When Jesus asks, “Why are you afraid?” it isn’t because He’s condemning—it’s because He’s curious.
The Sea of Galilee is a beautiful, 15-mile freshwater lake that lies below sea level and is surrounded by mountains with distinctly carved valleys. The topography explains why the lake is subject to sudden squalls. Matthew describes one such storm in Greek as a “megas” (huge) “seismos” (earthquake).
Their boat was no cruise ship. It may have been identical to the first century fishing boat discovered in the sands of the Sea of Galilee in 1986. An Israeli museum now houses the remains of the 27-foot vessel, and tourists explore the lake on replicas today.
When the disciples awaken the napping Messiah, Jesus’ first words are startling: “Why are you afraid?”
Thankfully, I’ve never been in a hurricane, tornado or earthquake. But I’m quite familiar with thunderstorms. One of the scariest moments in my life took place on the 18th fairway of Tanglewood’s Championship golf course. The humid August afternoon produced an unpredicted storm that came upon my buddy and me before we knew what was happening. The lightening was directly on top of us. Thunder was deafening. Rain was pelting.
As we ran with all our might up the steep 18th fairway in a desperate attempt to find shelter in the clubhouse, my friend might have asked me: “Why are we out here?” And, knowing his sarcastic wit, he might have asked me: “If you die, can I have your 3-wood?” I can think of a thousand questions he might have asked me—but one question I know he would have never asked is: “Why are you afraid?”
Why did Jesus ask the question of the disciples? Of course, they were afraid—they were facing a life-threatening storm.
On the one hand, Jesus was fully God and, as such, He was all-knowing. On the other hand, Jesus was fully human and, as such, He didn’t know everything—He learned and grew as humans do.
Maybe Jesus asked the question because He was curious. Jesus came to understand us but there is at least one human problem He didn’t personally experience: He never knew what it was like to have very little faith. Jesus didn’t come to condemn us for our lack of faith amidst the storms of life—He came to save us from the storm. And that’s the Gospel!