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The Calming of the Storm

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Beloved for the way in which it highlights Jesus' care for those on the margins of society and for its care in telling the story of our Savior's life and ministry, the gospel of Luke has always been treasured by the Christian church. Dr. Sproul's expositional study of this inspired account of Jesus looks at the significant events of His life and His teachings while unfolding the meaning of both for us today.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Jesus Stills the Storm

  2. devotional

    The Holiness of Christ

  3. blog-post

    There Will Be No Sea in the New Heaven and New Earth

Jesus Stills the Storm

Having explained the cost of discipleship to two would-be followers, Jesus and His disciples set out to cross the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:23). Little do the disciples know that this journey will give their teacher an opportunity to show forth His identity in a way they have not yet seen.

Because of its geographical location, violent squalls frequently occur on the open water of the Sea of Galilee, especially in the period between May and October. Seasoned fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John (4:18–22) are certainly familiar with such storms, and so their fear, evident in Matthew 8:24–27, shows that the turbulence in which they find themselves is unusually fierce. However, despite the storm’s ferocity, Jesus is able to sleep peacefully as the boat traverses the waves. This indicates His great trust in God and comfort in His faithful obedience because the Old Testament understands sound sleep to be a gift from God to His holy people (Lev. 26:6). Christ’s ability to sleep in the storm is more remarkable when we consider that the boat in which His company is traveling is the customary fishing boat of His day, just big enough to accommodate the small group of men and a large catch of fish. The sailors are completely exposed to the elements. Jesus is not worried like the others even though He feels the storm’s effects no less than they do. 

Yet Jesus’ command of the storm tells us about much more than His great faith. In the biblical worldview, the sea and the storm are associated with chaos and destruction (Ps. 69:1–2). Only God can control the sea, and in fact, He sets its boundary and stills its fury (Job 38:8–11). That Jesus is able to silence the storm and still the waves indicates that He possesses an authority equal to the Creator’s (Matt. 8:26–27). The disciples marvel at this miracle because it is evidence that their beloved rabbi is more than just a teacher; He is in fact God Almighty. John Chrysostom writes that “[Jesus’] sleeping showed he was a man. His calming of the seas declared him God” (Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 28.1).  

The Holiness of Christ

It is a sad fact indeed that many of the most influential thinkers in recent centuries have been unapologetic atheists. These individuals, who lived at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century—including men such as Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jean-Paul Sartre—attributed ultimate causation to impersonal forces and not the personal, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God revealed in the Bible. Despite their advocacy of atheism, however, one fact persistently confronted them: man is incurably religious. How did they explain this?

Freud theorized that the fear of impersonal forces gave rise to belief in a supreme being. He noted that it is impossible to reason with natural forces such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. On the other hand, human beings can reason with other personal beings. We can beg personal deities for benevolence and favor, including protection from the forces we cannot control. Thus, Freud asserted, humanity made natural events personal in order to avoid them. We invented a god of thunder, a god of tornadoes, and so on in order to reduce our fear of being destroyed by them. By worshiping these gods, we came to expect favor from these deities, and thus our fears of nature were assuaged. In time, said Freud, this polytheism evolved into monotheism, which allows us to focus on placating one supreme being instead of several different gods.

Indeed, we fear the awesome power of nature, but men and women fear something— Someone—far more. Consider today's passage. At one point during His earthly ministry, Jesus and the disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when they ran into a horrible storm. All of the men feared the storm except Jesus, and His followers could find no reason for His willingness to sleep instead of worrying about the weather (Mark 4:35–38). After the disciples woke our Lord, He silenced the storm. Yet a strange thing happened. We would expect that the disciples would have been afraid no longer, but their fear intensified. They trembled before the One who had saved their lives (vv. 39–41).

There is nothing humanity fears more than the holiness of God. We all know that His purity calls for our destruction, but we who know Jesus understand His great mercy. By the Father's grace, all those who trust in Christ alone can endure the holiness of God. Moreover, we can rejoice in it as we seek His face (Rom. 5:1–2; 1 Thess. 5:9–10).

There Will Be No Sea in the New Heaven and New Earth

R.C. Sproul

Scripture often speaks of the entire creation awaiting the final act of redemption. To destroy something completely and to replace it with something utterly new is not an act of redemption. To redeem something is to save that which is in imminent danger of being lost. The renovation may be radical. It may involve a violent conflagration of purging, but the purifying act ultimately redeems rather than annihilates. The new heaven and the new earth will be purified. There will be no room for evil in the new order.

A hint of the quality of the new heaven and new earth is found in the somewhat cryptic words, "Also there was no more sea" (Rev. 21:1). For people who have a love for the seashore and all that it represents in terms of beauty and recreation, it may seem strange to contemplate a new earth without any sea. But to the ancient Jew, it was a different matter. In Jewish literature, the sea was often used as a symbol for that which was ominous, sinister, and threatening. Earlier in the Revelation of John, we see the Beast emerging from the sea (Rev. 13). Likewise, in ancient Semitic mythology, there is frequent reference to the primordial sea monster that represents the shadowy chaos. The Babylonian goddess Tiamat is a case in point.

In Jewish thought, the river, the stream, or the spring functioned as the positive symbol of goodness. This was natural in a desert habitat where a stream was life itself. If we look at a relief map of Palestine, we see how crucial to the life of the land is the Jordan River. It cuts like a ribbon through the heart of an arid and parched land, connecting the Sea of Galilee in the north with the Dead Sea in the south.

The Mediterranean coast of western Palestine is marked by rocky shoals and jutting mountains. The ancient Hebrews did not develop a sea trade because the terrain was not suitable for much shipping. The sea represented trouble to them. It was from the Mediterranean that violent storms arose.

We see this contrasting imagery in Psalm 46. The psalmist writes: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling" (vv. 1–3). Then he adds, "There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God" (v. 4).

I live in central Florida. Our area is sometimes described as "the lightning capital of America." The summer months bring severe electrical storms. My grandchildren are frequently frightened by what they call the "booming." The loud thunderclaps are not a part of what they would envision heaven to include.

But the Jews feared other problems from the sea besides turbulent storms. Their traditional archrivals, marauders who beset them countless times, were a seacoast nation. The Philistines came from the direction of the sea.

The Jew looked to a new world where all the evils symbolized by the sea would be absent. The new earth will have water. It will have a river. It will have life-giving streams. But there will be no sea there.

This excerpt is taken from Surprised by Suffering by R.C. Sproul.

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