STORMS AND DOLDRUMS
Matthew 8 & 13, Mark 4, Luke 8
The first words of our text read, "And the same day " It had been a long, hard day for Jesus. Earlier that day, his teaching and preaching were interrupted by a confrontation with his mother and siblings. They couldn't get near Jesus due to the multitude (see the last 5 verses of Matthew 12 and first verse of chapter 13). Great multitudes had come from "every city" (Luke 8:1) and it became necessary for Jesus to get into a boat in order to speak to them. There were no microphones and PA systems in those days, so he had to speak at the top of his voice for hours on end!
Jesus did not have an easy life. His public ministry only covered three years, yet the gospels mention "multitudes" 87 times, often preceded by the adjective "great." Not all of these multitudes speak of his popularity, however. He also had many enemies, the Jewish leaders in particular. A multitude also cried, "Crucify him!" (Matthew 15:6-15). A few times the multitudes are given estimated numbers, like five and three thousand. After the crucifixion, his disciples went into hiding and 120 met in the upper room, awaiting Pentecost. Paul mentioned 500 believers who saw the resurrected Christ in I Corinthians 15:6, but nowhere do we read of multitudes of believers until after Pentecost.
Who's in Charge?
When it was evening, Jesus told his disciples to get in the boat and sail across the sea. Jesus gave the command, but then the disciples seem to have taken charge. The disciples were mostly seasoned fishermen who were at home on the sea. "They took him as he was" (physically exhausted). Other smaller boats accompanied them at least in the beginning. The scripture doesn't say what happened to the small vessels or how those fared who had to walk home in the dark and stormy night.
Jesus fell asleep. I can almost hear the disciples: "Jesus must have been very tired. It's good that he can get some sleep. We fishermen know how to handle a boat."
The disciples now feared for their lives. They saw Jesus sleeping, woke him up and scolded him, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" Jesus woke up and was soon on his feet, but he didn't scold the disciples. Instead, he scolded the wind and the waves! "Peace! Be still!" Immediately the wind ceased and the sea "became a great calm."
The disciples made several serious mistakes
2) The disciples waited until things got really bad before going to Jesus. This is more common among Christians than one might think. I am not one of those who run to see a doctor with every little cut, bruise or insect bite, but I belong to the kind that waits until the matter becomes an emergency. I once mentioned in a sermon that we tend to procrastinate about seeing a doctor. His cure often causes pain. I used an illustration saying that I planned to see a doctor on Monday about my ingrown toenail that had been bothering me for a couple of weeks. After the service, a woman approached me and asked if I had called upon the church elders to anoint and pray over my toe!
3) The disciples accused Jesus of not caring about their predicament. "Don't you care if we are dying?" This happens to us more often than we would admit. We ask God, "Why?" or instead of asking him to help, we think he should come to our aid without being asked. If you listen to the prayers of God's children in prayer meetings, it seems more like we treat God as if he is a child or even a slave! "Give me this or do that." We don't bother to say "please" but are careful to add "in Jesus name" before saying "amen," like waving a magic wand.
4) After Jesus caused the wind and the waves to cease, the disciples became "exceedingly fearful." That kind of reaction tells us and others - how little we know the God whom we profess to believe and serve.
It is very important that we never lose sight of who Jesus is! If you are walking in a dark alley and see a huge hulk of a man coming toward you, you may become "exceedingly fearful", but if you recognize that man as your father, you have a healthy fear, respect and thankfulness for his presence. We must remember that God is always with us and in control. He is capable of overcoming every problem that we face. This knowledge gives us a healthy fear of God, but the disciples became exceedingly fearful. Jesus asked them, "Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?"
5) There is a greater danger than storms. It is a danger that many Christians at first view as a blessing of God. The gospel writers called it "the great calm." Sailors call it the "doldrums."
