Matthew 8:23-27 tells the short story of Jesus being asleep in the boat and then stilling the storm. It is not as glamorous a story as Jesus walking on water, but its spiritual message has been as striking. So this was not just a miracle; it was also a parable with spiritual meaning.
Verse 23-24: When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep.
The disciples chose to follow Jesus into the boat. And what ensued was a great storm where their boat was covered with water.
When we choose to follow Jesus, we should not be surprised that we encounter great storms, even where our lives are covered by the waves of trials. I don’t need to think that God is punishing me. No! He is simply seeking to show me the quality of my faith through this fiery and stormy trial (James 1:2).
Verse 24b: the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep
It is remarkable that the boat was being covered with waves, but Jesus Himself was still asleep. How was that possible? If I am on a boat and it is being covered by waves, Jesus doesn’t want me to sleep. He will surely want me to wake up and rush to safety. So we don’t have to follow Jesus literally. He was seeking to teach His disciples (including us today) a spiritual lesson.
And the lesson is simple: Even when my life is being covered by the storms of life, God wants me to be at complete rest in Him. God will never allow me to be tempted beyond my ability without providing a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). So I never need to lose my rest in God.
Verse 25: And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”
The disciples woke Jesus from His sleep. What should they have done? I would have done exactly the same thing on a human level. But again, I believe there was a spiritual lesson being taught by Jesus.
Even though they were His committed disciples, here they were trying to bring Jesus into a state of unrest. They wanted Him to look at circumstances around Him, and get anxious and worried. They wanted to "wake" Jesus up from His state of rest. This is why Jesus rebuked His disciples. His spiritual rest with God was never to be touched.
This is how we must be too. Jesus laid out this life of rest as our Forerunner. So we can live looking unto Jesus – and also live asleep (resting) in the Father and His love.
Verse 26a: He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?”
The margin in NASB uses the word cowardly for afraid. And the only other time this word is used (besides this story) is in Revelation 21:8 - But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
The cowardly are the first kind of people mentioned who will be in the lake of fire. It is this same serious sin that Jesus rebukes the disciples for. Jesus was very strong in His rebuke; He wanted to underline how crucially important it is to remain at rest at all times.
Jesus also called His disciples here, “men of little faith.” These are disciples who had left all to follow Jesus. So clearly they had exhibited great faith in Jesus. But this tells me that faith is not based on past actions. Faith is a living virtue. I can demonstrate great faith yesterday, and little faith today. I can live a life of rest yesterday but come into unrest today.
Verse 26b – He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm.
I hope we can visualize this scene. The storm is raging, the wind is howling, and the water is continuing to be covered by the waves. And the boat is rocking and being tossed around. Jesus pays no attention to all of that. Stilling the storm could wait; the disciples had to learn an invaluable lesson. Jesus allowed the storm to keep going, as He first rebukes His disciples.
The disciples needed to see that they had just missed a huge opportunity to prove their faith in God, and remain at rest. When Jesus called them to be His disciples, He said, “Follow Me!” So they should have followed Him by seeking to also be at rest in this trial.
This is the message for us, especially when the storms cover our lives. We must remain at rest! I don’t even need to pray for my storms to be stilled most of all. Jesus is sovereign and fully aware of every one of my storms. So He knows exactly when to still the storm. Rather, let me focus my prayers that I would remain at rest until He sovereignly chooses to still my storm.
Verse 27: The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
I pray that those around us (starting with our spouses and our children, but also our neighbors and our co-workers) will see that the storms and our fiery trials are under our feet (we are not their slaves). No circumstance will cause us to lose our rest and confidence in God.
Then I will have won a tremendous victory for Jesus and put the devil to shame.