Who is Jesus?
I want to talk to you this morning about control. If you're anEnglandcricket fan perhaps when you think of control you might think of that astonishing way in which James Anderson can bend the ball in towards a batsman or out away from him, seemingly at will. But I'd rather not talk about cricket… certainly not aboutEngland's apparent complete control over the ashes. So let me tell you about football. Back inAustraliaI used to play five a side. We played futsal, which is a Brazilian form of five aside with a weighted, deadened ball (he says as if playing a Brazilian form of football somehow gives him some Brazilian characteristics – just call me Rodaldinhio).
Anyway there were two teams that dominated our league. One was entirely made up of Brit's, they played compact, controlled football, all out of the back, held the ball, probed until they found a weakness; they tore a lot of teams apart, scored a lot of goals. They were all very good. The other wasn't so much a team as a one man show. They had one good player, but he was head and shoulders above everyone else, miles better. His ball control was phenomenal, like he had the ball on a string. His team played a diamond shape with him anchoring things at the back. It was incredible the way he found the ball, his team wasn't much good, but they were hard to score against 'cause you had to get past him. When he got the ball he either gave it to his team mates to waste, or he took it up field himself and scored. I once saw those top two teams play out a tense 7-8 thriller. This one guy scored 7 amazing solo goals, and I heard him afterwards apologise to his team for letting them lose. He was all but unstoppable when he had the ball at his feet… and for the most part he controlled every game he played. He was a joy to watch.
In the part of the bible we're looking at today Jesus displays control too. But Jesus isn't playing games. He shows control in a way that is actually frightening, as we'll see… But before we proceed let me pray and ask God to help us to understand what we're reading.
[Pray that God would help us to understand the passage… ]
We've just heard the passage read to us, it's not a very long story is it? And yet it's worth us working our way through it fairly slowly to make sure we take it all in.
Luke sets the scene for us with just a few words, verse 22:
One day Jesus said to his disciples, "Let's go over to the other side of the lake." So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep
Luke doesn't tell us what the lake is here, but he tells us where they land after the storm in verse 26, so we know that the lake they're sailing on is the sea of Galillee, also known as Kinneret, the lake of Gennesaret and Lake Tiberius. It's about 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, and as deep as 140 feet in places. It's also 600 feet below sea level and surrounded by hills. This geography means that it often has fierce storms – the cooler air over the lake interacts with hot air from the surrounding hills to create highly unpredictable local weather systems with high winds which whip up dangerous waves.
The disciples would have known a lot about the lake because all but one were locals, and the biggest group of them were professional fishermen. Peter and Andrew, James and John had all grown up on the lake in their family fishing business. Jesus first met them on the shores of the lake, fishing or cleaning their nets. Jesus and the disciples regularly crossed the lake in boats to get away from the vast crowds that were following him.
So when Jesus says let's go over to the other side of the lake, that's just what they do, probably using one of their own boats, probably a little open sailing boat with a few sets of oars and not a lot of spare space for a group their size. Jesus seems completely at ease in the boat, and as the disciples take care of the sailing duties he takes his chance to get some rest. They sail, he sleeps.
Having set the scene Luke gets very quickly to the action:
23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
As I said, squalls like this were not unusual on the lake, and they were known to be very dangerous. Luke doesn't dwell on the danger overly, but he is quite direct about it. The boat was being swamped. They were in great danger.
Luke doesn't labour the point, but we're supposed to realise that this was very much a life threatening scenario. Luke is well known for his accuracy in reporting. He says at the beginning of his gospel that he himself wasn't an eyewitness to Jesus life, but that he has carefully compiled the testimonies of those who were. His aim was to put together an accurate record of what Jesus did so that we – his readers – could have confidence in the things he says about Jesus. I can imagine Peter or John telling Luke the story here – they were fishermen, they knew the lake and they would have known the power of it's storms, and the limits of their boats. Here as they remember it the waves were overwhelming their little vessel. They were being tossed around and they knew exactly how much danger they were in.
And in that moment they started to panic.
I don't know, maybe they tried to bail the water out, maybe they tried to row out of the storm. Maybe they didn't even bother 'cause they knew they were gonners.
What I do know is that at some point, knowing the danger they were in, they remembered Jesus, sleeping through it all.
