AN EXPOSITION OF MATTHEW 8:23-27
23 And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him.
Where ever Jesus went, His disciples followed. By being with Jesus so often, the disciples saw Him as true humanity. Jesus needed sleep. Jesus needed to rest. He could be so exhausted that not even a great disturbance in the Sea of Galilee caused Him to wake up in alarm.
The Sea of Galilee was called by the Rabbis a chosen sea because of its beauty. The body of water is oval shaped and is about seven miles wide, and thirteen miles long. To the north of the Sea of Galilee is Mt. Hermon which looks over the lake Jesus and the disciples came to that day.
24 And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.
The cool winds from the mountains surrounding the Sea of Galilee often merge with the warm winds hovering over the body of water causing a sudden and violent change in temperature. It is not unusual to have bad storms, and this one was extremely bad. The Greek word for great tempest is seismos and is used to mean an earthquake. There was a great shaking of the body of water. The creation was going to test the power of the Creator.
When John Mark recorded this event, he added the little note that Jesus was asleep on a pillow. It was a small touch of comfort, but for some reason memorable (Mark 4:38). When Luke recorded this event he noted the boat was filled with water. The waves splashed against the boat and then spilled over into the ship to the point the disciples found themselves standing in pools of water (Luke 8:23). But Jesus was asleep.
It is not surprising that the little details concerning Jesus should be recorded because Jesus was, and continues to be fascinating. People cannot get enough of Him. Dr. Hugh Anderson, Professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, estimated that in the 19th Century, 60,000 biographies were written concerning the Lord Jesus. And more biographies have been written in the 20th and 21st centuries. Jesus continues to capture the imagination and attention of the world.
25 And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish.
Somehow the disciples managed to arouse Jesus from the deep sleep He was in. No doubt more than one disciple laid their hands on Jesus and shook him as several cried out, “Lord, save us. We perish!” Some of the disciples were seasoned fishermen. If they were alarmed, then there seemed to be good reason for concern. But then, fear is contagious. If Peter and Andrew, along with James and John were alarmed, then there was reason for Matthew and the others to be afraid as well. Twelve terrified men thought they were about to die in the cold violent waters of the Sea of Galilee. But their fears were unjustified. They were not going to die. There was no real danger. Their emotions were out of control and overshadowing reason.
26 And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
The question Jesus had for His disciples on the Sea of Galilee is far reaching spiritually for all Christians. In the midst of the tempest and tensions of life, where is our own faith? When the pressures of life are the greatest, will we have little faith, or great faith? Will we be fearful, or fearless?
Texas native Chelsie Watts was diagnosed with cancer at 17 years old. But she fought the disease with a smile while saying, “God’s got this.” She liked to quote Psalms 27:1. “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
In the providence of God, Chelsie was graduated from high school and became a college student. Then, the cancer came back. One of her wishes was to meet the Christian athlete, Tim Tebow. “What a special girl she was,” Tebow said. “The attitude that she had, the legacy that she left. The number of people she impacted…in the midst of facing death but knowing that there’s light at the end of it, she was able to see past her temporary pain into eternal significance and because of that more lives will possibly change than we could ever imagine.” Chelsie died on January 20, 2015 but her testimony lives. “God’s got this,” she said. She had great faith.
The faith of the disciples of Jesus would grow to the point they suffered martyrdom for Him. But that day on the Sea of Galilee, their faith was little, and they needed reassurance. In matchless grace, Jesus met their need. Jesus arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. The pounding hearts of the disciples also became calm. They were not going to perish. They were going to live to tell others what great things Jesus was able to do. The disciples lived to marvel and ask, “What manner of man is this?”
27 But the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!
Jesus had the remarkable ability to calm the storms of nature, and to calm the storms of men’s hearts. There are so many situations in life that causes the soul to become agitated, producing feelings of unrest, uncertainty, doubt, confusion, anxious care, and fear. Jesus has the power to subdue these raging emotions. Those who believe Jesus can not only witness His divine power, but be blessed by it personally. The promise of God is true. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).
