Week of December 17, 2017
The Point: You can trust Jesus in the storm.
Jesus Calms a Storm: Mark 4:35-41.
 On that day, 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]
“There was once a great windstorm on the Sea of Galilee. Like many stormy adventures at sea, the voyage started calmly enough, with Jesus deciding to go out for a leisurely sail: Let us go across to the other side. At first the water was calm, as it usually is on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus fell asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat. But then the weather started getting rough, and the tiny ship was tossed: the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. It was the kind of storm that sometimes blows in to churn the waters of the Galilee. Although the sea is usually calm, when storms do come, they are usually violent. The lake of Galilee is subject to sudden storms, situated as it is some 700 feet below sea level and adjacent to mountainous regions. Cold air from the heights is apt to sweep down through the precipitous gorges to the east and it can whip up the seas in a short time. This particular storm was as powerful as any that the disciples had ever seen. And remember, Peter and Andrew and James and John were fishermen by trade and had spent most of their lives in these waters. Yet they had never experienced anything like this. The storm hit them with a sudden and violent fury. A seaman would call it a squall – a sudden and violent gust of wind, usually accompanied by heavy rain. The disciples did everything they could to deal with the situation. Their sailing vessel was rising and falling through the swells, riding to the top of one crest and then suddenly crashing down through the waves – as it seemed, almost to the bottom of the sea. The boat was filling so rapidly with water that it was in danger of getting swamped. The disciples pulled down their sails and began to bail for dear life. But they were still in danger, and soon they lost almost all hope of ever making it to shore. We are perishing they said. What the disciples went through on the Sea of Galilee is something we all go through in life: seas of difficulty and storms of trouble. People lose their jobs or suffer some other financial hardship, and they get tossed by waves of worry. They receive an unfavorable diagnosis or struggle with some chronic illness, and they are flooded with fear. They have painful interpersonal conflicts at home, in the neighborhood, at work, or in the church, and they feel as if they are sinking. They lose someone they love, and they are drowned in sorrow. Or perhaps they are simply swamped with all the little duties and difficulties of everyday existence. We all must pass through the heavy seas of life’s troubles. As the apostle Peter said, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you [1 Peter 4:12]. Often danger comes the way it came at Galilee: suddenly and unexpectedly. There the disciples were sailing across the lake, without any sign of difficulty. Lulled into a false sense of security, they never imagined that within a few short hours, they would be fighting for their very lives. The same thing can happen to us. Although the seas of daily experience are sometimes calm, they are swept by sudden storms. Like the disciples, we are in a situation that we think we can handle. But then, completely unexpectedly, we are afraid that we are in danger of drowning. And then, most of all, we endure the testing of our soul. What should we do when trouble comes? How should we react in times of difficulty and danger, whether physical or spiritual? When the disciples were in danger, they reacted by crying out for Jesus to save them: Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? Whenever we are in danger of drowning – or at least think that we are – we should cry out to Jesus. If we are burdened with our sins, we cry to Him for mercy, asking Him to save us through His cross and the empty tomb. If we are struggling to make ends meet, we cry to Him for our daily bread. If we are buffeted by physical pain, we cry to Him for patience and endurance. If we are torn apart by conflict, we cry to Him for the peace of His Spirit. If we are overwhelmed with sorrow, we cry to Him for the comfort of His presence. In every rough and stormy squall, even to the point of death itself, we call upon Jesus. When we call upon Jesus, He is able and willing to help, as the disciples discovered. In times of trouble, there is no one better to call on than Jesus, because no one is better equipped to save us. When the disciples cried out to Him, Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still! And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. The disciples were all in confusion, but Jesus was fully composed. Very calmly, and simply by the word of His power, Jesus told the storm to be still. He was the Master of the waves and the storm and all the deadly power of the sea. This was a genuine and immediate miracle. One moment the disciples were almost drowning in the heavy seas; the next moment they were floating serenely on the smooth surface of the Galilee. The storm ceased. The sea was calm. And there was no merely natural explanation for this. The storm was stopped by the command of Christ. Jesus delivered His disciples – as He delivers everyone who calls to Him in faith – by the divine power of His mighty word.
Where is Your Faith? In the stillness after the storm two crucial questions were posed. The first was a question Jesus asked, a question that we all need to answer about ourselves: Where is your faith? The second was a question the disciples asked, a question that everyone needs to answer about Jesus: Who is this man? The first question comes in Mark 4:40, where Jesus says to His disciples, Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? This was a rebuke – a gentle rebuke, but a rebuke nonetheless. The obvious implication was that the disciples were not really trusting in Jesus. To be sure, the disciples had cried out to Jesus for help. But there was something rather desperate about the way they did it. The boat was not the only thing getting swamped that day; the fear of the disciples overwhelmed their faith. They looked only at the danger, forgetting that they were safe with Jesus. They asked for help only as a last resort, and when they did, they were frantic, almost hysterical. Rather than trusting God to take care of them, they immediately assumed the worst. We are perishing they said. In other words, “We are dying here!” Their assumption was that Jesus did not know and did not care about their situation. We can sympathize with the disciples in their lack of faith, in fact, most of us can probably empathize with them. It is only natural to be afraid of death, and it is easy to panic in a crisis. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the wind and the waves of life’s troubles. When the water is high, and the storm is rising, it is easy to think that we are going down for the last time. It is also easy to think that God does not know and does not care that we are drowning. If He did, then obviously He would wake up and do something about it, right? Yet no matter how desperate our situation is, we should always trust God to bring us safely back to shore. The story of Jesus calming the storm gives us three strong reasons to trust God in every rough and stormy gale. Each of these three great truths is like a life preserver for the soul, lifting us up to a faith that will not go under at the first sign of danger. We should trust Jesus, first, because even the storms of life are under His sovereign control. Here we need to go back to the beginning of this episode, where Jesus said to His disciples, Let us go across to the other side. The disciples were in the storm because Jesus Himself told them to go out on the lake. Having a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ does not mean that somehow we will escape all of life’s troubles. On the contrary, Christians suffer the same natural disasters, the same sinful abuse, and the same daily misfortunes as everyone else. In fact, sometimes knowing Jesus takes us right into the storm, especially when in some way we suffer for our faith. We can be “in the center of God’s will,” as people say, and yet still find ourselves at the center of the storm, as the disciples did. This does not mean that God is always the cause of our suffering (some of our sufferings are caused by the sins of others, or by our own sin), for He can never be the author of evil. But it does mean that our sufferings never catch God by surprise. He always knows when we are headed for stormy troubles. Sometimes, in order to accomplish His work in our lives, He even guides us into them. That was certainly true in this case, because Jesus was the one who told the disciples to cross the lake. This was for the testing of their faith and the training of their souls. Whenever we are tossed about by life’s troubles, we need to remember that God is still sovereign. He is never taken by surprise. Whatever troubles we are facing, God has brought us to this point in our lives, and He is using our present experiences to make us more like Jesus, shaping us into the glorious image of His Son. In the meantime, we can pray that God will use our troubles for spiritual gain. We can ask Him to teach us through our afflictions, praying that our suffering will help us to grow in grace. A second reason for us to trust God – even in stormy troubles – is that Jesus has set the perfect example. One of the most surprising things about this episode is that somehow Jesus managed to sleep His way through most of it. This testifies to the true humanity of Jesus Christ. To stay asleep in such a storm He must have been completely exhausted. No doubt He was weary from the heavy demands of His teaching ministry, worn out by the constant demand to help people. He was as prone to fatigue as anyone else, and His physical weakness was a sign of His genuine humanity. To see Jesus asleep in the boat is to know that He had a real body, with all of its needs and limitations. But it is also to know this: that Jesus had complete confidence in the loving care of His Father. How was Jesus able to rest easy during such a violent storm? Partly because He was so tired, but also because He had faith in His Father. Deep down He knew that no harm could come to Him, that His Father would wake Him when He needed to be awakened. When Jesus said, Have you still no faith He was challenging His disciples to live with the same kind of trust, to rest in their Father’s care. Jesus calls us to live by the same kind of faith, believing that God is in control, and absolutely relying on Him. So often we feel that we need to stay alert for every danger. Somehow we always feel that we need to keep an eye on things, just to be safe. But this quickly becomes exhausting, and it is all because we are not trusting God to look after us. We do not rest in our Father’s care the way that Jesus did. A third reason for trusting God through wind and wave is the most comforting of all. We have this trust because Jesus is with us in the boat. Jesus was with His disciples when they sailed across the lake. He was with them when the wind began to rise and the waves crashed over the bow. He was with them when they cried for help. So why were they so afraid? How could they have feared that God would allow His Son, the promised Redeemer, and His disciples to perish? Jesus is on board with us as we ride out the storm. He has given us the promise of His everlasting presence, and we can depend on Him in every desperate situation. And if anyone asks us, “Where is your faith?” we can tell them: “Our faith is in the God who rules the universe, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, who has died on the cross for our sins.” What a difference it makes, especially in treacherous waters, to know that Jesus is in the same boat with us. Therefore, whenever we feel that we are drowning, we need to ask ourselves, “Now what difference would it make in this situation if I were really to trust in Jesus, believing that He is in the same boat with me, and knowing that He is able to save me? Where is my faith?”
