MATTHEW 8:23-27
Pp Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25

Jesus - resting in the Father’s provision
Jesus - deals with cause and effect
Jesus - deals with the storm inside
Jesus - saves His way

As was noted on the previous passage, Jesus’ decision to go to the east side of the lake was accompanied by a couple of would-be disciples being challenged to follow after Jesus as He travels the short distance to the lakeside where the boat awaits Him. Mark alone tells us that there were other disciples in other boats which accompanied Him (Mark 4:36 - who presumably found themselves separated from the boat in which Jesus was sleeping when the storm hit) and both Mark and Matthew inform us that the incident took place during the evening and, in this case, that possibly indicates that the end of the day was approaching rather than, as in Mtw 8:16, that a new day had just begun.

Mattask quotes Knox as saying that

‘...this short and simple passage is a headache for the solver of the Synoptic problem’

indicating the difficulties which commentators find when trying to determine which of the three passages was written first and which borrowed from the others. No such considerations need concern us here as it isn’t our intention to propose mythical manuscripts which can be regarded as originals from which these Gospels sprang (such as ‘Q’). What Mattask also points out is the problem within the text which has Jesus speak to the disciples before He calms the sea in Matthew but after the event in both Mark and Luke.

But none of the three Gospels insists that the event is being written chronologically and what one writer records as having been said before, may in fact have occurred afterwards - or that Jesus spoke to the disciples both before and after the calming of the waters. There is certainly reason to address the situation both before the calming of the storm when the disciples’ fear would probably be at its worst and after when they had possibly not yet settled down into some sort of peace.

Storms on the Sea of Galilee are notably common, Zondervan observing that the cause for such phenomena being

‘The cool air masses from the mountain heights [which] rush down the steep slopes with great force, causing violent eruptions of the lake. Such tempests are not infrequent and are extremely dangerous to small craft’

and the violence of the storm is made worse in the mind of the reader by the use of the Greek word for ‘earthquake’ here and which is translated as ‘storm’ in the RSV (Strongs Greek number 4578). The word comes from a root word which suggests violent movement and is used here unusually to denote the ferocity of the storm.

That the disciples in the boat were probably fishermen (we assume that the boat being referred to is that of Simon and Andrew and that it was being sailed by them as well - but this need not be so. But whoever is sailing the boat is naturally expected to be the one who both owns it and usually takes it out onto the lake) and that they were used to the sudden changes in weather on the lake make their fear even more surprising when one considers that they must have experienced difficult sailing conditions on numerous occasions.

It seems, however, that, even for them, this storm was of a force that they knew represented a serious threat to the security of themselves and the boat.

Jesus - resting in the Father’s provision

As noted previously, the boat that Jesus got into was probably Simon Peter and Andrew’s boat but this cannot be certain. Even when it talks about the disciples following Him into the boat (Mtw 8:23), our natural interpretation is that it was specifically the twelve disciples that Jesus chose for Himself from amongst His followers and which are first mentioned in Mtw 10:1 as being a distinct group - Matmor sees the reference to the disciples in this passage as indicating just that.

But, again, this needn’t be the case - ‘disciples’ meant all or any of the followers of Jesus whether they were committed wholeheartedly or not (see, for instance, Mtw 8:21) so ‘a group of believers’ is all that is necessary for this phrase to mean. Jesus was totally secure in the relationship He had with His Father. He knew that nothing evil would come to Him that would detract from the work He’d been given to do until the hour of the cross came and then, even through the events of the cross, that which was meant to draw Him away from God would actually be the means whereby God’s will would come about.

But, being humanly tired from the day’s ministry (this is an inference from both Matthew and Mark), He took rest in the boat, resting in the Father’s provision and unconcerned with situations around Him. Matfran isn’t going too far when he notes (my italics) that Jesus

‘ other men, could be exhausted by constant activity...’

a trait which, with other examples scattered for us through the Gospels (for instance note Jesus’ surprise at the Centurion’s reply in Mtw 8:10 which we’ve previously discussed elsewhere), show us demonstrably that Jesus was most definitely a man with human limitations rather than human weaknesses.

The ‘cushion’ of Mark 4:38 which Jesus is lying on (Strongs Greek number 4344) is probably better translated as ‘pillow’ as the AV renders it, for the word is a compound from two words, one of which means ‘head’. It appears to be used for a word in Ezek 13:18 in the LXX which is translated as ‘veil’ so it may have a shade of meaning that varies according to the context in which it’s used, but the word certainly seems to have something to do with the head rather than, as ‘cushion’ suggests, something which may have supported the body also.

