Matthew 8:23-27 | Study and Discussion Guide
The large crowds following Jesus (see 4:25) continued to grow as his teaching astonished them (7:78-29) and his power to heal attracted the broken, sick and outcast from all around. When Jesus saw the crowds swelling, he “gave the order to go to the other side of the sea” (8:18). Clearly, Jesus’ mission wasn’t to build a crowd – it was to make disciples. Jesus got into the boat and his small band of followers got in with him. What happened on the sea reveals three things every follower of Jesus and every person who is considering following Jesus needs to know about being a disciple of Jesus.
A Challenging Truth
The clear sense in this story is that Jesus is in the lead and knows exactly what he’s doing. He is in no way surprised by the sudden violent storm that arose. In fact, he is sleeping through it! The storm appears to be a part of his plan all along. This is the challenging truth – Jesus will lead us into the storm. This wasn’t just any ole storm, Matthew says it was a “seismos megas” - a seismic, earthquake storm. These weren’t just any ole people in a boat – they were fisherman! They practically lived on a boat in the Sea of Galilee and had managed many a storm in their work. The sea was the one place where they felt in control. The challenging truth of following Jesus is that he will lead us into chaotic situations beyond our control. Why would he do this? Why would anyone want this? The answer: Jesus uses the storm to cure his followers of the illusion of control. He confronts us with the challenging truth that we don’t have control over our lives. We need to accept this so we can accept the greater and more important truth – we are not in control, but He is. He is Lord over everything - even the storm.
A Comforting Promise
Right alongside this challenging truth is a comforting promise. It’s a promise we are meant to hold onto when the storm comes; when we are “being swamped by the waves”. Jesus will be with us in the storm. Jesus didn’t abandon them in the storm. He is with them in it. At first, it can be frustrating that he is sleeping through it. He seems absent! But upon further inspection it should be profoundly comforting - someone greater than the storm is with us in it. The comforting promise of this story goes further. If Jesus leads us into the storm and he is with us in the storm, he will also calm the storm. It won’t last forever. In his time, he will stand and with a word rebuke the storm and bring the calm.
This helps us see how this story primarily speaks to something larger than our personal “storms” in life. In the Bible, the sea represents the chaos of evil, sin and suffering that is beyond our control and our ability to conquer. This is the bigger point here – Jesus has come to bring an end to the greater storm. He has come to end all evil, all chaos and everything that threatens his purposes for us.
The Central Question
The central question in this story is the question in v27 -What kind of man is this? Who is this sleeping in the boat like a man who gets tired and then standing up to command the wind and sea like only God can? The central question is not about the storm (why is this happening?) and not about us (what are you teaching me?) The question that is MOST important when any kind of storm hits and fear begins to take hold in our hearts is, “Who is Jesus?”
If we don’t see this as the central question of this story, then Jesus’ question to the disciples will seem unfair and cruel. He asks ,“Why are you afraid you of little faith?” Why!?! This is a hurricane level storm that was sinking their boat! The point behind Jesus’ question is this: It’s in the storm that we discover both the object and the degree of our faith. This is what our fears show us. Jesus is saying, “If you really knew who I was, you’d have great faith in me and no fear – even in the storm. If you knew who I was, you wouldn’t fear the storm you would fear me.”
Who is Jesus? This story shows us that He is the Lord of the storm whom we should fear more than anything. But the wonder of the gospel is that the one whom we should fear more than anything loves us - so we don’t have anything to fear! 1 John 4:18-19 says it like this, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” Jesus entered the greatest storm we could ever fear – the storm of what we deserve for our lack of faith. The storm of God’s judgment on sin and evil fell on him. He entered that storm alone for us on the cross. He got the greatest storm; we get the great calm. How do we get this calm? By faith. A faith that looks to Jesus and knows we can surrender control to the Lord of the storm who loves us.
1. Is there currently a storm in your life (a chaotic, difficult situation that is beyond your control)? How are you handling it? What fears is this storm revealing?
2. Where in life do you most cling to the illusion of control? How does this story challenge you to accept the truth you are not in control? How might this part of your life change if you accepted the truth that Jesus is in control even though you are not?
3. How can the comforting promise of this passage bring us calm when we are overwhelmed and afraid?
4. In the Bible, the sea represents the forces of evil, sin and suffering beyond our ability to control. Why is it important that we keep this bigger picture in mind in understanding and applying this text to our lives?
5. “It’s in the storm that we discover both the object and the degree of our faith.” How have your storms/fears shown you exactly what you are trusting in and how much trust you have put in it? How have your storms/fears shown you the “littleness” of our faith in Jesus?
6. Verses 25-26 Jesus responds favorably to the disciples’ little faith yet also rebukes them. It is encouraging to note that the amount of our faith doesn’t determine Jesus response to us in the storm. But it is also important to note the amount of our faith does impact our experience of fear in the storms. If we can’t increase the amount of our faith by willpower and effort, how does our faith in Jesus grow bigger?
7. The wonder of the gospel is that the one whom we should fear more than anything loves us - so we don’t have anything to fear! How is the gospel the most effective antidote to fear?
“Faith, which is trust, and fear are opposite poles. If a man has the one, he can scarcely have the other in vigorous operation. He that has his trust set upon God does not need to dread anything except the weakening or the paralyzing of that trust.” (Alexander Maclaren)