35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. 38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” 39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Peace! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”Mark 4:35-41 (NLT)
This is one of my favorite stories in the Gospels. In this story, we find the disciples are so typically human and Jesus is so wonderfully divine. Jesus has been teaching a large crowd in parables and the meaning of the parables is revealed only to his close followers. After he finishes teaching the crowds, Jesus says to his disciples, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” The lake referred to is of course the Sea of Galilee. If you’ve ever seen this body of water it’s gigantic. To call it a lake is to understate its size. If you were out on a boat in the middle of this body of water you might think you’re on the ocean. The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by steep cliffs and mountains except in its southern part. Hot air often rises and cool air falls, so the cool air in the higher elevations is always overwhelming places with the warmer air near the water. This often results in strong winds—and waves that can exceed thirty feet.
What kind of boat was it in which Jesus and the disciples were crossing the lake? Archeology provides us with a picture. In 1986, the hull of a fishing boat was excavated from the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Carbon dating reveals that the boat was from Jesus’ time. The boat was 27 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4 feet high and was decked fore and aft. It would have held approximately 15 persons—four of them rowing. If this is the kind of boat in which Jesus and the disciples were traveling, its easy to imagine Jesus taking shelter under the stern deck.
So as they cross the lake, they’re suddenly hit by one of those fierce storms so common on the Sea of Galilee. Water quickly began filling the boat and threatened to sink it. Four of the disciples who were fishermen were accustomed to the dangers of these storms. They knew they were in mortal danger. They had to be terrified. And so they looked for Jesus and where do they find him? He’s asleep in the stern! Can you imagine sleeping through this tempest? Jesus being asleep in the boat was interpreted by the disciples as uncaring. “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” they shout. However according to the Psalms, sleeping through danger can be a sign of great faith. The Psalmist says, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe” (Psalm 4:8).
Notice that the disciples call him “teacher” instead of “Lord.” They still didn’t realize who Jesus was. It’s no wonder they were so terrified. When we don’t really know who Jesus is personally, when we just think of him as some great teacher or moral example, we too can be terrified by threatening circumstances. But we don’t have to know Jesus in a human way. We can know Jesus for who he really is as God incarnate, the One who loved us so much that he willingly gave His life for us.
When we know Jesus in this way his calming voice can bring a great calm to our hearts even as he brought a great calm on the Sea of Galilee. The Psalms portray God as silencing “the roaring of the seas” (Psalm 65:7)—and ruling “the pride of the sea” (Psalm 89:9)—and making “its waves (be) still” (Psalm 107:29).
So when Jesus rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” he is acting as God acts.
This story would have brought great comfort to an early church facing persecution. While we’re not facing persecution, we’re facing a storm no less severe and equally threatening, a worldwide pandemic. Like those early disciples, we pray panicked prayers to a God who appears to have abandoned us. “God, don’t you care that we’re dying?” But God knows our needs and loves us enough even to send his own Son to save us. When life is difficult, we need to make sure our faith prevails over our fears. How can that happen? It happens when we know Jesus as our Lord and God, as the one through whom all the cosmos was created, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. When we know Jesus in this way, as our Lord and God, we too can rest as the Psalmist did in God’s care and presence. As the theologian Augustine wrote over 1600 years ago, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” May you know Jesus as the One who not only calms storms on lakes but who can also calm the storms in your heart today.
Lord Jesus, speak your calming peace to our troubled hearts today. Dispel our fear with your loving faithfulness, our doubt with a sure trust in you, our anxiety with your abiding presence, and our uncertainty of the future with the certainty of your love for us. Calm our coronavirus fears and help us to listen for your calming voice. Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. What storm today is it that brings fear and anxiety to your heart? The Coronavirus threat to yourself and your family? The threat of job loss? The threat of losing your business? The threat of a Depression? Or perhaps some other threat?
2. What difference can it make to our peace of mind in knowing Jesus as our God and Savior rather than just as a teacher or moral example?
3. Do you know Jesus as Your God and Savior who has the power to not only calm storms on lakes but also the storms in your heart?