We’ve talked about storms before. We’ve actually done it on a couple of occasions within the context of our Sunday evening Bible Studies.
In our study of the Gospel of John, we took a look at Jesus walking on the water.
In that passage, the disciples were stranded at sea in the midst of a furious squall.
They look up and see what they think is a ghost coming toward them, which seemed to only make things worse. Of course, soon they recognized it was Jesus.
Our other experience with storms came during our study of the book of Jonah. You may well remember the storm Jonah encountered while at sea.
Storms are likely very familiar to many of us with in the Biblical context. I’m sure storms are also a familiar entity in your earthly lives as well.
Storms require a certain level of preparation. Certain things have to be housed or tied down, due to potential high winds.
Certain things have to be adjusted or moved, due to potential rain or possible hail.
Flashlights and candles are made at the ready, in the event of a power outage. But it doesn’t really matter how much preparation you put into it.
A really bad storm can leave you feeling utterly helpless. There’s very little your preparation can amount to in the event of a tornado or hurricane.
An unexpected ice storm is probably going to kill your plants, no matter what precautions you take. It’s also going to leave you stranded at home.
Severe weather has a way of reminding us how small we really are and how little control we actually have in this life and world.
No one likes feeling helpless. No one really enjoys that sickening sense of everything spiraling out of control.
No one prefers to be at the mercy of the elements. So, quite naturally, storms leave us longing desperately for something to hold onto.
In really bad storms at sea, those on ships would use a tool known as an anchor.
The captain of a ship could keep his vessel from being purely driven along by the storm if he had a solid anchor that could grab hold of the firmer ocean floor.
During a tornado, your anchor might be a doorframe or a bathtub in the center of your house. If you’re outside, a low-lying ditch is probably the place to go.
It doesn’t matter what you hold onto, the point is this: storms reveal in us a very natural desire to have something—anything—to hold onto.
Ideally, there would be something bigger than the storm. Also ideally, that bigger something would actually be personally invested in us.
Storms are completely irrational and impersonal. You cannot reason with lightning: “Now, see here. I’m a good person, so you shouldn’t strike me!”
That “something to hold onto” must not only be mightier than the storm, but it must also have some knowledge of us and some care for us.
That’s why so many people cry out to God in the midst of storms. They might have been godless—disinterested and disconnected—for all their lives.
But the storm brings it out in them. Even the not-quite-as-literal storms bring it out.
You know what I’m talking about with these others sorts of storms. We’ve endured a great many of them in our midst in recent days.
Sickness. Injury. Family loss. Job uncertainty. Consequences of sin. These are all life-storms that leave us crying out for God, for something to hold onto.
We may neglect God during those less-intense moments of life, but the storms drive us to reach out for something bigger, something better, and something nicer.
Today, as we continue to look at the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, I’d like to look at another one of these storm stories. It’s found in the fourth chapter of Mark.
Jesus is in a boat, with His disciples, when a huge storm comes upon them. Panic is in the air. The desperation we have already discussed in heavy within this boat.
But in the midst of it, we learn plenty about Jesus, about the disciples, and about how we should respond to Him when we are in similar situations.
I will begin our reading with verse 35 of Mark, chapter four. (Read Mark 4:35-41.)
Glancing back to the earlier portions of chapter four, we will find that Jesus has been holding an extended teaching session by the lake.
The crowd of listeners had grown so large that Jesus ended up using a boat as a lectern or pulpit. The throngs gathered on the shore.
Jesus taught from out in the lake a little ways. Eventually, day would give way to night. There were no lighted lecture halls or floodlights for exterior illumination.
It’s time to wrap things up, and Jesus takes the initiative. “Let’s go over to the other side,” He tells His disciples.
It would appear He had other teaching to do in other places. He and His disciples leave the crowds behind, leaving immediately in a boat.
Mark mentions that other boats were there, indicating that there was at least a possibility of an expanded group of followers at this point in His ministry.
I think, as graphic as this account is in its description of a near natural disaster, it would help us to visualize what this situation looked like for these men.
Commentator James Edwards states that the typical boat used in that region and at that time was over 25 feet long, 7 feet wide, and 4 feet high.
Both the front and rear of the boat—the “fore” and “aft” sections, assuming you know way more about boats than I do—were covered with a deck.
This actually provided a sitting or resting area for the travelers. The boat was propelled by four rowers, two on each side.
All in all, roughly fifteen passengers could fit on one of these boats. So this gives you a picture of the circumstances surrounding Jesus and His disciples.
