Peace, Be Still
E. A. R. Shotter, Northampton
To some is given a placid temperament which seems to weather all the storms of life calmly. To others this calmness maintains in all but the most severe storms. Yet to the majority of us that tranquility of spirit (to our loss, and often to our sorrow) seems to evade us as soon as the turbulence of life's sea shows itself.
In the synoptic Gospels we read of an incident in the life of our Lord which will be viewed in three different ways for the purpose of this meditation. This meditation leaves aside the suggestion of some that Matthew's account refers to a different storm from that recorded in Mark or Luke.
The three viewpoints we wish to consider and that give us a composite picture, are :
1. The local one of the event itself.
2. That which relates to the Lord.
3. That which may help us.
When coming to the Scriptures, it is always wise to keep each aspect of study clearly separate in our minds, at least until each has been well studied, in order to avoid confusion. Comparison may be made afterwards. It is essential to remember this in Bible Readings, particularly for the sake of those who do not take part, that they may "go along" with those who do.
1. The Local Event. In Matthew's account, 8. 16-27, there are preliminary details which are not recorded at this time by Mark or Luke. These details are the account of the healing of those possessed with demons; the scribe who assayed to follow the Lord, and to whom He outlined the conditions of such following; and the other disciple, who asked leave to bury his dead before taking up closer discipleship, and to whom the cost of discipleship is enunciated.
It will be seen that these incidents took place when the evening was come according to Matthew and Mark. Matthew also records that the healing of the demon-possessed and all who were ill was in direct fulfilment of Scripture: He Himself took our weaknesses, and bore our diseases, showing that even the mental conditions are in this context, and not beyond His taking. But we must ever remember that whilst He is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, He is, as always, completely apart from sin—He is sinless.
Let us look a little more closely at the interview with the scribe. Here is a man who we might say was steeped in the Scriptures. He could probably have recited the law without error. He would be able to point to the Messianic promises, and converse at length on the delectable conditions of the millennial reign of the Messiah. Yet for all this, the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah seems to have evaded him to any depth of thought. A suffering Messiah was difficult for a Jew to comprehend. This man may have been convinced that Jesus in His walk and ways corresponded with his ideas of those which Christ would exhibit, but he does not seem to have grasped the solitariness and privation entailed within the scope of his statement as he says, "Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest". In His reply, the Lord Jesus bids His would-be follower to count the cost. Not a palace; not a prominent place in the kingdom; not even a pillow, could the Lord offer him on that journey from the cradle to the cross. The Lord had come as the despised of men; to be a "man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief", and any who would follow this lowly Son of man would, to a lesser degree than Himself, feel the smart of His sorrows, of which He takes the intensity.
Next, we are told of "another of his disciples" (heteros—one of a different sort). His desire and statement is still that of following: but after he has buried his father. That may have been an imminent event, or one which lay in the "foreseeable future". Whatever was behind the remark, the Lord points out to this man that his priorities were wrong. Family ties are secondary to those of discipleship, for the One to whom the disciple owns allegiance is none other than the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God. To Him is the first priority —His is the authority.
Yes, we are in the presence of the One who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet made Himself of no reputation !
These interviews having been completed, the Lord Jesus and His disciples take a ship to cross the lake. Yet we note in Matthew, having seen the great multitudes about Him, He commanded the voyage, to which Mark comments that they (the Lord and His disciples) sent the multitudes away. (The standpoint from which each of the Gospel narrators writes is quite marked here—the King commands; the Servant labours with the servants, etc.)
Watch the lowly One, who made Himself of no reputation, as He enters the boat—His disciples follow Him (Matthew) ; they take Him even as He was (wearied) into the ship (Mark); they launched forth (Luke).
