A Calming Christ in the Midst of a Storm

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Mark 4:35-41 | March 15 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
March 15
A Calming Christ in the Midst of a Storm | Mark 4:35-41
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Gracious heavenly Father, we find our rest in You now and we look forward to the eternal rest to come. We claim the promise in Your Word from the Apostle Paul, who when he was in chains confessed that though he was bound, the Word of God was not bound. And so despite any quarantine we know that the Word of God can continue to go forth with great power, and so that is our prayer this morning, that Your Word would run through, in, and among us and do more than all we can ask or imagine, to give us comfort and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. To Your glory, we pray. Amen.

It’s unusual that we would interrupt a sermon series to do something different, but I think we can all agree that given the unique and remarkable, and sometimes frightening, events of the past week that it is wise that we would take at least this week to step aside from our series in the Gospel of John. Not step aside from God’s Word, obviously, but we are going to look at a different text this morning.

Once in a while there are such significant global events that it’s actually the wise, loving thing to do for ourselves and for our neighbors that we might go to the Bible to see what God’s Word has to say to us in a moment of national and actually international upheaval. I can’t remember a time since 9/11 when everyone was talking about the same thing all the time, when all the news was about one thing, when breaking news actually was breaking news that you needed to pay attention to.

In moments like this there are a lot of things that we can go to in God’s Word that we might find help, that would be an appropriate word for us. What you need most of all from this pastor, or if you’re from other churches from your own pastor, is to have him to continue to faithfully expound and proclaim the Word of God to you. You don’t need me to try to pretend to be an expert on science; you can read the same things that I read. Or to be a pundit on the economic or political ramifications of what we’re facing, or to tell you that it’s going to be worse than people think or it’s going to be much better than people fear. You need a pastor to do what pastors are supposed to do and are trained to do, and that is to preach the Word in season and out of season.

What I want to do with this sermon is very simple. I want to walk you through a story that will be familiar to many of us, if you have been a part of a church, and if it’s a new story, we’re glad that you can learn it for the first time. And it’s the story of Jesus calming the storm. The text can be found in the Gospel according to Mark, so that’s in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. We’re in the second book in the New Testament, the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 4, verses 35 through the end of the chapter.

And rather than read it at the beginning, I though perhaps we could simply walk our way through, verse by verse, and see what God has for us here. Trying to understand the text and also understand what word God has for us this morning, this day, in this moment.

So look, and I hope you have a Bible open, or you have it on some device, because you do want to follow along. We’re going to work through verse by verse, Mark chapter 4.

Verse 35: “On that day, when evening had come, He,” that’s Jesus, “said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was. And other boats were with Him.”

So this is coming at the end of chapter 4, which covers Jesus teaching for the day a number of kingdom-related parables, and then there’s a break in the narrative, beginning at verse 10 as we see the purpose of the parables and some explanation of it, and then from Capernaum to the eastern shore, from Jewish Galilee over to Gentile Decapolis, Jesus came to preach and He has throughout Mark’s gospel seen it as His aim that He might go from one town to the next to preach.

And so they are taking Him here to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They kept Him in the boat just as He was, set off for the other side. There would have been a larger group of disciples, perhaps just the 12 were in that one boat, we don’t know for sure, but a larger group of disciples who are traveling in the entourage with Jesus to the other side of the boat [sic].

Just try to imagine what sort of boat this was. We know that scholars tell us in recent years the hull of a fishing boat was discovered about 5 miles south of Capernaum, and it was carbon dated to right around the time of Jesus, sometime in the first or second century A.D., and it’s likely that this was obviously not the boat, but the kind of boat that Jesus and the disciples used on the Sea of Galilee. The boat that these scientists found measured 26-1/2 feet long, so you just imagine this pulpit her is about 6 feet across, so 7-1/2 feet wide, so wider than my wingspan and 26-1/2 feet long, 4-1/2 feet high, made of cedar and oak. It could hold about 15 people, so perhaps it was Jesus and the 12 disciples.

It’s evening, and you picture the sun is probably setting and there are other boats with them, and after a long day of teaching and crowds and activity, they are no doubt looking forward to a quiet night across the lake. They had in their minds what the future would hold and yet as we will find out, the future held something very different for them, and it turned out to be a night that they would never forget, and 2000 years later, we are still talking about.

