As miracles go, the story of Jesus calming a storm while in a boat with the disciples is definitely a chart topper. It’s an epic demonstration of the power of Jesus, not just to heal people or to cast out demons, but over nature itself. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41)
That’s what the disciples are thinking after all this happens. And you can’t blame them. It had been a long day to begin with and then Jesus wants to cross the lake at night. In the dark. Well, okay, they’re seasoned fishermen, they can do that. But “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” (Mark 4:37) The guys used to the water are afraid, but not Jesus. He’s napping in the back. They wake him up and he stops the storm – just like that. He asks them why they’re afraid and questions their faith. By now, they’re probably more afraid of Jesus than the storm.
And why wouldn’t they be? That’s a thing with miracles: even when it benefits us, like saving our life, the fact that it can’t be explained is a little scary. And when the miracle is in the hands of a single person who suddenly exhibits inhuman power and ability, well, that’s pretty scary, too. Our gratitude is tinged with a little fear.
I wonder if those contrasting fears is a learning from this story. The disciples are afraid of the storm, justifiably so because they know what the storm can do. “We are perishing,” they say to Jesus (Mark 4:38), and I think they’re expecting to die. This is the right moment for Jesus to say “don’t be afraid.”
But then he does this thing that they never could have imagined possible. He stops the storm. That’s not just a “how’d he do that” magician’s trick. It’s the kind of moment that should make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. It’s the kind of fear that you feel in the pit of your stomach. It’s the fear of the unknown.
It doesn’t say that Jesus makes any further response to the disciples in the story, but I bet if he did, it wasn’t “don’t be afraid.” This time it would be “embrace your fear.” Engage the wonder, amazement and awe. There’s an energy in that, so let that drive you to the next shore.
That’s what it does for the disciples in this story. Nobody bales on Jesus soon as they get out of the boats. They’ve got a story to tell, for sure, but it’s a story of Jesus calming their fear of the storm and inspiring their fear of the unknown.
Here’s what I mean. Why did Jesus and the disciples get in the boat in the first place? To get to the other side. And just like the chicken, I don’t think the disciples knew what was on the other side of the lake. Maybe Jesus didn’t know either. It was just another stop on the journey. And the Sea of Galilee isn’t that wide, so it’s not that far and they crossed at night. It’s almost as if it were setup for something to happen.
And it does. It always does, because life is full of crossing the lake moments. Life is lived forward, it has to be in order to be “alive.” When you feel afraid of what you know, Jesus says “don’t be afraid, I’m here with you,whatever happens we’ll do it together.” When you feel afraid of the unknown, Jesus says “embrace it, engage it and find your way, I’m here with you, whatever happens we’ll do it together.” And, for Jesus, “together” is always more than you think. It’s more than the presence of Jesus in you, it’s the presence of Jesus in all of us with you.