Matthew 8:23-27

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Matthew 8

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 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. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

In 2012 Pepsi Max introduced a commercial that would become a phenomenon and pave the way for a series of commercials then, eventually, a movie. I am talking about the Uncle Drew commercials. In the first commercial, NBA star Kyrie Irving had a professional makeup artist transform him into Uncle Drew, an old man in a grey sweatshirt. He starts playing in a pickup basketball game of young men who are obviously amused by the old man who cannot quite keep up.

Then something happened. Kyrie Irving, still dressed as Uncle Drew, begins to be Kyrie Irving. He talks trash. He hits three pointers. He puts on a stunning dribbling exhibition. He dunks the ball! All the while, the crowd, who was amused earlier, moves from being confused to being impressed to being downright amazed![1]

You can tell what questions they are asking simply by the expression on their faces: Who is this guy?!

It is a brilliant and entertaining concept: a superstar concealed in the guise of a regular old man who decides to give a glimpse of his true skills to the sheer, stunned amazement of the onlookers.

I thought of Uncle Drew while reading Matthew 8:23-27. Here, Jesus, who looked so very ordinary, revealed that there was much more underneath. He gave the disciples a glimpse of His true power which opened the door for amazed questions about His true identity. “What sort of man is this?” the disciples asked when they saw His true abilities.

Let us consider Jesus rebuking the Sea of Galilee. And let us consider in particular how Jesus’ actions in this scene reveal Him as one who is distinct from the rest of humanity.

Jesus is distinct in His disposition.

One of the most obvious distinctions can be seen in the difference between Jesus’ and the disciples’ respective dispositions in the midst of this scary situation. First, let us consider what happens.

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”

“A great storm,” as it turns out, does not quite capture what happened on the water. Craig Blomberg observes that while “sudden squall[s]” appearing on the Sea of Galilee “commonly happened…Matthew…calls the storm a seismos (literally, earthquake), a term used for apocalyptic upheavals…often with preternatural overtones.” He concludes that this storm “seems to be one in which Satan is attacking.”[2]

That would seem to be a reasonable assumption. This is a Satanic attack. And Matthew’s usage of the word “seismos” likely gives us a clue to why, especially when compared to the two other uses of the word in Matthew’s gospel. Bruner points out that “[t]here are three great quakes in this Gospel: at Jesus’ death (27:51-54), at Jesus’ resurrection (28:2), and here in Jesus’ mission with his disciples (8:24), as if to say that these are the three great (and contested) realities in world history: the cross, the empty tomb, and the world mission.”[3]

This is fascinating and telling. Earthquakes happen (1) at the cross, (2) at the empty tomb, and (3) here in our text, a text that represents Jesus’ mission with His disciples. If you think about it, those are the three realities that define the church: the cross, the empty tomb, and the ongoing presence of Christ in and through the mission of the church. Satan, in other words, attacks the disciples when Jesus is asleep hoping to destroy them or, at the least, dispirit them.

The latter tactic works. The disciples panic. They have dispositions of fear and panic. Why? Because they fear imminent death as the waters pour over the boat. They fear, in other words, because of their immediate surroundings, because of what they see in front of and all around them.

But what of Jesus’ disposition? It is peaceful. It is calm. Jesus sleeps through the storm! Why? Some have suggested that it is because He is tired. In a physical sense, of course that is true. But a tired person can be jarred to sudden wakefulness and fear by terrifying circumstances. But not Jesus. Again, I ask, why? Was it not because of His knowledge of who He is, of who the Father is, of who the Spirit is?

If the disciples were undone by what they saw, Jesus rested in what He knew: that the Father is in control, that He was walking in the Father’s plan, that this was not His time yet. Bruner rightly notes that Jesus’ sleep reveals that “Jesus is in serene control of matters.”[4]

That is a good phrase: “serene control.”

Is this not a comfort to us today, the knowledge that the Lord Jesus never panics, is never caught off guard, is never caught unaware? Is it not a comfort for the church to know that Christ is still at peace in her midst even as the Satanic storm rages, that the Son of God is on board and He is not afraid?

When Paul, in Philippians 2:5, tells the believers to “Have this mind among yourselves,” speaking of the mind of Christ, he is getting at a crucial fact: that in order to survive and thrive in this life, we must learn to have the peace and serenity of Christ within us. We must, in other words, learn to see the world as Christ sees it!

The disciples should ideally have seen the resting Christ and taken heart: “Oh, if He is at peace in the midst of this it must be because He knows we will be ok. Let us be at peace as well!” In reality, however, I would have been panicking just as they panicked! I suspect most of us would have. But must we do so? Must we become unglued and undone by our circumstances? Surely not.

The more and more we are possessed of the mind of Christ and the more and more we learn to process what we see through His eyes, the more at peace we will be.

