This is Chapter Four of my new book Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses.
Primary Bible References – Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-31; and Luke 8:22-25
With the exception of this chapter, all the other incidents discussed in this book are occasions when Jesus’ critics questioned Him trying to test, discredit, trap, trick, and delegitimize Him. The incident to be explored in this chapter, however, does not involve His critics. It is rather His followers who question Him.
In Mark’s account of this incident the disciples asked Jesus, “Don’t you care?” (4:38). The actual question is longer than that, but that’s the gist of it. Unlike all the other questioning of Jesus we are examining, this question was not about testing or tricking Him. But although the disciples were not questioning Jesus as a way to trap him, they were certainly doing more than seeking information.
“Don’t you care?” is a question a lot of people still ask the Lord today, both unbelievers and believers alike. Even if you have never asked it, I suspect there have been times in your life when you have thought it. That’s why I think this chapter will be especially helpful to all of us.
Context and Setting
Mark tells us this episode took place in the evening following a day of Jesus teaching. At Jesus’ suggestion they all crossed the lake (according to Luke 8:22) or the sea (according to Matthew 8:23). In the midst of the trip a severe storm developed, raising concern with the disciples. Because of the low altitude and the surrounding hills, sudden storms still hit the Sea of Galilee today.
I note that the storm raised concern with the disciples without mentioning Jesus because He was asleep. Jesus was asleep because He was tired. I don’t think for a minute Jesus was pretending to be asleep in order to teach the disciples a lesson. This is another indication that although Jesus was and is the Son of God, He was also fully human. There are a variety of places in the New Testament where it is clear Jesus faced the same kind of physical realities we all face in terms of hunger, thirst, and the need for rest. If you ever wonder if Jesus can identify with your fatigue, the answer is yes!
In the face of the situation the disciples determined to wake Jesus—that tells us how strong this storm actually was. At least four of the disciples were experienced fishermen and used to these kinds of storms; they would certainly know when they were in trouble. According to Mark the squall was furious and the waves were breaking over the boat, threatening to sink it. On top on the severity of the storm, this was taking place at night. We never read in the Bible of the disciples interrupting Jesus’ prayer time, but here they do wake Him from His sleep. Apparently they had enough faith in Jesus to believe that if He was awake He could save them, but not enough to ride the storm out while He was asleep.
Mark 4:38 tells us they woke Jesus and asked, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” There is a tone of irritation and reproach in what they asked. It reminds me of Martha’s question to Jesus in Luke 10:40: “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” She follows this question by telling Jesus what do to; she says to Him, “Tell her to help me.” The disciples did not tell Jesus what to do, but it was implied He needed to do something. Even though they were afraid, and as inadequate as their faith may have been, the fact that they woke Jesus indicates they did have faith in Him.
Considering Jesus’ Response
Jesus’ response to the disciples’ questioning was twofold. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report He calmed the storm and questioned the disciples. Matthew, however, has Jesus asking the question first (8:26), while Mark (4:40) and Luke (8:25) have Jesus questioning them after He calmed the storm. Mark also reports Jesus asking them two questions.
Even though this book is not about apologetics and defending the reliability of the Gospels, I want to comment on the discrepancies among the three accounts. (And remember it is only Mark who reports the disciples asking, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”) For me these minor differences underscore the reliability of the record. If the writers of the Gospels were in collusion and making things up, they certainly would have gotten their stories straight before writing them down. In addition, if the authors of the Gospels were conspiring to give the best possible account, it seems unusual that only Matthew and Luke omitted the disciples’ questioning of Jesus. Wouldn’t Mark have wanted to eliminate this detail as well so as not to make the disciples look bad? Instead, the Gospels are full of these small discrepancies as well as incident after incident in which the disciples look foolish or unbelieving. In my mind, this is evidence that they should be trusted as authentic accounts written without an agenda other than telling people the good news of Christ.
In response to being awakened Jesus did calm the storm. Mark reports, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (4:39). All three accounts report a similar response from the disciples: “The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”’ (Matthew 8:27). They were amazed, as in the presence of God. They saw and knew that He was a man, but now they also knew He was more than just a man. Managing nature in terms of the storm and sea was something only God could do. They were coming more and more to understand that He was the Son of God. This entire incident is often pointed to as underscoring in quick succession both the humanity as well as the divinity of Jesus. We see human weariness in His sleeping and the divine voice ruling nature.
Whether Jesus calmed the storm before He spoke to His disciples or not, He did scold them and ask a convicting question: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” The answer to His question is suggested in His address “you of little faith.” Jesus wasn’t miffed that His disciples woke Him, He was disappointed they didn’t have more faith. After all, by this time they had seen Him do quite a bit and had heard Him teach often; He expected their faith would have been stronger.
This exchange between Jesus and His disciples challenges us to think about our faith. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of faith in the Christian life. Hebrews 11:6 declares, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” We are saved by faith; or in other words, we become Christians by faith. Not only are we saved by faith, however, we are also to live by faith. Jesus repeatedly made this point in His teaching as does both the Old Testament and the New Testament. And living by faith means that faith is something in which we grow. In His words to His disciples Jesus was challenging them to greater faith and He does the same to us today.
One thing we might suggest from this entire episode is that storms are a part of life. In a printed message by Rick Warren he notes storms “are inevitable, they are unpredictable, and they are impartial. They’re going to come, we’re not sure when, and we’re all going to face them.”
Isn’t it interesting that in this account the disciples were in a storm because they were following Jesus? It was His idea to go across the lake. Perhaps the disciples expected everything to be smooth sailing because they were with Him. Being a Christian and following Jesus does not guarantee cloudless skies or smooth sailing in life. Sometimes being a follower of Jesus leads us into storms. I don’t think the storm this particular evening surprised Jesus, do you? The reality is nothing ever surprises God.
Just like the disciples we sometimes wonder if Jesus really cares. We sometimes believe Jesus has let us down. God does not always perform miracles to rescue us from life’s storms. And there are false teachers who wrongly suggest that if we had more faith we would be saved from the storms of life; we would be healed, our marriage would not fail, our financial woes would be resolved, or our child would not suffer. But that is cruel and not what the Bible teaches. Real faith trusts God in the storm no matter what the outcome. There is also a connection between fear and faith. As we grow in faith, fear becomes less a factor in our lives.
Considering Jesus’ assessment of the disciples, “You of little faith” (Matthew 8:26), we must ask ourselves how much faith is enough. I’m not sure I know. Probably just like you, I’m still trying to cultivate my faith and root out fear in my life. One thing we might note, there is no record of Jesus ever telling anyone they had too much faith! How much faith is enough? I don’t know, but I suspect you and I both could use a little more. The point is that Jesus can be trusted, especially in the storms of life.
I read that one day Mark Twain and a friend walked outside in the rain. The friend asked him, “Do you think it will stop?” And Twain responded, “It always does.” That’s true with any storm. You’ve got to go through it, but it’s not going to last forever. Eventually, or ultimately, it will end.
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