Have you ever felt like Jesus led you somewhere and then took off once he got there?
I imagine this is how the disciples felt when they set sail only to find themselves terrified for their lives when the seas began to rage, threatening to swallow them whole. (Mark 4:35-41) These were robust young sailors—not typically the sort you’d imagine would be faint of heart—but they were utterly distraught to find Jesus sleeping through their nightmare. (Wasn’t this Jesus’s idea in the first place?)
But there he was—present, yet asleep.
What did these tough guys do in response to their fear? They panicked of course (sound familiar?), and shook Jesus awake.
He speaks to the sea, telling it to be still, and miraculously—it obeys.
We can’t tell from the text why Jesus commanded the storm to be still. We don’t know if the disciples’ panic was warranted or wise. But we do know that Jesus responded to their desperation. He met them in the middle of their disaster. He calmed the seas, yes, but more than that he reassured them of his presence. Even there in the middle of the terrifying storm, he was with them. He never jumped ship.
“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Jesus responds after calming the seas (verse 40).
My entire life I’ve read this as an accusation. I’ve imagined those words said with disdain and disappointment. I’ve heard a hint of ridicule—or at least rebuke—in his tone. I’ve read between the lines and assumed the disciples were a huge disappointment to Jesus in that moment. But recently I read this differently and I’d like you to try and reimagine this passage with me, too.
Think about this:
What if Jesus is not giving a rebuke, but is simply making a sort of statement about what it is? What if we read his words at face value without reading emotion into them that the text doesn’t explicitly say? What if Jesus is asking them a rhetorical question to emphasize the fact that it was not their faith that compelled Jesus to calm this storm—this wasn’t their miracle, it was his.
Read this again, stripped of accusation and disappointment and rebuke:
“Have you still no faith?” Jesus asks, as if to help them see the miracle wasn’t dependent on the strength of their faith.
Remember, we’re told in the text that Jesus rebukes the storm (verse 39), but we’re never told he rebukes the disciples. We’ve made that bit up ourselves.
Friends, the power and presence of God isn’t a gift he begrudgingly gives to help remind us how weak our faith is. He doesn’t drag his feet. He doesn’t say “just this once” rubbing in the fact that we don’t deserve it.
What if, instead, his presence is a gift he gives precisely because he wants to show us that his miracle working power isn’t dependent on our faith? What if a mustard seed is enough after all? What if he really is present in the boat, even if it seems like he’s sleeping?
What if he just wants to remind us how good he really is?
God’s presence with us in life’s disasters isn’t dependent on our ability to see clearly, or have the “right” theology, or the capacity to muster up enough faith. God is present because that’s who he is—Emmanuel, God with us. And he works miracles in all forms because that’s who he is—Messiah, our savior.
Have there been times in your own panic that you’ve felt like you needed to shake Jesus awake? Like, surely he should do something before your crisis swallows you whole? We all have.
God’s grace doesn’t always come in the form we hope for, but it does come. In the case of the disciples, his grace looked like calming the seas. (And I’m sure they were grateful and relieved!) But other times, the seas rage on and the miracle of his grace is that you don’t drown when it seems impossible not to.
Friend, you may be anchored to despair or confusion, anger or sorrow. You may be afraid your faith can’t hold up to the scrutiny of the doubts or questions your pain or crisis has exposed. You may feel caught in a free fall where one question leads to another, and the Sunday school answers you’ve recited your whole life just aren’t working anymore.
Pain, grief, and suffering have a way of unearthing questions and doubts we didn’t even realize we had, but that’s not a bad thing. When you’re in the tender days of a fresh loss or a seemingly larger-than-life crisis looming, the most important thing you need to know is that Jesus is in the boat with you. It might seem like he took off, but he didn’t. He will not let you drown.
You can hang on to your questions, and even begin to ask them honestly before God and others. Your humanity doesn’t repel God—it keeps you tethered to him as you realize your great need. But always, always remember that before and during and after the storm of crisis and questions and pain is this: Emmanuel, God with us.
He’s still there, and he’s not going to bail.
And there will come a day when we’re not only aware of his presence, but we see his power work something amazing on our behalf.
Oh you of small faith, take heart. Your mustard seed is enough.
This post was adapted from Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker, Chapter 10: A Crisis of Faith or a Catalyst for Grace? with permission from Baker Books.