THE PEACE OF THE PRESENCE
When on that day evening had come, he said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” So they left the crowds and took him, just as he was, in their boat. And there were other boats with him. A great storm of wind got up and the waves dashed upon the boat, so that the boat was on the point of being swamped. And he was in the stern sleeping upon a pillow. They woke him. “Teacher,” they said, “don’t you care that we are perishing?” So, when he had been wakened, he spoke sternly to the wind and said to the sea, “Be silent! Be muzzled!” and the wind sank to rest and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were stricken with a great awe, and kept saying to each other, “Who then can this be, because the wind and the sea obey him?”
The Lake of Galilee was notorious for its storms. They came literally out of the blue with shattering and terrifying suddenness. A writer describes them like this: “It is not unusual to see terrible squalls hurl themselves, even when the sky is perfectly clear, upon these waters which are ordinarily so calm. The numerous ravines which to the north-east and east debouch upon the upper part of the lake operate as so many dangerous defiles in which the winds from the heights of Hauran, the plateaux of Trachonitis, and the summit of Mount Hermon are caught and compressed in such a way that, rushing with tremendous force through a narrow space and then being suddenly released, they agitate the little Lake of Gennesaret in the most frightful fashion.” The voyager across the lake was always liable to encounter just such sudden storms as this.
Jesus was in the boat in the position in which any distinguished guest would be conveyed. We are told that, “In these boats…the place for any distinguished stranger is on the little seat placed at the stern, where a carpet and cushion are arranged. The helmsman stands a little farther forward on the deck, though near the stern, in order to have a better look-out ahead.”
It is interesting to note that the words Jesus addressed to the wind and the waves are exactly the same as he addressed to the demon-possessed man in Mk. 1:25. Just as an evil demon possessed that man, so the destructive power of the storm was, so people in Palestine believed in those days, the evil power of the demons at work in the realm of nature.
We do this story far less than justice if we merely take it in a literalistic sense. If it describes no more than a physical miracle in which an actual storm was stifled, it is very wonderful and it is something at which we must marvel, but it is something which happened once and cannot happen again. In that case it is quite external to us. But if we read it in a symbolic sense it is far more valuable. When the disciples realized the presence of Jesus with them the storm became a calm. Once they knew he was there fearless peace entered their hearts. To voyage with Jesus was to voyage in peace even in a storm. Now that is universally true. It is not something which happened once; it is something which still happens and which can happen for us. In the presence of Jesus we can have peace even in the wildest storms of life.
(i) He gives us peace in the storm of sorrow. When sorrow comes as come it must, he tells us of the glory of the life to come. He changes the darkness of death into the sunshine of the thought of life eternal. He tells us of the love of God. There is an old story of a gardener who in his garden had a favourite flower which he loved much. One day he came to the garden to find that flower gone. He was vexed and angry and full of complaints. In the midst of his resentment he met the master of the garden and hurled his complaints at him. “Hush!” said the master, “I plucked it for myself.” In the storm of sorrow Jesus tells us that those we love have gone to be with God, and gives us the certainty that we shall meet again those whom we have loved and lost awhile.
(ii) He gives us peace when life’s problems involve us in a tempest of doubt and tension and uncertainty. There come times when we do not know what to do; when we stand at some cross-roads in life and do not know which way to take. If then we turn to Jesus and say to him, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” the way will be clear. The real tragedy is not that we do not know what to do; but that often we do not humbly submit to Jesus’ guidance. To ask his will and to submit to it is the way to peace at such a time.
(iii) He gives us peace in the storms of anxiety. The chief enemy of peace is worry, worry for ourselves, worry about the unknown future, worry about those we love. But Jesus speaks to us of a Father whose hand will never cause his child a needless tear and of a love beyond which neither we nor those we love can ever drift. In the storm of anxiety he brings us the peace of the love of God.
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