Question: "What did Jesus mean when He said, "Peace, be still"?"
Answer: Jesus utters the words “Peace, be still” in Mark 4:39 in the King James and New King James Versions as well as the English Standard Version. The wording is slightly different in other versions: “Quiet! Be still” (New International Version) and “Hush, be still” (New American Standard Bible).
Jesus’ command occurs near the end of Mark 4:35–41: “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?’” (ESV).
“Peace, be still” is the command that Jesus used to calm a nighttime storm on the Sea of Galilee. The passage says that Jesus rebuked the storm—in other words, He told it to calm down in much the same way that a teacher might tell a classroom full of unruly students to calm down. The disciples were awestruck as the wind and waves actually obeyed! The authority Jesus showed gave them a clue as to who He really was.
On a closer reading, we find that it was not only the storm that was raging, but the disciples also. Jesus was asleep in the boat, and the disquieted disciples were filled with consternation: “The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mark 4:38). The disciples’ “raging” in the midst of the raging storm showed their lack of faith. Their question “Don’t you care?” was also an indignant affront to Jesus’ character. Of course Jesus cared for them. Jesus had said, “Let us go over to the other side,” so they should have known that they would make it. And He was with them, a fact that should have allayed fear.
Before we come down too hard on the disciples, we need to remember that they were just growing into their faith. While they may have questioned Jesus’ care for them, at least they had the idea that He could do something about the problem. This shows that they knew He had some extraordinary power and authority. If thirteen people are in a small boat in the middle of a raging storm, and twelve of them go to the thirteenth and say, “Please, do something about this storm,” that would indicate they felt the thirteenth man has some extraordinary abilities. Novelist Charles Dudley Warner quipped that “everybody talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.” Well, Jesus can actually do something about it, and He is the only one who can.
After rebuking the storm, Jesus issues a rebuke to the disciples as well: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). In essence, He was also saying “Peace, be still” to the disciples. “Calm down. I was always in complete control.”
When we read the account of Jesus’ saying “Peace, be still” today, we need to remember that Jesus is always in control of our circumstances, and, when we trust Him, He will calm the raging inside our souls. When we find ourselves raging and tossing and turning on the inside, Philippians 4:6–7 tells us what to do: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” While it is great to see the storm around us calm down, it is even more important that our souls are calm in the midst of the storm. God has not promised to bring peace to every storm, but He has promised to give us peace through any storm if we will trust Him to take care of us.
The song “Sometimes He Calms the Storm” by Benton Kevin Stokes and Tony W. Wood beautifully communicate this truth:
Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered “Peace, be still.”
He can settle any sea,
But it doesn’t mean He will.
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild;
Sometimes He calms the storm,
And other times He calms His child.