It had been a long day. We’d been holed up in Peter’s house watching Jesus heal so many people that I lost count. No wonder he was tired. Exhausted in fact when he suggested escaping the crowds by rowing across the sea to the other side. When we set out in Andrew’s fishing boat, the weather was fine. It was getting a little late in the day, but the heat shimmering on the water could still be seen. I helped push the boat away from the shore and jumped in by the time the water was waist deep. It felt peaceful, after all the commotion, to just be the handful of us again. I smiled at Matthew who put his finger to his lips to indicate not to say anything for Jesus had found himself a cushion and had retired to the stern of the boat.
There was no need to speak. We were content to watch the towering mountains on the eastern shore loom ever closer. I’d been out on the Sea of Galilee hundreds of times. Despite its greatness and beauty, it is also a very dangerous place. It’s only 13 miles long, but is 680 feet below sea-level. Sometimes, sudden storms can appear over the surrounding mountains with little warning, stirring the water into 20 foot waves. I’d known experienced fishermen who had drowned. Was the wind picking up, or was it just my imagination? We’ll be ok – it’s not far now.
I recalled Psalm 107 revealing the historical facts of seafaring. We Jews weren’t into trading across the sea like our Mediterranean neighbours were. We concentrated on the land instead, which was after all our promised inheritance. I’d been up to Phoenicia once and stood on the beach looking out on this vast ocean . When the tide comes in hundreds of gallons of water are moving on the coastline. It’s doing it day and night. And it was nothing like our little lake at Capernaum. I’d heard stories of leviathan creatures existing in the deep. I remember my grandfather dramatically telling me the story of Jonah – the disobedient prophet who didn’t want to do God’s will and so he got on a boat going in the opposite direction. And a great storm blew up, and the boat was in danger, but Jonah was asleep and didn’t notice. The sailors wake him up and in their panic tell him to call on his "sea-god" to do something. Are those dark clouds forming on the horizon? I pointed to the sky and I thought the others looked slightly anxious too, but let Jesus sleep a bit longer. "We’ll arrive soon", said Peter.
There’s not many stories about the sea in our Scriptures. I heard about the Spirit of God hovering over the waters at creation bringing order out of chaos. Then in the Exodus of our people the Lord controlled the sea to allow our ancestors to escape from the tyranny of Egypt. But I kept going back to Jonah as God had used a storm to stop his defiance and to send him back on his mission. If Jesus hadn’t been asleep I wouldn’t have thought about Jonah in the first place. But surely Jesus was following God’s will? I’d see Him do some pretty amazing things lately. He healed hundreds of people because he had such compassion for them. If Peter’s mother-in-law hadn’t been healed we may not have had any supper last night! He taught with such authority too. I didn’t really understand though what Jesus meant when He said about being the Son of Man and talking about his kingdom. But I hadn’t been a disciple very long. Some of us even thought he was the promised messiah. I didn’t quite have the faith to believe it at the time. In fact I don’t think any of us did.
Peter, Andrew, James and John knew the Galilean Sea much better than me. They were worried. They ordered we take down the sails and just in time too. Suddenly the wind picked up and waves splashed over the side into the boat. I remember thinking how was Jonah, sorry, Jesus able to remain asleep? It was getting rougher. A few minutes later I was soaked to the bone as the waves just got bigger and bigger. I moved away from the side of the boat seeking refuge with Judas. We held onto each other as the storm threatened to tip the boat over. There was shouting and screaming. It was just like that psalm I mentioned earlier for we quickly lost courage and stumbled like drunken men forgetting even basic sea-faring skills. I was terrified of those creatures existing in that deep, dark abode of darkness and evil, threatening and wild. I didn’t want to die. We’d been caught without warning and the danger was great. I tried to pray – but couldn’t. See what I mean about faith?
I don’t know who made the decision, but in the end fear forced us to shake Jesus from his slumber. As the main sail was torn apart and crashed over the side of the boat in our panic we ran to the stern: "Save us Lord, we’re going to drown!" – I remember screaming that again and again. But as I say, I had very weak faith. Still do sometimes!
But I’ll never forget Jesus’ authority that day. We were all rebuked for being frightened: "How little faith you have", he said. Then he got up and ordered, yes you heard me right, he commanded the winds and the waves to stop! And there was a great calm. The storm clouds disappeared allowing the late afternoon sun to shine upon the lake once again. Oh and the shore was in sight. I felt relieved, but also perplexed. What does it mean? What sort of man can do this sort of thing? Jesus is a healer and a teacher. But this miracle goes beyond anything I was expecting. Somehow His authority stretches not only to diseases – but to natural elements as well. Surely only God has such power?
Jesus must be God then. That’s the only conclusion I could reach. I mentioned this to several others – but they were as stunned as I was. So we didn’t debate it further. Everyone on the boat sat in silence until we arrived on the gentile shore.
This brief Gospel passage has long been read by the Christian Church as a symbol of itself in a hostile world. The sea and the storm symbolize the world and it’s difficulties and the ship can be seen as the church. The boat in the storm recalls Israel crossing the sea to deliverance. The Church is the New Israel of salvation and resurrection. It’s a paradigm of the danger and glory of discipleship. The main point is that discipleship requires faith under trial.
I want to suggest that seafaring is a perfect picture of our experience in this life. We’re getting on earning a living, going about our normal business, when out of a clear blue sky, comes the storm that upsets all our calculations, destroys our cherished comforts and leaves us helpless in the grip of totally overwhelming forces. What do we do? Perhaps we call out to the Lord?
Jesus is a prophet greater than Jonah and He exercises the same power over nature which Psalm 107 ascribes to God. It becomes a further sign of His authority. The disciples wake Him up, but He doesn’t have to call on anyone. Neither is He thrown overboard. He simply rebukes the winds and the waves and they quieten down at once. There is no other "god" who saves. No other name under heaven apart from Jesus can save us. The disciples knew their OT. The Scriptures should have reminded them God is presented as the One who controls and stills the storms (Job 38:8-11; Ps.29:3-4; 65:5-7). They lacked faith in Jesus the Messiah, and so do we.
The thing is, though, we know exactly who this man this. We’re readers of the gospel. We have the answer. He is the virgin-born Saviour who has come to save His people from their sins. The disciples did not yet understand these things, but seeing His authority over nature helped them in their understanding. They didn’t know Christ could control the forces of nature. Yet they believed that by crying out to Him He could do something. We often encounter storms in our life, where we feel God isn’t helping. Perhaps we feel we have to shout to wake Him from slumbering? Psalm 107 teaches us to cry out to God, remembering that every “storm” of tragedy and trial is a call to prayer. That’s why the proper reaction to Jesus is faith and trust.
Then like stricken sailors and doubtful disciples, we begin to ask questions, “What does my distress mean?”, “What sort of God is this?”, and then we see He is guarding us, guiding us and keeping us in the palm of His hand – we praise Him when we truly understand who God is when we realize that He controls both the physical storms and the spiritual storms of the troubled heart. Jesus’ power that calmed this storm can also help us deal with the problems we face. He is willing to help if we only ask Him.
When the stormy winds of life blow about us, such hard times can only teach us more about God. How would anyone know what God could do, until they found themselves in a place where He had to do it? Ask Moses, Elijah, David, Daniel, the disciples and Paul and they’ll tell you that with our heavenly Father on board, fear is never necessary or justified. The Rock of our salvation will calm the storm and still the waves that threaten us. And then we’ll thank Him for bringing us safe haven. So be it. AMEN.