Wearied by the frustrations, the sorrows, the discourses, the crowds, and the work of the day, it was not long before the Lord was asleep—a sweet sleep for Him, even though the storm broke, for "the sleep of a labouring man is sweet", Eccles. 5. 12, and He could say with the Psalmist, "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep; for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety", Psa. 4. 8. Mark adds that lovely touch : "on a pillow". Had one of that little group noted His comment "hath not where to lay his head" and found the helmsman's leather-covered wooden seat or cushion at least to ease the conditions for his now soundly sleeping Master? However small the provision for comfort may have been, it has not gone unnoticed in Holy Writ.
The evening voyage, with its tranquility, had now commenced, when suddenly the wind got up, became boisterous, and the strong gusts whipped the water into foreboding waves; the whole scene becoming one of agitation and fury.
The experienced sailors used all their skills to keep the vessel on course, upright, and free from the threatening waves. Seeing their Master still soundly asleep, they must have put all their expertise into saving the situation without disturbing Him. But all to no avail. Everything possible having been done, and because they were now in jeopardy, the boat being filled by the waves, they cried to the Lord in their distress. With a cairn equivalent to that of those sleeping moments, He awoke, arose, and rebuked the wind, and ordered the sea to be still—muzzled. And there was a great calm.
Note now the gentle manner in which He rebukes their lack of trust! If it was with authority "he command-eth the winds and water, and they obey him" (Luke), it was with almost questioning sorrow that He said, "Where is your faith?" No wonder, after such an experience, they exclaimed, "What manner of man is this!"
2. That which relates to the Lord Jesus. Looking at this incident in the life of the Lord as collectively recorded by the three evangelists, it will be seen that on either side of the lake He had met cases of demon possession. It will be noted also that in His interview with the certain scribe He alludes to His rejection which culminated, as far as men were concerned, at the cross. The quotation cited in Matthew 8. 17 comes from Isaiah 53, the very chapter dealing with these two same subjects—rejection and death.
The mission of the Saviour was surely to release man from the thraldom of the devil and his emissaries; to demonstrate His authority over all; and to dispense the goodness and blessing of God here below.
The casting out of the spirits by His word was too much for the powers of evil, and the devil makes yet another opportunity to destroy Jesus. Previous attempts had been, among others, during the temptation in the wilderness, and after the address at Nazareth. Now, apparently helpless in a small boat on a wind-lashed sea, seems just another opportunity, so the evil one exerts his powers to cause the lake to become deeply convulsed and agitated (the word is seismos from which comes our word seismology, the science of earthquakes) so as to effect the destruction of the Saviour. But His hour was not yet come, and no power on earth or from hell could alter the time in relation to that hour.
Not only has the devil failed in his plot, but the Lord is shown to have dominion in the heavenlies—the seat of principalities, and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness, Eph. 6. 12,— over the natural elements, and over the infernal beings who would seek to oppose Him. Over all the unrest and disturbance that they would generate, comes His authoritative command, "Peace, be still" or "Silence, be muzzled"; and such is that command that a great calm follows. He is manifested as the Prince of peace.
Again, leaving the ship, He is met by the victims of the kingdom of darkness., the captors of whom cry out, "What have we to do with thee . . . art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" And if, having come from the abyss, they sought to destroy the Son of God before the time, they are now to be despatched to the abyss to await their torment in due time.
So much for the evidence of His authority over the unseen world, but what of the effect of this on the hearts of men? How are they to react? This experience was given them to stimulate faith and confidence in Him who had come to save, and to cause them to wonder and worship the One who was with them. "How is it that ye have no faith?". It is easy to sing with great verve, "With Christ in the vessel we may smile at the storm !" Perfectly true, but may it not be nearer the truth that we are brought to hear His gentle words, "Why are ye so fearful?" So then, one of the reasons for the coming of the Son of man is that our confidence may be in Him, and not in ourselves. This is brought out here. It relates to Him, not to us.
Another reason for this incident is that we may worship Him. These men realized that in the boat with them was more than an ordinary man, for they said, What sort of man is this? Each of the narrators has "man" in italics, and this leaves us free to think of His personality, His being, His incarnation, and then to worship at His feet.
