Sermon Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQ13txA5bh4
Sermon Discussion Questions:
1. What stood out to you most?
2. “The true Christian can think calmly about the holy God whose eyes see all his or her actions and feel: he is my Father, my reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. I am weak; I am unworthy, but, in Christ, he regards me as his dear child and is well pleased. What a privilege it is to be able to think these things and not be afraid!” – J.C. Ryle, “Happiness”
Day to day, do you find it difficult to believe that God sees all your actions, thoughts, and desires, but still are seen as a “dear child” who is well pleasing?
3. Sometimes when we are in the middle of the storm it is hard to see why God is leading us through it. Looking back at previous difficulties the Lord has led you through, what has He taught you?
4. Why are the disciples so terrified after Jesus stills the storm? (cf. Luke 5:1-11)
5. How can God be both holy and loving? If you were tempted to see Him as more of one than the other, which would you tend to? Do you struggle with the idea that God is holy and just? Do you struggle with the idea that God is loving and gracious?
6. If you had to identify a particular “storm” in your life, what would it be? How does the promise of Romans 8:32 help you through this?
In January, 1736, the good ship The Simmonds sailed from England to Savannah, Georgia. However, in the middle of the voyage across the Atlantic, a violent winter storm assaulted the ship. The wind roared; the ship cracked and quivered; the waves lashed the deck. The crew, powerless to steer the boat, only worked on pumping as much water out of the boat as they could to keep from sinking. After hours of being battered, a large wave crashed onto the boat, splitting the mainsail into pieces and threatening to break up the entire ship. On the boat was a young Anglican minister and the eventual founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley. Wesley received an invitation to go the colony of Georgia in the Americas. There he would have an opportunity to be a chaplain and evangelize to the many native Americans who had never heard the gospel. Wesley was a man who took his religion with an unparalleled seriousness. He drew up meticulous (methodical) plans for Bible reading, prayer, self-examination, church attendance, and fasting. He regularly gave away so much of his own money to the poor that he often went without food himself. He committed every part of his life to “work out his salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). But now he found himself staring the into the stark face of drowning out at sea.
John Wesley, the paragon of devotion, religiosity, and fortitude, was absolutely petrified. He who had preached the gospel of eternal salvation to others learned that he was afraid to die. At that moment he realized that all of his religious efforts had not granted him any peace when faced with death. His zeal and confidence evaporated like the morning dew in the sun. His seemingly righteous deeds that had earned him such great acclaim—even scorn—from others, suddenly were woefully inadequate to protect him from the yawning chasm of judgment that opened before him, which he now teetered precipitously over.
However, Englishmen were not the only passengers on the boat. A group of German missionaries known as Moravians were also on board. Before the storm began, a group of these missionaries had begun a small worship service with one another, praying and singing psalms. As the storm came and battered the ship the Moravians calmly continued singing, untroubled. Eventually the storm subsided and the ship remained intact. Afterward, Wesley asked one of the Germans if he was frightened. “Thank God, no,” he replied. “Weren’t your women and children afraid?” Wesley asked. “No,” said the Moravian, “our women and children are not afraid to die.”
Upon finally arriving at Savannah, John sought out a Moravian leader and asked him advice about what to do with his doubts and fear. Wesley records their discussion in his journal:
The Moravian leader said that he could give me no advice till he asked me two or three questions. He asked, “Do you know yourself?…Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?” I was surprised and knew not what to answer. He observed it and asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” I paused and said, “I know He is the savior of the world.” “True,” replied he, “but do you know he has saved you?” I answered, “I hope he has died to save me.” He only added, “Do you know yourself?” I said, “I do.” But I fear they were vain words. (1)
John Wesley, adorned though he was with much religious trappings and zeal, ultimately did not know God, did not know that Jesus had died for him. Wesley’s mission in Georgia was a total failure. In less than two years he returned back to England, full of shame and doubt. On his voyage home he wrote, “I went to America to convert the Indians, but, oh, who shall convert me?” (Shelley, Church History, 3rd ed., p. 335).
The storm at sea exposed the doubts, the fears, and the lack of faith John Wesley had. So too, in our text today, a storm at sea exposes the disciples’ deep unbelief. But unlike Wesley and the Moravians, with disciples on the boat lay One who could control all oceans and all storms. Let’s turn now to look at our text in Mark 4:35-41:
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. 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?” 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. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 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?”