Verse 37, go back to your Bibles, verse 37: “And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.”

So the Sea of Galilee is situated below sea level, surrounded by hills and mountains, and cool mountain air would often mix with warm sea air and storms could arise on the sea very quickly. This is a big lake, 13 miles long, 8 miles wide. So this isn’t a lake that you just think you’re going to go and have an afternoon swim across. Sixty-four square miles of surface area. By comparison, if you are here in the Charlotte area, Lake Norman is 34 miles long, but it’s a very narrow, fingery, sort of man-made lake. The total surface area of Lake Norman is under 50 square miles, so the surface area of the Sea of Galilee is bigger than the surface area of Lake Norman. In other words, you could seriously get stuck on the Sea of Galilee and be in trouble in a big way. At some parts of the sea it measures 140 feet deep. This is a big body of inland water.

And this must have been a big storm, because remember the disciples, many of them, were seasoned fishermen. This is what they did for a living. This was their heritage. And here they are panicking. They had seen some stuff, they had been around the lake many times, and yet this storm felt different. The waves crashing in, the boat filling with water, in the dead of night, no light to guide their way, far from shore we imagine. This is not a good situation. And, to make matters worse, the one person that they believe could really help them in this seems oblivious to the whole thing.

Look at verse 38: “But He,” Jesus, “was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?'”

In Matthew’s Gospel, they say, “Save us, Lord, we are perishing.” In Luke’s account, “Master, Master, we are perishing.” In those accounts, it sounds like more of a cry, and certainly it was a cry for help. But here in Mark you get the sense that it was also a rebuke. “Teacher, rabbi, what are you doing? Don’t you see that the world is crashing in around us? Don’t you care? Aren’t you concerned? Why don’t you do something?”

The disciples are frightened by the storm, upset with Jesus apparent lack of concern for their well-being. “Can’t you, can’t you see what’s happening, Jesus?”

Maybe some of you have thought to say that. “Don’t you have a Twitter account, Jesus? Aren’t you following the news? Don’t you see what’s happening with all these updates? Where are you?”

So they go and they wake up the one man who they believe might be able to do something here. You know, “hey, Mr. Sandman, Mr. Sleepy-eyed Jesus, could you at least grab a bucket? Make yourself useful? Can you see that we’re in a bit of a panic here and you have the audacity to sleep?” And this is the guy that they’ve seen do miracles, that they figure maybe He could do something to help us. This is like you’re driving across country through some barren stretch of desert land out west and your car breaks down and the one guy who’s an auto mechanic is in the backseat playing video games. Would you, would you do something to help us here?

How in the world was Jesus sleeping in the first place? There’s no indication that He was just faking it, He’s kind of, you know, one eye open or He’s doing what our kids do when they pray and they put their fingers up like that and they’re peeking through, and He’s just trying to fake them out, just to teach them something. No, He’s asleep. He’s the God-man and as the God-man, He got tired.

It’s hard to sleep in a boat, hard to sleep cramped up with 12 other men in the boat, hard to sleep during a thunderstorm, but Jesus managed to do all three things at the same time. Only once in the Gospels do we hear of Jesus sleeping. Now, He was a human being and He slept every night, but only once in the Gospels do we hear of Jesus sleeping and it is in the middle of a terrific thunderstorm, lost at sea.

I don’t want to make too much of this, but it is interesting that earlier in Mark’s gospel, in chapter 1, everyone else is asleep and He’s awake, praying, while here everyone else is frantically awake and He’s sleeping. Perhaps there’s something of a lesson for us here as Christians, that at times we’re called to spend time with God in prayer, even when the whole world may be frantic, and at other times when the world is frantic and in panic, we perhaps can sleep because we know that God is in charge. Not a lesson, of course, to be ignorant or to not take necessary precautions given the situation we’re in, but we do see Jesus knowing just what is needed at that moment. Sometimes to pray while others sleep, and sometimes to sleep while others may panic.

Look what happens in verse 39: “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.”

