“And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, Save us, Lord we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
The disciples had some faith, or they would not have been following Jesus at all, nor would they have turned to him in their fear, as they do in this story. However, their faith was weak at best. It needed to become strong.
The story is told in each of the Synoptic Gospels (in Mt.8.23-27; Mk.4.35-41; and Lk.8.22-25). Pressed by the crowds who wanted healings more than teaching, Jesus got into a boat to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The sea is about thirteen miles long from north to south and about eight miles wide. Crossing from Capernaum to the Decapolis, therefore, was not a great journey. But Galilee is also 680 feet below sea level, and it is not uncommon for the cold winds of the western mountains to rush down the gullies and whip the waters of the lake into raging violence. This was what happened as the boat carrying Jesus and the disciples crossed the sea. One moment Galilee was calm. The next a furious storm came up, the waves threatened to engulf the vessel, and the disciples were sure they would drown.
Where was Jesus? Surprisingly, Jesus was asleep in the stern, resting on a cushion, as Mark records (Mk.4.38). Jesus must have been exhausted from teaching the crowds, and His fatigue explains why He needed to escape from their selfish clamoring. No matter! Waking Him up, the disciples cried fearfully, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v.38). Jesus did, of course. He spoke to the storm, subduing it, and saved them.
It was right for the disciples to turn to Jesus in their peril. So should we. The problem was not that they turned to Jesus. The problem was that their faith was so small. They were afraid of dying when they should have known Jesus would care for them and preserve them even from the storm. They should have known, as a songwriter said, “No water can swallow the ship where lies the Master of ocean, and earth, and skies.”
Are you afraid of dying? Is death something you fear – or do you see it as God’s fulfillment of His perfect plan?
John Ryle wrote wisely, “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!”
Yet the point of the story is not so much that the disciples’ faith was weak, though it was. Faith must be centered on Jesus, and if it is, even if it is weak, it will be met by Christ’s power. We have already witnessed an example of great faith. The Roman centurion had faith that Jesus could heal his paralyzed servant even without going to his house, and Jesus praised him for it. But there are other people with weak faith who are nevertheless also helped by Jesus. One man cried weakly, “I do believe; help me to overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9.24). He was concerned about his son who had a demon. He was desperate. Jesus took him at his word, rebuked the evil spirit, and healed the boy. What was important was that he came to Jesus and trusted Him as much as he was able.
In the story we are studying, Jesus rebuked the winds and the waves, and in a moment the sea was calm. Even the waves stopped rolling. That provoked the disciples’ utter amazement, and they reacted quickly, asking, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (v.27).
“Much that is wrong on earth can be corrected.… But it takes deity to change the weather,” observed William Hendriksen, and he was right. The psalmist wrote of God, “You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them” (Ps.89.9). We could also read Psalm 29.3-4, 10; 65.5-7; 107.23-32). God pointed to such power himself in his interrogation of Job (38.8-11):
“Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
When I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
When I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, “This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt”?
Since the story ends with the disciples’ question, it is clear that its main point is Christological, that is, it is mostly about Jesus and not merely a story about faith or a lack of it. And what a revealing story! One moment Jesus is asleep in the storm, overcome with exhaustion. He is clearly a normal man. The next moment He is calming the wind and waves, which only God can do. In this story, discipleship, faith, and the person of Jesus come together. The calling of Jesus leads to faith, faith leads those who believe to discipleship, and those who follow Jesus as disciples grow in the knowledge of who He is and all that He can do.