Our next verse tells us that a “furious squall” came upon the boat. This is no rain shower. We are talking about near-hurricane force conditions.
Once again, some detailed descriptions may help us get a better picture of what exactly was going on during this fateful night at sea.
This body of water, the Sea of Galilee, lay nearly 700 feet below sea level. So it was surrounded by high-rising formations—hills and, in some cases, mountains.
In fact, Mount Hermon was a mere 30 miles to the northeast, rising over 9,000 feet above sea level. Now let’s talk weather and meteorology for a moment.
If you’ve ever been up on a mountain—especially if you were, say, snow skiing—you know that higher elevations lend themselves to colder air.
Now, imagine a low-lying body of water located in a fairly high-temperature region.
That’s a recipe for warm, humid air if I’ve ever seen one. Do you know what happens when the cold air meets the warm?
As the air rolls in off the mountain and meets the air coming off the lake, squalls such as this one are born. And this happened with extreme frequency.
In this particular instance, we read that the waves were wild and breaking over the boat. In fact, the boat was practically swamped.
There’s every reason to believe the ship is going down, and the disciples—familiar as some of them were with seafaring—knew it quite well.
You might picture them shouting orders to one another, complete with loud exchanges of ideas as to how they might best be able to survive.
You might picture frantic bailing of water, as well as panicked eyes and desperate expressions coming from those doing the bailing.
And then there’s Jesus. What’s He doing while all this is going on? Surprisingly enough He’s in the stern of the boat sound asleep!
I know He had a busy day teaching. I know how much preaching and teaching can physically and emotionally wear out a person. But this has to take the cake.
Let’s forget, if possible, the sound and fury of the wind and the waves, the rain and the lightning. What about all that shouting that was likely going on?
How did He possibly sleep through this? And did you know that this is the only instance recorded in the gospels of Jesus sleeping?
Is there something to the fact that the only time any of the four gospel writers mention Jesus sleeping is during a violent storm?
In any case, the disciples decide it’s time to confront Him. They run to Him, jar Him from His sleep, and practically scream at Him.
“Teacher! Don’t you care that we are going down?” The other gospel writers, in their account of this event, soften the words of the disciples.
But this is the original account. There’s every reason to believe that these men are frustrated, frightened, and desperate.
Have you ever been spoken to by someone in that state of mind? The words are typically rude and blunt, and this is no exception.
It takes tremendous amounts of God’s grace to control your speech when things are falling apart all around you.
It takes even more to graciously endure harsh words from others, especially those you consider friends. And that’s exactly how Jesus handles it.
Let’s take a look at how Jesus responds to the storm—and also His disciples. These next verses likely form the crux of what Mark is trying to say to his readers.
First of all, we notice something obvious. Jesus responds directly to their problem.
They might not have asked for Him to calm the storm, but He knows this will put their minds at ease and their fears to rest.
He doesn’t haggle with them. We don’t read about any dirty looks or condemning stares coming from Jesus. He just gets up and addresses the situation.
Notice that He “rebukes” the wind. He shouts orders to the waves. These phrases almost hint at an exorcism. In fact, we see this in other places within the gospels.
This very language is used in other instances to describe Jesus’ rebuking evil spirits and casting out demons. To be sure, this is a very different situation.
I would think most might prefer to be caught in a storm than to be possessed by a demon. But, perhaps, Jesus and Mark are trying to send a similar message.
Look at it like this. Many of you know what it’s like to own animals. I’m especially thinking about pet dogs here. We own two of them.
We have our Schnauzer, Zoey, who is basically perfect. And, even when she isn’t, she won’t listen to any correction or instruction you might have to offer.
And then there’s Jessy, our Golden Retriever. She is, all in all, a pretty darned good dog. Unfortunately, she can’t hold a candle to Zoey.
She has more quirks. She has a few more struggles. She more easily gets on our nerves. For one, speaking of storms, she hates them.
She freaks out at the mere beginning rumbles of thunder. Even high winds, rain or shine, drive her crazy. She will not remain outside in the midst of such conditions.
She will bark feverishly and jump wildly. She is, in truth, a storm unto herself.
But, there are times when she cannot come back in. Maybe we are cleaning. Maybe we have company. In those instances, I will make my way to the back door.
She can see me through the window on the upper part of the door. Often I will have some sort of glare or scowl. I will quickly raise a finger and point at her.
Immediately, everything calms down. Her entire body shrinks back. Her eyes look away in fear. She stops barking. She stops jumping. She grows calm.
I also remember the first time Andrew interacted with her. He was not even one year old, finding his way through our house with this new thing called “crawling”.
Jessy was laying down on the floor, unaware that he was nearby. He crawled over to her and latched onto her fur, attempting to pull himself up I suppose.
In a flurry of fur and teeth, she snapped at him. She didn’t touch him, but she scared him. In an equally swift flurry, I came down on her.
My hand grasped her snout and I forcefully pinned it to the carpet. My right knee pressed onto her legs, holding her down for the count.
Her eyes stared at me wildly, a mixture of fear and confusion. I put my face right next to hers and bluntly said, “No!” That brief storm ended quickly.
She’s never done it again. If a boy annoys her, she simply moves to another room.
Quite literally, Jesus muzzled this storm. Our passage says that the wind died down.
What an eerie sensation it must have been, one minute hearing the wind howl and feeling it sting your eyes, but the next minute hearing and feeling nothing at all.
The passage also says that “it was completely calm”. The wind died down, but so did the waves. The water, once convulsing and undulating, became smooth as glass.
At one moment, the world around these disciples was violent and loud, fraught with uncertainty and peril. Then, in an instant, all was peaceful, safe, and pleasant.
The Master had spoken, and there was nothing anybody could do about it. Nature’s storms did not stand a chance.
After performing this miracle, Jesus looks at His disciple. “Why were you so worked up? Why all this worry and fear?” He asks. “Is your faith really this small?”
In truth, of course, it was that small. And Jesus knew it. They had no idea Whom they were with in that boat. They knew He was someone special.
But they weren’t even close to knowing the whole story. Lack of knowledge always leads to fear. Few of us are ever really afraid in the daytime.
We can see everything around us. We know what’s going on. Fear is most common at night, when darkness hides much from our knowledge and creates uncertainty.
The fear that plagued the disciples during that storm is, in truth, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I like this quote from Edwards.
“The real threat to faith comes not from lack of knowledge but from doubt and fear.”
Too often we succumb to fear in regards to matters of faith, spirituality, and truth.
We fear harm, so we avoid certain people. We fear persecution, so we keep our mouths shut.
We fear consequences, so we throw honesty and integrity out the window. It is an unholy thing to order one’s life around such fear.
On the other hand, not all fear is a bad thing. Notice the end of our passage. The disciples are once again filled with fear. The verse says they were “terrified”.
The language used here is much like the women who came to Jesus’ tomb, only to find it empty and to be greeted by their risen Savior.
What’s more, the language used here is much stronger language than our previous instance of fear and terror. Let’s put it simply.
They are more afraid now, after seeing Jesus calm the storm, than they were in the midst of the storm. Why are they so fearful?
Well, here’s an important point to take home today. God was in their midst. Jesus, known as the Son of Man, was also God the Son. He was and is divine.
Has that sunk in for you? Or perhaps have you forgotten it? Amid all the talk of the friend we have in Jesus and our merciful Savior, do we forget that He is God?
Do we forget that He was around in the beginning, that He created the world from sheer nothingness? And do you know what else we might forget?
We might forget that God is frightening. We might fail to realize, in Him, there is a power and a knowledge and a presence that we cannot comprehend.
God was in that boat with the disciples. God saved the day and stilled the storm.
And the disciples looked on in terror, unsure what in the world to do next.
Jesus is no mere man. Our Savior is no kind of super-human. He is God become flesh. Our Savior is also our God. He accepted the weakness of flesh for us.
But we can’t keep Him up there on that cross, battered and bruised and bleeding.
He’s not there anymore. He arose! He is risen! (Pause.) I know it’s not Easter Sunday, but it’s still okay to proclaim that I think.
He conquered death. He is the great and mighty God. With one little phrase, He knocked an entire prison guard on their keisters.
Listen to these words from the 107th Psalm. (Read Psalm 107:23-32.)
There may well be storms in your life, but take heart. God is greater than those storms! Did the power of those storms overwhelm you and melt your courage?
That’s okay. But why didn’t the mightier-that-those-storms God also overwhelm you? Why didn’t you tremble before Him?
Why haven’t you bowed low before Him in humility, crying out “Woe is me!” much as Isaiah did? Why don’t you shudder over the sin in your lives?
And when He calls you—nay, commands you—to trust in Him, why do you not obey? For though God is to be feared, He is also on our side.
We must hold those two truths in tension. And we must hold onto God with all we’ve got. (Pray.)