Be at peace, Church! Our Savior has overcome! He is at peace and He has given us His mind and heart!

Jesus is distinct in His ability.

One of the most radical distinctions in our text is between the abilities of Christ and the abilities of the disciples. Consider:

25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 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.

Simply put, the disciples had no ability to do anything about this storm, about their predicament. They were subject to it. They were at the mercy of the waves and sea!

Jesus, however, was not subject to it. He rebukes the disciples then He rebukes the sea! “And there was a great calm.” Amazing!

Consider the awesome power of Jesus:

The disciples were frightened pilgrims on its waves. Jesus made the waves!

The disciples feared the chaos of the deep. The chaos of the deep feared Jesus!

The disciples responded to the watery danger in fear. The water danger responded to the command of Jesus in obedience.

The disciples were powerless before the storm. The storm was powerless before Jesus.

Jesus is distinct in His ability. There is never a problem He cannot fix, a puzzle He cannot unravel, a disease He cannot heal, or a raging sea He cannot rebuke and silence. Jesus has all power, all ability, all might.

Consider: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

“Greater.” Greater than what? Than anything. Than everything. Take comfort! The strong and powerful and majestic and mighty Jesus is with you and for you! Take heart and be of good cheer! Take courage! Our King can command the sea!

Jesus is distinct in His identity.

The third distinction we find in our text may be deduced from the first two. Why is Jesus’ disposition so serene, so peaceful? Why does He have such amazing abilities? It is because of who He is, and at this the disciples were amazed!

27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Why did the disciples “marvel”? Why was this so shocking? Perhaps the question seems silly. “Because they just saw him rebuke and calm the raging sea, you big dummy!” I get that, but I would propose that there was more than just this. There was something deeper at play here.

These men were first century Jews. They had been raised in the Hebrew scriptures. They knew perfectly well the recurring image of the Lord God having dominion over the waters. It was God alone who could rebuke the sea! “Astoundingly,” writes Craig Blomberg, “Jesus has demonstrated the identical sovereignty over wind and waves attributed to Yahweh in the Old Testament.” He concludes that “[o]ne who has this kind of power can be no less than God himself, worthy of worship, irrespective of when and how he chooses to use that power in our lives.”[5]

Yes! That is correct! The thought begins to stir in these men: if Jesus just did what God alone can do, does that not mean that Jesus must be…. An amazing thought! A frightening thought! But, again, an inescapable thought given what they knew from the Old Testament scriptures. In addition to God’s control over the deep in Jonah 1-2, Blomberg points, for instance, to Psalm 104 being a demonstration of the Lord God’s power over the waters:

He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.

Again, these men knew these verses! It is Yahweh who rebukes the deeps and they flee before Him! And here is Jesus doing the same! Even more amazing, listen to these words from Psalm 107:

23 Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; 24 they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. 25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. 26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; 27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.29 He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. 30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. 31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! 32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

Is this not our text from Matthew 8?! Is this not what we see happening on the Sea of Galilee? What can this mean? It must mean that Jesus is God! This is startling indeed! And we should not forget either that our text takes us all the way back to Genesis 1 and the very first verses of scripture:

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

The bible begins with a picture of the inky black primordial deeps being “hovered over” by the Spirit of God. One of the first images of scripture is therefore an image of God subduing and humbling the deep. This Jesus, then, is the God who subdues the deep, for only God can do this!

This is an insight that was seen by the church early in her history. The church father John Chrysostom, for instance, said, “His sleeping showed he was a man. His calming of the seas declared him God.” He saw this scene as a depiction of the nature of Christ Himself: fully God and fully man. Peter Chrysologus declared that “those who were crossing the sea perceived, believed, and acknowledged that he is the very Creator of all.”[6]

Yes, and so should we. How can we conclude anything else? This Jesus is the Lord God of heaven and earth who creates and subdues the mysterious and sometimes-frightening watery deep! This Jesus is the God who spoke all creation into being. And here is the truly amazing thing: this creator God Jesus is in the boat with us, His people! He is here, now, with us. And He is at peace. For He knows the Father and He knows Himself and He knows the power of the Spirit. Our triune God is with us and nothing can overcome Him. He is strong and He is Lord, now and forevermore!

 

[1] https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/celtics/2018/06/28/exactly-how-did-kyrie-irving-become-uncle-drew/FqsP1NzO2lNGZvKd6IOX8I/story.html

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew. The New American Commentary. Gen. Ed., David S. Dockery. Vol.22 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), p.149.

[3] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew. Vol.1. Revised & Expanded Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), p.398.

[4] Frederick Dale Bruner, p.398.

[5] Craig L. Blomberg, p.150.

[6] Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed. Thomas C. Oden. New Testament Ia (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p.169-170.

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