One of the most popularly retold stories in the Gospels is Jesus’s calming of the storm on the sea. Undoubtedly, it is a story of vessels, troubled waters and faith. What has always puzzled me about the story is why the Disciples were so scared when Jesus was in the boat. The answer is in the Scriptures which contain important clues to God’s use of vessels and what vessels mean to our own understanding of faith and salvation.
Unlike the Phoenicians and the Egyptians, the ancient Jews were not seafarers. To the people of Israel great bodies of water were thus barriers and,as such, were frequently inextricable with fear, destruction and confinement. The Bible is full of accounts were God’s chosen people prayed for direct intervention to overcome these barriers and God’s answer was most often to provide some vessel for safe passage. In fact, on several occasions God gives very precise instructions on what type of vessel is required for the test ahead.
We see this clearly with Noah and the Great Flood. God is planning to erase the wickedness of man from the earth, but gives Noah an opportunity to construct a vessel that will save Noah’s family and thus mankind. (Notice how specific Noah’s instructions are from God: the ark is to be exactly 300x50x30 cubits and contain 3 distinct levels.) It takes Noah 120 years to complete the ark, but his faithfulness and determination provide the vehicle for mankind to persevere.
Fast forward and once again we see that a vessel, albeit of reeds, is used to save baby Moses. Upon a cursory reading this point may seem trivial, yet as always there is much to it. As we know, Moses becomes the prophet that leads the Israelites out of Egypt and toward the promised lands. (Coincidently perhaps, Moses life and leadership unfolds on three levels or distinct periods of forty years each.) Moses in turn is given instructions by God to have an ark constructed. The Ark of the Covenant literally is designed to carry the word and works of God. Again precise measurements are given for this sacred vessel which would serve as the vehicle for the atonement of sin. It’s not surprising then that the Hebrew word for ark also means coffin–a coffin for sin. Once again God provides the vessel for salvation.
This brings us full circle back to the story of the Disciples. Why were the Disciples were so scared of the storm? After all, Jesus was in the boat and the Disciples had already witnessed Jesus perform miracles and wonders. Their fear, I believe, was rooted in their misplaced trust in the vessel. In choppy seas, the Disciples obviously lost confidence in the vessel, that is the boat, and its ability to carry them through the storm and thus felt trapped and afraid.
More importantly, however, the Disciples had yet come to the critical realization Jesus was at that time and ever after THE vessel. That is to say Jesus was the new, living ark, the permanent coffin of sin, and the key to their and our salvation. The Disciples didn’t need to awaken Jesus in the vessel–they needed Jesus–the vessel of God–to awaken in them!