Jesus Calms the Storm
35 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!”
No Eye in the Storm
This morning’s text is one in which we can briefly touch on authorship. Recently has been considerable debate about who actually are the authors of the gospels and when they were written. The fact that we possess no original manuscripts nor did authors sign their works has led recent scholars question the churches traditions of who authored this book – possibly undermine everything written.
Well the church since the earliest of days has claimed that the gospel of Mark was written by the man named “John Mark, son of Mary, in whose house the church of Jerusalem gathered.” (Acts 12:12). Mark joins the Apostle Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but quits partway through. So Paul quite annoyed refuses to allow Mark join in any further missionary tasks and so Mark starts to learn under the Apostle Peter. Mark follows Peter for a number of years until Peter is executed in Rome on a cross as predicted in John’s gospel. And the church of Rome encourages Mark to write down all which Peter had taught – which led to the gospel we are reading from today. There is a wealth of documents and quotes within a couple hundred years which agrees on this story – but is there anything in the actual gospel which may confirm this story?
- This morning’s text does. Remember the Apostle Peter, was a fisherman, the Sea of Galilee was his home. And in Mark’s version there are many seemingly unnecessary details which suggests an eyewitness account. Jesus’ transfers from boat to boat, there are others boats there, water is filling and swamping the boat, Jesus is asleep on a cushion, the disciples sarcastic question, Jesus’ strong rebuke, and the disciples are more afraid after the calming. The story is told in such a way as one who remembers it well – and Peter certainly would have remembered this event quite well. This story appears to confirm the tradition of Peter being the source of the gospel.
Secondly as means of introduction I would like to share some of the strange features concerning the Sea of Galilee. Because in the text is says a “furious squall came up” and what I have experienced in my short time here in Washington is you just don’t have such extreme weather. Western Washington has the slow consistent gloomy rain which wears down your soul, not the sudden raging storm which terrifies seasoned sailors. Why? Because you don’t have extreme temperature changes.
Having come from the Midwest we learned to not really fear the storm, but the cold front which pushes into a hot front. It is as the cold air collides into warm air that extreme weather patterns such as tornadoes can be formed. And the Sea of Galilee seems almost designed to create such extreme weather patterns. For the Sea of Galilee sits 700 feet below sea level surrounded by hills and mountains forming a giant basin of hot air, yet out of the north cold air flows down from Mount Hermon which is over 9,000 feet high a mere 30 miles away. And as this cold air rushes down into this warm basin extreme storms are quickly formed. I remember laying on the beach where the breeze felt 15 degrees colder than the air. You could feel the change in temperature move in and out. And sailors today will not risk such weather. In a mere hour the Sea may have 8 – 10 foot waves swirling on the Sea.
- And here we can see the “Ancient Galilee Boat” which was recovered about 30 years ago just south of Capernaum. This boat was likely used between 120 BC and 40 AD. About 26 feet long, 7 feet wide, 4 feet tall for about 15 people. This could easily be the type of boat the disciples found themselves rowing across the sea on when suddenly a storm rages sending waves twice as high as the boat starts crashing over the top. The professional sailors are afraid for their lives – while their teacher is sleeping in the back of the boat. And what’s funny is this is the only time we read of Jesus sleeping.
Now as I mentioned earlier one of the characteristics which makes this story appear to be an eyewitness is the obvious cynical statement by which the disciple wake up Jesus. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” the disciples in this question are doing more than just asking a question; they are reprimanding Jesus for his general indifference to their safety. The disciples are frightened by the big storm and the little boat which they find themselves upon – and the only reason the disciples could imagine Jesus sleeping through such a situation – is Jesus just doesn’t care about us.
The disciples could have come to a number of different conclusions which might be going on. They might have seen Jesus sleeping in the back of boat asleep in a storm and marveled at how strenuous Jesus’ constant preaching much have been that he can sleep through this. Or perhaps the disciples could have felt a sense of pride in the fact that Jesus trusted them so much that he will trust his life in their hands as he sleeps through this storm. This could be Jesus trusting his disciples. Or which that which is most likely displayed in this story is that Jesus has so much faith in his Father that he can rest in the storm. That the words of
- Job, “You will be secure because there is hope, you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down with no to make you afraid.
- Or the Psalmist, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety
- Or in proverbs, “when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or ruin. For the Lord will be your confidence.”
The words of confidence and trust which are written all throughout the scriptures, the type words which we memorize for strength and comfort, the type of words sung in churches Sunday after Sunday are visibly displayed in Jesus life here. Yet the only thing which the disciples witness is indifference by their teacher. The disciples get the opportunity to interpret the situation – and they create the worst possible story.
- They personalize Jesus’ sleep as a direct insult against them. Did you catch that subtle twist in the disciple’s accusation – as they make themselves the center of the problem (it becomes personal) – as if the only reason Jesus decided to sleep is because he doesn’t care about them. Its all about them – the storm is all about me.
