The Gospel of Mark is revealing to the world who Jesus is. We have seen Jesus’ power over unclean spirits, diseases, and sickness showing the world that he has come to heal. We have listened to Jesus’ parables which were intended to challenge his audience, revealing what kind of heart the person who is listening to him possesses. Jesus has declared his power over Satan, describing that he has come to bind the strong man and plunder his goods, which was observed in casting out these unclean spirits. Mark is showing us who this Jesus is and what this kingdom is that he brings. In Mark 4:35-41 the account shows us another amazing picture about Jesus.
We are told that evening had come and Jesus desires to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. So Jesus leaves the crowd and takes his apostles with him in the boat. We know what first century fishing boats looked like. Archaeology has found mosaics of Galilean boats around the Sea of Galilee and the remnants of a first century boat has been dug up from the shore of the sea. The typical fishing boat had a 15 person capacity, being 26 ½ feet long, 7 ½ feet wide, and 4 ½ feet high. But then a problem arises. A great windstorm arose and the waves are breaking into the boat so that the boat is filling with water. The situation gets bad quickly. This is a dangerous situation. The boat is filling up with water.
But verse 38 tells us what Jesus is doing. Jesus is asleep on the cushion in the stern. As we stated, this is not a cruise boat where Jesus is many decks down asleep. The stern typically had a small place for a person to sit. So you could take the cushion and put it under where you sat to have a little shade from the sun. So do not think that Jesus is on the lower deck or something like that. But let us also not miss what Jesus is doing. Jesus is sleeping. This is the only time we read about Jesus sleeping and we have to appreciate this. Jesus was like us in the flesh. Jesus is tired. Jesus can sleep. Jesus needs to sleep. He is not a robot. So the water is coming into the boat, the storm is raging, and Jesus is so tired that he is sleeping through this dangerous situation. The situation is so dire that notice what the disciples say to Jesus is verse 38.
And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38 ESV)
Remember that some of these men are professional fishermen. These are not people like me who if I was in a boat in the middle of the sea and a storm arose I would not have any idea what to do. Many of these men know exactly what to do. The Sea of Galilee is so large that it is not possible for them to swim to shore. The Sea of Galilee is 8 miles wide and 13 miles long. The surface area is 64 square miles. Notice what these men tell Jesus. They do not say that they are in trouble or things are getting a little tough. They say that we are going to die. The wind is howling, the waves are breaking into the boat, the water is filling in the boat, and they are going to drown in this sea. The text highlights this truth in verse 37, calling this “a great windstorm.”
But what Jesus does is amazing. Jesus does not wake up and start bailing out the water from the boat. Jesus does not try to swing the sail a different way to get out of the storm. Jesus does not start panicking like the others of the boat. Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Be quiet! Calm down!” And the wind stopped and there was a great calm. Can you imagine that? The wind was howling, the rain is coming down, the waves are breaking into the boat, the boat is filling with water, and then suddenly the wind stops, the rain stops, and the sea goes flat. Imagine the looks in the eyes of these disciples. Imagine their faces and what they are now seeing. Jesus speaks and nature obeys. It is crazy. It is stunning. Jesus spoke and the creation responded.
Who Then Is This?
Jesus addresses his disciples in verse 40. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Verse 41 tells us what these disciples were feeling and thinking. “They were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (4:41). There was something still that the disciples did not fully understand that Jesus is teaching in this moment. Who then is this that the wind and the sea obey him? The scriptures have an answer to this question.
Isaiah 50:2 describes the exodus and the parting of the sea as the Israelites left Egypt as God rebuking the sea and drying it up. Listen to the Psalms:
O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. (Psalm 89:8–9 ESV)
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs. (Psalm 65:5–8 ESV)
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! (Psalm 107:23–31 ESV)
The scriptures reveal that only the Lord stills the sea and quiets the storm. But not only must Jesus be the Lord but these pictures of stilling the sea and storm are pictures of God’s salvation and rescue. God rebuked the sea when he led Israel from slavery to salvation. In Psalm 65 the Lord is called our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth as he is described as stilling the roaring sea. In Psalm 107 the Lord delivers his people from their troubles and distresses and makes the waters quiet, bringing them to their desired haven. These are pictures of God’s steadfast love to rescue and save his people. The Lord himself has come to rescue and save, and to bring them to their desired rest with the Lord.
Filled With Great Fear
But this does not end in the way we would expect nor does this end the way we may want this to end. The disciples do not go up to Jesus and hug him, telling him that he really does care. People make much of the question posed to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The response is not to hug Jesus and be filled with hope that Jesus does care. That is not the message of this event. To end our lesson on that tone would be to completely misrepresent Mark’s message. Nor is the message to make comparisons to Jonah because there is truly no comparison. Carefully read how this account ends in verse 41. This event ends with the disciples filled with great fear. Why are the disciples afraid? First, there was a great windstorm which was now replaced by a great calm which lead to the disciples having great fear. Why are they afraid now that the wind has stopped and the sea has calmed? Why are they not filled with relief? Why are they not filled with joy? Why are they afraid?
The disciples realize they are in the very presence of God himself. This is always the reaction to realizing one is in God’s presence. Isaiah, when in a vision of God’s presence, is filled with fear recognizing his own sinfulness. Ezekiel falls on his face with the vision he sees of the throne of God. Daniel falls on his face. The apostles Peter, Paul, and John all fall down before the Lord Jesus at various times in their lives. Please hear this: the nearness of God in Jesus is pictured as an unsettling, not reassuring, even terrifying moment. Yet this is with purpose. Fear is what makes faith possible. Fear is to lead to faith. This is what is happening at this moment in the boat. Fear was to make their faith possible. Understanding who has come near to us will create the faith we need to have in him.
Let me bring us back to the Exodus account of the Israelites being saved from Egyptian slavery as the sea parts. Listen to who this event ended.
Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses. (Exodus 14:30–31 ESV)
Notice that Israel saw the power of the Lord, so they feared and they believed in the Lord and in Moses. The disciples saw the great power of Jesus and they fear. But what is that fear supposed to produce? This fear is to produce faith in Jesus and we know that it does as we continue to read these accounts. We cannot have the faith God desires for us to have in him until we come into his presence and understand who he is. Jesus is crossing the sea like in the exodus, rebuking the sea and it obey. Jesus declares his power and lordship over heaven and earth, doing only what God himself can do.
Knowing that Jesus has come near and you are with Jesus is to change everything about your life. Listen to how the apostle Paul understood this change in his life.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18 ESV)
This is what Jesus has come to do and this is our hope. When we understand the immense power of Jesus, ruler over all nature and creation, so that he can still tell the wind and waves to stop and they listen, we should fear at the prospect of being in his presence. But with that great power, Jesus came to save us from every evil deed and bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom. Our fear leads to faith because the exhibition of Jesus’ power over the creation proves he has the power to rescue us from our sins and bring us home with him. Believe in him to bring you home to the Lord because he has power over everything and everyone.