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Stillness In The Stormy Night

The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd. After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.

When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." "Lord, if it's You," Peter replied, "tell me to come to You on the water." "Come," He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. "You of little faith," He said, "why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "Truly You are the Son of God." When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. (Matthew 14:21-34)

The Biblical understanding of stillness is very different from that of the world. The world assumes that stillness is achieved when everything is peaceful and calm, and when there is no trace of danger or calamity. But it is almost the direct opposite in the Bible.

The phrase "Be still, and know that I am God" is found in Psalm 46:10. This glorious psalm depicts that in the midst of deep troubles, the people of God are safe in Him. Against the contrasting backgrounds of landslides, earthquakes, mountains crumbling into the sea, roaring and foaming oceans, trembling mountains, nations in turmoil, the melting earth and the raging wars, the psalmist painted a river of joy flowing from the city of our God. God is still in full control. He is in the midst of all the trials and tribulations!

He is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. His city stands unmoved despite all the turmoil everywhere. He will not delay to help us. He will come to rescue us. We need not fear. We only need to be still and know that He is God! We will see the glorious things that our God will bring to pass. He will cause even the wars to cease throughout the earth, breaking and burning every destructive weapon.

In Matthew 14:21-34, there is a very interesting story about Jesus and His disciples. After feeding the multitudes, Jesus told His disciples to get into their boat and cross to the other side of the lake while He stayed to bid the people goodbye.

In the Bible, this lake has four different names:

  • The Sea of Galilee (Matt. 4:18; Mark 1:16).
  • The Sea of Chinnereth or Chinneroth. It means "harp-shaped," which is the general outline of the lake (Num. 34:11; Josh. 12:3).
  • The Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1). It takes the name from the fertile Plain of Gennesaret that lies on the northwest (Matt. 14:34).
  • The Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1; 21:1). This may be associated with the capital of Herod Antipas.

The Sea of Galilee is situated about 98 kilometres (60 miles) north of Jerusalem. Its fresh waters are fed by the cool Jordan River. The lake is the deepest part of the northern Jordan Rift. Water is being collected there before the Jordan continues its flow southwards into the Dead Sea. The surface of the Sea of Galilee is about 230 metres (700 feet) below the Mediterranean Sea. The floor of the lake is another 25 to 50 metres (80 to 160 feet) lower. The lake itself is nearly 21 kilometres (13 miles) long and 13 kilometres (8 miles) wide at Magdala, the point of its greatest width.

The lake is surrounded, except on the southern side, by steep cliffs and sharply rising mountains. On the east, these mountains rise to the Golan Heights and the fertile Hauran Plateau. They can be as high as 900 metres (2,700 feet). As a result of this geographical formation, cool winds frequently rush down these lofty slopes. This will in turn stir up strong winds and waves on the normally calm and warm surface of the lake - unexpectedly. These sudden weather changes can produce a great tempest in just a short time (Matt. 8:24).

Just like any other seas, the Sea of Galilee was to be feared even though it might look perfectly beautiful and still. Because of the violent storms and dangers, many Biblical writers often described a sea as an abyss, a fearsome place of darkness and chaos. The unpredictability and ferocity of the seas had scared the ancient people in the Middle East so much that they would try to avoid large bodies of waters. Many of their folk tales even depicted the sea as a monstrous beast, and a place where the gods waged wars with one another.

The Hebrews were a land-loving people who distrusted any large body of waters such as the Mediterranean Sea. To them, the sea was a perilous and forbidding place, full of terrors and dangers. Few could swim, and even the most experienced fisherman avoided the deep waters. The sea therefore became a symbol of the seething nations of the world, the troubled lives of the unrighteous, chaos and hell (Dan. 7:2-3; Matt. 13:47; Rev. 13:1). Perhaps this is why the apostle John spoke of the glorious new heaven and new earth as a place in which there was no more sea (Rev. 21:1).

While His disciples feared the winds and waves, Jesus did not. He always stopped the violent winds and calmed the stormy seas. He had full power and authority over all nature. Our Lord is greater than any evil in the seas.

