35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
(Mark 4:35-41 NIV)
Chapter 4 has been focused on Jesus’ teaching the multitudes gathered on the shore of Lake Genessaret. Verse 1 noted that the crowds were so large and pressing in toward Jesus that He had to get in a boat to keep from getting mobbed by the crowd. Jesus sat in the boat and spoke all day to the crowd via parables.
As we begin today’s passage, Mark informs us that this story is all part of the same twelve-hour period, truly a “day-in-the-life” with Jesus.
When the evening came, Jesus requested that the disciples take Him and go to the other side of the lake. Remember that Lake Genessaret was approximately 8 miles wide and 13 miles long. You could see the shoreline from any spot on the lake. Mark tells us that others were in boats accompanying the boat Jesus and His disciples were in, most likely to get close to Jesus.
Jesus, exhausted from teaching all day, fell asleep on the boat. As they were rowing to the other side of the lake, a storm came upon the lake, with the waves so high they were starting to fill the boat with water. The disciples, most of them experienced fishermen, could not keep the boat out of the path of the waves, or the waves out of the boat. Unless the storm subsided, the waves were going to swamp their boat, and they would all likely drown.
Lake Genessaret, because of its shape, the surrounding land formations (mountains, etc.) and its low altitude (700 feet below sea level), produced many naturally-occurring storms. But the experienced fishermen among Jesus’ disciples had never seen or been in a storm this rough before.
The disciples, in an “all hands on deck” moment, awaken Jesus and demand His help. Instead of dealing with the effects of the storm by either rowing or bailing out water, Jesus deals directly with the storm itself.
Jesus’ words, “Quiet! Be still!” are the same words that Jesus said to the evil spirit in Mark 1:25. This was not a naturally-occurring storm; this was a supernatural storm whipped into a frenzy by all the demonic forces Satan could muster. Satan saw his opportunity to take out Jesus and all His disciples in one place at one time, drowning them in the depths of the sea, never to be heard from again.
Immediately, the waves and wind died and the water became calm. Jesus turns to His disciples and in rabbinical fashion, asks them two questions:
- Why are you so afraid?
- Do you still have no faith?
Jesus was amazed that His disciples could see Him heal people and cast out demons, but not have control over the natural elements like wind, water, and waves. Jesus was amazed that they would trust Him to care for others, but not in His power to save them.
If we will step into our informed imaginations for just a moment, we would likely see Jesus ask His two questions, see the looks on His disciples’ faces, then curl up on the cushion and go back to sleep, listening to the rhythmic sound of the oars touching the water and propelling the boat forward.
Mark, recording Peter’s first-hand account of the event, said that he and the other disciples were terrified. The disciples saw Jesus as a tremendous teacher but had yet to understand Him as Creator, Savior, and Lord. As Jesus went back to sleep, the disciples were likely whispering among themselves about who Jesus really was. Looking back, Peter likely saw their questioning as rhetorical, but at that moment the question was very real.
What is our reaction when Jesus shows up in our moment of deepest need? Do we try to explain away the hand of God to natural events? Or are we, like the disciples, terrified that the God of the universe came so close to us and we still live to tell about it?
May we be comforted by David’s words recorded in Psalm 139, that wherever we are, God is already there, to lead us, guide us, comfort us, and give us strength for the journey.