“The Identity and Character of Jesus”

Matthew 8:18-34

Last week Matthew left us with Jesus healing the multitudes from illness and demonic possession. Today’s Scripture begins with Jesus’ ultimate response to the great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to take off to the other side of the lake. We can only imagine this was Jesus’ way of finding some rest. He’s been healing people all day and into the night. You can almost hear Jesus say something like, “Hey guys, you have a boat that can only fit so many. Let’s get in it and go to the other side of the lake.” Just as they are getting into the boat two men from the crowd approach Jesus. It’s like He can’t even escape without being confronted by someone. The first man we are told was a scribe. He offers to follow Jesus anywhere. I guess he liked what he had heard from Jesus and seeing how popular Jesus had become thought following Him would be a good thing. 

Jesus’s response was one of reality. How many popular people today tell their followers what life is really like when you follow them? You can talk with Val, my husband, who can tell you stories of watching famous movie stars who were swarmed by fans and because of that had to be careful where they went and what they did. It may look glamorous but the reality was they are trapped. For Jesus, He warns the man that following Him meant you had to be willing to give up all the comforts of home. The nature of His mission would keep Him and His disciples on the move. Another man expressed his desire to follow Jesus but he had to take care of his father first. Jesus knew His time on earth was short and in order to be one of His disciples one had to let go of all other family responsibilities. The scribe was too quick to promise and the second man was too slow in responding. Jesus was honest in letting each of them know the cost for following Him. The cost of discipleship still exists today. Christianity needs to still be presented today where there is a cost to follow Jesus. Redemption of our sins is free, but the earthly price to follow Jesus means being like Jesus, self-sacrificing, putting God first above all others and all things. For some, it is still not worth paying. 

In verse 23, Jesus is finally able to get in the boat and the disciples follow Him. Except, did you notice, Jesus fell asleep and the disciples were disturbed by a great storm on the sea where the boat became covered with the waves. Was Jesus that exhausted? We are told they had to wake Him. We are also told they asked Jesus to save them, they thought they were going to die. Now mind you, many of these men were seasoned fishermen who had grown up fishing on the Sea of Galilee. This sort of sudden storm was a common occurrence. It had to have been some kind of raging storm. 

That contrast of petrified seamen and Jesus asleep provides the reader with an understanding of just who Jesus was. When He woke up, Jesus responded to their fear, with the question, “Why are you afraid? Where is your faith?” Obviously they didn’t fully comprehend exactly who Jesus was. They knew enough to wake Him, but had no idea that His next move was going to be to rebuke the winds and the sea, causing them to calm down. They marveled at His response. In other words, they were shocked beyond belief. First off, Jesus demonstrated perfect peace as He lay asleep amidst the storm. Secondly, the only one they knew who could command the waters was Yahweh, God Almighty. It’s one thing to be told the story of God Almighty parting the Red Sea so their ancestors could exit Egypt. It’s another thing to have Him in your boat calming the storm of your life before your very eyes. You can almost hear a bit of frustration in Jesus’ response regarding their little faith. Hadn’t they just seen Jesus perform significant miracles demonstrating great power and authority? They had seen a centurion give an example of great faith by trusting Jesus to heal his servant with just His word. How thick were these guys? 

Before we quickly judge, I liked to say I for one can personally relate. I am sure many of you can as well. How often in life do we suddenly find ourselves in the midst of a raging storm? We have Jesus in the boat and we are sailing where He told us and WHAM! We get blindsided by a storm before we even realize it. Like any good sailor we try battening down the hatches and think we can ride out the storm. We haven’t forgotten Jesus is in the boat and it may seem like He is asleep, but notice what Jesus would have seen as faith. What if the disciples had decided to Do What Jesus Did? What if they had crawled up beside Jesus and gone to sleep? 

Or maybe they could have tapped Him on the shoulder and said something like, “We know you’ve got this, but if it is all the same to You, I’m getting a bit seasick. Do you have any Dramamine?” I’ve experienced my own personal storm this past couple of weeks. I totally comprehend where the disciples were coming from and at the end of the day when I followed through the worse case scenarios it boiled down to, “I’m in a boat with Jesus, He’s always had my back and He will continue to do so, regardless of how dire things may seem.” I asked for prayer and God answered. I’d like to read one of my answers to you, a card I received from Hazel Keeley, who by the way, I’m not sure had any idea what I have been going through, unless one of you shared it with her. Here is what she wrote.

We also need to recognize, we are not in the boat alone with Jesus, there is a group of disciples with us, along with a cloud full of witnesses watching over us. Let’s not be afraid. 

Back to Matthew, verse 28, Jesus and His disciples make it to the other side of the lake. They are immediately met by two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs. They give the disciples the answer to their question from verse 27. Remember they looked at the calm water and asked,“What kind of man was this?” The demons knew who Jesus was they come right out and say, verse 29,

“What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”

Not only did they know who Jesus was, they knew what He had come to do. Their immediate destiny of being cast out and their ultimate destiny to suffer everlasting torment was just a matter of time. Knowing Jesus was in charge we read in verse 31 that they begged Jesus to allow them to leave the men and go into a nearby herd of swine. With one word, “Go!” The demons came out of the men and went into the whole herd of swine which then proceeded to run violently down a steep cliff and perished in the lake. 

Some may read this as “unfair” of Jesus to allow some person’s livelihood be consumed by demons. Ultimately the demons were bent on destruction, whether it was the two men or the swine. Evil is never fair. 

Notice the reaction of those who kept the swine and those in the city after they are told what had happened to both the two men and the swine. You would think the people in the region would be glad to have the two men healed and back to their senses and no longer pestering them. But no, it seems they were more concerned with pigs than people. Or could it be another trick from Satan. By asking to enter the pigs and then killing them the evil spirits knew the town would turn on Jesus and try to get rid of Him. 

Evil still exists and takes over the mindset of people and cities. Jesus has come to confront evil. Jesus has come to claim the Kingdom of God is near and evil does not have to win. But the only way evil can be overcome is from the Word of God. Notice the power of God, only one Word was needed, “Go!” 

Once Jesus was on the scene the only way the evil spirits could leave the men and go into the swine was by God’s command. We still need to remember that today. Only through prayer and God’s Word can we overcome evil. 

These two stories make a new claim about who Jesus really was. Up to this point Matthew has told us about Jesus the leader, Jesus the teacher, Jesus the healer, even Jesus the Messiah. But after these two stories where Jesus takes power over the storm at sea, and the storm with evil, we are presented with a new identity and character of Jesus. Jesus is claiming to be the embodiment of the one true God, come among us. He is the true way. He not only has power, He is power. He has come to confront evil in its spiritual source on both an individual level and corporate society level. And this makes people uncomfortable. Enough so they may want to have nothing to do with Jesus. 

After reading these stories I believe we’re not supposed to be afraid of Jesus but we are supposed to recognize His actual power and combined with His other characteristics of love, mercy and grace we can be assured that we are following the true God of the universe. Amen.

Let’s pray.