The Sea of Galilee lay satin smooth in the moonlight, its silvered surface stirred only by the ripples that radiated from the small flotilla of boats making its way from the western shore. Only the creak and plash of the oars and the occasional snatch of conversation broke the silence. In the lead boat no one spoke. In its stern the Savior slept, and His disciples, knowing how little opportunity He had to rest, were loath to disturb Him.
Galilee was familiar territory to many of the disciples, and the voyage, on a night like this, hardly needed half of their attention. But an almost imperceptible change in the atmosphere brought them suddenly to full alert. It was only a breath at first, but it grew rapidly to a breeze, and then to a gale. Concentrated to fury by the surrounding hills, it crashed down on the lake, turning its calm to turmoil as the waves grew higher and higher. Any trace of complacency and calm vanished from the boats. Quickly it became clear that, even by the standards of Galilee, this was no ordinary storm. Under its assault, the well-drilled discipline of the sailors began to falter and give way to fear and then to a panic that mounted with the waves, which now reached so high that it seemed almost inevitable that they must, at any moment, engulf the boat, bringing it and its cargo to a devastating end.
As the inadequacy of their skilled seamanship to meet the crisis became apparent, the disciples remembered that the Savior was with them. Already they had learned that no circumstance seemed to surprise Him or leave Him helpless. Tearing their eyes from the terrifying waves, they looked for Him – and, to their surprise, saw Him, still asleep amidst the howling gale, undisturbed by the roaring of the wind and the waves. Even in their extremity something like resentment rose in the hearts of the disciples. While they were terrified, He was tranquil; while they struggled, He slept. Urgently, they shook Him awake, their panic lending vehemence to the question that they shouted above the wind: “Carest thou not that we perish?” (Mar 4:38).
Quite what response they expected, none of them really knew, but no one anticipated what happened next. Jesus rose from the helmsman’s bench. Standing erect on the careening deck, He looked out over the waves and, without raising His voice, spoke, as though rebuking an unruly dog: “Peace, be still” (Mar 4:39). Hardly had the words been uttered when suddenly, as though a switch had been flipped, the great storm gave way to a great calm. The seasoned sailors among the disciples were accustomed to the usual ending of a storm: the gradual slackening of the wind and the diminishing fury of the sea as the roiling waves slowly subsided. This sudden switch from mountainous fury to glassy calm was something altogether unprecedented in their experience. “There was a great calm” (Mar 4:39): the hush that succeeded the storm was just as remarkable as the force and the fury of the tempest.
The Lord Jesus turned to the disciples, and into the silence dropped two questions like stones into a still pond: “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mar 4:40 NKJV). The disciples’ fear of the storm had vanished, not just because the storm had ceased but because it was overwhelmed by the very different and vastly greater fear that flooded their souls. From the Savior, they looked to the silent sea; from the sea, to the Savior. Then, slowly, as if in a trance, they returned to their oars, still struggling, amidst a cloud of wonder, to process what they had just witnessed. Looking at the answering wonder in the faces of their companions, they hardly dared to whisper the question that filled each heart: “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mar 4:41 KJV). The disciples were used to the vast and impersonal power of the sea and the wind. These forces, they knew too well, cared nothing for the greatest of men. And yet, with their own eyes, they had seen a great storm suddenly stilled by the word of the Savior. What could they do but wonder?
Would that we might wonder with them as we recall this story, at once so familiar and so amazing! As we consider this narrative, it must surely stir our souls to think of the wonder of the sleeping Savior. There is, perhaps, nothing that reveals the frailty and vulnerability of our humanity so much as sleep. As we sleep we are disarmed, stripped of our defenses. Remarkable it is, then, to see the Lord Jesus asleep on the helmsman’s pillow in the hinder part of the ship. What a prelude this is to the demonstration of His creatorial power; what a precious reminder that the One who was verily God became truly human and “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15 KJV). He is “the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, [who] fainteth not, neither is weary” (Isa 40:28 KJV), “the Lord, which made heaven and earth” who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psa 121:2,4), and yet we see Him, in weariness, asleep in the ship.
In His humanity He had lost nothing of His creatorial authority, and, as we see Him rebuke the storm, we see the wonder of the commanding Creator. “Be quiet! Calm down!” (Mar 4:39 NET), He said to the storm. Had they come from any other lips, the words would have been torn away by the wind, and accomplished nothing. King Cnut is a byword for presumption and futility for a reason – no mere man, be he king, or emperor, or president, can successfully command the wind or the waves. But it is different when the Creator speaks. Then creation listens and obeys, instantly submissive to His command.
As we read the account of this miracle, we are impressed by another wonder – the wonder of the doubting disciples. There is something so sad about their cry: “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mar 4:38). They did not doubt His power – that would have been bad enough. But they did doubt His care, and that is sadder still. And yet He demonstrated that care, for He dealt with the storm before rebuking their unbelief. Even at this relatively early stage of the disciples’ experience with the Lord, we wonder how they could have asked such a question. But, if we are honest, our wonder is curtailed by the knowledge that we, in circumstances that were far less extreme, have sometimes thought, even if we never dared ask, “Carest Thou not …?” And we do so, mark you, on the far side of the cross. Unlike the disciples in the boat, we can look back to Calvary, and see there the incontrovertible evidence that He cares. And we do so on the far side of the empty tomb, and the revelation of a power even greater than that demonstrated on the Sea of Galilee so long ago. Perhaps, then, the greatest wonder in the story is the wonder of a Christ who cares, who still exhorts us not to be cowardly (Mar 4:40 NET), but to have faith in Him.