Calming the Storm

23Then He got into the boat and His disciples followed Him. 24Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25The disciples went and woke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!" 26He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him!"

We have just finished an episode in which a disciple declared that he would follow Jesus anywhere. Here, in this episode, Jesus’ disciples do follow Him, into a boat to cross the lake. "Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping" (vss. 24). One might wonder, if they had known that the furious storm was coming, would the disciples have been so ready to follow Jesus "wherever He went"? "How many have faith and love enough to forsake all for Christ’s sake, and to follow Him whithersoever He goes, and yet are full of fears in the hour of trial? How many have grace enough to turn to Jesus in every trouble, crying, ‘Lord, save us’, and yet not grace enough to lie still, and believe in the darkest hour that all is well?" [Ryle, 79]. "They were wise to follow Him, and safe in so doing; but they were not therefore secure from trial. In the boat with Jesus is a happy place, but storms may come even when we are there" [Spurgeon, 94]. So, we are reminded by this episode that being a disciple of Jesus is not always a bed of roses. We will experience difficulties and trials, tests of our faith. These difficulties and trials are sanctioned by the Lord. In this episode, Jesus Himself brought the disciples into the trial: "When Jesus saw the crowd around Him, He gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake" (see Matt. 8:18). Trials and difficulties are necessary in order for us ourselves to know just how strong our own faith is. Untested faith is no faith at all. "We never perhaps know the weakness [or strength] of our faith, until we are placed in the furnace of trial and anxiety" [Ryle, 79]. If we pass the test of faith, we learn that our faith is strong, and thus we have more confidence as we face further tests of our faith. If we fail the test of faith, we know that we need to pray fervently that we may be strengthened in our faith, so that when the next test of our faith comes (as it surely will), we may pass it.

When the storm came, the disciples in this episode failed the test of faith: "The disciples went and woke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’" (vss. 25–26). The "furious storm" put the disciples in fear for their lives. They thought they were "going to drown". They must have thought that Jesus didn’t care for them, since He was "sleeping" during such a traumatic time for them. But they should have taken a cue from Jesus’ calmness during the storm. "He was not flurried: His trust in His great Father was so firm, that, rocked in the cradle of the deep, He slept peacefully. Winds howled, and waters dashed over Him; but He slept on" [Spurgeon, 94]. If their Lord was at such peace, they too should have been.

The disciples did, in fact, demonstrate one kind of faith. They showed that they believed that Jesus could save them, for they cried out to Him, "Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!" But alas, their faith was "little". They showed faith in the "seen", but not in the "unseen". They believed that they would be safe if Jesus (whom they saw) would just wake up and do something, but they failed to realize that God (whom they did not see) was in control of the situation all the time. Their fear overwhelmed their faith, and brought panic; whereas, their faith should have overwhelmed their fear, and brought peace. It would be unreasonable to expect that they would not fear at all. In fact, faith is useless unless there is fear. Why would you need faith if you did not fear? So, their feeling of fear was not wrong, and was not deserving of rebuke. On the contrary, fear that is under the control of faith is commendable. The rebuke came because the fear was not under the control of faith. They cried out: "We’re going to drown!" What kind of witness is this? I mean, if there was another boat nearby that looked over and saw Jesus’ disciples screaming, "We’re going to drown!", what would those in the other boat have thought? "Lack of faith among those for whom faith must be central is especially disappointing." [Carson, 215]. Disciples of the Lord of the Universe should not be thrown into a panic, especially when in the presence of their Lord.

Instead of panicking, they should have gone to their Lord and asked about the storm. Quite probably, Jesus would have reminded them that they all were in God’s hands, and that their ministry was far from being completed. Thus, God would certainly protect them from being drowned. The disciples should have realized that, since they were serving God, their lives were in His hands, fully and completely. They had been taught by their Lord that God takes care of the birds of the air (see Matt. 6:26), why would God so carelessly turn His hand of protection away from His Son’s dedicated disciples?

Though He rebuked them, Jesus did answer the prayer of the disciples: "Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm" (vs. 26). And so, after Jesus rebuked the disciples for their "little faith", He "rebuked the wind and the waves." It is interesting that Jesus "rebuked" the wind and the waves. Why "rebuked"? Some infer from this that Satan was somehow behind the storm, and that Jesus was rebuking Satan by rebuking the wind and the waves. I think more likely that Jesus is anthropomorphizing the wind and the waves, scolding them for riling His disciples. Also, by speaking aloud to the wind and the waves, Jesus demonstrated that it was through His power that the storm was calmed. If the storm had just stopped without Jesus speaking to it, some may have doubted that Jesus caused it to stop. As it was, there was no doubt that Jesus stopped the storm, for the storm did not gradually die away, but after He rebuked it, it immediately ceased: "It was completely calm."

I find it interesting that in this episode, we see Jesus as both God and man. We see Him as a man, as He sleeps soundly after an exhausting day of service. We see Him as God in His power over nature, even able to command the wind and the waves. "How perfectly was the Savior’s humanity manifested even when He exercised more than human power. Wearied, in body and in mind, by His labors during the day, He is sleeping on the cushion; the next moment He rises, and speaks to the winds and the waves with the voice of their Creator. So [later] He wept in human sympathy with the sisters of Lazarus, just before He spoke the word that brought him to life" [Broadus, 187].

The reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ manifested power was awe: "The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him!’" (vs. 27). It is ironic, and a little humorous, that the disciples were surprised that Jesus calmed the storm. After all, did they not cry out to Him in expectation that He could save them? This is evocative of the time, recounted in the book of Acts, when Peter was thrown into prison by Herod. Many people gathered together to pray for Peter. An angel, in answer to their prayer, set Peter free. Peter then went to the house where the people were praying and was welcomed by a servant-girl. She ran and told those who were praying that Peter was there. They answered: "You’re out of your mind" (see Acts 12:5-17). This again is the fickleness of faith: we cry out to the Lord for help, and then we are surprised when He is able to help us.

The disciples by seeing Jesus in action, were learning more and more "what kind of man is this." The disciples had seen Jesus’ power over all sorts of disease and affliction. Here, they saw that He had power over all of nature. Note that, if the disciples had not been brought into the storm, they would not have seen "what kind of man is this", they would not have seen demonstrated the mighty power of Jesus over nature.

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