Peace (Matthew 8:23-33)

“I just wish things could get back to normal.” Have you heard other people saying that? Have you found yourself saying it too?  If I were to take you back to February and March, how did you feel then? Perhaps you were anxious but there was also the adrenalin of being in this together too wasn’t there. We made plans to look out for each other, we looked forward to getting to the other side.

Yet for many of us now, there is still fear and perhaps that fear includes despair. There seems no way out of the horror that COVID-19 brings. We are afraid of further deaths but we are also afraid of the havoc caused to the economy, to communities, to families and even to the local church.

Well, I want to talk to you about the one who brings peace in the storm.

Don’t be afraid – Jesus brings peace in the midst of our circumstances (v23-27)

Jesus has come down from the mountain where he has been teaching about what it means to be part of his happy people. Along the way, people have come to receive healing from him.  He now plans to travel across Galilee and so he embarks into a boat.  His disciples come with him. 

They are out on the lake and a storm strikes. It is of seismic proportions. In fact, the suggestion is of an actual earthquake not just a storm. The Disciples are terrified. No doubt, the fishermen among them have faced many storms but this seems to be far beyond what they have got through in the past, the waves are battering the boat and swamping into it. They expect to drown.

Jesus is sleeping. The disciples go to raise him.  Notice the imagery here echoing Jonah’s experience asleep on another boat in a storm. There are of course differences, Jonah was running from God, whereas, here is God The Son coming to his people, Jonah was deserving of the penalty of death, Jesus was not. However, the imagery here links to the idea of death and resurrection. It is only through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we can experience real peace.

Jesus gets up and he rebukes them “why are you so timid, why are you lacking in faith?” He can say this because of everything he has taught them and everything he has shown them so far. Jesus has preached that he is bringing God’s kingdom, he has promised them his peace, he has taught them to trust him and cling to him alone. That’s what the Sermon on the Mount is all about. Indeed the sermon finished with a promise that those who build their lives on Christ’s word can be safe from the storm. 

Then Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves.  The calm that follows is as great as the storm before. The disciples are amazed at his power. You see, Jesus, the one who spoke wind and waves into being has the power to speak to them and bring peace. With the Lord in the boat, the disciples are safe.

A constant theme throughout COVID has been that we can trust Jesus to stick with us and bring us safely through. Jesus can bring you safely through all of your circumstances.  So don’t be afraid, trust him.

Don’t be afraid – Jesus brings peace from the spiritual turmoil within our lives

On the other side of the lake, they are confronted by two demon possessed men. Other accounts focus on just the one. They are coming out of the tombs, this is more “death and resurrection” imagery.

 The demons recognise Jesus as the Son of God.  They plead with him to send him into the pigs grazing near by.  Why do they do this? Well, their concern is that Jesus is here to judge them before the appointed time. The demons know that judgement day is coming and they know that they cannot prevent this. However, here, they are desperate for more time before they are sent to their final judgement.

Jesus commands them to go and they enter the pigs driving them to their destruction in the sea.  Note that the very waters that were safe and calm for the disciples when Christ was with them were dangerous to unclean animals when demons were with them. Furthermore, by allowing the the demons to destroy the herd, Christ demonstrates the destructive effect of idolatry and the devil.

The men are restored to life, health and their right minds but the herdmen and townsmen are terrified and beg Jesus to leave. There is no peace for them.

I would like to offer the following observations at this stage. First of all, that demon possession and oppression is possible today. I believe it tends to be rarer because there seemed to be a specific concentration of this activity during the incarnation. However, it is real and it may be that some are afflicted by this. Christ is still able to cast out demons today.  

Secondly, Christians have the Holy Spirit living in them. It is impossible for you to be under the influence of evil Spirits. He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world.

Thirdly, I think the inner spiritual storms caused by the demons do remind us that we face inner storms too as well as outer storms. It is not just our circumstances that give us trouble but our own struggle with sin and our own brokenness. Christ is able to put that right. Our fear of that inner storm is often expressed in shame. Jesus is the one who came to take away your shame.

From Fear to Faith

What does it mean for us to have peace and to be peace makers?  What does it mean to move from fear to faith? First of all, it does not mean we ignore and deny the reality of our inner troubles or outer circumstances.  These will create natural fear and concern. However, we do not need to be overwhelmed or paralysed by them. 

Trusting Christ practically means that:

  • I head into the very situations I am afraid of, even when it is a struggle to do so.
  • I keep constantly praying, bringing my fears to him.
  • I don’t allow my fears to overwhelm me to the point where I am creating anxiety and fear for others too.

Again, this is about allowing the Holy Spirit to work in your life, knowing that with God present you are never alone and do not need to be afraid.

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