Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 8:23-27

Jesus Calms a Storm

23 And 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 swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And 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. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

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The events in Matthew 8 occurred following our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

We have read of His cleansing of the leper, healing of the centurion’s servant from a distance, curing Peter’s mother-in-law of fever, followed by healing people of demon possession and disease.

Last week’s post looked at two of His notional disciples, both of whom He turned away. That passage began with this verse (Matthew 8:18):

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.

Today’s reading sees Him and the disciples sail across the Sea of Galilee (verse 23), which is more like a large lake.

This storm also features in Mark 4:35-41 — included in the three-year Lectionary — and Luke 8:22-25, which I wrote about in 2013. That post provides detail about the Sea of Galilee, the nature of its storms and the type of boats used. Jesus and some of the disciples were in a larger, sturdier boat. The other followed along in smaller vessels.

Jesus was weary after having preached the Sermon on the Mount and then healing many people. He sought rest before reaching Gadara, which will be the subject of next week’s post. Whilst He slept, a great tempest arose (verse 24).

Fearing for their lives, the men in the boat roused Him, pleading for Him to save them (verse 25). Matthew Henry observes (emphases in bold mine):

Imminent and sensible dangers will drive people to him who alone can help in time of need. Their prayer has life in it, Lord, save us, we perish. (1.) Their petition is, Lord, save us. They believed he could save them they begged he would, Christ’s errand into the world was to save, but those only shall be saved that call on the name of the Lord, Acts 2:21. They who by faith are interested in the eternal salvation wrought out by Christ, may with a humble confidence apply themselves to him for temporal deliverances … Note, Christ will save none but those that are willing to take him for their Lord for he is a Prince and a Saviour. (2.) Their plea is, We perish which was, [1.] The language of their fear they looked upon their case as desperate, and gave up all for lost they had received a sentence of death within themselves, and this they plead, “We perish, if thou dost not save us look upon us therefore with pity.” [2.] It was the language of their fervency they pray as men in earnest, that beg for their lives it becomes us thus to strive and wrestle in prayer therefore Christ slept, that he might draw out this importunity.

Yes, our Lord could have made the situation such that the storm never arose. However, this is an exercise in faith for His disciples. They go to Him in desperation.

John MacArthur explains:

They’re not so much convinced that He is God at this point, as they are hoping that He is.  But they were right where God wanted them.  Sometimes God has to bring us to desperation to get our attention, doesn’t He?  They had run out of human solutions; they had run out of human answers; they wanted a divine answer.  That was their hope, that the miracle worker who could handle sickness maybe could handle the sea, and they had fear mixed with faith.  You see, if they had total faith they’d have been asleep like Him, confident in the Father’s care, because they were just as tired as Jesus was, perhaps.

Jesus responds by asking the men why they have so little faith that they are stricken by fear (verse 26). They are in His presence. How would or could He let them die? It wouldn’t happen.

Henry gives us the lessons we should learn from this episode:

Christ may sleep when his church is in a storm, but he will not outsleep himself: the time, the set time to favour his distressed church, will come, Psalm 102:13

Note, [1.] Christ’s disciples are apt to be disquieted with fears in a stormy day, to torment themselves with jealousies that things are bad with them, and dismal conclusions that they will be worse. [2.] The prevalence of our inordinate fears in a stormy day is owing to the weakness of our faith, which would be as an anchor to the soul, and would ply the oar of prayer. By faith we might see through the storm to the quiet shore, and encourage ourselves with hope that we shall weather our point. [3.] The fearfulness of Christ’s disciples in a storm, and their unbelief, the cause of it, are very displeasing to the Lord Jesus, for they reflect dishonour upon him, and create disturbance to themselves.

I put that last sentence in purple because it merits rereading and committing to memory. So often we are tempted to cry like Chicken Little: ‘The sky is falling, the sky is falling!’ The Chicken Little story teaches children not to be alarmist about life.

Some Christians continually panic about what is happening in our fallen world. To be sure, society is worse in many ways morally than in our childhood. However, Christians in most countries have no reason to fear these events or people. Continually banging on about such things in fear and alarm — and stirring up the same feeling in others — is, as Henry says, a sin. It reflects a deep lack of faith, as if our Lord is distant and powerless to defend us against men and situations.

Jesus calmed the storm immediately by rebuking the winds and the sea. All was calm at that moment, which Henry says differs from a usual aftermath following a storm, when:

there is such a fret of the waters, that it is a good while ere they can settle …

Yet:

if Christ speak the word, not only the storm ceases, but all the effects of it, all the remains of it. Great storms of doubt, and fear in the soul, under the power of the spirit of bondage, sometimes end in a wonderful calm, created and spoken by the Spirit of adoption.

This was a great revelation to the disciples, who marvelled at His power (verse 27). MacArthur explains:

You see this is Matthew’s message to usThis is the one who can conquer disease.  This is the one who can handle nature and later He’ll tell us He is the one who controls the demons. He is the one who forgives sin.  He is the one who raises the dead.  Think about it, beloved, He is the one who lives in your life.

Fear not. Believe in Him, especially in adversity.

Mark’s and Luke’s accounts of this storm state that the men were afraid afterward. MacArthur analyses this fear:

You know what’s more fearful than being in a storm?  Realizing you’re standing in the presence of the living God.  That’s awesome.  What an experience to know that God is in your boat.  That was far more terrifying than any storm.

This storm did not give the disciples perfect faith, but it served two purposes: one, it exposed their doubt about our Lord’s omnipotence and, two, He was able to reveal that power to them so that they might believe in Him.

Next time: Matthew 8:28-34

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