This is strange. But imagine how strange it must have been to hear your teacher, to hear your rabbi, yell at the weather. Can you imagine you’re driving to the beach for spring break and you’re so looking forward to the warm weather and to have this trip that you’ve planned, except that it’s raining and it looks like it’s going to continue raining and what a dismal experience for your trip, and then your dad turns around in the car and he says to all of you, “No problem, I’ll take care of it.” He opens the window, he sticks out his head, he looks up at the rain clouds and yells, “Enough! Stop already! It’s time for the sun to come out.” You would think dad has lost it. Dad, you can’t just roll down the window and yell at the weather. You would be a little weirded out. And then you would be terrified if it actually worked.

The storm rages, Jesus speaks, it stops. It just does.

Like if you’re walking in a parking lot and you hear someone’s loud car alarm going off and you wonder if it it’s yours, then you realize it is and you just reach your hands into your pockets and get your keys and you click that little button, sound is gone. Just like that. Loud, piercing, deafening, shrieking noise and panic… Push a button, it’s gone.

Jesus speaks a word and the storm ceases. He treats the storm like an animate object. He uses the same language here that He uses elsewhere for exorcism. Jesus, in Mark chapter 1, will rebuke and say “Be silent! Come out of him.” Now I don’t think we’re supposed to understand that the weather was inhabited by a demon, but the point is Jesus has the same personal authority over the weather, over the clouds, over the storm, over disease, that He has over sin and sickness and unclean spirits.

And in this instance, the weather is acting to thwart Jesus’ plans, just as the devil tries to do. Jesus is healing to the Gentile side of the sea and if you have your Bible, you see in chapter 5 He’s going to land there among the Gerasenes and immediately He meets a man, Legion, because he’s inhabited by many devils. Part of what we’re meant to see at Mark’s gospel is that there is this constant opposition to Jesus. Maybe it comes from human enemies, maybe it comes from storm and wind and waves, maybe it comes from a man inhabited by demons, but every step of the way, Jesus is in charge.

And He rebukes whatever powers try to undermine His mission. That’s the point. He only has to say a word and the powers of nature or disease or the devil or death itself are turned back.

Verse 40: “He said to them,” the disciples, “‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?'”

They rebuke Jesus, Jesus rebukes the storm, and now Jesus gives the disciples something of a rebuke. The disciples, at least the first four that He had called, had been with Him when He healed the unclean man in the synagogue, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, when He healed the masses that came to Him at Capernaum, and they knew He cleansed a leper, He healed a paralytic, He healed the man with the withered hand, and no doubt this is only a small sampling so far in the first few chapters of Mark of all the miracles that Jesus did. They should have had confidence that Jesus was in control and Jesus was at their side.

See, real faith is always future faith. Yes, faith has to do with the past, that you believe, you recognize, yes, God has done these things in the past. Yes, faith is not just in the past, it’s more than that. It’s believing in a kind of theoretical sense that God is good, that He exists, that He is powerful. So all of that is true. There’s a faith in the present, there’s a faith in the promises of God, there’s a faith in the theology we believe about God, there’s a faith in what He’s done in the past. But real faith, in addition to all of that, must always be future faith, to believe that God can do something now and later.

See, the disciples had eyes, they had seen what He had done. But Jesus wanted them to know what He could do. Not just in the past, but in the present, and in the future.

You see, it’s not enough to be thankful for how God has taken care of you if we don’t also trust that He will take care of us. And surely we don’t have to strain too hard to understand how this applies to us in this moment. All of us who are Christians can look back and we can trace God’s hand, sometimes faintly, sometimes very explicitly, His care of us, His concern for us.

And we take comfort in that, but we take comfort not just because He did it, but because we know that that same God will do it, for us.

They’re on the boat, they’re still on the boat, but now they know, at least Jesus wants them to know and to believe, that greater is the One who is in the boat with them than all the powers of the sea that may seem to be against them. Jesus wants to reinforce for His disciples all that He just taught in Mark chapter 4.

Again, if you have your Bibles and you know anything about Mark 4, you can see even from the headings there He’s telling parables about the Word, about the Word that falls along different kinds of soils, and yet there’s power inherent in the Word and as it falls in good soil it springs up and bears fruit. Or the parable of the seed growing by itself with the farmer who sleeps and yet he wakes up and there’s a harvest because there’s power in the Word. Or the parable of the mustard seed, the smallest seed that grows up to be the biggest plant in the garden, that’s the power of the Word.

