TEXTS: Job 38:1-11; Luke 8:22-39
One day [Jesus] and his disciples got in a boat. “Let’s cross the lake,” he said. And off they went. It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep. A terrific storm came up suddenly on the lake. Water poured in, and they were about to capsize. They woke Jesus: “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
Getting to his feet, he told the wind, “Silence!” and the waves, “Quiet down!” They did it. The lake became smooth as glass.
Then he said to his disciples, “Why can’t you trust me?”
They were in absolute awe, staggered and stammering, “Who is this, anyway? He calls out to the winds and sea, and they do what he tells them!”
—Luke 8:22-25, The Message *
Not long ago, I was sitting with a friend discussing this passage from Luke, and she said to me, “The other Jesus is much easier to take than this one.”
That puzzled me. I didn’t know what she meant. There is only one Jesus, after all.
So, she explained. “I can wrap my head around a human Jesus,” she said. “You know, the sweet, ‘let the little children come to me’ Jesus. The ‘Sermon on the Mount Jesus.’ The guy you could have a beer with, and share a few laughs.”
Then I began to understand what she meant: a down-to-earth Jesus. A rabbi Jesus with good sermons. That makes sense—but this Jesus does not!
As I thought about what she said—and read the gospel lesson once again—it struck me that my friend is a lot like those first disciples.
I mean, let’s face it—not all miracles are the same.
Maybe up to this point Peter and the others thought that Jesus was doing magic tricks!
Now, I don’t think they were unimpressed. I’m sure they realized that Jesus was working miracles when he cured someone’s leprosy or made a paralytic stand up and walk. Those are miracles, for sure! But we can imagine a doctor doing those same kinds of things.
The Jesus they had known up to this point was a guy who helped people and told great stories. So maybe, in the back of their minds, they viewed his healing miracles as being something like really cool magic tricks. But then they set out in the boat, and a storm came up, and … Well, we know the story. Jesus calmed the violent waves. He made the wind run out of breath!
How on earth do you wrap your head around this? Verse 25 captures their amazement: “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
The key word in the text is “even”—even the wind, even the waves. This Messiah is too much. He’s scary. His power is absolutely terrifying. It is easier—and way more comfortable—to keep the image of God locked up inside the temple, back in the Holy of Holies, behind a thick veil. It’s easier to offer sacrifices. It’s easier to be ceremonial.
But what do you do when God is standing right in front of you?
Now he’s in the boat with us. Now he’s telling all of Creation what to do, and it listens! It’s one thing to preach to a thousand people, but it’s quite another to command the sea and have it obey.
Our Old Testament reading—the one from the Book of Job—sets the context of Jesus’ miracle.
As chapter 38 of Job opens, the Lord has been pretty quiet—up until now. Job’s suffering has included disease, and undeserved misfortune, and even the loss of his children. His own wife is urging him to curse God so that he can just die and get this over with.
Meanwhile, Job’s friends are trying to figure it all out. Perhaps Job sinned in some unknown way. Perhaps God has abandoned him. Nobody understands the suffering that’s going on, and so they just point the finger—at Job, at circumstances, at God himself.
Just like in chapter eight of Luke, the question being asked is: “Don’t you care, God? Don’t you care that I’m about to die?”
“Master, Master, we are perishing!” We’re going to drown.
For Job, the storm is not upon the ocean, but within his own body and soul. It’s an emotional and physical storm, and it’s shaking Job to his core, undermining his faith and wrecking his life.
For 37 chapters, God takes all this finger-pointing from Job and his friends. Then, finally, in chapter 38, God speaks: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? … Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … Who determined its measurements … who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk … who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? … who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?” (Job 38:2, 4-8)
“Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?” Now, there is the point! In Genesis and in Job, the sea is God’s child. He created it and he tells it what to do.
When Jesus demonstrates his power over the sea and the waves, he is making a statement about who he is. The disciples ask the question: “Who is this?”—but is it not obvious? He is the same one who measured out all of Creation and gave birth to the sea. Of course the sea listens to him; it’s his baby!
In the end, the Lord shows Job that he does care—just like Jesus cares for his disciples. God heals Job, and rebuilds his life, and even gives him new children. Sin, and death, and Satan himself brought a terrible storm—and profound suffering—upon poor old Job, but the second half of Job’s life was twice as good as the first (Job 42:12). And he lived another 140 years, spending his life with his children and their children to the fourth generation.
