A storm for believing
The disciples were now following Jesus. Their interest in Him, and commitment to Him, was growing - far deeper than many in the crowd, who were flocking around to see a miracle, or perhaps witness a confrontation with the religious authorities. Their interest was of the ‘tabloid’ variety.
Jesus had begun teaching in parables as a way of exposing and discouraging superficial interest in Him. The disciples were not so superficial. They asked questions. They wanted to know more. They wanted to understand better. The parables provoked their enquiries, piqued their interest, and deepened their appetite to know more of Jesus and the Kingdom.
Jesus then suggests a trip on the Sea of Galilee. You will be familiar with the event. Jesus has a doze whilst the disciples attend to the boat - many of them were sailors after all. Suddenly, a furious storm erupts, as sometimes happens to this day on Galilee. It is 700ft below Sea level and surrounded by mountains. Cold air from the heights plunges down on the water and creates sudden storms. This is what happened all those years ago. This is what the Gospel writers remember.
The disciples panic. Jesus sleeps.
They waken Him, accusingly. Does He not care that they are about to drown? How often our panic can strain relationships, with each other and with our Lord!
The Lord demonstrates His power and His glory and His divinity by calming the storm.
Often we read this account as teaching us that Jesus can calm the storms in our own lives. We all face crises through life, times when, like the disciples, we feel about to be overwhelmed. We can trust Jesus to bring calm amidst such storms. True enough.
But there is more here. Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea in order to create a storm in the hearts of the disciples. It is really the story of two storms. Having survived the storm and watched our Lord calm that storm, the disciples, we are told, were fearful and amazed and asked each other, ‘Who is this?’ The calming of one storm created yet another storm, a storm of unsettled fearfulness in the presence of the One they thought they had the measure of.
Does it seem odd that this group who, unlike many in the crowds who flocked around Jesus, recognised something of who He was, yet ask ‘Who is this?’ Their question reveals how they needed to learn to trust in Jesus at a far deeper level. He calmed one storm in order to create another in them, in order to teach them what it truly means to trust Him. Actually, if we grasp the reality of His sovereignty we ought to say that He created a storm, in order to calm it, in order to create another storm in the disciples, in order to grow their faith. They needed to learn to receive His word in such a way as to live by it. Not in a theoretical way, but where ‘the rubber hits the road’ in the mess and muddle and madness of everyday life.
I think Peter learned that lesson. An episode took place much later, after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Peter was apprehended on the orders of Herod, who had already enjoyed popularity for killing James, the brother of the apostle John. We read of this in Acts 12. It must have seemed at the time that Peter was the next martyr. He was about to go the same way as James. He would have entered the prison cell knowing that this might be his last night.
Wonderfully, Peter was visited by an angel and released. But do you know what the angel had to do first before he could help this man who seemed destined to die in the morning? He had to waken him up! Peter had learned to trust, amidst grim and threatening circumstances. He had listened to what the Lord had taught him and was putting it into practice in the tricky bits of life. He was able to sleep on the night that might have been his last.
Whilst on holiday I read a number of novels, as my way of relaxing. One of them was a Hilary Mantel novel entitled, ‘A change of climate’. It is about a couple who in the 1950’s serve as missionaries in Africa. At a station near the Kalahari, something unspeakable happens to them. The most appalling tragedy strikes (I’ll not spoil it for prospective readers). This event leaves them scarred and they return home. Mantel describes the reaction of parents to the return of the couple who have experienced such pain:
‘The Martins had spent much of their lives beating the drum for the Christian faith, getting up jumble sales and flower shows so that the dark races could have the benefit of the company of brisk young Englishmen who were familiar with the Psalms and (among other books) the Book of Job. But they did not expect to have one of these young Englishmen in their back parlour behind the shop, frozen and speechless with misery. They did not expect the Book of Job to have any practical application.’
Mantel brilliantly points up the absurdity (even the hypocrisy) of those who promote the Bible yet fail to take it seriously. It is not without reason that the Gospel writers, near to the account of the calming of the storm, record Jesus saying My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”