Discipleship Reflections: Matthew 8:23-27

This series of blogs, Discipleship Reflections, are a part of an independent study for my Doctor of Ministry studies. Read, enjoy, comment. Thanks for reading.

In the flow of Matthew’s Gospel, chapter eight comes immediately after the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In this chapter we are presented with several healing miracles that include a leper, the servant of a centurion, Peter’s mother-in-law, and two men possessed by demons. In the midst of these healings, Jesus gave some instruction on discipleship. This instruction came by spoken word when Jesus explained the cost of discipleship and following him (18-22), and through what acts as a kind of test of faith for the disciples when a storm churns up while Jesus and his disciples were on the boat (23-27). I will focus on the storm in this post because it offers insight for us about discipleship and spiritual formation, particularly about faith on the disciple’s part and calm on the leader’s part.

It is probable that the teaching in the preceding chapters and the healing miracles in this chapter, verses 1-17, give some insight as to why the disciples were willing to board a boat with Jesus. They were following him because of what they have already heard and seen. Interestingly, Matthew may not have been on the boat as his call story is found in Matthew 9. The call stories of Peter, Andrew, James, and John are found in Matthew 4, and it is likely they were on the boat in the midst of the storm. Read Matthew 8:23-27 in the New Revised Standard Version.

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27 They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

I find it interesting and instructive that in the midst of the storm Jesus is calm, calm enough even to continue sleeping. It is as if Jesus’ sense of calm during turmoil acts as the antithesis to the disciples’ fear. When they woke him, they were clearly concerned for their well being. I do not think we should mistake his sleeping with disengagement, but as a holy sense of calm. Leaders have a responsibility to be calm, but there is a challenge for leaders to be calm in crisis without being viewed as disconnected and uncaring. Jesus undoubtedly cared about these men on the boat with him, but as the storm raged, the disciples lost sight of this. This was early in Jesus’ ministry, and this storm provided an opportunity for the disciples to learn about Jesus’ sense of calm and his care for them.

What about this matter of Jesus waiting to intervene? Did he intend not to act until the disciples’ fear led them to wake him up and prompted him to act? Was he content to ride the storm out, or was this moment always intended to offer Jesus’ the opportunity to model faith and calm for his disciples? Planned or not, Jesus used the storm as a teachable moment with his disciples. He questioned their faith, and then exhibited his power over the elements. After all of the healing miracles they had witnessed, he gave them yet another reason to have faith. The concluding verse to this section reveals the disciples’ amazement. The text is clear that his power over nature impressed them. What impression was left on them by his calmness as the storm was tossing the boat around? It seems likely that the disciples were amazed with his demeanor as much as his ability. At the very least, there was a noticeable difference between his reaction and their reaction.

Leading and teaching like Jesus is an unattainable goal, but if we can aim for that ideal, our propensity to become calm leaders in crisis and faithful disciples in uncertainty will be much improved. I would invite your comments and insight on this passage. It is a rich story that offers a lot to think about. Here are a few questions left to consider:

• How can the leader transfer a sense of calm to disciples?
• How can the leader balance calm without seeming detached?
• What storms will modern disciples face that will require someone to reflect a spiritual calm?
• How does a good leader react to fear in the disciple?

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6 Responses to Discipleship Reflections: Matthew 8:23-27

  1. Norma Fisher says:

    We are faced with challenges everyday that we need the calmness of God. Whether or not we choose to trust him is our choice As a Christian I sometimes find it hard to let go of a crisis and let God take over. When you pray in that difficult time in your life it is hard to wait for the answer. I have faith that God will always be there for me. He is the calm of whatever storm you are in!

    • revtoddblake says:

      I think this is probably part of what he was trying to teach the disciples. To be fair, I think they were still trying to figure him out, and this storm taught them a lot about who they were following. Maybe that’s another point – point will learn a lot about us when they watch us during storms.

  2. Tony says:

    Reminds me of John Claypool teaching the power and ministry of being a non-anxious presence in certain situations- a word I consistently fall back on and a discipline I am still learning.

  3. revtoddblake says:

    Claypool! Good example. I think we’re all still learning that one.

  4. Adam says:

    What I have often found (in words much less eloquent than the “nonanxious presence” of Claypool – which is a phenomenal image, by the way) is that turmoil or change create uncertainty, even if the change is good. Storms are not bad things all the time; just ask a farmer whose land has experienced drought. However, they are disconcerting and sometimes downright eerie. In the midst of that, human nature is to look for stability. Here Jesus shows the disciples that he can be that unchangeable, unflappable presence in their lives. They have to go through the storm to see that – and he has to remain unflappable so that they can look to him as their “solid rock.”

    I think for us as disciplers, following Jesus’ example, this puts before us the model of choosing to “be in the boat” with those we are charged with caring for, leading, and discipling. We can be calm, yes. We can provide emotional stability in the midst of hurt, pain, confusion, and uproar. But through it all, the way we might avoid detachment is cultivating our love for those we are with. The disciples hadn’t realized it yet, but Jesus loved them an incredible amount – enough, we know, to die for them. We can’t provide that same sort of emotional stability and calm without detachment if we don’t genuinely love those who are in the boat with us. That sort of love usually doesn’t show itself overnight or on one boat ride, but over time and through many stormy journeys. I don’t think there are shortcuts (or at least not major shortcuts) to becoming that “solid rock” for those we lead, disciple, and care for.

  5. Cameron says:

    Helpful reflections! And I love the questions you give us at the end.

    This episode in the boat reminds me of the Desert Fathers and Mothers and their conviction that spiritual maturity is measured, at least in part, by overcoming “the passions”–those powerfully unruly emotions that cause us to live our lives like kites without tails (fear, despondency, anger, envy, vanity, pleasure-seeking, etc). Jesus didn’t live life that way and that was unsettling to those around him. After all, passions are like fire; they like to spread. So I guess you could ask the same question in another way: how do leaders grow in virtue, wisdom, and maturity–and how do we take others with us, resisting our passions (and theirs) along the way?

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