Jesus is becoming so popular that the crowds are overwhelming, so he orders his disciples to take him to the other side of the lake. But before they get into the boat, a couple men approach and want to get in on the action. Later in his ministry, of course, Jesus won’t be so popular, and everybody save a few women will abandon him. Now he can do no wrong. Unlike what we might expect, again, Jesus seems to rebuff these men.
He tells the first, a teacher of the law, that basically he’s homeless, implying that following him is no piece of cake, and that the teacher would have to sacrifice his lifestyle to follow him. The other man, already a disciple, wants to go, but asks Jesus if he can first go bury his father. Jesus tells him something that could be construed as rude: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” But it’s a simple fact: those who don’t follow Jesus are spiritually dead, the wages of sin. Jesus presents this disciple the ultimate fork in the road, life or death. Matthew doesn’t say which fork either took, but that wasn’t his point; what we’ll choose is.
So now they all hop into the boat, and as they’re crossing, “Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.” And what’s Jesus doing? Sleeping! And the disciples have to wake him. Being the Messiah is hard work, so he must be exhausted. But you can imagine the disciples saying something like, how can he sleep when we’re all going to drown! In the terrifying moment they forgot what Jesus had told them they were going to do: “he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.” He didn’t say, let’s get into the boat, go to the middle of the lake and all drown.
This is one of the great stories of the Bible whose implications are very difficult to apply in our own lives. The “furious storm” is easily seen as a metaphor for the storms in our lives, and our response is often just like the disciples: “We’re going to drown!” Jesus’ response is classic because it’s so unexpectedly expected:
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
Why? Are you kidding me? Wouldn’t it be strange if they were not afraid? Anyone who has been on a boat in a storm, let alone a sailboat with no engine, knows how scary that can be. No, fear is the human and proper response to such a situation. I think Jesus is stating the indicative; you silly little humans have so little faith. And what did they do when filled with fear? They went to Jesus and pleaded with him, “Lord, save us!” The second part of what they told him, the “We’re going to drown part,” was obviously wrong, but understandable.
The point here isn’t the amount of one’s faith. In fact, we should probably rather have little faith because if we had great faith we’d likely have faith in our faith! And not in Jesus. The point isn’t the faith. The little faith the disciples had compelled them to the right object of that faith, Jesus. When the storms of life drive us to cry out, “Lord, save us!” we’re right where we need to be, right where God wants us to be. That is, to be rid of our self-sufficiency. Which is the reason Paul could boast of his weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on him. In other words, God often puts us in positions where we have to trust him, and not ourselves. And as the disciples experienced, it’s often a very scary place.
So Jesus obliges and “he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” I love the disciples’ response:
27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
What kind of man indeed! He would be the God-man, who is also the Creator of those winds and waves. Skeptics claim that the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) do not present to us a Jesus who is divine, or not nearly to the degree John does. But it’s one thing to heal, which can almost be explained away, but this is a whole other level of miracle. Command the natural world, and it obeys? Yep, because as Paul says, “by him all things were created.” And John confirms, ‘through him all things were made.” And this is another “criterion of embarrassment” moment for the disciples. Matthew is saying they had no idea who Jesus was, that their conception of the Messiah was woefully deficient. This is likely not something a writer would share about himself if it didn’t happen (thus the “criterion”) because it’s embarrassing. We’ll see this all over in the gospels; they read real.
And the chapter ends with Jesus healing two violent demon-possessed men when they land on the other side of the lake. The demons recognized Jesus as the “Son of God,” and accuse him of wanting to torture them “before the appointed time.” Isn’t that just like Satan’s minions—God isn’t just, he just likes to inflict pain. And before we get all high and mighty, we’re always tempted not to trust God, which is why we must pray daily that we will.
The demons plead with Jesus to send them into a heard of pigs (which they know Jesus has the power and authority to do), and he does. The pigs then run down a steep bank into the lake like a bunch of lemmings and drown. Those watching over the pigs went into town to report what had happened. The “whole town” goes out, and seeing what had happened plead with Jesus to leave. Imagine how freaky it would have been to see all the pigs dead in the water, and the once demon-possessed men in their right mind. And those pigs were money, so Jesus is not good for business. Jesus doing miracles is one thing, but when he hits the pocket book, that’s another. As we learn later in the gospels, Jesus has no need to stay where he was not welcome.