Does God care? Of course he cares! Job testifies that the grace and love of God are so immense that they swallow up even the worst of his suffering. They swallow up the sin, and the death, and even the Satanic curse that tried to destroy him. God cares.
Another story about God and the sea is found in Psalm 107. His people were crying out, looking for help, and God stilled the waters and delivered them: “the stormy wind … lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity … Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” (Psalm 107:25-29)
Yet another Scripture I could point to is Second Corinthians chapter six, verse two, where God says: “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” And then Paul adds: “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”
Here’s the point the disciples in the boat were missing. The day of salvation is here! And it’s here with us, today! The Messiah has come not only to heal, but also to rescue, to redeem, to forgive! Salvation is here. Jesus is in control.
When the storm became violent, and the disciples were afraid, it was easy for them to point the finger at God and ask, “Don’t you care?” But you know, they didn’t understand the reason for them being in the boat. How could they? It hadn’t happened yet. However, as soon as they landed on the other shore, they discovered God’s purpose.
As Luke goes on to explain, on the other side of the lake, “they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As [Jesus] stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him” (Luke 8:26-27).
Look at what’s on the other side of the water! The disciples didn’t know it, but they were heading to the region of the Gerasenes to meet a man so demon-possessed that he broke chains with his bare hands and was living in a cemetery. His suffering, his possession, was so profound that thousands of demons were living inside of him—a legion of unclean spirits, as the Bible says.
But of course, even a billion demons are no match for Jesus! He casts all of them out of the man, and restores him to “his right mind.”
That storm at sea merely foreshadowed the real battle they were about to face. They were going to step onto a spiritual combat zone. There’s nothing easy about fighting the powers of evil.
As that small boat was being tossed on the waves, Satan was making a last-ditch attempt to block what Jesus was coming to do. But the disciples didn’t know that. They could not comprehend the forces which were at work.
Perhaps that’s our problem, also. Every day, we come up against forces which are beyond our comprehension. Sin and death find a thousand ways to complicate our lives. They take people from families and destroy them with alcohol and drugs. They rip Adam from Eve and overwhelm them with guilt and shame. They turn Cain against Abel. They manufacture golden calves of false worship. They cause poverty and injustice and prejudice. They create diseases like leprosy and cancer and COVID-19.
The suffering of humanity is impossible for us to comprehend, and—when we are caught up in it—we feel like we’re on the edge of a hurricane.
Jesus cares about his disciples—but he’s not about to sail away from the storm. He wants to sail directly into it, because that’s the only way he can rescue humankind from sin, and death, and evil. As his followers, that’s our calling, as well. And it is not going to be easy, or comfortable, or neat.
It’s ugly, getting knee-deep in the mire of this world’s suffering. Helping those in need is messy. Walking with people through abuse, addiction, cancer, betrayal and divorce … that’s hard! But it’s what Jesus asks us to do.
We are called to bring the forgiveness and redemptive work of the cross to every person we meet—to love them, to remind them of God’s forgiveness, and to draw them into Christian community. The day of salvation is here.
Maybe it seems insensitive for Jesus to take a nap. Maybe it seems harsh for him to ask why the disciples are afraid and why they have so little faith. But he’s trying to make them grasp something far greater than this life. He’s trying to show them that the Kingdom of Heaven is entering into our world to crush the head of evil.
To be sure, if we answer Jesus’ call, sometimes we will feel like Job. We will be afraid in the boat, just like the disciples were. We will lose those we love. We will watch people we care about being eaten by disease and despair.
But—and this is an important “but”—Jesus says there is a difference with us.
The difference with us is that when we experience something terrible, we will fight to get rid of it—to free our world from whatever it is. The difference with us is that we never give up hope. When we are touched by Christ, he gives us the energy—and the courage—to sail straight into the storm.
What more does God need to say to us? Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and the waves, and then … the wind died down and it was completely calm.
Jesus’ love is more powerful than any storm we will encounter in this life.
“Peace! Be still, and know that I am God.”
Surely, that’s all he needs to say to us. And surely, that is enough!
* The Message Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson