Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

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The Gospel text for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany comes from the second half of the eighth chapter of Matthew. If you were to read the whole chapter at one sitting, you could see that it is all about the authority of Jesus. When He finished preaching the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds marveled for Jesus taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes (Mt 7:29). When he had come down from the mountain, a leper approached Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you You are willing, You can, that is, you have the authority and power to make me clean.” Jesus said, “I can, and I will. Go, show yourself to the priests” (Mt 8:2–4) He has authority over sickness and disease. Then a centurion approached, saying, “I too am a man under authority. Just as you told the leper to go, I also tell my soldiers and slaves to go and they go. So only say the word and my child will be healed.” Jesus said to the commander of a hundred soldiers, “You go. Your child will live.” Jesus has authority over all the rulers and kings of this world.
Then, in our text this morning, the wind and the waves departed at Jesus’ word. The disciples marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Mt 8:23–27). And if you read the last story in chapter 8, Jesus demonstrates that his authority extends even beyond men, rulers, kingdoms, sickness and storms, even beyond the sphere of earthly things. As He is casting out demons from two men, the spirits beg Him, saying, “If you cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.” And He said to them, “Go,” and they went (Mt 8:31–32). Jesus even has authority over the legions of hell.
In contrast to Jesus, we have the disciples who demonstrate again and again in the gospels that they have no authority over any of these things. When the soldiers come to arrest Jesus, all the disciples forsook Him and fled. They tried and failed to cast out demons. And more than once, as we read today, they were in danger of perishing upon the sea. These were fearful men without authority, beset by dangers on every side. In this way, the disciples represent all men. We are subject to the ravages of sin, powerless against disease and calamity, and easy prey for the devil and his wiles. Such is life in our broken world, but this is not the world as God created it.
In the beginning, God gave Adam authority and dominion over all creation. The beasts, the plants, all created things from the smallest microbes to the great mountains and seas were given to serve man. Even the weather was subject to Adam and Eve. Yet, though they were king and queen over everything that God had made, they were not content. All authority on earth had been given to them, but they reached out their hands to seize what had not been given, authority in heaven, and so grasping lost what they already held.
When there is a hurricane or a flood or an earthquake, we like to blame our Creator—“This is an act of God!”—but these destructive events are not His creation. They are the works of our hands, the results of our sinful pride that reached out to seize heaven and lost earth. God established a place and a boundary for everything He had made. He commanded the heavenly bodies to serve man, marking out our days, seasons, and years. He said to the sea: “This far, and no further.” He ordered all things perfectly to be subject to us, His children, who were made in His image.
The demonstrations of Jesus’ authority and power in Matthew chapter 8 serve as sad reminders of how far we have fallen and what we have lost. Like the disciples, we no longer have dominion over creation. We are prey for the great beasts and the tiny viruses. We are stricken by the sun, buffeted by the winds, and tossed by the angry waves. Those things that were created to serve the children of God, now exercise dominion over us.
Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea. Why? You might say they were misbehaving; acting outside of God’s intended order, threatening to destroy His people. This is not the purpose for which the sea was created. Jesus rebukes the sea, but it’s not the sea’s fault. The Bible says that creation was subjected to futility, to decay and bondage, unwillingly (Rom 8:20). In fact, the whole creation groans and labors as with birth pangs, waiting for the revealing of the sons of God. (Rom 8:22).
After Jesus rebuked the storm, there was a great calm, and the disciples marveled, asking, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Mt 8:27). Maybe it was a rhetorical question, but we might answer, “He is true God, that’s who He is.” That’s correct, but more to the point here, “What sort of man is this?” “True man.” That is what the disciples were witnessing. Man as he was created to be. The image and likeness of God, not seen on earth since Adam, the ruler over creation exercising his God-given dominion over all things on earth.
In chapter 14, the disciples would witness this again, but the next time Jesus would be walking on the water, demonstrating that it was under his authority, under his feet, subject to Him, the only true man to walk the earth since Eden. He is the first since Adam, but the first of many who will follow Him. The disciples saw a glimpse of the future that God has in store for every believer, only in the new heaven and earth, the sea will no longer be raging. It will be as smooth as glass—all of nature no longer groaning and travailing, but restored to perfect harmony according to God’s design. And we, now with glorified and deathless bodies, free from every last trace of sin, will exercise that dominion that rightfully belongs to the sons of God.
But not yet. Our Lord has not yet made all things new. Until time runs out for our broken world, the sea will continue to rage. Hurricanes and blizzards will cause havoc and destruction for a little while longer. Disease and death and a thousand other dangers will threaten from every side. And yet, even in the midst of the storm, we have hope, because we know that our Lord Jesus has conquered. Even death, the last enemy, is put under his feet. Did He win this victory by grasping for a higher place, as we once did? Did He conquer by exercising his dominion, by strength and might? No. Quite the opposite. He set his rightful authority aside, though he was Lord of all, and submitted to a shameful death at the hands of His own subjects. He humbled Himself, veiled His glory, and become sin in our place. We could not share in Jesus’ glorious life except that He first shared in our death. And He did so gladly.
Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples one final time, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me” (Mt 28:18), and then He was taken up out of their sight. This was the last glimpse we poor sinners were given of the one true man, rightful ruler and lord of creation, as Adam ought to have been. But the next time we see Him, will be on the day that we become like Him—true men once again, finally and fully restored to the glorious image of God, as we were created to be. On that day God will wipe away every tear from our eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. And He who is seated on the throne, our Lord Jesus, now wielding all authority in heaven and on earth says, “I am coming quickly. Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:4–6). Amen.
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