Lord of the Storm
Our Scripture this morning is Mark 4:35-41.
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!” 
This is the Word of God for the people of God.
Prayer of Illumination:
God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out upon us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that, being taught by you in Holy Scripture, our hearts and minds may be opened to know the things that pertain to life and holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Easter is in a couple of weeks. And between now and then, there will be countless articles about who Jesus is found in Time and Newsweek; there will be specials on the History Channel and PBS. A lot of those specials will not be particularly good. They will try to say that Jesus was just another man who said radical things and legends built up around him.
For the past three months, we have been taking our time looking at the Gospel of Mark so that we would know who Jesus really is; so that we would know that the Jesus of the bible is the Jesus of history. Mark has been telling us that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one to redeem God’s people, and that he himself is God incarnate.
As we examine this passage in Mark 4, we’ll see Jesus demonstrate his divine power as he quells a storm with his word and we’ll see the fear of the disciples.
The passage begins “That day when evening came”. This is the very same day as we’re told about back at the beginning of chapter 4. There we read, “Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge”. Jesus has been teaching all day to the crowds from the boat. The last few weeks we’ve looked at the parables Mark records for us that Jesus taught on that day.
Now that evening has come and the people are leaving to go home, Jesus tells his disciples that he wants to leave and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, presumably to continue preaching about the Kingdom of God there. And Mark writes “they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him”.
Those are some rather specific details that Mark includes for us. First he tells us that Jesus left the boat that he sat in while teaching to get into a second boat that had the Twelve. Then he Mark tells us that “there were also other boats with him”. Those are very specific details. I mention that because those are the type of details that don’t move the story forward. Those are the type of details that would come from someone’s memory.
Anton Chekhov was a famous Russian writer who famously said, “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
What Chekhov is saying that any detail that does not explicitly move the story forward shouldn’t be included in a story. Even Ernest Hemmingway famously cut adjectives, prepositions, and details that weren’t completely essential to the story.
I mention that because there are many out there who say that we don’t know the real, historic Jesus. They say that what we have in the bible is accumulated legends about Jesus written hundreds of years after Jesus’ life. Usually they say they were written around the time of the First Council of Nicaea.
The problem with that are little details like found here in verse 36. They are details that don’t move the story forward. Ancient writers didn’t include little details for color. We do that all the time to give stories a sense of realism, to add a splash of color to an otherwise drab story. But that didn’t start to happen until the 1800s with the advent of realism. So either Mark and the other gospel writers are inventing a wholly unknown style of writing that has no predecessors and no successors or this is a historical account.
And as the disciples are sailing across the Sea of Galilee “a furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped”. The Sea of Galilee sits roughly 700 feet below sea level with some mountains surrounding the eastern side. Thirty miles to the north is Mount Herman rising 9,200 feet above sea level. It is not uncommon for cold air drifting down from the mountain to mix with the warm air rising from the Sea and produce storms.
Back in January we saw something very similar happen in the Midwest with the polar vortex and extreme cold. Cold air was coming down from the Arctic and mixed with warm air coming up from south and produced an incredibly cold and windy storm that hit Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.
This storm that arose as they were traveling across the Sea of Galilee was not your average storm. The NIV translates it as a “furious squall”; the ESV says “great windstorm”. The word could be translated as hurricane or cyclone. This is a dangerous storm. Mark even helps us understand dangerous it is by saying “the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped”. In Greek, the verb for “broke” means that something had been happening for some time. So Mark is telling us that for twenty or thirty minutes, waves were breaking over the sides of the boat.
The picture that Mark is painting for us a massive storm with towering waves crashing into the boat. If you are imagining something out of the movie The Perfect Storm, then you’re seeing the picture that Mark is painting for us. Winds are howling, towering waves are crashing into the boat, and the boat is taking on water.
This storm is so big that the disciples begin to panic. Keep in mind, at least four of the disciples are experienced sailors. Simon Peter, Andrew, John, and James were experienced fishermen who would be used to the storms that arise on the Sea of Galilee. So this storm had to be incredibly furious if even these experienced sailors begin to panic.
And as this storm is raging around them, where is Jesus? “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” The storm is raging around them, winds howling, waves crashing over the sides of the boat, and water beginning to fill the floor of the boat and Jesus is asleep.
Jesus is tired from having taught all day. Teaching is emotionally tiring. Most pastors I know of take a nap Sunday after worship because they are so tired from teaching all morning. Teaching is a different kind of tired from physical labor.
This tells us that Jesus is fully human. He is tired from teaching all day in the hot sun. Sometimes we forget that Jesus while being God incarnate is fully human. He gets tired. He gets hungry. He experiences all of the things that we experience as humans. John 4 shows us Jesus gets tired, hungry, and thirsty. He is fully human.
Now Jewish readers would have noticed a parallel with Jonah. A few moments ago, Susan read Jonah 1 for us. In Jonah, there is a massive storm that scares even the experienced Gentile sailors. The sailors then wake up Jonah in fear and implore him to pray to God. Eventually, the sailors throw Jonah overboard and God saves the boat. The question is: now that the disciples have woken Jesus up, how will the storm be quelled?
The disciples wake up Jesus and having been awoken, he “rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm”.
