The Calming of Fear
Jesus Calms the Storm
“When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.”
It is one thing when a landlubber becomes fearful of the waves but another when the old salties become terrified. Peter and John had grown up on the waters of the Sea of Galilee; they had undoubtedly seen and fished in many storms that broke suddenly upon the waters. While the winds and waves might terrorize the disciples like Andrew and Nathaniel, who had spent little time in the water, it was of no concern for Peter and John. But on this night, it was different. As the waves began to crash against the boat, they sensed this unusual. In verse 24, it states that the boat was being battered by the waves. The word “Battered is more literally translated as “tormented,” a term that is used in other references to refer to the demonic hostility against people (Matt 8:6; Rev. 9:5). Thus, the text implies that this storm may have involved a spiritual battle as well. The result is that even Peter and John were terrified of their death. Then, to add to their terror, they saw what they believed to be an apparition walking on the water. So terrified were they that they began to cry out in fear.
In the depth of their panic, suddenly, a familiar voice called out, “Take courage! It is I, so do not be afraid.” It reads, “I am!” In this statement, Jesus is making the clearest self-revelation of his divine nature. The problem with the disciples is that they focused on the waves hitting the boat rather than the God who created the universe. The theme “don’t be afraid” is found through the gospel of Matthew (1:20;10:6, 28,31; 17:7; 28:5, 10) and is used by Matthew to remind his readers that when we have faith in Jesus, then we never need to fear. What causes us fear and anxiety is not the circumstances we face but our failure to understand the God that we serve.
In a remarkable statement of faith, Peter calls to Jesus that if (which would be better translated as “since” for it is not implying doubt but rather an affirmation that he is Jesus) it is truly Jesus, he could enable Peter to likewise walk upon the waves. With Jesus' encouragement, Peter gets out of the boat and begins to walk towards Jesus. However, faith quickly gives way to doubt. It is easy to trust God when we are protected from the storms; remaining resolute in our faith is far more challenging when the storms are raging about us. Once he was outside the relative safety of the boat, Peter again recognized the danger, and so fear began to override his faith. Peter’s focus shifted from the person of Jesus to the circumstances he was facing. However, Jesus still does not abandon Peter even as Peter struggles with doubt. Instead, Jesus delivers him from the threat. Herein lies the lesson we often struggle with in our lives and circumstances. We readily and wholeheartedly affirm our trust when we are in the walls of the church and feel the relative closeness of God in our worship. But we begin to doubt when our faith is assaulted and questioned in the face of adversity in the week. We trust in God when it is safe but become anxious when adversity crashes upon us. Despite the shallowness of our faith, Christ remains steadfast and unwavering in his care for us.
To demonstrate that they had no reason to fear, as soon as Jesus and Peter climbed into the boat, the wind and the storm ceased. The calming of the sea shocked the disciples, for having power over the wind and the storm was something only God himself possessed (Job 9:8 and Psalm 77:19. By both his confession of “I am” and his subsequent calming of the storm, Jesus was fully revealing that he is the God of the universe. When we struggle with doubt and fear, we need to go back and reaffirm who Christ is. He is not an ancient character in history or a mere prophet conveying a divine message; he is the God of the universe, come in the flesh to bring deliverance to us from the greatest threat of all, the threat of our own sin nature. Instead of fear, we can now live in the confidence of faith.