Storms & sovereignty
The account of Jesus stilling the storm is found in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25). The authority of the Lord in controlling the natural elements is a powerful testimony to his deity. It also teaches us much concerning our own situation.
A ship in the ocean is an ancient symbol of the church, and this incident is illuminating when applied to the church today. On our Lord’s initiative he and the disciples embarked in a boat in order to cross the Sea of Galilee.
A great storm arose and waves were crashing into the boat so that it was filling with water and in danger of sinking. But Jesus was asleep on a cushion in the stern. He was weary – one of the many proofs of his real humanity.
The disciples were alarmed and woke Jesus up with the reproachful words, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ Jesus arose, rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ The wind ceased and there was a great calm.
This was a two-fold miracle, for under normal circumstances the sea would have taken some time to calm down after the wind dropped. But the wind was stopped and the sea calmed at once by the commands of Jesus.
Jesus then reproached the disciples and said, ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’ They now feared exceedingly, for another reason – the wonderful, miracle-working power of the Lord.
The church today in the UK is like a ship in the midst of a growing storm. The storm is increasing in violence (and is already extremely violent in certain other countries). The winds of persecution and waves of opposition threaten to engulf the church. Legislation that is subtly anti-Christian, a culture that is increasingly pagan, mass media that favour false religion and despise Christianity, are all battering upon the church.
There are some excellent evangelical agencies that attempt to oppose such matters as bad legislation, abortion and corrupting television, and they are doing a valiant, much needed job. But they alone cannot quell the storm.
They are, in a sense, bailing out the boat – a necessary task but not the ultimate solution. Many other Christians are working hard to try to cope with the storm in one way or another, but we seem to be making little headway. God seems to be asleep! What’s the answer?
The disciples became alarmed and began to cry out to Jesus, to wake him up. Of course, God is not asleep. He neither slumbers nor sleeps. But we Christians are often asleep. We need to become concerned, to wake ourselves up and cry to God with all our hearts. Only he can deal with the storm that threatens to engulf the church.
Maybe a touch of persecution in some western ‘Christianised’ countries is needed to purify the church. Persecution has often been used in the past to awaken and indeed to purge the church. But persecution can also destroy localised churches, as witnessed by the demise of the once great North African church. So we must not assume that persecution is always a good thing.
Of course, we know that God will triumph in the end, but we must not become complacent. Although we know that God does not sleep, there is biblical warrant for using bold, anthropomorphic language in speaking to him.
In Psalm 44:23 we read: ‘Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off for ever’ (cf. Psalms 59:4b; 73:20; 78:65). The prophet Isaiah says, ‘Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old’ (Isaiah 51:9).
But Isaiah also calls on Zion to wake up: ‘Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city!’ (Isaiah 52:1).
Why did Jesus allow this storm to happen? And why did he allow it all to get out of hand? One answer is, in order to demonstrate his miraculous power and deity.
But he need not have slept in order to do that. Why did he delay rescue until they were in such danger? Surely it was to teach them a lesson of faith and cause them to cry out to him. They needed to learn to call upon him in times of trouble.
And perhaps today God appears to ‘sleep’ in order to teach us the same lesson. We need to become urgent in our prayers. But there is a right and wrong way of praying.
When Jesus awoke and rebuked the storm, he rebuked the disciples also. What for? Not for waking and crying out to him, but for their lack of faith. They cried out in unbelief. Their reaction to the miracle demonstrates that; they were amazed and frightened.
We also need to cry out to God concerning the present storm, not in fear and unbelief, but in urgent and importunate faith. It would have been wrong for the disciples to do nothing. It would have been a misapplication of faith and neglect of urgent duty not to awaken Jesus and cry out to him. But they should have done so in faith not in fear. Urgency yes, but despair, no.
We need to pray, knowing that the Lord is well able to deal with the situation, and may have plans about it of which we know nothing. And when he does finally still the storm, the result will be a different kind of fear – awe and reverential fear that brings glory to his name.