Within literary works (and the Bible is no exception to this) creative authors will often use the natural world in order to illustrate spiritual principles. For example… The changing of the seasons can represent the life-cycles of the human experience. Spring rains can represent the blessings of the divine — while summer drought can be emblematic of His displeasure.
A successful harvest can symbolize the positive results of God’s favor manifesting from one’s obedience — while a severe famine can be illustrative of a divine judgment yielded by one’s brazen disobedience. Fruitfulness and fertility can signify internal health and vitality — while barrenness and fruitlessness can indicate death or be a warning of a much deeper ill.
The reason this technique is so common centers on the reality these natural world occurrences are relatable to all. I mean virtually every human — irrespective of country, class, or ethnicity — living on this dust bowl called earth, held utterly captive to the fickle sway of forces beyond their control, practically understands these literary connections.
In line with this idea, when studying the Bible, you should keep in mind physical storms represent difficult times, trying seasons, or even a stretching set of circumstances. And yet, while true, not all storms arise for the same reason or with the same divine intent.
In Scripture you’ll find two different types of storms: First, there are what I call Storms of Disobedience! Because of a person’s sin, rebellion, or poor choices, God allows a storm into your life for the express purpose of correction. These are storms of your own making. Ironically, since this is the case, Storms of Disobedience are largely avoidable.
A perfect example of this type of storm presented in the Bible would be the one recorded in the Book of Jonah. God called Jonah to go and deliver a message to Nineveh. In an act of defiance Jonah boarded a boat and sailed the opposite direction. As a result, a great tempest arose dooming the ship to destruction. Jonah is ultimately thrown overboard, swallowed by a great fish, only to be spit up on a coastal road heading to Nineveh.
The second type of storm you’ll come across in the Bible are what I like to refer to as Storms of Obedience! These storms don’t manifest as a consequence of anything you did or didn’t do. They aren’t a divine judgment of any kind. Instead, they rise naturally and often suddenly — sometimes as nothing more than a result of living in a fallen world.
A perfect example of this type of storm would be the story of a man named Job. At no fault of His own God allows into Job’s life incredible calamity and hardship. In one day he looses everything and everyone he loves. Astonishingly, he resists the urge to curse or blame God. In the end, this man is never told why he’d suffered so, but God does reveal Himself to Job through a profound exchange. The storm passes and his life is restored in full.
In the Bible these Storms of Obedience are often referred to as “trials” or “tribulations.” In James 1:2-4 we’re provided the daunting exhortation, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
In the end great tempests come in all different kinds of shapes and sizes… A car accident or some tragedy takes someone you love. You receive a cancer diagnosis or are left to endure a nagging chronic illness. Maybe you face a season where you have to navigate the declining health of parents. Others face situations where they struggle to love and minister to a prodigal child. Relationships experience storms when marriages get rocky or a breakup happens. Presently, we all find ourselves in the great tempest of global pandemic.
At no fault of our own this hidden enemy known as the Coronavirus has quickly flipped our world upside down. In just a few short weeks many of you have seen thousands of dollars evaporate from your retirement fund or 401K. Your children aren’t allowed to see their friends or attend school. The enjoyment we all find in youth athletics, professional sports, or going to see a movie have stopped. Churches have been forced to livestream!
What is sad about the storm we are all enduring is that social distancing has left many to face this crisis alone at home. Shelter-in-place orders have ruined businesses, upended our way of living, thrown our economy into peril, and leaving many unemployed and their future uncertain. Aside from this, there are the obvious health concerns. Beyond our personal health or that of our kids, we’re all worrying about the elderly and those at greater risk.
What’s interesting about storms — whether they manifest as a consequence of one’s poor decisions or they unexpectedly swoop in at no fault of our own — is that God is always in control of the weather! Now to be fair it’s easier to wrap your mind around storms of your own making and even see their divine purpose. And yet, it’s much more difficult to understand why God would allow a great tempest into your life you didn’t warrant.
In Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, and in Luke 8:22-25 we have recorded for us such a storm! At no fault of their own the disciples find themselves in a sudden crisis. While Jesus had given them a command they faithfully carried forth, without warning they now find themselves in a tempest so great they aren’t sure they were going to make it through alive.
While this storm will push the faith of these men to the brink not only will Jesus prove Himself more than able, but in the end He’ll teach them a valuable lesson very relevant for you and I this morning. In order for you to get the complete record of events I’ve taken the liberty to harmonize the three Gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
“Now it came to pass on a certain day, when evening had come and they had left the multitudes, that Jesus went into a ship and His disciples followed Him. And He said to them, ‘Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.’ So they took Him along in the boat as He was and they launched forth. And other little boats were also with Him.
As they sailed Jesus fell asleep on a pillow in the stern of the boat and there came down suddenly a great windstorm on the lake and arose a great tempest in the sea. As Jesus slept the waves beat into the boat insomuch that the ship was covered over with the waves so that it was already filling with water and they were in jeopardy.
And His disciples came to Jesus, and awoke Him, saying, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing? Master, Master, we perish. Lord, save us!’ So He arose and rebuked the wind, the raging of the water, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind and raging water ceased and there was a great calm.
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’ But the disciples feared exceedingly, were filled with amazement, and wondered, saying to one another, ‘What manner of man is this! Who can this be, that He commands even the winds, water, and the sea and they obey him?’”
This particular story begins, “When evening had come.” For context, Jesus has just spent an entire day tirelessly ministering to the multitudes outside the town of Capernaum located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Sensing it was time to push on into new areas which was normal for Jesus, He tells the disciples, “Let us cross over to the other side.”
As the movie reel turns in your mind realize the Sea of Galilee is not very big at all. In fact, it’s only about 7 miles wide and 14 miles long. For a crew of men who’d grown up on these waters (many of Jesus’ disciples had been fishermen by trade) this particular journey wouldn’t have taken any more than a few hours sailing under the right conditions.
Pursuant to His instruction, as the multitudes are being sent home for the evening, the disciples prepare one of their boats to make the short trip. Once ready, they all load up, the sails are hoisted, and the boat begins slicing through the glassy water under the moonlight.
Within our text there is a subtle but important detail to what’s happening you might have missed upon first glance… Jesus’ initial command to the disciples was simple. He didn’t demand they take Him to the other side. Instead, Jesus said, “Let us cross over to the other side!” What’s inferred is that Jesus had every intention of helping in the process.
And yet, the Gospel writers are specific this didn’t end up being a joint effort. We’re told, “They took Him along in the boat.” What’s implied by the authors is that because Jesus was their Master and a greenhorn to boot (don’t forget Jesus was a carpenter by trade and had little to no experience on the water), instead of allowing Him to help as He desired, it would appear the disciples direct Jesus to just sit back and stay out of their way.
I love the fact Jesus didn’t argue. Since they were refusing His help, He’d utilize the opportunity to rest. We read Jesus leaves the deck, proceeds down into the “stern” in the back of the ship, in order to get some shuteye “on a pillow.” The Greek phrase “a pillow” or “the pillow” presents the idea Jesus was specifically sleeping in the captain’s quarters.
Imagine the scene... After a long day jammed full of ministry, Jesus and His men are in this boat gliding effortlessly across peaceful water under the propulsion of a gentle breeze coming out of the north. The men are on deck tending to the sails with Jesus fast asleep below. As disciples they find a measure of satisfaction knowing for once they didn’t need Jesus’ help as they were more than qualified to navigate such familiar waters on their own.
It’s safe to assume, refreshed by the warm air emanating off the sea on what was likely to be a cool evening, these men were busy discussing the events of the last few days. How awesome that Jesus had chosen them to be His disciples! They’d been given a front row seat for the incredible! All was calm and in just another hour or so they’d pull into port. None of them could have imagined what was about to occur — A Great Tempest was brewing!
