STILLING THE STORM — MATTHEW 8: 23–27
Have you ever been well and truly rebuked, and it was right that you were? It doesn’t feel great, it bristles, but eventually you know it was the appropriate thing to have happened to you.
The synoptic gospels, meaning Mathew, Mark and Luke, all record the story of the stilling of the storm. Jesus had just rebuked the impulsive scribe and the half-hearted disciple, and now He rebukes the storms of nature and His fearful crew.
The disciples here become more aware of the awesome power and authority of their Lord. Evidently, when they awaken Him they did not expect to see Jesus’ unparalleled display of power over nature. He exercises authority over nature in the midst of fear and uncertainty.
Let’s get to the story, and there is something I want to highlight now. Jesus said (in verse 18) that they were to all cross over to the other side. On a clear day you can easily see the hills on the other side. On a clear day, with a gentle wind, the crossing is child’s play for experienced fishermen, and there were a few there. After deciding who was ready and willing to follow Jesus to the other side, Jesus closest disciples follow Him into the boat.
When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him Matthew 8:23
Jesus got into the fishing boat his leadership seen in Him getting in the boat first with His disciples willingness to follow Jesus no matter the cost. His disciples were not merely the twelve. Mark mentions (4:36) that other boats followed along also. They followed Jesus not knowing what to expect except an opportunity to hear His Word, to witness His work, and to enjoy His companionship. They did not know what the future held, but were going to learn who holds the future.
Crossing to the other side with Jesus was not going to be easy sailing as we learn:
And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. Matthew 8:24
The Sea of Galilee is an unusual body of water. The pear-shaped lake is small – eight miles wide and 13 miles from north to south but it is only 150 feet deep and is 680 feet below sea level.
Water gushing down from the mountain plateau including the 9,200 feet Mt. Herman, cut deep ravines. These ravines act like great funnels drawing violent wind down from the heights onto the lake without warning.
The word Behold, indicates the suddenness of this storm. All day, not a breath of air, and the sultry heat was like a furnace steaming the air up. A cool breeze as evening comes, is pulled off the mountains into the vacuum created by the super heated air vacating the surface. Faster and faster the displacement takes place until it becomes a gale shooting down the ravines and rushing across the lake. The whipping turbulence catches up the water and waves begin to mount up. White- headed waves crash against the small boat then the wild whistling blast forms billows that, just as our text says, covered the boat with waves. Suddenly storms could stir the water into violent 20 foot waves.
In recent times, waves have been recorded at higher than twenty-five feet. Waves are measured from the back, so we’re talking about a face of perhaps thirty five feet.
The intensity of the wind stirred the sea until the whole boat shook as if experiencing an earthquake. The Greek word used here translated great storm is seismus megas. Recognise our words seismograph and seismology, there?
The severity of the storm is understood because even veteran seamen such as Peter, Andrew, James, and John are bailing water fast as they can and screaming stuff about how they are about to die. It must have been terrifying. Yet, back of the boat, on a cushion, Jesus is fast asleep, seemingly oblivious to impending doom. The little boat is up and down like a toy, nature raging against it. The men are screaming with fear, but our Lord Jesus is calmly sleeping. These verses speak volumes as to the humanity and divinity of Jesus.
He was exhausted, having ministered to the edge of His human strength, which was characteristic. His body, mind, emotions, and spirit were fully drained and He was very, very tired. His deep sleep was also a sign of a calm conscience, a pure heart, and total confidence in His Father.
And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing! Matthew 8:25
The disciples went to Jesus, pleading for deliverance from an imminent death by drowning. Strong and experienced sailors were petrified.
First they panicked because they feared impending death. This suggests a lack of understanding of their mission in life and God’s ability to protect them till they accomplished that mission.
Second they realised that Jesus has power to help. ‘Save us’ strange words, because they are at the same time, words of faith , and expression that they are undoubtedly about to perish.
They knew who to go to, yet they had no real faith in what He could do in such a desperate situation, well, at least He could help them bail water out of the boat.
They put little trust in Jesus’ presence not realising that God in His providence would not let Jesus perish before His time. At that point in time they did not have sufficient faith that Jesus could do anything against this storm, but they were aware of their helplessness, and had started to learn they could depend on Him – which is a key ingredient of faith.
You too may look at life’s storms and not be sure He will or can do anything. Learn a lesson from these disciples who were willing to go to the other side with Jesus. Trust Him, go to Him, admit the situation is out of your control, and ask for His saving help. He controls both the storms of nature and the storms of a troubled heart. Jesus’ has power not only to calm this storm but also the power to calm whatever problems, no matter how out of control, we face. Jesus is willing to help, if only we ask Him. We should never discount His power no matter the severity of the trial.
I wonder if you notice that Jesus rebukes his fearful disciples before He rebukes the storm: He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. Matthew 8:26
Jesus took two actions when they woke him up. He did not immediately responding to their plea for deliverance from the storm, rather, Jesus first rebuked the disciples, then He rebuked the sea. The disciples’ fears were heightened by circumstances beyond their control, a slight excuse, because fear pushes out reason, but their faith had to be strengthened by this lesson so Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith.
