“The men were amazed, and said, ‘What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’” Matthew 8:27
Ask anyone familiar with the Bible to name some of the miracles of Christ, and the calming of the storm is sure to be mentioned. This is one of the most well known of Christ’s miracles. Ask people what it means–what the miracle itself represents–and you are sure to get a wealth of responses in return. Though people know about this miracle, they certainly do not understand it. Christ’s calming the storm is the most misunderstood and misapplied of His miracles.
Matthew’s account of the miracle begins with Christ and the disciples in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. Christ had previously been teaching and performing many healing miracles, including those of the leper, the centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law. These healings attracted many people to come and watch Christ, and as was so often the case, Christ decided it was time to leave the crowds and cross the lake.
As the boat sailed across the lake, a great storm came up. The Sea of Galilee is famous for its storms; however, this was no ordinary squall. We know this from two pieces of evidence. First, the disciples were terrified and convinced that they were about to die. Keep in mind that several of the disciples, at least four of the twelve, were fishermen and made their livings on that same lake before following Christ. They surely would have seen bad storms before, and would not be so quickly moved to believe that their deaths were coming.
Secondly, Matthew’s choice of words reflects the unique nature of this storm. When writing his gospel, Matthew used the word ‘seismos’ to describe this storm. This is the same word that we get the word ‘seismic’ from, the same word that describes earthquakes. What Matthew wants the reader to understand is that this was not merely a squall or a tempest, this was a seismic event in which the earth was shaking, and creating huge waves that were swamping the boat. Taking this into consideration, it is easy to see why the disciples, even the experienced fishermen, were terrified.
Christ, however, was not terrified. He was asleep in the boat. Even amid this terrible seismic event, with the waves coming down and crashing over the boat, Christ could sleep soundly because He knew that God was in control of the situation. Christ’s faith was firmly placed in the Father; He knew that the “One who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps,” (Psalm 121:4). This is the faith that Christ wants the disciples to have as well, and why He rebukes them for trusting too little in God. The disciples would have to learn to trust in Christ and God as fully as Christ trusts in the Father. Without that level of trust, the disciples would not be able to carry out the work that is before them, work which will carry all but one of them to their deaths.
It is the next portion of the story that is the source of the most misunderstanding. Christ rebukes the storm and it ceases. The winds die down and the sea settles and the earth stops shaking. The disciples are amazed and ask, “who is this man that even the winds and sea obey him?”
This miracle is a proof Christ’s deity. He exercised control over nature. He spoke a command, and nature obeyed it. He brought peace and order through His mere utterance. We see here parallels to Genesis 1 where God does the very same thing: speaking order out of chaos. Through His control of nature, Christ demonstrates Himself to be the God of Creation. He is the one who controls the winds and the rains and the seas. He is the one who hurled the storm which caught a fleeing Jonah. He is the one who withheld rain from Israel when they chose to worship Baal. He is the one who parted the Red Sea when the Israelites were going to be recaptured by Pharaoh. He is the one who breaks the laws of nature by walking on water, and ultimately by dying and living again. Christ is the God of Creation, and as such, has power and control over it. That is what the miracle proves; that is what the story is about.
The story is not about Christ calming “storms” in our lives. We turn Christ into a glorified good luck charm–a genie in a bottle–when we turn this into being about Him calming the metaphorical storms we experience. We endure trials for a purpose: to be tested and strengthened; to be refined. Those trials must be experienced, or we can not grow. Christ will be with us, and He will sustain us, but the experience is ours to endure and grow from.
This story is not about us, nor is any other story in the Bible. This story is about Christ and Him demonstrating His great power– a power so great that even the winds and the sea and all of nature obey Him. Who is this man? He is God.
Artwork: “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Ludolf Backhuysen, 1695