Have you ever been in the presence of a truly powerful person? Did you recognize their power or did they hold such subtle power that it was nearly invisible? I've met people who think they have power. Men and women who like to control situations or people who they feel are beneath them. But I've never physically met a truly powerful person except through the pages of Scripture.
I happened to be reading in Matthew this week and several times a single word here or there has made me pause. Today there were two scenes that grabbed me with that "whoa!" Stop. Think about this a minute. Both had to do with frightening violence.
Violence comes in many forms. We hear a lot about violent weather, violent people, violent ideologies these days. Some accidents are violent and sudden, and there is no reasonable explanation for them other than "accident."
Other sudden furious storms are acts of nature, or acts of God, totally out of the control of any person on earth no matter how strong, how much power they wield. Hurricanes and tornadoes and tsunamis can wipe out entire towns. Years ago, Pompeii was destroyed by a sudden volcanic eruption.
That's the kind of setting Matthew 8 gives us. Jesus and his disciples had gotten into a boat and were headed across the Sea of Galilee to the other side when this sudden furious storm nearly overpowered the boat. The disciples, seasoned fishermen, were truly afraid of this storm. They'd spent their lives on this sea and they knew how unpredictable it could be, but I wonder if this storm wasn't worse than any they had seen because they were certain they were about to drown.
Yet Jesus was asleep through the worst of it. I can barely sleep on a plane let alone a rocky boat! That's trust. And something far more.
The disciples shook Jesus awake with something like, "Don't you care if we drown?"
Jesus rebuked their lack of faith and told the winds and waves to be still. Just like that. A few words and the whole storm calmed. I don't know about you, but I have never been able to tell the wind to die down let alone quit. I don't have faith enough to move a mountain into the sea. The best I could do is duck low and pray hard.
But Jesus spoke and violence ceased.
If that had been the only example of His power, it would have been enough for me. But the next scene shows them on the other side of the lake. They climb onto the bank and wind up in one of the most dangerous areas in the region. Kind of like going to a gang-controlled area of a city where you are lucky to come out alive. No one passed this area in safety. Why?
Two demon-possessed men blocked the path. They didn't have guns or knives, in fact, the strongest men of the area had tried to chain them in the tombs, but they just broke the chains. (I'm combining more than one account of the story from the gospels.) Whatever the details, these guys weren't the type you wanted to mess with. In fact, I would bet most people would walk clear around the town just to avoid this section. "No one could pass that way."
Jesus didn't seem to think this a problem because He was headed that very direction. And what do you think happened? The demons were afraid of Jesus. They begged Him not to torment them before the time - apparently very aware that they would be tormented at some point in the future for their evil ways.
What struck me with both accounts was that violence happens. Violent storms of life can happen so suddenly even the bravest among us can grow terrified (like the fishermen). Violent people can make life downright scary (just look at the world - they're everywhere). And yet...Jesus slept through the storm. And He cast the demons out of the two men, restoring them to wholeness.
That's power. Every time Jesus healed the sick or oppressed, every time He fed the hungry or raised the dead, He showed power far greater than we could ever imagine. Understated and underestimated. And I think we still look at Jesus today and don't really see the power He kept under such perfect control.
We see His meekness. We see His submission in allowing evil to triumph over Him with whips and thorns and nails. And even those of us who believe He rose again and defeated death don't really understand what kind of power that took to do such a thing.
If you've ever been to a funeral, ever looked into the face of a beloved relative or friend whose soul has left them, you know that all the prayers in the world will not revive them. Death is beyond our realm. We are powerless against its violence.
Just as we are powerless against every type of violence we face in our world today, be they sudden storms that destroy our homes or men who steal our very lives. But Jesus...
With Jesus at their side, the disciples grew calm. "Who is this that even the winds and waves obey Him?" And we don't hear a peep from them when faced with those violent demon-possessed men. By then, they'd seen too much perhaps? I think I'd still be in awe of that sudden calm after the storm.
And I think that's the lesson I'm learning when these kinds of things pop out at me in Scripture. We live in a violent world, and by everything I'm seeing, it's not getting better. There is much we could fear.
But there is One who has power over the fearsome future. There is One whose simple presence can send demons trembling, whose words can calm storms. Whose command can raise the dead.
His power is underestimated. But His power is also wrapped in unimaginable love.
He is worthy of our trust.