If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for a while, you know that there may be times when everything isn’t “smooth sailing” in your life. Contrary to what some may think, becoming a Christian doesn’t get people a one-way ticket to an easy, trouble-free existence. In fact, many serious, long-term Christians can tell you that there might even be times when Jesus seems uncaring or unresponsive to the needs of His people.
How can this be? Well, let’s look at one such situation in the lives of Jesus’ disciples and see what it can tell us…
“Then (Jesus) got into a boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly a terrible storm came up, with waves higher than the boat. But Jesus was asleep” (Matthew 8:23-24).
The lake mentioned here is the Sea of Galilee which is also known as the Lake of Gennesaret and Sea of Tiberias in the Scriptures. Fed by the Jordan River, this freshwater lake is almost 13 miles (20 km) long and ranges in depth from 80-160 feet (24-30 m). The lake is also bordered on 3 sides by steep, mountainous cliffs that rise up to 2700 feet (823 m) high.
These characteristics can produce some very unusual weather on the lake. You see, the mountainous cliffs that surround the lake sometimes allow cool winds to rush down the steep cliffs and act on the warm waters of the lake. This can result in violent storms much like the one that we just read about in Matthew 8:24.
So just how bad was the storm reported in Matthew 8:24? Well the word used for “storm” here is the Greek word seismos which refers to a sudden, violent shaking. You might also recognize seismos as the word from which we get our modern-day word seismograph which is a device used to measure earthquakes. So we might go so far to say that the Bible describes this storm as a kind of “earthquake on the water.”
Now we’re told that Jesus was sleeping during this violent storm and we also know from Mark 4:38 that His sleeping place was on a cushion in the stern of the ship. The stern of the ship was the captain’s area, a place that was located away from the splashing waves. So it looks as if Jesus was “asleep at the wheel” while His disciples were desperately struggling through this terrible storm.
Or so it seemed…
“The disciples went to him and wakened him, shouting, ‘Lord, save us! We’re sinking!'” (Matthew 8:25).
You know that this storm must have been really bad because the disciples (some of whom were experienced fishermen) appear to be very afraid. In fact, Mark’s Gospel tells us that the disciples said to Jesus, “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are all about to drown?” (Mark 4:38). To the disciples it seemed like Jesus just didn’t care about them -or the terrible situation that they were in.
Was it true that Jesus didn’t care about what was happening to His disciples? Well it may have seemed that way, but let’s watch what happens next…
“But Jesus answered, ‘O you men of little faith! Why are you so frightened?’ Then he stood up and rebuked the wind and waves, and the storm subsided and all was calm. The disciples just sat there, awed! ‘Who is this,’ they asked themselves, ‘that even the winds and the sea obey him?'” (Matthew 8:26-27).
When you think about it, this storm wasn’t so much a test for Jesus as it was a test for His disciples. Why? Well, their reaction to this storm showed them how little faith they really had in Jesus.
Despite how things may have appeared, Jesus was neither uncaring or unconcerned about His disciples as He clearly demonstrated. As it turned out, Jesus used the opportunity of this terrible storm to strengthen and build the faith of the people who had made the decision to follow Him. You see, the disciples had originally feared the waves and the storm but once they saw a demonstration of Jesus’ ability to work in their situation, they started to have a lot more respect for Him.
This is a good thing to remember when you encounter storms in your own life. When trials and difficulties come into your life, you can react in fear like the disciples or you can trust Jesus to come through for you just as He did in the Scripture that we just read.
Remember that it’s impossible to be pleasing to God without faith (see Hebrews 11:6), so be encouraged- the storms of life represent your opportunity to exercise faith in Jesus.
* This is a quote from Matthew Henry, a pretty good scholar-type guy from the 17th century