“Um… Calm Down?”

A Matthew 8 Bible Study

I have a friend named, um, Benny. Benny Crown. Good guy, ol’ Benny. Anyway, he has a wonderful wife. He’s very blessed. But, well, poor Benny has a problem. When he isn’t doing so well with quarantine confinement, or he’s having trouble adjusting to life without the freedom to go where he wants when he wants, his wife has a tendency to say “calm down”… even when, genuinely, poor Benny C is already a fairly calm gent.

Certainly not a problem I have with Rachel. She always lets me know my stress is valid, welcome, and not a bother to the stability of our household whatsoever. She loves when I stress. That’s how much she loves me.

Okay, okay. You caught me. None of that is true. And yes, yes… okay. I’ll drop the ruse. Good ol’ Benny Crown, right here.

So now that coming clean is out of the way, let me actually start with this admission: I know better. Or rather I should.

I Peter 5:7, referencing Psalm 55:22, tells us to “cast all our cares” on the Lord. According to the Psalmist, this is important because God wants to sustain us and doesn’t want us to be shaken, and according to Peter, it’s also because Jesus cares so deeply for us. I know all of this. I’ve been raised with this from childhood, and I know that stress and anxiety are in no way helpful to our mental, physical or spiritual health.

And yet, this past week has been… a challenge and a half.

I’m not sure what it was exactly that damaged my calm over the last seven days. Maybe it was helping a family through a funeral unlike any funeral I’ve ever seen, face masks and all. Maybe it was the passing of a friend’s father, who contracted COVID-19 in a nursing home. Maybe it was another good friend from TGSM landing in the hospital with a severe case of COVID-19 and coming too close to dying for anyone’s comfort. (He’s recovering now after hundreds of people hit their knees praying!)

Maybe it was simply an accumulation of things after more than five weeks of facing an increasingly frustrating and discouraging new normal. Maybe it was the culmination of all the attempts to be optimistic over the last month when asked, “when will we have regular church services again?” (When, in fact, I know in my gut of guts that we won’t see a “regular” church service for quite some time.) Or maybe it’s that so many people are beginning to accept and resign themselves to our current reality. When people are discouraged, I find it strangely easy to be positive and uplifting. Even if I’m subject to that same discouragement. However, once the full brunt of other people’s discouragement fades and those around me stop itching for encouragement, I’m cursed to return to my own thoughts, my own stresses, my own worries, which, while working to help others, had casually slinked into the background of my mind. So far into the background that I genuinely forgot, for a moment, they were there.

Whatever it was, anxiety found me. And my wife, my dear dear wife, has used phrases like “we need to get past it,” “we need to adjust” and, of course, “calm down.” She’s right, as usual. No denial here. But I’ve been left mulling over those words: calm down.

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus in Matthew chapter 8:

Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came upon the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.

But Jesus was sleeping.

The disciples woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Matthew 8:23-27

A few thoughts:

  • Verse 23: The story begins with a short but sweet picture of the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. He got in a boat, they followed. No questions, no arguments. They were true disciples, following their teacher, without any thought that their well-being was about to be threatened. And why would they think that? I mean, they were with the Son of God… what did they have to be afraid of?
    _
  • Verse 24a: It turns out there was something inbound that would scare anyone. Far from land, most likely an hour or more later, a “furious” storm sweeps over the lake. Now, if I were Peter, or any of the disciples really, my first thought probably would have been, “why did Jesus lead us out here if we were going to face such a deadly storm? Didn’t he know there would be a storm out here!?”

    More than that, I would wonder, “where did this storm even come from?” If there was a hint of storm clouds on the horizon, Jesus and the disciples wouldn’t have gone out on such a large lake. And if they spotted a storm rolling in once they were on the water, they would have quickly rowed back to shore. No, I believe this storm was almost if not literally supernatural in origin, meant for the lesson they were about to receive. It appeared so suddenly they had little to no warning. The wind and waves didn’t even crescendo. The wind and waves struck. How do we know? As we learn shortly, Jesus was asleep, and the disciples didn’t have any reason to wake him until, within seconds, the storm surged to a place that was terrifying.
    _
  • Verse 24b: “But Jesus was sleeping.” It’s possibly one of my favorite details in scripture. Here’s this storm, wild, unruly, chaotic, windy, soaking wet, loud… very loud. And Jesus? He’s fast asleep. Taking a much deserved nap after a long day of ministering, healing and teaching.

