“A Great Storm, a Great Calm, a Great Fear” (Mark 4:35-41)

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 20, 2021

“A Great Storm, a Great Calm, a Great Fear” (Mark 4:35-41)

Our text is the Holy Gospel for today, from Mark 4, the story of Jesus stilling a storm. It’s only seven verses long, but this story will take us from a great storm to a great calm to–perhaps surprisingly–a great fear. So let’s get in the boat now with Jesus and his disciples, under the theme, “A Great Storm, a Great Calm, a Great Fear.”

First, a great storm. Our text begins: “On that day, when evening had come, [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. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.”

So here’s the scene: That day, Jesus had been teaching a very large crowd, right along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He had been sitting in a boat, put out a little from the shore, so he could be better heard. After that, he explained to his disciples the parables he had been teaching. Now it’s evening, Jesus is tired, and he wants to get away. So he says, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake.” The boat is still there, and they all pile in. It’s a commercial fishing boat, so there’s room for them all.

Remember, a lot of these disciples were commercial fishermen, so they knew these waters better than anyone else. Now we often call it the “Sea” of Galilee, but really, it’s more like a big lake. However, it can certainly act like a sea, with big waves whipping up in a hurry. The Sea of Galilee is situated about fifty miles south of Mount Hermon, which is over 9,000 feet high. So with that steep downward descent down the Rift Valley, there can be strong winds blowing across the water all of a sudden. And that’s what happens.

It’s night, it’s dark, and now all of a sudden, there’s a powerful windstorm, and the waves are starting to beat against the boat, even starting to engulf it. The disciples are panicking. They’re frightened. It looks like they might be sinking any minute now. What to do?

“Ah!” they think. “The Teacher! He might be able to help. We’ve seen him do some amazing things.” For instance, they had seen Jesus heal a man with an unclean spirit, with the result that the people said, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” The disciples had seen Jesus heal many people who were sick with various diseases: Peter’s mother-in-law, a leper, a paralytic, a man with a withered hand. Obviously, their master had authority to do things such as they had never seen. So maybe he can help with this crisis of the great storm.

The panicked disciples turn to Jesus for help. “But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” Huh, what? How can he be sleeping in the midst of this storm? So they wake him up and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Maybe that’s how we feel sometimes. I was in Indiana the last couple of days, and Friday night, overnight, there were great windstorms that blew through. Yesterday morning I drove past a house where a large tree had toppled over onto the neighbor’s roof. Maybe those people were thinking, “Lord, why did you let this happen? Why our house? The other houses were not damaged. Don’t you care, Lord?”

Now that’s about physical storms. But I suppose we can have the same perplexity about the metaphorical storms of life: A brother dying of a brain tumor. Financial setbacks. Divorce or depression or disappointment. Family problems–a kid going the wrong way in life. These are the metaphorical “storms of life” that can afflict us.

So we look to the Lord for help. But it seems like he’s asleep in the boat! We’re getting swamped, and he doesn’t seem to care! “Where are you, Lord? You had said, ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you.’ OK, so where is the deliverance? It says in the psalm, ‘He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.’ It says that, but it sure looks like you’re sleeping! Why are you letting me go through this? Don’t you care, Lord?”

Why the Lord lets us go through these things, we don’t know. But we do know that the Lord does care. He does love us. And so, when he lets us go through those storms, when it seems like he’s asleep and not caring, God has a good purpose in mind for his children.

How do we know that God is going to preserve us and keep us safe eternally when we’re stuck in a storm? We know this, because of what Jesus has done for us. God sent his Son into our world to deliver us from all evil, to save us for eternity. The Son of God in our mortal flesh, Jesus went the way of the cross to pay the price for all our sins. That’s what would have sunk us–our sins. But God was not willing that we would perish eternally, and Jesus did the job that saves us from that fearful fate. By his death and resurrection, we are saved and safe forever.

Now back in the boat:  In order to demonstrate his care and his authority over all that would harm us, Jesus gets up and astonishes his disciples: “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.”

A great calm: Amazing! Who can do such a thing? To still the storm simply by speaking a word to the wind and the waves? The disciples are gobsmacked. They don’t know what to make of this.

Now you might think their reaction would be: “Thank you, Lord! Thank you for calming this storm and saving our lives! We know now that you really do care!” It should have been like what we heard in today’s introit: “Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!”

You would think it would be like that. But their reaction is a little different. Instead of great gratitude, the disciples are filled with a great fear. So Jesus says to them, “‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”

Who is this man Jesus? That’s really the point of this storm and this story. Who is Jesus? That’s what the stilling of the storm is causing the disciples to ponder. In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, author James Voelz writes: “The disciples are confused by the ambiguous picture presented by Jesus, who sleeps through a storm, seems unconcerned by their plight, then exerts control over nature with a mere word, even as does Yahweh.” “The disciples know that humans cannot control the waves of the sea, but they see that Jesus can, and it confuses and frightens them.”

Jesus has power and authority beyond what a mere man can do. “Who is this guy we’ve been following?” the disciples wonder. It’s becoming more and more clear that he has power that only God has. God spoke the earth and the sea into existence way back at creation. Jesus speaks his authority over wind and sea here with a word. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Who indeed? And so this story speaks to us today. This Jesus is the very Son of God in the flesh. His word carries divine authority to do what it says. He speaks to wind and sea and they become calm. He speaks to us and calms our fears. We know that whatever the storms we experience in life, whether weather or water or wind or whatever–we know that, even when it looks like Jesus is asleep in the boat and not caring, he does care, and he will see us safely through to the other side.

“Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. . . . The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”

Published in: on June 19, 2021 at 3:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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