Today's meditation is on Jesus calming the windstorm in MT 8:18-27, MK 4:35-41, and LK 8:22-25.
Jesus had been teaching the crowds, as well as the disciples, about the power of seeds to bear fruit all that day (Mark 4:35). He explicitly told the disciples that the seeds are His word (Mark 4:14), and then he urged them to take heed of what they heard and to value it (Mark 4:24-25), because those seeds that land on “good ground” would produce thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. But those that land on the path, among stones, or among thorns will be stolen or choked: “even what he has will be taken away from him” (Mark 4:25).
Remember, Jesus’ word is the seed, containing the power in itself to bring the word to pass, just as the seed contains power within itself to germinate into life when placed in the right soil. His word concerning the lake was, “Let us cross over to the other side” (Mark 4:35). Not let’s go halfway and drown!
Because Jesus is confident that his word will come to pass, he goes to sleep—which itself is quite a feat. Have you ever been on a boat during a windstorm? Even without the sea spray, which may or may not have splashed Jesus as he slept (he was in the stern, but we don’t know if there was any sort of structure over him as he slept), I can’t imagine sleeping through that. Even if he wasn’t getting splashed by each wave, the boat was filling up, so it’s unlikely Jesus was totally dry. But he’d been teaching all day and presumably was exhausted—or, maybe he knew the windstorm was coming, and wanted to test the disciples to see if they had grasped what he’d been teaching all day. He knew his calling as Messiah was to die for our sins on a cross, not to drown in a boat. He knew they would be fine, whether there was a storm or not, and whether he rebuked that storm or not.
But the disciples were fishermen by trade. They would have had a lot of experience with storms, and this may have added to their unbelief. Presumably they knew the difference between a no-big-deal windstorm, and the kind that sinks boats like theirs. Jesus’ word may have, in their minds, paled in comparison to what they knew in their natural minds and from their past experiences. They were doing everything they knew to do to weather the storm, and they were still losing.
At last they woke up Jesus with the accusation, “Don’t you care that we perish?” The implication here seems to be, “You should be helping! You’re not pulling your weight!” Presumably they wanted him to help bail water, though, not to calm the storm with a word! If they had expected the latter, they would not have been so terrified when the wind and the waves do obey him (Mark 4:41).
I think the disciples were only thinking of the immediate danger when they asked this question. They probably were not thinking that Jesus would survive to carry on his mission, but they would die. I suspect in the throes of the storm, when they said “don’t you care that we perish,” they included Jesus in that “we.” Had they taken him at his word of “let us go to the other side,” and considered it as a statement of fact, perhaps they might have considered more possible nuances of the statement: “us” might mean all the boats crossing with theirs (as there were multiple: Mark 4:36), or it might mean just the boat Jesus was on, though the others might be lost… or it might mean Jesus plus a select few survivors who floated to shore on flotsam beside him. I’ve heard all of these as possible interpretations of the disciples’ question: sure, Jesus, maybe you’ll be fine, but what about the rest of us? Do we have any guarantees?!
I doubt the disciples meant any of this, though. In the adrenaline of the moment, I suspect they had forgotten Jesus said anything about their survival at all. Their natural unbelief had completely taken over, they were overwhelmed with trying to keep from sinking or capsizing, and they were furious that they had another crew member who wasn’t helping—who was sleeping, of all things! In a way, their indignation reminds me of Martha’s frustration with Mary when she sat at Jesus’ feet, rather than helping with the cooking. Not life-and-death, obviously, but it’s still the implication of, “I’m overwhelmed with work, and you’re just sitting there being lazy! How dare you!” In reality, of course, Mary’s choice placed higher value on what really mattered. Jesus’ peace even unto sleep was a physical manifestation of his faith. (He’d also been ministering all day, and would be again the next day, and he probably needed his rest—storm or no!)
When the disciples do finally rouse Jesus, he commands the sea in Greek to siopao and phimoo: to hush or be silent, and to muzzle or make speechless. From a poetical standpoint, it’s interesting to consider that the sea and the waves were speaking until this point. What were they saying? “You are perishing!” was their message to the disciples. They were flatly contradicting the earlier words of Jesus: “Let us cross over to the other side.” The disciples believed the words of the waves—the words of their natural circumstances—rather than the words of Jesus. That is the definition of unbelief.
It also appears that until the disciples woke him, Jesus had no intention of calming the storm. He was going to just sleep through it! Presumably he calms it for the sake of the disciples—and then he rebukes them. “Why are you so fearful?” he demands. “How is it that you have no faith?” Fear is the opposite of faith: in this case, it’s putting “faith” in the words of the circumstances, rather than in the words of Jesus. He was probably extra frustrated because he’d just spent all day talking about how words are seeds, and they contain in them the power of the kingdom of God to bring themselves to pass—if mixed with faith. Then he gave them a word that should have been all they needed to get through this storm. He expected them to weather the storm in faith, as he himself was doing.
He probably did not yet expect them to speak to the wind and the waves themselves, though, because even though they had already seen Jesus command nature a few times (when he turned water into wine, and when Peter caught massive amounts of fish the first time they met), he had not yet fed the 5000 or the 4000, placed the coin in the fish’s mouth, cursed the fig tree, or walked on water. He also had not yet given power to the disciples to heal sickness or cast out evil spirits (that was in Matthew 10:1). So even though Jesus later says that his followers will do greater things than he had done (John 14:12), he says this only just before he goes to the cross, and then he tells the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they receive the power of the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t want them to go out and try to do all these great works in their own strength.
