What a Boat Trip!
The story that we are considering this morning is all about an exciting account of a boat trip on the Lake of Galilee. The details are vivid and we don't find any difficulty in visualising them do we? But some of what Luke includes in his account is staggering – after all he maintains that a man, Jesus, spoke out and caused the storm that had blown up to subside – the staggering part is this the storm did just as it was told!
What are we to make of this? Is this merely another story similar to the parables that Jesus told which Luke also included in his gospel? The parables aren't to be understood as history, they were told as helpful memorable stories that carried a spiritual lesson. Is that the way we are to understand this particular part of Luke's gospel? But the story if not actually true would have no lesson to teach us. This is no parable and Luke does not record it as such – Luke is writing history, an accurate account of what actually happened on one particular day when Jesus lived on earth.
The scenario was the same for all the participants that extraordinary day but the protagonists experienced it very differently indeed.
Were we to look at the events from Jesus' point of view these are the salient facts:
He got into the boat
He issued instructions to his disciples
He went to sleep
He was woken up
He rebuked the wind and the waves causing them to quieten immediately
He questioned his disciples as to their weak/faltering faith
If on the other hand we began with the disciples we would find some differences:
They got into the boat with Jesus
They set sail as instructed
They panicked as the storm burst upon them causing the boat to fill with water
They woke Jesus up
Blurting out their fears they told Jesus of the danger they were all in
They heard Jesus' words that were addressed first to the winds and the waves and then to themselves
They were staggered being filled with fear and amazement as they thought about him and what he had done
They questioned among themselves who this man might be.
These two perspectives are really quite different and yet there is tremendous interaction between them. I want to examine this interaction with you this morning so that we might understand a little more about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. What lessons are there here for us to learn about the privileges and responsibilities of discipleship of this remarkable man Jesus Christ?
The Disciple and his Master
Perhaps the first thing we can say about a disciple is that he is defined by who his Master is. In short then we can say that a disciple is a:
the disciples had been with Jesus, following him, as he had gone through town after town preaching
the disciples had listened to him too when the crowds had flocked to him from town after town to hear to him preach and teach
they went to him for further explanations of his teaching when they didn't grasp his meaning
they listened to his instructions and they sought to carry them out when they got into the boat with him and he told them to set sail for the other side of the lake
although their faith was far from perfect they nevertheless had enough trust in him to turn to him in their difficulties
they grew in their understanding of what he could do and of just who he was
Next we can emphasis that the disciple is a:
The crowds could listen to the general teaching that Jesus gave but the disciples were able to obtain a much more personalised tuition
These crowds had been so numerous that their presence had made it impossible for the members of Jesus' own family to get through to him but the disciples don't seem to have experienced any of those hindrances instead they had a wonderfully free access to their Lord
Mark tells us that all this took place at the end of a long day when Jesus had taught the crowds a number of parables including the Parable of the Sower. The crowds dispersed but the disciples still were accompanying Jesus and were with him for the boat trip – prospects of more real quality time with Jesus! Even if he does go to sleep he'd surely wake up again soon enough for them to benefit from his company.
On the boat trip they experience his power and his loving caring compassion – how they benefit from his One who does not abandon them in their difficulties!
They benefit too as their Lord takes a deep interest in their spiritual well-being and in their spiritual growth using his powerful intervention in nature to stimulate further reflection on their part that they might wrestle with the fundamental question which all of us must face:
Lk.8:25 "Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?"
Let's pause and take some time to consider all of this a little more closely.
There was a clear distinction between Jesus and his disciples.
Jesus was the undisputed Master.
Jesus led deciding what to do, where to go, and it was he who gave the orders.
And the disciple, the true disciple when he is functioning normally, wants it no other way! These disciples who had already been following Jesus for some time already were not about to give up – they planned to keep on following him.
And so Jesus' suggestion of a boat trip to the other side of the lake met with no objections, in fact it didn't seem to worry them at all. After all at least seven of his followers were well used to sailing on that lake and were probably glad to get out onto the waters after a busy day on land surrounded by bustling crowds. If any of the non-fishermen amongst his followers were less enthusiastic about setting sail the desire to be with the Master trumped any hesitations they might have had. It was their privilege to know this extraordinary man, Jesus of Nazareth, and they weren't about to miss out on a further opportunity of being with him!
Time passed and the boat must have sailed some distance away from the shore. Everything was going well.
There are times in a disciple's life when life is just like that too A busy successful time of ministry, the presence of the Lord and everything seems to be sailing along quite nicely...
But it didn't stay way.
The lake of Galilee is situated in a depression some 200+metres below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. On the eastern side cliffs rise sharply and a little to the north east Mount Hermon rises to a height of some 3.000 metres. Cold air would rush down the slopes of Hermon and pass through narrow valley passages. When these cold winds collided with the warmer air on the lake surface violent and dangerous squalls could suddenly develop.
But this was no ordinary squall – the fishermen would have been used to storms on the lake but even they were panicked by the violence of this one that they had simply not seen coming.
The disciples were in danger! It wasn't just that they felt unsafe the circumstances in which they found themselves were seriously unsafe. They weren't afraid because they had misread the situation they were afraid because it was a very real possibility that the boat they were in might sink!
We know what it is like for life to be progressing smoothly without a cloud in the sky only for that peace to be shattered by some event that threatens to turn our entire world inside out and upside down. A sudden loss of employment, an unwelcome diagnosis, a road accident a family breakup – so many things can suddenly erupt and the peace that we had come to take for granted and maybe even as our right has gone in an instant.
