Jesus’ Authority Over Nature – Matthew 8:23-27

Pastor Scott L. Harris
February 21, 1993

Jesus’ Authority Over Nature
Matthew 8:23-27


Have you ever considered how important the weather is to man? It is one of the most common topics of conversation. How cold was it last night? How cold is it now? How hot does it get in summer? What did you think of that last storm? How much snow did you get? I sure hope tomorrow is a nice day so that I can get some things done. The weather is such an important factor in so many of our daily activities that a lot of money is spent in trying to predict it. Not only the National Weather Service, with their thousands of reporting stations and personnel, but private industry as well hires meteorologists to predict what the coming day will bring. Equipment used ranges from simple thermometers and barometers, to satellites and complex computer systems. Even news agencies compete in trying to convince their audiences that they have the best weather predicting team hence, even names like “accu-weather” are used to suggest that they are accurate in their predictions. (Although my own feeling in comparing so many of the weather predictions with what really occurs in our area is that instead of calling their service, “accu-weather,” and “fleet weather,” they would be more realistic in calling their services, “fleeting weather,” and “here’s a guess – weather.”)

Now the weather is an important topic, not just for planning picnics on sunny days, but for safety when storms are coming. The early warning system that tracked Hurricane Andrew this past year saved countless lives as people prepared for what was to come against them. But man would like to do more than just predict the weather, he would like to control it. He would like to be able to bring rain to areas of drought and weaken storms that are flooding the countryside. Now man has been able to increase rain slightly through cloud seeding, but the process is expensive and of questionable value. Man has no means to even slightly diminish the strength of on-coming storms. Weather prediction itself is in reality as much art as science, as much guess as forecasting. Weather control is completely in the hands of God alone. Such is still true in our age of advanced technology. It was even more obvious at the time of Jesus. Only God could control the weather, and Matthew uses that fact to demonstrate that Jesus is in fact God in human flesh.

Turn to Matthew 8:23-27 and follow with me as I read our text for this morning. And when He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm in the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves; but He Himself was asleep. And they came to Him, and awoke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” And He said to them, “Why are you timid, you men of little faith?” Then He arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea and it became perfectly calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”

Matthew has been documenting from the beginning of his record of the life of Jesus that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus is the one that would fulfill the Old Testament prophecy of God redeeming His people. In Matthew 1, Jesus is from the correct genealogy for He is from the lineage of King David (2 Samuel 7)  (See: Jesus the Messiah). Jesus had the right birth for He was born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) in the village of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).  (See: Responses to Jesus’ Birth, Part 1: Mary & Joseph). Jesus had the right forerunner for John the Baptist fulfilled Isaiah 40:3. (See: The Messiah’s Herald). Jesus had the right baptism and fulfilled all righteousness and was audibly approved by God (Matthew 3).  (See: The Baptism of Jesus). Jesus had the right response to temptation and overcame all the devil brought against Him (Matthew 4).  (See: The Temptation of Jesus, Part 2). And Jesus had the right ministry (Matthew 4:12ff)  (See: A Light Shining in the Darkness) and the right message (Matthew 4:17; 5-7). (See: Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount). In the chapters we are studying now, Matthew shows that Jesus has the right authority. Jesus has authority that only belongs to God. He heals the sick as we saw two weeks ago  (See: Jesus’ Authority Over Disease). He also controls nature as we will see in our passage for this morning, and in the coming weeks we will see that He commands the supernatural. He can forgive sin. He can even raise the dead back to life.

When Jesus speaks, what He says is backed up by His authority as God. That is why He was able to speak with authority when He gave the Sermon on the Mount. Authority that amazed the people who heard Him. That is also why His command in Matthew 8:18, to depart to the other side of the lake was to be heeded. Last week we looked at the reaction of two men in their willingness to do what Jesus asked of them. They were torn by their desire to be a part of the excitement that surrounded being with Jesus – the crowds, the miracles, the sense of being with someone greater than yourself, of being a part of something grand and glorious – and their own desires. The scribe was unwilling to follow Jesus if that meant a life of moving from place to place without a permanent home. The false disciple wanted to follow Jesus, but his own family was more important to him than being part of the family of God.  (See: Will You Follow Jesus?).

