READ : Luke 8:25
He said to them,“Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even wind and water, and they obey him?”
Luke 8:25 RSV
Listen to this account of a storm at sea, familiar yet always fascinating. I’m reading from the gospel according to Luke, chapter 8, verse 22:
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a storm of wind came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even wind and water, and they obey him?”
DON’T YOU CARE?
Let’s look first at that complaint of the disciples, “We are perishing!”
A sudden squall had descended on the Sea of Galilee. The lake is surrounded by steep mountains, between which the wind is often funneled violently. This was a storm of hurricane force, enough to terrify the most seasoned fishermen. The men on the sea were in danger that night, no mistake about that. The waves were high and the boat was rapidly filling with water. A few more minutes of that and it would be all over for them.
We can’t fault them for recognizing their peril and taking action to avert it. And they were right in turning to Jesus, in calling upon Him. They came for help to the right place, and they called Him “Master, teacher, Lord,” expressing the fact that they belonged to Him. So far, so good.
It was what they said to Jesus that left something to be desired: “Master, Master, we are perishing!” These disciples felt that they were doomed. They feared that hope was gone. Perhaps they were complaining that Jesus’ concern for them had failed. In Mark’s account of this scene, we hear them say, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” There was doubt in their complaint, doubt that He knew about their plight, questions about His adequacy, His loving heart toward them. “Don’t You see, Jesus?” they seem to say, “Aren’t You going to do anything? Don’t You care?” I hear all of that in their frantic plea, “We are perishing.”
When they had awakened Jesus, He did something quite astonishing. He spoke to the winds and waves. Literally, He rebuked them. It was like a trainer commanding his dogs to stop barking, like a mother admonishing her children not to quarrel. “Stop this!” He seemed to say, “That’s enough. Quiet down!” Suddenly the wind fell and the waves collapsed upon themselves. The night of tempest became eerily silent. The boat that had been tossing like a chip on the waves rolled serenely now.
WHERE IS YOUR FAITH?
Then He spoke to the disciples. “Where is your faith?” Jesus wanted to know about their trust. Why had they doubted Him? Hadn’t they learned? With Jesus along, they had nothing to fear, in spite of all appearances to the contrary. He knew about their plight. He cared. He was sufficient. He wouldn’t be too late.
Jesus does not say that they have no faith. He doesn’t accuse them of unbelief or willful turning away from Him. They are believers, but their faith for the time seems to have vanished. There’s no evidence of it. It seems to have left them temporarily. Jesus challenges that lapse. “What happened to you, My friends? How did your faith slip away from you?”
I find real encouragement in this. It’s good to know that when I act fearfully, when I don’t show confidence in Jesus, when I become anxious or despairing, it doesn’t mean that I don’t know the Lord. It doesn’t necessarily show that I’m a hypocrite. Genuine faith has its fainting fits. True believers sometimes act as though they’ve forgotten that the Lord is on the throne.
He doesn’t reject us on that account. He doesn’t berate us as infidels. But He does raise the searching question: “Where is your faith?”
It’s encouraging also to remember that even their very faulty faith called Jesus to their aid. The fact that they were faint-hearted, not really trusting, didn’t keep Him from stilling the storm on their behalf. The question, “Where is your faith?” would be a reminder to them for next time. Maybe they, maybe we, can hang on a little longer in confidence then. We won’t so quickly conclude that we’re finished. We’ll keep in mind that the Lord, even when He seems to be asleep, is still our faithful Savior.
As far as we know, the disciples didn’t give any answer to His question. They simply sat there, mouths agape. Luke says that they were “afraid” and they “marveled.” Fear and wonder are the kinds of responses we would expect at a time like that. Both those feelings leave us speechless, shaking our heads, likely to shiver a bit. The presence of unaccountable, supernatural power fills us with awe.
Have you ever noticed how many times in the gospels people are said to be afraid or amazed at what Jesus did? I remember a course in New Testament Theology that I took once from a great scholar. He had a whole chapter in his notes on what he called “the frightfulness of Jesus.” He pointed out that the common image of Jesus in the minds of people is gentle Jesus, meek and mild. We think of Him as inspiring warm and comfortable sentiments in people. But on many occasions, what He said and especially what He did left them shaking with fear, trembling with astonishment. It wasn’t that they were afraid that He might do some terrible thing to them. They were shaken to the depths by the mysterious authority that went forth from Him and by the unimaginable things that He did.
