Jesus Conquers the Storm (Mk 4:35-41)

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This is a series about the Trinity. It goes beyond simple proof-texting, and explores this doctrine by brief expositions of selected passages from throughout the Gospel of Mark, showing how the Trinity is the explicit and implicit teaching and assumption of the Gospel writer.

Jesus has had a long day. He began by teaching the crowds from a boat, just off-shore on the Sea of Galilee. The crowds lined the shore to hear Him speak (Mk 4:1). He deliberately taught them in parables, in order to drive away those who had no “ears to hear” (Mk 4:10-12). The parables were not simply designed to be memorable. Jesus used them to filter out the elect from the non-elect; those who love Him from those who hate Him (compare Mk 4:9 with Jn 8:47).1

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” (Mk 4:35)

He has taught all day. It is now evening. Jesus wants to cross the lake to the eastern shore; to Gentile country (Mk 5:1). The Messiah is no exclusivist; He brings His message to Jew and Gentile alike. He preaches to everybody, whether they have ears to hear or not.

And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. (Mk 4:36)

Jesus does not leave the boat He taught from. He simply sits down, tired and worn from the day, and off they go. This bit has all the marks of an eyewitness touch.2 Other boats, filled with other disciples, follow Him. Together, the little flotilla makes its way onto the lake.

And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (Mk 4:37-38)

Mark describes a frightening scene with great detail, almost as though Peter is looking over his shoulder, narrating the event in real-time.3 The little flotilla is making its way across the lake. Then, suddenly, a furious storm arises. The word here indicates a very violent storm, with hurricane-like winds.4 The waves were beating into the ship. The boat was already being filled with water.5 Meanwhile, Jesus sleeps.6 The disciples, including Peter (a very experienced sailor), don’t like the looks of this storm.

Angry and frightened, they rebuke Jesus and berate Him back to consciousness. “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re dying!?” You can sense the desperation in their voices; they are dying as they scream at Jesus for help. The boat is being swamped. The wind is tearing at them. They’re doomed. When experienced seamen begin to give up hope, it’s usually time to worry!

They aren’t treating Jesus like the Son of God; the One who has bound Satan, is plundering his goods (Mk 3:27) and has brought the Kingdom of God to them (Lk 11:20). Why are they upset? Some people assume they’re angry because Jesus isn’t “protecting” them. I disagree. These disciples are professional sailors, and are likely employing every trick in the book to save themselves and their boat. They are desperate and frightened, and given their competence, they wouldn’t be frightened without good cause. They likely want help; perhaps with bailing water or another task. Yet, Jesus sleeps. So, they berate Him as a loafer, a shirker. 

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. (Mk 4:39)

It is impossible to overstate what happens here. Jesus rebukes the wind. He addresses the wind as if it were a personal, willing agent who can hear and obey His command. The word means to express strong disapproval, with intent to stop or prevent an activity.7 Jesus assumes direct command over the very forces of nature. From any other man, this would be laughable.

He rebukes the hurricane-like wind, which has produced this raging sea. Next, He issues two commands to the sea itself. He commands it to be at peace, and He commands it to be still. The wind obeys, and stops immediately. The sea obeys, and becomes calm.

This is clearly a divine miracle, and it shows Jesus has immense power. He has the same power over creation Yahweh displayed in the Exodus, and many points in between. The earth obeys His command. The sea goes still. The wind is rebuked, and retreats instantly.

He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (Mk 4:40)  

The word rendered “afraid” here could also be translated as “cowardly” (cf. Mk 4:40 NET). “Why are you cowardly?” Jesus asks. “You don’t have faith yet?” This is a rebuke, but it’s tinged with an aura of sadness, of fatherly disappointment. They should have more faith, yet they don’t. Jesus isn’t surprised at this development. Yet, it’s still terribly disappointing.

Their lack of faith is linked to their cowardice. Do they really believe their lives are in danger, when Messiah is in the boat with Him? Do they really believe the wind and waves can destroy them, and the eternal Son of God? Do they believe anything is beyond His sovereign control? Do they really believe their lives depend on Jesus lending a hand to help bail the sinking boat?   

And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mk 4:41)

This likely did not occur immediately afterwards. This is probably a synopsis of murmured conversations from the rest of the trip across the lake, and later that evening as they made it to shore. They were saying this to one another.

Were they filled with awe, reverence, or terror? Their words betray astonishment and fright; they are only now beginning to recognize who Jesus is. Intellectually, they may confess Him as Messiah. Practically and experientially, however, they are frightened at what has happened. Who could this man be!? Even the wind and sea are obeying Him …

They are terrified because of Jesus’ clear and obvious power over the forces of nature. The wind and sea have always destroyed man’s pathetic attempts to tame it. History enthusiasts may recall Winston Churchill’s plan to construct artificial harbors in conjunction with the D-Day invasion, in June 1944. British planners hoped these harbors would suffice for off-loading men and material until battle-damaged, traditional harbors on the French coast could be repaired. These were massive structures; engineering marvels. Two were constructed and put in place a few days after the invasion. A freak storm struck and damaged one of the harbors so badly it was abandoned.

The wind and waves may defeat the British Empire, but they are no match for the Kingdom of God!

Implications

This is one more account which supports the Bible’s more explicit teaching passages about Christ. These passages include (among many others) Hebrews 1-2; Colossians 1:12-20, and Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus commands the wind and the waves, just as Yahweh does (e.g. Ps 33:7, 65:7, 77:16). They obey Him, as if they are personal agents who can hear, understand and take instructions. Christ then rebukes the disciples for their cowardice and lack of faith in His power!

“What is true of the God of Israel is true of Him.”8 This passage certainly teaches that the Son is co-equal to the Father. It is a critical building block which deserves a place atop the foundation of more didactic passages. If Jesus commands the wind and waves, what kind of man is He, anyway? This is something everybody should ponder. The more you understand about Jesus of Nazareth, the more significance His command to repent and believe the Gospel has!

Notes

1 For an excellent discussion of Mk 4:12 (which is quite clear in Greek, but more difficult to explain to a congregation!), see William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Mark, in NTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975), 152-154.  

2 See James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 148.  

3 For more detail on Peter being Mark’s primary source, see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.15; 3.39.15.

4 See BDAG, s.v. “613 ἄνεμος,” 1.

5 The verbs here are imperfect, and context suggests a descriptive sense, as if Mark is relating a running eyewitness testimony from somebody who was there (i.e. Peter). As we read the text, we are re-living the event directly from Peter’s own lips. He is, in effect, telling us the story through Mark.  

6 Mark Strauss remarked, “Restful sleep despite danger can indicate trust in God (Pss 3: 5; 4: 8; Prov 3: 24), and this idea is likely present here. But equally significant is that Jesus is exhausted after a long day of ministry,” (Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 207).

7 See BDAG, s.v. “3060 ἐπιτιμάω,” 1. In Mark’s Gospel, we read that Jesus rebukes demons (1:25, 3:12, 9:25) and His disciples (8:30, 8:33).

8 William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 178.   

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