Christ Sleeping on the Sea
Alexander Moody Stuart
Alexander Moody Stuart (1809-1898) was a minister in Edinburgh from his ordination in 1837 until his retirement in 1887, joining the Free Church of Scotland at the 1843 Disruption. His experiential preaching had a near affinity to that of his contemporaries Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Andrew and Horatius Bonar, and John Milne. Among his appreciative hearers was “Rabbi” John Duncan, who while a professor of theology served for twenty years on the session of Moody Stuart’s congregation. After Duncan’s death, Moody Stuart prepared a volume of recollections of his friend. The material presented here is taken from Moody Stuart’s Capernaum (1863).
“Now, when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side. And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. . . . And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” Matthew 8:18-27. See Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25.
“And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee withersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee: but let me first go bid them farewell which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62.
One of the great occasions of Christ’s ministry at Capernaum is in the annunciation of the sower, the tares of the field, and other parables. In the morning he leaves the house, goes down to the sea-shore, and there delivers those parables from the ship to a great multitude of people; not only from the neighborhood, but “gathered together out of every city.” He then returns home with his disciples, and opens the spiritual meaning that lay concealed beneath the various similitudes.
On the evening of the same day, Jesus gives orders to pass over to the other side; and the incidents which then occur may be thus arranged; the followers on the sea-shore, the voyage across the lake, the sleep of Jesus in the storm, and the deliverance of the disciples.
I. The Followers on the Sea-Shore
There is no necessity for supposing, that the two cases recorded by Matthew and the three by Luke occurred on different occasions; because the one might add a part which the other had omitted, as so often happens. The only descriptive note given by Luke is in the words, “it came to pass as they went by the way”; but this quite accords with Matthew’s definite account of time and place in the occurrence of the incidents.
After a long day’s work, Jesus is about to pass to the other side of the sea with his disciples; and between the house and the boat, he addresses memorable words to three of his followers. This he does partly of his own accord, and partly in answer to them. But they appear to be all professed disciples already, in the more general sense of the term; for the conversation refers to an attendance upon Christ, of a more express and constant character. The three may be distinguished as the hasty, the tardy, and the halting followers of Jesus.
1. The hasty follower is the first who presents himself, and he is sifted by Christ. He is a scribe, a doctor of the Hebrew law, a member of a learned and distinguished body that was held in the highest estimation by the people, one who sat in the seat of Moses. He has been with the multitude, listening on the shore to the wondrous parables spoken from the ship; and has probably been privileged, along with the disciples, to hear in the house the opening of their mysteries. He is not only astonished and delighted with the great untaught Teacher, but is deeply impressed with the all that he has heard, and his heart is moved with a tide of religious affection to the Lord Jesus. Nothing less could induce him to make such an offer of service: Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. It is the offer of a man of learning and worldly prospects, to cast in his lot with the lowly Jesus of Nazareth; very humbling for him to make, apparently both highly honorable and very helpful for Jesus to receive. It is the offer of a studious and sedentary man, accustomed to comfort and respect at home with others waiting on his word, to leave it all and follow Christ about the country. Jesus is in the very act of stepping into the ship to an unknown destination on the other side; when this disciple in the warmth of his affection and zeal accosts him before all, Master, I will follow withersoever thou goest.
“Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” is the cordial and invariable reception for every returning sinner. But Jesus, who receives all who apply for salvation, does not accept all who make offer of service; and gives no consent to take this scribe into the ship along with him: The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head. It is not absolute penury that Jesus speaks of, or the want of necessary accommodation for the night; because there were many houses open to him with many cordial hosts, both in Capernaum and elsewhere. But it is a willing uncertainty for time, the hold of this life let go, a severance from all the ties of earth. The fox in his widest roamings has still his well-known retreat, to which he ever returns; the bird in all its wanderings has still its own secure resting-place for the night. But the Son of Man has not earth for his home, nor any home on earth; and every follower of the Son of Man leaves all, without any earthly rest or refuge in reserve. This is not his rest; but the “rest that remaineth for the people of God.”