Various Types of Disciples

These two men were disciples in the simplest sense of that term. They were pupils of Christ’s, but not true followers. They were students of the master, but they had yet to commit themselves to following the directions of the master. These two were much like those disciples in John 6 that followed Jesus for a short time, but He knew they did not believe in Him. It was not long before they “withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” because of Jesus’ teaching.

In Matthew 8:23 we pick up the response of other disciples who had progressed farther as pupils of the master. Back in verse 18, as already mentioned, Jesus gave the command to depart for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. In verse 23 we find that when Jesus got into the boat these other disciples followed Him. Mark 4:36 tells us that other boats also followed Him. But just because these followed Jesus does not mean that they truly believed in Jesus as the Messiah, i.e. that they were among the redeemed – the saved, because there are four more types of disciples.

There were also those like Judas Iscariot that gave every outward indication of being a true believer, but in truth he was only in it for what he hoped to gain for himself. It is amazing how such a person could be so close to Jesus, even doing so much in Jesus’ name, and yet not know Jesus. But then we already saw that earlier in the Sermon on the Mount regarding those false disciples who were prophesying, casting out demons, and doing miracles in Jesus’ name, yet Jesus says to them, “I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (See: The Deception of Self-righteousness).

Then there are those like Nicodemus in John 3 who are intellectually convinced of Jesus’ divine message and power, yet they are not yet committed to Christ. They are still distant from having a relationship with Christ. They are not born again. They are outside the kingdom, and they do not have eternal life. (See: You Must Be Born Again)

A fourth category of disciples are those composed of secret believers. Joseph of Arimathea was such a hidden follower of Christ. He was afraid of the Jewish leaders. But such clandestine believers do not stay hidden forever, because God eventually brings something into their lives to draw them out into the open. Such was the case for Joseph of Arimathea when after Jesus was crucified he went to ask Pilate for permission to take away Christ’s body for burial. I should also point out that we also find Nicodemus there. He had moved from an intellectual disciple to a true disciple (John 19:39).

A fifth type of disciple are those that are true and open believers. These are the examples for all the redeemed. They model what someone who is born again is to be like. I know that in the theological debates of recent years, there are those that say you can be saved without being a disciple. That is not true. While it is correct to say that you can be a disciple without being saved, you cannot be saved without being a disciple, though the depth and maturity of each disciple will vary, just as with any group of students. For a disciple is simply a student, a pupil of the Master, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A Storm at Sea

The text says that Jesus’ disciples got in the boat after Him. Mark 4:36 tells us other boats also followed. The text does not say which disciples were in the boat with Jesus. It may have been the 12 or it may have been some others. In either case it is a mixture of both true and false followers, for even if it was the 12, Judas would have been among them.

It had been a long day of ministry for Jesus. He had had a confrontation with the Pharisees that day and spent much of it teaching. Mark 4 indicates that Jesus was tired because He went to the stern of the boat and had lain down on a cushion and had fallen asleep. The boat starts out on its journey across the Sea of Galilee. When it is some distance from shore, a sudden and very violent storm breaks upon them. Our text says, “And behold, there arose a great storm in the sea” or more literally, “And behold, a great shaking.” The word here is “seismos” from which we get our words “seismic,” “seismograph,” etc. A storm of such violence had dropped down on them that it describes the sea as “shaking.” Matthew 8:24 goes on to say that the waves were covering the boat. This was a very violent storm and they were in danger of getting swamped.

