The Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

The Sea of Galilee was infamous for its sudden storms. Blue skies could turn black and thunder with angry tempests in a matter of moments.

That’s what happens at the close of Mark’s fourth chapter. The skies darken. The wind rises. The sea swells.

Thankfully, this was a boat filled with experienced fishermen. They had lived on water all their lives. They knew how treacherous, how unpredictable, the Sea of Galilee could be. They’d weathered its sudden storms before.

Still, this particular storm was different. Mark calls it a “furious squall.” The winds howled. The waves crashed over the gunwales, swamping the boat. These “experienced fishermen” seemed overwhelmed. They’d done everything they knew: reefed the sail … tacked into the wind … dropped a sea anchor … bailed like mad men. But it was not enough. Now they huddled in the hull of the boat, holding on, afraid for their lives.

When things became truly desperate, there was only one option left … wake Jesus.

He was sleeping in the stern … on a cushion (Mark tells us). It must have been a soft cushion, for Jesus slumbered while his companions shivered and bailed and yelled at one another. Why the pitching of the boat, the downpour and the gusts, did not wake Jesus is a mystery. Mark only tells us that Jesus was oblivious, unaware of the storm, until the disciples decided his nap time was over. Even then, waking Jesus seemed a last resort. Only when they faced imminent drowing did they dare shake him to consciousness. Apparently, it took some time to work up the nerve (or the despair) to rouse him.

I’m not really sure what they expected Jesus to do about their situation even awake. He was not a sailor. He had little experience with boats and storms.

Yet they expected something! They seemed to blame Jesus—for apathy if not for the storm itself. “Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” is the question they hurl at him. But I suspect they woke Jesus less to accuse than to plead. In some corner of their hearts, they must have hoped that Jesus—the Savior—could do something to save them.

Now … watch Jesus.

He sits up and rubs the sleep from his eyes. He glances around, taking note of the wind and waves … the condition of the boat. He is immediately aware of the state his disciples … their fear and anxiety. He sees them staring at him, their eyes pleading for rescue.

So Jesus stands up, gains his balance in the swaying boat, raises his hands, and shouts out to the storm: “Stop it! Right now! Just knock it off!”

And the storm … obeys.

Not eventually. Not later that day. Immediately. At once. Like a dog rebuked. Like a child with its hand slapped. The storm slinks away leaving behind only calm and silence.

And terrified disciples.

They had been afraid a few moments before … frightened by the waves … scared of drowning. But it’s not the storm they fear now, not the danger of being drawn down into the dark deep. They are terrified of him. They quake before the raw power they have just witnessed. What kind of man quiets a storm with a command? What kind of man expects to command and have nature respond?

“Who is this?” the disciples whisper to one another. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”

Review

The Gospel of Mark is not a collection of random memories about what Jesus said and did. Mark has spent a great deal of time thinking about how to tell his story of Jesus. There is method to his madness and a structure to his story.

Look what Mark has done so far:

  1. He has announced—bluntly, boldly—that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 1:1-13), and then dropped the subject entirely for much of the remainder of his book. It’s as if Mark were saying, “Jesus is the Messiah. But he is not the Messiah you think he is.”
  2. He has described the opening phase of Jesus’ ministry … the Popular Christ who draws crowds and is the topic on everyone’s lips (1:14-45).
  3. But not everyone is enamored with Jesus, Mark wants us to know. For a few, Jesus is the Controversial Christ (2:1-3:6). In a series of five confrontations with the religious authorities, Jesus flouts tradition, associates with the wrong people, and makes offensive statements. The religious leaders will never forgive him.
  4. “Don’t be surprised by this mixed reaction,” Mark seems to say next (3:7-4:20) and goes on to describe how different people (different soil) respond differently to Jesus (the seed). Whether faith grows depends on the heart involved.

Mark is telling his story in a certain way to make a certain point. He wants us to think about who Jesus is. He wants us to understand what Jesus is. And he wants us to consider who we are, the condition of our own hearts, and whether our spiritual eyes are open or (in fact) wide shut.

Now (4:35-5:43), Mark turns up the heat even more in his Gospel as he describes a Jesus characterized not by popularity or controversy but by dread. There is something about Jesus that is deeply disturbing, even for his closest followers. He is often comforting, but never comfortable. He loves (and is loved), but he is not safe or normal. The reaction many experience in the presence of Jesus is neither affection nor dislike; it is fear.