“What Sort of Human is Jesus?”
In Matthew 8:23, Jesus got on a boat to escape the crowds and cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. After being interrupted on his way to the boat (vv.19-22) he took some much needed rest. It’s not hard to imagine why he was so exhausted. He had been going non-stop from his sermon on the hill (Mt. 5-7) straight to a stream of miracles (Mt. 8:1-17). And he must have been tired because he slept through a “storm” so savage that the boat was being “swamped by the waves” (v.24)!
During the storm, Jesus’ disciples woke him, saying, “Save us Lord; we are perishing!” (v.25), to which he replied, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (v.26a) This probably didn’t seem like an appropriate time for a lecture on faith. After all, the boat was about to break apart. a perfectly good time to panic if there ever was one.
So why did Jesus scold them for their fear and lack of trust? First of all, he already told them they would go to the other side of the lake (v.18). And let’s not forget all of the previous miracles they had witnessed (vv.1-17). Jesus expected his word and his past displays of power to be enough for the disciples to trust him.
After rebuking the disciples, Jesus “rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm” (v.26). The disciples had seen the hand of God at work in Jesus before. After all, prophets like Elijah healed sick people in the Old Testament. But this miracle was of a different magnitude altogether because there was only one being who could control the weather with the sound of his voice and he wasn’t a human. He was the Creator God of Israel.
So the stunned response of the disciples is understandable. The question is one of identity, “What sort of human is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (v.27) The psalms exclusively attributed this power to the Lord, setting him high above every created thing and far apart from every so-called “god.”
One poem speaks about sailors caught in a terrible storm, rising and falling on towering waves, desperately crying out to the Lord for rescue. “…He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.” (Psa. 104:28-30) “O Lord God of hosts,” says another, “who is mighty as you are…? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” (Psa. 89:8-9) “…at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.” (Psa. 104:7)
Telling a storm what to do is a divine thing, an exclusive thing, a heavenly thing. And yet… Jesus had just done it. What sort of a human is he? This episode on the Sea of Galilee forced the disciples to see Jesus in the same light as they viewed the God of Israel. It broke every convention and challenged every notion about who God is and what was possible. Who is this Jesus?
Merciful Jesus, who shows kindness to social zeros. Compassionate Jesus, who heals the suffering. But here, Jesus, who commands the winds and the waves? Jesus, the God of Israel? The God of the Exodus? The God of Creation? Yes.