A while back, I was flying and had been desperate to get to the restroom. After queuing for a few minutes, I managed to just get in as the ‘Fasten Seatbelt’ sign clicked on, and the tannoy beeped to announce some turbulence, advising people to fasten their seatbelt. “I’ll be fine…” I remember thinking to myself – needless to say, that was the most uncomfortable hand washing experience I ever had! Strangely it was not even the worst turbulence I have sat through! At that moment, what brought the frustration and fear was the unexpectedness of the disturbance. Out of nowhere, the turbulence came, disturbed, and as quickly as it came, it disappeared.
Turbulence is one thing, but I am not sure I would have had the same confidence to face an unexpected storm if I was out on a boat. Storms are a different beast! Eventually, physic’s kicks in regardless of the skills of the sailors or the size of the boat. If a boat meets a wave head-on that is taller than the boat is long, then the boat will capsize: or, if a boat meets a wave side that is taller than the boat is wide, then the boat will capsize.
Imagine being out on a boat as an experienced sailor and suddenly being met by waves longer than your boat is long – 40ft plus waves, imagine the fear that would kick in, as your life flashed before your eyes, and no matter what you did it did not seem to make a difference. That was exactly the case for one sailor of the Isles of Scilly last year when Storm Aiden caused freak gale forces winds that drove waves overturning his boat, thankfully he was able to send out a distress single at 5AM to get help from the coast guard, an experienced sailor knew what was coming and that he needed help.1
The disciples were not seafaring men, but they have experienced sailors due to their work as fishermen, and they knew the waters they were sailing on. They knew that the could be unexpected storm’s, but they also knew that they could subside as quickly as they came. You wonder then how serve this storm must have been that it brought about such fear from these experienced watermen to the point where they saw only death and destruction and turned to Jesus as a last resort for help. That had read the signs of the situation and devised that their only hope was Jesus, and where was he? Asleep at the back of the boat!
A Significant Event for Gospel Witness
If you grew up in the church, then you probably know well that faithful Sunday School story about Jesus calming the storms. We know all about it, yet, I do not think we realise how significant an event was in terms of the wider corpus of the Gospel accounts of Jesus life, ministry, death and resurrection. The events around Jesus claiming the Storm are significant for the disciples and the larger Gospel witness to Jesus. Whereas the first parable from last week’s lectionary (The parable of the seeds) was unique, it only appears in Mark: Jesus calming the Storm is unique because it appears in all four gospels and is the only such event too. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all reference those moments on the boat with Jesus as he spoke stillness on the storm; thus, for them, it was significant in terms of knowing Jesus and that the church knows this miracle. Why?
”Many commentators say the reason is that this story is a vital vignette that teaches much about the life of the church and the role faith is supposed to play as we navigate the often rough seas of our life together in this world.” 2
Furthermore, in the previous parables “the kingdom is compared to the tiny mustard seed”. Although Jesus is conveying the most “awesome reality in the universe, for now, the kingdom of God comes in whispers. The power of salvation is there, but outward razzle-dazzle may well be lacking. Indeed, in the parable of the sower, the message of the gospel is so vulnerable that it can be snatched away by birds, choked out by weeds, or withered by the noonday sun.”3 Mark has been recording the teachings of Jesus and now begins a section showing the authority of Jesus over all the things of the world. Jesus and the Storm marks a significant moment because it shows us something about the reality of who He is, and through his power, we see a glimpse of the Kingdom of God that is hidden in him. Jesus shows both the authority of his rule and the reality of the Kingdom to come. Yet, it knows the miraculous that makes him know, but his teaching is why he is so dismayed at the disciples.
Passage (Mark 4:35-41 NIV)
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down, and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
An Evening At Sea Disturbed by A Great Storm (35-37)
It has been a long day of teaching for Jesus, he has been drained by his public ministry to the crowd, and as the Sunsets and evening dawns, Jesus decides that he wants to withdraw by boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Mark seeks to highlight the sporadic news of the moment; they were not enacting prearranged travel plans; they responded to Jesus and his desire to rest. Mark highlights this by noting: “They took him along just as he was.”
Remember, these are experienced fishermen; they know the water, and they have known how to handle a boat in these waters. It would be second nature to them! On the other hand, Jesus is not a fisherman and, as far as we know, had little experience with boats! Bar perhaps building them in his work as a carpenter. This is a normal end of the day for the Disciples and Jesus as they set out onto the water with other boats following them. So tired is Jesus that he has withdrawn to the back of the boat and made himself comfortable in rest.