The point is that Jesus appears to be lying flat out with His head on a softer support. Jesus has previously told the scribe who came to Him to pledge his commitment to follow that He has nowhere to lay His head (Mtw 8:20) but, even though He is without a definite place to lie down and sleep on this journey to the east side of the Lake, He finds a place to do just that (Mtw 8:24). As Mathag notes

‘The One who has nowhere to lay His yet paradoxically at home everywhere, apparently untroubled by normal anxieties’

The home is a place where the residents can pull themselves away from the pressures of the world and take their ease amongst friends or family, unwind and generally relax. That Jesus has no specific place in the there-and-now where He can do just this is not a comment to the scribe on how Jesus lacked security (Mtw 8:20) but on how the scribe would share a similar fortune should he be committed enough to follow after Him.

For Jesus, who walked in the Father’s world, He naturally felt ‘at home’ everywhere for His security was not in being able to forsake the troubles of the world but to rely on the Father’s hand of provision so much that He could rest at any time, in every situation. For Him - as well as it should be for us - security was a matter of a knowing and experiencing the care of the Father who was watching over Him.

Some commentators make much of Scriptures such as Ps 4:8 where David writes

‘In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for Thou alone, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety’

Although this verse can be applied to the situation that confronts us in Mtw 8:23-27, it should be contrasted with Jonah 1:4-5 (my italics) where, upon attempting to flee away from the Lord’s presence so as not to have to do His revealed will, Jonah finds a boat sailing for Tarshish and enrols as a passenger. But, the Scripture says, though God could have let His servant go, He

‘...hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god; and they threw the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep

The similarities of both Jonah and Jesus being asleep when a great storm descends upon those in the boat is immediately seen to be a contrast and difference where one sleeps in the knowledge of God’s provision while the other sleeps thinking that he’s escaped Him. It’s too strong an assertion that sleep is a characteristic of a life that is secure in God but, in Jesus’ case, the tiredness which has come upon Him through the day’s ministry is given in to because He rests confident that nothing evil shall ultimately come about in the short journey over to the east side of the Lake.

The other difference in the two incidents is that Jonah was thrown overboard because He fled from the Lord’s presence and ended up in the stomach of a whale, while Jesus stayed in the boat and ate the fish He might have been swallowed by (though there are no fish of any significant size in the Sea of Galilee that could swallow a man)!

Jesus - deals with cause and effect

Mtw 8:28 relates to us that Jesus stood up and

‘...rebuked the winds...’

dealing with the source of the problem that was causing the boat to fill with water, then saying (as in Mark 4:39)

‘Peace! Be still!’

so that the problem that had been caused was also dealt with. This is a definite dealing with, first, the cause of the danger that was making the disciples fearful - that is, the strong wind that was whipping the waters up to overflow the sides of the boat and to fill it with water and, second, to calm the seas that were the product of the strong wind.

There is an analogy here also in the life of the believer who often sees effects of storms in their own lives but who go after calming the effects rather than to attempt to rectify the root cause. Very many years ago, a fellow believer related their desire to campaign against betting shops throughout the UK and to try and prevent them from either opening or expanding their trade in the nation.

While such a cause can be considered to be a good one and, certainly from a restrictive point of view, could be seen to be removing a natural temptation from other people who have not yet started to gamble, it necessarily devotes the believer’s resources and strengths to removing the effect of men and women’s lives that are lived against God in this world.

Far better to aim at preaching the Gospel and to see God change men and women’s hearts into people who naturally have no longer any desire to gamble. Paul the apostle, even though he could have attacked the institution of slavery and demanded its abolition in his letters to the churches he wrote, chose rather to preach the Gospel and to build up believers to know more of Christ, correcting the disciples from the way they were straying and instructing them in the correct path. In Philemon, he strongly cut across the accepted norm of His day for a runaway slave and appealed to the master not to be harsh with the slave he owned, relying on the master’s relationship with Christ and the conversion of the slave to bring about a change in the way the slave was to be dealt with.

In this incident, if Jesus had just spoken to the sea to be still, there would have remained the wind which would have whipped the sea up once more into waves and continued to engulf the boat. Therefore Jesus deals first with the cause of the problem before He turns His attention to its effect. The christian needs to content Himself sometimes in this knowledge when little seems to be getting done - to bring about an answer to prayer which is aimed at the effect often needs Him to deal with the root cause first.

