Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jesus Calms a Storm

Jesus Calms the Storm - Rembrant 1633
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41).

Jesus had been “teaching by the sea” all day[1]. Immediately prior to his teaching session by the sea, Jesus had argued with, and been rejected by, the Pharisees, whom he decried as the evil and adulterous generation[2]. Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man, and the common people began to wonder if Jesus might be the Messiah[3]. The Pharisees accused him of being possessed himself rather than acknowledging the messianic claims of his followers, and demanded from Jesus a sign proving that he was the Messiah. As a side note, this is ironic, as Jesus’ healing of the demon-possessed man was recognized by the common people and the Jewish religious establishment of the day as sign pointing to the Messiah (Fruchtenbaum). The rabbis of Jesus’ time taught that, when Messiah came, he would cast out mute demons from those people possessed by them.

There was one kind of demon against which [Judaism’s methodology] was powerless, and that was the kind of demon who caused the controlled person to be dumb or mute. And, because he could not speak, there was no way of establishing communication with this kind of demon; no way of finding out this demon’s name. So…it was impossible to cast out a dumb demon. The rabbis had taught, however that when the Messiah came, he would be able to cast out this type of demon. This was the second of the three messianic miracles: the casting out of a dumb or mute demon (Fruchtenbaum).
Jesus, however, told the Pharisees that there would be no further signs given to them, the evil and adulterous generation, except for the “sign of Jonah”, thereby alluding to his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

Jesus and his disciples were in Galilee, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. They would be traveling to the region of the Gerasenes (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009). This region was part of the Decapolis[4] and was more Gentile in culture. Consequently, the Jewish people living there had probably adopted some Gentile customs in violation of the Law of Moses[5] (Mark 5:11). This is the region where Jesus will meet and exorcize “Legion” from a man and send him into a herd of pigs.

The "Jesus Boat" on display at the Yigal Allon Museum in Israel.
If they were in a typical Galilean fishing boat of the day, it would have been approximately 25½ feet long, 7½ feet wide, and just over 4 feet high. An excellent example of this type of fishing boat is on display at the Yigal Allon Museum in Israel. The “Jesus” or “Sea of Galilee” boat, as it is known, was discovered in 1986 on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (Sea of Galilee Boat, 2012). The remains of the boat first appeared during a drought when the waters of the sea receded. The boat is made of 12 different types of wood and measures 25.5 ft. (8.2 m) long, 7.5 ft. wide, and 4.1 ft high. It would have had a crew of five (four rowers and a helmsman) and could carry about 15 additional persons (Jesus Boat Museum, 2012).

Unless a person has ever been in the position of similar life threatening danger, I don’t think they can really know just exactly what the disciples were feeling as they battled the storm. They would have been literally terrified to death. They had experienced that chilling moment when the idea of losing their lives had ceased to be an abstract idea, as it is to most people for much of the time, and become a looming possibility that had to be considered. As they struggled fruitlessly to keep their boat from sinking, it became apparent to them that something more than their efforts would be required if they were to make it through the situation. They would have to be rescued; their situation was hopeless. In exasperation they wake Jesus and ask him if he does not care about their fate. At this point they do not realize just who Jesus really was.

The disciples believed, or at least confessed, that Jesus was the Son of David, just as some of the people who saw him cast out the mute demon did. Probably, like most of the average people, though, they understood the Son of David – the Messiah – to be a political savior rather than a spiritual one. In fact, this view would not be totally eradicated from the minds of the disciples until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even the disciples to whom Jesus appeared on the road to Emmaus talked to him about how they had hoped that the murdered Jesus might have been the one to “save Israel”, the implication being that he must not have been the one, since he was killed by the Romans at the urging of the Jews.

Jesus was indeed the savior of Israel, but certainly not in the way that the Jewish religious establishment, or the Disciples (at this point in their story) expected. Jesus also certainly cared for the disciples’ well-being, but he, unlike we sinful human beings, totally trusted that care into God the Father’s hands[6]. He also understood that man’s physical needs were secondary to man’s spiritual needs. That is why he can sleep on a cushion, on a boat, in the middle of a raging storm – this situation, like all others, is in the Father’s hands. In a sense, you could say that, no Jesus didn’t care that the Disciples were “perishing”, at least in the manner about which they were concerned. He didn’t have to care about that physical situation because it was already in the care of God the Father. No one in the history of human kind, however, cared more than Jesus about how the disciples were truly perishing – spiritually and for eternity. The spiritual situation of mankind is that of the disciples rowing and bailing their boat against the storm. Those efforts will prove fruitless, the proverbial boat of our soul will sink into the sea of sin and death, and our efforts to keep it from doing so are woefully insufficient. We need to be rescued from slipping into the abyss. Jesus cared so much about this that he came to earth a human being in order to atone for the disciples’ sin – and the sin of all mankind – to save them from eternal destruction. Jesus tells the disciples, in fact, that these are the things – those things which pertain to our eternal destiny – to which we should devote our time and attention[7].

