Jesus in the Storm

Many years ago, my family and I went to see a fireworks display on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina. We were staying with extended family on the lake, and a friend of the family came to pick us all up in his boat. As is usually the case for these types of events, the lake was extremely crowded that night. Boats were everywhere, which wasn’t really a problem until we all started to make our way back after the fireworks were finished. There were so many boats leaving at the same time that it caused the water to become quite stormy. Not long after we started for home, we caught a wave that was so large it swamped our boat and—because we had too much weight in the front of the boat—it forced the nose of the boat down under the water. The slow, forward thrust of the motor kept the nose moving downward long enough for water to come into the boat and cover the front two-thirds of the boat with about 3 feet of water.

I was sitting in the front, and was so caught off guard by all the water coming in that it took me a few moments to realize what was happening. My brother-in-law, however, sitting right across from me, recognized far more quickly than I did what was going on and shouted, “We’re sinking!” His words successfully got our attention, and we all threw ourselves to the back of the boat as quickly as we could, which caused the bow to pop up out of the water almost immediately. In the process of moving to the back of the boat, however, we trampled each other, pummeled the passengers who were already sitting at the rear, and ended up throwing the map of the lake overboard. It was certainly not our finest hour.

It makes me laugh as I think about this event so many years ago. But it also convicts me. In the midst of a “storm at sea,” we panicked and lost our cool. But when Jesus faced similar circumstances in Luke 8:22-25, He was calm and relaxed, and so completely trusted His heavenly Father in the midst of the storm that He slept like a baby through the ordeal.

Where does this kind of peace come from? How can we develop this kind of deep-seated contentment and trust in our heavenly Father in the midst of the stormy seasons of life?

I am convinced that Luke 8 helps us to answer these questions. After all, the disciples in this story reacted in much the same way as my family and I did on Lake Hartwell all those years ago. The way that Jesus responds to them after their failure helps us to see how He will work to grow us in our peace and contentment in similar circumstances too.

In Luke 8:22-25, Jesus and His disciples got into a boat in order to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Luke only says that it happened “one day” (v. 22). But Mark tells us that it took place in the evening time after Jesus had spent the whole day teaching (Mark 4:35). Jesus was no doubt physically exhausted from His long hours of teaching and fell asleep in the stern almost as soon as the boat pushed away from shore (v. 23).

Sometime later—and we’re not sure exactly when—a storm broke upon them and caught them unaware. This was not unusual for the Sea of Galilee, as storms would frequently come out of nowhere and descend upon the sea with barely a moment’s notice. The hills and mountains surrounding the sea functioned something like a funnel to channel storms down to the surface of the water. And because the surface is approximately 680 feet below sea level, these hills and mountains undoubtedly also shielded the storms from the eyes of unsuspecting fishermen who were hard at work. They were sitting ducks when the storms did finally come into view.

On this particular occasion, the storm that came upon Jesus and His disciples was apparently quite severe. We know this because Matthew tells us that the disciples—most of whom were seasoned fishermen—were “afraid” when the storm broke upon them in its full force (Matt. 8:26), and because Luke says that they “were in danger” and believed that they were about to die (Luke 8:23, 24). The way the disciples respond is convicting. They went and woke Jesus, who all this time was still asleep, and, with words that emphasize their panic and distress, they said to Him: “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38).

Aren’t we the same way? When difficulty comes into our lives, we question God’s motives. We question His goodness. We struggle with why He would allow these kinds of things to happen. Like the disciples in Luke 8, we grow fearful and distressed, and we regularly accuse the Lord of not caring anything about us.

I love Jesus’s response to His disciples. Instead of beating them up for waking Him or for being so weak in their faith, Jesus calmed the storm. He removed the very thing that was causing their distress, and He did it in such a way that the disciples were able to see His power and majesty like they never had before. Jesus “rebuked” the wind and the waves as though they were people, and the storm responded to His admonition without delay (v. 24). The wind and the waves immediately obeyed, and “there was a great calm” (Matt. 8:26).

Luke tells us that, as a result of Jesus calming the storm, the disciples “were afraid, and they marveled” (v. 25). Isn’t that beautiful? The disciples went from being afraid of the storm and of perishing in the storm to now being afraid of Jesus. They went from being overwhelmed with their own safety and well-being to being overwhelmed with the power and glory of Christ.

This is the key to peace and contentment. If we fear anything in this world more than we fear Jesus, we will never experience peace and contentment when that thing—whatever it might be—is hanging in the balance. If we marvel at anything more than we marvel at Christ, we will never know the calm that Jesus knew in the midst of the storm when that thing is in jeopardy. This was where the disciples were in Luke 8 when the storm broke upon them.

Jesus knew that what the disciples needed most was to see His power and majesty on display. He knew that they needed to behold a clear testimony to His divinity for themselves (cf. Ps. 106:9; 107:25-30). They needed to have their view of Jesus expanded, because only as their view of Jesus grew bigger, would everything else grow smaller.

And that is the real key to peace and contentment in the midst of stormy circumstances. We need to see that Jesus really is bigger and better than every difficulty we encounter.

Guy Richard is Executive Director and Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA.

Related Links

Podcast: "What Happens When We Worship"

"The Fruit of the Spirit: Peace" by Keith Kauffman

"Curbing Our Complaints: Lessons for the Church in the Desert" by Jonathan Landry Cruse

Contentment: Seeing God's Goodness by Megan Hill

The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Witmer