Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany + February 3, 2019
Text: Jonah 1:1-17, Matthew 8:23-27
One of the great myths about our life is that we’re safer at some times than at others. The disciples were under the impression that they were safer on land than when they were on the stormy sea. It’s only when the waves are crashing into the boat that they realize how fragile their existence is.
Jonah thought that he was free and clear if he just fled to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from where God would have him be. But on the way, God intervened and caused a great storm. And Jonah, even though he was resting secure in disobedience to God, was awakened and called to account.
On the other hand, the disciples in Matthew 8 were doing the Lord’s will, and they still suffered near disaster. What gives, God?
This is the great question of Christians: I did everything right, so why am I suffering? I know that Jonah fled from the will of the Lord, and he was driven back by the will of God to preach to the Ninivites. But what had the disciples done that this terrible storm came upon them?
The answer is, we don’t know. If we look for God in the chances and changes of this life, all we will find is uncertainty and doubt, “Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (Jon. 1:6)
But let’s explore this in what we might say to either Jonah or the disciples. Jonah, though a professed Hebrew “who fears the Lord who made the sea and dry land” (Jon. 1:9) did a very foolish thing by disobeying the Lord’s call. If you read on through chapter 4, you find out that Jonah did it because God doesn’t give people what they deserve. He relents over disaster for those who fear Him. (4:2) He demonstrated this not only for the mariners but also for the people of Nineveh. So, Jonah, if you believe God should give people what they deserve, what would happen if that judgment were applied to you? Do you believe that suicide at the hands of the sailors is the last word God has for you? What is your faith, Jonah?
Jonah, the God you fear and serve is indeed “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jon. 4:2) You did a foolish thing fleeing the presence of the Lord because you disagreed with His ways. But repent of your evil and believe that He is a God gracious and merciful to you also, and His intent has always been to save you from disaster. “He will not always chide, nor will he keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high and the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:9-12)
What would we say to the disciples? Remember, they are following the will of the Lord; they got on the boat in the right direction. Yet, disaster still visited them. The fishing boat is being swamped by the waves, and even worse, Jesus is the one sleeping this time. They wake him with a prayer: “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”
Peter, James, John, and the rest, who do you have in the boat with you? Jesus awakens with a question, “Why are you afraid; O you of little faith?” You rightly fear the God who made the sea and dry land. You are right to call on Him to save you. But why are you afraid? Won’t He will care for and protect you as much on the sea as on the dry land? Why do you fear this circumstance more than the God who made heaven and earth?
What is your faith and where is your faith? They’re both important questions to ask, especially, if like Jonah, we’re called to be witnesses of this God and Savior. We learn what our faith is when we are exposed as sinners and have to learn anew who God reveals Himself to be. True knowledge of the Gospel is not learned by memorizing doctrines and Bible passages in confirmation class—no matter how demanding your pastor was; it’s “taught by the Holy Spirit and the school of experience” as one pastor put it. That means you need to be made a real sinner before you can know a God, gracious and merciful.
The other question is, once we poor sinners know a gracious and merciful God, what does that look like in the dangers and disasters we face in life? What did we confess in the Creed? “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” It does no good to compartmentalize where God works—whether sea or dry land, on Sunday morning or five minutes before closing when your supervisor tells you you’re being laid off. The God who made both visible and invisible is also our strong defense against all spiritual dangers. “The waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below” as much as the demons obeyed when He commanded them. This is the God who holds your life at every moment! Repent of your little faith and the fruit of fear it bears!
What damage can be done to our calling as disciples by little faith. Through fear of temporal things—the church running out of money, the lies of the devil and the narrative of the world gaining ground, the future of the nation in which we live. All of these things are temporal, and we believe in theory that they’re all going to pass away. But God help us to believe His holy Word, that He cares for us and gives us and the whole world our daily bread.
In the boat, it was not time for Jesus or His disciples to die. But the time came when this same Jesus, fully man and fully God, was offered up on account of your sins and those of the whole world, that whoever believes in Him should not cry, “We are perishing,” but have forgiveness and eternal life.
Take a moment to let these words soak into your heart again: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matt. 10:28-31)
God revealed His will
to Jonah—go and preach to these pagans so that they might be saved. And they were. So was Jonah, perhaps the biggest unbeliever
of the book until the end. He revealed
His power to the disciples in calming the stormy sea. But the lesson for both is that God’s saving
purpose will be done, even if for the moment it looks like He’s changed His
mind. Every person who believes in Him,
He chose from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-6), and as God does
not lie, we can be sure that “nothing in
all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
(Rom. 8:39) This is not a license to put
our faith to the test, but a reason to fear the God who made the sea and dry
land, who is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in
steadfast love, and relents from disaster; through Jesus Christ. Amen.
 C.F.W. Walther, “Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel” Thesis III. http://lutherantheology.com/uploads/works/walther/LG
 “Be Still, My Soul” (LSB 752, st. 2)