“And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:41
Is Jesus, this fatigued man standing by the sea, really God? As presented in the immediate context of Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus talks, walks, eats, gets tired, sleeps…and does all the things a mere man does. He never boasts about being God. Yet His teachings, the Old Testament predictions about Him and His powerful works attest to His deity. Later, the penning of the New Testament would also confirm this.
The man, Jesus, is God. So why then does it frequently appear that He is only a man? It is because when He walked this earth He did not always or fully use the divine powers communicated to His human nature. This is called His State of Humiliation. One can generally say that in this State, Jesus, the man, would not use His God-powers to help or deliver himself, but only to help and deliver others. This makes salvific sense, for how else could the Savior feel our misery, pain and fallenness, and how else could He taste death for everyone unless He determined from the beginning not use His divine powers for Himself? Strangely, those who taunted Him at His crucifixion, actually set forth a degree of truth: He saved others; he cannot save himself [Mt 27:42]. Truly He could not save Himself, because His unfathomable love for mankind kept Him in this State of Humiliation, and it ultimately kept Him nailed to the cross. His love for us overruled the use of His divine powers, and thus he could not use His divine powers to save Himself. Because of His love to us He had to become the “unsaved” in order to save the unsaved. He had to drown to save those who were drowning. He had to take the bullet in front of those who were the targets. He had to die for those who were under the curse of death.
Was Jesus fully God before He rose from the dead, and more importantly was He fully God when He died on the cross? The answer to such questions is a resounding yes. The Scriptures indicate that the Son of God did not simply possess a man named Jesus, nor did He become part human and part God in Mary’s womb. He indeed became fully human while remaining fully God. He never ceased being God, and after His incarnation He never ceases to be fully man. Jesus leaves His State of Humiliation when He is declared to be the Son of God with power by His resurrection from the dead. He then enters His State of Exaltation, wherein He as a man fully uses the divine powers communicated to His human nature.
This Sunday’s Gospel account magnifies the deity of Jesus in His State of Humiliation as He employed His divine powers not for Himself but for the terrified Apostles in their seemingly sinking boat. He spoke to the wind and the waves, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm [Mk 4:39]. A strange sort of “common sense” informs us that this Jesus—as He bends the forces of nature with mere words—is indeed God in the flesh. The Apostles queried, Who then is this? They knew from their Scriptures that Jesus was doing that which only God does. For example Psalm 107 describes sailors at their wits end: Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed [vs 28-29]. The Apostles realized that only God rules the wind and the waves.
Who then is the man who hung helpless upon that horrifying cross? It is the same man who, to help His helpless Apostles, calmed the wind and the waves with a word. Eternal thanks be given to God that this is God who hangs on the cross, that it is God’s blood paying the price for our sins, for now the wind and waves of sin, misery and death are stilled; they are muzzled. Now, as we reside in the boat of the church, as well as when we lie in the “boat” of our casket, we do so confidently trusting the God-man who accomplished something more powerful than stilling the wind and the waves: He created forgiveness and immortality for fallen sinners.
Image Schnorr von Carolsfeld Woodcuts © WELS for personal and congregational use