The authority of Jesus is stunning. Since He created everything, everything obeys Him. I am in awe. I am amazed.
The miracles all raise one question. That question cannot be any more clearly stated than it is at the end of this first miracle where Jesus calms the storm:
“Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” | Matthew 8:27
This simple miracle account contains much teaching. The event itself is rather straightforward. As the disciples and Jesus set about to cross the lake (the Sea of Galilee), a severe storm kicks up. We can tell the problem is severe since some in the boat had been professional fishermen and are now in a panic. Such storms are not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee, since the surrounding topography lends itself to sudden weather changes. The sea is some 680 feet below sea level. It is surrounded by hills, the steepest of which lie on its eastern shore. Coming through the hills, cool air reaches a ravine and collides with trapped warm air over the water. As any meteorologist will tell you, this produces volatile conditions.
While Matthew describes the storm as a “shaking” (seismos) of the boat, Luke calls it a whirlwind (lailaps), a word that sounds like what it describes. Only Jesus is resting, unaware of the danger that surrounds him. The text expresses the danger in a peculiar fashion—the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The term for danger means Jesus’ and the disciples’ lives are at risk, as their later plea to him indicates. Since verse 22 only mentions one boat, they here are the disciples. The storm threatens them. Jesus is physically there but appears to be mentally absent, taking a nap, unable to help them in their hour of need. In their anxiety they awake him, announcing impending doom if nothing is done: “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
Jesus rebukes the wind, so that calm is immediately restored. Called upon to help his disciples, he responds faithfully. The event is the catalyst for two commentaries, one from Jesus, the other from the disciples. Both present aspects of the passage’s teaching.
Jesus rebukes his disciples for lack of faith. By asking where their faith was, he is reminding them of his care of them. Often this point in the passage is lost as we marvel over the calming of the sea. Jesus’ authority and attributes do not exist in abstraction from his relationships. Even though he seemed to be absent and uncaring, a point Mark 4:38 makes explicitly, he was there and they could rest in the knowledge that he knew what was happening to them. Faith would have told them that God would take them through the terrible storm. So Jesus takes the calming of the storm as an opportunity to remind them that he will care for them. They need to have more faith in God’s goodness. They need an applied faith that will hang tough under pressure. This is what he had earlier called holding to the Word with patience.
Meanwhile, the disciples are pondering the event. Full of fear and marvel, they ask, “Who is this?” The question is a good one, because anyone who knew the Old Testament or Jewish theology would have known that Yahweh has control of the wind and the seas. In fact, Psalm 107:23-30 says that God delivers the sailor who is imperiled at sea. Now this miracle did not automatically prove that Jesus has absolute authority. What it did was more subtle. It raised the question of Jesus’ identity for the disciples. Earlier he had forgiven sins; now he calms the seas. Who can do such a variety of things?