“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.”
This same event was also recorded by Matthew and Luke (Matt 8:18, 23–28; Luke 8:22-27) and it is clear from all three accounts that the ship and all aboard, were in great danger of sinking or capsizing. The northern part of the Sea of Galilee is more than five miles across, and the prospect of swimming a couple miles, at night, in a heavy storm, could very easily have meant death for some or even all of them.
While it sounds like Jesus was scolding the disciples for being afraid, in actuality, Jesus was calling them out for something a bit different. Here, Jesus used a different word than the usual word for fearful or afraid (Gk. ‘phobeo’) which Mark uses in the very next sentence. Instead, he used ‘deiloi’ which means ‘cowardly panic’ or as one lexicon puts it ‘ignobly lacking courage’. A good sense of its meaning is in Isaiah 13:7 where he describes what will happen to the human heart when Jesus comes in judgement on the Day of the Lord: “Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt.”
What should have been the disciples reaction? What should have been at the core of their melting hearts? Jesus pointedly asks them, “Where is your faith?” Here, Jesus was challenging their terror at the thought of death by drowning; later, he confronted their fear of men (a sort of peer pressure, but on a deadly scale): “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell”(Matt 10:28).
Real fear should be reserved only for God. And guess what? The disciples finally get it right. After Jesus’ display of His power over nature, the text says,”And they were filled with great fear..” In this Greek phrase, there are two fear words and a mega word, ‘kai ephebethesan phobon megan’ or ‘and they were afraid with fear great.’ Finally their fear is in the right place. Their fear is fully justified and completely warranted when confronted with the unlimited power of almighty God.
The only correct object of real fear is God Himself (1Pet 2:17). If it was not for His freely given and unbounded love, we would have no place to hide from the dread of an indifferent fate and the terror of His certain judgement on our sins (1John 4:17-19). Since we are in Jesus Christ, however, we have a completely different relationship with everything. Our primary response is no longer panic when confronted by uncertain circumstances or real and deadly dangers. Rather our hearts are guarded (Phil 4:6-7) by the peace of a calm confidence in Him through His Word (John 14:25-27).
Meditate on these concepts: of fear contrasted with God’s greatness, power and love as you read through Psalm 91.