The story of Jesus and his disciples getting caught on the sea of Galilee in what is recorded as a “pretty big storm” is fairly well-known. Many lessons have been gleaned from this historic event and typical themes include things like “trust,” “dependence,” and, of course, “faith.”
The problem is that this wasn’t just another “storm” but rather something akin to hurricane-force winds. If it was just a storm then the disciples would not have feared for their very lives. They were life-long fisherman, for goodness sake, and so they’ve “been there” and “done that.”
No, this was σεισμός (Greek) and there are only a handful of instances where this word is used in the entire canonized Scriptures. This is where you begin to understand the not only the reality of what the disciples faced but the importance of this very moment where they feel as if their lives have literally come to an end.
“Seismos” (the same word we use to get the english words seismologist, seismograph, etc.) is used a few more times but there are two that add a powerful layer of contextual understanding in Matthews’ account:
- The moment Christ died (via Matthew 27:54):
Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake (σεισμός) and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
- When the stone was rolled away from the tomb (via Matthew 28:2):
And behold, a severe earthquake (σεισμός) had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.
Since language is so vitally important in both context and meaning one can now more fully appreciate the gravity of the disciples situation. This was a matter of life or death and the disciples fully believed that they were going to die. No “typical” storm would have brought this amount of absolute hopeless fear. I can only imagine what that might have been like.
And so, in the midst of the storm, they find Jesus, the very man who they had entrusted their lives to, fast asleep as if nothing was happening in the slightest. The Scriptures make the account look contextually benign:
And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us Lord; we are perishing!”
I imagine the “came to Him” must have been something much more passionate, frantic, desperate, perhaps even violent. Shouts, bloodcurdling screams, weeping, tears, coarse language perhaps. I probably would have gone completely bat-shit-out-of-my-mind-cursing-like-a-mother-what crazy with fear.
And so, as the story continues, Christ rebukes the storm (I particularly like this word as I can imagine something somewhat comical as Jesus wags his finger at the storm and does something akin to “Uh, uh, uhhhhhhh storm. Let’s have none of that.” My own imagination…) and asks the disciples why they are essentially men who have almost zero faith.
This was a pivotal, game-changing moment. This was one of the moments that would define them and mark them for the rest of their lives. It was so important that the language used for the storm is the same language that is used for the death and resurrection of their very Lord and Savior.
Although they did not physically die that day there was certainly a death that happened in the way that they saw themselves, their purpose & mission, and their lives. They died to an old way of thinking and were born, nearly baptized, into a new world order.
I believe that we all have these σεισμός-like events in our lives, things that tear us asunder and leave us breathless with emotion and excitement. Sometimes our lives are literally at risk and other times it’s the much more ephemeral (but no less real) sense of our own livelihood; what we do with our lives, how we make our living, and how we fulfill our purpose.
This year, for me, has been a series of σεισμός and as we get closer to the end of this calendar year I think fondly and somewhat dangerously upon them. I am anxious to uncover and understand what has happened and to rightly comprehend and interpret their meaning.
A time of great introspection, of review, of curious enlightenment. So thankful. So blessed. So hopeful. Can’t wait.