by Roger McCay
29 December 2019
Sermon Passage: Mark 4:35-41
Link to Sermon Audio
Hurricane Ivan, which hit Monroeville in 2004, left quite an impression upon the people of this town. I’ve heard many stories about folks hunkering down during the storm, listening as trees broke and tumbled down before the gale-force winds and driving rain; stories of the incredible, widespread damage; and the long clean-up, recovery, and rebuild. Many of you here have shared with me your story from that difficult time. And, seeing how, even now, the stories persist, it is evident that this storm effected this town in a very traumatic way.
In the face of the terrible wrath of nature, we feel helpless; everything is thrown into uncertainty; death comes near; and we quake. So it was for the disciples, caught in that terrible storm, at night, on the sea of Galilee—helpless; uncertain; facing death; full of fear. In life, we encounter all sorts of storms—more often storms that have nothing to do with the weather. During these times, we can experience the same emotions as one caught in a terrible gale.
I think we can all agree that this past week has been a horrific storm. Jamaya, that little covenant child, whom we rejoiced in when she was born; loved during her short life; rejoiced in even more at her baptism just a few weeks ago; and whom we smiled at with love, during her contributions to the Christmas Eve service. Jamaya’s being shot on Christmas Eve, after the service, followed by her fight for survival over Christmas Day, and her passing on Thursday; all this has been a horrible ordeal for everyone, most especially her family. Even now, looking towards her funeral, the storm is still blowing, and we grieve.
There are so many storms in this life. Many here have been through very difficult ones over just the past few months, and you think of them now. In these storms of life, it is easy to sometimes wonder if God is just asleep, and/or he just doesn’t care. The Psalmist cried out just this in Psalm 44:23-26:
23 Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! 24 Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? 25 For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. 26 Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!
And so, with the Psalmist, we sometimes wonder, “How can a loving God allow us to suffer so?”
This is an entirely understandable impulse. Job wondered the same thing. But, God’s answer to Job, and Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples in our passage today shows us that we have to be careful when we question God during our storms. It is absolutely okay to question. The laments throughout the Scriptures are full of such questions. And, God patiently answers these questions in his Word. But we err when we are accusing in our questions, rebuking God. And we err when our question arises from unbelief. In contrast to accusations, rebukes, and unbelief, while enduring the storm, it is faith in God that helps us find the right posture to take before the Lord of the Storm.
So, let’s look closer at this account here in Mark 4—vv. 35-36.
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.
So, here is the scene. Jesus, after preaching for most of the day, from a boat, in the Sea of Galilee, to the crowds on the shore by Capernaum, ordered his disciples to transport him to the other side of the sea. The disciples obediently set out, starting in the evening, going into the night, with numerous other boats following. Exhausted, Jesus made his way to the back of the boat, and went into a sound, peaceful sleep.
Then came the storm—vv. 37-38.
37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he 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?”
The storm hit them hard, with gale-force winds and huge waves. The boat was quickly filling up with water, and, to the experienced fishermen, it looked like they were going to sink—dire danger. Their fear unnerved them. They were helpless; powerless; facing imminent death. Yet, in the midst of it all, there was Jesus, sleeping peacefully. To the disciples, it seemed like Jesus was unconcerned with their plight, that he didn’t care.
So, the disciples woke Jesus up and accused him; rebuked him: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Basically, the tone of the disciples’ question was an accusation against Jesus for forsaking them. And, ironically, their accusation indicates that they had been with Jesus long enough to know he would have the solution to the problem.
The thing is, if Jesus actually could do something about the storm, what does that mean about who he was? The rational answer to that question is clear to us, in the comfort of our pews. Yet, fear had overtaken the rationality of the disciples, and they had not yet put two and two together. And, since a solid faith is based on right knowledge, well, there they were.
So, how did Jesus respond to this rude awakening? v. 39:
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.
“Peace! Be still!” Did you notice Jesus rebuked both the wind and the sea? He didn’t just rebuke the wind, the results of which might have been deemed a coincidence. For, in nature, waves on the sea continue long after the wind stops. No, Jesus rebuked both the wind and the sea. In response, the wind and the waves stopped. It immediately became calm on the water—like glass. Such a rapid transition from a terrible storm to no wind with water like glass just does not happen naturally. It couldn’t be a coincidence. The wind and the sea unmistakably and immediately responded to Jesus’ commands.
And note that Jesus did not say a prayer or use incantations. He spoke two words: “Peace! Be still!” (“Be still” consisting of one word in the Greek). Two words! He didn’t appeal to a higher power. He was the power. The situation was not like two contenders meeting in the ring to fight it out—the storm vs. Jesus. There was no fight; no contenders. The power behind the storm merely withdrew his power. Accordingly, there was no storm; only Jesus.
This whole event sent a very clear message to the disciples as to who was in their midst. The ancients understood, and so would the disciples, that God alone had power over the sea. We see this understanding in various OT passages, such as Ps. 89:9: “You [Yahweh] rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. Then, intriguingly, Ps. 107:23-29 seems to allude to exactly the type of situation the disciples found themselves.
23 Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; 24 they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. 25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. 26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; 27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 29 He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Only the Lord God can make a “storm be still, and the waves of the sea” be “hushed.”
Indeed, the disciples surely “saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep.”
Jesus is Lord of the storm.
And so, v. 40.
40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
“Why are you so afraid?” Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples was due to their fear, their cowardice.
But, why should they not be afraid in a massive storm facing imminent death by drowning? Seems right, doesn’t it? But we would be wrong.