Moving on, supreme authority over the forces of nature was a trait of God Himself and, though the disciples may not have made the connection at this point, their minds are struck by the authority with which Jesus rebukes the storm and the suddenness with which it disappears and peace returns.

In Ps 89:9, for instance, a passage which the commentators refer to here and put into the minds of the disciples in this incident, the psalmist writes

‘[God] dost rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, Thou stillest them’

This authority over Creation displayed by Jesus seems to have been much more than had been intended by God when He gave authority ‘over all the earth’ to mankind before the Fall (Gen 1:26) and it doesn’t appear to be a correct assumption that Jesus is now operating from that authority alone. The point is that God the Father has given authority to Jesus the Son and that it can be used in accordance with His known will in every situation that He finds Himself in without necessarily needing a direct word from the Father for each and every situation.

It’s as if Jesus has a franchise on God’s authority that He uses in accordance with the Father’s will for His life in situations where it’s obvious that something needs to be done.

Throughout these two chapters (8 and 9), Jesus is being revealed by the writer of Matthew in a progressive way - and even before. The crowds have been noted as recognising Jesus’ authority through His teaching in Mtw 7:28-29 and, from 8:1 onwards, His authority over sickness and incapacity is demonstrated in the things that He rebukes. Here, in 8:23-27, His authority over Creation is demonstrated.

Throughout these verses and chapters - indeed, throughout the entire contents of the Gospel - readers can witness the authority of Christ over everything except the will of mankind, showing that Jesus’ authority is not given to Him to subjugate the will of man like some despotic tyrant. In 8:1-4, for instance, the leper is commanded not to tell anyone about the miracle but he goes out and proclaims it to everyone he meets and, in 8:21-22, a would-be disciple finds that what he wants to do isn’t in keeping with the will of Jesus at all.

Though Jesus urged those who heard Him to do that which He commanded them to do, at the end of the day it boiled down to a matter of their individual will and of them submitting the authority over their own lives to the authority given to Jesus by God Himself.

Jesus - deals with the storm inside

Matthew differs from both Mark and Luke who put the rebuking of the storm and the calming of the waters before the event of Jesus turning His attention towards the disciples who were afraid. There is no reason to believe that either of the three passages is in strict chronological order and neither that Jesus didn’t comment on the disciples’ state of mind both before the miracle and afterwards - but I have chosen to follow both Mark and Luke here who place the words to the disciples after the calming of the storm for the progression of thought is more natural and obvious.

After rebuking the wind and the sea outside the boat, then, Jesus turned and rebuked the storm that was within (Mark 4:40). The disciples’ faith had rested in natural phenomena and not in the words and promises of Christ to themselves (that they were to go over to the other side of the lake - Mtw 8:18). There is also a cause and effect inside the boat as well as the one which had been raging outside - the cause is the disciples’ lack of faith but the effect is that they’ve become afraid (Mtw 8:26).

Faith here is seen to be more of a confident trust rather than, as at other times, a dynamic belief that causes things to come about (see my notes here for the latter definition of the word). It wasn’t that Jesus was rebuking the disciples for not having the faith to stand up in the boat and rebuke the wind and waves but that they had no belief that the Father would look after Jesus and keep Him safe from harm.

Jesus’ rebuke (Mtw 8:26)

‘Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?’

relies on the belief that the disciples had in who Jesus was. There must have been a growing sense of awareness amongst the disciples that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah - as Peter confessed in Mtw 16:16 a little later - but, although they had the idea that Jesus was the long-awaited King, they hadn’t yet put that belief into a working knowledge and realised that nothing could befall Him that was out of the Father’s will, for what was promised of the Messiah had to be fulfilled.

Although they hadn’t yet begun to conceive of the need for the Messiah to suffer and die on a Roman cross (something that they failed to perceive even until the time of the resurrection), their concept of the Messiah was of One who would have restored the Davidic kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6) and, perhaps consequently, to begin to rule over the nations of the earth (for instance, as recorded in Psalm 2 and Zechariah chapter 14). If Jesus was the One they believed would fulfil that role, then it was inconceivable that God the Father would allow anything to befall Him that would keep Him back from fulfilling His destiny.