In the depths of this lawyer’s heart, as in the heart of so many professed followers of Christ, there was something to fall back upon if Jesus failed. There was to be for the present, a constant and ardent following of Christ throughout the land; but there was some expected home with honor to be offered him by Jesus, or his own home to retire to in the end in case of disappointment. The ties to the world are not cut through; Jesus cuts them quite by these words, if this man is to go with him at all; or else he cuts the slender tie that binds him as a disciple.
The world to be quite given up; the nest a man makes for himself, to be forsaken for ever; the refuge in which he takes shelter, to be abandoned once and for all: such an ordeal cools many an ardent follower of Christ. It is a balance in which many have been weighed and found wanting; in which many will yet be weighed, and their want discovered to all. Can we abide it?
This spontaneous sacrifice seemed by far the best of the offers of service now made to Jesus. The offerer was ready on the instant to go with him: he had no father to bury before he went; no mother or sister, to whom he must bid farewell with a parting kiss; but Christ was to be his immediate and entire portion: I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. The offerer thought his own service as sincere, as his sacrifice was great; yet the searcher of hearts discovers some unforsaken idol, in the depths of the soul within. Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if any wicked way be in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
2. The tardy follower is hastened by Jesus. Suffer me first to go and bury my father: Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. The command is trying, and sounds severe; yet at the same time, it is highly honorable to the disciple. The other two make offer of service, but he is called to the work by Jesus himself; for the divine rule that “no man taketh this honor to himself, but he that is called of God,” is remarkably illustrated in the whole gospel history. It does not appear that Jesus ever accepted any self-moved offer of service, but “he called unto him whom he would.” The call on this occasion is not declined by the disciple; and the delay that is pleaded is neither for a mere excuse nor for a trifling reason, but for a grave and urgent cause, and even a binding duty except for the intervening call of Christ. The call comes while the disciple’s father lies dead and unburied, and he pleads the necessity of interring his father first. This implies that he cannot now enter the ship with Christ, but will be ready to follow him on his return. Jesus intimates no disapproval, as if his difficulty indicated any unfitness for the ministry; but he enlightens his conscience, removes the obstacle by leaving the burden upon others, and commissions him: Go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
The command is honorable to him who receives it; but the words of Jesus convey a singularly severe, and awful reflection on the mass even of the respected members of society. “Let the dead bury their dead”; that is, Let the dead in sins bury their dead relatives. Of the maiden who dies after being committed into the hands of Jesus, he declares that she is not dead; but he pronounces all the unrenewed, who are engaged in the duties and decencies of life, to be but dead men; their living but dying bodies entombing their dead souls. These are not wild and reckless prodigals, but such as can be entrusted decently to discharge a solemn duty; yet their souls have not one spark of life in them, and they are hasting forward to the second and everlasting death. It is as sadly true in the midst of us, as in Christ’s own city, that many a decent funeral is only a solemn procession of the dead burying their dead; while in some cases the dark gloom is deepened by the Lord’s holy day being selected for the “dead work.”
The duty, however, was a most fit one for this son to discharge, had not the Lord called him to better work. It was quite incumbent, if there had not been other relatives capable enough of discharging it; probably other sons, who were ready to bury their own dead. They could do that which was detaining him, but not that to which he was called in the gospel. In burying his father, he was only taking part in what others could perform as well without him; but in preaching the gospel he was doing what none of them could attempt. Let them attend to their duty, but let him follow his own. His call is not to the dark work of interring the dead, but to preach the living and life giving word; not to sound the sad funeral wail, but to blow the silver trump of jubilee and carry the glad tidings of salvation. His call is to raise the dead, and not to bury them. It is more important, more necessary, more urgent by far, as well as more noble. Go thou and preach the kingdom of God: by the living word, breathed on by the quickening Spirit, go and heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind, cleanse the lepers, and raise the dead from the grave of sin.
