And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.  And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.  And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”  And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.  And the men marvelled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:23-27 ESV)
This question comes from the lips of the disciples after they witness the calming of a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee by the Lord Jesus by a single word. It is a response of amazement. The Greek here is “what sort of person is this?” They are not trying to ascertain what sort of man Jesus is. They are reeling under the impact of what they have just witnessed (not to mention all that Jesus has done up to this point). They are beginning to question whether “man” is adequate for identifying Him. They are wondering “Who is this?” This is the central point of this text. Who is this?
Matthew (writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) brings us to this question. He wants us to conclude that Jesus is both man and God. That He is man, subject to our frailties, we see just a glimpse of when we’re told that he is asleep. Wearied, I’m sure, of all teaching and healing work done. That He is God is something we’re confronted with: “Who is this?”
He says to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Are they accusing Him of not being in control? Of being “asleep at the switch,” as it were? Was there ever a time when He was not in control? All throughout this Gospel we see Him manifesting His authority and power. Think of it – the eternal Son of God, now made man. He, in Mary’s womb, held the reins of the universe! Laying there in the manger, needing to be picked up and fed, and burped, and all the other things attendant with the care of an infant, and yet He rules and reigns over all! Not just nominally, as an infant might become king by virtue of the line of accession to the throne, one who is ruler in name but in reality, a regent is acting in that role. No, the eternal Son of God rules and reigns from eternity past, in space and in time, and forever. That is never diminished or diluted. He laid aside His glory in his incarnation and in his earthly ministry, as Paul tells us in Philippians 2, but He never laid aside Who He is in His divinity.
Jesus is fearless before the fury of the storm (why should he fear what He made and controls?); He takes the offensive, and rebukes the winds and the sea…In obedience to this reproof, the winds and the sea cease their raging.
While the word Lord in the mouths of the disciples and others may mean “master,” it is also rendered by the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, as the covenant name of God, Yahweh. And He alone rules storm and sea. Remember, these disciples have grown up with the Scriptures. Only God can do these things! Psalm 89:9 “You rule the raging sea; when its waves surge, You still them.” Psalm 107:29 “He stilled the storm to a murmur, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” This man who was asleep in the back of the boat – Who is He? God Himself was with them! That is the point of this story: Jesus is God!
“Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” A desperate cry! The word perishing here is used by the disciples for bodily death. But Jesus will use the word to speak of destruction both body and soul in hell. Jesus has come to save His people from their sins. Bodily death will keep coming until His coming again, but its sting has been lost, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. But once Christ returns, death will die forevermore. Jesus’ work there on the Sea of Galilee foreshadows the greater work of salvation to come. Without Jesus’s intervention, we all are doomed to destruction; yet those many who are purchased by His blood will never perish, but have everlasting life.
Who is this?