The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
How many of you like to sleep with a certain sound or light?
Some people can’t sleep if there’s any extra sound. And some must sleep in a completely dark room.
Some people prefer a nightlight. Some people need to sleep in a room without windows.
Some people prefer the sound of rain when they sleep. Some people prefer silence.
When it comes to sleep and rest and peace, the Holy Scriptures are far from silent.
Psalm 4:8, for example: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
And Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the read of anxious toil; for [the Lord] gives to his beloved sleep.”
Rest, as we see in those verses and in today’s Gospel lesson, is a divine prerogative. That is, the quality of being well-rested and at peace belongs, properly, to God Himself and His Christians, those to whom God gives rest.
“Behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that they boat was being swamped by the waves; but [Jesus] was asleep” (Matthew 8:24).
Here, that Jesus is sleeping implies two things.
First, Jesus trusts His Father to protect Him and to provide for His every bodily need. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer for daily bread, we’re asking God to provide for our daily, physical needs.
And God promises to provide them. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on…” (Matthew 6:25).
The birds are provided for—the grass is adorned with beauty greater than Solomon’s—and you are more valuable, you are of greater importance, than birds and grass (cf. Matthew 6:25-32).
Jesus trusts His Father to provide. And so He sleeps soundly.
The second thing implied by Jesus’ sleeping is common to all those who sleep: He’ll wake up.
Either He’ll wake up on His own, or—and we talked about this in Bible class this past Wednesday—He’ll die and wake to life eternal.
One of the “sweet names of death” is sleep, because the Christian dies, he wakes up to eternal life.
“This is what Jesus meant when He said to the mourners, ‘Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping’ (Matthew 9:24). In this we see what Jesus plans to do. He ‘went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose’ (Matthew 9:25)” (Final Victory, 15).
So sleep—whether it refers to sleeping in our beds during a terrible storm or to the Christian sleeping the sleep of death—sleep implies waking up.
And—the disciples aren’t sleeping.
Of course it’s because they’re worried. Of course it’s because they fear being lost in the storm.
But the real problem is this:
Either the disciples don’t fear, love, and trust God to provide their daily bread—or, and I guess this could and/or—they don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.
They don’t think they have to believe in the resurrection of the dead.
They don’t think that Jesus comes to die.
Matthew chapter sixteen provides amazing insight into what the disciples actually believe and think.
Jesus asks His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). And Peter, speaking for the disciples, responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
We know from every Sunday school lesson, every sermon, every VBS, and every word proclaimed in church that the Christ came to suffer and die.
That was no where on the disciples’ radar.
A few verses after Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ, St. Matthew writes, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you’” (Matthew 16:21-22).
And we know how Jesus responds: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23).
They don’t believe—and can’t believe—that Jesus came to die, because a dead God is a failure.
Without believing the resurrection of the body, if God allows terror to befall you, whatever your life looks like, it looks like God has failed you.
How can He promise daily bread, how can He tell us not to worry, not to be anxious, and still let terrible things happen to us and those we love?
The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting answers that question.
Faith trusts that God provides—for this life and the next. So when the disciples wake Jesus up saying, “Save us, Lord; [for] we are perishing” (Matthew 8:25), we can’t be surprised that Jesus rebukes them: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26).
It’s not easy—but it is true—that death is not the worst thing that can happen to a Christian.
Paul calls the death of a Christian “gain.” He says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
The only way that’s true is through the resurrection.
So, trust in the Lord to provide your daily bread, everything you need for this body and life.
And, trust in the Lord to—one day—call you out of this veil of tears and into life eternal.
To raise you out of death and into life eternal.
That’s how we understand what Jesus says to Martha: “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26).
That kind of trust, that kind of peace, is the rest Jesus Himself has—even in the midst of the storm.
We don’t need Him to rebuke the wind and waves.
We don’t need Him to save us out of every trouble.
We need Him to break and hinder all the evil plans and purposes of the devil, the world, and our flesh.
But for our enduring comfort, Jesus treats the tempestuous sea as if it were possessed.
“He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:26).
This shows us what we have to look forward to. Storms and terror have no place in God’s order, Heaven.
And context confirms it all the more.
In the verses that follow today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus heals two men with demons. When Jesus meets them, they cry out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29).
The demons know they’re on borrowed time.
There will come a day when all our tears are wiped away, when every raging storm is silenced. That’s what we, all believers in Christ, have to look forward to.
That day when Jesus is lifted up and all sin is forgiven.
That day when Jesus is raised from death to life, and the bonds of sin and satan are forever destroyed.
That day when Jesus returns in power to give us, and all believers in Christ, eternal life.
That’s the day the demons fear: the day, the time, when Jesus will be a source of utter torment for all those who reject Him. And a source of perfect peace for all those who believe.
And there’s more.
When Jesus muzzles the storm, the disciples wonder aloud: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27).
Unexpectedly, we get the answer to that question two verses later from the demon possessed men: “What have you to do with us, O Son of God?” (Matthew 8:29).
For our enduring comfort, Jesus rebukes the storm.
That’s what we have to look forward to—either God will silence the storms we endure as part of our daily bread.
Or, He’ll silence the storms we endure by raising us to life eternal.
No matter the storm, we always have that to look forward to.
Some people sleep just fine when it storms, and we say it’s because the sound is soothing.
However, it can also be because we hear the Word of God and believe.
There are plenty of storms—we trust that we’ll wake up when they’re over.
We do. And we will
In Jesus’ name, Amen!