Stilling the Disciples

This rather lengthy post is a sermon I was to deliver during an evening service at a local church. The service was canceled because it was the beginning of some polar vortex over our country and it was chilly to say the least. I was excited to deliver the sermon and maybe I will some other day, but for now, here it is a little shortened up for your reading pleasure.

This is most likely a familiar story to many of you, and some of you may have thought to yourselves “I’ve heard this a thousand times over the years. Can’t this young fella preach something new?” Well, preaching something new sounds a bit dangerous and I dare not venture to something new. And in so doing I do not claim to bring you anything new that you may not have heard from sound biblical preaching on this passage. What I want to give you this evening is Christ, in His humanity and in His deity. I want to show you our great Redeemer and Lord, the God-man Jesus Christ.

One thing we have to understand about Christ is that He is the fulfillment of everything Israel lacked. All of those so-called “moral examples” in the Old Testament utterly failed in this, or that, respect. Think of King David, great King David, he was an adulterer and a murderer. Not so great a man to emulate. But think of our Great King Jesus, the perfect man to mimic full of sacrificial love to boot! You see what I mean, don’t you? Jesus is the depiction of fullness, He fills the cracks in the Old Testament, and He even tells His disciples in the Gospel according to Luke that all of the Old Testament is about Him (Luke 24).

Keep that in mind as the Word is delivered to you, and as you go home and read the Bible on your own. Christ is the fullness of man and the fullness of God.

“35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:35-41.

Let me describe the typical fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee during this time period. An archaeological dig in 1986 has found a boat that matches depictions from ancient times, so we have one of these. These boats were approximately 26.5 feet long and 7.5 feet wide and about 4.5 feet high and they could about fifteen people, so there would have been little room left after the twelve disciples and Jesus asleep in the back on a pillow.

So this is the boat, not a very formidable defense against a stormy gale. It was an open vessel, hence the waves crashing in and filling the boat. And then verse 38 starts like this, “But he was in the stern (that is the back of the boat) asleep on the cushion.” Now this is the only time in the Gospels where we find Jesus sleeping and I do not want to dwell on this too much, but why was Jesus sleeping?

First He was tired. We rightly proclaim that Jesus is God, but we equally have to proclaim that Jesus is a man. He is sleeping so soundly because He is so very tired. His body was spent and He needed rest. Another reason Jesus was sleeping was a demonstration of His trust in the Father. You may ask, “Well, how do you know that Pastor?”

I know that because Mark, the author of this Gospel, is no silly writer, he writes with purpose. And Jesus, the great teacher is not full of silly unrelated teaching moments, but is purposeful in all things. Look at verse 26 and 27 of Mark 4. “26 And he said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.'”

You notice what the farmer does right? He sleeps. He scatters the seed and goes to sleep. He wakes up and sees crops! Awesome! But the farmer knows not how. He does his work and rests as he is commanded. The seed in this parable is God’s Word and His Word is sufficient so that you can sleep. God’s Word does the work, we simply cast it about. Such is the power of God’s Word. And Jesus is enacting this parable, so He sleeps and calms the storm with a word.

An underlying assumption in this passage is: Can you, do you, trust God enough to sleep? Or does the weight of the world seem to rest upon your shoulders? Can you take a Sabbath? Can you rest? Do you have the faith it takes to let God work, after all it only takes a word from Him.

That’s how I know Jesus was trusting the Father. As I said at the beginning of this sermon. Jesus is the fullness of all our longing. Trust the Father.

Back to our story. Let us put the Sea of Galilee and the storm in perspective. The sea is about 13 miles in length and seven and half miles wide. And the sea is below sea-level, so when the cool winds of Mount Hermon rush down the steep hills and meet the warm air above the sea it is understandable a violent storm would arise.

Let’s look at the storm a minute. Mark and Luke speak of lailaps which is translated as a whirlwind in Job 38:1 and Jonah 1:4 in the Septuagint. In other words, this storm was one that breaks forth in furious gusts. Matthew calls it a sea-quake, like an earthquake, but on the water. It must have been a very violent storm, indeed. Suddenly this storm dropped on them. Now, let me ask you a little Bible trivia. Do you remember anyone else in the Bible sleeping through a storm?

Yep, Jonah. And now, do you remember what Jesus said about Jonah in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke? “A greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12, Luke 11). Let that sink into your noodle for a minute. Jonah had to be cast into the sea to calm the storm, to save the men on the ship to Tarshish. Jonah was sleeping below deck and the crew come and wake him saying, “Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish” (Jonah 1:6). And what does Jesus do when the disciples, use the same language “We are perishing!”? He speaks to it. Jonah wakes up and prays to God. Jesus wakes up and proves He is God. Christ is the fullness.

The disciples at this point did not get it, and I doubt you and I would either. Those waves, and that rain, and those thunderclaps and lightning streaks might distract your mind for a minute, and here they are yelling to Jesus, “Hey, were perishing, don’t you care?!”

