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8th July 2001

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Scripture Reference

MATTHEW 8: 23-27

What makes Sydney the most beautiful city in the world is our harbour. The harbour has given us maritime history since the first day of European settlement. Because our nation is surrounded by water, our forefathers grew up knowing that going anywhere meant sea travel. Today thousands of yachts dot every bay. The sea is a playground for boys and their toys, of whatever age. We think of the sea in terms of sport, surf, swimming, sand, sailing - everything is for fun. 

We are the first generation not to live in fear of the sea. We are the first generation not to think of the sea as a means of transportation, of passengers or cargo. The sea is now a place of recreation. Earlier generations saw the sea as a place of danger. Storms at sea brought loss of life. They knew of ships floundering, people drowning and courageous rescues as life boats put out in response to distress calls. We all heard of the brave lifeboat captain who was urged not to take out his rescue boat in the wild storm because there was no certainty he would get back. He said, "We don't have to get back, but we do have to go out!"

It used to take ships months to travel from Britain to Australia and then many of them were wrecked on the West Australian coast or in Bass Strait. At school we were told of a farm girl who rode her horse into the sea and rescued dozens of people, bringing them to safety at Port Campbell. Most great losses of life have been when ships were lost at sea during naval battles or from storms at sea or in rivers. People feared storms, especially wild storms at sea. 

This fear was seen in our hymns. Many hymns dealt with sea-storms and many likened salvation to rescue from the sea, such as: "Master, the tempest is raging": "The winds and the waves shall obey My will,
Peace, be still! Peace be still!
Whether the wrath of the storm?tossed sea,
Or demons or men, or whatever it be,
No waters shall swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean, and earth, and skies:
They all shall sweetly obey My will,
Peace, be still. Peace, be still!" Mary A. Baker.

There are no hymns about storms at sea in modern hymnbooks. The earlier books had a section "For Travelling by Sea". That was the only way of travel. When folk returned to the "Old Country" a social after church would farewell them. They would often sing, 
"Eternal Father! strong to save" .. 
"Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea!" W. Whiting.
For our generation, the sea is a place for surfing or swimming, for yachting or a romantic cruise around the islands. But for every other generation the sea stood for danger, for storms and loss.

Twice Jesus' authority over storms is reported. Jesus wanted to cross the wide lake of Galilee to escape the crowd. A fishing boat, big enough for a dozen or more men and a good catch of fish was commandeered. Violent squalls develop quickly on Lake Galilee. The surface is more than six hundred feet below sea level, and the rapidly rising hot air from the sea draws cold air from inland.

The violent winds churn the water. Peter, and the other fishermen, knew the Sea of Galilee well. They knew the sudden and dangerous storms. Even to this day I have seen on the Galilean shores a warning to fishermen: "Beware of the westerly whips." Matt 8:18,23-27 "When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, 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!"

The form of the cry, Kyrie, soson "Lord, save us!" later became part of the liturgy of worship. A very old commentator, Matthew Henry, said "Jesus does not chide them for disturbing Him with their prayers, but for disturbing themselves with their fears" The word oligopistoi "you of little faith," occurs five times in the disappointments of Jesus concerning His disciples whom He felt should be men of great faith. Matt 6:30; 8:27; 14:31; 16:8; Luke 12:28. Lack of faith among those for whom faith must be central is especially disappointing. Both Mark and Matthew set faith over against fear. Faith chases out fear, or fear chases out faith. That the disciples could cry to Jesus for help reveals that they believed, or hoped He could do something. More than others they had witnessed His miracles.

There is a Greek name for almost any fear. There is dromophobia, the fear of crossing the street. There is eosophobia, fear of the dawn; and phengophobia, fear of daylight. There is nomophobia, fear of being alone; and pharmacophobia, fear of medicine. There are common phobias like claustrophobia the fear of a confined space; agoraphobia the fear of open space; acrophobia the fear of high places, hydrophobia the fear of water, and some suffer from tantophobia, fear of everything. The disciples knew astraphobia, the fear of a thunderstorm at sea! Psychologists say we each possess four fears. Idea from George Sweeting. 