Who knows what was going through their heads, but they seem to have had the notion that somehow Jesus could save them, so they went to him for help. Look at verse 23 again:
23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. 24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!"
What were they expecting Jesus to do for them I wonder? They'd seen him do amazing things. Not long before this there were inCapernaumand Peter's mother in law was gravely ill with a fever, and with a word Jesus had healed her. When word got out everyone who was ill in the whole town came, and Jesus healed them all. You can read about that in Luke 4.38ff. On other occasions he'd healed a leper and a paralysed man (Luke 5.12ff). Later he'd been passing a funeral procession in a town called Nain and reached into the casket to tell the dead boy to get up, and he did (Luke 7.11ff)! The disciples had seen all this, they knew Jesus was someone special. It seems they hoped he could do something for them too, and so they shake him awake – 'Master, Master, we're going to drown!'
And so we come to the very heart of this story. And I don't know about you but I find this staggering, bizarre; look what Jesus does:
24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!" He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters;
Isn't that remarkable? Luke says it like it was something everyday – Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters – yeah, just like that.
I've never been caught in a storm at sea, I don't know what it's feels like to know death is just a couple of waves away, to sit in a little boat flung around in the waves and filling with water. The closest I've ever come to anything like that was crossing the Bass Straight in a catamaran – the Devil cat it was called. I think they still use these for Channel crossings today, perhaps you might have been on one. They don't use these to cross the bass straight anymore, and I can tell you why.
If you don't know the Bass Straight is the stretch of water between mainlandAustraliaandTasmania. Wikipedia tells me it's twice as wide and twice as rough as theEnglish channel. And a Catamaran is not a suitable vehicle for crossing that straight. Notice how all the pictures always show these boats on flat water? Our crossing wasn't on flat water, I'm not sure the Bass straight is ever flat. Our crossing was wasn't especially rough, for the bass straight. But my memory of that crossing is that we sat in that boat and it was like a wide bus, or a moving café – there were no open windows, no where you could look out the front, and no where to get fresh air. It was just made for sea sickness – which was exactly what we all got.
It wasn't long into the trip that the waves started passing right up past the window we were looking out of. I'm tempted to go into graphic details, and my memories are very graphic. But perhaps it's better if I pass over the gory details and just say this – within half an hour every single person on that boat, barring perhaps the staff, had been sick, more than once. There were no bins and I don't remember seeing toilets, and no one could move anyway to use them. It was absolutely awful. We passed through the three stages of sea sickness – first we thought we were going to die, then we felt like we were dying and finally we wished we could actually die and get it over with.
It was the single most horrible experience I've ever had that didn't end in a hospital.
And I can assure you that every single person on that boat wanted that journey to end, and wanted it desperately. But not one of us stood up and rebuked the wind and the waves. Not one. And you didn't need me to tell you that. Of course no one stood up and rebuked the wind and the waves. That would be a daft thing to do: it's 'How to make an idiot of yourself 1-0-1'. It's way beyond school boy error.
No one would do it because the wind and the waves don't answer to such as you and me. What sort of a fool would we have to be to think that they would?
Jesus does something the rest of us would think utterly stupid, something far beyond outrageous. He stands up and he talks to the wind and the waves.
But there's more, because he gets a response!
24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!" He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.
Jesus rebukes the wind and the raging waters and the storm subsided and all was calm.
Jesus said stop.
And the wind and the waves just stopped. Just like that, from raging waters, swamping the boat and we're all about to drown to all was calm, just like switching a light switch.
I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that's impossible. But let me just remind you of just how impossible it is. Remember when we were talking about how storms like this were common on theLake? One of the reasons is that the steep sides to the lake bounce the waves back into the lake. That means that the waves will be bouncing back and forth for hours after a storm. They'll bounce back and forth because they have to, there's no where for that energy to go, it keeps bouncing back and forth around the lake until friction slowly wears it down. That process takes ages. It's like in the bath when the kids are playing – my little one is just big enough to sit in the bath without my help. But if one of the other kids is in there and they just move ever so slightly, that's enough to kick the waves up in the bath and the little one's over. So I have to sit by the bath ready to catch him at any given moment. And when the waves start I have to hold him while they swirl around the bath a couple of times. Think of theLakeas a great big bath tub with waves swirling around for a few circuits. It's going to take a while for those waves to die down.