Now the disciples here are merely an example of what sinful humans are very good at doing. Before moving to Washington I was a stay at home father for 2 years with my daughter Kahlan, while my wife Jacque worked nights. But what this arraignment meant is there were many days where my wife went to sleep just as Hurricane Kahlan was stirring. And it’s so easy to take those moments where we feel as if where drowning and say the reason she’s sleeping – she doesn’t care. (I forget the reason she is tired is because she cared, she worked all night.) And I wonder how many times she came home from a stormy day at work to find a tired or frustrated husband who
But more significantly we do this with God also. Be honest how often when your life feels swamped in the storm does God appear sleeping – as if he just doesn’t care. You feel as if you’re drowning and there are no eyes in the storm which care. The very storm seems an act of aggression against us.
- Same process: we make ourselves the center of the storm, and we personalize its presence. And in that process we feed fear just as the disciples did there.
- Why did Jesus rebuke the disciples: it wasn’t because they didn’t understand? Its because they were feeding their fears by having no faith. The very lie they were telling themselves made Jesus appear even further than he was. Jesus was in the boat with them, and yet they felt that he had abandoned them.
Yet the book of Hebrews describes how Jesus by coming in the flesh accomplishes the exact opposite. We have a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses, one who was tempted in every way as we are – yet was without sin. Every temptation, every struggle, every storm we encounter so did Jesus. The waves which threaten to swallow us, did swallow him. The death the disciples feared did drown Jesus. The accusation you are abandoning us onto this boat was Jesus fate as all the disciples slept and fled Jesus.
Its strange how the very thing the disciples accuse Jesus of on the boat they shall be guilty of in the Garden of Gethsemane. The night in Gethsemane, Jesus came to these same disciples saying, “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death – stay and keep watch.” As Jesus went on and pleaded with God over the coming storm, to take the cup from him. The disciples could not keep their eyes open an hour. 3 times Jesus returns to find his disciples sleeping; and as Jesus confronts the cross moves the disciples abandon him unto his fate alone.
- How does Jesus respond at the garden:
- Oh you useless disciples I only asked 1 hour and you couldn’t give me that
- I can’t believe you guys don’t care for me at all
- Honestly guys is praying too much of a burden for you – see if I pray for you
- NO, instead Jesus says, “watch and pray so you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
- Jesus does not make himself the center of the problem – the problem is the disciples are tired and weak
- Jesus does not personalize the insult – its not that the disciples don’t care; its that’s they fear the storm, and that fear is controlling them
- Fear keeps them from wanting to cross the storm
- Fear causes them to accuse Jesus of abandoning them
- Fear will keep them from the cross
- Fear leads the disciples to abandon Jesus
Fear is exposed as the barrier to faith. Which is why Jesus here exclaims, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” But the good news in Mark is that even the disciple’s fear is unable to separate them from Jesus. Sure the disciple felt abandoned in the storm, but the truth is Jesus was sitting right beside them in the boat in full control. And sure the disciple felt they had abandoned Jesus unto the cross – yet Jesus returned 3 days later saying peace unto you.
The storm of feeling abandoned by God on a little boat and the storm of having abandoned God unto a cross – both are calmed by Jesus’ mighty words. The truth is no matter the cause of the storm and no matter we might feel all alone – the truth is we never are. There is always an eye in the storm looking at us in love. There is always one travelling with us even if he might seem absent. He is not absent and he will never abandon you.
Spreading the Gospel:
Lastly though, I feel the need to highlight how the way Mark tells this story really reflect another Old Testament story. Does anyone recognize the other very popular story which is reflected in the details?
Well Mark tells this story in a way to reflect the story of Jonah. If you recall, the prophet Jonah was sent unto the foreign city of Nineveh to preach repentance for them less they be judged. And Jonah desires their destruction and so he gets on a boat to sail to the other side of the known world. Well as he is asleep in the aft the boat there is a huge storm which threatens the boat and the sailors are frightened so they wake Jonah and ask him to pray to his God – Jonah instead instructs them to throw him overboard – and when they listen and throw him overboard the storm is calmed – and the scene ends with the sailors greatly fearing the Lord and making vows unto him.
Mark crafts this story quite similarly. Jesus is going to the other side of Galilee. By crossing Jesus is leaving Judea and heading the gentile Decapolis (the next story Jesus will save a gentile and send him forth with the news). A wild storm sets in to stop the prophet – except this time the sea is rebelling against God. A group of professional sailors are frighten and wake God’s prophet. Except this time rather than be thrown overboard – Jesus commands the wind and waves to be silent and still. And the story concludes with the disciples more afraid asking one another, “who is this?”
This is probably Mark’s favorite question. This is the question Mark tries to raise amongst readers over and over again – who is Jesus? Well Mark in telling this story in such a way makes a very specific and powerful claim where Jesus fulfills the role of God in the story.
Only God possess power of the sea and the winds. Only God’s word go forth and makes reality. And here Jesus does not ask the wind to be still. Jesus doesn’t stop and pray to God like Jonah was asked to do. Instead Jesus wakes and speaks directly unto the forces of nature and they obey as if he were their master. And the disciples they don’t look up to the heaven and fear and worship God. No, instead they look at the man standing in the boat with them and tremble as the wonder, “who is this?”