In the harmonizing of the three separate accounts of this evening, the one detail each man would never forget was the suddenness of what happened next. Without any warning this calm night was immediately overtaken by sheer and utter chaos. You see the glassy waters instantly swelled tossing their boat to and fro. The gentile breeze quickly surrendered to a torrential gust now threatening to rip the sail from the mast.
The warmth of the water was now suppressed by the frigid air sweeping down from the surrounding mountains. The moon illuminating the night sky was abruptly concealed from view by storm clouds now pounding these men with a horizontal rain. Their ability to communicate was hindered by the great roar of thunder. With each crash of lightening these seasoned fishermen could see the horror and panic developing on everyone’s faces.
It’s been said, “The Sea of Galilee gets its name because it’s a lake that behaves like a sea!” Because the body of water is situated 600 ft below sea level and surrounded by mountains, these type of violent, unpredictable storms were common. It’s safe to assume, being raise on this lake since they were boys, men like Peter, Andrew, James, and John would have likely navigated their fair share of storms. And yet, from their own accounts, it didn’t take long for these men to realize this was not your typical Galilean tempest!
In fact, the Greek word “tempest” is seismos from which we get our English word seismic. Every other place this word is used in the Bible it’s translated as earthquake. The idea is this storm was not only the result of “a great windstorm” coming off the surrounding peaks stirring the water from above, but a violent shaking was also rattling the sea from below.
The winds instantly eliminated their ability to control the boat leaving them to the mercy of the churning swells of the waves. The darkened sky removed any chance to potentially navigate back to shore. The blasts of thunder and the deafening crashes of lightening made it impossible to hear or communicate. The unrelenting rain restricted their ability to see. You can understand why “they were in jeopardy.” The storm placed their lives in great danger!
Again, as I play out the scene in my mind… Knowing what I know of these disciples, in spite of such dire conditions, there was no quit in their spirit! These men were in a fight. Aside from this, Jesus had given them an order and they were determined to follow through. Failure was not an option! Disoriented by the swirling wind and overwhelming darkness these men fought hard to keep the boat from turning sideways and capsizing.
With each wave that crashed over the bow knocking them all from their feet and sliding them across the deck, these men would quickly scramble back to their stations to brace the mass to withstand another inevitable impact. As the rains continued to pour down on these disciples they remained tenacious to bail water in an attempt to keep the vessel afloat.
How long these men valiantly braved the elements we are not told. That said, at some point they all slowly succumb to an inevitable fate. Not only were they loosing the battle, they’d lost! The boat was sinking and there was nothing they could do to save themselves.
At this point in our story these men finally decide to have a powwow with Jesus who’s still asleep in the stern. We read, “And Jesus’ disciples came, and awoke Him, saying, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing? Master, Master, we perish. Lord, save us!’”
There are a few things we take draw from what these men say to Jesus… First, they’re willing to acknowledge the reality of their situation. They told Jesus they didn’t need His help to sail to the other side of the lake, but now that things have spun out of their control in spite of their best attempts to mitigate the disaster they conceded, “We are perishing!”
Secondly, to their credit these men affirm their belief Jesus could save them! In the end their appeal was straightforward, but genuine. “Lord, save us!” Most amazingly, these men questioned not Jesus’ ability to save nor did they doubt His authority. Over the course of the past few months they’d seen enough to know Jesus had the power to save them.
Lastly (and be hesitant before you judge them to harshly), these disciples were audacious enough to accuse Jesus of not caring! Look again at the first words out of their mouths when they wake Him… “Do You not care that we are perishing?” The implication of such an accusation was that these disciples believed Jesus knew what was happening on deck and yet was still refusing to help them! “Jesus do you not care what’s going on?”
