Matthew 8:23-27

THE PEACE OF THE PRESENCE

Matt. 8:23-27

When he embarked on the boat, his disciples followed him. And, look you, a great upheaval arose on the sea, so that the boat was hidden by the waves; and he was sleeping. They came and wakened him. “Lord,” they said, “save us; we are perishing.” He said to them, “Why are you such cowards, you whose faith is little?” Then, when he had been roused from sleep, he rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. The men were amazed. “What kind of man is this,” they said, “for the winds and the sea obey him?”

In one sense this was a very ordinary scene on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is small; it is only thirteen miles from north to south and eight miles from east to west at its widest. The Jordan valley makes a deep cleft in the surface of the earth, and the Sea of Galilee is part of that cleft. It is 680 feet below sea level. That gives it a climate which is warm and gracious, but it also creates dangers. On the west side there are hills with valleys and gullies; and, when a cold wind comes from the west, these valleys and gullies act like gigantic funnels. The wind, as it were, becomes compressed in them, and rushes down upon the lake with savage violence and with startling suddenness, so that the calm of one moment can become the raging storm of the next. The storms on the Sea of Galilee combine suddenness and violence in a unique way.

  1. M. Thomson in The Land and the Book describes his experience on the shores of the Sea of Galilee:

On the occasion referred to, we subsequently pitched our tents at the shore, and remained for three days and nights exposed to this tremendous wind. We had to double-pin all the tent-ropes, and frequently were obliged to hang with our whole weight upon them to keep the quivering tabernacle from being carried up bodily into the air. . . . The whole lake, as we had it, was lashed into fury; the waves repeatedly rolled up to our tent door, tumbling over the ropes with such violence as to carry away the tent-pins. And, moreover, these winds are not only violent, but they come down suddenly, and often when the sky is perfectly clear. I once went to swim near the hot baths, and, before I was aware, a wind came rushing over the cliffs with such force that it was with great difficulty that I could regain the shore.”

Dr. W. M. Christie, who spent many years in Galilee, says that during these storms the winds seem to blow from all the directions at the same time, for they rush down the narrow gorges in the hills and strike the water at an angle. He tells of one occasion:

A company of visitors were standing on the shore at Tiberias, and, noting the glassy surface of the water and the smallness of the lake, they expressed doubts as to the possibility of such storms as those described in the gospels. Almost immediately the wind sprang up. In twenty minutes the sea was white with foam-crested waves. Great billows broke over the towers at the corners of the city walls, and the visitors were compelled to seek shelter from the blinding spray, though now two hundred yards from the lakeside.”

In less than half an hour the placid sunshine had become a raging storm.

That is what happened to Jesus and his disciples. The words in the Greek are very vivid. The storm is called a seismos (GSN4578), which is the word for an earthquake. The waves were so high that the boat was hidden (kaluplesthai, GSN2572) in the trough as the crest of the waves towered over them. Jesus was asleep. (If we read the narrative in Mk.4:1; Mk.4:35, we see that before they had set out he had been using the boat as a pulpit to address the people and no doubt he was exhausted.) In their moment of terror the disciples awoke him, and the storm became a calm.

CALM AMIDST THE STORM

Matt. 8:23-27 (continued)

In this story there is something very much more than the calming of a storm at sea. Suppose that Jesus did in actual physical fact still a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee somewhere round about A.D. 28, that would in truth be a very wonderful thing; but it would have very little to do with us. It would be the story of an isolated wonder, which had no relevance for us in the twentieth century. If that is all the story means, we may well ask: “Why does he not do it now? Why does he allow those who love him nowadays to be drowned in the raging of the sea without intervening to save them?” If we take the story simply as the stilling of a weather storm, it actually produces problems which for some of us break the heart.

But the meaning of this story is far greater than that–the meaning of this story is not that Jesus stopped a storm in Galilee; the meaning is that wherever Jesus is the storms of life become a calm. It means that in the presence of Jesus the most terrible of tempests turns to peace.

When the cold, bleak wind of sorrow blows, there is calm and comfort in the presence of Jesus Christ. When the hot blast of passion blows, there is peace and security in the presence of Jesus Christ. When the storms of doubt seek to uproot the very foundations of the faith, there is a steady safety in the presence of Jesus Christ. In every storm that shakes the human heart there is peace with Jesus Christ.

Margaret Avery tells a wonderful story. In a little village school in the hill country a teacher had been telling the children of the stilling of the storm at sea. Shortly afterwards there came a terrible blizzard. When school closed for the day, the teacher had almost to drag the children bodily through the tempest. They were in very real danger. In the midst of it all she heard a little boy say as if to himself: “We could be doing with that chap Jesus here now.” The child had got it right; that teacher must have been a wonderful teacher. The lesson of this story is that when the storms of life shake our souls Jesus Christ is there. and in his presence the raging of the storm turns to the peace that no storm can ever take away.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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