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The thirteenth man

Rembrandt’s famous painting Storm on the Sea of Galilee is an amazing piece of art, but also a representation of a timeless lesson about handling the inevitable storms of life. When I first saw the painting, I recognized the scene as the moment just before Jesus rebuked the wind and calmed the storm that had some of the disciples in a panic. It is a story told in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that is as relevant today as it ever was.


It has always been my assumption that Rembrandt’s painting has thirteen men in it, Jesus and the twelve disciplines. This morning I learned Rembrandt added a fourteenth man in his painting. When I first read about this fourteenth man, I immediately searched online for images of the painting to confirm I had always missed an extra guy in the boat. At first, I was unable to find him. Eventually, I found a reproduction which shows the fourteenth man more clearly that helped me then see him in the original where he is in the dark. Rembrandt painted himself into the scene which accounts for the fourteenth man in the boat, however, he is not the one that is hard to find. The only man looking directly back at you when viewing the painting is Rembrandt. The man I needed help seeing is the one in the dark on the floor of the boat, praying at the feet of Jesus.


I know little about art in general. I do know that Rembrandt is considered a master of the painting technique known as chiaroscuro which involves using light and dark to accentuate details such as emotions on the faces of his characters. If you look on the faces of the disciples who woke Jesus asking, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” you will see their frustration. The five at the front of the boat frantically trying to trim and fix sails have panic on their faces. You can see anguish on the face of the man trying to steer through the storm and fear in the one cowering in the dark to Jesus’ right. The man vomiting has a look on his face that is self-explanatory. The remaining two men whose faces cannot be seen are the man who is sitting down doing nothing and that thirteenth man who was so hard for me to find, the one who chose to lower his head at the feet of Jesus and pray through the storm.


Rembrandt created a piece of art that demonstrates remarkable skill as a painter. More importantly, it represents a valuable reminder about how storms reveal the depth of our faith. In the midst of this current storm that we are all facing now, I want to encourage you to be the thirteenth man and put your faith in Jesus.


As followers of Christ, we are called to be the light of the world, and right now the world is watching to see if our response to everything going on around us is frustration, panic, anguish, fear, apathy, or faith. We do not know when this storm will pass. We do know that His grace abounds in deepest waters and that the most furious storms are powerless when He tells them to be still.



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