The disciples thought they were going to die, on the Sea of Galilee in ‘a furious storm’ (Matthew 8:24). Indeed ‘the boat was being swamped’ (Luke 8:23). They are at the end of their resources, but they do turn to Jesus. We hear their panic in Mark 4:38 ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ In the middle of the storm Jesus sleeps on a cushion (Mark 4:38). What do we learn about Jesus from this? Consider Matthew 8:24 Jesus slept.
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!”Matthew 8:24-27 (NIV)
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!”
1. An evidence of humanity
Jesus slept because he needs sleep. He experienced the same kind of human needs as any of us, including tiredness (John 4:6) and thirst (John 19:28). The range of human experience is shared by Jesus. What we read here provides clear evidence of Jesus’ humanity. What the Son of God has taken into union with his divine nature is human nature in its entirety – a body and a soul, with the sole exception of sin. It is human nature just like ours. As we defend the deity of Christ, we must equally vigorously defend his humanity. Early heretics such as the Docetists were influenced by Greek thought and could not conceive of deity in union with humanity. The church from the outset understood the importance of the Lord’s human nature. Hebrews 2:17 tells us that ‘he had to be made like his brothers in every way’ in order to provide salvation – human sin must be dealt with by a human Saviour, who is also fully God. We must not forget that as Jesus slept in the boat (according to his human nature) he also reigned over the entire universe (according to his divine nature) – as stated in Hebrews 1:3.
2. A testimony of faith
Jesus sleeps soundly in the midst of the storm. Note his response to the disciples’ panic – ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ (v26). He sees that the issue at stake is faith (or their lack of it). Jesus’ sleeping in the storm is a testimony of faith. This is apparent in the psalms, which we can take as being all messianic: Jesus is the primary speaker. Thus we apply Psalm 23:1 first to him –he says, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, expressing faith in his Father’s loving care for him and provision for him in all circumstances. This trust was what Satan chiefly attacked in the temptations (Matthew 4:1ff). The Saviour also speaks in Psalm 4:8 ‘I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.’
3. An example to follow
Jesus according to his human nature is the exemplar of the godly life his people are to live. We see in him what a Spirit-empowered human life is to look like. In his sleeping in the storm there are lessons for us:
(i) Our humanity: we are creatures with limitations, including bodies that need rest. It is foolish to disregard the proper care of the bodies that God has given us, suggesting we are wiser than the Creator. Note Psalm 127:2 ‘he grants sleep to those he loves’.
(ii) Our faith: trust in the Lord is a great source of security and peace. This is not a guarantee of sound sleep but the believer trusting in the Lord is freed from many burdens and anxieties that others bear. Psalm 4:8 ‘I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.’ That should be our prayerful desire and aim, even in trials.