When you read this account in the other Gospels, you will notice that the disciples recorded say different things. And you will get this or that liberal pastor, or secular God-hater saying, “see the Bible lies and is full of errors!” Aside from their blatant arrogance and disregard to actual biblical study, I simply think that everyone on that boat was shouting and so there was a bunch to be recorded, they all thought they were going to die.

Matthew 8:25 says “Save us Lord; we are perishing” and Luke 8:24 “Master, Master, we are perishing!” These two are like a prayer. Mark 4:38 reads “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?!” This is a question full of rebuke. “Don’t you care, Jesus?” Here they are rebuking Jesus in their fear.

I can imagine Jesus lying back on His cushion , hands behind His head, looking up at the tormented sky yelling, “Stop it!” Now the interesting thing here is that Jesus does not say, “Storm, stop being stormy.” Rather He says, “Peace! Be still!” and Mark tells us that Jesus was talking to the storm. I think this is absolutely right, but I think we can also say that these commands “Peace! Be still!” were intended for the disciples. After all, Jesus does ask them lovingly, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

This is good news for us. Peace, be still. You remember the account from Exodus when Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, and Pharaoh decided that he should rally his army and go get their workforce back? Well, Moses and all the people come up to the Red Sea and they can’t cross it, so they turn around and they see approaching in the distance all the chariots of Pharaoh’s army. Doom. The people start yelling and clamoring blaming Moses, and I bet some of them said something like, “Moses, don’t you care that we are perishing?!”

But this is the Word of the Lord to them, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14). And God rescued them, brought them through on dry ground, and destroyed the pursuing army in the sea. Lovely connections in the Word of God.

But, let’s get back to the disciples in the boat. The disciples are rightly freaked out. We would be a little freaked out too. And the disciples ask another question, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Did you notice that they asked Jesus “teacher, do you not care that we are perishing” out of a dash of fear and faithlessness and then ask a second question, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” out of great fear?

The fear in their faithlessness is entirely different than the weighty fear in their faithfulness. In the face of Jesus displaying His almighty power, they do not rejoice with high-fives. They do not pat Jesus on the back as a good ol’ buddy or some chum. But they did what Moses did, what Isaiah did, and what everyone in Scripture has done when they are confronted with the holy and awesome power of God. They asked, “Who is this that does these things?” If we, in our faith, have never been afraid of Jesus, then we are missing something entirely. Jesus is to be greatly and fearfully praised.

This fear they had was a great fear. “Great” is used three times in this passage. Great storm, Great calm, and Great fear. They feared with a great fear in the face of Jesus. Can I give you some homework? Go home and read the book of Jonah and see how many time the word “great” is used. And think about this, God sent the storm upon Jonah and the ship on its way to Tarshish for His purposes. God was in full control of the storm. Jesus, asleep in the back of the boat, is in complete control of the storm for His purposes.

Therefore, the only thing more frightening than being in a small boat in the middle of a great storm is being in a little boat with the One who controls great storms. If their pants were not wet at this point, they might be now. The One greater than Jonah is here.

Being good disciples, they would have also known their Bible, the Old Testament. They would have known from Psalm 107:23-29, something great and awful was standing before them. They would have known this psalm, because they would have sung it many times before. Part of it reads like this,

“23 Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; 24 they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. 25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. 26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; 27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 29 He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”

It is God who heard their cries, not just their teacher. They cried to the Lord, Yahweh, God of Hosts, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the midst of their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. You better believe they stood in fear of Jesus on that day. But pay attention also to what Jesus says to the disciples. He lovingly asks “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” The disciples rebuked Jesus when He was sleeping, and He lovingly interrogated them after securing their safety. In our distress we may sometimes call out to God and say, “Where are you!?” And when He delivers, He does not rebuke, but asks gently, “Do you  yet love me?”

Our Lord is not only very holy and very powerful, but very loving. Our response should be child-like trust. He asks these men of little of faith, “Have you still no faith?” because they were too timid to rely upon the comfort and confidence Jesus exhibited to them through His presence, promises, and power.

Note also that Jesus said, “Have you still no faith?” This word must not be neglected. It shows that the events in our lives, even imminent death, are sent upon us with purpose. All events must be used for good advantage and furthering our sanctification.

The Heidelberg Catechism agrees Q&A 27

Question: What do you understand by the providence of God?

Answer: Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which He upholds, as with His hand, heaven and earth, and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from His fatherly hand.

God’s providence, yes even in the storm, is His good pleasure for His children.

So, who is Jesus? This is the question of utmost importance. This is the ultimate question in the history of the world. If you were to base your faith on the disciples, we would not have a faith at all. If you were to base your faith on what you knew about your pastor, you would not stand for very long. The most important question you can ask is, “Who is this man?” Mark did not record for us an answer. He did not bind us to a strict definition of who Jesus is, but allows us to place upon Jesus Christ the titles given Him throughout Scripture.

He is God in flesh. The Son of God. He is the fullness of God. He is the perfecter of our faith. He is the Messiah. The Lamb of God slain for sins. The Lion of Judah resurrected to life triumphant. He is the great I AM. He is Christ the Savior.

Hear these words from Saint Paul from Colossians 1,

“15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

This is our God. All praise and glory be to His name.


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