See, Jesus has been teaching about the power of the Word, and now He’s going to demonstrate the power of the Word. It’s Jesus’ way here in the boat of saying, “You think I was just telling nice stories? You think I just like farming and seeds and soils? No, this is to reinforce to you My Word is powerful.”

He’s giving a real-life illustration of the truthfulness of all the parables that He’s just told. They’re on a boat, a storm comes, they almost sink, they wake up, He calms the storms, the disciples learn a lesson, and you might think that that’s then end of the story, but that’s not quite the end of the story. Because the story finishes with another question.

Verse 41: “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who this is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?'”

Now notice their reaction. When they come face-to-face with the divine, omnipotence of the Lord Jesus Christ, they do not run up and give Jesus a big hug. Now there’s a time for that, but we’re not in those times. They don’t start giving Him high fives. They don’t say to one another, “Wow! That was really sweet. What a crazy, great Messiah we have.”

They are filled in that moment with an awe and a fear that is even greater in many respects than the fear they just had from the storm. It’s one thing to fear the storm, it’s another to meet the maker of the storm.

The word in Greek is “megan,” mega, a great storm, a mega storm, and then a great calm, which fills them then with a great fear, verse 41. You see this repetition of the word, this mega storm which leads to a mega calm and now has produced in verse 41 in the disciples a mega fear.

In their minds, the only thing more frightening than being in a small boat in the middle of a big storm is being in a small boat with a man who shouts at big storms and gets His way.

So the question that they’re left with, the question that they did not yet fully know the answer to, but we who have the Scriptures now know the answer, who then is this? If they knew their Bibles, and they would have, as good Jews, they surely would have been thinking about Jonah, and maybe already piecing together that there is one here with us who is greater than Jonah, Matthew’s gospel makes that clear. Jesus refers to Himself as one greater than Jonah.

Think about the comparison. Jonah was also asleep on a boat in the middle of a raging storm. That storm was sent by God to keep Jonah from running away. The storm in Galilee was threatening to keep Jesus from running ahead.

Jonah was awakened so he might pray to his God; Jesus is awakened so that He can prove that He is God.

Jonah was thrown overboard to calm the sea; Jesus merely throws out a word and the sea is still.

Yes, Jesus is greater than Jonah.

So remember what the sailors say in Jonah. It says they feared the Lord exceedingly. That’s what the pagan sailors did after they saw that the storm was calmed by throwing Jonah overboard. They feared the Lord exceedingly in the moment of the storm.

How much more then ought we to expect the disciples to be filled with fear?

Now, you may think that this isn’t the ending that you want, that you want a happier ending. Well, we’re only in Mark chapter 4 and it’s all moving toward the cross and to the resurrection. We know that happy ending. But even in this moment, don’t think that the disciples have made a bad trade here, one fear for another. We’ll all be afraid of something. Isn’t that right? And prior to the last week or so, perhaps if we were honest we were afraid of our sports teams doing poorly, maybe we have more serious fears of cancer or dying young, and perhaps now we have a whole new set of fears in the last week that we didn’t even know we should be afraid of. We’re all going to fear something. We’re going to fear parents, we’re going to fear the future, we’re going to fear the unknown, we’re going to fear a virus.

But the wisdom of the Bible is to tell us, yes, you will have a fear, you will stand before something or someone that is mysterious, that is beyond you, that is outside of your control, and you will have to submit yourself to the control of that one thing, person, place, event. And the wisdom and the Good News of the Bible is here’s a better fear than all the fears that the world would have you be afraid of.

You ever think about why the psalmist says the fear of the Lord is, you remember what the word is? Clean. There is something clean in the fear of the Lord. Now, yes, the disciples don’t fully understand who this man is, but it’s a good trade to trade the fear of the storm for the fear of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because that’s a fear out there, this is a holy, clean reverence and awe right with you in the boat at your side. To trade the servile fear of the storm for the clean fear of the Lord is a trade we would be wise to make.

Because Jesus is more than a greater Jonah. He is the One who sent the storm to Jonah, and He is the One who can calm all other storms. He’s the fulfillment of Psalm 107, “Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters. They say the deeds of the Lord, His wondrous works in the deep. For He commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight.”

