case of the disciples on the lake.  The same is true for you.  Though you confess and affirm that God is the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth, and that He still takes care of all His creatures, you still have your doubts — in the midst of calamity and danger — as to whether the Lord is going to protect you and provide for your needs in this body and life.

The sad fact is, that, apart from the Word and Spirit of Christ, the tragedies of life do not serve their purpose of driving you back to the Lord.  Instead, they drive you further away, into the utter depths of sheer despair.  Like the disciples then, you begin to wonder and worry that the Lord has forgotten you, that He is “sleeping” on the job, or that He just doesn’t care that you are perishing.

Of course, your dear Lord Jesus Christ does care deeply about you.  So does He also care for you.  His genuine concern is already demonstrated in this Holy Gospel, from the outset, by His crossing of the Sea to the land of the Gentiles.  For He is bringing mercy and forgiveness, life and salvation, to those who have lived and walked in the darkness of unbelief (as you also have done).

There are many parallels, in this respect, to the familiar Old Testament story of Jonah, who was sent by God to preach repentance to the people of Ninevah.  The Prophet Jonah, as you know, did not want to go to those people.  He tried to run away on a ship in the opposite direction.  But that ship, too, was caught in the grip of a violent storm.  Do you remember where the captain found poor Jonah?  Asleep below deck!  But after he had woken up, the storm was finally brought to an end when Jonah directed his shipmates to throw him into the depths of the sea.  He spent three days underwater in the belly of a fish, before emerging onto land to carry out his mission from God.

Now, there are some obvious differences between the Prophet Jonah and Christ Jesus.  To begin with, Jesus went gladly to the Gentiles with His preaching of repentance and forgiveness.  And there was no sin of our Lord, as there was in the case of Jonah, to bring the storm upon the ship.

Nevertheless, Jesus elsewhere indicates that Jonah is the sign of His own death and burial and Resurrection from the dead — the three days that He will spend in the belly of the earth, and then His rising from death to life again.  It is by His Sacrifice on the Cross that He brings calm to the storms of sin and death, and newness of life and genuine peace to all of His creation.  Indeed, the mercy and compassion of His Cross and Resurrection flow throughout His entire life and Ministry, and He will afterwards send His Apostles to preach that Holy Gospel to the whole creation.

For example here, His genuine care and concern for the disciples is shown by the fact that He did bring the storm to an end.  Their lack of faith in Him did not destroy His faithfulness toward them.  He saved their lives, just as He does for you, despite how often you have given up hope in Him.

Of course, His calming of the storm demonstrates, not only His compassion, but also His divinity as the Son of God.  Hence, the fear of the sinful disciples in response to His miracle, as they are confronted by the Lord God Almighty.  And yet His divine compassion and genuine concern for His disciples, yourself included, is also indicated by His perfect life as the true Man in holy faith and love.  For Christ, the Son of God, is also the Man who is most truly human.  His very presence in the boat, just “as He was,” sleeping like a baby on a pillow in the stern, testifies to the solid fact of His human flesh and blood — flesh and blood like your own, in which He has carried all your sin and suffering to the Cross.  In His presence, therefore, the disciples need not have been afraid.  In His presence, the only proper attitude is faith and trust in His deep, divine compassion.

To be sure, the disciples did the right thing by going to Christ in their time of need.  However small their faith had become, even so, by the gracious working of the Spirit, they did run to Christ, they woke Him up, and they sought His help.  In truth, the Spirit also drove them to their knees before the One who is their Savior and their Lord.  God grant that He would do the same for you, as well.

But the real example of faith in this Gospel is Christ Himself.  His sleeping in the boat was, itself, already an act of faith and trust in His Father.  He lived His entire life in this way, “entrusting Himself, His body and soul and all things,” into the hands of God.  And it was also in such perfect faith that He willingly sacrificed Himself in the flesh, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for the healing of His Creation, confident that His God and Father would raise Him from the dead.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  Old things have passed away.  Behold, all things have become new.  In Christ is found the faith and life that you are called to live in Him, the faith and life that Adam and Eve and all their children have otherwise failed to live.  He alone has done what you could not do.  And yet, He has done it all for you.  He has fulfilled the Law of God by keeping all of His commandments in faith and love on your behalf.  And with forgiveness of your sins, He gives you life with God.  For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

In the sleeping and waking of Christ on the boat out on the lake, there is foreshadowed His Cross and Resurrection.  There again, the disciples felt themselves abandoned by their Lord, at the very moment when He was most completely given for their forgiveness and salvation.  But there, too, the tables were turned.  As Christ entered upon the storms of His Passion, bearing the judgment of God against their sins, His disciples were the ones fast asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In His calming of the storm at sea, when He was awakened, you see the restoration of Creation by His Cross and Resurrection.  The curse of sin is removed by His Sacrifice, so the raging storm must cease.  With Him there is a great calm, like the Word of the Lord at Creation: “Behold, He looked at everything He made, and it was very good.  And God rested from the work that He had done.”

Thus are you called to live your life in the peaceful calm of His New Creation, in the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  When you know and trust that He has saved you and redeemed you, then you rest in Christ, enjoying His gifts and looking to Him for real life.

Instead of frantic desperation and the endless pursuits of your own self-righteousness, you are able to “sleep” in the Peace of Christ, because you are traveling safely with Him in the “Boat” of His Church.  While the unbelieving world, together with your old Adam, is drowned and destroyed in the waters of the Great Flood, you are kept dry and secure in the Holy Ark of Christendom.

Herein you are crossing with your dear Lord Jesus to the “other side.”  Crossing the Red Sea out of slavery in Egypt into the freedom of faith in His forgiveness.  And crossing the Jordan River out of the wilderness of sin into the Promised Land of Paradise in His Body and His Blood.  And all the while, the wind and waves that would otherwise terrify you and threaten to kill you have been replaced by the living and life-giving, Spirit-filled waters of your Holy Baptism.

In the face of all the storms of life — those within your heart and mind, and those that rage around you in the world — no matter how intense and frightening they are, hear the Word of the Lord, the Creator, in the voice of Christ, your Savior, who speaks above the tumult: “Peace be with you!  Be still and know that I am God.  I am with you always, and I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments: