Jesus Fell Asleep
By Wendy Alsup
As I was reading from the book of Luke this morning, a phrase in the middle of the story of Jesus calming the waters struck me, “he fell asleep.”
Luke 8 22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
Jesus fell asleep right in the middle of a scary trial for His disciples. At first reading, this feels callous on His part. Or oblivious. Or passive-aggressive. I’ve experienced people who have mocked others for not understanding a future outcome or used their ignorance against them to humiliate them. But we know that is not Jesus’ character. He’s about to be bloodied and humiliated for these very same disciples. With love and compassion, He will lay His life down for them and freely offer them cleansing through His sacrifice. He is not the passive-aggressive sort.
Instead, I think Jesus’ response in this boat is simply one of peace. He knows of the coming good outcome, both of the miracle of calming the waters and the growth of needed faith and confidence in His disciples. Jesus was eternally minded in a temporal world. He was at peace that the temporary discomfort and fear His disciples were experiencing would resolve in ways that were eternally good for them. And so He slept.
Throughout Scripture, God has had periods of time where He seemed asleep. Maybe, in heaven, He actually was. This is not to be confused with oblivion, where the incompetent king falls asleep and the kingdom falls apart without his knowledge. God’s sleep is a sleep of sovereign peace, for the record has been written and it will come to pass as the ultimate will of the King of Kings is always carried out. God sleeps in peace. And again and again, He arouses Himself in time to put things in order as He always intended.
Joseph, Ruth, and David give us micro pictures of this, as each in their own lifetime saw the resolution of things after periods where God seemed asleep in their struggles. But they also give us macro pictures of this, as each contributes to a story that lasted much longer than their lives, that wasn’t resolved until Jesus came onto the scene thousands of years after their death.
For centuries, earnest Christians faithfully following Jesus have experienced a God who seems asleep at times, sometimes for long seasons in their lives. In the disciples’ case in Luke 8, He literally was asleep. In my life, it has seemed He slept as I needed direction. Sometimes, He felt asleep as I needed deliverance from a trial. But as time goes on and I can look back, I recognize that He really seemed asleep because He was at complete peace in how He was moving in my life—what He was teaching me and how the circumstances would resolve for His purposes in my life. He didn’t give me direction for a year because it was the absolute lack of direction that would funnel me into His next steps for my life. He didn’t deliver me from my trial because the trial itself was my path.
He is at peace with His plan for my life. He loves me, so I can be at peace too through His grace. It blesses me to think of my God with a sovereign micro plan over my finite earthly life that feeds into His macro plan for His kingdom purposes. And it blesses me to think of Him completely at peace with the circumstances He has put in my life, so much so that He can sleep knowing that His purposes are good and they will be carried out.