4th after Epiphany

O GOD, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant to us such strength and protection, as may support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Epistle Romans 13:17
Gospel S. Matthew 8:23-34

The Collect was revised in 1662 removing “we suffer for sin” which could have been taken to mean ‘we suffer to atone for our sins’, rather than ‘we suffer as a consequence of our sins’. Neil and Willoughby, in The Tutorial Prayer Book, cautiously note that it is “perhaps, unfortunate” that the word “always” was not omitted, adding that “man can NEVER ‘stand upright’ without Divine strength and protection.”

Protection is always needed and should always be requested from God because of dangers without and frailty within. The fallen state of man is such that “total depravity” would lead to such anarchy, that only the patience of God prevents this and maintains some semblance of order in the world. Such “peace” is generally more evident in Christian societies as the Epistle reading implies.

The Epistle. One of the ways in which God answers this prayer is by providing the rule of law administered by various authorities. Therefore, when verse 1 says that we should be “subject unto the higher powers”, we should. We need to remember that even if our Government is far from perfect, it is provided by God. It is given according as Christians pray in answer to prayer. When a society is very ungodly then Government will either be weak or harsh because it is not benefiting from the Christian effect of submission to authority under God.

In the context of a sinful and rebellious nation, whatever civil orderliness exists is a mercy from God for which we should give thanks. Without God’s restraining hand working through the law of the land and through the emergency services and armed forces, the effects of total depravity would be so much worse. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” (Lamentations 3:22)

While we are able to preach the Gospel to this generation, and while we are distressed at the scenes around us, we should not be overly surprised about the state of things around us. Sinners sin! They are lost and need to be found. Without conversion, sinners will go on sinning. This is not to give a license for sinners to sin. The law of the land is for murderers, liars, etc. (1 Timothy 1:9,10). Its imperfection is shown by the fact that today it protects those whom it should prosecute, “them that defile themselves with mankind” (1 Timothy 1:10). What we need to do is to recognise that while we are thankful for Government and its restraining influence on evil, Government is not a god, but rather is under God. “The King’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water, he turneth is withersoever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

So the Christian can submit, knowing that while the Government is not perfect, it is, as the Dutch say, “the Government we deserve”. A nation, becoming overrun by Islam, whose next generation could be ruled by harsh Sharia Law, should remember that it has rejected the rule of God and is now facing the consequences. Without God being glorified in a nation, the rule will be the rule of man; it will be despotic and harsh in its dealing with people who are more and more rebellious against parents, teachers and all in authority. As police are attacked with more dangerous weapons so they will need to not only defend the public, but themselves. As parents and teachers are attacked they are increasingly powerless to enforce discipline and order! If the UK becomes a police state, it will be so because a police state has become the state that a rebellious people deserves and the only type of state capable of securing some form of peace.

So the Christian goes about his work, living at peace with those around him as far as it is within himself to so do. The Christian looks on to a new order where righteousness dwells. He looks beyond Judgment Day to his Eternal home. Here he is just passing through, and while not commanded to be a pacifist or to avoid civil life, he does not give politics the emphasis it is given by those who think it is the answer to everything. One remembers students at university, talking as if a political revolution or an overthrow of the Government would solve all their woes! What fools! There is more to life than that. We are here on earth to seek after God, in whom we live and move and have our being! (Acts 17:24-28).

So the Christian can submit to authority as given by God. The Christian can submit to the authorities, recognising that it is at the level of democracy or totalitarianism as God sees fit. Politics is not the main thing! The Gospel is the main thing! Of course, while the Christian will seek to live a life of civil obedience, this passage should encourage him to want better Government, that we might be peaceably governed that we might lead good lives and further the Gospel. Also it should encourage us to pray for governments (1 Timothy 2:1,2) and, when possible, to not only pray but to seek to bring the Truth of God to our leaders and encourage them to govern us according to the law of God.

Of course the passage means we should pay our taxes and keep to motor vehicle speed limits too!

It will be good for our souls to think about God’s good care for us during our heavenly pilgrimage through this “barren” yet civil society. Let us continue to thank Him and not take our “daily bread” for granted. As the providential instances of severe weather, fuel crises and terrorist acts, in recent years have shown, such grace could soon be removed.

The Gospel. It is very difficult for the Christian to rely on God and not on himself. This section of Matthew’s Gospel account tells of a great tempest, or storm, at sea, in which the disciples had no escape from fear but to trust Jesus.

Psalm 107 tells us that, “They that go down to the sea in ships … see the work of the Lord … for he commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind … their soul is melted because of trouble … and (they) are at their wit’s end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven” (Verses 23-30). Then the Psalmist cries his refrain, “O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.” Such praise is rare and we are thankful for storms that cause us to repent and cry out to God, so that we are back close to Him again, our ‘desired haven.’

The disciples were afraid, but rightly called out to Jesus to save them. That is what every person needs to do whether at sea or on dry land. Our sins are much worse than any storm and their effect much worse than drowning.

Such is the power of Jesus that with a word of rebuke the winds and the sea are still. There is a “great calm”. He does exactly what the Lord does in Psalm 107. To cry out to Jesus is to cry out to God because Jesus is, “the Lord Jesus” (Romans 10:9). There is no one else to whom one can cry out. And so it is for the salvation of the soul from sin. Reader, have you experienced that “great calm”? In this world you may still have troubles, but do you know the great calm of the one who has overcome the world for sinners like you?

Then, in the Gospel, Jesus meets the two men “possessed with devils” or demons. Though these men, or the demons in them, had frightened everyone else, now it is their turn to be frightened. Now it is the demons who cry out to Jesus to let them out. Demons cannot remain in men who are being converted as the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in them. Demons are too frightened to dwell with the Holy Spirit as they would be tormented by the constant reminder of their coming damnation.

These miracles prove to us the power of Christ to deal with situations that are beyond our control. The first and greatest of these, of course, is our salvation. Our sins are so great and our nature so frail that we can do no other than cry out to Christ to save us from the great storm of sin that possesses us.

With such a Christ as our saviour, we can have confidence in any situation. This is especially relevant now that we live in such an unstable God-hating society that despises His laws. It is highly relevant with the volatile global political situation. It encourages us to continue firm in the faith and to seek to help others flee from the wrath to come. People think the storms of this life are “hell on earth” but they have seen nothing compared to the eternal punishment of those who miss God’s blessing.

O Lord, save them now, we pray. O Father God, accompany our preaching with thy effectual calling, the irresistible grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Amen.