Such storms were not unusual on the Sea of Galilee. It is a very large lake some 13 miles long by 7 1/2 miles wide. It sits in a depression with mountains all around except at the extreme southern end where it drains out as the Jordan River. To the immediate north is Mt. Hermon rising to 9,200 feet. Air currents moving across the area would be forced over Mt. Hermon where they would cool, becoming denser, heavier. They would then crash through the warmer, lighter air that would be over the Sea. The cool air down, the warm air up, the winds created what would then bank off the sides of the hills surrounding the lake and begin a swirling motion. The word used in Mark and Luke to describe this storm means a whirlwind or a storm of furious gusts. These storms would come suddenly and whip the sea into a very dangerous tempest. Such was the storm in the middle of which the disciples found themselves.

It is reasonable to assume that the boat they were in was a fishing boat belonging to one of the local fishermen. These men would usually launch out at night casting or dragging their nets in different fishing spots. They would bring their catch into shore in the morning. They were well acquainted with the lake, their boats, and with the storms that would suddenly arise. They also knew the danger.

On this particular night the wind was howling, the waves were breaking over the boat to the point that it was in danger of being swamped. And yet in verse 24 with the boat shaking in the storm and the boat being covered by the waves, we find that Jesus is fast asleep. Here we have marked out the humanity of Christ. He was fully God, but also fully man with a frail body that was subject to physical exhaustion. And here we find Him so tired that even with the boat being tossed around, the wind howling about Him and getting wet with the waves crashing over the boat, He is asleep. The Creator of the world sleeping soundly in the midst of the severe storm. Though as God, He was omniscient, in His humanity we find Him at this point in time oblivious to the turmoil surrounding Him.

A Cry for Help

The disciples had come to the end of their own efforts. They had tried all they knew to do, yet they were filled with fear, and in a sense rightfully so, for some of them being fishermen knew the danger that was upon them. Verse 25 tells us, “And they came to Him, and awoke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” A comparison of the parallel passages shows that each disciple was shouting the same sentiment. Mark records, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Luke records, “Master, Mater, we are perishing!” They knew they were in serious danger, and now they finally come to Jesus saying, we are about to die, save us.

This was exactly the point that God wanted these men to come to. The disciples had run out of their own solutions for all their efforts had failed. Now they finally turn to Jesus, the one whom they have already seen heal the sick and cast out demons. In their great fear they had a glimmer of faith in crying out to Jesus to save them.

So often we are no different than these disciples. It is a point that we have to come to as well. We are unwilling to call out to God until we reach the point of absolute desperation. Not just for salvation, but for living the Christian life as well. For salvation such a condition is understood as necessary, for that is the basic description of the poor in spirit. They understand clearly their desperate condition with no means to save themselves, and so they cry out to God for His mercy and grace, and God lovingly responds and saves the repentant sinner. How many have come to Christ through some overwhelming situation? It may have been illness, financial calamity, or a relationship in crises. The human efforts are failing and finally the person turns to God. In His graciousness He saves, and puts the person on a new path with a new purpose in life. The trouble may or may not still be present, but the change to an eternal hope in God changes the reactions to and feeling about the situation.

But the same so often holds true of us as we try to live the Christian life. We get so caught up in trying to do things our own way, that it is not until God allows us to be in some desperate situation that we will finally come back and call on Him for help and guidance. We worry and fret over some physical illness, and sometimes it is not until we despair do we place ourselves again in the hands of the Lord and remember that this life is more than our physical condition. We should expect our bodies to wear out and fail us (Psalm 73), and that very decline in our physical condition forces us to look for an eternal purpose for our existence. It creates in us that longing for the day of Christ’s return when our bodies and all of creation will be redeemed from the curse of sin affecting them. We go through life plotting and planning for our own financial well being, and it is not until we come to financial ruin that we remember that we are but God’s stewards of all that is in our hands. Our material possessions are not to be the source of our security or pleasure. Our security and delight is to be in the Lord. Our material possessions are to be used to bring Him glory, not us, and to extend His kingdom, not ours. Our treasure is to be in heaven, not here on earth.  (See: Where is Your Treasure?). The same is true of relationships. Every relationship we have on earth is to be subordinate to our one with God including our marriages. Jesus is to be our first love. The wonderful thing about this is that all our other relationships improve as a result of this because we become less selfish and more giving.