Unlike other trips when Jesus went with them in the boat such as in Mark 4:36-41, this trip was slightly different. They were alone in the boat that night without Jesus. After Jesus had dismissed the multitudes, He went up to the mountainside to pray. What was the prayer of Jesus then?

When night fell, the disciples' boat was already a considerable distance from the land. In the midst of darkness and out on the lake, the disciples began to encounter some problems. When the winds had risen, the waves began to roar, beating against the boat violently. They tried to be calm and be still, but they just couldn’t. Some of them were professional and seasoned fishermen. But all of them were shaken to their bones. Jesus knew what had happened to them. He was praying and interceding for them that they would not fear but overcome. He allowed them to go through those initial struggles. He waited until the fourth watch of the night, about four o'clock in the morning, before coming to their rescue. It was probably six or eight hours after the disciples had left Him.

And Jesus did the most amazing thing – He came to them, walking on the water! When they saw Him, they screamed in terror. They thought that Jesus was a ghost coming up from the abyss of the sea. But Jesus immediately spoke to them, reassuring them by saying "Take courage. It’s Me. Don't be afraid!" While others were doubting whether it was truly the Lord, Peter called out to Jesus, "Lord, if it is really You, please tell me to come over to You, walking on the water."

"All right," the Lord said, "come along!" So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water towards Jesus. Peter demonstrated incredible courage and faith that stormy night out in the sea. Unlike the other disciples, he recognized the voice of the Lord. He took a great risk by stepping out of the boat onto the raging sea. He had overcome his fear. He was the only disciple who walked on water. But his courage didn’t last long. When Peter began to look around at the violent waves and winds, he was terrified and he began to sink. "Save me, Lord!" he screamed.

Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and rescued him. "O man of little faith," Jesus said, "Why did you doubt me?" Jesus didn’t admonish Peter for trying to walk on the water. He also didn’t rebuke him for fearing the winds and waves. He simply wanted to affirm Peter’s faith in Him by asking, "Why did you doubt Me?"

When Jesus and Peter had climbed back into the boat, the winds and the waves stopped. All the disciples, sitting there in the boat, were awestruck. "You really are the Son of God!" they exclaimed. All of them finally crossed the sea and landed at Gennesaret.

Like the disciples of Jesus, we too have storms in our lives that suddenly come crashing and crushing on us. Terrorist attacks, 9/11, Sars, wars, earthquakes, Aids, bird flu, highway and building collapses, political and social unrest, job security, family safety, education, health, finance, natural and unnatural disasters or deaths, tragedies, hurricanes, typhoons, etc. etc. have crippled and paralyzed many lives. Faced with overwhelming despair, sadness, anger and fear, we are constantly wrestling with hopelessness and helplessness.

Our Lord Jesus understands what we are going through. He too came into a world that had political and social instability. The forces of evil and darkness were also overwhelmingly working against Him during His days. Like a good athlete instructor, our Lord allows us to struggle on our own for a time and a season. He is able to save us, and He is always interceding for us (Heb. 7:25). He desires to build up the muscles of our faith so that we are able to trust Him and obey Him in everything! Instead of rescuing us right away, He allows us to wrestle with our storms in life. It is in the struggling process that we learn the most significant and precious lessons of faith, trust and courage.

It is important to have an end in any journey but the important thing is the journey itself in the end. The true treasures are the lessons of love, faith and hope that we have learnt along the way. When we face trials and tribulations, we are never alone. He is in the middle of our pains and fears. He desires us to be overcomers and victors. But even when we do not, our Lord still hears our cries and He will come to our rescue eventually. Somehow we will cross over to the other side safely.

One day, we will be able to walk on waters in the midst of our darkness and storms! Like our Lord Jesus, we will not fall down into the waters or bow down to our fears! If we truly trust Him and follow His instructions, we will be able to do amazing things! We can either walk on waters like Peter or part the waters like Moses!

And Jesus said:

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer,
I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Written on:
11 August 2004