Jesus’ miracles played an essential role in His ministry. They told the world that He was the Messiah. They testified to His power and divinity. They were the exclamation point on His teachings. We can clearly see this in the Gospel story of Jesus calming the storm.
If you’re familiar with the Gospels, you know about Jesus’ many miracles. For instance, He healed sickness, cast out unclean spirits, and even raised the dead. But the more familiar we are with these stories, the more accustomed to them that we get.
It can be beneficial to read these stories as if we’re seeing them for the first time. Or even better, to put ourselves in the shoes of the various people who actually experienced these events. When we can see these miracles through the eyes of the people present, it gives us a whole new appreciation for what Jesus did.
Let’s take a look at the calming of the storm and see what insights we can discover.
Jesus calms the storm in Matthew’s Gospel
Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Matthew 8:23–27
Storms on the Sea of Galilee
The body of water we’ve known as the “Sea” of Galilee is actually a freshwater lake. In fact, it’s the lowest freshwater lake in the world. It sits anywhere between 209 and 215 meters below sea level. When you factor in that hills and ravines surround the lake, you can understand why storms would be so treacherous. The winds get trapped in the basin that the Sea of Galilee sits in.
Many of these disciples were fishermen. They understood the lake’s moodiness. Their nervousness is a sign that a terrible storm had sprung up. Now imagine for a moment that someone is sleeping through this all-hands-on-deck situation. And it’s not like He’s in the cabin asleep—these weren’t yachts or houseboats. He’s just laid out there in elements with everyone else.
“You of little faith”
The disciple’s reaction is desperate. They wouldn’t have woken Jesus if they weren’t seriously worried. But let’s take a second to look at Jesus’ response.
Why would Jesus question their faith? If you think about it, these fishermen have likely seen their share of fatalities in storms like this. And in their hopelessness, they still turned to Jesus to save them. So there was faith that Jesus might do what they could not.
It’s hard to say why Jesus would call their faith small. But we might find the answer by simply looking at their demeanor. They panicked. Their response to this situation is no different from someone who has no faith. Sure, they look to Jesus, but it’s an act of desperation. They don’t seem to have the peace of someone who believes their days are in God’s hand.
Think about it. They’ve already spent quite a bit of time in Jesus’ presence. Consider some of the things they’ve already experienced:
They’ve seen Jesus sit all night in towns healing the sick and demonized. They’ve heard Him teach with previously unknown authority. They’ve seen Him heal a centurion’s servant from a distance. They watched Him heal Peter’s mother-in-law.
- They’ve seen Jesus sit all night in towns healing the sick and demonized.
- They’ve heard Him teach with previously unknown authority.
- They’ve seen Him heal a centurion’s servant from a distance.
- They watched Him heal Peter’s mother-in-law.
More than anything, they’ve watched Jesus demonstrate what it looks like to put one’s faith in God and focus on His will. Unfortunately, in this situation, they’re quickly reverting to responding out of fear and casting around desperately for a solution.
At face value, it looks like Jesus is chastising them, but there’s probably more going on here. The Lord doesn’t expect more than the disciples can give at this point. But He does need them to understand what a lack of faith looks like. They need to realize that the hysteria they feel right now isn’t indicative of faith.
There is coming a time when they will be responsible for the kingdom’s message, and they’ll be in danger of persecution. Most of them will die martyrs’ deaths, and to endure what’s to come, they will need faith. When they’re tempted to give up hope, this memory will be crucial.
Jesus calms the storm in Mark’s Gospel
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:35–41
Further details about the storm
One thing we notice from Mark’s version is some added details. Jesus’ boat wasn’t the only one out that day. When Mark talks about the storm, he uses a very specific word that only shows up two other times in the New Testament: lailaps.
If you’re a western reader, you might see the “storm” and think of it as a heavy rainstorm, but the word lailaps (which Luke also uses) reaffirms that this is a storm of huge, fierce gale winds. Mark adds extra color here by telling us that the wind was forcing so much water into the boat that it was in danger of sinking.
“Don’t you care if we drown?”
One of the most interesting characteristics of Mark’s Gospel is what we learn about the disciples’ panic. Matthew’s version has the disciples pleading to Jesus to save them, but Mark includes an element that almost seems accusatory: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
There are a couple ways we can read this question:
- “Hey Jesus, don’t You care that we’re all in mortal danger here?”