Who is This Jesus? For their part, the disciples also had a good question to ask, a question about the true identity of Jesus Christ. When they saw that the sea was calm, the disciples were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” The disciples had been afraid of the storm, but now they were even more afraid – not in the sense that they thought Jesus would harm them, of course, but in the sense that they were in awe of what He had done. Jesus had just proved that He was even more powerful than the mightiest storm at sea. This overwhelmed them with feelings of reverent fear and transcendent awe. It also made them wonder who Jesus really was, after all. And this would seem to be the main point of the passage. Ironically, the disciples also provided the answer, although they seem not to have fully recognized it themselves. They said, even the wind and the sea obey him. Jesus spoke to the storm as if it had to answer to His authority. Apparently, the storm did have to answer to Jesus, because it obeyed what He commanded. Now who, do you suppose, had the right to speak that way to the sea? Only the Creator God does. Jesus’ miracle on the Sea of Galilee was proof positive of His divine nature and omnipotent deity. This becomes especially clear when we read the story against the background of the Old Testament, where God alone had the power and authority to rule the chaos of the sea [Pss. 65:7; 89:9; 106:7-9; 107:23-29]. The commanding power that Jesus had over the wind and the waves was a clear demonstration of His deity. Jesus Christ is Lord of the sea, which makes perfect sense, because He created it [John 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 4:11]. So when Jesus calmed the storm, He was claiming His right to rule the world that He made. Creation’s Creator is also creation’s Lord. The disciples witnessed this firsthand when their Master stood up in the boat and rebuked the sea. Who is this Jesus? He is the Lord of the storm, the Ruler of nature, and the God of all creation. This same Jesus – who has the power to save – calls us to have faith in Him through the winds and the waves of every storm. This does not mean that we will never suffer any harm. But it does mean that Jesus will see us through. Jesus is sovereign over everything that threatens to harm us. By His Spirit He is on board with us through all of life’s troubles until at last He will receive us into the haven of His everlasting love.” [Ryken, pp. 380-392].
“The Need for Faith in the Face of Life’s Storms. Throughout Mark’s gospel the disciples are models (primarily negative ones) for discipleship. When Jesus says, Have you still no faith, He is referring back to the healings and exorcisms that they have already seen. If they have already witnessed the inbreaking of the kingdom of God, should they not have trusted Him in the midst of the present storm? This is the beginning of a pattern of failure that will run throughout the second half of Mark’s gospel, where Jesus alone functions as the faithful model of discipleship. The disciples fail repeatedly through a combination of pride [8:32; 9:33-34; 10:13,35-45], lack of faith [9:19], and an inability to comprehend the work of God [6:52; 7:18; 8:17-18,32; 9:5-6]. These three go hand in hand. Success in the Christian life comes from a humble heart of service, faith in God’s power to sustain us through trials, and sensitivity to God’s purpose in the world. Instead of pursuing one’s own ambitions, believers are called to seek first the kingdom of God [Matt. 6:33], and they will receive all they need to prosper spiritually. The New Testament epistles teach these same fundamental truths, Paul says that he can delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, and persecution, because when he is weak – and fully dependent on God – that is when he is strong [2 Cor. 12:10]. He has learned how to be content in any and every circumstance, because he can do all things through the one who strengthens him [Phil. 4:12-14]. Trials are opportunities for growth because suffering produces perseverance, which produces character, which produces hope – and hope in Christ never fails [Rom. 5:3-5]. James encourages believers to be joyful in various trials because the testing of our faith produces perseverance, and perseverance produces Christian maturity [James 1:2-4]. Peter says that such trials come so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ [1 Peter 1:7]. We need to look at life’s storms not as disasters, but as opportunities to see God’s transforming power at work in our lives.” [Strauss, pp. 210-211].
Questions for Discussion:
- Focus on the questions asked in this passage. What question do the disciples ask Jesus? What questions does Jesus ask the disciples? What question do the disciples ask themselves? Think about the times you have asked Jesus a question similar to the disciples. How did He answer? How do you answer the questions that Jesus asked the disciples? What is your answer to the question that the disciples asked themselves?
- Focus on the disciples. How do they handle this situation? What miracles had they recently seen Jesus perform? Why would they doubt that Jesus was able to perform another miracle in order to save them? Isn’t this the reason for Jesus’ two questions? How do you act like the disciples? How should you act instead?
- In this passage we find evidence of both natures of Christ. Where do we see His humanity? Where His deity?
The Gospel According to Mark, James Edwards, Eerdmans.
Luke, vol. 1, Philip Ryken, REC, P & R Publishing.
Mark, Robert Stein, ECNT, Baker.
Mark, Mark Strauss, Zondervan.