Notice, Jesus rebukes the wind. You don’t normally rebuke inanimate objects. You rebuke people. A rebuke is a reprimand. You rebuke children when they are acting up. Do you rebuke the grass for not growing or growing too fast? No. So then why does Jesus rebuke the wind?
Jesus rebukes the wind not because the wind is a person or some lesser deity. He rebukes the wind because creation is out of order. The effects of sin are not just on humanity and our minds, wills, and bodies. Sin has affected creation itself. Jesus rebukes the wind; he reprimands it for not doing as it should.
Most ancient cultures understood the sea to be responsible only to God. After Greece had defeated the Persian Empire, Palestine was part of the Greek Empire. About two hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the ruler of the Greek Empire was Antiochus Epiphanes. He was a cruel and evil tyrant who persecuted the Jews. He claimed the authority to calm the waters. All of the priests and prophets cried out blasphemy because they recognized he was claiming divine status.
There was a Danish king, King Cnut. His advisors were constantly fawning over him, giving him divine accolades. He walked to the edge of the sea and said, “Stop!” He turned to his advisors and said “only God can stop the sea. I couldn’t stop the sea. I am not God”.
With just a word, Jesus commands the wind to stop and the sea to be still. Only God can command the sea. Jesus speaks and creation obeys. This is the same voice that spoke creation into existence. This is the voice that said to the water “here is your boundary; here is where you end” when creation came into existence. He does that again here.
If we saw that Jesus is fully human in that he slept, here we see that Jesus is fully divine. He is God incarnate. His divinity doesn’t compromise his humanity or his humanity contaminate his divinity. Jesus is fully human and fully divine. He has two natures in one person. That is what we call the hypostatic union. Jesus is one person in whom both the divine nature and human nature are contained but neither of those natures mix.
I don’t mention this to show off my vocabulary or so that you have a new word to use in Scrabble. I mention that Jesus Christ is one person with two natures that do not mix because it is an essential aspect of our faith. So often we hear that he is God and man and we think he’s not quite either. We often think that he’s like Hercules, half-God and half-man. Or we think that there is Jesus the human and Christ the divine.
But Jesus the Christ is fully God and fully man. He is one person and in that one person there is a divine nature two and a human nature; neither comingle nor contaminate the other. How that can be is a mystery to us.
Because he is God, he can command creation to do as he bids. He bids that the winds cease and the Sea calm and they obey. The elements do as they are told because only God can command them.
After rebuking the wind and Sea, Jesus turns to the disciples and asks two questions. He asks, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Even though the disciples believe that Jesus is the Messiah, they still don’t fully recognize who he is. The disciples are only separated from the crowd by a degree. The crowds see Jesus as a riddle, an enigma; they completely miss who Jesus is. But the disciples see only dimly that Jesus is the Messiah.
The disciples see Jesus’ power and they can’t respond. “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”
The Greek literally says “they feared great fear”. The disciples are even more afraid now than they were when the storm was raging. They see the power that Jesus has with just his word and they are terrified.
The disciples have seen Jesus cast out demons and heal people. They have seen him cause a man to walk; they have seen him restore a man’s withered hand. None of those things filled the disciples with fear. But calming the storm does. Why?
The disciples fear great fear because for the first time in all the months that they have been following Jesus they finally begin to see that they are standing in the presence of God. And that causes them to fear great fear.
In Isaiah 6, the prophet has a glimpse of heaven. As he looks around the heavenly throne room, he catches a glimpse of the train of God’s robe and he fears great fear. He cries out “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Isaiah the prophet catches just a glimpse of the glory of God and he fears great fear just like the disciples. Anytime someone catches even a glimpse of the glory of God they fear great fear. They recognize that they are in the presence of the one who controls the elements; the one who says to the sea “your boundary is here”. And being in the presence of a holy God who speaks controls everything is a terrifying.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe four young kids are transported to a magical realm. The children are being taken to meet Aslan, the one who will save Narnia. When they’re told that they’ll be meeting him, they ask if he’s safe. They begin to fear meeting this lion. The response they get is, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you”.
Have you ever feared great fear knowing that Jesus is God? If you have, that is beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is fearing God because he is the one who has the power of creation in his hands. Wisdom is fearing God because he is the one is truly holy and just.
Fearing God is like a child fearing their parents. The child recognizes that their parents know what’s best for them; they recognize that their parents are wiser and smarter; they recognize that their parents can do things that they can’t. So they obey their parents.
That is what wisdom is; it is fearing God. It is know that God is the sovereign creator who knows how life is supposed to be and obeying. It is knowing that God has the power of creation in his word and all things submit to him.
Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom. But know that he is good. He is the one who calms the storms. He calms the storm created by sin through his death on the cross. The storms of life, literal and figurative, are caused by sin. There are not supposed to be winds that howl and towering waves that flood boats. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.
But on the cross, Jesus Christ bore the consequences of sin. He felt the winds and waves of God’s wrath come down on him. He bore the storm of sin to save his disciples; to save those who follow him. If you follow him, then the storm of sin has been dealt with and you can take comfort knowing that he will calm the storms of life.
In a few weeks when PBS and the History Channel start showing specials about who Jesus is where they say he was just a man, you will know better. You will know that Jesus is God; that through his word the winds quiet and the waves become still. You will know that he bore the consequences of sin on the cross for his people.