Therefore, Jesus is urging the disciples to think about the implications of their belief and to put it into practice, for the storms and waves that were threatening their lives were, in effect, phenomena that could not achieve what the disciples thought they would. Therefore, Jesus is urging the disciples to think about the implications of their belief and to put it into practice.

Fear in the natural storms of present day disciples’ lives are also what cause them to fail to experience the moving of faith. It’s too easy for a follower of Christ to look around themselves at the problems and difficulties that are at every hand and think that, somehow, their lives in Christ will be adversely effected by circumstances which are beyond their control.

While a bold stand in literally rebuking such circumstances does not always have the effect of making them go away (believe me, I’ve tried on numerous occasions!), the fear that comes through a failure to believe in the protection and provision of Christ is what causes the disciple to fail to operate with faith in the situation and it is too easy for them to settle back into a state of apathy or indifference based on fear and so become ineffective for Christ in the situation.

Although easier said than done, a difficult situation is one in which faith should still operate in the promises of God.

Certainly, the disciples did the right thing by bringing the problem to the attention of Jesus though, as we will see in the next section, what they had planned for Him to do was far removed from what He actually did. As Jesus enters the situation, He brings peace from chaos and tranquillity from a situation that could yield anything but.

The disciple needs always to invite Jesus to enter their troubled situations to sort out their deep-rooted problems (cause) and bring peace to their souls (effect).

Jesus - saves His way

There are a few differing descriptions as to the state of the boat, each which give us different indications of the plight in which the disciples found themselves. Matthew 8:24 speaks of the boat being ‘swamped by the waves’ while Luke 8:23 tells us that it was ‘filling with water’

Mark 4:37 is the most comprehensive, however, which recounts that

‘...the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling’

In such a situation, the disciples, no doubt, were trying to bail the craft out with whatever implements they had available to them. They would also have been fighting to keep the boat afloat, attempting to keep it on as even a keel as possible. As I noted above, these were not ignorant men who knew nothing about the Sea of Galilee and of how to man and sail a vessel such as this - the indications are that the crew were skilled fishermen who made their livelihood on the Lake and who knew, if anyone did, how to combat the forces of nature when such storms as this descended on them.

But their solution to their own problem wasn’t sufficient for their situation and so they turn to Jesus to lend an extra pair of hands. Their question in Mark 4:38 (actually, a rebuke)

‘Teacher, do You not care if we perish?’

is similar to that in Mtw 8:25

‘Save, Lord; we are perishing’

and, as there were many disciples in the boat and certainly more than one who came to Him (Mtw 8:25 specifically says that ‘they’ came to Him), both sentences are possible to have occurred - but both mean virtually the same thing.

Mattask, along with many other commentators, seems to think that their words were

‘...a cry obviously spoken by those who believed that Jesus had power to save them’

but this doesn’t appear to have been the intention behind their words. After all, what did they intend Jesus to actually do short of calming the sea and stopping the storm to remedy their situation? They hadn’t any indication that Jesus could do such a thing (and, by their reaction after the event, they hadn’t been expecting Him to do what He did - Mtw 8:27) and, if the Gospel record is complete on incidents of Jesus’ authority over the natural order, they hadn’t seen Jesus do anything similar before.

True, they had seen the leper cleansed, the demons cast out, fevers rebuked and a whole host of miracles performed on individuals, but how could that actually have been translated into their present situation in their own minds?

Therefore, their phrases directed at Jesus mean something totally different than

‘Isn’t it about time you got up and sorted Creation out?’

and was more in keeping with

‘Here we are bailing the boat out with our buckets - aren’t you going to lend a hand?’

The inference, then, was that Jesus should lend a hand to help them with their solution to the problem. But, no - Jesus saves His way and doesn’t work the way we either want Him to or try to push Him in to - and there is no dissimilarity for the disciple today.

But, when Jesus stands up to rebuke the storm, He does so in personal language, demonstrating that the same ‘method’ is being employed in the healing of men and women as it is in the removing of a natural danger. What is important here, then, is not the enormity of the problem but the enormity of the authority that has been given to Jesus.

The disciples gasped when they saw Creation stilled, thinking that such a demonstration of authority was something which surpassed anything that they’d seen before through Jesus. But it was the identical authority that the Father had given Him and which He exercised in healing the sick. The point is that, if Jesus has authority, there is nothing - save man’s will - that He doesn’t have authority over. And, if He has supreme authority, there is nothing in which a disciple will find Himself that Jesus cannot both protect in and overrule.