Bible openContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘The Story of the Calm’, Parts 1 and 2).

Luke 8:22-25

Jesus Calms a Storm

 22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

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It is possible, John MacArthur says, that Jesus and His disciples went to sail to the other side of the lake (verse 22), the Sea of Galilee, after they had a meal in Capernaum:

Very likely after a day of teaching as dusk began to arrive, they went to a nearby house in Capernaum and they had a meal …

Well after that, He and His disciples got into a boat.

That meal would have taken place when His mother and stepbrothers attempted to see Him and take him back to Nazareth, covered in last week’s post.

We can also find the same sequence of events in Mark 3 and 4: the storm preceded by the parables of the Sower (parable, explanation) and the Lamp under a Jar.

These parables have their part to play in today’s account of the storm on the lake.

Here is Mark’s version (Mark 4:35-41). I have highlighted the differences to Luke’s account:

Jesus Calms a Storm

 35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

St Matthew’s account is in Matthew 8:23-27, preceded, incidentally, by creative miracles:

Jesus Calms a Storm

 23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26And he said to them, Why are you afraid, O you of little faith? Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Now on to Luke’s account of the storm. ‘One day’ in verse 22 may refer to the same day the rest of Luke 8’s events thus far took place, as per MacArthur above.

It is likely that Jesus suggested sailing to the other side of the lake to find quiet time from the crowd. MacArthur explains:

To go to the other side of the lake was the best way to shake the crowd. They didn’t go away. When the Lord came out from wherever He slept in the morning, they would all be there waiting. And they had come from towns and villages all over the place and consequently they had literally come and camped with this moving crowd. And they were going to be there and Jesus needed rest. There could only be so much physical strength exerted before He had to find a place to replenish. And so He said to the ones He had been teaching, His disciples, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake.”

He describes the lake for us:

Matthew and Mark call it thalassa, the word for sea. Luke calls it limne, the word for lake. I mean, technically it’s a lake. If you think of a sea you think of the Mediterranean Sea, or something like that. You think more of a small ocean. But it is actually a lake. It is a lake, fresh-water lake, fed by Mount Hermon, primarily, which is just north of there up by Caesarea, Philippi on the Lebanon border. It’s about nine thousand two hundred feet high, snow-capped, the peak is Mount Hermon, there are other mountains there and the snow melt comes down, it forms the little Jordan River. It’s a very small river when it passes on down and enters the north part of the Sea of Galilee. It fills up that sea which, by the way, is in a low spot. The surface of the Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below sea level and so the Jordan comes off the mountains, runs into that…that deep bowl, fills it up, the Sea of Galilee, out the south end comes the Jordan River. The Jordan River runs continuing from 680 feet below sea level down to the Dead Sea which is almost 1400 feet below sea level. It runs down which is known as the Great Rift Valley, the Jordan Valley, then continues the Great Rift Valley all the way down into Africa.

But the sea is really the main center of Galilee. The Galilee is all around it. And around the sea are vineyards and crops and on the sea are all kinds of boats and fishing is a major enterprise. If you go there today and you circle the Sea of Galilee, you’re going to see farms everywhere, things growing. It’s not at all densely populated. Capernaum doesn’t exist as a city, it’s just a few ruins. Not much there. You’ll go to Tiberias and you’ll see probably the flourishing city, the only real main city there and it’s not that large. It’s mostly agricultural. It hasn’t changed a whole lot.

He adds:

What that [the lake’s geographical location] does is stir up storms, severe storms on the lake. I’ve sailed across the little lake of Galilee, the Sea of Galilee a number of occasions. And I have experienced the sudden rise of a storm. I remember Patricia [his wife] and I were one time on the top deck of a…of a small boat, I would say 60, 70 feet in length but it was a ship made out of steel and it was able to be in relatively rough water. It was the kind of boat you might assume to see on an ocean, not a little lake, but that kind of boat is very helpful in that particular environment. I remember being on the top deck to try to avoid the spray and being completely drenched as the waves were breaking across the bow and literally cascading water over our heads over the entire ship. That is a particular familiar experience to those who sail on that little lake. The water is agitated, as I said, as the air runs at high speed across the surface and agitates it. It is more severe in the winter because of some scientific reason that the three stratified areas in the summer have some way to kind of control the agitation on the surface, the lakes lose that clear stratification in the winter…the lake loses that clear stratification in the winter and becomes more subject to turbulence. And since the winds are greater, the turbulence as well is greater. So between December and February or even as late as April, you can have a very, very threatening, a very terrifying, a very treacherous storm on the little lake of Galilee, like really no other little lake anywhere in the world. There are plenty of historical records about the deadliness of those kinds of storms. They are violent. They are really unpredictable. There is a calm and within just minutes there is without warning a raging, raging storm. Some of the storms are extremely severe.

Jesus fell asleep (verse 23). Being all human, He desperately needed rest. Being all divine, He knew that whatever happened on the water, He would be able to vanquish it.

A great tempest broke across the lake, no doubt like the one MacArthur describes. Water quickly filled the boat. The disciples — Apostles and other students of Jesus — were in danger. MacArthur says that the main boat, where Jesus and some of the disciples were, was no doubt a sturdy fishing vessel, not a rowboat. The others followed, as per Mark, in smaller boats.

Alarmed and afraid, those in the main boat awakened Jesus, informing him of their immediate peril (verse 24). Jesus awoke and responded by rebuking the high winds and the surging waves. Suddenly, the storm was over.

Then Jesus addressed His disciples, asking them about their faith (verse 25). Luke’s and Mark’s arrangement of this episode immediately after the parables about faith adds resonance to Jesus’s teaching.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

Note, Many that have true faith have it to seek when they have occasion to use it. They tremble, and are discouraged, if second causes frown upon them. A little thing disheartens them and where is their faith then?

The disciples have an imperfect faith. They are still learning. However, as Henry says, a true faith enables us to turn to it when adversity strikes. Although it is natural to be afraid, not just in weather storms but those of another nature (e.g. family problems, poor finances), our faith is what pulls us through with a sense of hope and survival in Christ. He will make all things right.

Luke and Mark’s placement of this story highlights the importance of Jesus’s parables about faith. Will we be like the disciples or, with the Holy Spirit with us, will we persevere — resolute that whatever storms we meet will not destroy us spiritually?

In closing, this story points to Christ’s sovereignty as the Son of God. The Psalms refer to the Lord’s ability to calm storms.

Here is Psalm 65:5-8:

5By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
   O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
   and of the farthest seas;
6the one who by his strength established the mountains,
   being girded with might;
7who stills the roaring of the seas,
   the roaring of their waves,
   the tumult of the peoples,
8so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.

Psalm 29:3:

3The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
   the God of glory thunders,
   the LORD, over many waters.

Many more Old Testament verses refer to the faithful (e.g. Isaiah, Job and Nahum) acknowledging God’s omnipotence in times of crisis.

May we, too, share in that all-conquering faith of our fathers.

Next time: Luke 8:26-33

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