Misconceptions about Discipleship
We must let go of the idea that Christianity is about offering a trouble-free existence to folk who can't face up to the hurly-burly of everyday life. In the case of these disciples it was specifically because they were disciples of Jesus Christ and following his instructions that these men were in danger. Yes, these disciples were with Jesus but they were nevertheless in danger.
We human beings are very much attached to the idea of cause and effect and it we can so easily carry it over simplistically into religious and moral spheres too. If something bad happens it is because I've brought it on myself or I've done something to deserve it. But this was simply not the case for these disciples – their difficulties came as a direct consequence of them doing what Jesus said to do.
If you are a disciple you may well find that the same is true for you – obedience to Jesus may expose you to dangers that otherwise you would have avoided. The disciple is not kept from danger but the lesson of this episode is that the disciple is kept in the midst of danger.
(Now don't get me wrong I'm not saying that on the basis of this passage no Christian will ever die in a shipwreck or storm at sea. This example shows that Jesus is concerned about his disciples and that he has a purpose even in those dangers.)
How did the disciples react to the whole situation? Cf. The similar situation recounted in the Book of Jonah where each of the sailors called out to their own gods in prayer.
Well they were afraid but in their fear they still demonstrated that characteristic which fundamentally marks the Christian – they remained Jesus-oriented and so they turned to him. They only did this one thing – we're not told that they prayed to God but they did go to Jesus.
Luke is the gospel writer who records the fewest details and pares his account right down to the bare essentials. They turn to Jesus, they wake him up and they tell him about their predicament!
Lk.8:24 "Master, Master (you can feel their anxiety as they call out), we are perishing!"
Take heart Christian this morning. While the winds and the waves did not wake the Lord Jesus the empassioned cries of his disciples did! How ready and willing our Lord is to hear our prayers and yet how often we are slow to turn trustingly towards him.
When we read passages like this part of the problem many of us have is that we know the end of the story and we fail to think carefully at all.
So let me encourage you to think:
Why did the disciples turn to Jesus?
Well one simple and obvious thing to say is that that is what a disciple does! He turns to his Lord, he must turn to his Lord, he always turns to his Lord.
But what did they expect him to do? Did they want him to pray? Or what?
And yet still these disciples did turn to Jesus – their faith was certainly not a robust faith but in time of crisis it showed itself to be real. The disciple might not have a clue what his Lord will do but the true disciple will always go the Lord.
Jesus Took Control of the Situation
Woken by his fearful disciples Jesus at once dealt with the situation and he did so in an utterly extraordinary way one which his followers had probably never imagined in the wildest dreams.
Jesus spoke and speaking he rebuked the forces of nature. He had already demonstrated his power over human sickness and he had rebuked fever when it gripped Simon's mother-in-law (Lk.4:39). In the same way he spoke and rebuked evil spirits when they had taken possession of human beings (Lk.4:35, 41). Now he spoke and with a simple word he quietened those forces of nature as easily as he might have muzzled a barking dog.
This was utterly unprecedented. The disciples didn't know of any example in all the years of human history leading up to that day. When the OT Scriptures spoke of someone controlling the elements like this they spoke only about the LORD God himself.
But it was so matter-of-fact for Jesus. He had come to do a work and that work was not yet accomplished so he could not, would not, be destroyed by this storm and because his disciples were with him they would not be destroyed either.
He then spoke to his disciples and asked a simple but awe-inspiring question:
Lk.8:25 "Where is your faith?"
The asking of the question implies what he thought: they had no reason to be so anxious for they should have trusted him. In the hymn "What a friend we have in Jesus" we sing of the peace we miss out on in our Christian lives when we don't turn to the Lord in prayer. Jesus' question suggests that praying faithlessly will also deprive us of the peace he would have us enjoy.
The disciples had gone to Jesus in their fear of the winds and the waves and now having witnessed their Lord and Master deal effortlessly and authoritatively with those forces of nature the disciples are filled with another sort of fear. They can't treat such a one with anything other than awe and respect.
Who is this man? They ask one another and they marvelled at him! Not only had Jesus delivered them from great danger but he had also caused them to move on in their discipleship by causing them to think more deeply and more seriously about his power and his identity.
These disciples were not super-heroes. They did struggle with fear, they didn't fully understand all there was to understand about the Lord Jesus but they were disciples none the less and they were growing. For you to be a disciple you don't need to be a super-hero either but you must come to Jesus.
My dear Christian friend may you be encouraged this morning as you see the same marks of true discipleship in your own life. Don't write yourself off by focusing upon short-comings but look to your Lord and make sure that you keep on doing so as an increasingly Jesus-oriented person finding out more and more about this remarkable man.
And for those of you who are not yet disciples realise that what Jesus did that day was yet a small thing. He had come to secure a much greater deliverance than just to save a handful of disciples from a watery grave he came to save a multitude of sinners from the wrath of God.
On that day the disciples in their anxiety called upon Jesus and he, knowing their faith was weak, saved them. He will save you too if you call on him. How can you be sure? Well he died on the cross of Calvary and is now risen from the dead. Where is your faith? It is not strong faith that saves – weak faith in a strong Saviour is all you need and God in his graciousness will give you even that.
So come to Jesus Christ and live!