Summary: This text reminds us that distorted views of God and ourselves are revealed by trouble.
3) And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24) A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25) And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26) And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27) They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Matthew 8: 23-27)
This synoptic passage of scripture (see also Mark 4: 35-41 and Luke 8: 22-25) describes an event that occurred during the ministry of Jesus Christ. In this passage, Jesus and His disciples were in a ship traveling across the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee was a lake that was (1) surrounded by mountains, (2) several hundred feet below sea level, and (3) predisposed to sudden violent wind storms.
Upon close inspection of this text, we see four unusual dynamics. First, there were thirteen storms in progress. Outside of the ship, the waves were upset by the invisible and intangible wind. Inside of the ship, the twelve disciples were upset by invisible and intangible fear. Second, four of the twelve terrified disciples were former professional fishermen. Peter, Andrew, James and John previously made their living on the water. Hence, storms were the cost of doing business for them and should not have evoked fear in their hearts. Third, we see Jesus and the disciples talking past each other. The disciples asked why the elements obeyed Jesus, but Jesus asked why did not the disciples have faith in Him. In a real sense, Jesus and the disciples asked the same question ‘Who are you?’ Fourth, when Jesus rebuked the storm (some textual renderings have Christ saying ‘Peace – Be Still’), the wind and waves understood the command but the disciples did not; the external elements calmed down but the internal travelers were not calm. Interestingly, hearing God’s voice did not depend on having physical ears. The admonition in the book of Revelation ‘Let he who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.’, takes on a broader understanding of what it means to hear the voice of Jesus.
Let’s explore this ‘Who are you?’ question. When the question is raised by the disciples, we see that Christ exceeds their understanding, definition and expectation of what a person could and should be. ‘What sort of man is this?’ suggests that they could not comprehend that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Him. After all, He was the carpenter’s son. After all, He came out of Nazareth – the source of nothing good. After all, His mother became pregnant out of wedlock. After all, He was initially homeless and was born in a farm animal shelter. After all, Ruth and Rehab – two gentiles – one a Moabite and the other a hooker – were part of His family tree. After all, He chose Matthew (a tax collector for the Roman government) and Simon the Zealot (a social activist for Jewish liberation) to be a part of the same group; that does not say much about His judgment. What sort of man is this?
When the question is raised by Jesus, we see that the disciples came up short relative to what He expected of them. After all, He was in the same boat with them. After all, He had already told them that their needs would be supplied (Matthew 6:33) if they put God first and trusted Him. At this point, they have been with Him long enough to know that He would care for them.
We need to also keep in mind that questions from God are often rhetorical. For example, when God asks Adam ‘Where are you?’, God knew where they were. The real intent was to ask Adam if he realized that he had fallen from grace. In that same light, Jesus’ question of the disciples was a question for reflection – He already knew who they were and where they were in their faith development.
Let’s put ourselves in the ship:
1) Do we really know who Jesus is? Is He just a traditional religious figure to whom we offer perfunctory praise and prayers every Sunday? Is He just someone who will provide a place for us in heaven, but leave us to suffer alone on the earth? Is He someone who fits nicely inside of our comfort zones or our Sunday School expositors? Is He a God who is taking a nap while this world self-destructs? Does Jesus care?
2) Do we really know who we are? Are we as strong as we think we are? Do we trust God as much as we think we do? Are we in denial of our shortcomings? Do we give ourselves credit for what God has done for us? Do we use our professional credentials as a substitute for spirituality? Are our prayers a progress report of our goodness or do we say 'Lord be merciful to me - a sinner'?