The other week a reading came up in the lectionary that I’m sure you’re all familiar with – Jesus calming the storm. In Mark’s Gospel it’s told like this:
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’
They were terrified and asked was other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’
The first interesting point is how “out of character” this is for Jesus! I think that in the minds of many Christians Jesus is some sort of “superman”! (although they’d never word it like that!) But if you read the Gospels it’s simply not the case. Of course, Jesus did perform miracles, but the Gospel’s down play them. Jesus will often even ask those who had seen a miracle not to tell anyone else. Some miracles, such as the transfiguration or the raising of the twelve-year-old girl, he only allows his closest disciples to witness. If someone asked for healing, he always responded, but he always refused requests to demonstrate his powers and amaze the crowds.
As well as this, almost all of Jesus miracles are born out of compassion. He heals the sick, comforts the grieving by raising the dead and exorcises the demon possessed. Only a small number of his miracles are what theologians call “nature miracles” (e.g. walking on water, multiplying the loaves and the fish, changing the water into wine). If, like me, you believe the Jesus is God incarnate, the all-powerful creator of the universe and the one for whom and in whom all things exist, then what is truly remarkable about Jesus’ life is not his miracles, but his restraint!
In this light it’s worth seeing that when Jesus does perform these types of miracles (and healing and exorcisms for that matter) he’s not just pulling an impressive party trick. No, he’s very clever and wants to communicate an important message to his disciples, and to us.
Whenever I heard the storm of Jesus stilling the storm in church it’s normally followed by a sermon about how Jesus can still the storm’s in our own lives – that if we’re going through difficulties God can still bring peace. I agree with this (in fact I preached it myself during lent!). It’s an important point, and a true one.
But it is far from the only thing going on here.
Fewer will make the point that this shows Jesus is God – that he was the one who spoke the creation into being in the first place. I agree Jesus is God – but Moses parted the Red Sea and Elijah stopped it raining – but they weren’t God!
Instead, the point comes in understanding the implications that stilling the storm would have had for the people of the time.
Jesus stills the ‘waves’, or the ‘sea’ (another possible translation from the Greek). The sea in Jewish thought stood for the forces of darkness and chaos.
In Genesis 1 the sea is the primordial chaos that God orders into creation. The earth starts formless and void with darkness covering the face of the deep. Then the Spirit of God sweeps over the face of the waters. Then God brings his order to the chaos.
The sea is the home of the ancient sea monsters, called Leviathan (Ps 74:14; 74:13-14; Job 41:1-34) and Rahab (Ps 89:9-10; Isa 51:9-10). In the exodus Moses, or more accurately God, parts the sea so that the people of God can escape the evil of Pharaoh.
In the Old Testament God is praised because he is the master over the sea. In other words he is the master over the evil and chaos of the sea (Ps 95:5; Job 38:8-11; Ps 107:26-30).
In Daniel 7 the four great beasts, which represent the evil empires of the world, come out of the sea. This is the same language with John uses in the book of Revelation, chapter 13 and why, when John describes the final restored new heaven and new earth he tells us there is no longer any sea (Rev 21:1).
All this is the background when Jesus calms the sea. Jesus, in his actions, is telling the disciples that, not only can he control the weather, or bring calm to your life (although both those things are true), but that he is the one who can, and has, and will, defeat the forces of evil and chaos in our world.
The forces of evil in our world cannot last, because Jesus is King. He can still the storm and, as you read on in Mark’s Gospel, the forces of darkness can throw everything they’ve got at him, nailing him to the cross. But Jesus can control the storm, Jesus can conquer death.
The waves are stilled, the tomb is empty.
God bless you all,