The fifth through seventh chapters of Matthew contains the longest discourse of statements by Jesus that are recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. It is a sermon about the two certainties of life in God’s kingdom for followers of Jesus: the certainty of storms and the certainty of faith in Jesus.
The people to whom Jesus preached by the Sea of Galilee would have known all about the certainty of storms. The Sea of Galilee is the second-lowest lake in the world at nearly 700 feet below sea level, the Sea of Galilee is surrounded by hills that reach nearly 1,400 feet above sea level. Nearly eight miles wide at its widest point and more than 12 miles long from north to south, the Sea of Galilee plunges to depths of 200 feet. This terrain makes it subject to sudden storms as an east wind blows cold air over the warm air that covers the sea. Peaceful days can quickly become turbulent and quiet evenings can suddenly be disrupted by the certainty of storms.
Jessica Brooke Joyner writes about the certainty of storms in life:
Everyone faces storms in their lifetime. Some face hurricanes, others rain showers. We’re tall, short, fat, thin, male, and female. We have different skin, different eyes, different hair. We think and feel different. We are different. But what we all have in common is that our lives revolve around storms. It’s the storms that make us who we are, that shape us into the individuals we become. It’s the storms that mold our true characters.
Throughout the Bible, storms mold the true character of biblical characters.
- The Old Testament book of Jonah tells of how the prophet Jonah sought to run away from God’s call to preach repentance to Ninevah (the arch enemy of Israel). In his flight, Jonah boards a ship that becomes engulfed by a storm that leads to Jonah being engulfed by a large fish. After three days and three nights inside the belly of the fish, Jonah’s character is molded as he offers a prayer to God from the belly of the fish:
“I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?’ The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God. As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”
The Gospels of the New Testament tell of how the disciples’ characters were molded as they encountered Jesus through the reality of storms.
- Mark 4:35-41 tells of Jesus rebuking the stormy winds and waves of the Sea of Galilee as the disciples ask each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”
- Matthew 13:22-33 tells of Jesus walking on the stormy water of the Sea of Galilee to the disciples who are far from the land in their boat.
The heritage of The United Methodist Church is shaped by the story of how John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, witnessed Moravian Christians singing hymns and quoting scriptures as storm waves threatened to sink the boat on which he was sailing.
It is no wonder that Jesus concludes his Sermon on the Mount by preaching about the certainty of storms. Storms mold our lives.
It is also no wonder that Jesus concludes his Sermon on the Mount by preaching about the certainty of faith. Matthew 7:24 records Jesus’ teaching about the certainty of faith with these words:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.
Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by teaching, that while storms may mold our true characters, faith in Jesus provides the foundation for our lives as Jesus’ followers.
James Hench wrote about the certainty of storms and the certainty of faith in Jesus as he encountered the storm of the Covid pandemic in 2020. Living in New York City, he wrote of how life became eerily quiet in response to the pandemic. One day, he was riding home on the subway and was reading, trying to focus on something besides worry.
Just before the doors closed at the 14th Street station, a man stepped aboard and said in a loud voice, “Good afternoon, everyone, pardon the interruption.”
Hench says, “I didn’t look up from my book. Homeless or mentally unstable people board the subway all the time and loudly tell their stories before asking for money. New Yorkers tune it all out.
Beautiful chords began playing on a guitar. “I just want to wish everyone a blessed day,” the new passenger said before launching into a soaring rendition of Michael W. Smith’s praise song “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”
His voice rang out in the hushed car: “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart. I want to see you.” And then the chorus, even louder: “To see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory. Pour out your power and love as we sing holy, holy, holy.”
The train neared the next stop and the singer lingered on those last words, repeating them over and over: “Holy, holy, holy.”
Hench lowered his book, closed his eyes, and rested his forehead on his hand that was clutching the bar in front of him. It was a moment of holy certain faith. He says he wanted to cry as he affirmed his faith in the presence of God even in the midst of the storm.
“The train stopped. ‘Blessings to you all,’ the singer called out. “God loves you, have a great day.” He stepped off and disappeared into the crowd. Hench reports: “Now, at home, when I feel myself starting to freak out, I play that song. I remember that moment of unexpected grace. And I remember something that is true no matter how bad things feel: God is here. God is at work even if we’re too anxious to see it.”
Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount by preaching about the two certainties of life in God’s kingdom: the certainty of storms that mold our character and the certainty of faith that shapes our lives as Jesus’ followers.
Today, if the character of your life is being shaped by the certainty of storms, know that Jesus has the power to shape your life as you live with certainty in the faith of Jesus.
The Two Certainties of God’s Kingdom
by Pastor Marc Brown
May 8, 2022
Accompanying Scriptures: Matthew 7:24-29
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for May 8, 2021
Scripture Lesson Matthew 7:24-29
The Good News “The Two Certainties of God’s Kingdom”
Music “Open the Eyes of My Heart” by Michael W Smith
Closing Music “The Water is Wide” arr. John Purifoy