Terror On the High Seas.
Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25
“But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger.” – Luke 8:23 NLT
Imagine the scene. Jesus and His disciples have gotten into a fishing boat. Their intent was to sail across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus, exhausted from another day of ministry to the masses, has fallen asleep. Suddenly a severe storm blows in, whipping up the sea and creating waves big enough to break over the relatively small fishing boat and fill it with water. While a good portion of the men in this boat are professional fishermen, this storm even has them scared. And Luke records, more than likely from eyewitness accounts, that they were in real danger. The boat was taking on water and close to capsizing. For the non-fishermen in the boat, like Matthew, who was just a tax-collector, this had to have been a terrifying experience. This was an intense situation that had the disciples petrified. But there was Jesus, soundly asleep as if nothing was going on at all. So they wake Him up, crying, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” (Mark 4:38 NLT). They begged Him to save them. To them, this was a real, life-threatening situation that required His immediate attention. They were shocked that He could so callously sleep through this entire ordeal.
It’s interesting that each of the Gospel writers records a different response from Jesus. Matthew has Him saying, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” (Matthew 8:26 NLT). But it was said prior to Him calming the storm. Mark writes that Jesus said, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40 NLT). But Mark has Him saying this after He had calmed the storm. Finally, Luke records that immediately after Jesus calmed the storm, He asked the disciples, “Where is you faith?” (Luke 8:25 NLT). What’s going on here? Do we have what are seemingly contradictory records of this event? Where the Gospel writers suffering from poor memory or simply utilizing creative license?
Because I believe the Word of God is divinely inspired, and these individual records of this event are accurate and true, what we really have is a three dimensional view of a single historical event. Each records a slightly different part of the same story, because each is writing to a different audience and has a different objective in mind. But when you piece them all together you get a well-rounded picture of what was really going on that day in the boat. There is no doubt that this was a life-threatening event in the minds of the disciples. They were scared to death. There is no argument that Jesus was asleep in the boat while all this was going on. It would be safe to conclude that the disciples, in their fear, woke up Jesus from a sound sleep to see if He could do anything to help them. I’m not sure they knew what He could do, but they were desperate. All three texts make it clear that Jesus miraculously calmed the storm with just a word. He spoke and the wind stopped, the sea calmed, and the rain ceased. The real question seems to be what Jesus said to them and when. It would appear from Matthew’s account that Jesus questioned their fear and lack of faith immediately prior to calming the storm. Mark and Luke both have Jesus calming the storm, then asking the disciples about the condition of their faith. It would seem likely that Jesus did both. The fact is that the disciples, fearing for their lives, woke Jesus up and had no real expectation of what or how He could do anything to help them. They were fearful and faithless. So He addressed those two problems with a question. Then He showed them the unnecessary nature of their fear and faithlessness by calming the storm. With just a word from His mouth, the storm ceased and they were saved. But they had been in no real danger all along, because they were with Him. The calming of the storm was simply a proof of His power and protective presence. Matthew records that the disciples were amazed at what they had seen Jesus do. Mark picks up the story post-storm and, evidently, the disciples are still struggling with what they had just seen happen. They are probably slack-jawed and dumb-founded. They can’t believe what they have just seen. It was not the outcome they had been expecting. So Jesus addresses their fear and faithlessness again. But this time, He is talking about a different kind of fear. Rather than fear of their own deaths, they fear Him. They are petrified at what they have just seen and who it is that has just done this miraculous thing right before their eyes. But Jesus looks into their hearts and sees their lingering faithlessness. He asks rhetorically, “Do you still have no faith?” He is asking them why their faith is still weak in spite of what they have just witnessed. The word Jesus uses for fear here is a word for timidity. They are cowering. Not before the waves and the wind, but before Jesus. And interestingly enough, Mark records “The disciples were absolutely terrified” (Mark 4:41 NLT). The word for fear here is more intense. It is abject terror. It conveys the idea of fright and flight. They want to run. What they have seen Jesus do scares them more than the storm did. They are absolutely blown away by it all. They even ask among themselves, “Who is this man?” They had seen another side of Jesus that they had not seen before. Even the waves and the wind obey Him. He has power over the elements. He controls nature itself.
But the real issue in this story is their faith. When the waves had calmed and the wind had died down, Jesus asks them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25 NLT). You would think that their faith would have been at an all-time high after what they had witnessed. But according to Jesus, that doesn’t seem to be the case. What Jesus really seems to be asking them at this point is, “In what is your faith placed?” He is questioning the focus of their faith, not the effectiveness of it. They had been putting their faith in the wrong thing. Peter, Andrew, and Simon, as fishermen had grown up putting their faith in their boats and their own ability to handle the high seas of life. But on this day they had learned that their faith had been misplaced. Jesus is asking each of the disciples to consider in what or who they are placing their trust. Their circumstances had revealed the true nature of their faith. They weren’t trusting God. And even after Jesus had calmed the storm, they were still wrestling with trust in who He was and why He had come. Jesus hadn’t come to calm storms, but to conquer sin and death. He hadn’t come to make their lives easier or danger-free, but to equip them to fight spiritual battles and wage warfare with the enemy, armed with faith in the power and protective presence of God. As long as Jesus was in the boat, they had been safe. As long as the Son of God was in their presence, they were well within the will of God. The severity of their circumstances should not have changed the intensity of their faith. But like each of us, they were learning. They were growing. And their faith in Jesus Christ was increasing with each passing day.
Father, there isn’t a day that goes by that You can’t ask me that same question: “Where is your faith?” I misplace my faith all the time. I doubt and fear. I put my trust in the wrong things. I fail to learn from my circumstances and grow in my faith in You. I see You do the miraculous and, rather than rejoice in Your power and abiding presence, I find myself fearing again as soon as things don’t go quite the way I want them to go. But thank You that You are constantly working on my faith and teaching me to trust You more. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men