How would you have felt if you had seen a raging tempest stilled suddenly by His word? I remember a hurricane I lived through in Savannah, Georgia, when I was young. The winds were blowing down huge trees all over the city. During the night the storm changed direction and flattened trees the other way. It was a wildly violent night. What if someone had stood in the middle of the street outside the DeSoto Hotel that night and had said to the hurricane, “That’s enough!” And what if in that moment the storm had ended? That would have been a shocker, wouldn’t you say? We might have known some fear and wonder too if we had seen that.
THE BIG QUESTION
All of this led up to the big question. The disciples looked at each other and said, “Who then is this, that he commands even wind and water and they obey him?” Jesus commands the elements. He speaks to them as though they are His subjects. He assumes total authority over them. When He speaks, they, as though they were creatures of thought and will, hearken to His voice. They do what He says. Instantly and completely, they obey.
What’s behind the question, “Who is this?” In one sense, the disciples know who He is. He’s Jesus of Nazareth, their leader and friend, the One whom they are beginning to believe could well be God’s Messiah, His chosen One, His Anointed. But this question goes even deeper. What kind of person is He, that He, a man, can tell the elemental forces of this universe what to do?
The disciples had grown up in Jewish homes. They had been schooled in the faith of Israel. They knew that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was the creator and ruler of all things. They knew that power, absolute power over all the elements, belonged to God. They had read these words from Psalm 89:8, “O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as thou art, O LORD, with thy faithfulness round about thee? Thou dost rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, thou stillest them.” They had celebrated with all the people of God how the Lord Almighty had saved storm-tossed sailors. Listen: “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven” (Ps. 107:28-30).
These affirmations were right at the heart of Israel’s faith. There’s nothing too hard for the Lord. When God speaks, all the natural order obeys. “The voice of the LORD,” we read, “is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, upon many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful, the voice of the LORD is full of majesty” (Ps. 29:3-4).
It would not have surprised these men of Israel that God should raise and still the storms, that He should govern everything by His mere command. But it was different, dramatically different, when the elements responded to the voice of a man. Who must this man be that He can speak such all-prevailing words?
The gospel writers don’t tell us how the disciples answered their own query there in the boat. They simply leave the question with us. They want us to think about it, to come to our own conclusions. What do we say about who Jesus is?
I’ve been reading this week some learned commentary on this account. There are scholars who question whether this stilling of the storm really happened. Often they don’t give any particular reasons for their doubts. They simply assume that they know better about it. How do they account, I wonder, for the presence of these records in the gospel? Do they think that this is a kind of legend formed later by the disciples in an effort to enhance the stature of Jesus? Did they talk it over in later years, saying to one another, “Let’s tell the people that Jesus once spoke to a storm and made it quiet down.” Did one of them then say, “Yes, that would be a good idea. That will make them think more of the Lord”?
Can you imagine that! These were men who saw Jesus die and who beheld Him risen from the dead, who heard Him open the Scriptures to them, who received from Him a commission to proclaim His word faithfully in all the world. Is it credible to you that they would manufacture a story like this! Would men like Peter and Andrew, James and John who had fished in this very Sea of Galilee, proclaim as truth, at the risk of their lives, what they knew to be a fable, a figment of their own imaginations, or to put it bluntly, a falsehood? Was it an exaggeration of something that really happened – was that it? Was their memory of the scene a bit hazy, or did they deliberately deceive? Does any of that make sense to you?
Each of us has to answer questions like that for ourselves. Did it really happen or not?
I like what one commentator says by way of summarizing various points of view. Listen: “A verdict on its historicity [that is, this scene] depends on the reader’s general understanding of the person of Jesus.” Yes! That’s exactly the way it is. You will draw your conclusions about this account on the basis of your general understanding of who Jesus is. That’s the way you will assess the accounts of His resurrection, also. These things are obviously amazing and unprecedented. Shall we on that account reject them, dismiss them as so many superstitions? That depends on what we believe about Jesus, our general, most deeply held view of who He is. For a human being like ourselves to say and do these things and to conquer death – I would be as skeptical about that as anyone. But to hear these things said about a person like Jesus, is for me another matter.
When the disciples ask, “Who is Jesus?” it seems clear to me what’s going through their minds. They are beginning to think the unthinkable. They are driven to it by what they have just beheld. What God did long ago, Jesus does now. What can that mean? Could it possibly be that the Almighty has come to visit us in a genuinely human life? Can it be that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us? That’s the question, the big question, for you and me. I want to answer it with adoring wonder. I want to answer it to Jesus Himself in the words of one of the apostles, “My Lord and my God!”
Prayer: Father, help each one of us to ponder this question carefully, “Who is this Jesus who speaks such words of authority, who claims and changes the hearts of people?” And may we give the answer of deep and genuine faith. In the name of Christ. Amen.