The words of Jesus carry a lasting lesson to ministers of the gospel to leave to others the many concerns of this life, of which they may be tempted to take a burden; works good and useful in themselves for the social interests of the community, but which others will discharge as well as they without interfering with higher calls. The minister’s time is most precious for his own peculiar work; no other man’s time in the world is so valuable as his, for no calling is so high or so important. Let him therefore leave to others, what they can do as well as he; and let him keep fast by his own holy and peculiar vocation. The rest are often only “dead works,” which can be done by “dead men”; his is a living work, requiring a living man with all his time and all his life. Others also not in the ministry, but called by God into special nearness to himself in prayer for the salvation of souls or in effort on their behalf, will find in the words of Christ a helpful warrant of release from many things which they might do, but which there is no fear of others neglecting. These things they may safely leave for more spiritual, more profitable, and more lasting labor in the vineyard of the Great Husbandman.
3. The last of the three followers is halting with a divided heart, and is reproved. He desires to go with Jesus, with the homeless Son of Man, yet he cannot quite embark with him at the moment; but must first take a last look of his own cherished home ere he renounces it, and have some parting interchange of affection with his friends before he leaves them. It is not the claim of family and friends upon him in the way of duty, as in the last case; but the clinging of his own unloosened attachment, that divides and detains him. He has gone forward to the great field of the Lord’s husbandry, has put his hand upon the plough, and seems ready to start in the work; but his eye is turned backward to his pleasant home, where his heart has remained all the while. Conscience urges him on under a sense of duty; hope of eternal life draws on in the prospect of great advantage; fear drives him on by the terror of the wrath to come. But love binds him to earth, his heart cleaves to the dust, his affections remain unsevered. “He is not fit for the kingdom of God”; his present disposition is unmeet, and probably the man himself has no spiritual fitness for the kingdom.
There is nothing so common in the professing church as this divided heart, though it is the very note of the man whom the King pronounces unfit for the kingdom. Often also, as in this case, the act of placing the hand on the plough emboldens the heart to cast the eye back the next moment. Till the hand is stretched out to grasp the plough and reaches it, the man both moves forward and keeps looking forward; but now it seems as if all were safe and right. The decisive effort is made, and the eye may look back without danger. So it was with Lot’s wife: till she is out of Sodom and its more immediate dangers, both foot and eye are onward; but she looks back, after she seems to have fairly escaped the threatened flames. And this follower of Jesus first of all lays his hand upon the plough. He does not run home to bid farewell, and then come after Jesus; he seems afraid to take so much upon himself, and to run so great a risk of losing heaven. But he commits himself to Christ; he declares, I will follow thee; and having made the open profession, he now lets his eye instantly look back, adding, But let me first go, and bid farewell at home. There is no subtler snare than seeking to have so much nearness to Christ, and so much dedication to his cause, as will entitle and safely enable us to “love the world and the things of the world”; yet by such love, we brand ourselves as devoid of the love of the Father.
II. The Passage Across the Lake
These three followers on the sea-shore having been dealt with, not after the words but according to the heart of each, Christ enters the ship. One probably returns to his friends and family, and another to his comfortable nest. The third leaves others to bury his father, and embarks with Christ; and he finds a rough and trying lesson to learn, in this first following of his Lord.
1. Christ commands his disciples to pass over to the other side of the sea. The literal distance is not great, say perhaps ten miles; allowing both for the breadth, and for their destination on the other side being toward the south of the lake. But measured by the transition from Capernaum to Gergesa, the real distance is far more than the breadth of a wide ocean. It is to pass from a circle of friends into the midst of strangers; from love, kindness, and honor, into suspicion, hatred, and fear; from earnest followers forsaking all for his sake, and entreating him to remain, to the trembling slaves of their own lusts, grudging the loss of their ill-gotten gains, and beseeching him to depart out of their coasts; from flocks of sheep on the hills, and busy fishermen on the shore, to herds of swine, howling maniacs, and legions of devils. Let us pass over unto the other side, Jesus said; leaving all that was so attractive for that which was so repulsive, and taking his disciples with him. He who dwells in the pillar of the cloud, even when our hearts are saying that it is good for us to be here, will often give the command, Let us pass over to the other side; and if he go and we follow not, we shall not retain his presence even where we may have found it sweetest.
