Mark 4:35-41, “On the same day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
Mark begins this particular story “when evening had come...” For context, Jesus has spent a long day ministering to the multitudes. Sensing it was time to push on into new areas which was normal for Jesus, He tells the disciples, “Let us cross over to the other side.”
Jesus is instructing the disciples to prepare a boat so they could travel across the Sea of Galilee during the night. Note: The Sea of Galilee is only about 7 miles wide and 14 miles long... For a crew of experienced seamen (which many of the disciples were) this journey wouldn’t have taken more than a few hours under the right conditions.
Mark tells us “when they had left the multitude” they all loaded up and set sail, but then our author provides an odd detail… We’re told, “They took Him (Jesus) along in the boat.” I don’t think Mark includes this detail to insure we know the disciples didn’t forget to bring along Jesus. Instead, I’m convinced this detail is included to provide as insight into the attitude of the disciples once they boarded the boat and set upon their journey.
Keep in mind, Jesus’ command to the disciples was simple… “Let us cross over!” It wasn’t “Take me over to the other side” - which seems to indicate Jesus had every intention of helping. However, because He was a greenhorn (a carpenter by trade), instead of allowing Him to help, it would appear the disciples told Jesus to just sit back and stay out of the way.
I love the fact that Jesus didn’t argue... We’re told He took the opportunity for a little R.N.R. Mark says Jesus “was in the stern, asleep on a pillow.” Note: The phrase “a pillow” would be better translated “the pillow.” The idea is that Jesus is sleeping in the captain’s quarters.
Imagine the scene... After a long day filled with activities (a day filled with ministry) it’s now night as Jesus and the disciples are making their way across the darkened Sea of Galilee. Jesus is asleep and the disciples are manning the boat. All is well!
Alarmingly, while they had embarked on calm waters things quickly take a dramatic turn… “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.” It’s been said the Sea of Galilee, while nothing more than a lake, gets its name because it’s a lake that behaves like a sea! Located approximately 600ft below sea level and surrounded almost completely by mountains it’s not uncommon for these kind of violent and unpredictable storms to swoop in unexpectedly. Because the cold air coming down off the mountains often mixes with the warmer air emanating off the water, these low pressure zones have even been known to cause swells on the Sea of Galilee up to 6ft tall.
Though it’s safe to assume experienced fishermen like Peter, James, and John would have navigated their fair share of storms over the years and had probably sensed the approaching danger even before it arrived, as our story unfolds, it becomes evident almost immediately that this was not your typical Galilean storm. As a matter of fact, things become dire so quickly the boat was filling with water and they were in danger of sinking.
Matthew’s account of this story (Matthew 8:23-27) indicates the storm was produced by more than simply a “great windstorm.” He writes that “suddenly there was a great tempest.” The word “tempest” is the Greek word “seismos” (from which we get our word seismic). This word denotes a violent shaking coming up from below.
Every other place in in the Bible this word “seismos” is used we find it being translated as “earthquake.” The idea is that the winds from above stirred the sea below and this great quake rattled the sea from beneath. This was indeed a great storm!
Now don’t forget while all of this is happening Mark tells us Jesus is still sound asleep; and yet, the text seems to imply the disciples think Jesus is faking it with the intention of teaching them some greater lesson. Notice their exchange with Jesus... Mark says, “They awoke Jesus and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” If the disciples really believed Jesus was asleep and unaware, their reaction would have been more like, “Jesus, wake up we need your help! The boat is in danger of sinking!”
With this in mind, their question in the midst of this storm indicates they believed Jesus knew what was happening, and yet still choose to do nothing to help them out. “Do You not care that we are perishing?” Their accusation questioned why Jesus still wasn’t helping by assuming He knew the situation had grown to the point of desperation.
Notice what happens next… In response to this question aimed at challenging Jesus’ inaction we read that “He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still! (literally, “Be muzzled, and stay muzzled!”)…’’ And then, in what had to have been a radical moment, we’re told, “The wind ceased and there was a great calm.” Crazy!
Try to get into the scene... Does Jesus care about the storm? No! Does He feel threatened by the storm? No! Is He fearful they’re going to sink? No! Is anything happening out of Jesus’ control? No! It becomes abundantly clear the storm is entirely an afterthought to Jesus.
The disciples freaking out frantically wake Jesus and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” At which point Jesus proceeds to rebuke the storm, almost as if it’s a nuisance, so He can address the panic-stricken disciples. I see Jesus getting up - rebuking the storm as a matter of formality - before asking the disciples... “Why are you so fearful?”
This is funny to me! Think about it… What can you possibly say in that moment if you’re the disciples? The very thing they were afraid might sink them - the very storm that had caused them to question whether or not Jesus cared - now no longer existed!
