Keeping Jesus in Our Boat
“Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. Frantically they woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are going to drown?” When he woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the water, “Quiet down!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:38-39)
This miracle is the first of several “nature” miracles that Mark records. Jesus has just finished teaching all day. It was indicated earlier that He probably spent part of the day teaching while sitting in a boat anchored just off shore. Now He is ready to cross the lake and instructs His disciples to take Him to the other side.
Without much other preamble, Mark says that a terrible storm came up suddenly, complete with vicious winds and waves that were breaking over the sides of the boat. The Sea of Galilee has long been infamous for these sudden squalls. Surrounded by mountains at most points, the lake swirls violently when a strong wind enters. For anyone who has ever been caught in a storm in a small or even medium sized boat, it is easy to imagine the fear that the disciples felt. It is interesting to note, however, that most of Jesus’s disciples were experienced boatmen. They were career fishermen and had probably been through a few storms. The fact that these experienced fishermen were scared seems to point to the severity of the storm. As English notes, “it is usually the experts who recognize the need to panic!”
By way of contrast, Jesus is sleeping soundly in the stern of the ship. It is evident that He is exhausted. Teaching all day has taken its toll on Him. This is a beautiful snapshot of Jesus’s humanity. He is so tired that He is sleeping through this terrible storm. Mark’s picture of Jesus’s physical exhaustion will also provide a interesting contrast when He confronts the storm later.
The disciples’ fear finally became so great, that they awoke Jesus, and with more than a little petulance asked, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Granted, it was their fear that caused them use a reproachful tone with Jesus. One senses the desperation that the disciples must have been feeling, however, for the fishermen to ask the carpenter to do something!
One wonders what the disciples expected Jesus to do. Maybe they wanted an extra set of hands bailing water out of the boat. Maybe they needed some help keeping the boat on course in the pounding waves. Or maybe, the disciples, even with their imperfect understanding of Who Jesus was, felt that if He was awake, He could do something to help or protect them.
After being wakened, Jesus got up and confronted the storm. He spoke to the storm as if it were a person, “Quiet! Be still!” In fact the language that Jesus uses is similar to the way in which He spoke to the demon possessed man He encountered in the Capernaum synagogue. The word He uses here for “be still” literally means to “be muzzled.” The result is that the winds and the sea obey, just as the demons do.
Not only do the winds and sea obey, but they do it instantly. In a moment, the winds died down and the surface of the sea became “completely calm.” The sea became as smooth as glass. The Psalmist wrote in 107:25-30:
“For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress.He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.”
This Psalm seems to prophetically capture this incident on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is shown here exercising divine authority. It is not just the portrait of a wonder-worker; it’s the story of divine revelation. God’s power over nature is present in Jesus, just as it was at creation.
This miracle provides the clearest revelation of Who Jesus is in Mark’s Gospel up to this point. The disciples, however, still do not seem to have a clear grasp of Jesus’s divinity. They ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” The disciples actually appear to be more frightened over what they had seen Jesus do to the storm than they had been of the storm itself. Mark records that, “They were terrified” after Jesus had exercised authority over the elements. Translated literally, Mark says that the disciples “feared a great fear.” They have seen Jesus exercise authority over crowds, sickness, disease, and evil spirits. This display by Jesus is beyond anything that they could imagine.
Jesus recognizes the disciples’ fear and addresses it. “Why are you so afraid?” Note, He does not ask them, “Why were you so afraid?” As we just mentioned, they are more afraid now by the realization that they are confronting something that they do not understand. Jesus continues, “Do you still have no faith?” In asking if they “still” have no faith, Jesus is gently rebuking the disciples’ unbelief. After all they have seen Him do, and all they have heard Him teach, they should have a better grasp of Who He is. This miracle should have been a final piece to the puzzle of Jesus’s identity.
A last aspect of this miracle that will be discussed is the how this miracle has been interpreted in Church history. The boat has often been seen as a figure of the Church being buffeted by the waves and winds of persecution and temptation. It might seem that Jesus is asleep and does not care about what His people are going through. In reality, however, He “awakens” at just the right time and rebukes the storm.
On a personal level, this is a question that we must all come face to face with at some time: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Does Jesus care if we are battling sickness? Does He care if a loved one dies? Does Jesus care if we lose our job? Does Jesus care if our teenager storms out of the house telling us that they hate us? Does He care if our marriage breaks up? While we know from the Scriptures that the answer to each of these questions is a resounding “yes,” each of us has to experience God’s grace and concern for ourselves. A true faith is a tested faith.
What storm are you going through right now? Does it seem like God is awake or asleep?
Annie and I are serving the Lord in Curitiba, Brazil. We are helping develop leaders and church planters. You can be a part of what God is doing in South America! Just click here. Obrigado!