2. The voyage is undertaken suddenly, for “they took him, even as he was, in the ship.” Jesus departs without preparation for himself, or for his disciples. They had not expected such an order that evening; it has been a long day’s work to him and a long day’s listening for them, in public preaching and private instruction; and rest seems now to be seasonable for the servants, and needful for their Master. But the people on this side have heard for the present as much as they can receive; and when the multitude is dismissed, Jesus will go elsewhere with the tidings of salvation; so they take him, as he was, into the ship. The Son of Man, the Heir of all things, in the zeal of his Father’s house and his love to men, makes little of personal comforts himself; and wills that his disciples should hold themselves ready to go at a moment’s notice on their Master’s service: prepared to leave home and comfort and ease, whenever the gospel calls for the sacrifice.
3. He takes the apostles with him: the school of the prophets, in which he is training the ministers of the word. Let no man despise a due preparation for that sacred office; for those men who were afterwards endued with the Holy Ghost and with power, who were to excel others both in personal grace and miraculous gifts, were diligently trained for the ministry by Christ himself for the space of three years. He taught them in public and private, examined them often by close questioning, and gave them every opportunity of putting questions to him in return. Theirs was also a training college, from which the students were sent forth to preach, and to return to their Lord with an account of their labors; and the teaching was not the less effectual but the more, because Teacher and scholars together passed from place to place, as on the present occasion. It was an ambulatory school of the prophets, with daily lessons in providence as well as in grace. Without providential teaching, a man is but a half-taught minister of the word. Even if he have both grace and gift, he will lack one great branch of that knowledge with which the people require to be daily fed.
4. Besides Christ’s immediate company in their own ship a number of other disciples, ministering women probably as well as men, accompanied him in “other little ships.” They may not know their exact destination, but they understand that it is some distance farther down the lake on the other side; for none of them attempt to go round by land, as they do on another occasion afterwards. Some of them accompany him in ships, and the rest wait for his return; for when he landed again, “the people gladly received him, for they were all waiting for him.” They did not remain upon the shore during Christ’s absence; for he crossed to Gergesa in the evening, and could not have returned till the following day. But they watch for his coming; some of them must see the ship, soon after it leaves the other shore; and when Jesus returns home, the whole people are assembled on the beach to welcome his arrival. How beautiful are the feet of them that publish good tidings!
III. Jesus Asleep in the Storm
1. Christ’s sleep on the sea presents a remarkable illustration of the announcement he had made just before embarking, that the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head: an apt figure of the homeless state of Jesus in the earth. The only occasion in all his life, that we read of Jesus laying himself down to sleep, is on this pillow in the hinder part of the ship. In infancy he lay in the manger of Bethlehem; after his resurrection, we are invited to look within the tomb at the place where the Lord lay; but we have no record of his ever laying himself down to rest, except upon the bosom of the restless sea. After he is risen from the dead, he stands on the shore of the lake while the disciples are in the ship, because there is then “no more sea” to him. But now he lays his head upon a pillow on the deep; as if to intimate, that for Him in the day of his trial there is nothing but sea. He is laying the everlasting base of the city that hath foundations, of the kingdom that cannot be moved; and he is himself the immovable Rock on which it is built. But it is not of the earth, but spiritual and eternal; and the great Founder of all is a stranger in the world, a homeless wanderer through its cities: the Son of Man, with no place to lay his head but a pillow on the troubled waters.
2. This sleep is the holy rest of the weary workman after earnest labor. Jesus often wakes while others sleep. On the lonely mountain he watches all night, when the world is sunk in slumber; now he is fast asleep, when the world is awake and busy. The Son of Man who sat upon the well at Sychar, wearied with his journey, is now wearied with the double work of mind and body in preaching and patient teaching; and he falls into sound and refreshing sleep. Yet it is not slumber overcoming him, but time purposely redeemed for sleep; whether eating or drinking, or whatsoever he doth, doing all to the glory of God. The time is not suited for public work; not suited for secret prayer or watching; and Jesus redeems it for rest. It is so much time gained; the sleep that is taken on the brief voyage will save another hour, for labor on the shore in meditation or in discourse. So He giveth his Beloved sleep. What a childlike, quiet rest in the bosom of the Father; what a Sabbath of peace in the Son of Man; what a sweet and holy forgetfulness of the bitter cup, that is to end all his labors. What a blessed resting of the Father’s eye on his beloved Son; what a wondering and admiring watch of the legions of angels, who minister round their Lord on the deep.
