When Storms Come
Sea of Galilee
Much of Jesus’ ministry occurred around the Sea of Galilee, a beautiful sea set in the fertile and prosperous region of northern Israel.
Much of Jesus ministry occurred around the Sea of Galilee, and he sometimes used the symbolism of the sea to challenge his disciples and demonstrate his power.
Set in the hills of northern Israel, the Sea of Galilee is nearly seven hundred feet below sea level. It is about eight miles wide, and more than twelve miles long from north to south. In places, the sea plunges to depths of two hundred feet.
Just as it does today, the Sea of Galilee teemed with fish in Jesus’ time. There was a prosperous commercial fishing industry in the many towns along its shore. Jesus’ choice of this location for his ministry, along with his selection of several fishermen as his disciples, made fishing imagery a natural part of his teachings (Matt. 4:19).
Galilee boasts an almost tropical climate, and the areas surrounding the sea are fertile. In Jesus’ time, wheat, barley, figs, grapes, and olives were produced in large quantities.
Much of the sea, s beauty comes from being nestled among the hills, green in the spring, brown during the dry season, which contrast with the deep blue of the water. It was a beautiful setting for the ministry of the Messiah.
Perceptions of Water
In Jesus’ day, Jewish people feared large bodies of water. They referred to the sea as an abyss and saw it as a symbol of chaos and hell.
Although the Sea of Galilee often looked beautiful and calm, many biblical writers described’
it as an abyss, a fearsome place of darkness and chaos.
The sea’s location made it subject to sudden and violent storms. Storms often developed when an east wind dropped cool air over the warm air rising from the sea. This sudden change produced surprisingly furious storms in a short time (Matt. 8:24).
Understandably, these fierce storms scared ancient people and caused them to avoid large bodies of water. Cultural stories even depicted the sea as a monstrous beast and a place where Baal would battle other gods.
Set amidst this culture, the Jewish people also feared the sea. They were rooted in the wilderness, and they saw the sea as an alien and threatening power. Few could swim, and even fisherman avoided deep water.
Not surprisingly, biblical writers often used the sea to describe terror and danger. And in Jesus’ day, Jewish people would have recognized the sea as a symbol of chaos and hell.
A Terrifying Night
Jesus’ disciples became terrified one night as they strained against a stormy sea. After hours of struggle, Jesus quieted the waves, showing his power over the evils of the abyss.
The gospels record several occasions when Jesus and his disciples sailed on the sea.’
While the disciples feared the wind and waves, Jesus always displayed confidence that his power was greater than any evil in the sea.
One evening, Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him to sail across the sea. While Jesus prayed on a mountaintop, the storm pushed against the disciples’ boat until they were in the middle of the lake. Rough water tossed the boat about, and the disciples were “straining at the oars” (Mark 6:48).
Jesus allowed the disciples to struggle for some time. He waited until the fourth watch of the night%u2014probably six or eight hours after the disciples left%u2014to start walking toward them.
As he walked on the water, the gospels tell us that he walked by his disciples. Tired and scared, the disciples thought that Jesus might be a ghost coming up from the abyss of the sea. But they eventually cried out to him (v. 49-50).
When he finally heard their shouts, Jesus stopped. He walked toward their boat, stepped in, and showed his power by calming the stormy sea.
In the midst of the storm, Peter found the courage to walk on the waves.
In the midst of the storm, one disciple demonstrated incredible courage.
As Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he thought like a typical disciple of his day: “I want to be like my rabbi!” In an effort to be like Jesus, he took a huge risk and stepped out of the boat onto the wind-whipped waves.
We can only imagine what the other disciples thought as Peter stepped onto the water. They probably thought he was a fool, stepping into the abyss on a stormy night. No doubt a few of them prepared for a rescue.
But Peter didn’t care if he looked like an idiot. And he ignored his fear of the sea. As a result, he walked on water%u2014just like his rabbi.
Then Peter saw the wind and the waves, and he began to sink. Though many people attribute his sinking to a lack of faith in God, this doesn’t seem to fit the story. In fact, he must have believed in Jesus because he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
In the midst of the storm, Peter found the courage to walk on water. But in a very human way, he began to doubt himself. Jesus didn’t chide him for trying to walk on the water, and he didn’t berate him for fearing the wind%u2014he simply affirmed his faith in Peter, asking “Why did you doubt?”
Facing our Seas
Contemporary Christians may not fear the water, but we still face the “seas” – those challenging situations that make us feel afraid.
Our culture doesn’t fear the sea as Jesus’ disciples did. But we do fear the storms of life- storms that sweep up suddenly and crush us like the waves.
After terrorists struck on September 11, our nation reeled with overwhelming sadness, anger, and fear. When we face personal tragedies, we wrestle with the same feelings.
Jesus understood this kind of fear. He came into a world that had political and social instability, much like our present world. The forces of evil seemed overwhelming in his day too.
But Jesus overcame that evil. And he showed his power by walking on the sea%u2014the very picture of the abyss.
Yet Jesus also let his disciples struggle. Instead of rescuing them right away, he watched them wrestle, and he sometimes lets us wrestle with our seas as well. Sometimes it is in the struggling that we learn the most significant lessons of faith and courage.
Fortunately, Jesus also listens for our cry. And if we continue to call out to him, he will help us through the storm.
Courage in the Storm
Even in the storm, God sometimes calls to take steps of faith. If we will respond to his call, we may just find ourselves walking on water.
Jesus’ disciples followed him blindly. One of them even had the courage to follow him onto’
the stormy sea. And he still wants disciples who have a passion to be like their Rabbi.
Even in the storm, God sometimes calls us to take steps of faith. Instead of avoiding the storms, he challenges us to walk on water%u2014bringing his message of hope even to the places we fear.
All too often, we as God’s people allow fear to rule our actions. Instead of responding to God’s call in faith, we hesitate, unsure of ourselves and uncertain about the challenges ahead.
We forget that God believes in us. He trusts us just as he trusted Peter to step out on the waves. And he knows that we can achieve amazing things if only we will follow him absolutely.
Most Christians long to walk on water. Few actually do.
But if you look to God for the ability, instead of relying on yourself, you may just find the courage to step out of the boat.
What is the “boat” of your life%u2014and will you respond with courage when God calls you to step out of it?
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