Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:25b “. . .saying, Lord, save us: we perish.”
This is one of Christianity’s most treasured stories. It illustrates the way life is, how we act in storms, and the way God deals with us in times of trouble.
The disciples, crying out in desperation, created a strange blend of opposites we often repeat. They coupled words of faith, “Lord, save us,” with words of fear, “we perish.” The disciples had enough faith to know exactly where to go for help. They probably did not know for sure what Jesus would do, but were convinced He was able to do more than they could, and that somehow He would save them. At the same time, their faith was weak; the storm mastered their hearts as well as their bodies. A boat was not the only thing sinking. Fear almost totally drowned faith.
Jesus tested them to see if they would trust Him when He seemed to ignore them. Trials are Jesus’ best way of showing Himself strong in our behalf, and of strengthening His followers. We “are most malleable in time of misery. . . .Those that are melted in the furnace of affliction will easily receive impression” (Trapp).
Trouble put the twelve to praying. Easy times make it easy to be busy with lesser things, to forget the main business, prayer. Trouble jerks us back to reality.
Trouble put earnestness in the disciples’ prayers. In hard times we do some of our best praying. John MacArthur tells of a sea captain who bragged about his atheism. One night a storm washed him overboard and he cried to God for help. After he was rescued, one of his men said, “I thought you didn’t believe in God.” He replied, “Well, if there isn’t a God, there ought to be one for times like this.”
Mighty prayer is often produced by mighty trial (Spurgeon). We tend to pray too lightly in times of prosperity. In peaceful days our prayers are like a river lazily spreading out across open fields. In troubled times our prayers are like a stream rushing through a narrow gorge. Storms take the yawns out of our prayers.
Matt. 8:26a “And he saith. . .”
Jesus did not hear the thunderclaps, but did hear His disciples’ call for help. The storm could not wake Him, but their cry did. Jesus heard them, like a sleeping mother who hears nothing else, but immediately hears the cry of her baby. My Ruth knows how to sleep. She can turn out the light and be asleep before the room gets dark. Her ability to sleep through storms, and anything else, is legendary, but she never missed hearing the cries of our children. Last week our grandson stayed overnight. He and I were sleeping on a mattress in the living room. I heard him crying with a sore throat, and at the same instant heard Ruth’s steps coming from the bedroom. She had already heard him from a distance before I heard him nearby. What a beautiful picture of Jesus. He always hears His people when they call. Let evaluation of our faith begin here, do we believe Jesus hears us when we cry?
Matt. 8:26b “. . .unto them,. . .”
Before dealing with the storm at sea, Jesus dealt with the storm in their soul. This is where He almost always begins in our lives. He rescues, usually, not by taking us out of the storm. Even if He takes us out of one storm, another awaits us around the corner. God most often delivers by giving us increased inner strength to overcome the storm. Rarely are we crushed by the storm outside. The storm inside is what devastates. Thus, Jesus’ first priority is not to calm the storms of life, but to still the storm in us. Rather than smooth circumstances, He fortifies hearts.
Matt. 8:26c “. . .Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?”
By answering with a question, Jesus softened the brunt of His rebuke. He soothed and chided at the same time. “Why are ye fearful?” assures He will take care of them. “O ye of little faith” means their fear went beyond proper limits.
Jesus’ main concern was the twelve. “He does not chide them for disturbing him with their prayers, but for disturbing themselves with their fears” (Henry).
Let me speak a word in defense of the disciples. At the seashore, they had shown enough faith to follow Jesus in mission and ministry while others chose to go back home. They also had enough faith to call on Jesus when in trouble.
Faith can be small, yet real. Faith does not stay at a constant level. It fluctuates, waxes and wanes, rises and falls. Based on how one reacts to life, the same person can at different times have no faith, little faith, more faith, or much faith.
Do not despise little faith. Instead, think of it as beginning faith, and determine to increase it. Little faith is at least a good launching point to get us started.
To succeed in Christian living, we must know the proper relationship between faith and fear. Not all fear is opposed to faith. If we were afraid of nothing, we would become emotionless, response-less blobs. Fear is a natural, God-given emotion, meant to spur us into action in a crisis. A legitimate fear-caused reaction is prayer. Without fear, our mechanism to trigger prayer would become sluggish.
Once fear spawns faith, faith is to swallow fear. Fear continued fear. Fear comes first to stimulate, but then must dissipate. It decreases as faith increases.
Faith and fear exist in inverse proportion. More of either means less of the other. A good way to measure our level of faith is to ask, “How afraid are we?”
The progression seen in the beloved story of our text is often repeated. A storm rises. Looking at it elicits fear, which prompts faith, which begins to stifle our fear by helping us look less and less at the storm, and more and more at Jesus.
As long as we focus on the storm, and remain unmindful of Him, fear grows and grips us. In fact, if unmindful of Jesus, we can be full of fear even if the sea is calm. It is possible to fear we are overlooking something we need to be worried about. I have a compulsion to fix people’s lives. This drive is so strong that sometimes it can be satisfied only by looking for something that needs to be fixed.
Till focused on Jesus, we fear. Peace comes by riveting attention on Him. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee” (Isaiah 26:3). Let fear chase us to prayer in order to fasten our minds on Him as fast as possible.
Blessing dwells in applying the lesson of this story in our text. Dr. John Owen ranks as one of the finest theologians, writers, and Bible scholars in Christian history, but anxiety almost kept him from attaining this high status. One day, after having been for a while in a time of mental stress, he heard a sermon on this text. As the preacher expounded “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” John Owen prayed for God to make these words effective to his own inner healing. His request was granted. God pushed the clouds away and thus began a foundation of solid peace and comfort that lasted the remainder of his life. I, too, have experienced the sheer joy of release from overwhelming fear and depression. Do not misunderstand. We all have to battle fear, worry, and anxiety from time to time.
“I will never worry” is a pipedream. “No fear” is foolishness. However, it is right and wise to say, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee” (Psalm 56:3). Our battle against fear rages, but it can be cast off its bully throne in our hearts.
May God use the story of our text today to help us. We who are nervous, who fear, who worry, who are anxious, may the storm in our mind be calmed.
We may be tempted to say, had we been in the boat, we would have thrown our arms around Jesus and just held on. Really? Then why don’t we do that right now? By means of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is just as much here as He was there.