Discipleship: Learning and Living with Jesus

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to [the disciples], “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’” (Mark 4:38-41).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
It had been a strenuous day! Jesus had taught a large crowd by the lake about the kingdom of God using a variety of parables. Not everyone understood, but later Jesus took His disciples aside and explained everything.
Now it is evening. The Lord is ready to be alone and away from the crowd. He is tired, but Jesus also knows there is someone desperately in need of His help on the other side of the lake. In the meantime, there is also an important lesson to be taught to His disciples. So Jesus says to them, “Let us go across to the other side” (Mark 4:35). Our text tells us, “They took Him with them in the boat,” suggesting that the boat and its sailing is their area of expertise. We know that at least four of the disciples—Peter and Andrew, James and John—are experienced fishermen. The boat could very well be Peter’s, the same boat Jesus had used that morning as a pulpit for His teaching. The Sea of Galilee is their home turf.
Jesus soon falls asleep in the stern of the boat with His head on a cushion. A great windstorm arises. That Jesus sleeps through the storm indicates two things about Him in His humanity: (1) He is tired and needs a break; and (2) He is completely confident and at ease because He knows and trusts His Father’s care.  
As the storm grows, the disciples surely first do everything they can to keep the boat safely under control. No sense bothering the Teacher, He’s tired. They have come through many storms before. They can do it again.
But this storm is more severe than most and it threatens them in spite of their experience as sailors. So they, just like we, when we finally realize that things are beyond our control, turn to Jesus. And just like we, the disciples blame Jesus for not helping them sooner. They even accuse Him of indifference to their plight: “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
What a terrible question! But a question that we, too, ask nonetheless. In essence, the same question to which the Lord was replying when He answered Job out of the whirlwind. But just as God would not and need not respond to Job’s questions, Jesus does not respond to His disciples’ accusation of indifference. They will soon learn just how much He cares, as He gives up Himself on the cross that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.
This storm is a simple problem for the Lord to remedy. He declares, “Peace!  Be still!” and immediately there is a great calm. Having addressed the immediate problem of the storm, Jesus addresses the more important issue—the storm going on inside His disciples. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Jesus is right to be disappointed and even a little upset with His disciples. They have been with Him all day, hearing His teachings about the kingdom of God, witnessing His miracles, and seeing His acts of mercy. And yet, when the storm comes and threatens disaster, they come to Him only as a last resort.
The disciples are exhibiting a weak and defective faith. Jesus certainly expects more than that from them. They call Him Teacher, but they appear to have learned hardly anything from His teaching. It’s quite ironic, really! When Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, the lifeless storm shows a greater recognition of His divine power than do His own chosen disciples. It goes to show the hardness of the human heart, the fact that the same Word that instantly stills a storm and calms the raging waves of the sea, often takes so long to work in the troubled hearts and minds of even Jesus’ closest followers.
But an even more sobering thought arises when you find out that our English translations of Jesus’ words just don’t do justice to the original Greek. They soften the language a bit, and dull the gravity of what He says to His disciples. Jesus doesn’t ask them “Why are you so afraid?” but rather exclaims, “What cowards you are!” And Jesus does not hurl this angry epithet at them because he is cranky at being awakened from a nap! Those closest students whom He had taken aside from the crowds to teach in private the things pertaining to the kingdom are demonstrating just what faithless cowards they really are.
And in the New Testament, being a coward is no small matter. In fact, the word is only used in this story of Jesus calming the sea, and in Revelation 21, where Jesus warns: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (v.8). It doesn’t sound like Jesus is trying to comfort His disciples any more, does it?
Now, having heard of the faithlessness of those in the boat with Jesus, it’s all too tempting to scoff at them. How could they be so foolish? How could they doubt? But beware, fellow disciples, you and I are not so far removed from them ourselves. In reality, our Lord also paints a picture of our own sinful nature. You, too, have thought yourself independent, but then fell into panic when you found yourself in difficult circumstances. You, also, have had times you wondered if the Lord cared when He didn’t answer your cries for help immediately. You, also, have turned to prayer only as a last resort.
And this is the lesson Jesus most wants His disciples to learn. You are not self-sufficient, even in small areas of your life. Not even in areas you consider to be your expertise. You, also, are a coward, one of little faith. You also have treated Jesus like your fallback plan. You, also, are a sinner in need of a Savior. But here’s the Good News: Jesus came to save people just like you.
So repent and believe! Repent of the spiritual cowardice and faithlessness that afflicts you. Confess that you have taken God’s providence and grace for granted. Confess that your faith, though you want it to be strong, falters at times, and that you worry not only about your daily bread, your health, and safety; but you also worry about the opinions of others. And then take comfort knowing that God has promised to forgive you all your sins for Jesus’ sake.
For Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples is not the end of the story. Yes, He calms the sea and saves them from the disaster that they fear. But then Jesus goes on to save them (and you) from an even greater disaster—God’s righteous wrath and the eternal torments of hell.  