Jesus’ second question answers why. “Have you still no faith?” Jesus is saying that they could face the storm without fear. He’d revealed enough of himself to them. They’d seen him do so many things; heard him speak the authoritative word. With all that knowledge, they still had no faith. Jesus is saying, “Think! Focus! You’re not thinking straight!” For faith flows from knowledge. Hence, Romans 10:17: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
As it was, in the midst of the storm, the disciple’s faith was tested, and they fell flat. They proved they truly didn’t trust in Jesus. Who he was had just not yet penetrated their minds and hearts. For, if they really understood that Jesus was Yahweh, the creator of all things, the Lord of the Storm, how could they possibly be worried? For he was with them. Isa. 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Take a look at v. 41.
41 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?”
The disciples went from just being afraid to being terrified! – terrified of who Jesus must truly be! Only God could do what he did. Only God! This was that moment when they came face to face with who Jesus was; and he was in that small boat with them. In the presence of The Almighty, they quaked with fear.
Jesus showed that he was Lord of the Storm.
He decrees the storm: Job 28:26: “he made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder.” Also Jeremiah 10:13: “When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.”
He empowers the Storm. Psalm 29:3-4: “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”
And he stills the Storm: Psalm 65:7? “who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves.”
But there was one storm to which even the Lord of the Storm would submit. Mark points to this storm by laying out his account in harmony with the account of Jonah 1, which we read for our OT reading this morning.
If you look closely, you’ll see about six close parallels in the two incidents. Mark even uses nearly identical language in his account to the one in Jonah. But there was one major difference. Jonah, rather than rebuking the wind and waves, said to the sailors, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you.” He told them, “I must die if you are to be saved.”
Of what does that remind you? In Matthew 12:41, Jesus said, “Something greater than Jonah is here.” He was saying, “I am the fulfillment of the sign of Jonah. Jonah points to me.”
We, you and I, were like the sailors, with the storm of God’s wrath upon us, ready to sink us. But Jesus was willingly tossed into that ultimate storm. He died to save us on the cross. It is in light of that sacrifice, that we can see that the wrong question is “Jesus, if you love me, why do you let me suffer storms?” If you really understand; if you can really see what Jesus did for you, how he showed his love for you; you could never say, “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” For if you truly get it, if that reality is impressed upon your soul, you know Jesus cares. Yet, he allows us to suffer in life. He allows us to suffer even though he loves us. However, because he loves us, we can make it through the storm. Faith illuminates this reality.
When we go through storms in our life, do we despair? Do we blame God? Do we accuse God of not caring that we are suffering?
Reality check. Jesus is not sympathetic with misguided thoughts of “Since I’m a Christian, my life should be problem free.” When we are in the storm, we do God an injustice if we accuse him of not caring, not loving us—accusing God just because we go through hard times!
Sure, like the disciples, strung out emotions can make us think irrationally concerning such things. Nevertheless, it is at those times that the promises of God provide us with the hope we need to get us through. Hasn’t he told us?
We must trust in him! We must trust in him, not just when everything is hunky dory, but always—whether in peaceful stillness or in the midst of the storm. As Tim Keller puts it, our trust is in “a Savior who does not deliver us from storms but through the storms.” It is enough that he is with us. “And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the earth.”
Robert Rayburn, noted in PCA circles due to his being the founding president of Covenant College and Covenant Seminary, served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army in WWII from 1944 to 1946, and then again in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952. During the Korean War, Chaplain Rayburn was shipped out to Korea and assigned to an airborne unit. Now, Rayburn was not a paratrooper; he had never jumped out of an airplane. Yet, there he was. Very shortly after his linking up with the unit, a combat airborne operation came their way. So, Rayburn found himself on a plane, heading into a hot PLZ (in other words, with enemy on the ground shooting as the paratroopers were coming down and landing). To get down from the plane, Rayburn would have to parachute in with the rest of the unit.
In his book, Fight the Good Fight, Rayburn tells the story. He speaks of the fear, the “absolute agony” in the eyes of his fellow paratroopers, who had already done this before and knew the terror they were jumping into. Likewise, he speaks of his own fear, but also his hope.
“A feeling of sheer panic seized me. I began to shake and tremble with fear. I confess I felt utterly dismayed; it seemed that I just couldn’t go ahead with that jump into space. But I did the only thing a Christian needs to do and should do in a situation like that. I dropped my head over my reserve parachute and began to pray.”
In the midst of the prayer, the Lord brought scripture to Rayburn’s mind: “I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” This promise renewed his spirit. Rayburn writes, “What a promise! Could anything be better? … The Lord was with me.” He then relates, “As the full realization of the Lord’s promise swept over me, such peace swept my soul as I have never experienced under any other circumstances.” And he promptly fell asleep.
After the operation, when the dust had settled, Rayburn was approached by numerous troops. They had heard the account of the paratroopers who witnessed the peaceful chaplain sleeping on the plane just before jumping into combat, when he had never jumped before. His peace had brought them encouragement. As a result, he ended up sharing with many his testimony of the Savior “whose presence is so real, his promises so sure that he can give perfect peace in the worst kind of circumstances.”
While most of you will never be on a mission like this, most of you will face storms in your life that bring forth great anguish, deep pain, grief, a sense of helplessness, death coming near, fear, and possibly terror, along with all the other trials of life.
And, of course, there is the storm raging even now, which has caught up so many of us. Yet, rather than accusing or rebuking the Lord in the storm (“Lord, don’t you care that we perish?”), let us trust in him.
Trust in the Lord when you face the storm. He is with you, he loves you, and he will see you through. Because we will encounter storms in life, we must trust in the Lord of the Storm.
 Robert G. Rayburn, Fight the Good Fight: Lessons from the Korean War (Greenville, SC: The Covenant College Press, 1956).