I love what follows… In response to their question (“do you care?”), statement (“we are perishing.”), and appeal (“Lord, save us!”) we read, “Jesus arose and rebuked the wind, the raging of the water, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still (basically, be silent and stay that way)!’ And instantly, “The wind and raging water ceased and there was a great calm. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’”
To really understand what’s happening try your best to picture this playing out in real time… These fatigued, frazzle, and fearful disciples stammer down into the stern of the ship completely freaking out. They rudely wake Jesus who’s enjoying a good nap only to then accuse Him of not caring they were all going to die before pleading with Him to intervene.
Now from the plain reading of the text it’s clear Jesus has little to no concern about the storm itself. He exhibits zero panic about the growing crisis. He doesn’t feel threatened by what’s going on. Jesus is not even worried the stern was quickly filling with water. In fact, the way He handles the situation, with this group of disciples loosing it in front of Him, illustrates the fact this tempest was really nothing more than an afterthought at best.
Have you ever been woken from a good sleep by a child or spouse so upset they’re running their mouth a million miles an hour? If you’ve experienced this you know the immediate fog of slumber makes it very hard to focus and make out what they’re frantically trying to tell you. Add to this dynamic a great tempest outside and you can understand Jesus’ actions.
What’s the first thing Jesus does when they wake Him up and are attempting to explain the situation? We’re told, “Jesus arose.” I can see Him rubbing the sleep from His eyes, standing up to stretch and yawn, walking past these men staring at Him, lumbering up a few stairs so He could poke His head outside, before “rebuking the storm.” This Greek verb “rebuke” would be akin to a parent raising their voice to a child and saying, “Stop it!”
Then, almost as if it’s all a nuisance, Jesus also proceeds to command the sea to be silent and stay silent. “Stop it and shut up for a moment. I can’t hear what these guys are trying to tell me!” Immediately, these natural forces obey their Creator. The boat stops swaying. The howl of the wind, thunderous roars, and crashes of lightening cease. The pounding rain ends. Everything is completely calm as Jesus walks back down the stairs, faces these men, and asks, “Why are you so fearful?” “Guys, what’s all the fuss about?”
This is funny to me! If you’re one of these men, what could you possibly say? Each of them are beyond exhausted, totally waterlogged, genuinely afraid. At this point they’re standing there looking at each other in amazement. The thing very they feared was going to do them in no longer existed! At this moment their fear now seemed rather ridiculous!
It’s at this point we realize, as these disciples did that evening, the storm was never really the issue nor was their fear of perishing! Instead, the pressing concern was their fear in the storm had revealed a lack of faith in Jesus! After asking them, “Why are you so fearful?” Jesus continues, “How is it that you have no faith?”
The question we need to consider is what did they have a lack of faith in… What was the essence of their unbelief? Did these men doubt Jesus’ ability to “save them?” No! In fact, this was their appeal… They cried out, “Master, we are perishing. Lord, save us!”
What you should realize is that, in the end, what the storm really called into question was whether or not they believed Jesus actually cared about them! It’s why their first words or literally prayer to Jesus in this crisis was, “Do You not care that we are perishing?”
As we seek to unpack the grand lesson of this particular story and gain insight into what Jesus is trying to teach us in the great tempests we face, we must be clear the storm they faced that night on the Sea of Galilee was not one of disobedience, but one of obedience. Jesus commanded the disciples to enter the boat and set sail to the other side. These men were being obedient when they found themselves in this storm.
Ultimately, this is what makes Storms of Obedience so challenging. Because we don’t do anything to cause the storm, we’re often left wondering why the storm is happening. Like these men tempests leave us asking why God would allow them in the first place?
I have found storms shake my faith not in who Jesus is or the power He possesses, but in the reality of His love for me. Since I know circumstances that are clearly out-of-my-control remain very much in-His-control, such questions naturally result. If God really does love me, then why would He allow such a terrible thing to happen in my life?
And yet, this is what’s amazing about our story… The disciples question Jesus’ love for them, but He never answers their question! Instead, all Jesus ends up doing is intervening in a more profound way in order to demonstrate He did care for them.
