A couple of winters ago, I was taking my car around a corner when it slid on a patch of ice. In a stunned, this-can’t-be-happening moment, I felt my car careen toward another parked vehicle and strike it with a solid thud. Amazingly, no damage was done—our cars were both coated in ice, so not even the paint was scratched! Yet I was so rattled by the accident that I refused to drive my car for the rest of the day. Ever since, I have been far more cautious when turning a corner on an icy winter day.
Have you ever experienced an event that rattled you so much that it altered the way you react to the situations you face in life? For the first time, Jesus’ disciples are about to experience that feeling when they realize that they have underestimated this Galilean rabbi.
After a day of preaching in parables to his vast audience, Jesus decides it’s time to move on to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. So he and his disciples set out across the lake in a flotilla of fishing boats. Unfortunately, they are caught in the middle of the lake by a terrific windstorm which whips up massive waves that threaten to sink the vessels. Many of the disciples on Jesus’ boat were probably fishermen, and they knew all too well how deadly these storms could be. They could see that the boat was filling with water, that they couldn’t bail it out fast enough, that their death was inevitable. And just a few hours ago they had been basking in the attention of their rabbi and the adulation of the crowds!
At some point in their growing panic, some of Jesus’ disciples notice that he is in the stern—and that he is fast asleep. Unbelievable! They wake him up and shout, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” That’s the only possible explanation for why he is asleep. Jesus seems so callous toward their very survival.
Ignoring their question, Jesus gets on his feet and shouts to the wind and the waves roaring around him, “Peace! Be still!” He rebukes them, just as he has rebuked the unclean spirits. And then—“the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” And just as the demons did, the forces of nature obey him. I like to picture the storm clouds dissipating, leaving the reflections of stars in the smooth mirror of the lake. Little ripples spread out from the boat as it bobs up and down in the water. There is no sign of a storm, not a sound. The disciples are dumbstruck. After a moment’s silence, Jesus turns to them.
“Why are you so cowardly? Have you still no faith?”
Most translations have Jesus accusing the disciples of being “afraid,” but actually he is more frank than that. He calls them cowards. Their panic was unreasonable and unacceptable.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to sympathize with the disciples here. I can see why they would be afraid. The storm is too powerful; the waves are too great; their boat is too small. That’s not how Jesus sees it, though. He knows he has authority over the forces of nature. They can’t do a thing that he doesn’t permit. No need to interrupt his nap.
The disciples don’t perceive Jesus’ power, so they question his love. They doubt him. And because they doubt both his love for them and his power to save them, they become cowards. If you want to become a coward, this is the quickest way.
When Jesus intervenes with a miracle, their cowardice is replaced not with confidence but with “great fear.” When a great storm is replaced with a great calm, they are filled with great fear. The windstorm was tremendously dangerous; how much more so the man who has authority over the storm! “Who then is this?” they ask.
God often uses fear to unsettle us. The disciples didn’t seem to fathom that Jesus was anything more than a great teacher and miracle worker. Perhaps they may have entertained the notion that he was something more. But now, burning in their souls, is the reality that they don’t have a clue who Jesus really is. New questions are forming in their minds, questions whose answers will lead them to faith.
Jesus’ challenge to his disciples is essentially this: “Do you trust me?” By their actions, they show that they don’t—not yet. They need to see his fearsome authority over the wind and the sea. They need to know that he is more than a man. This is the cure for doubt and cowardice—to see Jesus Christ as trustworthy. You are weak; you are at the mercy of powerful forces that will crush you. But Jesus is strong. Don’t underestimate him.