The Greatest of Storms (37-38)
We are not sure how far into this most normal of Journeys the boats are when we are told that a “great windstorm” (ESV) descended upon the boats. In a moment, the stillness of the evening sea had dissipated, and Chaos abounded as they made their journey, with waves breaking over the boat and nearly flooding them. Suddenly the routine has become the unknown as the convoy of boats is battered by a storm like no otters.
Difficulty on the waters of Lake Galilee is not uncommon because the lake was some 300 meters below sea level, and at the bottom of a valley, the weather and winds could change in an instance. Yet, this time it is far more than a bit of turbulence or a few chopping waves; the image we are given of the disciples is one of fear, panic, and terror. These men know these waters well, yet, there seems to be little for them to do in the middle of this raging storm; without divine intervention, it would appear that the end is nigh.
They have run out of options and skills; they can not look to themselves for salvation from the storm. Their knowledge and experience have helped them to conclude at that moment that there nothing they can do; they have no tricks up their sleeves, no skills left to try. In fact, their knowledge of the water leads them to turn to Jesus, who has so far remained out of the picture as the storm raged. Where is he? Asleep and undisturbed at the back of the boat as he recovers from a difficult day of ministry. Notice that the presence of Jesus on the boat did not prevent the difficult situation from arising; never believe the lie that being a Christian affords us the promise of an easy life. Furthermore, Jesus sleep did not indicate a lack of concern from the disciples; rather, it is indicative of Jesus knowledge of himself: he, who is the word by which all things came to be, has no reason to fear anything of the world.
A Calm Greater than the Chaos of the Storm (38-39)
We all have the places or people we go to in a Crises for help; on the same flight, I remember when after an hour or so had passed, we hit another bit of turbulence. The women who were sitting across from me either seemed to be in the ‘brace position’ or praying; as the movement of the plane increased, I could hear her repeating to herself: “It is just turbulence, everything will be okay,” Suddenly, there was a massive jolt, and stillness… then another jolt, and stillness – a sequence of events that unfolded over a few minutes, as the plane was able to enjoy simulated zero gravity. After a few minutes, even I was feeling uncomfortable. Yet, the women across from me seemed even more disturbed as her self-calming mantra had turned to something of prayer (or cry for help) to the unknown as she muttered something like: “please make it stop, please!” After another couple of minutes her prayer was answered as the turbulence ceased. I wonder where you turn in those storm moments of life for help? Back on the Galilean Sea, the experienced fishermen are running out of ideas: their strength and skills cannot save them, so they turn to their last hope – Jesus. Where is he? Asleep and undisturbed by the chaos of the world as he recovers from a busy day of ministry!
They beg him to help as they insult him by questioning His concern for them. Jesus responds by getting up from his sleep, rebuking the wind, and commanding the Waves: “Quiet! Be Still!” Literally, Jesus commanded the Waves to be muzzled as though he was dealing with a rabid animal. What happened? The winds and waves obeyed him because Jesus has authority over nature and all things as God put his creation at rest. Water is often used in Jewish imagery to represent chaos or evil. Think about the imagery of the beast in Revelation coming out of the water (Revelation 13). When God’s rule is established, the sea is described as like glass because its Chaos has been contained by the sovereign rule of God (Revelation 15:2). Jesus is the one who is sovereign over nature and all the chaos of life, and through faith in Him, we will always know peace. Yet, fear destroys faith, and in a moment, the disciples begin to wonder just who was in the boat with them? After months of following him, they still had not been able to see who he was.
Who is This Man? (40-41)
Nature had been stilled as Jesus spoke, and it was that authority at the moment the Chaos of the Storm has dissipated, and calm has been restored, yet, the disciples still remain fearful, perhaps are more fearful because of what they have just witnessed. They know the power of the waves; they know the chaos it represents to them. They know that Nature acts of its own accord, and there was nothing no man could do at that moment to save them. They knew they needed an act of God as the winds raged and waves crashed into their boats. Yet, they were not quite ready for how the act of God unfolded: Jesus did not wake up and pray to God that the winds would be still. No, he got up and spoke with authority over the wind and waves, and they obeyed him. A direct suggestion to the disciples in that moment that they were with someone who had the authority of God. They might have feared for their lives in regards to the storm, yet, now they are fearful of Jesus as they ponder the question: “Who is this Man?”