I can see Jesus standing in the middle of this boat on a calm sea illuminated by nothing more than the moon and stars looking around at a group of men waterlogged, frazzled, and completely exhausted as He asks this question... Why are you so fearful? Literally... What’s scaring you? At this moment their fear of this storm now seemed rather ridiculous!
Please understand.... The storm was never the issue! The issue wasn’t even the disciples fear of the storm. (Being afraid of life-threatening situations is only a natural human reaction.) The issue, as we’ll see in a moment, was that their fear of this storm revealed their lack of faith in Jesus. He now asks them... “How is it that you have no faith?”
When it’s all said and done it’s important we all realize two critical points concerning storms: (1) They happen. (2) There’s a purpose. Let’s look at each…
To begin with, it would be helpful you understand that within Scripture (as within other forms of literature) there is a correlation between the natural world and the spiritual world… Situations where “natural occurrences” present a picture of “spiritual occurrences.”
Storms represent a difficult time or a stretching set of circumstances. Additionally, Scripture seems to indicate not all “storms” arise for the same reason or with the same divine purpose. In the Bible you’ll find two types of “storms” that can occur in your life.
There are Storms of Disobedience... These are storms of our your making - Situations God allows into your life with the express purpose of correction. They are “self-made storms” often caused by a person’s sin, rebellion, or simply poor choices.
It’s undeniable God lovingly allows these storms to correct us and set us back on the correct course. Because these storms are the natural manifestation of our decisions, they are avoidable! A Biblical example of this type of storm would be Jonah.
There are Storms of Obedience... These are storms not of your own making - Situations God allows into your life with the express purpose of perfection. These storms do not originate as a consequence or a bi-product of anything you’ve done or haven’t done. They are completely out of your control and often arise suddenly and without warning.
These storms occur naturally sometimes being nothing more than a result of simply living in a fallen world… As our church family knows all to well these storms can arise from a cancer diagnosis or nagging illness, the declining health of loved ones, wayward children, the struggle to find solid employment, the disappointment of a breakup, etc.
It should also be pointed out that aside from this there are occasions when these storms can be of demonic origin. A Biblical example of this type of storm would be Job. There are some who even see this particular storm being initiated by demonic forces.
The Bible often refers to these Storms of Obedience as “trials.” In James 1:2-4 we’re provided the daunting exhortation, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
With all of this in mind... We can reason the storm these disciples faced that night on the Sea of Galilee was a Storm of Obedience not a Storm of Disobedience.
Note: The text is clear that Jesus commanded the disciples to enter the boat and set sail to the other side. The disciples were simply obeying Jesus and it was in the midst of their obedience that they found themselves in middle of this incredible storm.
There is an important point that must be made at this point... As we see illustrated in this story some storms do not occur because you did something wrong! Storms do not always indicate you did something to deserve it, nor do they automatically mean your situation and circumstance signals you’re being punished by God or receiving the judgment of God. Sometimes storms of life just happen!
I’ve found it’s often easier to endure a Storm of Disobedience. Because it’s a storm of my own making, I can see the storm coming which affords me the opportunity to hunker-down. Beyond that… Because it’s a storm I created, it’s easier to know why it’s happening. I messed up and this storm is the inevitable consequence of my actions.
In contrast... This is what also makes a Storm of Obedience so difficult. Because of the sudden nature of these storms, they’re often on top of me before I have a chance to prepare or get my barring. Additionally, because I didn’t do anything to cause the storm, I often left considering why it’s happening. In many instances, like the disciples, these storms leave me asking why God would allow the storm to happen in the first place?
Though it’s a tough pill to swallow, the “why these storms happen” answer (though complex in the specifics) is rather simple (at least in the generalities)... Though there is no doubt these situations are difficult and more often than not incredibly painful, Storms of Obedience are allowed by God because they serve an important function in the life of the believer. Understand… Every storm you’ll face in this life has a divine purpose!
Notice the first thing this storm accomplished… The storm stripped away their self-reliance! Jesus had given these men a command, “Let us cross over to the other side.” While Jesus was with them He was asleep, not because He wasn’t willing to help (sailing was a team effort)... Jesus was asleep because they weren’t allowing Him to help!
As we have already noted… Though Jesus had given a command, the men in that boat didn’t want His help. They wanted to obey His commands in their own strength. They wanted to engage the journey and reach the destination without His intervention and involvement.
And to be fair I don’t think they did this for malicious reasons... Instead, I think they simply believed they wouldn’t need Jesus’ help to accomplish what appeared to be a simple task. “Jesus, you asked us to do something and we got this. Sit back and rest.”
I find further proof of this theory in this simple detail... At what point in the storm do the disciples finally brake down and asked for Jesus’ help? Was it at the earlier signs a big storm was brewing? Was it at the point they realized this storm was unlike anything they had ever encountered? Was it at the point they were even beginning to take on water? No!
