This incident falls within the later Galilean ministry of Jesus. It is part of a set of stories which demonstrate Jesus' victory over powers hostile to God, 4:35-5:43. In fact, it serves as part of a beautifully arranged package of stories. We see Jesus victorious over the powers of the raging sea (possibly nature, although more likely Satan), demon possession, sickness and death. In these stories we are confronted by Jesus' word of power over dark forces, a word that interplays with the human response of faith.
v35-37. Jesus has been preaching beside the sea of Galilee. Following his usual practice of furthering his gospel ministry, the team sets sail for the Eastern shore of the lake. Evening sailing was usually much safer, certainly than the afternoons when the wind often increased. On this occasion a storm hit and the boat was about to be swamped.
v38-39. The disciples, many of them experienced fisherman, were afraid of the severity of the storm. They woke Jesus and virtually accused him of not caring about their fate. Jesus responds by stilling the storm. He actually "rebukes" the storm, commanding it to be silent. This is exactly the way he treats the demonic powers. Powers have threatened Jesus and his disciples, and Jesus responds by muzzling them with a word of authority.
v40-41. Having rebuked the wind, Jesus rebukes the disciples with two questions which they answer themselves in their exclamation, "who is this?" They have not yet worked out who Jesus is and as consequence, are afraid and without faith. Although the crowds hear only mysteries (parables), the disciples hear the clear truth. Yet, at this stage, they have yet to understand that Jesus "is the Christ, the Son of God". They do not understand that Jesus is ushering in the kingdom of God with power and authority and that no force can stand against this heavenly man and his mission.
"Tho the tempest rage and the wild winds blow,
Not an angry wave shall our bark oer-flow."
In early Christian art it was not unusual to depict the church as a boat driven hard in a perilous sea, and Jesus in the midst, surrounded by a drenched crew. Some of the crew are depicted filled with fear as they watch the waves plunge into their boat, while others are at peace as they look to Jesus - "steadfast and sure while the billows roll."
The church is indeed like a boat tossed against the winds of strife. The storm that came against Jesus had the overtones of the dark domain. The storm represented powers opposed to God's new initiative in Jesus. Jesus was calling out a people to be with him, and the darkness sought to engulf his plan. The church today is constantly affronted by the power of the secular city. The waves come from the front, denouncing the Christian ethic, denouncing the historicity of our faith, eradicating our influence within society, undermining freedom of religion. The waves come from behind, seeking to "conform" us to the world, sneaking entertainment concepts into worship, leading us to believe that marketing, selling, that the adoption of secular management criteria, is our only hope for future survival. Thus, like the disciples of old, we are filled with fear, and this because we have little faith.
In similar terms, as individuals, we find ourselves as if a boat tossed against the "storms of life." It's bad enough trying to understand who we are in this ever-changing melting pot called life. As they say, "men are stuffed", if you're over forty you're useless.... where is the sanity in it all? Yet worse, our faith is constantly submerged in doubts and questions, our discipleship debilitated by fear.
The answer to our problem is simple. If our anchor is "fastened to the Rock which cannot move" then we "can defy the blast, through strength divine." Will Christianity survive the affront of secularization and the test of marketed religion, or as it is often called today, "sanctified pragmatics"? Will the individual believer be able to survive the "billows roll"? The answer, of course, is yes, for "we have an anchor that keeps the soul."
Compare the "Jesus is Lord over nature" line of interpretation to the one given above.