Who Is this Man?

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 8:23-27

Matthew tells the story of how Jesus and his disciples were caught in a violent storm while crossing the sea of Galilee. But the remarkable thing is that the disciples were more nervous after the storm than during it.

Matthew tells how Jesus and his disciples were once caught in a turbulent storm while crossing the sea of Galilee. It's remarkable that the disciples were more nervous after the storm than during it.

The first part of Matthew's Gospel offer a wonderful overview of Jesus' public ministry. His work involved three distinct activities. First, preaching the gospel, the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. Second, teaching, which for Jesus meant explaining what kingdom living demands from us, his followers. And third, performing the mighty acts of power – healing, delivering, feeding, protecting – that both demonstrated Jesus' divine nature and authority and illustrated the kind of wholeness and fullness of life that his kingdom would bring.

Matthew gives us a comprehensive picture of Jesus engaging in all those three activities. So in chapter 4 Jesus arrives on the public scene and immediately begins to preach the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:17). Then in chapters 5, 6, and 7 we have the great Sermon on the Mount, the fullest summary of Jesus' teaching. Finally, Matthew 8 and 9 describe a number of miracles that Jesus performed. Most of these are stories of healings, which Matthew very carefully chooses in order to emphasize not just Jesus' power, but also his openness and compassion.

And then toward the end of chapter 8 there is this amazing miracle, when Jesus stills a storm on the Sea of Galilee.

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”

Matthew 8:23-27

Lessons about Jesus

Biblical scholars tell us that the geography of the Sea of Galilee, which is actually not a sea but a decent-sized lake, makes it prone to sudden storms that can reach a considerable degree of violence. Matthew says that on this particular occasion as Jesus and his disciples were crossing the lake, a “furious” storm struck them without any warning, and the boat began to be swamped. If you recall that several of the men in that boat were professional fishermen from the Sea of Galilee, who were as experienced in sailing there as we are with our daily drive to work, you would have to conclude that this was one vicious storm.

The disciples are close to panic as they rush to awaken Jesus and begin screaming for him to save them. It's definitely an emergency, and they've all lost their heads. But Jesus calmly gets up and rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith. After that, more remarkably, he proceeds to rebuke – that's Matthew's word – the storm on the lake.

“Then,” states Matthew, “he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea.” Stop and think about that for just a minute. Jesus stands up in that boat in the middle of a howling gale, with the wind roaring around him and water pouring over the gunwales and his crew of professional sailors working desperately to keep from capsizing, and he proceeds to speak to the elements like a parent addressing his unruly children.

Let's be clear here. A man who does that sort of thing is either making a rather poor joke, or he's completely insane, like poor old King Lear shouting at the wind in the storm on the heath. Unless he's Jesus, in which case the result is that the wind instantly ceases blowing, and the waves all lie down, and as Matthew says, “there was a great calm.”

In this miracle Jesus is demonstrating two things. The first is clearly his own divine nature. There's a legend from English history about Canute, a Viking warrior who invaded England and became king there a thousand years ago. When his courtiers flattered him by making exaggerated claims for his power and authority, Canute, who was a devout Christian, ordered that his throne be carried down to the seashore. He gathered the whole court together on the beach, sat down on his throne, and directed his servants to set him down in the water in the midst of the incoming tide. Then King Canute in a royal voice commanded the tide to stop. Whereupon the water continued to lap higher and higher up the edge of his robes. Canute got down from his throne, walked ashore, and said to the assembled nobility, “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings. For there is none worthy of the name but God, whom heaven, earth and sea obey.”

The miracle of the calming of the sea reveals to us the true nature of King Jesus, who by commanding the wind and the waves shows himself truly worthy of the name, not just of King, but of God himself. There is around this gospel scene, set in that little boat in the middle of the storm, a strong aura of what theologians call the numinous, that sense of fearful awe that we feel when we realize suddenly we are in the presence of something more than natural, something other-worldly. I'm sure the disciples were terrified during the storm. But here's the really interesting thing. When I read to the very end of the story, I get the sense that they were even more frightened after the storm than during it. “What sort of man is this,” they ask in awe and wonder, “that even the wind and the waves obey him?” What sort of man, indeed! After all, a squall on the water may be terrifying, but it's at least natural. But the power and authority that Jesus flashed for a brief instant in that boat did not come from anywhere in this world. It opened the disciples' eyes to his true identity, and it made them tremble.

The answer to their question, of course – as the disciples themselves will eventually will come to understand – is that Jesus is no mere man at all. He is the Son of God, the Second Person of the divine Trinity, God in the flesh, who has taken human nature in order to save humankind. As such, he does what only God can do: issue a command to the forces of nature, and expect to be obeyed.

But now here's another thing this miracle reveals about the Lord Jesus: his readiness to help us when we are in trouble. In Mark's version of this story, the disciples wake Jesus up with the cry, “Don't you care that we're perishing?” (Mark 4:38). Of course he cares. Isn't he right there with them, even in the midst of the storm? “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” he asks them. Wasn't the answer obvious? They were in imminent danger of drowning! But they were forgetting that the Lord himself was with them.

One of the beautiful ways in which the early church used the story of Jesus calming the storm was by taking that fishing boat as a symbol for the church. “The boat is the present Church,” wrote the Venerable Bede in the 8th century, “in which Christ passes over the sea of this world with his own, and stills the waves of persecution.” That's a lovely image, isn't it? Here are the disciples, gathered together inside the boat, with Jesus in their midst. This is the very definition of the church: the community of all who are living in fellowship with the Lord and with one another. All around them the perils and storms of life are swirling, but as long as Jesus is with them, all will be well.

Lessons about Us

And here is one final lesson. Look at Jesus there in the boat, not just as the God whose sovereign power rules nature, but as the man who himself exemplifies perfect faith. The stilling of the storm offers one of the clearest testimonies in the Gospels to Jesus' divinity as I've been saying. But his actions before the storm hit are just as clearly evidence of his genuine humanity.

If you wonder why Jesus is sleeping in the boat, and how he can continue to sleep even after the violent storm nearly sinks it, the answer is simple. He was dead-tired. Jesus wasn't like Clark Kent: outwardly a mild-mannered reporter, but secretly Superman underneath. He was human through and through. And as a man he shows us on the Sea of Galilee how real faith behaves. Jesus had no panic attack. He was able to sleep like a baby right through the worst of the storm. And he wasn't sleeping because he knew that he could use his authority as God to rebuke the winds and the waves; he went to sleep before the storm hit. No. He was sleeping because, as a believer, he had perfect trust in his Father's watchful care.

The psalmist wrote: “It is in vain that you rise up early / And go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; /For he gives to his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2). Have you ever considered the fact that sometimes just going to sleep is a powerful confession of your faith? If you want a perfect illustration of what that Psalm is saying, look at Jesus, sleeping through the storm in the stern of the boat (see Mark 4:38). He offers us a living picture of the sort of quiet trust that rests in the assurance of God's protective care.

So try to practice the Jesus' kind of faith, a confident relaxing in God's power and providence. You can even bear witness to it in your sleep!