This sermon is a continuation from last week as Matthew 8:18-34 is a single unit as Matthew wants to show us about having the faith to follow Jesus. We noticed that great crowds are following Jesus. They begin following after he preached what we commonly call, “The Sermon on the Mount.” In Matthew 8:18 we see the crowds continue to be with him. Seeing the crowds Jesus orders for his disciples to take a boat to go to the other side of the sea. Jesus is doing this to see who has the full dedication to follow him wherever he goes. A scribe tells Jesus he will follow wherever Jesus goes. But Jesus challenges him by telling him that it will not be comfortable to follow him. Jesus does not have a home. Jesus does not have a place to sleep. The faith to follow Jesus requires doing what is uncomfortable. Another disciple comes to Jesus and tells him that he just needs a short delay and he will follow Jesus. But Jesus will not wait. We cannot wait to follow Jesus until a more convenient time because that time will never come. Following Jesus must be immediate. So that is where we left off in our study of this gospel. Matthew will continue to challenge us to see if we have the faith to follow by recording two miraculous events in the life of Jesus.
Following Will Be Frightening (Matthew 8:23-27)
Jesus and his disciples now get into the boat to go over to the other side of the sea. Suddenly a great storm comes up on the sea so that the boat is being swamped by the waves. However, while the boat is being swamped by the waves, Jesus remains asleep in the boat. It is important to note that this is not a huge boat with a downstairs. Jesus is right there, tucked up under the cover that was found at the stern of the boat. Now you can visualize the violence of this storm that these men believe that they are going to die (8:25). So this is not a little water coming into the boat. These are not small waves. The waves are significant enough that the waves are coming over the boat, filling the boat with water. The disciples rush to Jesus saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”
I want us to carefully observe Jesus’ response. He does not wake up, look around, and say, “Wow! Things are really out of control out here!” Jesus is not surprised. Jesus is not concerned. The disciples wake Jesus up and Jesus says to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” What an amazing question! Why are you afraid? We are afraid because the boat is filling with water. We are afraid because the waves are crashing over the boat. We are afraid because a great storm has stirred up and we are going to drown. We have all kinds of reasons to be afraid. I want us to think about how Jesus has been testing who will follow him. Here are disciples who are willing to go across the sea with him. These are disciples who are willing to leave, willing to be uncomfortable, and willing to go with Jesus immediately. But will you follow Jesus even when you are afraid? Just because you are with Jesus does not mean that you will not experience terrifying trials. Storms are going to come that are going to test you. Jesus is not making it easy for these disciples. A severe storm is swamping their boat.
Jesus asks why they are afraid. Why are they are lacking faith? What does their fear have to do with their lack of faith? Think about what Jesus is challenging. Are you willing to trust Jesus with your very life? In your most fearful situation, are you willing to maintain your faith in the Lord and continue to follow him? Usually these are the times that shake us away from following Jesus the most often. When life is really hard and you feel like you are under threat, in danger, or doomed, this is often when we stop following Jesus. This is when we want to take matters into our hands. In the midst of our darkest trials, we are tempted to follow our own wisdom, do what sounds good to us, not listen to spiritual counsel, and turn away from God and his teachings.
To put this another way, it is much easier to have faith in Jesus when we are not afraid about our future and fearful about life. It is much easier to follow Jesus when life feels certain. It is much harder when we are suffering through darkness, not understanding why life is doing to us what it is doing. So how are we supposed to have the faith to carry us through the fear? Look at the rest of verse 26.
Jesus got up and rebuked the winds and the waves. Then there was a great calm. Look at the response of the men in the boat. “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?” They are observing Jesus’ extraordinary power and authority. There is a beautiful picture of the complete power of Jesus. In verse 24 we are told that a great storm arose on the sea. Verse 26 says now there is a great calm on the sea. It is the same Greek word in both places. Jesus has the power to bring great calm, overruling the great storm. Jesus wants us to see who we are following. The faith to follow even through fear comes by seeing who we are following. We are following the one who can even controls the winds and the sea. We do not fear the storms because Jesus controls the storms.
Friends, following Jesus is going to be hard. Following Jesus is going to mean that we will enter great storms. Follow Jesus means we are going to be in life situations where we are very afraid. We are going to be life situations where we think we are not going to make it through to the other side. But we continue to follow Jesus and hold on to our faith because we know that Jesus controls the storms. Do not fear the storms because Jesus has authority over the storms.
Following Means Giving Control (8:28-34)
There is one more picture that Matthew wants us to see about following Jesus in chapter 8. In verse 28 we see Jesus and the disciples safely coming to the other side of the sea. But now they encounter two demon-possessed men that are so strong and violent that no one could pass through that area. Notice their confession. “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Even demons are able to recognize who Jesus is. This is the Son of God who has all authority, even over them. So they ask to be cast into the herd of pigs. Jesus allows it and they leave these two men and go into the pigs, which then go run into the sea. Those who were tending the pigs go into the city and tell everything that happened, including what happened to the demon-possessed men.
Look at verse 34. The whole town comes out to meet Jesus. You would think that after hearing what Jesus has just done that they are coming to see Jesus so that they can follow him. Jesus has just exercised immense authority. He is able to cast out demons that are so strong that people could not go anywhere near this area. Jesus has freed the men. Jesus has freed the area. Jesus has freed everyone from fear. But look at the rest of verse 34. The whole town came to meet Jesus. When they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. It is a shocking response. The whole town is asking Jesus to leave.
I want us to consider the contrast between what just happened with the storm on the sea and the casting out of these demons. Seeing the authority of Jesus will either give you the comfort to follow Jesus or it will make you want to send Jesus away. Why does the authority and power of Jesus cause people to send Jesus away? I think the problem is that Jesus completely upsets your life. These men who tended these pigs just lost tons of money and their livelihood. When you understand the authority of Jesus, he will just mess your life up. So often this is not what we want. We want to be left alone by God. We see Jesus as an intrusion into our life plans. We want Jesus to leave us alone so that we can do what we want to do. We want to follow our own desires, comforts, plans, goals, and the like. Jesus is a complete roadblock to that kind of life. So rather than following, we want Jesus to leave us alone. It does not matter than he is in control of the storms. It does not matter that he can bring the great calm to your life. It does not matter that he is the freedom you need to no longer live in fear. Leave me alone. Let me be. Let me do what I want to do. This is why people who are in the storms want Jesus because they are ready for the life to get messed up. Please mess it up and help me through. This is also why people who are not in the storms but are doing well want Jesus to leave. They do not want life to be messed up. They are happy and content being in control of their own lives and are not willing to give that control to Jesus.
You are either attracted to the authority of Jesus or you are disturbed and threatened by the authority of Jesus. Upending your life and your plans can be frightening. But I want you to see that you have every reason to trust him with your life. You have every reason to follow his life directions, even when life is hard, uncomfortable, and frightening. But Jesus shows that you have every reason to follow him and give control to him. He has authority over all creation. He has authority over the storms. He has the power to bring you safely to the other side. He will bring you to eternity with him if you will believe in him and obey him. At just a word he can heal your life. At just a word he can calm the storm. At just a word he can cast out demons. He has authority over every aspect of life. Embrace the authority of Jesus in your life. Embrace the knowledge that he is in control and has all authority in heaven and on earth. The authority of Jesus is not something to be resisted or feared. His authority is to give us the calm we need to carry us through the storm to the other side. Have the faith to follow Jesus through the storm.