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The apostles had seen Jesus perform miracles of healing (even including remote healing, such as that of the centurion's servant, which occurred just prior to the passage cited in the question from Matthew's gospel), which had demonstrated Jesus' control over physical afflictions. However, I would say that there were probably other individuals in Israel at that time who purported to have such powers, or who perhaps even did possess them through the genuine working of God. But even the apostles were awe-struck (as they should have been) by Jesus' demonstration of His authority and control over the forces of nature (Matthew 8:27). To me also, this action attests more clearly and forcefully than any of the other acts that Jesus performed prior to the raising of Lazarus (as well as Jesus' own resurrection) to His unique identity as the Son of God and God incarnate, with a power that only God could possess. Jesus' possession of such powers should also reassure Christians, even to the present day, of His ability to deal with any other affliction that may arise in this life and world for the ultimate benefit of His followers.
This story is a living parable to teach the disciples about the power and authority available to them when they have faith. Let’s put this story in context: The larger context is the kingdom of God. From the beginning of Jesus' ministry, he said, “The kingdom is here or near you”. Jesus had come to advance the kingdom of God. To do this Jesus had to battle and defeat the kingdom of Satan, to reclaim God’s creation from the dominion of the evil one. Jesus had just finished his Sermon on the Mount. The entire message is about the kingdom of God (Heaven), explaining what it is and contrasting it with the kingdom of the world. The “kingdom” is the rule and reign of God expressed upon the earth through Jesus and through his disciples who had “faith”. The narrower context is the events of that day: 1. Jesus came down the mountain after finishing the Sermon on the Mount 2. Jesus miraculously heals a leper 3. Jesus miraculously heals a Roman centurian’s servant, and is astounded by this man’s faith 4. Jesus arrives in Capernaum for the first time 5. Jesus miraculously heals Peter’s mother-in-law (another gospel account said he rebuked her fever) 6. Jesus delivered many demon possessed people, rebuking the spirits and commanding them to leave 7. Jesus miraculously healed all the sick people brought to him 8. A large crowd gathered so Jesus got into the boat to cross over to the other side of the lake 9. Jesus fell asleep in the boat All day long Jesus had been demonstrating the kingdom of God to his disciples, showing them the authority and power he had to heal the sick and cast out demons. Jesus was training his disciples to demonstrate their faith and use the power and authority he was giving them. Hence the living parable in the boat. But why was Jesus sleeping in the middle of a storm? I believe Jesus had been told by his Father to go over to the other side of the lake. Jesus had put his complete trust in his Father. They were going to the other side; it could be on the lake, over the lake, or under the lake; but they were going to the other side. That’s faith! Why did the furious squall come up? Because Jesus was headed to the region of the Gaderenes, a powerful stronghold of the kingdom of Satan, and Satan was determined to stop and kill Jesus, so he caused the storm. But nothing can stop the advance of the kingdom of God, through any believer who exercises their faith in Jesus. As Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
Even if and when God sends a storm into my life, I will seek it because I know it's from His all-wise Hand. If I fall into selfishness, vanity, taking it too easy, or all-pleasure only, forgetting His love, don't let me drift, Pilot of my soul! Come to me and correct me.
There are a few things we can learn from Jesus stilling the storm. The first thing to note is that in the ancient Near East (Israel and surrounding nations) “water” and “storms” are a symbol for “chaos” or the “enemy of God.” “Chaos” is that which disrupts the order that God has created. Throughout the Old Testament, God is shown as having command over the waters (or the chaos): Psalm 65:7 or Psalm 89:9. There is a book called The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Ryken, Wihoit, Longman) that is very helpful for understanding the ancient imagery that is seen throughout the bible. We learn from the Old Testament that only God can bring chaos back to order. The second thing we can learn from this story is that the authority of the Father has been passed down to His son. Jesus has the same authority over the chaos as God. Mark 4:39 reflects Psalm 107:28-29, where it is God that “stilled the storm.” It is interesting that up to this point in Mark Jesus has performed miracles and cast out demons, but the disciples do not respond in astonishment. But at this point, when Jesus “stilled the storm,” the disciples ask, “Who is this?” (Mark 4:39). We can apply this to our own lives. The power of God has not changed, and God, through his son Jesus, still holds power over the forces of chaos. When we find ourselves enveloped in a “storm” in life, we need to call out to the one who can bring order to that chaos – Jesus. Storms in our lives take many forms. Anytime the structures in our lives that are normally present suddenly disappear, it feels as if life just entered the chaos. An example is when David cries out to God in Psalm 69:1-2: "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck." David uses floodwaters as a metaphor for what is happening in his life. This can come in the form of a job loss, an adverse medical condition, or the loss of a loved one. All of these can all cause us to feel as if we are descending into the chaotic waters. God is with us through every storm and Jesus has the power to bring us peace, even in the midst of the chaos.
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