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Matthew 8:23-27

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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?”

As we march closer to the end of Matthew chapter 8 we witness a crescendo, or climax, of Jesus’ divine authority. Up to this point we’ve seen Jesus heal and cleanse a leper, we’ve seen him heal the servant of a centurion with only a word, we’ve observed him healing Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever, and we’ve even been told that he cast out demons of many who were oppressed by them.
And prior to chapter 8 we spent many months examining his famous Sermon on the Mount of which we’re told by Matthew at the end of chapter 7 that “when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” So up to this point, time and time again, Matthew gives us example after example of Jesus’ divine authority, whether it’s in word or deed, an authority that is unparalleled by any person or prophet before him.
And so it seems only fitting that Matthew continues with a story of Jesus’ authority over creation, his divine authority over even the winds and the seas. The essential point of this text before us is this, that Jesus is the divine, that Jesus is the Son of God. So as we expound these verses keep that in the forefront of your mind, that Matthew is showing us that this is no mere man, but that this is indeed Emmanuel - God with us.

Getting into the boat

So let’s start by looking at verse 23 again,

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.

If you’ll recall, during our last time together, we read that Jesus was teaching alongside a road in Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. And in verse 18 he instructed his disciples to travel to the other side of the lake, but before they got into their boat he was delayed by two other disciples who were also are seeking to follow him. And so it’s after his conversation with these two men that we read, “And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.”
And like many of the other stories we’ve read so far, this same event is recorded in the other Gospel accounts as well. This is always helpful because of the additional details recorded by the different authors. In this particular case both Mark and Luke record this event, and Mark tells us that not only does Jesus, and presumably his close disciples, get into a boat, but that there are other boats with them as they travel across the Sea of Galilee.
Now, these boats were likely the same kind of boats that Peter, Andrew, James and John would have used for fishing there in Capernaum. And it’s believed that these boats were approximately 27 feet long and about 8 feet wide, holding anywhere between 10-15 people at most. Archeologists are pretty confident in these statistics because in 1986 a boat from the time of Christ, which has since been called the Galilee Boat, or the Jesus Boat, was discovered just south of Capernaum

Boat swamped by waves

After a severe drought the receding water levels of the lake exposed a boat that’s since been dated between 100 BC and 100 AD. The boat has a very shallow haul of no more than about 4 feet making it easily sinkable in unfair weather conditions, especially when loaded down with supplies or multiple people. So it’s easy to see how this boat mentioned here in Matthew could have been easily swamped by waves as recorded here in verse 24 where we read,

24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves;

And one thing that the Sea of Galilee is known for is it’s sporadic and often unforeseen squalls that come from both the Mediterranean Sea in the west and the deserts of the Transjordan in the east. These squalls are commonly known to generate waves as high as 5-6’ on the lake. Which, as I’m sure you can imagine, would easily swamp a boat of this size, especially if it were weighed down by a dozen or so men. And so as Jesus and his disciples are traveling southeast toward the country of the Gadarenes, on the other side of the lake, they’re met with a storm that begins to sink their boat.

But he was asleep on a cushion

And what’s interesting here is that while they’re taking on water we read there at the end of verse 24 that Jesus was asleep. Or as Mark records it in chapter 4, in verses 37-38,

37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.

So up to this point, Jesus remains undisturbed and asleep in the stern of the boat. However, his disciples are very awake, so we continue there in verse 25 and read,

25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”

Now keep in mind the crew manning this boat were likely very experienced fishermen. Peter, Andrew, James and John were all professional fishermen, and they undoubtedly had spent countless hours on the lake, yet here they are afraid for their lives. So on one hand their reaction to cry out to Jesus, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” is exactly what they ought to have done. In fact, it’s the very same response we ought to have to in this life as sinners estranged from God. It’s vitally important that we recognize and remember that apart from Christ we will perish. If Jesus does not act we will not be saved from the wrath that is to come upon the whole world because of sin.

Rebuked for their lack of faith

So, again, on one hand this is exactly the response we should expect from from the disciples. Yet, we read there in verse 26 that Jesus rebukes them,
Yet, we read there in verse 26 that Jesus rebukes them,
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” and Jesus goes on to say, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” For one to see that without the mercy of God that they will perish and therefore cry out “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” is quite a humble person, and is a person who will go down to their house justified - for their salvation is of the Lord.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Yet, we read there in verse 26 that Jesus rebukes them,

26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

So the question is this, “Why does Jesus rebuke them?” If this is seemingly an appropriate response then why are they rebuked for it?
Well, I think we can more easily understand why Jesus rebukes them if we read Mark’s account, because he records them saying this, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Do you see the difference? It isn’t that Matthew’s account is wrong or mistaken, but Mark reveals to us that these men are not responding out of a trust, or a dependence upon their Lord, but rather out of unbelief, or a lack of faith in their Lord. They’re about to sink to the bottom of the lake while Jesus is asleep in the stern of the boat, on a cushion! As far as they’re concerned Jesus obviously has no regard for their life. This is why Jesus responds to them by saying, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”, or as Mark and Luke record it, “Where is your faith?”