The disciples had a little faith. What do you think that means?
They had confidence in Him until they experienced things that according to their knowledge of the sea would surely bring death.
Faith contends with problems beyond our control by engaging God’s power. They judged Jesus on the basis of their immediate circumstances and needs rather than upon the power and authority already seen in Him. They failed to realise that Jesus’ power was greater than this newly encountered threat and danger. Their faith was also little with regard to His love and care for them. They judged His concern based on the comfort and apparent safety of their circumstances. The less safe and comfortable their immediate circumstances the weaker their faith. The most critical need of Jesus’ disciples is the strength and quality of their faith, and this is in direct proportion to the depth and accuracy of their perception of Jesus, the object of their faith.
So Jesus chides them, He called them fearful cowards and challenges them to return to faith in Him and grow in it.
He does not find fault because they are afraid, he rebukes them because this their fear has covered their faith. The lamp of faith is smoking and the wick needs to be trimmed. The spark of faith is dim and He blows on it so that it may flame up.
Some people struggle with a Christ of harsh tones, but here they are in Scripture, and the thing about them is they are always meant for good results. He wants our faith in Him to gain control over our panicked spirits. Jesus quickly moves from rebuking His disciples imperfect faith, to the action of grace, and he’ll do the same for for any of us.
He stood up in a boat being tossed around and flooded by the waves and rebuked, literally commanded, the winds and the sea. Mark records the words of command as “Hush be still,” literally be silent, be muzzled!” He makes it sound personal, he makes it sound like this wind and sea must simply listen to him.
The result of His command is that the wind and sea became perfectly calm. Matthew’s statement simply says “great calmness came.” It was complete and immediate. From rolling waves to Not even an after swell disturbed the placid calm water, just like that. The gale instantaneously dropped, where here a great storm was, now a great calm. Normally after the wind dies down the undulating water will continue to surge and subside but supernatural calm comes over a previously out of control nature.
Jesus demonstrates His absolute authority over the natural world. He is God, after all, and this reminds us over many places in the Old Testament why we see God exercise control over nature.
(Pss 65:7; 89:8–9; 107:23–32; Isa 51:9–10; Jonah 1:1–16).
When we are frightened, we should pray to God, but our Lord has a right to expect that those who name His Name should have understanding and confidence in Him.
God expects His children to be so confident in Him that in any crisis they are the reliable ones. Often we trust God up to a certain point, then revert to the panic prayers of those who do not know God. We get to our wits’ end, showing that we do not have confidence in Him and His governing His world. He seems to be asleep, and we see nothing but huge waves around us.
“You men of little faith!” That must have stung those disciples – ‘I Missed it again!’ We get the same sting when we realise that we have missed putting overflowing joy in the heart of Jesus by remaining absolutely confident in Him, no matter what was ahead.
When there is no storm, no crisis, we are at our human best. It is when a crisis arises that we instantly reveal upon whom we rely. If we have been learning to worship God and to trust Him, a crisis reveals that although we reach breaking point, we keep our confidence in Him. We’re the disciples amazed? It is recorded in verse 27.
The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” Matthew 8:27
One second an intense storm, the next second, total calm, is hard for us who have not experienced nature’s fury or God’s calm to imagine. The effect is understandable. As they began to think through what they had witnessed, they understood they were in the presence the One whose power and authority was greater than the raging storm came over them [Mark 4:36–41].
Their question, “What kind of man is this?” is powerful.
These disciples had just experienced even more of the nature and power of Jesus, as they had witnessed One whose rebuke was sufficient to bring nature into perfect peace, someone unique among all human beings.
Many earthly things can be corrected. Mothers dry tears, engineers fix damaged technology, surgeons can intervene with incredible accuracy, but the weather – who can control it? This is no mere man. Though exhausted, he wakes and calms the wind and the seas. The disciples haves seen many miracles, but now a fog clears from their minds and they see the person – far more than His miracles- who was extraordinary. This man they had been following, was far greater than they had really understood before.
As we of little faith follow Jesus and see Him respond to our fearful requests we should marvel too, and realise He is so much more than we ever imagined.
Jesus used raging storm to demonstrate His power, and He challenged them to strengthen their little faith. Today, he wants to do exactly the same thing in your life, if you will turn to Him and ask for His solution to the fearful storm of life you are experiencing.
Disciples must be focused on the power of Jesus, not the power of life’s “storms,” which sometimes threaten to overcome us.
Sometimes it feels like Jesus is “asleep,” unaware of our difficulties, but He is able to handle the difficulties easily, as His followers maintain faith in Him.
We must realise that Jesus, the object of our faith, is able to get us to “the other side of the lake.”
One day the voyage to the other side of life will be completed, as will the frequent storms we encounter on the seas of time, and we will make the safe harbour of eternity with God. But in our time this side of heaven, we must better understand this Man who leads us to the other side.
As certainly as He did then, He will calm the storms of life for us. Sometimes he will calm the storm, and sometimes he will calm us. See the storms as the testing of your faith – will you cry out to Jesus, even if faith is commingled with fear – because your Lord will come with peace in His wings and calm the storm, either inside or outside, or both. Amen.