Not many people are amazed anymore – by anything. It wasn’t always this way. In the Middle Ages people were amazed by power, wealth, and pageantry. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution and well into our own lifetimes, people were amazed by science and its achievements. People marveled at discoveries that prolong life, the speed with which cars and airplanes travel, the ease of telephone communication. For a time we were amazed at space travel. We were amazed by computers. But not much amazes us anymore. The accelerating flow of inventions and their rapid dissemination throughout the world have numbed us and made even the most amazing things seem commonplace.
Christianity too! The most amazing thing about Christianity is God’s grace. We used to speak of it as “amazing grace,” but amazing grace is no longer amazing to most people. Yet one reality continues to amaze us if we give it a chance, and that is the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus amazes us because He is infinitely engaging. He never exhausts our interest. I once read that more books have been written about Napoleon, the French general and emperor, and Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States. But that is not quite accurate. Beyond any question, more books have been written about Jesus of Nazareth than any other person. The Gospels were first: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But hundreds, thousands, and eventually hundreds of thousands of books followed them. And they continue to be written.
Most people do not want to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God or bow to Him as their personal Lord and Savior, but somehow most people who actually have heard of Jesus can’t quite banish Jesus from their minds. The person of Jesus broods over our discordant secular times, and who He is and what He was about remains a current question.
It was a question for Jesus’ disciples too here in Matthew 8.23-24. In the first of the two miracle stories we looked at, we find them expressing their amazement at His authority. Their amazement had probably been growing for some time. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount we read that when Jesus had finished speaking, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” The disciples were a part of the crowds, and they, like the others, must have been amazed at the authority of Jesus’ words. When Jesus began to express His authority by healing people, their amazement grew.
The disciples had observed Jesus’ authority over sickness in His healing of the leper, the servant of the Roman centurion, and Peter’s mother-in-law, as well as unnamed others. Now they are to witness two more areas in which Jesus displays His authority: over nature and over demons. In the first case, Jesus calms a terrifying storm on the Sea of Galilee. In the second case, He drives demons out of two men who were living on the other side of the lake in the region of the Gadarenes.
It is in connection with the first of those stories that we read of the disciples’ amazement specifically: “The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’”
The story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee is more than a miracle intended to amaze His followers, however. It is about discipleship and faith. Without faith there can be no discipleship. Yet at this stage of their lives the disciples’ faith was rudimentary at best.
There is a connection between the first line of this account and the two stories about would-be disciples that come immediately before it. Both of those men expressed a wish to follow Jesus. The first said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But after Jesus explained that He had “no place to lay his head,” this man apparently did not follow. The second disciple wanted to attend to family duties first. He wanted to stay at home until his father died and he could bury him, but Jesus said, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” According to Jesus, nothing can come before a deliberate, active, practical following for one who wants to be His disciple.
Now, in the first line of this new story, we read, “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him” (v.23). That is certainly significant. We will see very shortly that the disciples had little idea whom it was they were following. Their faith was small, but they were following and had actually left their houses, family, land, and occupations to be with Jesus. In chapter 4 we were told that Peter and Andrew “left their nets and followed him” and that James and John “left the boat and their father and followed him.” In chapter 9 we will be told that Matthew abandoned his “tax collector’s booth … and followed him.” There was a great deal more following to come, of course. The disciples had much to learn about what being a disciple meant, but they had heard Jesus’ call, trusted Him, and obeyed His summons. They had passed through the small gate and were on the narrow path that leads to life with Jesus Christ.
Which leads to this question: Are you on that path? Have you left all lesser loyalties to follow Jesus? It is not enough merely to be impressed with Jesus’ person and teachings or even to be amazed at His miracles. The vital thing is actually to follow Him. If people are not amazed at Jesus today, could it be you and I have not witnessed to His wonderful power and great grace? Salvation is an amazing act of God.