Those who marvel at Jesus have good reason to do so for He rules the hearts of men, and He rules nature. Some look at Jesus and say, “This is the son of Joseph, the carpenter’s son.” Others dismiss Jesus and say, “This is the son of Mary, the woman who had a questionable pregnancy.” Still others look at Jesus and mock, declaring Him to be a glutton and winebibber. Peter looked at Jesus and said, “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The best response is to bow before Jesus and say, “My Lord and my God.”
The great spiritual lesson of this portion of Scripture is instructive. There are some situations that test our faith because they are serious and need divine intervention. Jesus did not expect the disciples to do anything about the storm. He did not expect the disciples to row harder, or cast items overboard. He did not expect the disciples to jump into the Sea of Galilee and swim to safety. What Jesus did expect is that the disciples would have faith to know that all is well with their souls. In 1873 Horatio G. Spafford had his faith tested and wrote the following words which were put to music in 1876 by Philip Bliss.
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.”
“This hymn was written after traumatic events in Spafford’s life. The first was the death of his son at the age of two and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer and had invested significantly in property in the area of Chicago that was extensively damaged by the great fire).
His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873, at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre.
In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire.
While crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sea vessel, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone …”
Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died. Philip Bliss called his tune Ville du Havre, from the name of the stricken vessel” (Wikipedia). Great difficulties in life require greater faith in God.
Another lesson discerned from the narrative is that in difficult situations we often say something that we later regret saying. In the midst of the story the disciples said to Jesus, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38). It borders on blasphemy to think that God does not care about His creation or the situations His disciples face in life. Of course the Lord cares. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, then your trials in life and mine matter to the Lord. There must be no unbelief in the hearts of the disciples. A storm with Jesus is much better than a calm without Him (S. Lewis Johnson).
The disciples were self-centered to the point of foolishness for they included Jesus in their collective “we.” “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” Did the disciples really believe that Jesus could perish in a storm? So little was the faith of the disciples that it was as if God was dead.
In The Gay Science (1882), Friedrich Nietzsche presented the character of a madman who had proclaimed, “God is dead.” On April 8, 1966, TIME magazine turned this proclamation into a probing question to a world in which religious faith was on the decline. There is a sense in which unbelief causes a person to act and speak in such a way it communicates the idea that “God is dead.” “Master, we perish,” said the disciples. In that moment, their faith in Immanuel was little.
The response of Jesus to the disciples was a gracious response. He could have said a lot more by way of rebuke but rather than chide them further, Jesus moved to increase their faith by calming the storm. It was a mighty miracle they never forgot. Standing up in the midst of the storm, while the lightning flashed, and the waves splashed against the vessel, Jesus spoke.
Jesus spoke because, while He did not hear the roar of the weather, He did hear the cry of the disciples. The heart of every Christian should be encouraged by that to pray. Our Lord is a hearing God. He listens to the pleas of His people.
Now when Jesus spoke, His words had power and authority over nature. Jesus was not at the mercy of nature. Rather, nature was at His mercy. According to Mark’s account, when Jesus spoke to the winds He said, “Hush!” “Silence!” The Greek word means “to muzzle.” It is a canine metaphor. The word could be translated, “Back to your kennel!” The word is in the present tense which conveys the idea, “Back to your kennel and stay there!”
As suddenly as Jesus spoke, the weather immediately changed for the winds and the water had to obey their Creator. The seasoned sailors noticed that event, the waters were calm. This was a miracle within a miracle for usually, after a storm, the water is still agitated. When Jesus spoke, the water was calm. They were not just somewhat calmer, there was a great calmness in the water that was noticed. The prophet Isaiah said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3). It is a great promise. In the storms of life, the Lord will keep His people in prefect peace.
Jesus can keep His people in perfect peace because, while He is true humanity, the Man who sleeps, He is also truly divine. He is very God of very God. When Jesus calmed the storm, He manifested His deity and that caused the disciples to marvel.
The question comes today. “Do you marvel at Jesus?” “Have you seen Him, not only as a great Teacher, but very God and the Savior of your soul?” May the Holy Spirit give you the gift of grace to believe.