THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN
TO THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
CHRIST STILLS THE STORM ON THE LAKE OF GALILEE.
(St. Matthew 8:18,23-27; St. Mark 4:35-41; St. Luke 8:22-25.)
IT was the evening of that day of new teaching, and once more great multitudes were gathering to Him. What more, or, indeed, what else, could He have said to those to whom He had all that morning spoken in Parables, which hearing they had not heard nor understood? It was this, rather than weariness after a long day's working, which led to the resolve to pass to the other side. To merely physical weariness Jesus never subordinated his work. If, therefore, such had been the motive, the proposal to withdraw for rest would have come from the disciples, while here the Lord Himself gave command to pass to the other side. In truth, after that day's teaching it was better, alike for these multitudes and for His disciples that He should withdraw. And so 'they took Him even as He was' - that is, probably without refreshment of food, or even preparation of it for the journey. This indicates how readily, nay, eagerly, the disciples obeyed the behest.
Whether in their haste they heeded not the signs of the coming storm; whether they had the secret feeling, that ship and sea which bore such burden were safe from tempest; or, whether it was one of those storms which so often rise suddenly, and sweep with such fury over the Lake of Galilee, must remain undetermined. He was in 'the ship'1 - whether that of the sons of Jonas, or of Zebedee - the well-known boat, which was always ready for His service, whether as pulpit, resting-place, or means of journeying. But the departure had not been so rapid as to pass unobserved; and the ship was attended by other boats, which bore those that would fain follow Him. In the stern of the ship, on the low bench where the steersman sometimes takes rest, was pillowed the Head of Jesus. Weariness, faintness, hunger, exhaustion, asserted their mastery over His true humanity. He, Whom earliest Apostolic testimony2 proclaimed to have been in 'the form of God,' slept. Even this evidences the truth of the whole narrative. If Apostolic tradition had devised this narrative to exhibit His Divine Power, why represent Him as faint and asleep in the ship; and, if it would portray Him as deeply sleeping for very weariness, how could it ascribe to Him the power of stilling the storm by His rebuke? Each of these by themselves, but not the two in their combination, would be as legends are written. Their coincidence is due to the incidence of truth. Indeed, it is characteristic of the History of the Christ, and all the more evidential that it is so evidently undesigned in the structure of the narrative, that every deepest manifestation of His Humanity is immediately attended by highest display of His Divinity, and each special display of His Divine Power followed by some marks of His true Humanity. Assuredly, no narrative could be more consistent with the fundamental assumption that He is the God-Man.
1. The definite article (St. Mark iv. 36) marks it as 'the' ship - a well-known boat which always bore Him.
2. Phil. 2:6.
Thus viewed, the picture is unspeakably sublime. Jesus is asleep, for very weariness and hunger, in the stern of the ship, His head on that low wooden bench, while the heavens darken, the wild wind swoops down those mountain-gorges, howling with hungry rage over the trembling sea; the waves rise and toss, and lash and break over the ship, and beat into it, and the white foam washes at His feet His Humanity here appears as true as when He lay cradled in the manger; His Divinity, as when the sages from the East laid their offerings at His Feet. But the danger is increasing - 'so that the ship was now filling.'3 They who watched it, might be tempted to regard the peaceful rest of Jesus, not as indicative of Divine Majesty - as it were, sublime consciousness of absolute safety - because they did not fully realize Who He was. In that case it would, therefore, rather mean absolute weakness in not being able, even at such a time, to overcome the demands of our lower nature; real indifference, also, to their fate - not from want of sympathy, but of power. In short, it might lead up to the inference that the Christ was a no-Christ, and the Kingdom of which he had spoken in Parables, not His, in the sense of being identified with His Person.
3. St. Mark 4:37.
In all this we perceive already, in part, the internal connection between the teaching of that day and the miracle of that evening. Both were quite novel: the teaching by Parables, and then the help in a Parable. Both were founded on the Old Testament: the teaching on its predictions,4 the miracle on its proclamations of the special Divine Manifestations in the sea;5 and both show that everything depended on the view taken of the Person of the Christ. Further teaching comes to us from the details of the narrative which follows. It has been asked, with which of the words recorded by the Synoptists the disciples had wakened the Lord: with those of entreaty to save them,6 or with those of impatience, perhaps uttered by Peter himself?7 But why may not both accounts represent what had passed? Similarly, it has been asked, which came first - the Lord's rebuke of the disciples, and after it that of the wind and sea,8 or the converse?9 But, may it not be that each recorded that first which had most impressed itself on his mind? - St. Matthew, who had been in the ship that night, the needful rebuke to the disciples; St. Mark and St. Luke, who had heard it from others,10 the help first, and then the rebuke?
