Why Are You Afraid?

Following the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, in chapters 8-9 Matthew proceeds to give his account of some of the extraordinary miracles Jesus performs. The power of Christ overcomes a variety of maladies: He cleanses lepers, heals paralysis, casts out demons, restores the blind and mute, and brings a little girl back from the dead.

It is in this context that Matthew tells the story of Jesus miraculously calming a storm:

And when He got into the boat His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep.

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

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. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?”

(Matthew 8.23-27)

There are several lessons we could take from this remarkable event, but I just want to focus on one. Jesus’ disciples are so terrified that they wake Him up in fear of their lives. His response is astounding: “Why are you afraid?” He asks. At first glance, it seems that Jesus is being incredibly obtuse—a great storm had arisen and the boat was being swamped by the waves; obviously the disciples are afraid because of the storm!

But Jesus was not obtuse; He was the most perceptive of all men. He certainly understood why His disciples were afraid, and so His question must have been about something else. He wasn’t seeking information; rather, He was prompting transformation.

The second part of Jesus’ statement is telling, as He calls His disciples “you of little faith.” Tied to His question in this way, the implication is clear: if the disciples had more faith, they would not be afraid! Jesus’ disciples had just witnessed His marvelous power in a variety of different situations. This should have bolstered their faith and enabled them to realize that their Teacher was more powerful than the storm which threatened them!

In a variety of ways, we are buffeted by the storms of this life, and the waves threaten to swamp us:

  • A middle-aged man learns that he has been laid off from his job and is plagued by financial uncertainty as he wonders how he will provide for his family.
  • A woman learns that her husband of twenty years, the love of her life, has been carrying on an affair with another woman.
  • Two young parents learn that their infant son has a genetic condition which will greatly limit his life.
  • A single mother of two teenage boys is diagnosed with stage four cancer and told that there is no hope.

When the storms of life come, like the disciples, our tendency is to run to Jesus and ask Him to save us. And I wonder if He responds similarly: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

It’s not that Jesus doesn’t understand our storms—the good news of the Incarnation is that Jesus stepped into the human condition in a unique way. He understands our fears, our trials, and our heartaches. He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4.15). But the same Jesus also says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33b).

The Christ who calms storms knows what frightens us, but also asks us to realize: truly, ultimately, with Jesus on our side, the scary things of life aren’t scary! He is more powerful than the storm!

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Lord, increase our faith!

Luke Dockery serves as the Associate Minister for the Farmington Church of Christ in Northwest Arkansas and is also a student at Harding School of Theology, where he is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree. Luke loves teenagers and is devoted to helping them come to deep and mature faith in Jesus Christ. He and his wife, Caroline, have been married since 2006, and they have two young children, Kinsley and Seth. In his free time, Luke enjoys spending time with his family, reading, playing ultimate frisbee, and cheering for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

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