Jesus lived the perfect life that you and I never will as His disciple. Never once did Jesus give in to the fear of man, but He feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things. Never once did His faith waver. Never once did He let the scorn of men or the suffering of His body derail Him from His mission of salvation. Even as He asked if it were possible to take away His cup of suffering, He submitted to His heavenly Father’s will all the way to the cross and the grave.   
On the cross, Jesus redeemed you with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. The anger and the wrath that you have deserved on account of your sin has been redeemed in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. There on Golgotha, Jesus took all your sins, and He suffered and died in your place. Your debt to God is paid. Christ’s righteousness is credited to you. God no longer deals with you according to His wrath, but now according to His mercy.
In Baptism, Jesus begins the process of making you His disciple. There, you were marked with the cross to indicate that you belong to Christ. Through His death and resurrection, Christ has redeemed you from death and given you eternal life. Your whole life, then, is marked by the cross and lived under the cross. This turns our picture of what it means to be a disciple completely on its head.
We all, quite understandably, long for some evidence of spiritual development, for some clear proof that we are on the right track. Nothing is more discouraging than failure, the sense that we are getting nowhere in our spiritual journey. But an honest examination will show that your discipleship has been a mixture of small victories and spectacular setbacks, two steps forward and three steps back. This is quite normal for sinful human beings living in a fallen world.
Spiritual progress—like God and His gifts—is often hidden, or at least comes in ways and places you would not expect. It certainly bears no resemblance to what passes as progress in the world. It is in many ways a kind of reverse progress. In our temporal lives, growing up involves a gradual shift from dependence to independence. But the opposite is true for you as you grow spiritually. As a disciple you become more and more dependent on Christ for everything in every situation. You do not depend upon Him just in the difficult times, but for every aspect of your life. Prayer is no longer seen as a last resort, but becomes a constant exercise of the faith that had been given to you.
As you mature in faith, you move away from pride in yourself and your own achievements to a gradual awareness of your spiritual failure and Christ’s work in you as you entrust yourself to Him. You move away from the conviction that you are self-sufficient to the repeated experience of spiritual bankruptcy. You move on from delight in your own power to the painful recognition of your spiritual weakness. You are brought from self-righteousness to the increasing awareness that you are a poor, miserable sinner and all your righteousness is as filthy rags.
Little by little He strips us down until we are left with nothing except our bare, fragile human soul, a soul that relies on Him utterly for its existence. He takes away everything we think we have, in order to gives us everything we need. Christ uses His Word and the circumstances of our life to teach us to live in His grace and to help us grow in our faith.
This is a two-pronged journey. On the one hand, it is a journey in which we live by the grace of God. God the Father reaches out to each of us in the very same way through His means of grace. Through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit generates and maintains our faith. On the other hand, in our journey we live by faith in the grace of God. By faith you have access to God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. By faith you again and again receive all the benefits that Jesus has won for you by His death on the cross. By faith you appropriate what is given to you at each particular stage of your discipleship.
This means that Christ accommodates Himself to you as you are and deals with you subjectively according to your personality, bringing out your true color. He engages with practical people practically, intellectual people intellectually, emotional people emotionally, imaginative people imaginatively, and so on. By faith you receive the Holy Spirit and rely on the Spirit to transform you in your personality and mentality, your behavior and your lifestyle, so that you, in your own unique way, mirror some of the fullness of Christ.
As a disciple who has access to God’s grace, you will use your faith to approach Him for help and to bring His help to others. You will exercise your faith by practicing your piety, whether it is by going to church or by saying grace before meals, by meditating on God’s Word or by praying, by examining yourself in the light of God’s Law or by confessing your sins.
Disciples are called to exercise their faith. Faith grows when it is used. As you call upon the Lord you learn to rely more on God’s provision for you at all times and in all places. You learn to rely on His righteousness and strength, rather than your own. As you pray, you receive what you need for your daily work. In your daily work you discover for what and for whom you need to pray. You learn that prayer is a discipline and gift to be enjoyed continually and regularly, not simply a last resort when you come to the end of your own resources.
All of this can make discipleship seem complicated. But being a disciple is quite simply learning and living with Jesus. It is the ordinary life of faith in which you receive Baptism, attend the Divine Service, partake of Christ’s body and blood, pray for yourself and others, resist temptation, and work with Jesus in your given location here on earth. But it is also a life where you fail miserably, doubt, see your sin in all of its ugliness, and learn from your mistakes. Above all, it is a life of contrition and repentance, a life filled with faith in these wonderful words of absolution Christ has for each of His penitent disciples: You are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Solemn Promise from God and before God: A Sermon for the Wedding of Greg & Jessi McCormick

A Wonderful Mystery: An Address for the Wedding of James & Rebecca Dubro

The Lord Is My Shepherd: A Funeral Sermon