4. Is. 6:9, 10. 5. Ps. 106:9; 107:25; Is. 51:10; Nah. 1:4-7; Hab. 3:8.
6. St. Matt. and St. Luke. 7. St. Mark. 8. St. Matt.
9. St. Mark and St. Luke. 10. St. Mark probably from St. Peter.
Yet it is not easy to understand what the disciples had really expected, when they wakened the Christ with their 'Lord, save us - we perish!' Certainly, not that which actually happened, since not only wonder, but fear, came over them11 as they witnessed it. Probably theirs would be a vague, undefined belief in the unlimited possibility of all in connection with the Christ. A belief this, which seems to us quite natural as we think of the gradually emerging, but still partially cloud-capped height of His Divinity, of which, as yet, only the dim outlines were visible to them. A belief this, which also accounts for the co-existing, not of disbelief, nor even of unbelief, but of inability of apprehension, which, as we have seen, characterised the bearing of the Virgin-Mother. And it equally characterised that of the disciples up to the Resurrection-morning, bringing them to the empty tomb, and filling them with unbelieving wonder that the tomb was empty. Thus, we have come to that stage in the History of the Christ when, in opposition to the now formulated charge of His enemies as to His Person, neither His Teaching nor His Working could be fully understood, except so far as his Personality was understood - that He was of God and Very God. And so we are gradually reaching on towards the expediency and the need of the coming of the Holy Ghost to reveal that mystery of His Person. Similarly, the two great stages in the history of the Church's learning were: the first - to come to knowledge of what He was, by experience of what He did; the second - to come to experience of what He did and does, by knowledge of what He is. The former, which corresponds, in the Old Testament, to the patriarchal age, is that of the period when Jesus was on earth; the second, which answers to the history of Israel, is that of the period after His Ascension into Heaven and the Descent of the Holy Ghost.
11. From the size of these boats it seems unlikely, that any but His closest followers would have found room in the ship. Besides, the language of those who called for help and the answer of Christ imply the same thing.
When 'He was awakened'12 by the voice of His disciples, 'He rebuked the wind and the sea,' as Jehovah had of old13 - just as He had 'rebuked' the fever,14 and the paroxysm of the demonised.15 For, all are His creatures, even when lashed to frenzy of the 'hostile power.' And the sea He commanded as if it were a sentient being: 'Be silent! Be silenced!' And immediately the wind was bound, the panting waves throbbed into stillness, and a great calm of rest fell upon the Lake. For, when Christ sleepeth, there is storm; when He waketh, great peace. But over these men who had erst wakened Him with their cry, now crept wonderment, awe, and fear. No longer, as at His first wonder-working in Capernaum, was it: 'What is this?'16 but 'Who, then, is this?'17 And so the grand question, which the enmity of the Pharisees had raised, and which, in part, had been answered in the Parables of teaching, was still more fully and practically met in what, not only to the disciples, but to all time, was a Parable of help. And Jesus also did wonder, but at that which alone could call forth His wonder - the unreachingness of their faith: where was it? and how was it, they had no faith?
12. St. Mark 4:38. 13. Ps. 106:9; Nah. 1:4. 14. St. Luke 4:39.
15. St. Mark 9:25. 16. St. Mark 1:27. 17. So literally.
Thus far the history, related, often almost in the same words, by the three Evangelists. On all sides the narrative is admitted to form part of the primitive Evangelic tradition. But if so, then, even on the showing of our opponents, it must have had some foundation in an event surpassing the ordinary facts in the history of Jesus. Accordingly, of all negative critics, at most only two venture to dismiss it as unfounded on fact. But such a bold assumption would rather increase than diminish the difficulty. For, if legend it be, its invention and insertion into the primitive record must have had some historical reason. Such, however, it is absolutely impossible here to trace. The Old Testament contains no analogous history which it might have been wished to imitate; Jewish Messianic expectancy afforded no basis for it; and there is absolutely no Rabbinic parallel18 which could be placed by its side. Similar objections apply to the suggestion of exaggeration of some real event (Keim). For, the essence of the narrative lies in its details, of which the origin and the universal acceptance in the primitive belief of the Church have to be accounted for. Nor is the task of those negative critics more easy, who, admitting the foundation in fact for this narrative, have suggested various theories to account for its miraculous details. Most of these explanations are so unnatural,19 as only to point the contrast between the ingenuity of the nineteenth century and the simple, vivid language of the original narrative. For it seems equally impossible to regard it as based either on a misunderstanding of the words of Jesus during a storm (Paulus), or on the calm faith of Jesus when even the helmsman despaired of safety (Schenkel), or to represent it as only in some way a symbol of analogous mental phenomena (Ammon, Schleiermacher, Hase, Weiszäcker, and others). The very variety of explanations proposed, of which not one agrees with the others, shows, that none of them has proved satisfactory to any but their own inventors. And of all it may be said, that they have no foundation whatever in the narrative itself. Thus the only alternative left is either wholly to reject, or wholly to accept, the narrative.
