But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, you of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea. And there was a great calm.
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?-even the winds and the sea obey Him!” (Matthew 8:26-27)
Roughly 3,000 years ago, Solomon wrote, “No one has authority over the wind to restrain it, and there is no authority over the day of death” (Ecclesiastes 8:8).
Solomon was writing to give perspective on the limitations of human life-
But reading the passage in light of Matthew 8, where Jesus stands up in a boat in the midst of a life-threatening storm and takes authority over the wind to restrain it …
Well, it may help us tap into the disciples’ awed and almost fearful response.
What kind of man is Jesus?
There are limits to humanity.
No one has authority over the weather.
No one has authority over death.
But Jesus does.
An interesting detail is that the Greek word used when Jesus “rebuked” the wind and waves is the same word used when he “rebuked” demons and cast them out.
The implication is that more was happening here than just an unexpected squall. There was something sentient, something malevolent, in the storm.
In the ancient world, the sea was symbolic of the powers of chaos. Throughout the Bible, the sea represents the world before creation, the place of monsters, and the nations apart from God.
In Genesis 1, we read of the creation of this world: “The Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep.” From a watery darkness, formless and void, the universe was brought into being through the voice of God. Mankind was then charged with “subduing” the earth: again there is battle imagery, a sense of warfare.
It’s not simply that God is creating light and giving form to the earth; it is that he is overcoming darkness and bringing order to chaos.
In creation God is a conqueror, and mankind is called to join him in the conquest.
Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the creation story is told using the imagery of a battle with an ancient sea monster called Rahab:
“LORD God of Hosts,
who is strong like You, LORD?
Your faithfulness surrounds You.
You rule the raging sea;
when its waves surge, You still them.
You crushed Rahab like one who is slain;
You scattered Your enemies with Your powerful arm.
The heavens are Yours; the earth also is Yours.
The world and everything in it-You founded them.
All of this is the cosmic backdrop of Jesus’ action in Matthew 8. In stilling the sea, he makes a statement about who he is and about his purpose on planet earth.
He is Yahweh, embodied in human flesh.
He has come to subdue chaos once again, to put the monsters in their place and to rule the raging sea.
And he has come to create once more: to bring a new kingdom, and indeed a whole new creation, out of the darkness of the old one.
Cosmic Conquest in Ordinary Life
A most marvelous quality about the gospel is that everything happens on a grand, eternal, universe-wide scale, and yet everything is immediately pertinent to the everyday lives of human beings like you and me.
Jesus was declaring himself to be the eternal Creator and demonstrating his power over the forces of darkness, yet it happened on an ordinary lake in the north of Israel, in an ordinary fishing boat where a bunch of ordinary fishermen were afraid for their lives.
When Jesus taught us to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” he was teaching us to take our own part in “subduing the earth” under the new order, just as Adam was commanded to do in Eden.
And just as Adam encountered a serpent and Jesus encountered a storm, in our kingdom journey we will face opposition.
As we attempt to serve and worship God, storms will come up and batter our boats. Serpents will slither into our gardens, asking “Did God really say?” and planting temptations and doubts.
The whole battle is for our faith: it’s for our worship, for our trust, for our love. The battle is a test: will we endure, keep our eyes on Jesus, or walk away from him?
And so the ordinary, everyday stuff of our lives-working our jobs, raising our families, planting our tulips, paying our bills-turns out not to be so ordinary after all. It is the stuff of kingdoms clashing, of territorial warfare in a world where the kingdom of darkness has not yet fully submitted to the King of light.
A Question of Faith
In the book of Romans, Paul made this “new creation” motif explicit, not least by calling Jesus “the second Adam.” There is a parallel between Adam and Jesus, their calling, and their significance to humanity.
Both are the beginning of a new race. Both are given authority and called to subdue the earth. Both face opposition.
But notice a distinct difference in the way Adam and Jesus handled their encounters with the monsters in the deep.
Adam listened to the serpent, agreed with it, and handed over his authority to it.
Jesus stood up in the storm, rebuked the wind and waves, and then called his disciples to deepen their faith in him.
A Challenge to See
As I read this story today, the challenge I face is this: Will I look beyond natural circumstances and see the warfare for my worship?
Will I look beyond stress and trouble and see a clash of kingdoms, in which my worship is victory and Jesus is to be exalted above all else?
Facing a storm that batters my boat, will I call on Jesus, renew my faith in him, and look to God to bring order out of chaos?
Or will I cry, with the disciples, “All is lost!”
Jesus saved the twelve despite their lack of faith, but he also challenged them to see a bigger picture than the wind and waves. He challenged them to recognize him as the one with authority to restrain the storm, with authority over death.
He challenged them to look beyond the ordinary and see the King of heaven, present with them and at work in their circumstances.
Look again at your storms, your boat, and your Lord.
What do you see?
I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!
This is Part 109 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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