3. Christ’s is a quiet sleep in the midst of danger, through the sudden storm that breaks out while they sail. The terrible tempest that is sometimes raised in that Galilean Sea will be understood by the following description: “To understand the causes of these sudden and violent tempests, we must remember the lake lies low ( six hundred feet lower than the ocean; that the vast and naked plateaus of the Jaulan rise to a great height, spreading backward to the wilds of the Hauran, and upward to snowy Hermon; that the water-courses have cut out profound ravines and wild gorges, converging to the head of this lake; and that these act like gigantic funnels to draw down the cold winds from the mountains. On the occasion referred to, we subsequently pitched out tents at the shore, and remained 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 in 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 I could regain the shore. Some such sudden wind it was, I suppose, that filled the ship with waves, “so that it was now full,” while Jesus was asleep on a pillow in the hinder part of the ship.”
There is no tempest, indeed, when Jesus lays himself down to rest; but the howling winds and beating waves, with the water rising round him in the fast filling ship, all disturb not his quiet rest. Nor is it sleep that prevents agitation, for he is equally calm when awake, but the outward quiet is the image of the holy peace within. There are other billows around him, darker and more furious than the waves of the sea. When Jesus awakes “he rebukes the wind”; not with unmeaning reproof, but because the prince of the power of the air has stirred the tempest; and he is rebuked in the chiding of the winds, which have been moved by his malice. Jesus is about to assault the principalities and powers in their stronghold amid the tombs of Gadara. They are not ignorant of his approach, nor is he unaware of their enmity; but knowing all he lays himself down in quiet rest. He seems thus to place himself in their power; but the Almighty God keeps him safely, for his enemies are all in his Father’s hands.
“I will both lay me down in peace and sleep,
For thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety;
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
That have set themselves against me round about.
I laid me down and slept,
I awaked, for the Lord sustained me.”
The rage of Satan is not only foiled, but the evil he threatens and attempts falls speedily upon himself. As in the end the death of Christ is the destruction of Satan; so now his legions are cast into that sea, in which he seeks to overwhelm Jesus. When he reaches the shore, Satan is not only rebuked but cast out; into that same deep the maddened swine rush headlong, and the devils are sent back into their dreaded abyss below.
4. As He is weary at the well of Sychar, who “fainteth not, neither is weary”; so He sleepeth in the ship, “who neither slumbers nor sleeps.” The seamen marvel at him afterwards, when He stilleth the tempest; but Jesus sleeping is the greater marvel of the two. The Eternal Word made flesh “was asleep on the pillow.” In his Godhead he slept not, but He who is the Almighty God sleeps in his holy manhood. The body sleeps; but Jesus sleeps in that body prepared for him, made one with himself, for ever part of his one undivided person. Not one Christ sleeps, and another Christ stills the tempest; but the same Christ sleeps on the waves, who with his word bids the waves be still. It is not that the manhood sleeps, and the Godhead quiets the wind, as if they were two persons; but the one Lord Jesus sleeps in his manhood, and by his Godhead rebukes the winds. Wondrous Holy One, God manifest in flesh, in two distinct natures, yet one Person for ever.
5. The sleep of innocence in Jesus presents a striking contrast to the sleep of guilt in Jonah. Jesus went into “the hinder part of the ship”; Jonah “went down into the sides of the ship.” Jesus lay and “was asleep on a pillow”; Jonah “lay and was fast asleep.” The disciples awake Jesus, calling, “Carest thou not that we perish?” The shipmaster awoke Jonah, saying, “Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.” There is a remarkable resemblance in so far between the two cases, but with an infinite contrast. The one is the deep sleep of innocence; the other is the deep sleep of guilt. In the one ship the only innocent One sleeps, and he sleeps because he is innocent; in the other it is the guilty man alone that sleeps, and he sleeps because he is guilty.
