We fear being sued, finishing last, going broke; we fear the mole on the back, the new kid on the block, the sound of the clock as it ticks us closer to the grave. We sophisticate investment plans, create elaborate security systems, and legislate stronger military, yet we depend on mood-altering drugs more than any other generation in history. Moreover, “ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s.”1
Fear, it seems, has taken a hundred-year lease on the building next door and set up shop. Oversize and rude, fear is unwilling to share the heart with happiness. Happiness complies and leaves. Do you ever see the two together? Can one be happy and afraid at the same time? Clear thinking and afraid? Confident and afraid? Merciful and afraid? No. Fear is the big bully in the high school hallway: brash, loud, and unproductive. For all the noise fear makes and room it takes, fear does little good.
Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors.
Wouldn’t it be great to walk out?
Imagine your life wholly untouched by angst. What if faith, not fear, was your default reaction to threats? If you could hover a fear magnet over your heart and extract every last shaving of dread, insecurity, and doubt, what would remain? Envision a day, just one day, absent the dread of failure, rejection, and calamity. Can you imagine a life with no fear? This is the possibility behind Jesus’ question.
“Why are you afraid?” he asks (Matt. 8:26 NCV).
At first blush we wonder if Jesus is serious. He may be kidding. Teasing. Pulling a quick one. Kind of like one swimmer asking another, “Why are you wet?” But Jesus doesn’t smile. He’s dead earnest. So are the men to whom he asks the question. A storm has turned their Galilean dinner cruise into a white-knuckled plunge.
Here is how one of them remembered the trip: “Jesus got into a boat, and his followers went with him. A great storm arose on the lake so that waves covered the boat” (Matt. 8:23–24 NCV).
These are Matthew’s words. He remembered well the pouncing tempest and bouncing boat and was careful in his terminology. Not just any noun would do. He pulled his Greek thesaurus off the shelf and hunted for a descriptor that exploded like the waves across the bow. He bypassed common terms for spring shower, squall, cloudburst, or downpour. They didn’t capture what he felt and saw that night: a rumbling earth and quivering shoreline. He recalled more than winds and whitecaps. His finger followed the column of synonyms down, down until he landed on a word that worked. “Ah, there it is.” Seismos—a quake, a trembling eruption of sea and sky. “A great seismos arose on the lake.”
The term still occupies a spot in our vernacular. A seismologist studies earthquakes, a seismograph measures them, and Matthew, along with a crew of recent recruits, felt a seismos that shook them to the core. He used the word on only two other occasions: once at Jesus’ death when Calvary shook (Matt. 27:51–54) and again at Jesus’ resurrection when the graveyard tremored (28:2). Apparently, the stilled storm shares equal billing in the trilogy of Jesus’ great shake-ups: defeating sin on the cross, death at the tomb, and here silencing fear on the sea.
Sudden fear. We know the fear was sudden because the storm was. An older translation reads, “Suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea.”
Not all storms come suddenly. Prairie farmers can see the formation of thunderclouds hours before the rain falls. This storm, however, springs like a lion out of the grass. One minute the disciples are shuffling cards for a midjourney game of hearts; the next they are gulping Galilean sea spray.
Peter and John, seasoned sailors, struggle to keep down the sail. Matthew, confirmed landlubber, struggles to keep down his breakfast. The storm is not what the tax collector bargained for. Do you sense his surprise in the way he links his two sentences? “Jesus got into a boat, and his followers went with him. A great storm arose on the lake” (8:23–24 NCV).
Wouldn’t you hope for a more chipper second sentence, a happier consequence of obedience? “Jesus got into a boat. His followers went with him, and suddenly a great rainbow arched in the sky, a flock of doves hovered in happy formation, a sea of glass mirrored their mast.” Don’t Christ-followers enjoy a calendar full of Caribbean cruises? No. This story sends the not-so-subtle and not-too-popular reminder: getting on board with Christ can mean getting soaked with Christ. Disciples can expect rough seas and stout winds. “In the world you will [not ‘might,’ ‘may,’ or ‘could’] have tribulation” ( John 16:33, brackets mine).
Christ-followers contract malaria, bury children, and battle addictions, and, as a result, face fears. It’s not the absence of storms that sets us apart. It’s whom we discover in the storm: an unstirred Christ.
“Jesus was sleeping” (v. 24 NCV).
Now there’s a scene. The disciples scream; Jesus dreams. Thunder roars; Jesus snores. He doesn’t doze, catnap, or rest. He slumbers. Could you sleep at a time like this? Could you snooze during a roller coaster loop-the-loop? In a wind tunnel? At a kettledrum concert? Jesus sleeps through all three at once!
Mark’s gospel adds two curious details: “[ Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on a pillow” (Mark 4:38). In the stern, on a pillow. Why the first? From whence came the second?
Max Lucado, Fearless (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012).