Verses 38-39 illustrate for us the dual nature of Jesus. He is truly a human being as evidenced by his physical needs; he was exhausted after a long day of “teaching by the sea” and contending with the Pharisees, and he needed to sleep. He is also divine because, as the disciples point out, “…the wind and the sea obey him.” Jesus is, in addition to being a man, the King of Creation, the one through whom all things were made[8]. When he came to earth, Jesus did not cease to be God; Jesus became Immanuel, “God with us”. He emptied himself of his divine power and took on the form of a servant. He did this so that he could live the sinless life we were incapable of living, and then he paid the debt of guilt that we, mankind, owed to God because of sin[9] by dying on the cross, for, as St. Paul writes, the wages of sin is death[10]. Jesus is the Son, the God-man, second person of the Holy Trinity. Kretzmann observes:

The evangelist here pictures Jesus, the Lord of the universe, who commands the sea, and it gives Him unquestioning obedience. The man Jesus is the almighty God (Kretzmann, 1921).

If the disciples believed what Jesus was teaching about who he was, why he was on the earth, and what was really important (spiritual things rather than physical things), they wouldn’t have been afraid of the storm. They would trust in God in all situations, even the ones which potentially lead to death. Jesus knows, however that they do not yet understand the things he is teaching them properly. They will eventually, though, properly hail him as Messiah. They will also, much later, exhibit the same type of trust in God that Jesus exemplifies in the boat as he slept when they all are, with the exception of St. John, martyred for their faith.

Jesus’ miracle of calming the sea shows that Jesus possesses divine power and authority over creation. It confronts the disciples with the actual Word of God manifested in the flesh, through whom creation itself was brought into existence. Jesus is the Creator of Genesis, and the Designer who spoke to Job[11]. This miracle should also give us, who are also his disciples, comfort. We can look at Jesus the man, sleeping on a cushion in the boat amongst the raging tempest, and know that Jesus the Divine Son of God is aware, and in control of all things. Kretzmann explains:

From that little nutshell of a boat, even while He was asleep, He governed heaven and earth, land and sea. Only His divine majesty was covered by the form of a servant. And as He did then, so He does now: He uses His divine power, His omnipotence, in the interest, in the service of men, especially of His disciples, of His believers. That is the comfort of this story (Kretzmann, 1921).

Therefore, in the mist of tribulations, we know that all things work to the good of them who love Him, who are called according to his purpose[12]. We know that Jesus will calm the storm which threatens the passage of our spiritual ship, and he will pilot it safely into the peaceful rest of eternal life with him, where we will be once and for all free of the stain of sin, death, and the power of the devil.



Works Cited

Decapolis. (2012, June 28). Retrieved June 28, 2012, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decapolis

Engelbrecht, E. A., Deterding, P. E., Ehlke, R. C., Joersz, J. C., Love, M. W., Mueller, S. P., et al. (Eds.). (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis, Missouri, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

Fruchtenbaum, A. (n.d.). The Three Messianic Miracles. Retrieved June 28, 2012, from Ariel Ministries: www.arielministries.us/archive-files/mbs-masters/mbs/mbs035m.pdf

Jesus Boat Museum. (2012, December 28). Retrieved June 27, 2012, from Sacred Destinations: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/jesus-boat

Kretzmann, P. E. (1921). Popular Commentary of the Bible (Vol. 1). St. Louis, MO, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

Sea of Galilee Boat. (2012, June 27). Retrieved June 27, 2012, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_of_Galilee_Boat



End Notes

[1] Matthew 13; Mark 4:1
[2] Matthew 12:38-42
[3] Matthew 12:22-23
[4] The Decapolis was a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in Judea and Syria. The ten cities were not an official league or political unit, but they were grouped together because of their language, culture, location, and political status. The Decapolis cities were centers of Greek and Roman culture in a region that was otherwise Semitic. With the exception of Damascus, the "Region of the Decapolis" was located in modern-day Jordan, one of them located west of the Jordan River in Israel. Each city had a certain degree of autonomy and self-rule (Decapolis, 2012).
[5] Leviticus 11:7-8; Mark 5:11
[6] Matthew 6:25-34
[7] Matthew 6:25-34; 13-44
[8] John 1:3
[9] Philippians 2:5-11
[10] Romans 6:23
[11] Job 38:1-11
[12] Romans 8:28