18. The supposed Rabbinic parallels in Wetstein (Babha Mez. 59 b) and Wünsche's (Chull. 7 a) works are quite inapplicable.
19. The strangest commentation, perhaps, is that of Volkmar (Marcus, pp. 307-312). For I cannot here perceive any kind of parallelism with the history of Jonah, nor yet see any references to the history of St. Paul's shipwreck.
If our judgment is to be determined by the ordinary rules of historical criticism, we cannot long be in doubt which of these propositions is true. Here is a narrative, which has the consensus of the three Evangelists; which admittedly formed part of the original Evangelic tradition; for the invention of which no specific motive can possibly be assigned; and which is told with a simplicity of language and a pictorial vividness of detail that carry their own evidence. Other corroborative points, such as the unlikeliness of the invention of such a situation for the Christ, or of such bearing of the disciples, have been previously indicated. Absolute historical demonstration of the event is, of course, in the nature of things impossible. But, besides the congruousness to the Parabolic teaching which had preceded this Parabolic miracle, and the accord of the Saviour's rebuke with His mode of silencing the hostile elements on other occasions, some further considerations in evidence may be offered to the thoughtful reader.
For, first, in this 'dominion over the sea,' we recognise, not only the fullest refutation of the Pharisaic misrepresentation of the Person of Christ, but the realisation in the Ideal Man of the ideal of man as heaven-destined,20 and the initial fulfillment of the promise which this destination implied. 'Creation' has, indeed, been 'made subject to vanity;'21 but this 'evil,' which implies not merely decay but rebellion, was directly due to the Fall of man, and will be removed at the final 'manifestation of the sons of God.' And here St. Paul so far stands on the same ground as Jewish theology, which also teaches that 'although all things were created in their perfectness, yet when the first Adam sinned, they were corrupted.'22 Christ's dominion over the sea was, therefore, only the Second and Unfallen Adam's real dominion over creation, and the pledge of its restoration, and of our dominion in the future. And this seems also to throw fresh light on Christ's rebuke, whether of storm, disease, or demoniac possession. Thus there is a grand consistency in this narrative, as regards the Scriptural presentation of the Christ.
20. Ps. 8:4-8. 21. Rom. 8:20. 22. Ber. R. 12.
Again, the narrative expresses very markedly, that the interposition of Christ, alike in itself, and in the manner of it, was wholly unexpected by, indeed, contrary to the expectation of, the disciples. This also holds true in regard to other of the great manifestations of Christ, up to His Resurrection from the dead. This, of course, proves that the narrative was not founded on existing Jewish ideas. But there is more than this. The gratuitous introduction of traits which, so far from glorifying, would rather detract from a legendary Christ, while at the same time they seriously reflect on the disciples, presumably the inventors of the legend, appears to us wholly inconsistent with the assumption that the narrative is spurious.
Nor ought we to overlook another circumstance. While we regard the narrative as that of an historical occurrence - indeed, because we do so - we cannot fail to perceive its permanent symbolic and typical bearing. It were, indeed, impossible to describe either the history of the Church of Christ, or the experience of individual disciples, more accurately, or with wider and deeper capability of application, than in the Parable of this Miracle. And thus it is morally true to all ages; just because it was historically true at the first.23 And as we enter on this field of contemplation, many views open to us. The true Humanity of the Saviour, by the side of His Divine Power; the sleeping Jesus and the Almighty Word of rebuke and command to the elements, which lay them down obedient at His feet: this sharp-edged contrast resolved into a higher unity - how true is it to the fundamental thought of the Gospel-History! Then this other contrast of the failure of faith, and then the excitement of the disciples; and of the calm of the sleeping, and then the Majesty of the wakening Christ. And, lastly, yet this third contrast of the helplessness and despondency of the disciples and the Divine certitude of conscious Omnipotence.
23. A fact may be the basis of a symbol; but a symbol can never be the basis of a fact. The former is the principle of Divine history, the latter of human legend. But, even so, legend could never have arisen but for a belief in Divine history: it is the counterfeit coin of Revelation.
We perceive only difficulties and the seemingly impossible, as we compare what may be before us with that which we consciously possess. He also makes this outlook: but only to know and show, that with Him there can be no difficulty, since all is His - and all may be ours, since He has come for our help and is in the ship. One thing only He wonders at - the shortcomings of our faith; and one thing only makes it impossible for Him to help - our unbelief.
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