Why are you so afraid?
by Jack Wald | March 22nd, 2020

Matthew 8:23-27

This is very strange. I am standing here, looking out at empty seats, less then ten people, spread out from each other, keeping social distance. Where is everyone? You are in apartments and villas, sitting in front of your computer watching from the safety of your own home.

This is a new experience for all of us and I am grateful that the technology exists that allows us to continue to be in contact.

God created us to be in fellowship; we are not meant to live solitary lives. So this enforced lockdown creates stresses in us that communication with others can ease. I hope you are calling each other, emailing each other. Take advantage of the RIC Online Family Times on Zoom. Tuesday through Friday, 10-12 and 5-7. This is a good opportunity to see each other, talk with each other. It is a good time to share your concerns and have people pray for you. If you are feeling lonely or anxious, if you are facing difficulty, we can talk together and pray and see how we can help each other.

It has been good to see people living in Morocco in our Family Time on Zoom, as well as Mike & Jenny Russon who joined us from England, Lowell & Anne Zweigle who joined us from the US in Washington State, and Connie McDaniel who is sitting out the lockdown in the US in the state of Pennsylvania. Our Zoom room is quite large.

We are discovering the advantages the online world offers us, even while we are isolated from our neighbors.

This life may be our life for another two or three months. We need to adapt to a new reality.

In this Lenten season of the church, we have focused on questions Jesus asked. This morning we come to, “Why are you so afraid?”

Picture the scene. It’s been a long day, another day with Jesus, not that much different than the other days the disciples spent with Jesus. But that is not to say that it was an ordinary day. It’s been a day remarkably different from the days they spent before they met Jesus. Their days before Jesus were not without occasional excitement and drama, but now! The first time Jesus healed someone, their eyes popped out of their heads in amazement. With time the shock was not quite so great, but it still was amazing to see someone come to Jesus who is blind and walk away seeing. How can it ever be routine to see someone who has been lame for years and years walk away on two sound legs? When you see a man with a withered arm be healed, the arm stretching out, ligaments, tendons, muscles being created in front of your eyes, there are not words to describe what you are feeling. The wonder of what Jesus can do was no longer a surprise, but it was no less a wonder.

So it had been a long day of routine amazement with Jesus. From morning to evening, wherever they went, people came to Jesus wanting his help and he spent the day teaching and healing.

Now Jesus told the disciples that they would leave Capernaum and cross the Sea of Galilee. What a relief. No more crowds. Peace and solitude. They set off as evening approached with anticipation of a pleasant sail. It was a beautiful night and the sun set, reflecting on the waters. The stars came out and they began to identify their familiar friends in the sky. After a day of healing and teaching, Jesus was tired so he fell asleep in the boat. There was a nice wind and they sailed steadily along, hearing the sound of the boat cutting through the water, the sound of the wind in the sail, relaxing. Some of the disciples talked with one another, some dozed from their tiredness. All was peaceful.

Then, all of a sudden, a storm swept down on the lake and instantly the scene changed from serenity to chaos. The lake that was calm and serene was now whipping up waves that crashed into and over the boat. The boat creaked with the pounding of the waves. The sail whipped and tore in the wind. The wind howled so they could barely hear one another.

Among the disciples there were some who were experienced sailors: Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. They had sailed on this lake all their life and knew all about storms on the lake. But there was something about this storm that put them in a panic. There was something about this storm that was different from all the storms they had experienced throughout their lives on this lake.

It was a furious storm that came without warning. And in the midst of all this chaos, the howling wind, the waves splashing over the boat, the boat creaking from the pounding it was taking, in the midst of all this, where was Jesus? He was sleeping. Sleeping! How do you sleep in such a storm?

And so the disciples came to him and woke him up. Lord save us! We’re going to drown!”

Jesus woke up, rebuked the disciples You of little faith, why are you so afraid? and then rebuked the storm and all was once again at peace. I don’t think there was any more sleeping that night, except maybe for Jesus.

There are just a few verses in Matthew’s Gospel about this incident, but there is an abundance of tension and drama packed into them.

So let’s unpack this drama and see what we can learn from it.

None of us are strangers to storms in our lives. They take many forms. There are financial storms, relational storms, health storms, emotional storms, storms of all kinds. What makes these storms so potent is that they come on us unexpectedly.

