Over the last few weeks, I’ve been preaching through Matthew 8 at Victory Baptist Church. And let me just say, it’s a stunning chapter.
It has everything.
Life, death, resurrection. Fear, faith, and fruitfulness. It’s a microcosm of the overall redemptive arc of our Lord’s incarnate ministry. From Capernaum, through the trial of storm, landing in the nether regions on the other side of Galilee (and Jordan).
It’s a colorful chapter, no doubt.
But one theme I tried to maintain while preaching through Matthew 8 was discipleship.
Beginning in vv. 18-22, our Lord feeds a hard-to-swallow pill to two wannabe disciples. Then He actually takes His real disciples and draws a vivid and historically real picture of what discipleship looks like—trial, death, victory at the end of it all. From life in Capernaum, to trial at Sea, to death in the tombs, and at long last re-emergence unto life in Matthew 9:1—a return to Jesus’ “own city.”
Recently, as I was once more chewing the gum of Matthew 8 between the teeth of my mind, something emerged that I had not yet noticed:
Jesus’ real disciples follow Him onto the boat. In v. 23, there is a clear connection between an active, outward following of Christ with what it means, fundamentally, to be a disciple.
The Text, Discipleship, & Following Jesus
In vv. 18-22, the emphasis of the chapter turns to discipleship.
This become abundantly clear when we consider v. 19, “Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’” The scribe introduces the enduring emphasis from this point on. Our Lord’s response aims at the utter and unapologetic realism of discipleship, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (v. 20) Discipleship is an “unforgiving” environment by worldly standards.
In v. 21 “another of His disciples” asks Him if he can “first go and bury [his] father.” To which Jesus responds, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (v. 22)
Given that “disciple” (μαθητής) describes one who learns or follows, it is appropriate to connect that term here with Jesus’ imperative “follow” (ἀκολουθέω), which is to join or accompany someone. A disciple naturally follows his teacher.
Furthermore, the context clearly sisters these terms together.
The man desiring to bury his father is presumably a disciple. He is called such in v. 21. But he wants to put his goal—following his Master—on hold in order to do something else. This is unacceptable so long as someone considers himself a disciple. A disciple follows, most fundamentally. No matter what value another occupation may seem to have.
In v. 23, something subtle, but pivotal, happens.
Jesus climbs aboard the boat first. The same boat He had allegedly mentioned according to v. 18. The order is important. The Lord goes first. He goes before His disciples. Naturally, of course, His disciples follow Him into the boat, “Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.” (v, 23) This is the second time, along with vv. 22-23, where discipleship is expressly connected to an active life of following Jesus.
The Text, Discipleship, & Baptism
Having established the connection between discipleship and following Jesus, we can now move to the general maritime trajectory of Jesus and His disciples.
The disciples follow their Lord into a boat. The boat sailed directly into a Galilean squall, which Matthew compared to an earthquake (seismos is the Gk. word used to describe the effects of winds and waves). The waves cover the boat according to v. 24. And their destination is southeast from Capernaum, the “other side” of Galilee—and consequently—the other side of Jordan, i.e. the place of the dead.
The geographical significance cannot be missed. Jesus and His disciples “go down” into the place of the dead, i.e. the tombs of the Gergesenes. (cf. vv. 28-34)
And they do so through water. Water that covers their vessel! And water from which only the Lord Himself delivers them, i.e. “Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.” (v. 27)
At this point, the reader is invited to consider the relevance of such a watery deluge on the Sea of Galilee to Jonah, the Flood of Noah and, finally, to baptism—all of which point to redemption from sin and death in Jesus Christ. Again, several layers are no doubt at play in this scene. But it certainly appears as though the Hebrew mind would want to connect the Galilee storm with, at least, Jonah. After all, both Jonah and Jesus are found sleeping on a boat in the midst of a storm. And while the responses of the main characters differ, their surrounding circumstances are nearly identical—down to not only the storm itself, but the responses of the men accompanying them.
But if the other narratives, such as Jonah and Noah, may be connected as parallels to the storm on the Sea of Galilee (and I think they easily can be), then it apparently follows that the storm on the Sea of Galilee is a functional metaphor for baptism. Consider the parallels:
- Noah and his family are delivered by an ark through the water (1 Pet. 3:20, 21)
- Jonah is delivered by a fish through the water (Jon. 1:17ff; Lk. 11:30)
- Jesus’ disciples are delivered by Jesus Himself through the water (Matt. 8:26-28)
If the storm on the Sea of Galilee is a metaphor for the waters of baptism, the natural question ends up being: What immediately preceded that storm? What was the disposition of the disciples before the storm on the Sea?
The answer is found in Matthew 8:23, “Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.” The disciples were determined to follow their Lord leading up to their “immersion” in the Sea of Galilee, which is, not insignificantly, an extension of Jordan, e.g. where our Lord was baptized.
The prerequisite to the “baptism” in the storm on the Sea of Galilee was that the disciples be actual disciples. That is, that they determine to follow Jesus by faith “onto the boat,” so to speak. Apart from this determination, they would have never entered into the storm.
Just as we determine to follow Jesus through a petition to enter the church leading to baptism, so too did these disciples determine to follow Jesus through stepping onto that boat leading, as it were, to baptism.
I understand that this isn’t a knock-down argument for credobaptism.
But the emphasis upon following Jesus as a disciple leading up to their mutual baptism in the Sea of Galilee seems like a noteworthy image related to how we think of the sacrament of baptism. If the image bears any significance upon how we think of baptism, it would seem like we would need to take into account the manner in which the disciples entered upon the Sea and sailed through the storm.
They did so through determining, by faith, to follow their Lord.