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God’s Word for You

Luke 8:22-23 Fellas, it’s been good ya

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 15, 2018

Before we embark with Luke into this familiar story, let me share a caution I give to our Sunday School teachers. This story reveals the power, majesty and omnipotence of Jesus Christ the Lord. We are often tempted to turn the story almost into a parable, where the storm becomes “the storms of life.” But we should not forget that this was an actual squall, and the account displays Jesus’ almighty power over nature. We can apply this in many ways—when there are dangers of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, volcanoes, earthquakes and fires, and also dangers that are man-made, such as wars, financial troubles, arguments, divorce and other bitterness, and the increasing danger of the persecution of Christians by the increasingly intolerant extremes of the political world today, from both the Right and the Left. Let us find strength in the strength of the Lord.

Jesus Calms the Storm
22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set sail.

The “other side” of the Sea of Galilee was the eastern shore, either toward Gaulanitis to the northeast or the Decapolis to the southeast. In this case, they were headed for the region of the Gerasenes which we will discuss more fully with verse 26, so that means they were heading more or less straight across the lake to the eastern ‘bite’ that gives the lake the right-hand side of its diamond-shape.

The Greek word anago (ἀνάγω) means to “bring up,” and in the passive voice (here it’s ἀνήχθησαν) it paints a picture of the sails of a boat “being brought up” or hoisted by the crew pulling on the halyard lines to set the sail. Luke, an experienced traveler, is always careful to use precise sailing terms. It’s interesting that John who was certainly an experienced fisherman and sailor, is more concerned about being simple with his message, probably for pastoral reasons.

23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake,  so that they began to fill with water, and they were in great danger.

The experience of preachers is that we become filled with adrenaline in the excitement of public speaking in worship, and more so by preaching even than teaching in the classroom. So when the experience is over, as the adrenaline recedes and the excitement abates, we need to rest, and for almost all pastors there is a profound physical need for the Sunday afternoon nap. This is why I dread taking long car trips after church, or even visiting people in their homes on Sundays, for fear of nodding off. After Jesus entered the boat, he was not responsible for any of the shipboard labor, and so he went (Mark tells us, 4:38) to the stern or back of the boat and fell asleep on ‘the’ (not ‘a’ as the NIV says) cushion. Mark’s point is that this was the cushion that was the regular part of the ship’s equipment; the cushion used by the helmsman or the master of the ship as he took the tiller to steer.

The Sea of Galilee is famous for its sudden storms. As for the scenery on the lake in general in contrast with the impression of a storm in the region, compare these two descriptions from a U.S. Navy Lieutenant in the mid-19th Century beginning on a hot day with an air temperature of 82° and a water temperature of 70°:

“The scenery… assumed a tame rather than a savage character. The rough and barren mountains, skirting the valley on each hand, stretching far away in the distance, like walls to some gigantic fosse; their southern extremities half hidden or entirely lost in a faint purple mist….” (Lynch, Narrative of the U.S. Expedition to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, 1849 chapter 8)

Although Lt. Lynch did not experience a sudden storm there on the Sea of Galilee, he did experience a typical storm on the Dead Sea just a few weeks later with a violence more often encountered on the smaller sea:

“It began to rain lightly but steadily. Before (much longer) there came a shout of thunder from the dense cloud which had gathered… followed by a rain, compared to which, the gentle showers of our more favored (American) climate are as dewdrops to the overflowing cistern. Except for the slight showers at the Pilgrim’s ford, this was the first rain since we landed in Syria. The black and threatening cloud soon enveloped the mountain-tops, the lightning playing across it in incessant flashes, while the loud thunder reverberated from side to side of the appalling chasm. Between the peals we soon heard a roaring and continuous sound. It was the torrent from the rain cloud, sweeping in a long line of foam down the steep declivity, bearing along huge fragments of rocks, which, striking against each other, sounded like mimic thunder.” (Lynch, chapter 16)

The storm encountered by Jesus and his disciples was so violent that the experienced sailors were afraid for their lives. The boat’s seams were worked back and forth and in and out with such force that the vessel quickly filled with water, so that either bailing or pumping, they were unable to keep her afloat. It was a very bad moment. Matthew’s remarkable words, not often translated well, recall his own memory of the terrifying moment: “the boat was hidden by the waves” (Matthew 8:24). Luke uses the sailor’s “they” for the boat itself when he says, “They began to fill with water.”

The scene recalls Gordon Lightfoot’s words:

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T’was the witch of November come stealin’
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin’
Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya
At seven pm the main hatchway gave in, he said
Fellas, it’s been good t’know ya
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went outa sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

              (“Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” 1976)

There, with them in the boat, the disciples had something. There he was, still sleeping despite the roar of the thunder and the furious pitching of the boat and the seasickness of poor Matthew and his companions as they cowered beneath the towering waves covering them in the storm’s darkness. There he was: Jesus, asleep. He wasn’t sleeping because he was testing them. He was sleeping because he was tired. He was sleeping because he was a human being. But Jesus is more than a human being—he is also truly and fully God. And he was about to show it.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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