3. That which may Help us.
Though skilled navigators and fishermen, their image in several "sea" incidents does not show these men in a very good light. In the first, they toiled all night and caught nothing; in the second, they had to cry out, having failed to overcome the effects of the storm ; in the third they toiled in rowing, were making heavy weather, and being exhausted, thought the Lord to be a spirit as He drew near; and in the fourth, their answer to the Lord's question, "Have ye any meat?" was "No".
Probably the circumstances in life can be separated into two broad groups. Those that are consequent upon natural causes, of which we partake with all men—sickness, sorrow, desires, results of our own indiscretions without the upward look, and so on. There are causes, on the other hand, which do not seem to fall into the same category—a supernatural power appears to motivate them. In addition to these two broad groups, there is always that urge in the heart of the Christian to be up and doing for the Master—and how commend able this is. But what is it that this incident teaches us?
Firstly, that He is ever with us in every kind of circumstance which we may experience. Whether we may feel that we take "him even as he was" —wearied—to seek to refresh Him; whether we follow Him as His disciples; or whether we enter the ship with Him as His companions; we are endowed with His presence, for He is the omnipresent One. Whatever the circumstance, then, we are never alone. There are times when we are unaware of this. We consider Him asleep, and may cry out, "carest thou not?", but never are we left to our own devices, and the hidings of His face are but to draw us closer to Him.
Secondly, we learn that He is able for every circumstance because He is the omnipotent One. Already the disciples had witnessed His power and authority over those who were sick and demon-possessed (representing those broader groups of circumstances), and now the very waters over which they travel seem to be convulsed. What are they to do? Have they learned the lesson ? Probably more to the point, have we?— we, who are in a much more favoured position, having read of the healings, and the calming of the sea, in the Scriptures of truth; and having the same Almighty One indwelling us. With every good intention they work ceaselessly to save the situation, using every ingenuity that they can call to their emergency-sharpened minds, but to no avail. The Master is asleep after a heavy day, and we must do everything we can to let Him sleep it out! How commendable! How considerate! and yet how futile! At their wits' end they arouse Him, to do that which only was in His power to do, against conditions for which human effort was no match. They sought to do themselves those things which human experience had taught them—in the presence of omnipotence!
Beloved, we have been made weak "that the power of Christ may rest upon" us, 2 Cor. 12. 9. How much better, then, to glory in this weakness and allow Christ to take over from the start, whether in natural circumstances, in supernatural, or in those connected with spiritual service.
Thirdly, we find that He knows the cause of our motivations, for He says, "how is it that ye have no faith?" In this He reveals His omniscience. Tenderly and gently as the question is put, the all-seeing eye has searched out the very "thoughts and intents of the heart", Heb. 4. 12. That is more than we know ourselves. Our motives are good, and our intentions commendable, but how often do they betray a lack of that trust which would intuitively turn to Him first for enablement to act, rather than last for help to extract us from a lost cause. Enablement means He supplies all; help, we want a strength added to ours.
Thus may we see from this meditation that He is the Great Servant and Worker who desires weak and helpless ones in and through whom to show His mighty works. May we hear Him say, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake xbee" in every circumstance and "My grace is sufficient for thee" for every circumstance; and so come to know experimentally that "all things work together for good to them that love God" through every circumstance. In this way we shall hear that tender, yet commanding voice over life's fitful sea, "Peace, be still"—and experience the result "and there was a great calm" !
We rightly say that we are saved to serve, but there is something greater, for the product of these circumstances was "What manner of man is this". We are saved to worship, and when the service of the Master springs from worshipping Him, He will produce the fruit which will glorify Him, for He says, "Without me ye can do nothing".
Finally, just a panoramic glance at the four maritime incidents mentioned : the first brought forth the exclamation, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord"; the second, "What manner of man is this"; the third, "If it be thou, bid me come unto thee", and "Lord, save me"; and the fourth, "It is the Lord !"
May we each one, through our circumstances, salvation, and service, come to know the one true Object of worship—the Lord—and let Him work through us to the glory of His Name.