And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. (Matthew 8:26)
Jesus’ calming of the storm is a story found in all of the synoptic gospels, and it is a story that is almost universally misunderstood by many Christians. Nearly every sermon I’ve heard on this story from Jesus’ earthly ministry gets turned into a “Jesus can calm the storms of your life” message. The story becomes a metaphor: The seas represent one’s life, the storm represents the troubles coming into your life, and Jesus is presented as one who can rebuke your troubles and calm your life and bring you ‘peace that passes understanding.’ The application then of this message is an exhortation to have more faith. If only we had more faith in Jesus, then the storms in our life (pick a particularly trying personal situation) would be calmed (or something along those lines).
As applications go, it’s not awful or heretical, but it completely misses the point of the passage! This is a real story of a real storm that Jesus really rebukes. To treat this as a metaphor for problems in our lives is to trivialize the story (to the point of ignoring its redemptive-historical context) and to mishandle the text of sacred Scripture. The problem with this particular application is that it’s far too personal. You might ask, “Aren’t applications supposed to be personal?” Yes, to an extent. One might make this application in personal bible study, but as a preached sermon, the point is to teach the passage, and I don’t think Jesus had in mind “calming the storms of your life” when he rebuked the winds and the waves!
Let’s look at the context of this passage. This story is included with a bunch of other stories in which Jesus performs many miracles. In Matthew 8:1-4, Jesus cleanses a leper. In Matthew 8:5-13, Jesus heals the centurion’s son. In Matthew 8:14-17, Jesus not only heals Peter’s mother-in-law, but he heals the diseases of many others. In Matthew 8:28-34, Jesus casts out the legion of demons from the two men of the Gadarenes. Then, in our passage (Matthew 8:23-27), Jesus calms the storm. What is Matthew’s purpose in placing all of these stories in this order? Well, what is Matthew’s purpose in writing his gospel? He wants to demonstrate to a Jewish audience that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah and the heir to the throne of King David. Jesus is the King! The Sermon on the Mount is the manifesto, if you will, of the King. The miracles of Matthew 8 begin to demonstrate the power of the King.
I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but the miracles of Jesus were not just random tricks meant to impress the crowd. Jesus’ miracles primarily were demonstrative of who he was; namely, the Son of God. They demonstrated his claims to be the Messiah. But they also served a redemptive purpose. Healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, making the lame walk, casting out demons and raising the dead are all redemptive in nature. Disease, blindness, death, natural disasters, etc., are all effects of the fall on creation. Man’s sin not only affected his nature, but the very creation as well. All of the bad things that have ever happened in the world can be traced back to sin (not actual sins, but sin in general). In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). Storms, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc., are all the effects of sin on the creation.
When Jesus performs these miracles, he is turning back the effects of sin and corruption in the world. Jesus came preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, and that means the Kingdom of God is invading this world and reclaiming its territory. This is a precursor of the consummation of the Kingdom when Jesus returns again in glory. At that time, all of the effects of the fall will be removed; there will be no more death, no more sin, no more sorrow and no more pain. If we miss this point, we miss the entire point of the passage and basically turn Christianity into a “Come to Jesus for Life Improvement” religion.
Why don’t we hear this preached in our churches today? There are many reasons, but I think the most prevalent one is that we desire for Christianity to be relevant. If people can’t take away some concrete, “what does this mean for me,” message from the sermon, then we fear that people may leave the church altogether. At the expense of sounding callous, if people are going to leave the church because they’re not getting a personal, gift wrapped, “this is how this passage applies to YOU” sensation every week, then let them leave. We come to church each week to praise and worship our Creator and Savior and to hear Him speak to us from his word. The sermon is not our weekly “pep talk,” but God speaking to us through his word exposited by his chosen minister. Any application for us should lead to greater praise to God and His Son.
Bottom Line: So what does it mean to us that Jesus calmed the storm? It means that someday soon Jesus will return to finish what he started. He will completely reverse the effects of sin and will achieve the ultimate victory over his enemies. The Kingdom of God will be fully manifest and we, His subjects, will one day be made fully ready for that kingdom — imperishable and incorruptible! Furthermore, the earth in which we live will be renewed and the original paradise that was lost in Eden will be restored in the Kingdom. Now isn’t this a better application than Jesus will take care of some temporal, personal problem if I have enough faith?
Soli Deo Gloria!