We are now facing a storm unlike any we have ever seen. As we entered into the year 2020, did anyone anticipate that in the first quarter of the year we would be facing a worldwide pandemic?

Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake

We think we are sailing along and all is going well and then all of a sudden the storm hits us. We have no time to prepare for it. We have no time to harden ourselves. At one moment all is well and then we receive a phone call, someone we love has a terminal disease, someone we love has died. All is well and then we receive a phone call and discover that the tumor they took out is malignant. All is well and then an investment fails, a deal falls through, a promise to help with funding is revoked and you are in a serious financial crisis. All is well and then you face an unexpected medical bill, your car is wrecked, your house is robbed.

In December we heard about a mysterious virus in Wuhan, China and then it spread to South Korea, Italy, and Iran. We thought we were safe in Morocco but because of improved technology, our world is shrinking. The cities of the world are connected. In 2017 there were an average of 11,000,000 people flying every day. In less than three months, 186 countries and territories have citizens who are infected with covid-19. Entire countries are on a nationwide lockdown with more being added every few days.

Morocco began a lock down Friday at 6 PM. And all of this happened in just a couple weeks!

It was just a week ago that Chris Loose was supposed to arrive to candidate to be the next senior pastor of RIC. Chris and I talked through the week. He changed his flight so he would not transfer through Paris. A couple days later he decided that just he would come to Morocco and his wife, Rachel, would stay behind with his kids. He changed his flight a second time so he would fly directly from Washington DC to Casablanca and back. And then on Friday morning we decided to postpone his coming to Rabat. At the time I thought it was a good decision, but still thought it might have been ok for him to come over and leave ten days later. After all, I thought, we are safe in Morocco. This is not Europe. I am so glad we made that decision or Chris would have been locked down in Morocco, away from his family for months, not just ten days.

The storms of life often come on us unexpectedly and because of that, they hit us with devastating force.

Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake

What makes the storm so furious, in part, is that there is no time to prepare for it. There is no time to think through options and see how the financial crisis might be weathered. There is no time to grieve and prepare for the death of someone we love. There is no time to deal with our own mortality so that when we receive news we are going to die, we are prepared for it. There is no time to reflect on why someone might have said such a cruel thing to us. It hits us without warning which makes it a furious storm. It shakes us to the core.

Is covid-19 a furious storm? In the current flu season in the US there have been 350,000 people hospitalized and 20,000 deaths. These numbers would be much higher if there were not flu shots people take every year.

In contrast, there have been only 12,000 deaths due to covid-19 worldwide. So why are we making such a big deal of covid-19?

There are two possibilities: first, we are all in a panic because this is something new and in a few months we will realize that all the precautions we are being urged to take were unnecessary. There are some who take this view and dismiss the warnings of scientists and medical experts. Some who take this view say they are putting their trust in God and are not worried about this virus.

The second possibility is that medical experts see a tsunami coming and are warning us to take radical precautions to prevent the destruction it will bring. This is what I believe to be true.

The medical evidence is that covid-19 is ten times more contagious than the seasonal flu. Fifty doctors in Boston, Massachusetts signed a letter warning of how serious a virus covid-19 is. “Although many people will recover, about 20% will wind up with a serious pneumonia that will require hospitalization. Some will be so ill from the pneumonia that they will die. We estimate this may be 2-3%, but it is higher in Italy’s experience, partially because the healthcare system was overwhelmed so rapidly. In those over age 70, the death rate is 8-20%.”

“Scientists measure the spread of an epidemic by a number called R0, or “R naught.” That number is calculated this way: for every person who develops the illness, how many other people do they give it to before they are cured (or dead) and no longer infectious? The R0 for coronavirus appears to be a number close to 3 – an extremely frightening number for such a deadly disease.”

“Suppose you catch the virus. You will give it to 3 other people, and they will each give it to three others, and so forth.”

One person infects 3 who infect 9 who infect 27 who infect 81. In 8 steps the number infected is 6,561. In 12 steps the number is 177,111. And in just 15 steps of transmission, the virus has gone from just one index case to 14.3 million other people. What is frightening is that those 15 steps might take only a few weeks if preventative measures are not taken.

So although at present there are not that many covid-19 infections and deaths worldwide, this is only the beginning. The rates of infection in countries range from doubling every two days to doubling every ten days. If the current number of infections and deaths double every six days, by the end of April there will be 36,000,000 infections and 1,500,000 deaths. And this is only four months with the rest of the year to come.

If precautions are not taken the health care systems around the world will be overwhelmed and the number of deaths will be in the millions. This is the tsunami that is coming. Only if we take strict precautions will we be able to reduce the destruction of the tsunami. The good news is that the precautionary measures taken in China, South Korea, and some other countries has been effective in preventing new infections.

Covid-19 is a furious storm.

Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. 

We are shaken by the suddenness and violence of the storm and it overwhelms us. The waves of fear and anxiety and pain and despair sweep over us. Just moments before we had thought we were so strong and capable. We were cutting through the water so swiftly and suddenly we are not sure we will be able to survive. The shore was just a couple hours away and now it is a shore we may never see. Our confidence is shattered. We feel weak and alone so we look to God and where is he?

But Jesus was sleeping. 

It would be one thing if Jesus were awake and said, “Peter, take the rudder and set a course for the northwest. Everything is going to be OK. James, drag an anchor over the port side, Bartholomew, Matthew and Judas, you move over to the starboard side. John, pull down the sail. Don’t worry men, I’m in charge here. Everything is going to be OK.”

In a furious storm in the Mediterranean Sea, after two weeks in the storm, Paul spoke to the crew and passengers, (Acts 27:33–36)
Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.

It would have been good if Jesus was awake and the disciples saw him observing the storm without fear, but Jesus did none of this. He slept.

And this is the problem for us. When a storm hits us, suddenly, without warning, and the fury of the storm sends us into a panic, we look to God and he is silent. We pray and hear nothing. Where is God? We sink deeper and deeper into the storm, afraid we will be overcome, and when we cry out for help to God, there is no answer. We pray and pray but the answer we are seeking does not come. The illness that invaded our body continues to advance, taking over more and more ground. Why doesn’t God do something about it? We cut back on our budget and tighten our belt and the financial situation just gets worse. Why doesn’t God provide for us what we need? We keep on loving our spouse but receive nothing in return. We forgive the person who hurt us but he keeps on with his abusive behavior. Why doesn’t God take control and do something? We pray we will be protected from the covid-19 virus but then there are some among us who become infected.

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 

Here is the first lesson for us from this passage: God is not indifferent. God is not asleep.

Psalm 121
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

While it appears God is asleep, he is not. He is ever watchful. He is ever present with us. There is never a moment when we are out of his sight. There is never a moment when we are outside of his protection. When we despair because it appears that God has not answered our plea for help and the storm in our life is sending waves over us, we are still safe because he is in the boat with us. He is not distant, unable to help us in our time of need.

Lesson number two: The peace of God allows us to sleep in the midst of a storm.

Was Jesus more tired than the disciples? Is that why he was able to sleep in the storm?

Jesus faced many storms in his life. When we read through the gospel accounts of the arrest, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus, we are amazed at how Jesus moved through those events with wisdom, love, compassion, and peace. I often use the image of carrying a candle safely through a storm and that is what Jesus did. He felt strong emotion. He prayed with great anguish, asking that the cup of suffering that was coming would be taken away from him. He felt the pain of being deserted by his disciples. He suffered great physical pain. He felt the pain of being cut off from his relationship with his father in heaven.

It is the peace of God in his life that allowed Jesus to walk safely through that storm. And it is the peace of Christ that allows us to carry a candle safely through a storm. We are not overcome by the storms. We are at peace because we know who loves us and what he has promised us.

Lesson number three: There is no need to panic. We are safest when we are in the boat with Jesus.

The disciples woke Jesus and he replied,
“You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

Little faith. How did Jesus know they had so little faith?

Just at the beginning of this chapter in Matthew, a centurion came to Jesus to ask that Jesus heal his servant
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him.”
8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

What was it about the centurion that caused Jesus to praise his faith and what was there about the disciples that caused Jesus to rebuke them for their little faith?