But it didn't that day.
Jesus said 'stop!' and the waves just stopped. Stopped dead so that it was all calm.
Unnerving. Eerie Calm.
One thing we can say is that this wasn't just a case of good timing. Jesus didn't just stand up and rebuke the wind and the raging waters just as the boat happened to pass out of the storm and they had an eerie calm, and then they managed to row ashore … no that doesn't fit with what Luke says at all. Luke makes a point of saying that both the wind and the waves died down, it was completely calm, not like a normal storm, a complete instant calm. Jesus didn't just have uncanny timing. No, he stopped that storm, it was him, no coincidence, but his astonishing control.
He spoke and the storm obeyed. He rebuked it, he told it to knock it off… and it did. I talked about authority at the beginning. Well there it is. Have you ever heard of a weather man who generates the weather? Jesus exercises authority over wind and wave. He's not a meteorologist. He doesn't read the signs and make predictions, no he makes the weather. Both wind and wave are his to command. He speaks. They listen. (cross ref to old test – Psalm 107.23-30)
Jesus gets up in a boat in a storm and he tells the storm to stop. And it does.
And then he turns to his disciples. Remember the disciples? They were in the boat, right there with him. They saw it, they were saved by it. These disciples, these 12 men had been following Jesus around. They'd dropped everything to join Jesus crew – left family, career, business, everything to follow him. They'd seen his miracles – they were there when he'd healed every sick person inCapernaum, they were with him when he healed that leper and the man paralytic, and when he'd raised a man from his coffin mid funeral procession. Oh, the disciples knew Jesus had freaky powers.
And they'd heard his teaching, it wasn't long ago that Jesus preached the famous sermon on the mount – the first will be last, the meek will inherit the earth – and all that. That sermon ends with the story of two builders (Luke 6.46) – one man builds on the sand and his life is washed away in the storm, the other builds on the rock and his house stands firm. Jesus says following me – listening to my words and doing them – is building on rock, trusting anything else is building on sand. Jesus talks a good game, a big game, as if he's the very centre of the universe. And it doesn't seem outrageous because it fits with the things he does. These 12 disciples must have thought that Jesus was someone very special indeed, perhaps the great Messiah the nation was waiting for…
But just moments ago all their confidence in Jesus had been blown away; the storm was raging and they were going down and they cried out 'we're going to drown'.
So now that the storm has given way to calm, what does Jesus say to the disciples – 'well I'm glad you woke me, that was close'? Or 'Calm down boys, it's all going to be alright, I've got it under control' or even 'come on, pull yourselves together, God's sent me on a mission, we can trust him to see it through'.
Jesus doesn't say any of those things, he doesn't say anything like that all. Listen to what he does say:
The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!" He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 "Where is your faith?" he asked his disciples.
'Where is your faith?'
Who does Jesus think he is? First he stands and talks to a storm, now he tells the disciples that he expects them to have such confidence in him that even when the wind's howling, and the waves are crashing over them and the boat's filling with water, even then they should trust that everything will be alright just because Jesus is sleeping in the boat. What is that? Who could expect confidence like that?
Sir Alex Ferguson? There's no one you'd rather have on the sidelines when it's already injury time and you're a goal down and it's all or nothing… many's the time good old Sir Alex has pointed at his watch to the fourth official… and his team has recovered. Well that's all well and good, but it's not in the same league is it? Sir Alex may have had a profound influence on more than a few football games, but he never asked anyone to entrust their lives to him did he? These disciples were about to go under in the middle of the lake in the middle of the storm – no lifeguard in those days, no life vests, if the boat went down they were all going to die. But Jesus tells them off for being afraid.
Who does that? What did Jesus expect from them?
Let's see how the disciples react:
The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!" He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 "Where is your faith?" he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."
Who is this?
Now that is thequestion isn't it?
Who controls the wind and the waves? Who demands absolute confidence, even in life and death? And who is worthy of that sort of confidence – who can say that anyone else will live or die by their words?
Who is this man Jesus? Where does he get the idea that the whole world revolves around him?
