The familiar story of Jesus calming the storm is presented by Mark through a series of contrasts (4:35-41). There is an initial contrast in the early actions of the story (Jesus is asleep while the disciples are afraid). Then there is the contrast between their question (“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”) and Jesus’ questions (“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”). Finally, there is a contrast between the disciples’ initial fear of the storm and their fear at the end of this incident (“They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”).
Let’s start with Jesus. It’s a miracle to us that He could sleep through such a storm! That’s certainly attributable to His trust in His Father, but I think it’s also worth thinking about the fatigue He must have experienced at times like in His ministry. We’re in a section where the demands being made on Him have been non-stop. The whole purpose of their trip across the lake was to get away from the people for a while. If He had stayed on land, the crowd there would have continued their pursuit of Him.
In regard to the disciples, it should be noted that at least four of them were fisherman, so a little water in the boat wouldn’t bother them, but clearly this was not that. It was a “furious squall” (v. 37)—the kind of thing they recognized as being beyond their experience and ability.
Nonetheless, they weren’t alone—Jesus was with them. And they had seen Him do amazing things. He had healed people, cast out demons, and they had even heard those beings bear witness to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (3:11). But now, with the sea raging, the boat rocking, and Jesus sleeping, they took counsel from their fear rather than their faith. There’s no one reading this who can’t relate.
They didn’t care for the way Jesus was handling the situation and woke Him. They questioned His caring. Jesus spoke first to the wind and the waves like someone would talk to their young child or an over friendly pet. Everything became “completely calm” (v. 39).
Then He spoke to His disciples. He asked them why they were so afraid. Hadn’t He told them they were going over to the other side? (v. 35). Didn’t they believe that He could get them there? This is why He follows with, “Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). It’s worth noting that despite all of this, Jesus still got the disciples to the other side of the lake as He said He would (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). I’m reminded of the song that speaks of, “Grace that is greater than all our sin” (Psalm 103:10-12). We’re not saved because we’re great—we’re saved because God is great! Remembering this will help us on our journey.
The episode ends the only way it can. Rather than being stung by Jesus’ sharp words, the disciples were “terrified” by the great miracle they had just witnessed Him perform. Although they had diminished and marginalized Him only moments before, they seemed to realize they had seriously underestimated both His ability and His identity.
That’s a step in the right direction.
If Mark wrote this to disciples at Rome (and there’s good reason to believe he did), then the storm clouds that came with Nero’s persecution of the church were either on their way or were possibly even the occasion for him writing. Either way, the disciples would need a deeply rooted faith (v. 5, 16-17) if they were to survive the storm. They would need to understand that Jesus was more than capable of getting them to the other side. That Rome is no longer a kingdom but a tourist destination while the kingdom of Jesus exists all over the world is evidence that’s exactly what they did.
What do we do when a little water gets in our boat?