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Is God there and does he care? No question is more basic to human beings' relationship to the creation and to one another. If he is not there, then life is a free-for-all and we must do the best we can for ourselves. Often this worldview means that the one with the most power wins. If God is there, then finding him and responding to him is our most basic need. For if he exists, then power resides with him and everyone becomes accountable to him.
Power means different things for different people, and it can be used in a wide variety of ways. It can be put to good use, destructive use or selfish use. As Jesus continues the revelation of his authority in a series of four miracles extending through the end of Luke 8, he uses his power for others—for those to whom he ministers. Authority for Jesus is not a matter of a raw exercise of power; rather, it is a natural resource that is put to positive use as he shows compassion to those with all kinds of needs. Of course these miracles are audiovisuals of deeper realities. The Gospel of John makes this connection very clear (for example, Jn 6), but the Synoptics show this pictorial dimension as well.
The miracles all raise one question. That question cannot be any more clearly stated than it is at the end of this first miracle where Jesus calms the storm: "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."
This simple miracle account actually contains much teaching. The event itself is rather straightforward. As the disciples and Jesus set about to cross the lake (the Sea of Galilee), a severe storm kicks up. We can tell the problem is severe since some in the boat had been professional fishermen and are now in a panic. Such storms are not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee, since the surrounding topography lends itself to sudden weather changes. The sea is some 680 feet below sea level. It is surrounded by hills, the steepest of which lie on its eastern shore. Coming through the hills, cool air reaches a ravine and collides with trapped warm air over the water. As any meteorologist will tell you, this produces volatile conditions.
While Matthew describes the storm as a "shaking" (seismos) of the boat, Luke calls it a whirlwind (lailaps), a word that sounds like what it describes. Only Jesus is resting, unaware of the danger that surrounds him. The text expresses the danger in a peculiar fashion—the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The term for danger means Jesus' and the disciples' lives are at risk, as their later plea to him indicates (Acts 19:27, 40 and 1 Cor 15:30 include other uses of the term). Since verse 22 only mentions one boat, they here are the disciples. The storm threatens them. Jesus is physically there but appears to be mentally absent, taking a nap, unable to help them in their hour of need. In their anxiety they awake him, announcing impending doom if nothing is done: "Master, Master, we're going to drown!"
The next three parts of the passage are loaded with significance. First Jesus rebukes the wind, so that calm is immediately restored. Called upon to help his disciples, he responds faithfully. The event is the catalyst for two commentaries, one from Jesus, the other from the disciples. Both present aspects of the passage's teaching.
Jesus rebukes his disciples for lack of faith. By asking where their faith was, he is reminding them of his care of them. Often this point in the passage is lost as we marvel over the calming of the sea. Jesus' authority and attributes do not exist in abstraction from his relationships. Even though he seemed to be absent and uncaring, a point Mark 4:38 makes explicitly, he was there and they could rest in the knowledge that he knew what was happening to them. Faith would have told them that God would take them through the terrible storm. So Jesus takes the calming of the storm as an opportunity to remind them that he will care for them. They need to have more faith in God's goodness. They need an applied faith that will hang tough under pressure. This is what he had earlier called holding to the Word with patience (v. 15).
Meanwhile, the disciples are pondering the event. Full of fear and marvel, they ask, "Who is this?" The question is a good one, because anyone who knew the Old Testament or Jewish theology would have known that Yahweh has control of the wind and the seas (Ps 18:16; 104:3; 135:6-7; Nahum 1:4; also Wisdom of Solomon 14:3-5). In fact, Psalm 107:23-30 says that God delivers the sailor who is imperiled at sea. Now this miracle did not automatically prove that Jesus has absolute authority. What it did was more subtle. It raised the question of Jesus' identity for the disciples. Earlier he had forgiven sins; now he calms the seas. Who can do such a variety of things?
Luke leaves the query unanswered here. The reader is to ponder the question. But the topic of Jesus' identity keeps popping up in the Gospel and in Acts (Lk 9:7-9, 18-20; 20:41-44; 23:49; Acts 2:30-36; 10:34-43). In the meantime, faith is called for in the recognition that Jesus is there and is aware of his disciples. Jesus' authority means he has the power to deliver those who depend on him. Calm waves can come only from the One with the power to restore order.