A friend of mine, Marvin Creamer, was born only 4 miles from our home. He learned the carpenter trade working for my grandfather, served in WW II and after college, he served three decades as a Geography Professor at Rowan University in Glassboro. He passed away on August 12th at 104 years of age.
Creamer accomplished something that no other human has ever achieved. He circumnavigated the world in a 36-foot sailboat entirely without navigational instruments! He used no sextant, no compass, not even a wristwatch. When he departed two days before Christmas 1982 in a snowstorm, navigational experts predicted that his venture would probably end in tragedy. The Smithsonian Institute had installed a gadget in his boat that sent satellite signals at regular intervals. When the signals went silent, newspapers reported the crew missing at sea.
Marvin Creamer completed the voyage successfully, returning to Cape May in the Spring of 1984 to a hero's welcome. He wrote a book about his voyage, in which he described violent storms with 40-foot waves and three knock-downs with the mast 45 degrees under water. There were numerous close calls with death, a fire in the galley, the supposedly indestructible stainless steel tiller broke in a storm, one crew got frostbite and Creamer got a dislocated shoulder.
But Marvin Creamer claimed that their greatest danger was the doldrums. He stated emphatically that the wind and waves can be dangerous, but the boat needs these to reach its destination. The doldrums render sailors and their vessels helpless and useless. Many sailors have gone mad in the doldrums. Creamer and his crew had to deal with months of continuous and absolute calm, locked into a tiny space. *
God's people are always in danger because Satan is always looking to catch us in a distracted situation. When we are obeying God and following his leading, he will take care of us, but we often let down our guard when we have free time. Someone has said, "Idle time is the devil's playground." In the storms of life, God helps us to use "storm winds and rough seas" for his purposes and he also teaches us to use doldrums (quarantine, isolation) for his purposes.
The disciples were no longer afraid of the storm or the waves. They were happy for the great calm, yet the "great calm" had the potential of becoming their greatest danger!
The Haven of Rest
A number of hymns with sea themes have been written by pilgrims and immigrants who fled persecution in Europe seeking freedom of worship in the New World. Hymn writer, Henry Gilmore, of Pitman, NJ, wrote The Haven of Rest. The refrain goes like this: "I've anchored my soul in the haven of rest; I'll sail the wide seas no more. The tempest may sweep o'er the wild stormy deep; In Jesus I'm safe evermore." Gilmore wrote that hymn around 1900, but the voyages of early pilgrims were much harsher. Crossings were often tempestuous in a real sense of the word. The passengers were mostly poor and chose the cheapest possible passage. They were packed into rooms or baggage holds with few amenities. They took their own food enough for the entire voyage which normally lasted four to six weeks. Large wooden buckets served both as toilets and receptcles for the vomit of seasick passengers.
What those early pilgrims went through after their arrival could hardly be described as a haven of rest! The Colony of Virginia was established in 1607 by England and was intended to become a great Anglican nation. 1,600 colonists arrived from Europe in Virginia, but in just 9 years, 80% of them had died of hardships; cold, hunger, disease, conflicts with native Americans and in some cases violence and suicide.
We crossed the Atlantic by ship three times. On our second passage in 1968, we got into a very rough storm. A seasoned sailor of 28 years told us that it was the worst he had ever experienced. The passage took just one week and we had good quarters with a private bath on the largest and fastest ocean liner that America ever built, but it was no joyride! None of our family got seasick but many passengers and half the crew were down for days. I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like on a wooden sailing vessel for weeks! The Mayflower voyage in 1620 took nine weeks and several of those weeks were doldrums!
In the world, we have storms and doldrums but for Christians, the "Haven of Rest" is our trust in God.
Real sailors don't quit sailing because they were in a bad storm and they utilize the doldrums to review plans, study the charts, make repairs, clean up the ship and prepare for storms. Genuine Christians trust in God and learn how to use opposition, storms of life, persecution and even the doldrums (COVID 19), for the cause of Christ and the salvation of lost sinners.
Ralph V Harvey, September, 2020