Notice that the centurion did not come to Jesus running and yelling, “Jesus! Come quick! My servant is going to die! You’ve got to help me! Run! There may just be time! Hurry!” He said simply, “I know you can do this. I trust you.”

There was not a lot of room in the boat for the disciples to run around, but they were in a panic. It is not that they were without faith. Jesus did not say, “You of no faith, why are you so afraid?” He said, “You of little faith.”

They had enough faith that they knew that asking Jesus for help was their best option and for having little faith, they did the right thing with it. When a storm hits us, we don’t have to have enough faith to know how it is going to work out but we have to use the little faith we have to ask for help. ”Help me Jesus!”

When we panic, we do not make good decisions. When we are in a storm, it is slipping into panic that creates problems for us. We run around, pulling at our hair, throwing away the reasoning power God gave to us and we begin to make foolish decisions. We begin to act impulsively without thinking through the consequences.

I have seen people who are desperate to get out of Morocco and make decisions to do something that is illegal and then are unhappy because that creates even more problems for them.

I have also seen people who were in a financial storm and gave the little money they had to someone who came along with a scheme to make some quick money. That person disappeared with their money and now they were in a worse situation than before.

When we panic, we only make the storm more furious.

We need to sit down in the midst of the storm and realize who it is that is in the boat with us. Jesus is present with us. We need to relax, take deep breaths, and know that we are safe because Jesus is present with us in the storm. Then we can make better decisions as we navigate through the storm.

Lesson number four: The storm will not last forever.

Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 

When we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will get through the storm and afterwards, when we have seen the storm through the eyes of Jesus, it will not be as bad as it appeared to be at the time. We will get through the storm. The storm will pass and it will be completely calm.

The covid-19 pandemic will pass. It will not be our future; it will be our memory. In the future we will remember an event in our life because “I know it was in 2020 because that was the year of covid-19.” The storms of life become historical events. Whatever storm you face, financial, relational, or health, the storm will not overcome you. Your fears will not overwhelm you. The storm will pass.

When a storm comes, if Jesus is in the boat with you, then you have no reason to fear. Even if the boat capsizes and you drown, if Jesus is with you, you will be OK. There is no reason to fear. Being in the boat with Jesus is what matters.

I know that because of my age, if I get infected with covid-19 the health system in Morocco will probably be overwhelmed and it will be difficult for me to get the help I need to recover. I was asked if I wanted to take one of the flights the US Embassy organized to take US citizens back to the US, but I said no. I am a shepherd of the sheep and cannot desert my flock in a time of crisis. But I am ok. I am at peace. Whatever happens, I am safe in the boat with Jesus.

Lesson number five does not come from the text in Matthew 8, it comes from a C. S. Lewis essay. In 1948 when the world was waking up to the frightening prospect of living in a nuclear age with atomic bombs being dropped on cities, Lewis wrote this:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Because of our faith in God, we do not need to give in to fear. We can live life, celebrate the life God gives us, be grateful to God for his love and presence with us.

My daughter in Boston has been writing a blog each day of the lockdown in Massachusetts and I find it calming to read it each day. She talks about the events of each day, shares pictures of the creative work she and her daughters have made. She shares the emotional ups and downs of the day. What is calming as I read her blog is that life continues to be lived.

This is what I hope for us, that we will continue to live life in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic.

One of the RIC members was talking with me on our RIC Online Family Time this week and asked me how she could bring light to others in this time. I encouraged her to call her friends and neighbors and ask them how they are doing. When we talk with friends and neighbors and they see we are not panicking, we are not “whimpering and drawing long faces”, but are finding joy in what we are reading, what we are cooking, who we are talking with – that is a witness. When people see us not being afraid, being hopeful, confident about the future, that is our witness.

This storm can be a great time for us to grow closer together as a community. We may not be able to be physically present with each other, but with the extra time on our hands we can have more time to connect with each other.

The safest place for the disciples was not walking on the shore, it was being in the boat with Jesus. The safest place for us to be is here with Jesus.

If you panic because of a storm that comes into your life, remember these words of Jesus and let them bring reassurance. You of little faith, why are you so afraid? Hear these words and be reassured. It will be OK. Everything will be alright because Jesus is in the boat with you.

Take a deep breath. Realize who is with you. Be at peace. All is well. You are ok. Everything will be all right.