The Fear of want. We say: "What if I lose my job?" "What if I get sick?" "What if my savings are not enough for me to live on" The Bible says we need have no such fear. Jesus puts it plainly: "I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? If God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pa-gans run after all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Matt 6:24?33 The choice is fear or faith. Which do you choose?

The Fear of suffering. Many fear sickness, sorrow, loneliness, and grief. Although God does not shield us from suffering, He limits and controls it, and uses it for our ultimate good. Whatever the reason for suffering, we are to trust the God who permits it, rest on His gracious provision, and leave the outcome in His hands.

The Fear of failure. We want to achieve. We fear failure because we rely on ourselves and not on the Lord. Joshua gives us three rules for success: go forward, trust God, be guided by His Word. And God promises: "I will not fail you or forsake you" 1:5. God is concerned for our faithfulness, obedience, and character. Have faith in the Lord, and do not fear failure.

The Fear of death. Jesus Christ has won victory over death. No one who trusts in Him needs to fear death. Jesus says, "Because I live, you shall live also" John 14:19. Paul calls out, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" 1 Cor.15:55 KJV. Jesus Christ removed the sting. He came to save you and me from the fear of death. God does deliver us from all our fears, but only as we commit them in trust to Him. 

One man, on a ship to America was battered by three violent Atlantic storms. John Wesley was terrified. He tried strenuously to discipline his spirit, but he confessed he was afraid to die. On that same ship there were a group of Moravians, fine evangelical be-lievers in Christ, courageous and fearless. They cast their cares upon the merciful providence of God. 

They lost their fears forever. During the storm the Moravians sang hymns of confidence and victory. This impressed John Wesley so he went to their leader and asked: "Are you not afraid?" "No, we are not afraid." "But your women and children are singing hymns. Aren't they afraid?" "No, they are not afraid because their trust is in Christ." "But there is real danger!" "Yes, we know there is real danger, but our lives are in the hands of God, and we are not afraid." Staggered by that confident faith, Wesley searched his heart to see why he did not have such confident faith. At Aldersgate two years later he heard how faith in Christ could cleanse Him and save Him from sin and death. That complete surrender to Jesus enabled him to find the confidence that he could not generate in himself. It was a gift of God as a result of his faith.

Jesus was with John Wesley in the storm as He was with these gentle believers, only Wesley did not realize it. It was two years before his heart was strangely warmed by the presence of Jesus Christ. He had found that even in the midst of our wildest storms and darkest fears, Jesus is with us. No matter your situation, believe that tonight, because it is the only way to peace and confidence over fear. No matter what it is you fear, believe that Jesus Christ is with you in your storm! The psychiatrist Paul Tournier says: "The adventurous life is not one exempt from fear, but one lived in full knowledge of fear. All men are afraid, even desperately afraid. If they think they are exempt from fear, that is because they have repressed their fears. Fear is part of human nature." 

That was what the disciples discovered. They were afraid, but Jesus was with them and their faith in Him, dissolved their fear. Jesus answered their cry in time of danger and saved them. Completely! Nothing now could frighten them. No wonder that group of frightened believers were transformed into the most courageous fellowship ever seen on the face of the earth. So Jesus calls us to follow Him in confidence and faith. Our world is filled with people who are still battling fear. Every kind of fear imaginable has its own adherents. That fear fills and dominates their lives. So many have looked to Jesus, and with eyes firmly fixed on Him have cried to Him in their fear, and He has restored their faith. They have been saved! 

John Wesley lived a courageous life. Frequently attacked by mobs of ruffians, he preached in the open air unafraid for the next fifty-three years. On March 2nd, 1791 many people crowded into his bedroom praying as he slipped into unconsciousness. With calmness he opened his eyes, shook hands with each friend and said, "Farewell! Farewell!" One man who was there wrote, "The dying man summoned all his remaining strength and exclaimed in a clear strong voice, "The best of all is, God is with us." Then he emphatically repeated, "The best of all is, God is with us." And died. No fear. Only faith. Because God was with him. No fear. Only faith. In your fear, call out to Jesus. He saves you from your fears, and sin and death. Trust Him now! Do not doubt. Jesus is the Son of God. Believe! If you know storms without and fears within, trust Jesus Christ in faith, and be at peace! 

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes


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