But how constantly the one is mistaken for the other. The world is fast asleep; asleep in the arms of the wicked one, in the snare of the devil; asleep in the midst of the sea; asleep while the waves of wrath are ready to swallow them up. Thousands in the church are so asleep; at ease in Zion; slumbering in false security; yet vainly fancying that all is well. They speak peace to themselves when there is no peace; they imagine that it is the peace of life and salvation, when it is only the peace of an unawakened conscience; for theirs is not the sleep of the innocent Jesus, but the sleep of the guilty Jonah.
Yet Jonah is a type of Jesus, the type given by Christ himself; a figure of Christ in his death and resurrection; a figure of Christ in one dying that the rest may be saved. The guilt of Jonah is personal; the guilt of Christ is imputed. Jonah is the one transgressor who is cast into the deep, and the waves of God’s anger are stilled. Jesus is made sin and curse for his people, is cast into the waves of God’s wrath, and they are quieted for us; he is made sin, and we are made righteousness; the wrath rests of Him, and we have peace forever. The waves that now surround the ship are quieted by the word of Jesus, without his being cast into the sea. But in the last sea of trouble it is both. Jesus is first cast into the deep gulf; then he speaks to us in almighty power, Peace, be still; and we enter into rest. But this anticipates the end of the storm, and we now notice:
IV. Jesus Stilling the Tempest
1. The calm is in answer to the earnest cry of the disciples. The mere fact that Jesus is in the ship does not prevent the tempest, but is the very cause of its rising. No doubt the disciples expected, that the sea would be calm when it carried Jesus; for they had some experience of his knowledge of the deep, and his power over it, in the miraculous draught of fishes. And when the storm came with Jesus in the ship, they certainly reckoned that it would not reach the extremity of imminent danger, else they had awoke him earlier. The interruption of sleep is a much greater matter in the East than with us; and it is only a serious occasion, that would be counted a sufficient warrant for breaking in upon the sleep of a friend, still more of a Master. Reverence for Christ’s person, and reluctance to disturb his repose, make them defer till the last moment.
But now the ship is filling fast with water, and they are sinking in the deep. The danger is perhaps not greater, but it has reached a far more critical point and is much more immediate, than when Jonah is awoke from his guilty slumber. After that the seamen converse with him, and cast lots for which is to be thrown overboard, and they still row hard to reach the land till they find all to be in vain. But the disciples are already past such efforts. The shipmaster reasons with Jonah in awaking him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? But the disciples gather round Jesus with brief and urgent calls for help. “Master, master, we perish,” one of them cries; “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” is the cry of another; and the prayer of a third, “Lord, save us, we perish.”
It is a great lesson for us to pray in the time of our need; not to reckon that the mere presence of Christ is enough; but to call, Awake, awake, O arm of the Lord. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much; not the mere fact of his being a righteous man in whom Christ dwelleth, but the earnest prayer of such a man whom Christ heareth. The promise of our heavenly Father giving good things to his children, is made special to them that ask. Jesus in the ship does not save it from jeopardy, till he is called up and awoke by prayer. He seems to take no charge of it till then, and not even of his own personal interest in it. So he often appears not to care even for his cause and kingdom, till called upon to arise and help us. It is not because he forgets; but because he will be entreated by us to stretch forth his arm to save.
The cry of the apostles for themselves brings deliverance to many around them. There were “other little ships” along with them, which must all have been exposed to the same tempest. Though none of them might seem so near to sinking as the ship in which Jesus sailed, and on account of which alone the tempest was raised, still they must all have been in jeopardy in that hour, scattered from each other and driven furiously over the boiling sea. The apostles alone are near to Jesus. They cry, and for them the storm is changed into a calm; but the calm that saves the one ship rescues all from destruction, and awakens many songs of praise from the deep. We can never pray for ourselves without benefiting others; we cannot obtain spiritual help for our own souls without helping many; we never so pray that Satan is cast out of our own hearts, or out of our company, without others sharing in the heavenly calm. What an argument for those that are nearest to Christ, to call upon his name; for if the other ships had perished through lack of prayer in the apostles, would not the blood of many have been on their heads?