These resolute men didn’t cry out for His help until they had reached the absolute breaking point. Mark says, “The waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.” Matthew adds the detail the boat was literally “covered with waves.” Luke’s account of the same story is a little more blunt... He simply says at this point these men “were in jeopardy!”
Understand, Jesus allows Storm of Obedience into our lives often to remind us of a fact we so often forget… That self is completely inadequate to obey His commands! These men thought they didn’t need Jesus to “make it to the other side,” but the storm illustrated the fact they couldn’t make it without His direct involvement!
Jesus allowed this storm to push them to the brink of what they thought they could handle on their own strength. He allowed them to experience the overwhelming might of the storm not to destroy them, but to force them to come and rely on Him in their time of need!
You see when it was all said and done this storm was designed to deepen their faith in and dependency on Jesus! Don’t forget… Everything began with a command of Jesus that included a promise from Jesus. The story opens with Jesus saying to his disciples, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Clearly, unbelief had caused them to doubt this promise!
Jesus commanded them to board a boat, set sail, and cross the Sea of Galilee knowing that a storm was brewing. And yet, He didn’t do this to “do them in!” They would make it to the other side, but not before learning a valuable lesson!
Jesus gave them a command, “Cross the sea!” You would have thought after seeing the miraculous power of Jesus demonstrated in person, no matter what arose on their journey, they would have trusted that Jesus would not fail to see them through? But... They allowed the storm to shake their confidence in Jesus! Often in the midst of our storms it’s easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel as being nothing more than a train coming to finish us off!
Consider that the disciples lapse of faith really began with a lack of faith concerning God’s Word and His promises. We see this in the manner in which these disciples finally approach Jesus… These men are in a Storm of Obedience that has already stripped away their self-reliance... They are at the point of desperation and complete despair when they cry out “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Of course Jesus cared!
Some might say their protest began when they concluded Jesus’ inaction revealed His indifference, but I believe their protest ran much deeper. I think the disciple were upset because (as they tried to endure this incredible storm) they believed Jesus was intentionally sitting on the sidelines. As many do in the midst of storms they interpreted Jesus inaction as indifference; and yet, I don’t think this is a far criticism of Jesus.
Think about the irony of their accusation that His inaction was evidence of His indifference (that He didn’t care)… Why was Jesus on the sidelines to begin with? In our story Jesus was inactive for only one reason... The disciples didn’t think they needed Jesus’ help to make it to the other side and had yet failed to call Him into the action.
You see Storms of Obedience challenge our faith and they strip away our self-reliance, not to do us in but instead to renew our dependency on Jesus! These type of situations and circumstances force us to a point where we’ll sink without His direct intervention.
Think about this incredible reality... Jesus wasn’t stirred to act by the howling of the wind. He wasn’t woken by the rocking of the waves. The deafening crash of the thunder or the brilliant flash of lightning had no effect on a sleeping Jesus. What one thing awakened Jesus and caused Him to involve Himself in the storm? The cry of His disciples for help!
And notice what Jesus does? He sowed His Word into the wind and sea saying, “Peace, Be Still!” and you know what… “The wind ceased and there was a great calm.” The same Word that led them into the storm also possessed power over the storm!
I think it’s important I point out that just because Jesus spoke and this storm ceased, doesn’t mean Jesus intends to work in the same way when it comes to your storm. He may or may not! And yet, even if your storm lasts a lifetime, take heart knowing every storm will cease!
What is critical you take away from this story concerning your particular Storm of Obedience is that… If you cry out to Jesus, He’s not only able to fulfill His promise to get you to the other side, but His Word will carry with it the same supernatural results in your heart it did this night on the Sea… Peace and calm!
Storms happen. They are an unavoidable part of life; and yet, there is a purpose in them… They can deepen your faith and dependency in Jesus! Never forget, Jesus doesn’t leave you to face storms alone... He’s always with you. Jesus has power over the storms you face... So rely on Him and not self to endure. And finally, Jesus’ Word is always able to provide peace in the midst of your storm… So find your rest in Jesus!
In conclusion we’re told following the events of that day... “They feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” Please realize… Storms provide Jesus a chance to demonstrate His power in and through your life in the most relevant of ways. Understand, There is no more radical testimony as to the power of Jesus and His Word than a believer at peace in the midst of the storm!
The interesting thing about storms is that everyone faces them. It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not. Life storms, which come in a myriad of different forms, are on your horizon! The question you should ask is do you want to face your storm alone, because the reality is that you don’t have to!
Though one can question the manner in which these disciples came to Jesus in the heat of the moment, don’t miss the bigger point… In their storm they came to Jesus! These men cried out in desperation and Jesus not only heard their cry, but immediately acted on their behalf! This morning if you’re in the midst of a storm, please know Jesus does care and is more than willing to help. Maybe the only thing He’s waiting for is an invitation?
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