by Tom ThomasA mystery seized the disciples. The mystery’s answer unlocks the door to the Book of Matthew; it unscrambles the Gospel itself; and it opens the gate to your life – to its present satisfaction – its eternal future. The disciples wondered, ‘What sort of man is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ On that occasion their boat is caught in a Galilean sea windstorm. Waves are lapping over their fishing vessel’s sides. They are being swamped. They panic. They fear they are sinking. Then Jesus speaks to the winds telling them to be silent. The sea hushes. There is dead calm. The disciples gasp, ‘What sort of man is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ The original language of the text does not have any noun after the ‘what sort of’. Literally, it’s ‘what sort of____’ is this that even the wind and sea obey him?’. One has to supply the noun. That is, the question: what sort of ‘one’, what sort of ‘person’, being, is this to whom the wind and sea are subject? It’s the same question I want to put to you. ‘What sort of “one” is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ I trust you have already responded to it. Answering this question is a confession one continually reaffirms. Answer it for yourself again.
Ancient people answered it similarly. The weather – rain, wind, thunder, and lightning – said the Canaanites is controlled by Baal, the Canaanite god. The Egyptians said the weather was controlled by Horus, the falcon-headed god. The ancient Greeks said it was Poseidon, the god of the sea. Poseidon controls the oceans and the seas. The Romans answered it was Jupiter. The Jews said in Psalm 107 the Lord God ‘made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.’
The ancients all agree controlling the weather is the domain of a god – not of a human. Atheists like Richard Dawkins or theologians like Rudolf Bultmann say ruling the weather is not the work of a god. They do agree it is not the province of a human, either. Upon this we’re all are agreed: commanding the weather is not in the province of a human. The disciples’ rhetorical question, ‘What sort of’, one, person, _?__ , is this that even the winds and the sea obey’ – anticipates the answer.
What sort of person this is again is highlighted just two chapters later in Matthew 10: 34-39. Jesus says, ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.’ This is jarring! The Lord’s anointed has not come to bring peace but a clash.
He declares he will turn son against father; divide daughter and mother; and daughter in law against mother in law. He will deliberately split life’s most enduring, affectionate and necessary bonds. Elie Wiesel and his family were Jews who just got off the Nazi train at Birkenau. A Nazi SS officer wielding a club barked, ‘Men to the left! Women to the right!’ Suddenly, Elie was separated from his mother and sister. He watched his mother and sister disappear into the horizon. That was the last time he ever saw his mother.
Jesus separates family members. He claims there is a deeper, more necessary bond than the familial bond. There is a relationship more primary than family. The relationship with Him is greater than the familial bond. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. He inserts love for himself between that of son and father; daughter and mother. Love for Him surpasses the primary human love. Love for Him is more fundamental and transcendent than human love. Who ranks above the love for your father? Who ranks above the love for your daughter? Or your mother? Jesus says whoever loves mother more than me is not worthy of me.
My late mother Betsy had a college friend in Lynchburg who she kept up with over the years. They would talk. My mother inevitably got the conversation around to church. ‘Claire, come to worship. You belong there. We miss you.’ But, Claire would remind her worship was at the time her family went to brunch. My mother said, ‘Then change the time of brunch.’ Is that what you say? What sort of one even claims preeminence over life’s primary priority?
Jesus was leaving a large crowd. One from his larger group of disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ (Then I will follow you.) To bury your father is one of those things you do to fulfill the commandment, ‘Honor your father’. Some think the disciple was not speaking literally but meant he needed to care for his aged father. After his father died and was buried, the disciple would be free then to follow Jesus. Either way, Jesus’ response remains: ‘Follow me and let the dead bury the dead.’ The spiritual dead will take care of the physical dead. First things first…following Me takes immediate priority. Nothing – not even burying one’s father – comes before this One.
Jesus demands to be loved preeminently above your human loves. In fact, if you love your father more than Jesus, you do not deserve Jesus; you are not suited to Him; and you cannot belong to Him. ‘What sort of’ person is this that demands such exclusive love?
Perhaps the greatest claim Jesus made was the one in Matthew Chapter Eleven. He said, ‘All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ (Matthew 11: 27-28). Here Jesus claims ‘all things’- literal word is ‘all’ – all has been handed over to him by ‘my Father’. The ‘all’ is inclusive. Nothing is excluded from the set of ‘all’. ‘Handed over’ is to turn over, deliver to or entrust to. At my mother’s death, everything of hers and my late father’s – everything – clothes, address book, furniture, photograph albums, files, bank account, bills, and their 1820 Eli Terry clock – were handed over to my sister and me. Everything. What is handed over to Jesus? Some contemporary scholars say it was John claiming this for Jesus not Jesus Himself. Really? Jesus defines the Father- who- has- turned-everything-over- to-Him: He is ‘Father, Lord of heaven and earth’. What all does the ‘Father, Lord of heaven and earth’ have to entrust to Jesus? Heaven? The Milky Way? The Sun? The earth? All its inhabitants? You? What’s not included? Jesus said plainly, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given me.’
Jesus tells his disciples the reason they know hidden things and the wise and intelligent do not: ‘no one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ The Father and Son share knowing exclusive to themselves. We expect the Father to know the Son. What is shocking is that Jesus says ‘no one knows the Father except the Son’. In the original language, the word ‘know’ is intensified: knows exactly, knows completely, and knows through and through. Jesus is claiming He is the only One who knows God through and through; exactly as He is. Who is it who knows God’s mind exactly? Who is the only one who knows completely Tom Thomas’ mind? Who is buried in George Washington’s tomb?!
The second part of this is ‘no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’. Jesus is the only one who mediates and reveals God. Revealing God is at the Son’s discretion and according to His own prerogative.
Jesus’ claim was on trial in a recent Senate hearing. Russell Vought was being interviewed for a deputy position in the White House Office of Management and Budget. Bernie Sanders took him to task for an article Russell wrote for his college newsletter. Russell said Muslims ‘do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ His Son, and they stand condemned.’ Sanders asked him if he was being respectful of other religions. Vought in his words was echoing Jesus.
Jesus is not disrespectful. He is making an exclusive but truthful claim. ‘No one – not the Buddha, Mohammed, the guru, the Imam, or Moses – knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ No one can know the Father who does not first know the Son. Who is it that makes such an absolute claim? What sort of person is this? Who is it the weather obeys? Who demands love surpassing all human love? Who knows completely the inner mind of God? Who have you said Him to be? Who do you now say Him to be? He is the Person to whom I submit my body, my soul, my fame, my fortune, my friends, my reputation, my life, and my all! You too?