Scripture: 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?” Matthew 8:23-27 ESV
Observation: Having warned a scribe and a would-be disciple of the cost of discipleship, Jesus enters the boat, and his faithful disciples follow him without question or qualification. Interestingly, the Greek word for “follow,” akoloutheo, is a synonym for discipleship (see Matthew 4:20 and 22). So Matthew employs a play on words here to connect “discipleship” with following Jesus.
Being fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James, and John would have been familiar with the Sea of Galilee’s volatile weather dynamics and how to navigate storms. So they set sail toward their destination (the southeast shore of the Gadarenes, as revealed in verse 28) while allowing Jesus to catch up on sleep. But a sudden gale sweeps over the hillside of this inactive volcanic basin downward to the lake some 600 feet below sea level and forms large waves that swamp the boat—provoking fear of drowning in the Twelve. So they frantically wake Jesus from his slumber and plea, “Kyrie, sōson,” literally, “Lord Save!”
As this brief narrative continues, Jesus does not take immediate action. He first questions why they are afraid and admonishes them for failing to demonstrate faith (implying faith in his and his Father’s goodness). He then stands upright and rebukes the storm, for indeed, the disciples’ good and gracious “Lord saves”—not just the Twelve but all his faithful followers at Calvary.
Takeaway: Having seen Jesus heal a leper, a mother-in-law with a severe fever, and many others with infirmities, including the demon-possessed, his disciples were fully aware of his miraculous powers. Nevertheless, his breathtaking display of authority over the forces of nature both excites and perplexes them. The Greek word translated as “marveled” above is thaumazō, and its meaning conveys “a lack of clear understanding.” In this instance, it pertains to Jesus’ identity, for they still fail to understand that Jesus is not only a man but God incarnate. And they will not fully grasp his two-fold nature until the resurrection.
So what’s the takeaway for us? As D.A. Carson contends, Matthew and Mark include this story in their Gospel accounts to set faith over fear, which is why Jesus repeatedly brings up this issue with his disciples. Undoubtedly, fear left unchecked diminishes our faith, but when we nurture our faith through Scripture, prayer, worship, and obedience to his will, those elements of life that typically provoke paralyzing fear no longer grip us. As mentioned in a prior Daily Focus, Pastor Tim Keller is battling pancreatic cancer. Last year, during a podcast, the host asked Tim about his biggest struggle. Surprisingly, Tim said that the sin of fear poses his greatest challenge. Why? Because it diminishes his faith in God’s goodness, which he so desperately needs to win the battle of his thought life as he navigates cancer therapy protocol.
The same is true for you and me. Threatening trials are inevitable, but how we respond is manageable. A friend once shared with me that while staying at a bed-and-breakfast in England, he observed a plaque over the toilet that read, “Why pray when you can worry?” The irony of this reversed Christian slogan is memorable. We often turn to prayer as a last resort, but it should be our first approach. Indeed, when the disciples cried, “Save us, Lord,” they exercised a modicum of faith that Jesus could save them. Thus, they were effectually praying. But did they first try to bail water from the boat, or did they immediately wake Jesus and seek his help? Regardless, all of us will fair better the sooner we seek Jesus in prayer—even if we lack faith and preface our prayer with our doubts, like the father of the epileptic son who cried out to Jesus, “Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24 ESV). And as the author of Hebrews reminds us, when we do, we will receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Prayer: Father God, we are truly grateful for your Son who saved us from sin’s death sentence and now, with the Holy Spirit, intercedes to you on our behalf. So would you please help us to avail faith-building prayer to overcome our fears so that we might trust in your goodness and receive your mercy and grace to help us when distressed? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling