Learning from the Wind and the Waves

Learning from the Wind and the Waves

Last week we saw how, Jesus “withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place”[1] upon hearing that Herod state that Jesus must be John the Baptist raised from the dead. [2] Then, from his deep compassion for the crowds, Jesus gave up his plan to be alone and instead healed their sick and even ended up miraculously feeding the crowd of between five-to-ten thousand with a mere two fish and five loaves.

Well our passage this morning picks up with what took place after Jesus had fed the crowds. Now even before feeding the crowds, evening was approaching[3] and by the time everyone had been fed, evening had no doubt arrived. And after the crowds had been fed, verse 22, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.” And it as at this point that we see Jesus, finally getting the solitary time he had postponed when the crowds had sought him out after he initially attempted to withdraw.[4] So we read in the beginning of verse 23, “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” Having sent the disciples off to the other side of the lake[5] by boat; having sent the crowds home; he now, at long last, had time to be alone and pray; that is, he had time, at long last, to be alone with, to talk to his Father in heaven. Eventually night fell for Matthew tells us how “Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.” So we’re provided with a contrast between Jesus’ peaceful time of quiet and the disciples in the boat being buffeted by the wind and the waves.

More time elapsed. As stated in verse 25, it was “Shortly before dawn.” Another, and more literal, way of translating the Greek here is “in the fourth watch.”[6] According to one source, “The Roman military divided the night into four watches of three hours each ranging from between 6:00 P.M. until 6:00 A.M.[7] The fourth watch would have been between 3:00 and 6:00 A.M., which means the disciples had been battling the storm for over nine hours.”[8] Now I don’t know that they necessarily would have been at it for this long since we’re not told exactly what time Jesus initially sent the disciples off. But if it was “shortly before dawn” (v. 25) when “Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake,”[9] then they had been fighting against the storm for a minimum of five to six hours. And in the midst of this chaos, they looked up and saw Jesus coming towards them walking on the water.

So were they relieved to see him? Did they think, “Finally, Jesus has come to bail us out!”? No, anything but for, verse 26, “When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified.” Had they believed this was actually Jesus, they might have been relieved, but they couldn’t believe this because people can’t walk on water! It was because they did know Jesus and had known him as being the completely human person that he was, that they concluded this must be an apparition of some sort. So they “cried out in fear,” verse 26, “It’s a ghost”! Now just as we often hear of superstitions sailors might have, so it was in ancient times. According to one source, “Popular Jewish superstition held that the appearance of spirits during the night brought disaster. The disciples’ terror was prompted by what they may have thought was a water spirit.”[10] So if we try to put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples, we can appreciate how after battling the storm for what must have seemed to them like endless hours, to have an apparition—culturally viewed as a harbinger of doom—suddenly appear would be the last thing they needed or wanted to see. Again, the disciples were out on the lake, “a considerable distance from land”—according to one source, it was probably about three miles;[11] their boat was being buffeted by waves due to strong winds (v. 24); and it was “shortly before dawn” (v. 25) so light was only just beginning to light up the sky. So the terror expressed by the disciples and the assumption that what they in fact were seeing was a ghost[12] was natural, even if that ghost recognizably looked like Jesus.

At the same time, the fact that they recognized Jesus can make us wonder why they didn’t accept it might actually be he. By this point in their lives the disciples had seen Jesus perform many miracles. As we’ve already seen in our studies in Matthew, as early as chapter 4 we’re told how

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

So think about this. It would seem that the ability to heal every disease—and sickness—and pain—and seizure—and paralysis would require both an extraordinary knowledge of nature and an extraordinary mastery over it. Otherwise how else would Jesus be able to heal the many who were regularly brought to him? Yet apparently these many healings performed by Jesus had become so matter of fact that his disciples, at some level, must have come to take them for granted.[13] So, too, Jesus’ power over super-nature, that is over the demons who tormented and possessed those brought to him whom he also healed by virtue of his power over the demonic,[14] over all principalities and powers. As we regularly see, and his disciples regularly saw, King Jesus had—and has—authority and power over all the world, both the natural and supernatural. And not only that, but as we saw a few weeks ago in Matthew 10, the disciples themselves were commissioned by Jesus to have a ministry that was akin to his for he told them, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” So this mastery over both the natural and supernatural worlds was made possible to Jesus’ original disciples by virtue of his calling them.

But there’s another incident in the life of Jesus’ disciples that is reminiscent of our passage this morning. In chapter 8 of Matthew, we’re provided the following incident early-ish in Jesus’ ministry:

23 Then [Jesus] got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 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. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him![15]

Now we need to keep in mind that among the disciples were Peter and his brother, Andrew, and James and his brother, John, all of whom were fishermen[16] and therefore they would have been all too familiar with the real dangers posed by this storm which is described as “furious” with waves sweeping “over the boat” (v. 24). This particular storm was so furious that the disciples, concerned over what a sound sleeper Jesus was, woke him and tried to impress upon him the gravity of the situation, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (v. 25). Yet Christ Jesus the King, master over nature and super-nature, after gently chastising his disciples over their little faith, took care of matters as “he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (v. 26). This action gave the disciples pause as in their amazement they responded by asking, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (v. 27).

Even though Jesus had been sleeping, the disciples needn’t have worried. They could have trusted—they could have had faith in—Jesus and his care over them. And this incident of his calming both wind and waves was the first of its kind of miracle for his disciples. It’s one thing to physically or spiritually heal people for you’re dealing with a miracle at an individual level; it’s quite another to display power over the entire order of creation with a mere “rebuke,” with a mere word, and so to have the formerly furious wind and waves become peaceful and calm. This incident in Matthew 8 was the first time we have recorded that Jesus’ disciples had seen him defy the laws of nature—defy the laws of the cosmos—in this particular manner. Though they had become accustomed to his—and even their—ability to heal and cast out demons, it seems that they hadn’t associated Jesus’ power over nature at the micro-level with his power over nature at the macro-level.

So despite this earlier experience of Jesus’ mastery over the wind and the waves—again, they could have trusted in him despite the fact that he was fast asleep!—by the time of the events in this morning’s account the disciples had not yet grasped the significance of such mastery. So when they saw what appeared to be, and indeed turned out to be, Jesus walking on the water, in their terror and fear they concluded they must be seeing a ghost. But Jesus didn’t allow them to linger in their fear. As Matthew recounts in verse 27, Jesus “immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” Jesus immediately addressed their fear and sought to reassure them that he wasn’t a ghost. He was the Jesus they had always known. They needn’t be afraid.

Peter, however, still needed convincing, verse 28: “Lord, if it’s you,…tell me to come to you on the water.” I can’t imagine what was going through Peter’s mind in making such a request! But the grammatical form of this conditional sentence[17] indicates that Peter assumed this was Jesus, as evidenced by his actually getting out of the boat and stepping into the water. Perhaps because, as we’ve noted, Jesus had earlier given the apostles the authority and ability to heal as he did and cast out demons as he did, Peter felt that if this was really Jesus, he could pass along to him this power over nature as well. Whatever may have been going on in Peter’s mind, he took his courage in hand and requested of his Lord to prove it was really he by asking Peter to go to him on the water. And rather than become angry at Peter’s disbelief; rather than express exasperation at Peter’s need for further confirmation, Jesus kindly condescended to his beloved disciple with but a word: “Come” (v. 29). So Peter did. He “got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” What a thrill this must have been! Peter was walking on the water, headed toward Jesus who was also walking on the water. Here were two men who, by Jesus’ power, were defying the laws of nature.

But Peter’s faith, his trust in Jesus’ ability to continue to sustain him, was tested for the wind was still buffeting, the storm against which the disciples had been battling for hours, was still in play. So, verse 30, when Peter “saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” What must have been an initial thrill upon walking on the water quickly turned to fear when reminded of the very real—and dangerous—circumstances. Again, we’re dealing with a seasoned fisherman here. Peter knew, firsthand, the dangers that the storm-tossed waters held.[18] So when he began to sink, his fear was to be expected. But even in his fear, Peter knew Jesus could save him so he cried out to him, “Lord, save me!” just as in the earlier incident from Matthew 8 all of the disciples had cried out, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown.”[19] And Jesus of course immediately “reached out his hand and caught him.” Jesus would not let his precious follower sink though he did ask Peter, “You of little faith,…why did you doubt?” just as he similarly had asked all of the disciples in the Matthew 8 account, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”[20] Why did you doubt? Why were you so afraid? After all, Jesus had complied with Peter’s request, with his need to have some kind of sign that this was indeed the Jesus that he knew who was walking on the water approaching their boat. Peter had asked that Jesus have him walk on the water and Jesus had agreed. And Peter did walk on the water. But when he began to sink because of the storm and understandably feared, Peter’s trust quickly turned to doubt and he ended up crying out to his Lord for rescue. And Jesus did quickly and immediately but he also noted Peter’s doubt, despite having complied with his request.

Now I’ve heard it preached that the reason Peter sank was because he stopped looking at Jesus—he took his eyes off Jesus—and chose instead to focus on the waves. And I suppose this may have been what happened but the text doesn’t actually state this. All that we’re told is that Peter did walk on the water and went toward Jesus—no mention as to whether he was looking straight at him or not. But when he saw the wind—again, it was ferociously stormy day—he had a very natural and normal response of fear and he began to sink. Peter feared that he wouldn’t stop sinking. He feared that he would drown. And so he cried out to his Lord, knowing he would save him—which Jesus did. Though Peter had faith—again, he did get down from the boat and stepped out into the turbulent waters!—when his faith was tested, it turned out not to be very strong. At least not yet And I think this is more the point of what Jesus is saying. He’s pointing out that Peter’s faith is yet small. But it will grow. And since we know the end of this story, we know that Peter’s faith did indeed grow as he became a pillar of the early church, living totally devoted to sharing the love of his Master and Lord Jesus Christ with those around him, even to the point of his own eventual martyrdom.[21]

Now when Jesus and Peter, verse 32, “climbed into the boat, the wind died down.” And notice the response of the disciples: They “worshiped him.” Whereas in the earlier account in Matthew 8 they responded in wonder over what kind of man this might be that even the wind and waves obeyed him, now they realized this wasn’t merely Jesus of Nazareth, son of a carpenter, a man of the same nature as their own. Though Jesus was fully human, they now realized he wasn’t merely human. No, this was also God in the flesh. This was the Christ, God’s promised Messiah, who was showing them by virtue of his Incarnation, by virtue of his taking on human form, what God was like. And had Jesus been merely a man, the worship the disciples offered him, according to Jewish law, would have resulted in a charge of idolatry for having worshiped the creation rather than the Creator and they would have subsequently been stoned.[22] But because they worshiped Christ Jesus, God in the flesh, this was no case of idolatry for worship of Jesus was appropriate and proper even as they proclaimed, “Truly you are the Son of God.” As one commentator notes, “This title recognizes the messiahship of Jesus and his display of divine power.”[23] What a great “a-ha” moment! Upon realizing that the sudden subduing of wind and waves was due to Jesus the Christ’s power, the disciples exclaimed, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

A line from the hymn we opened with this morning was the inspiration for my sermon title, “Learning from the Wind and Waves.” At the end of the second stanza of “Be Still, My Soul,” Katharina von Schlegel writes: “Be still, my soul! The waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.” What a wonderful insight she had!

Brothers and sisters, we, too, can learn from the wind and waves.

We can learn to recognize Jesus’ voice through our study of Scripture as by his Holy Spirit he helps us come to a deeper understanding of who he is and so learn to more deeply trust and better obey him.

We can learn that though storms may come—though we will undergo the effects of the Fall—we can nonetheless trust in his sovereignty over nature and his care over us.