Perhaps that describes some of us, courage melting away.

“They reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”

The Lord is in direct fulfillment of that prophetic word from Psalm 107.

And so the disciples were right to ask the question, “What sort of man is this who puts His head asleep on the pillow in one minute, and instructs the wind in the next? Who is it that owns no home, but can command the sea? Who is this man whose word can make the harvest grow up and the storm calm down?”

Now, it would be nice, wouldn’t it, at the end of this message here to reassure you all that the application of Mark chapter 4 is that Jesus will wipe out the Corona virus. Well, we ought to pray, we ought to pray, and who knows what God will do when we pray. I hope you have that on your list of things. You may not get it from the CDC, you may not get it from the government, though we’re thankful for the President declaring this a day of prayer. Take precautions, be smart, social distancing, wash your hands. There may be more drastic measures to come, but I hope when you see those lists, you also remember to pray.

But, yes, it’s true. We do not have a promise in God’s Word that Jesus is going to just speak a word and we’ll wake up tomorrow and the storm that is about us will be calm. We know that from the Word and from experience that you just can’t pray hard enough and long enough and you never get sick. No, we have the book of Job. We have Paul’s thorn in the flesh. We have the Lord Jesus Himself who died a perfect man. We understand faith doesn’t work that way, and Jesus doesn’t work that say.

And so what is the good news here? Well, the good news is that in so far as you belong to God by the Spirit through faith, we have confidence that Jesus is in the back of the boat. And better than that, He’s with us by His Spirit and He’s not asleep. You may wonder at times, does Jesus know what’s going on? Does Jesus care? Just like the disciples did. But rest assured, He sees, He knows, He loves, He cares, He is, Hebrews telling us, upholding the universe by the word of His power. The wind and the waves obey Him, and novel strains of influenza obey Him.

You could list ten thousand things we don’t know about in the next three days, three weeks, three months. If you think hard enough, there is always something to fear. Cancer, car accidents, Corona virus… We’ve been living risky lives in one sense ever since the first breath of existence, and yet in another sense we know as God’s people that not one hair can fall from our heads apart from the will of our Father who is in heaven. All of our days have been written into His book before one of them has come to pass. We could stay in our homes for six months and we wouldn’t eliminate risk. That doesn’t mean we don’t do everything we can in this crisis, but it means we keep all things in perspective.

No one wants suffering. No one hopes for more suffering. It’s natural that we would be nervous not knowing what will happen, that we would have times and moments of anxiety in the weeks and months ahead. But we never really know what’s going to happen. We give ourselves the illusion that we can plan and prepare and ensure and we sort of have the world under control, but we never do, we never have, we never will.

It’s as true today as it will be true a hundred years from now, as true as it was two weeks ago, that we do not know what the future holds. But we do know the One who holds the future, and that makes all the difference.

Why are you afraid, Jesus says. Have you still no faith? Now we don’t know what exactly that sounded like. Was Jesus’ tone a sort of tsk tsk, why are you afraid? Or perhaps in the moment it was a calm reassurance, just as a father might do to his children, “Why are you afraid? Don’t you believe? Don’t you know? Don’t you have faith?”

No virus can change the number of days that God has written in His book for you and for me. No virus can make the Word of God untrue. No virus can undo the work of Christ on the cross. No virus can change the fact that through Jesus you have a Father in heaven who loves you. And no virus can separate you from the love of God that is yours in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

So of all the million questions we have today, the disciples remind us of the most important one: Who then is this that even the wind and the waves obey Him?

Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, we rejoice that we have a sympathetic high priest, One who sits enthroned in heaven, who knows what it is to be tempted as we are, who knows what it was like to suffer as a man. And so we can come near to the throne of grace for help in our time of need and You will listen and respond and act. We know not how, but we know that You listen, You care, and by the Spirit together working through the Word, You are with us in the back of the boat, and we rejoice in that. So Lord, we pray for Your tender hand of mercy, Your loving care to be upon us, to give us the comfort and the hope that we need, not a blind sort of faith, just trusting that all things will work out, but a very sure and steady anchor that we know the One before whom even the wind and the waves bow in allegiance. And so we offer our very selves to You, trading the fear for an unknown future, for the clean fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of all wisdom. We pray in Jesus. Amen.