Terrified of Jesus

Every time I come across the story of Jesus calming the storm, I find myself wondering about the disciples response to what Jesus does. You can read the story here. In particular, I have been confounded by the shift from fear to terror.

When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

Mark 4:39-41 NLT

Recently, I heard some good teaching from this passage that helped me see this story in a new light. I was reminded that one of the questions we need to ask from this passage is ‘What does this story tell us about Jesus?’
As I thought about this question, it reminded me of the story of when Jesus called the four fisherman. In Luke’s extended version of that event, we have recorded an interesting dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter.
You can read the full story here.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.
Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people! And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.”

Luke 5:8-10 NLT

The Greek word translated as afraid in Luke 5:10 is the same as the word translated as terrified in Mark 4:41. The word is phobos and it implies to fear something or someone out of awe and reverence ( ie, the fear of God). This is significant.
For Simon Peter, the realization of who Jesus was in that moment resulted in fear. Why? Well, it turns out that there is a much deeper, historical context to Simon’s response and it has its origins in Simon’s understanding of the Old Testament stories. All throughout the history of Israel, whenever someone encountered the power and manifest presence of God, they expected to die. Simon fully recognized that this miraculous catch of fish was nothing short of a divine intervention by God. And he was afraid.

So what was it about who Jesus was that warranted the same response from the disciples in the boat on that stormy night? The answer can be found by looking at the difference between the two fears.

In verse 40, Jesus asks them, “Why are you fearful?” The word here is deilos and it means to be afraid, timid or cowardly. The disciples, even though some of them were seasoned fisherman, where afraid that they were going to die in the raging storm. This is a natural human response, considering the situation. Now contrast that with terrified in verse 41. To be more exact, the word terrified is actually made up of two Greek words, phobos megas, or literally, great or intense fear. The disciples went from being afraid because of the situation they were in, to being overwhelmingly afraid because of what Jesus did. But what did he do that solicited such a strong response? Once again, it turns out that there is a much deeper, historical context and it has its origins in their understanding of the Old Testament.

You quieted the raging oceans with their pounding waves…

Psalm 67:7 NLT

You rule the oceans. You subdue their storm-tossed waves.

Psalm 89:9 NLT

Some went off to sea in ships, plying the trade routes of the world. They, too, observed the Lord’s power in action, his impressive works on the deepest seas. He spoke, and the winds rose, stirring up the waves. Their ships were tossed to the heavens and plunged again to the depths; the sailors cringed in terror. They reeled and staggered like drunkards and were at their wits end.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbor!

Psalm 107:23-30 NLT

Like Simon Peter in Luke 5, the disciples in the storm tossed boat fully recognized that this miraculous calming of the wind and the waves was nothing short of a divine intervention by God. In the Old Testament, only God could command the forces of nature. Think about that for a moment. Jesus didn’t pray to his father to intervene on their behalf. The wind and waves were obedient to the power of his command.

When you look at it this way, the disciple’s awe inspired fear is understandable and their question is valid… “Who is this man?”

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