Fear of God is a good thing; that’s what the Bible means when it talks about reverence; literally being overcome by the majesty and power of God. Yet, in these verses, the fear the disciples produce is not reverence but cowardice! The image is literally of them quivering at the stern of the boat in response to what Jesus has done. He did literally what they asked him to do, yet they respond with fear; it’s not that it has been something new; they have spent months with him and saw him perform miracles, heard him teach with authority, and still do not get it. Hence Jesus asks them: “Do you still have no faith?”
It was not a question based on what he has just done, but because they had been the ones who had heard him teaching and had listened to him explain parables and all the things of the Kingdom to them in private. Hence, they should have grasped or started to grasp who Jesus was. Yet, they still did not have belief, trust and confidence in God through Jesus. They asked him to act over the storm, not out of faith he would, but fear there was no other hope. Thus, in his question to them, Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith, “it is not their lack of faith in his ability to perform miracles that he is rebuking, but their lack of faith in being able to see that within this man from Nazareth the kingdom of God was hidden the same way a mustard seed is hidden in the soil.”4 They could not see Him then, the question is can we see him now?
Conclusion: Do you See Him?
One of the greatest dangers in the life of faith is to believe in the life of prosperity because of Jesus: that we will receive all the blessings of Jesus now because we have faith. The Disciples were with him in a boat, and the storm still came! Life is not all green pastures and pleasure. No matter how much money we have or how powerful we might be, the world is never like that. Additionally, Jesus never promised us an easy life with him; There will always be storms; the question is who are we facing them with. We can try our own thing, or we can turn to Jesus.
Jesus speaks and still the storms because He is sovereign over all things. There is nothing outside the realm of Jesus reign and rule. Mark 4:35-41 highlights Jesus authority over the natural world and begins a section of the Gospel account that demonstrates Jesus authority over the Spiritual Realms (5:1-20), then over Sickness and Death (5:21-43). Jesus has authority over all things; the question is, are we willing to let him have authority over us. The disciples respond with fear at that moment because they did not understand: With the benefit of hindsight and clarity, we must respond with recognition and trust him with every season of our lives.
When you read Marks Gospel, it’s clear that Jesus seeks to make himself and the Kingdom of God Known is through his teachings, not his miracles. The miracles are glimpses of the kingdom that he holds within Him, yet they are not how the Kingdom of God will be revealed to the world. The whole corpus of Marks Gospel is that Jesus is not known through his Miracles but through his ministry, specifically his teaching. Jesus laments the disciples in the moment for their lack of faith, not in the storm, but in him because they have heard him teach, and they have come to know him as Lord.
Jesus as the word (logos) of God is known through the written word of God and made known through the living out of the word and way of God. Thus, our greatest challenge as we wait for Him is to be those who recognise Him for who he is and seek to know him more. To be those who are so captivated and transformed by the beauty of Jesus and what he has done for us that we are changed and transformed by the dwelling work of the Spirit, and in response, the world asks: Who is this man? It is not in the miraculous that we will make Jesus known; it’s in the mundane. The greatest miracle the world can witness is the work of Grace in the Christian being faithfully outworked in every day normal of life, whether we are shopping in the Supermarket, at work in an office, or drinking coffee with friends. It’s in those moments of normal that we can display the Kingdom of God greatly.
This passage is considered significant for all four Gospels because it acts as a summary of the Christian Life, that in a moment, our normal can disappear, and we find ourselves in a storm wondering where God is and What he is doing. The Journey on the lake is the picture of life, knowing perhaps our direction but not what is ahead, and being reminded to always look to Jesus: He who is the peace that passes all understanding. So if we are facing a Storm of life, let us look to Jesus; or if we find ourselves on green pastures, let us look to Jesus. Then as we Look to Him, let us pray that by the Spirit of God at work in us, we start to look like Him so that as the world around us looks to us, they see Him and find the one who brings peace in every season and every storm, and they know the wonder of life with the one who has authority over all things.
O God our defender,Church of Ireland Collect of the Word
storms rage about us and cause us to be afraid:
rescue your people from despair,
deliver your sons and daughters from fear,
and preserve us all from unbelief:
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
- https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-54760998 ↩
- Van Ham & Roger, E; The Lectionary Commentary , Volume 3: The Gospels (Third Readings), 207 ↩
- Van Ham & Roger, E; The Lectionary Commentary , Volume 3: The Gospels (Third Readings), 208 ↩
- Van Ham & Roger, E; The Lectionary Commentary , Volume 3: The Gospels (Third Readings), 209 ↩