We can learn that even if we don’t cry out, “Lord, save us from drowning,” he will save us from drowning for even while Jesus was asleep, he was nonetheless LORD over the universe.

Rather than close in prayer as I usually do, I want to close this portion of our worship this morning by singing again the second stanza of our opening hymn, number 712, “Be Still, My Soul.” Please remain seated as we sing this stanza together as a corporate prayer to our loving and gracious God.


[1] Matthew 14:13.

[2] Matthew 14:1–2: 1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

[3] Matthew 14:15: As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

[4] Again, parallels may be found in: Mark 6:30–44; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–15. And Mark (vv. 30–31) and Luke (v. 10) both mention that Jesus withdrew with his apostles after they reported to him. John notes that Jesus went on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples (v. 3).

[5] I.e., the Sea of Galilee.

[6] τετάρτῃ δὲ φυλακῇ τῆς νυκτὸς ἦλθεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς περιπατῶν ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσαν.

[7] First watch: 6:00–9:00 PM; Second watch: 9:00 PM–midnight; Third watch: Midnight–3:00 AM.

[8] Crossway ESV Study Bible. Emphasis added.

[9] The account of Jesus walking on the water is also found in Mark 6:45–56: 45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. 47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. 53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. John 6:16–24: 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. 22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

[10] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Mark 6:49.

[11] Crossway ESV Study Bible. Also, see the parallel account recorded in John 6:19: When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.

[12] The Greek word for ghost would indicate spirit appearances or apparitions (Crossway ESV Study Bible): οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης περιπατοῦντα ἐταράχθησαν λέγοντες ὅτι Φάντασμά ἐστιν, καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ φόβου ἔκραξαν.

[13] Other instances of natural healing recorded by Matthew include: a man with leprosy (8:1–4), the centurion’s servant (8:5–13), Peter’s mother-in-law (8:14–17), a paralyzed man on a mat (9:1–8), the dead daughter of the synagogue leader (9:18–26), and two blind men (9:27–34). Matthew 10:35 again repeats how “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” When John the Baptist whether Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, he replies by referring to his miraculous acts done in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. (11:5). He also heals a man with a shriveled hand (12:13).

[14] Other instances of supernatural healing recorded by Matthew include: “many demon-possessed” (8:14–17), two demon-possessed men (8:28–34), another demon-possessed man (9:27–34), and a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute (12:22).

[15] A parallel account of this incident may be found in Mark 4:35–41: 35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

[16] Matthew 4:18:–22: 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

[17] First class or simple condition uses the indicative mood to assume the truth of its premise: ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν, Κύριε, εἰ σὺ εἶ, κέλευσόν με ἐλθεῖν πρὸς σὲ ἐπὶ τὰ ὕδατα:

[18] According to < https://www.gotquestions.org/Sea-of-Galilee.html>: “The Sea of Galilee is Israel’s largest freshwater lake. The sea is about 13 miles long and 7 miles wide, but only 150 feet deep, and it lies 650 feet below sea level…. In the time of Christ, the region of Galilee sat to the west of the Sea of Galilee, Decapolis to the southeast, and Bashan to the northeast. The Sea of Galilee went by different names in the New Testament: the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1) and the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1); in the Old Testament, it was called the Sea of Chinneroth (Joshua 12:3, ESV). The Sea of Galilee was known for fishing, trade, and sudden, violent storms. The differences in climate and elevation between the sea and the eastern mountains cause strong winds comparable to those on Lake Erie in the United States.”

[19] Matthew 8:25.

[20] Matthew 8:26.

[21] According to Christian tradition, Peter was crucified in Rome—upside down at his own request, not seeing himself worthy of being crucified in the same manner as Jesus—under Nero’s reign.

[22] E.g. Deuteronomy 13:1–11: 1 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you. If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. Deuteronomy 17:2–7: If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death. On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.

[23] Reformation ESV Study Bible.

Leave a Reply