Notice Jesus wasn’t stirred to act because of the howling of the wind. He wasn’t woken by the rocking of the waves or pounding of the rain. In fact, the deafening crash of the thunder or the brilliant flash of the lightning had no effect on a sleeping Jesus at rest.
Instead, the one thing that stirred Him to act and caused Jesus to immediately involve Himself in the storm was the cries of His disciples for help! And notice what Jesus does to show His love for them? He sowed His Word into the wind and sea saying, “Peace, be still!” And you know what happened — “The wind ceased and there was a great calm.”
The point Jesus is making to these men that night, and what should not be lost on any of us facing such a daunting tempest, is that whatever storm you find yourself presently facing take encourage knowing the same Word that led you into the storm also possesses an incredible power over the storm! Bringing this home to you and I…
Christian, I promise you that if you’d get your eyes off the storm and cry out to Jesus in your desperation not only will He prove Himself able to fulfill His promise to get you to the other side, but the same powerful Word that has authority over the storms of life will also carry with it the same supernatural results in your own heart… Peace and calm!
In closing I want you to think back to how the entire story began because there is one more important lesson Jesus is teaching us… Everything that occurred that fateful night began with Jesus coming to these men with the instruction, “Let us cross over to the other side.”
Tragically, their fundamental mistake was that, as experienced fishermen who’d grown up on these waters, these men believed sailing to the other side was one of the few things they didn’t need Jesus’ help accomplishing. They believed they were able! In fact, Jesus was sleeping in the stern below not because He didn’t care about them, but on account they’d initially refused His help on the deck above.
Disciples of Jesus I beg you to realize Jesus allowed this storm not to do these men in, but to teach them two things we need to remember. First, Jesus will never lead us into a storm He’s not willing to help us through! In Romans 8:28 Paul gives us an essential promise that should anchor us in the storm, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Secondly, none of us are able to obey the commands of Jesus apart from the direct involvement of Jesus. You see it is a fact of life that self will always prove inadequate to obey any of the commands of God! These men thought they didn’t need Jesus to “make it to the other side.” The storm illustrated they wouldn’t make it any other way!
As this Coronavirus pandemic has illustrated… Storms happen! They are an unavoidable, inescapable part of life in this fallen world. And yet, never ever forget Jesus has a purpose for everything that comes our way — Covid-19 included. Aside from creating a practical opportunity whereby He can sow into our hearts through His Word peace and calm in turn demonstrating His love for us, but storms deepen our faith and dependency in Jesus!
Aside from these truths… No matter the severity of the storm you face — and they can be serious and challenging, take heart knowing Jesus doesn’t leave you to face storms alone! He’s in the boat with you and He loves you. Jesus has power over storms so rely on Him and not yourself to endure. As Jesus that night you can rest even in a great tempest!
We’re told following the events of that day these men “feared exceedingly, were filled with amazement, and wondered, and said to one another, ‘What manner of man is this! Who can this be, that He commands even the winds, water, and the sea and they obey him?”
The fascinating thing about storms is that everyone faces them. It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not. Trials, which come in a myriad of different forms, are inevitably on your horizon! And yet, there is a no more radical testimony as to the power of Jesus and His Word than a believer at peace in the midst of a great tempest!
Though one can question the manner in which these disciples came to Jesus in the heat of the moment, don’t miss the bigger point… In their storm they came to Him anyway! These men cried out in desperation and Jesus not only heard their cry, but immediately acted on their behalf! They prayed, “Lord, save us!” and His proved faithful!
The truth is we all find ourselves experiencing a great tempest we didn’t see coming. This virus came out of nowhere and has upended everything. And yet, please know Jesus does care for you and your family, He loves you, and is more than willing to help you through to the other side. “So how can I experience peace and calm in this great tempest I face?” It’s simple… Cry out to Jesus! His Word is more than able and He’s more than willing! Even the things that seem out-of-control are still very much under-His-authority!
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