- “How can You sleep at a time like this?!”
It’s probably a mixture of the two sentiments. Even for seasoned fishermen, this kind of storm is a nightmare. There is nothing within their power that they can do to secure a safe outcome. They’re completely at the mercy of the storm. Meanwhile, Jesus is comfortable sleeping through the entire ordeal. At this particular moment, they don’t see Jesus’ rest as a sign of His faith. They see it as a lack of concern for their well-being.
Rebuking the wind and quieting the waves
Mark’s telling is particularly powerful. In the middle of the maelstrom, the disciples wake the Lord up and accuse Him of not caring whether they live or die. Jesus stands up and commands the storm and waves to stop. The drama and impact must have been palpable. And in that powerful moment Jesus looks to the disciples to ask them why they’re so afraid and lacking in faith.
The implication is that they were never in any real danger and didn’t have any real reason for panic—with the sudden quiet and slowly rocking boat working as an effective exclamation point.
Jesus calms the storm in Luke’s Gospel
One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” Luke 8:22–25
Luke’s Gospel is the work of an intrepid investigative reporter. As he tells us in the opening of his Gospel:
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning ” (Luke 1:1–3a)
From his interviews, Luke comes away with an account of the miracle that hits the high points touched on by both Matthew and Mark. You can watch Luke’s account in this scene from the JESUS film.
Even the winds and water obey Him
All three accounts end with the disciples marveling at Jesus’ power. Remember, this is still fairly early in their time with the Lord. This command over the elements would have come as a huge surprise.
Each of the synoptic Gospel writers offer insight into the disciples’ emotional state after witnessing this miracle:
- Matthew: “The men were amazed …”
- Mark: “They were terrified …”
- Luke: “In fear and amazement …”
They’ve never seen anything like this, and they’re gripped by both astonishment and fear. This event comes across as a huge eye-opener for the disciples. They’ve known Jesus was special and they’ve seen Him do miraculous things, but His ability to command nature takes everything to another level, prompting them to remark, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” Anyone can tell the wind and waves what to do, but they actually listen to Jesus.
Learning from Jesus calming the storm
There are a number of things that modern readers can take away from this story, but we should look at Jesus’ questions, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
It’s obvious that this question doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t be afraid because if we have enough faith, nothing bad will happen to us. Most of these disciples will die at the hands of persecutors. The faith Jesus is asking about isn’t a faith that we can avoid trials. Jesus later tells the disciples:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus doesn’t leave any question that we will experience trouble. When we have the expectation that faith protects us from tragedy, we’ll always struggle with our faith. We’ll have to reconcile why difficult and tragic things happen. But when our faith is intact, we will have peace.
It doesn’t make sense that the Lord was upset that the disciples were concerned about what was happening to them. Even Jesus prayed on the night of His crucifixion for God to provide an alternative (Matthew 26:39). What He didn’t do was panic and lose His composure.
Our faith isn’t built on a promise that nothing bad will happen to us. It’s based on our confidence in an all-powerful and loving God who has overcome the world. It’s founded in a trust that God is at work reconciling the world to Himself and, no matter what happens, His plans will prevail.
This is why Paul tells us not to be anxious about anything. We can carry our request to God with the confidence that He hears us. And, in return, we can experience a peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6–7). This peace is beyond understanding because it’s present in the storm. Anyone can have peace if they’re promised that everything will always work itself out. It’s something else entirely when we experience peace though we’re unsure of the outcome. This peace is foundational, grounding, and secure.
When Jesus asks the disciples about their faith, He’s asking them about their vision. Why is it that you can only see what’s right in front of you and you don’t have a vision that sees beyond this moment and beyond your senses?
The lesson from this story can’t be “Jesus will calm every storm in your life.” On the contrary, we should be secure in the fact that Jesus can calm our storms, and no matter what happens, God is at work. We don’t have to live in a constant case of disquiet and dread. Jesus has overcome the world and our story is moving with all history toward God’s chosen conclusion.
Learn more about the miracles of Jesus
If you’re interested in learning more about the miraculous things Jesus did, check out our article about “The Miracles of Jesus.” You can also discover more about Jesus’ teachings by diving into “All the Parables of Jesus.”