    It’s not an entirely appropriate tie-in, but my brain always connects this story of Jesus and the disciples with the 1986 sci-fi action classic, Aliens. In an early scene of the film, a group of tough-as-nails marines are packed and strapped into a small dropship, plummeting towards a stormy planet’s surface on a dangerous recon mission. As they plunge through the chaotic atmosphere and into the even more chaotic stratosphere, the dropship is assaulted with violent turbulence, ear-shattering noise and roaring winds. However, one marine we have yet to really get to know — a quiet, stoic corporal named Dwayne Hicks — is sitting there, snoozin’ away. The immediate implication being that he’s been on so many missions that they’ve ceased to be anything remotely unsettling.

    This is actually a scene based on a real paratrooper in WWII, as well as another soldier twenty-five years later in Vietnam who survived dozens of helicopter landings under fire. Both of these men would catch some shut-eye in the minutes just before parachuting or being inserted into the thick of enemy territory, often while their planes and helicopters were being shot at from below.

    Jesus is the epitome of calm in Matthew 8. He has fully cast all fear, anxiety and stress on the Father. He feels these things. He’s not immune from them. That much is clearly shown prior to his crucifixion. But he is fully and faithfully relying on God the Father, regardless of what may come. And he’s doing so to the point that it doesn’t even rouse him from sleep. “Casting his cares” is that much a part of who he is.
    _
  • Verse 25: The disciples instantly jump to the worst conclusion imaginable… Jesus, you gotta wake up and do something! If you don’t do something, we’re gonna drown! Yep, totally right, you guys. The Messiah is going to die in a boat on a lake and take all of you with him. That makes… sense?

    First, good on Peter and the crew for recognizing, yes, with a decent measure of faith, that Jesus had the power and authority to address and resolve the situation. In this, they didn’t lack faith. They don’t question his ability, identity or place for a moment. Second, and more to the point, their actual issue was that they knew who had the power and authority in the situation… yet… they thought they needed to inform Jesus of the situation and beg him to act to earn his intervention.

    Think about that for a second. We’ll come back to it.
    ______ _
  • Verse 26: Three thoughts here:
    _
    1. Jesus points out the disciple’s lack of faith. He doesn’t commend their recognition of his power and authority. No pats on the back or partial credit. Why? Cause how could they not recognize his abilities? They’ve been following him for a significant amount of time at this point. They’ve seen him heal, perform miracles, do the impossible. They know he’s the Messiah. Of course they know he has the power and authority to handle a storm. Not a lot of credit there, guys.
      _
    2. The disciples thought Jesus was oblivious to their situation. They thought he was asleep at the wheel and that he needed their intervention before he would intervene. Think of how often we do this very same thing. We recognize the power and authority of God, yet we beg, plead and inform him of our dire straits… as if that’s the part He needs before He’s going to do His work.

      The real question, the one that’ll pick at your brain forever, is this: if they didn’t wake up Jesus, if the disciples simply took a breath, sat back, and rode out the storm with faith… would Jesus have got up and calmed the storm anyway? Or just let it pass? No clue. Either way, the disciples would’ve been fine. Jesus would have either let the storm rage, knowing that they would make it through. Or he would have taken action to ensure everyone was safe. But the disciples would have been commended for their faith, rather than chastised for their lack of it.
      _
    3. Jesus doesn’t simply calm the storm. He rebukes the storm. What does that mean? In modern vernacular, this almost literally translates to “muzzle up” or, my mom’ll love this… shut up. Jesus barks at the storm and tells it to shut up, like a kid who’s making too much noise when his dad is trying to sleep.