2. Jesus stills the tempest; he awakes and silences the wind by his word. But first he stills the disciples’ troubled hearts; stills them by his example, and then by his words. He sets them an example of fearless calm in the midst of danger; of “great calm” in spirit, not after the storm is over but whilst it rages. Jesus awakes, but does not at once arise. He talks with the disciples before rising from the pillow on which he rests. His composure must have strengthened them; but his delay must have tried their patience, while the ship is sinking under every wave.
Jesus feared God, and was heard in that he feared; and because he was perfect in the fear of God, he never trembled before any creature, or any created terror. He feared no man; no crafty fox-like Herod threatening to kill him; no proud Pharisees thinking to overawe him by their presence; no Jews taking up stones to stone him; no Nazarenes dragging him to the brink of the precipice. So now he fears no ragging waves of the sea, threatening to engulf the ship. This is not because by his Godhead he can still the tempest; but because he trusts in the living God, who holds the sea in the hollow of his hand; for “he was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” He fears not death, because he cannot die till his hour is come; but if this should be death, it brings no terror to Him. In the prospect of the cross, his soul was exceeding sorrowful and sore amazed. But that was not mere death, but the cup which the Father gave him to drink; it was the hiding of his Father’s face, and himself made sin for us in dying on the accursed tree. Of simple death he has now no fear; but is equally calm amidst the devouring waves, as upon the quiet shore.
Thus he teaches his disciples, and reproves them for being so faithless and so fearful. It is not because there is no danger, which unquestionably there was at the moment; nor is it chiefly because they should hold it impossible for the ship to sink that bears the holy Jesus, though this element may enter into it. But it is mainly a lesson of trust in their heavenly Father; either for deliverance out of death, or for preservation through it unto life eternal, as may seem to him best. Jesus said to them, and probably before this trial: The hairs of your head are all numbered, fear not them that kill the body, but fear Him who is able to cast soul and body into hell. He enjoins them to trust God for preserving every hair of their head, if that be for their good; but if they are to die in his service, to have no dread at all of the death of the body but only to fear the living God. The same lessons he teaches practically now: The hairs of your head are all numbered, the sparrow falls not to the ground without your heavenly Father, those waves cannot hurt you without his will: O ye of little faith, wherefore do ye doubt? But if otherwise, if it be death, fear not those billows that can only kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. Why are ye so fearful? when it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom: Why cry, We perish; when the that believeth on me shall never perish, but shall have everlasting life.
Then Jesus rises in his own divine majesty, rebukes the winds and stills the waves, and there is “a great calm.” And now the disciples fear, not the mighty waves of the sea, but the presence of Him who is more in might by far.
“The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
The floods have lifted up their voice;
The floods lift up their waves.
The Lord on high is mightier
Than the voice of many waters,
Yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.”
What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him? It is the Man that is my Fellow, saith the Lord of hosts; the Son of Man, who is God manifest in flesh; therefore mighty works show forth themselves in Him.
Presence of mind in the midst of danger, as brought out in Christ’s own example, is one of the greatest of all blessings to ourselves and to others. Nothing can give it rightly, but the fear of death removed through peace with God in Jesus Christ; and this peace will often give it, even to those who through fear of death had been all their lifetime subject to bondage.
This voyage to the other side is an image of many a believer’s life: In moderate quiet at first, our ship sails over placid waters; then often a mighty tempest arises, with much fear lest we shall one day perish; then the word of the Lord comes with power and creates “a great calm,” an emblem and earnest of the everlasting calm in that life above where there shall be “no more sea.” Meanwhile, in our many tumults and tempests, how effectually, and how quickly, does a single word of Jesus quiet the soul. How oft does he say to sin and Satan raging within us, Peace, be still; and how instantly there is a great calm; even the peace of God that passeth understanding, keeping the heart and mind in Christ Jesus.