Jesus promises to be with us in the boat

And how often can we relate to the disciples? How easy is it for us to think that our Lord must have fallen asleep at the wheel when difficult and hard circumstances come upon us, when trials befall us? Do we not trust that our Lord is in control? Do we not trust that our Lord still loves us? Now, he doesn’t promise us that we will be delivered out of every trial and hard circumstance, that’s not what this text is promising, but he does promise to be with us in the boat. In fact, the very last sentence of Matthew’s Gospel is this, “And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
There is no doubt in my mind that God’s hand was in the circumstances surrounding that boat. God was in the wind, he was in the waves and he intended for his Son to be asleep in that boat. Why? To test the hearts of his disciples. To show them that they lacked faith, and so it is the same with us. Not that Jesus merely pretended to be asleep to elicit such a reaction but that God’s hand of providence worked even through his Son’s need for sleep to accomplish what it was he intended.

“O you of little faith”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
It’s actually really interesting to trace that little phrase, “O you of little faith” throughout the Gospel of Matthew. We find it used in three other places, the first back in chapter 6 when Jesus teaches his disciples not to be worried about what they will wear or where their next meal will come from, and Jesus says to them, “if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
The second is in chapter 14 when Peter gets out of his boat and walks on the water to go to Jesus, and when he sees the wind he becomes afraid and begins to sink, and Jesus “immediately reaches out his hand and takes hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
And the third is in chapter 16 when the disciples, after traveling to the other side of the lake, are concerned that they hadn’t brought any bread with them, so Jesus being “aware of this, said, ‘O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?’” The disciples had quickly forgotten God’s miraculous provision, and found themselves wrongfully distressed that they had forgotten to bring bread with them on their journey. Therefore, let us trust and depend upon our Lord in all circumstances, let us be people a people who know that our Lord is with us in the boat, that he cares for us even in the midst of trials and hard circumstances.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

What sort of man is this?

Now, we read on starting in the last half of verse 26,

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?”

Here we get to the point of our text, we arrive at what Matthew wants us to see most clearly, that this Jesus is no mere man, that this Jesus is also the divine Son of God. Jesus not only has authority over demons and disease, but even the creation itself. It’s why the disciples marvel and exclaim, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the seas obey him?” Or as Luke describes their reaction in his Gospel, “And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
Notice Luke’s language there, he says that they were afraid. The disciples go from being afraid of the winds and the seas to being afraid of the one who commands those very winds and seas. It’s why they marvel and ask, “What sort of man is this?” You see Matthew intends for us to read, marvel and ask this very same question.
And of course the only biblical answer is that this Jesus is God in the flesh. In fact, any Jew who knew his Scriptures should have been reminded of texts like this one in the Book of Job chapter 38,

8  “Or who shut in the sea with doors

when it burst out from the womb,

9  when I made clouds its garment

and thick darkness its swaddling band,

10  and prescribed limits for it

and set bars and doors,

11  and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,

and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

or ,

5  By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,

O God of our salvation,

the hope of all the ends of the earth

and of the farthest seas;

6  the one who by his strength established the mountains,

being girded with might;

7  who stills the roaring of the seas,

the roaring of their waves,

the tumult of the peoples,

8  so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.

You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.

or ,

8  O LORD God of hosts,

who is mighty as you are, O LORD,

with your faithfulness all around you?

9  You rule the raging of the sea;

when its waves rise, you still them.


23  Some went down to the sea in ships,

doing business on the great waters;

24  they saw the deeds of the LORD,

his wondrous works in the deep.

25  For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,

which lifted up the waves of the sea.

26  They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;

their courage melted away in their evil plight;

27  they reeled and staggered like drunken men

and were at their wits’ end.

28  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

29  He made the storm be still,

and the waves of the sea were hushed.

30  Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,

and he brought them to their desired haven.

31  Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,

for his wondrous works to the children of man!

32  Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,

and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

These texts attribute examples of power and authority over creation to God himself, and so the disciples rightfully marvel at Jesus’ power and authority over that same creation. In fact, it’s interesting that later in Matthew’s Gospel we read in chapter 14 a similar account, which I’ve already mentioned briefly, that I want us to turn to, it’s in Matthew chapter 14, starting in verse 22, I want us to read it together,

Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”


What’s their response after Jesus walks upon the water and causes the winds and waves to cease? They worship him, and declare, “Truly you are the Son of God.” They finally get it. They finally understand who it is that is with them in the boat and it causes them to worship him. And so it is my hope this morning that we too would marvel at our Savior, who is truly the Son of God, who takes away the sin of the world, and worship him together.


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