All this suggests to me that Jesus is not frustrated with the disciples that they did not command the winds and the waves themselves. He’s frustrated that they did not rest in confidence that they would survive the storm, however tumultuous things looked in the moment—simply based on the power of his word.
Today, we as believers have the power to do both: to speak to any mountain that stands in the way of what God has promised or called us to do (Mark 11:23), but also to rest in the middle of the storm, knowing that “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Once the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they had to fight the giants, but ultimately God’s intention was for them to enter His rest. He still has that rest for us today (Hebrews 4:9-10), for all who mix God’s words with faith.
Fictionalized Retelling (from Peter’s POV)
It was dusk. The crowds, who had hung on Jesus’ every word that day, reluctantly dispersed after he dismissed them. Then he turned to us, and indicated the sea at our backs.
“Let us cross over to the other side,” he said, with a heavy sigh. He looked exhausted, and it was no wonder: he’d been teaching for about twelve hours in the hot sun, and hardly pausing to eat or drink. I was exhausted, and I hadn’t done half of what he had done. I might have suggested we sleep in our boats on shore, except that I suspected the only reason the crowds had dispersed at all was because they thought Jesus was leaving. If we stayed where we were, I wouldn’t put it past them to mob us even in the night. We had no choice: we had to set sail.
The thirteen of us had come in four small vessels. Jesus climbed aboard mine, along with James and John, and we pushed off first. I tried not to notice the ominous stillness of the water as the other disciples set out from shore in our wake. I told myself I was being silly, until John joined me at the helm.
“It doesn’t look good, does it?” he murmured. I looked up sharply.
“I hoped it was just me!”
But John shook his head. “I’ve seen this enough times. So have you. I just hope it holds off long enough for us to get to shore.”
“Hey!” James called to us, as he put up the sails. “Little help here?”
John and I went to do as we were bid, but I looked around for Jesus. He had disappeared. I frowned, pointing at the stern, which was the only structure on board.
“Is he in there?”
James nodded. “He said he’s going to catch some shut-eye, as much as he can. No doubt he’ll be mobbed on the other shore in the morning too.”
“Assuming we get there,” I muttered under my breath, looking around with apprehension. Sure enough, the wind had started to pick up. I heard the high-pitched howl I so disliked, and within minutes, the water went from glass to pitching from side to side.
“Doesn’t look good, fellas,” called James, “man your posts!”
We did, as the wind rose higher and louder, and the waves pitched the little boat like it was a toy. We weren’t making any forward progress, and within about twenty minutes, we were soaked to the bone. More than once I reflexively glanced back at the stern. The door was still shut, though surely the deck inside was just as wet as we were out here.
“How can he sleep through this?” John shouted at me.
I shook my head, intending to reply but spluttering instead as I inhaled seawater.
Water splashed into the boat once, twice, three times—then we lost count. It rose on the deck until it was up to our ankles, and then halfway to our knees. We hung on to keep from sliding into the water ourselves, all three of us bailing water when we were upright as hard as we could.
It was obvious to all of us that it was an exercise in futility, though. For every bucket we bailed, the sea returned ten more to us.
“We’re going to drown!” James shouted. “Where is Jesus? Why isn’t he helping?”
“Will it matter?” John cried.
“It might! Every extra pair of hands counts!” The wind cut off his next words, but I thought he said, “Peter, you’re closest, you go wake him up!”
I slipped on the deck as it pitched almost a full ninety degrees to one side—or at least that’s how it felt. The slap of the boat back down on the waves catapulted me forward so that I slammed into the structure in the stern. I managed to pry the door open, letting in a cascade of water with me. Then I couldn’t hold it, and slid all the way to the back of the stern, slamming my shins into the cot where Jesus slept.
He was still sleeping. Somehow his head had not even left his pillow, though the pillow was sopping wet. He looked completely at peace, like a child.
For a moment, indignation overwhelmed my fear. I reached out and shook him by the shoulders.
“Teacher!” I shouted, “do you not care that we are perishing?”
Jesus sucked in a breath, a sign that he had regained consciousness. He blinked at me blearily, and then took in our surroundings. What was the expression on his face? Was that… irritation?
Without responding to me directly, Jesus sloshed through the water to the door of the stern and threw it open, somehow keeping his balance perfectly. Then he bellowed, “Peace, be still!”
The howling ceased at once. The waves began to settle down too, expending the last of their momentum until they smoothed out into the same almost eerie stillness they had been when we set out. I followed him outside, to see with my eyes what I felt and heard. Sure enough, the water was now smooth as glass.
Then he turned to me, a stern look on his face.
“Why are you so fearful?” he demanded. He directed his next question at James and John, who stood stupefied on the still waterlogged deck. “How is it that you have no faith?”
Without waiting for a response, he turned and went back into the stern, shutting the door behind him—presumably to go back to sleep.
None of the three of us moved for what felt like a long time. At last, John whispered, his full voice suddenly sounding too loud in the great calm, “Who is this, that even the winds and the waves obey him?”
We all exchanged a terrified look, far more afraid now of the man in the stern than we had been of the storm a few moments before.
There could be only one answer.