It seems to me almost as if Jesus is like some sort of God, somehow plonked down on earth, but still in control. I mean think about it – imagine the world as like an old man's scale model electric railway. I'm heading that direction, I've already started elbowing the kids out of the way to get to the toy train set and build ever more complex tracks. One day I might get to be one of those guys with a whole room in the house that no one else can use, a room where I can happily build up this great detailed model with hills and houses and railway sidings and stations and little people watching the trains go by and a whole fleet of trains all controlled by me, running around their little tracks, with bells and whistles, little warning lights and level crossings – am I the only one who kind of likes the idea of creating and running a whole little world?
Well, imagine if I, as the creator of my own little world was somehow able to miniaturise myself and go and live in one of the houses. And I could miniaturise a set of the controls and wander around making this train go now, and that one stop; raising the level crossing boom, or lowing it; setting the little stream running, or drying it up; turning the lights on and off. I could really enjoy that.
And wouldn't that look a bit like what Jesus is doing? It's as if he has the controls in his pocket. He says to the wind, 'stop now', and it does. Says to the waves 'enough!', and they disappear.
Could it be that, in fact, that is exactly what is happening?
For people who know their bible well there is something very striking about the way that Jesus controls the wind and the waves, something even more impressive than the fact he controls them. Controlling the wind and the waves is of course massive. But over and above that, what is described here is control by speaking – Jesus commands, creation obeys. That's the way the bible describes the beginning: God commands, creation obeys. God says 'let there be light' and there was light, and so on, making earth and the heavens and everything on them in turn, all be speaking. That's the very nature of God – he commands and the cosmos obeys.
I don't know where you find yourself in the evolution vs creation debate, and I don't expect I'll change many minds with a few sentences this morning. But I'd be more than happy to discuss evidence and belief with anyone after the service… For now what I want to say is that the evidence that this actually happened, and happened as we have it recorded here is very strong. Historical evidence, not proof, but history doesn't work like science, evidence is all we can have. And the evidence for Jesus is very strong. Evidence like thousands of early original language manuscripts dating from the first few centuries, and thousands more early translations, and New Testament quotations from the writers in the first few centuries covering almost the whole New Testament, and references to Jesus, his life, his miracles and even his resurrection from Jewish and Roman historians of the time – like Josephus and Tacitus. Evidence like the astonishing early spread of the claim that Jesus was killed and came to life again; and the way that thousands of people left their old religions to follow him in the early decades after his death. And evidence like his disciples testimony – they all went to their graves saying Jesus rose from the dead. All but one of them was executed for saying it, but not one of them ever retracted the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. I could go on and on…
But for now I want to suggest something for you to consider.
It seems to me that the question is not 'does God exist?' But rather 'who is J
esus?' It's beyond question that Jesus lived. All the evidence of history says that he really did stand in that boat and have a conversation with a storm, and the storm recognised his voice and did what it was told. What are you going to make of that? His own disciples who were there testified that it terrified them and amazed them. And they could not help but ask – who is this?
And if you're trying to work out what life is all about there are very few questions that will take you right to the heart of an answer faster than that one. Because if Jesus really did do that, if creation really does answer to him, then he really is the key to everything. That would make him the creator and owner of everything: wind, wave, lake, boat – even the disciples; even you and me. If Jesus is God, then this story makes perfect sense, he's just like a miniaturised man with the controls of his electric train world in his pocket.
And if Jesus really was God in human form; If he really can speak and control the storm, if he really can raise the dead... then don't you think he might have something to say to you and to me, something worth listening to? Don't you think Jesus would be someone worth getting to know? Some one worth following? Someone with the answers. And wouldn't that make him the person to call out to when we feel like we're drowning? And if he really holds life and death in his hands, doesn't that make him someone we all need to deal with?
This little story in Luke's gospel raises all those questions for us. Well actually, it does something more than that. It presupposes all those questions and it gives us the answer. It says to us that Jesus exercised the very control of God over his creation. And for that reason it challenges us to come to our own answer to the question – 'who is this?'
I believe he is Lord over everything, and I know him as my lord and my saviour. And I want to invite you to join us over the next four weeks as we keep looking into Luke's gospel to see different aspects of what that means. I hope that you'll recognise him as God, Saviour and Lord too.