      Another note, in the looser sense of the term “rebuke,” Jesus first rebukes the disciples lack of faith then turns and rebukes the storm’s unruliness. In both instances, Jesus is addressing someone or something that has stepped out of bounds. The disciples and the storm should’ve known better. Instead, the disciples and the storm forgot their place and forgot who they were rolling up on. Jesus Messiah, Name Above All Names, Beautiful Savior, Emmanuel, The Rescue for Sinners, The Ransom from Heaven, Jesus Messiah, Lord of All.
      _
  • Verse 27: What exciting and glorious thing did the disciples learn!? Um… absolutely nothing, as it turns out. They don’t apologize. They don’t repent. They don’t grow much in their understanding of their faith condition. In fact, it seems they regress a bit. Verse 27 reads, “The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”‘

    Sigh…

    They didn’t even acknowledge the fact that he pointed out what had happened in their hearts and minds. They didn’t ask questions about their lack of faith… they don’t really seem concerned about the correction, the life lesson, or the reality of what just occurred. Nope. They’re just amazed Jesus calmed a storm. These disciples, man. Always focused on the physical. The tangible. So rarely focused on things that are higher or deeper. (At least not this early, prior to Jesus’s resurrection, the Great Commission, and their promotion to apostles.)

    Even worse, they say “what kind of man is this?” Man? Yes, Jesus was fully man, but this is a moment he demonstrates he is also fully God. At the beginning of the story, they even recognized his place and authority. One step forward, two steps back.

So what are we to take from all of this? A few final concluding thoughts:

  1. Recognition isn’t enough. It’s very good when we recognize the power and authority of God when we’re in the midst of a difficult storm. However, it isn’t enough to simply recognize God’s ability and position. There’s a second part. We need to also recognize that He is in control, He has us, He has the situation, and He knows what He’s doing.

    Does that mean we can’t be afraid? Or stressed? Or worried? That it’s wrong to feel these things sometimes? No. I don’t even think those things are sin in such moments, particularly moments as intense and uncertain as what we currently face. I merely think these fears, stresses and worries are accurate indicators of where our faith is situated on a scale of 1-10, where 0 is a militant atheist and 10 is a perfectly Christ-like Christian.
    _
  2. Trials are also meant to train. We need to remember in times of prayer that while expressing these feelings isn’t wrong, dwelling in those feelings can be. Emotions are difficult to contain and control. God understands. But we’re meant to grow beyond our emotions, to follow Him rather than our own feelings, and to believe with wholeheartedness that He’s got this. No matter what may come. No matter what is, what was, or what will be.
    _
  3. What comes next matters most. When God delivers us from a storm, we need to worship God for what he actually did. Saving us from a storm? That’s God working and that’s very, very good. That’s worthy of worship. But just because that’s a part of God’s work doesn’t mean it’s the entirety of God’s work. Otherwise, anytime someone didn’t survive a storm, that would mean God didn’t work. That He didn’t fulfill His promises. Does that sound right to you? If you survive the virus, God came through. If you don’t survive the virus, he failed. Um…

    Being saved or spared a storm is not the thing we’re meant to see or dwell on. We’re meant to learn one thing and one thing alone from any storm: God spared me, saved me or allowed me to suffer. Whatever the case, did I shake when I should’ve slept? Was I afraid when I could’ve smiled in the face of fear? Was I stressed when I could have put my trust, fully and completely, in Him?

    Is that meant to make you feel guilty? Should it keep us up all night? No. It’s simply this: a reminder that typically we’re so focused on the blessings or the deliverance or being spared or being brought through a situation, that we completely forget to reflect on what our heart and mind was doing in the midst of that situation. We’re so enamored with being brought out of a trial or tribulation, that we don’t properly examine ourselves and learn how to better face the next trial and tribulation.

I hope this message finds you well. And apologies for how long it all was! It was meant to be a short article and turned into a full-fledged Bible study. Maybe I should’ve saved it for a sermon!

Take time after you read this to reflect on how you’re walking through this current crisis, what’s happening in your heart and mind on a daily basis, and on how you can better address your fears, stresses and worries… growing in faith and lessening in anxiety as you cast your cares on Him.

That’s what I plan to do the moment I click the “publish” button!

2 thoughts on ““Um… Calm Down?”

  1. Excellent words of encouragement straight from scripture. I know them but needed to hear them again. Thanks Pastor Kenny

    Like

  2. Thank You , Pastor Kenny
    Bottom line we’re all in this boat together. And no matter how rough the ocean is and how hard the wind is blowing. If Jesus is in your boat the boat isn’t going to sink. Faith and Trust. Again thank you and your staff for all you are doing .

    Like

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