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Lord of Sea and Sky

Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. Psalm 107.23-30.

This section of Psalm 107, as written, clearly has in mind the Mediterranean Sea (or the Great Sea as it was called then) and those who sailed on it in merchant ships, carrying cargoes of timber, wine, cloth, spices, and grain from port to port around its shores. The Hebrew word for sea is yam which simply means “west”, because that is where the Great Sea lay relative to Israel. However, Israel had little love for the sea and kept clear of it as much as possible. It was “the deep” which, in ancient thought, personified the forces that fought against God — hence its absence from John’s vision of the world to come (Revelation 21.1).

But for all their lack of enthusiasm for sailing on it, the Israelites had no doubt as to who had created it (Genesis 1) and who controlled it. As today’s verses tell me: it is Yahweh, the Lord, who can turn a calm sea into a place of terror where waves soar like mountains and sink like valleys in the fury of a storm, so that ships are thrown about like toys; yet can then restore it to stillness and bring sailors home in safety.

And this is clearly in the minds of all the gospel writers when they come to write about a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Luke’s storm is on a different occasion from the one that Matthew, Mark and John write about, but Luke leaves us in no doubt about where he and the other evangelists are coming from: “As they sailed, Jesus fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him'” (Luke 8.23-25).

Who is this? It is clearly none other that the sea-controlling God who is being worshipped in Psalm 107. And so it is in the other gospels as the storm that hit Galilee during the night that followed the feeding of the five thousand is described. A “strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough” (John 6.18). The disciples were “distressed” (Matthew 14.24; Mark 6.48). But then Jesus comes to them, walking on the water, reassures them that it is he by using the very name with which the Almighty God introduced himself to Moses, “I AM” (Exodus 3.14, Matthew 14.27, Mark 6.50, John 6.20), and as he gets into the boat with them, “the wind ceased” (Matthew 14.32, Mark 6.51). Then, says Matthew, “those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God'” (Matthew 14.33).

But John adds something else. As almost an echo of the last verse of this morning’s passage, he says that, upon Jesus entering the boat, “immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading” (John 6.21).

There are those who call themselves Christians but would deny the deity of Jesus; yet his deity is written all over the New Testament, not least in the way that writer after writer, either directly or by allusion (as here), relates to Jesus scriptures in the Old Testament that refer to none other than the Lord God Almighty himself.

Lord Jesus, I worship you as my Lord and my God, the one who made the sea and all that is in it, the one who is before all things and in whom all things hold together. I worship you. Amen.

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