Now on one of those days Jesus and His disciples got into a boat, and He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they launched out. But as they were sailing along He fell asleep; and a fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, and they began to be swamped and to be in danger. They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. And He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were fearful and amazed, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?”
Jesus' own family did not follow him constantly like his disciples. We know his mother knew who he was, but his brothers did not believe at this time. After the resurrection, James became a church leader and wrote the book bearing his name. Historians assume Joseph was dead by the time of Jesus' crucifixion. But his family came to check in on him and found crowds so dense that even their credentials could not grant them access.
When the information was passed to Jesus, his response was shocking. But his teaching had been that blood relationships did not matter, listening to and applying the Word of God did. The ties that bind true believers are stronger than any DNA or childhood memories.
With the crowds constantly pressing around him, Jesus came up with creative ways to find rest. Several of his disciples were seasoned fishermen who grew up sailing the Sea of Galilee, likely the setting for our story. Exhausted, Jesus fell asleep in the gently rocking boat as they sailed to the other side.
Because the Sea of Galilee is below sea level and is surrounded by mountains, it is susceptible to sudden storms. It is a relatively small body of water (thirteen miles long, seven miles wide); but it is 150 feet deep, and the shoreline is 680 feet below sea level. Winds sweeping across the land come up and over the mountains, creating downdrafts over the lake. Combined with a thunderstorm that appears suddenly over the surrounding mountains the water stirs into violent twenty-foot waves. The sea can be calm one minute and violent the next.
This sudden storm carries such severity that even the seasoned fishermen are terrified. After all, they likely knew men who had perished in similar storms. The boat becomes swamped with water and is close to capsizing. Fearing death, they shake Jesus to wake Him up. He rebukes them for their lack of faith. After all, he had told them they would be going to the other side. Shouldn't they have trusted his word that they would arrive? He speaks a simple phrase and calms the seas. The disciples are shocked! They have seen Jesus heal disease, cast out demons, and even restore life, but they still cannot wrap their minds around the absolute power of the Christ even over nature. Surely this storm was used by God to strengthen the faith of the disciples for the storms that would rage in their future lives.
Most storms in our life come suddenly, often with a severity that shocks us. It can seem as if God is asleep, caring not if we perish. Or we may be engulfed in a storm of sin which seemed at first a beckoning tranquil breeze. Sometimes God sends the storms to strengthen our faith or to discipline us. Whatever the cause, we cry out to God when the storm becomes something we feel we cannot handle on their own. Just as the disciples did not wake Jesus until they felt they were at the point of perishing, we often try to handle life through our own strength until things spiral out of control. Even though we have the testimony of Scripture and knowledge of how God has worked in our own and others' lives, we can doubt His purpose and plan in the midst of storms.
But even if our faith is great, Jesus may not speak the words that would calm the storms in our own lives. Remember that even in his earthly ministry he did not miraculously feed every crowd, heal every disease, cast out every demon, or turn every funeral procession into a resurrection party. Although everyone he healed had faith, not everyone with faith was healed. But even if the storms continue to rage, never doubt that he is with you in the boat! God often uses the fires of this life to refine us into the image of Christ. One of my favorite songs has the following chorus:
Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn't mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child
I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold
- Psalm 18:1-2