The disciples have been brought to a point of desperation; they awoke Jesus and have cried out to Him to save them. Jesus answers them in verse 26, “And He said to them, “Why are you timid, you men of little faith?” Then He arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and it became perfectly calm.” Jesus’ question to them is rhetorical for He provides the answer. They are so timid, so frightened because they have little faith. It is more of a statement of His own surprise, “How frightened you are, you men of little faith.” Now before we condemn the disciples for their little faith, let’s remember their situation. They were experienced seamen who have come to the end of their abilities. The winds are howling and the waves are crashing over them. They are keenly aware that their lives are in danger. Most of us would probably react the same way, and in fact we do in so many similar situations. And yet the rebuke they received, and that we receive, is justified.

Jesus had just performed miracle after miracle demonstrating both His power and His compassion on mankind, and Jesus is in the boat with them. They understood this to at least some degree because they are now desperately seeking to get Him to save them. The rebuke is not in their awakening Him and requesting help, the rebuke was against the fear that was driving them. They could have also just as well calmly stirred the Lord from His sleep and asked Him to help based in a confident trust in Him rather than a fear for themselves.

Even if Jesus had not been in the boat, they really had no justified reason for their fearful reaction. You say, “not justified, they were about to capsize and die – that should be reason for fear.” From the human standpoint, yes, from the godly standpoint, no. Remember that these men would have grown up with the Psalms and memorized such passages as Psalm 46:1-3 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” Or Psalm 107:23-30, “Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters; they have seen the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They rose up the heavens, they went down to the depths; their soul melted away in their misery. They reeled and staggered like drunken man, and were at their wit’s end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet; so He guided them to their desired haven.”

They were men of little faith because they responded to the circumstances around them rather than to God’s word. Even in the face of death, those that trust God can be calm because they know it will mean being with their God. Yet how often are we just like these men when we react in fear to the circumstance around us rather than trusting God’s word?

Jesus was a complete contrast to these men. They wake Him up in the midst of the storm and with the waves crashing all around and the boat being tossed to and fro, He calmly speaks to them. Jesus’ trust in the Father is complete, and it was demonstrated in His sleeping during the storm and in His calmness after being awakened.

Jesus’ Authority Over the Storm

At this point Jesus rebukes the wind and the sea, and let me stress that it is the wind and the sea that are rebuked, not any demon behind them. Next week we will see Jesus’ authority over the demonic. This text is stressing His power over nature. Mark tells us that Jesus’ rebuke was saying, “Hush, be still.” And immediately the wind stopped and the sea became perfectly calm. The immediate stopping of the wind would seem somewhat explainable since storms do sometimes leave as quickly as they come. But the calming of the sea is an impossibility except for God’s intervention. Natural law demands that once the waves have been generated the force in them must be dissipated. The wind may stop, but the sea would be expected to remain in turmoil for some time. Yet what we find is that just as fast as the wind stops, the sea becomes calm. God had intervened into nature.

The reaction of the men in verse 27 confirms this. They marveled, they were amazed at what Jesus did saying, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” What kind of man has authority over nature to command it in the manner of Jesus so that even what we would call natural law is broken? Only a man who is in fact God, and that is who Jesus is. We should not marvel at Jesus’ authority over nature since He is the one that created it. Colossians 1:16 tells us, “For by Him (Jesus) all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

What is your reaction to Jesus? Do you think of Him as still just a great teacher, a philosopher, and historical figure or do you understand that He is God in human flesh? Are you fearful and fretting over the circumstance of your life or are you learning to place your trust in Him? Have you called out to Him in your despair or are you still striving to do it on your own? Jesus said, “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Rest, even in the midst of the storm.

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