Master of the seas: Who calms the waters?

The apostles questioned who Jesus was after he rebuked the storm on the Sea of Galilee in Matthew 8, as in James Tissot's 19th century work, but given the Old Testament precedent, they should already have known the answer. CNS Photo

The apostles questioned who Jesus was after he rebuked the storm on the Sea of Galilee in Matthew 8, as in James Tissot’s 19th century work, but given the Old Testament precedent, they should already have known the answer.
CNS Photo

Did Jesus claim to be God? This is an important question, not only for our own personal faith, but also for defending that faith. Most people are familiar with New Testament texts that assert Christ’s divinity (John 1:1, etc.), but there is much more evidence than people suppose — for example, when Christ calms the sea.

Matthew 8:24-28: “Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep. They came and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ He said to them, ‘Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?’ Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, ‘What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?’”

On the surface, Jesus is clearly exercising power that is beyond human nature. But what is this power? Someone could assert that angels are powerful, so maybe Jesus is exercising preternatural angelic power. What is it about this miracle that points to Christ’s divinity?

The answer lies in the Old Testament background: who calms the waters? The Old Testament is quite clear on this point. Job 26:11-12, for example, says “The pillars of the heavens tremble and are stunned at his [God’s] thunderous rebuke; By his power he stirs up the sea, and by his might he crushes Rahab …” God stirs the sea to crush Rahab.

Psalm 89:9-10 places the power to “rule the raging sea” and “still its swelling waves” exclusively in God’s hands: “LORD, God of hosts, who is like you? Mighty LORD, your loyalty is always present. You rule the raging sea; you still its swelling waves.”

Psalm 93:2 states that God’s power exceeds that of the raging sea: “The flood has raised up, LORD; the flood has raised up its roar; the flood has raised its pounding waves. More powerful than the roar of many waters, more powerful than the breakers of the sea, powerful in the heavens is the LORD.”

Even more remarkable is Psalm 107:23-31’s description of sailors caught in a tempest: “Some went off to sea in ships, plied their trade on the deep waters. They saw the works of the LORD, the wonders of God in the deep. He spoke and roused a storm wind; it tossed the waves on high. They rose up to the heavens, sank to the depths; their hearts trembled at the danger. They reeled, staggered like drunkards; their skill was of no avail. In their distress they cried to the LORD, who brought them out of their peril, hushed the storm to a murmur; the waves of the sea were stilled. They rejoiced that the sea grew calm, that God brought them to the harbor they longed for.”

As you probably noticed, there are several parallels between this Psalm and Matthew. Both passages speak of those caught in a fierce storm at sea. Both Christ’s disciples and the sailors in the Psalm cry to the Lord. The sailors in Psalm 107:28 cried out to Yahweh where the disciples in Matthew 8:25 came to Jesus exclaiming, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” The sea is calmed in both passages. In Psalm 107:28-29, God brings the sailors out of peril, and in Matthew 8:26 Jesus rescues them by rebuking the wind and the sea.

What’s interesting is that the sailors in Psalm 107:31 knew who rescued them. They rejoiced “… that God brought them to the harbor they longed for.” But not so with the disciples. They knew Job and the Psalms, so they knew that God rules the winds and the sea, but they had just witnessed Jesus doing what God does. They asked, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”

That question brought them face to face with the mystery of the Incarnation. They knew Jesus to be man, but God rules the sea. How can Jesus calm the sea? This miracle is one of several steps along the way that led the disciples to eventually embrace Christ as true God and true man.


Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.