A Great Storm
At the beginning of chapter four, Jesus stepped out onto a boat to teach to a “very large crowd” (Mark 4:1), leading to the telling of many parables. Now, at the end of a long, exhausting day, evening sets in and Jesus tells the disciples that they need to cross over to the other side of the sea of Galilee. Suddenly, we are told a great “windstorm” arose (this is the same word used to describe the “whirlwind” out of which God answers Job in Job 38:1, λαῖλαψ, it could mean “hurricane, storm, or whirlwind”). The sea of Galilee to this day is famously known for its sudden, violent storms with waves that reach up to 10-15 feet in height. The fact that this storm happens in the dark of night makes it even more terrifying. The disciples wouldn’t have had anything to illuminate the waters, let alone the ship. In the black of night, as the disciples are being tossed to and fro in the ship, they realize that the boat is beginning to fill with water.
The boat they were in was not a big boat that could plow through large waves or take on lots of water, or had any kind of pump system to remove water. But we are told that their boat is “already filling” with water. This is it, we’re going down, the disciples begin to think. Remember, a good majority of these disciples are professional fishermen. These are men who are very familiar with boats, seas, and storms. So, if they are beginning to panic, you know that things must be serious.
But, somehow, Jesus is sleeping through it all. How Jesus is able to sleep through such calamity may be due to the fact that He was just physically exhausted beyond comparison. Or it could be that He has such confidence in His power and His Father’s protection over Him that He is utterly unworried by the storm. Either way, Jesus remains asleep until the disciples in panic shake Him awake: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). You can sense the note of frustration in the disciples’ voice: do you even care?? Why on earth are you sleeping, we are going to die! To which are simply told: “And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm,” Mark 4:39.
A Great Calm
Can you imagine being one of the disciples in the boat? Waves are pouring over the side; you are being bounced around as the ship rocks and reels in the dark; the wind whips the ocean spray against your face. And in all of that chaos, you see Jesus sit up and, somehow, over the howling wind, you hear Him say: Hush! Be quiet! And then *snaps* everything stops. The wind dies. The waves drop, and the sea suddenly looks like glass. The storm clouds disappear and the stars come out. Agamemnon, the villain of classic Greek tragedy, after accidentally angering the goddess Artemis, was forced to sacrifice his eldest daughter to silence the chaotic seas that prevented his fleet from sailing to Troy. Jesus offers no sacrifice to appease the gods. Jesus does not speak a spell or use a magical object to quell the sea. Jesus doesn’t even pray and ask His Father to act. He just speaks. And inanimate objects, nature itself, listens and obeys. There is a great calm. As great as the windstorm was, it has now been replaced with the same magnitude of calmness. Jesus then turns His eyes on you and says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Mark 4:40.
In one sense, that question seems kind of ridiculous. Why were we afraid? We almost died! Jesus, if there was ever a time to be afraid, that was it! It is hard to imagine going through a storm like that and not trembling in fear. But notice that Jesus connects their fear to a lack of faith—they don’t yet believe. The problem wasn’t that they just lacked enough grit or stoic mastery over their emotions; the problem is that they need faith. If they believed, if they trusted that Jesus was who He claimed to be, there would be no panic. Faith is not a muscle; it is not something you exert. Faith is trusting that God is who has said He is and that He will do for you what He has said He will do. And when we possess that faith, there is no reason to fear. I have two young boys at home, and when you have two young boys at home you got to pick them up, throw them in the air, fly them around and what not. And every now and then I toss them maybe a little too high and they begin to panic. What do they need in that moment? They need to trust that Dad isn’t going to drop them, that their Dad wouldn’t be tossing them up in the air if he wasn’t confident that he could catch them—they need to trust me.
But, of course, this is precisely what the disciples lack. They are like a young John Wesley, horrified at the thought of death. And, like Wesley, it is the storm that reveals the unbelief. Friends, think on this: sometimes God will send you through a storm to expose what your heart trusts in. Remember, Jesus told the disciples to go over to the other side. He knew a storm was coming. And, He planned to go to sleep—we are told he laid down on a pillow. He didn’t just slump over in his chair. He found the pillow, stretched out in the stern, and went to sleep. He wanted His disciples to go through the storm with Him asleep through it. Friends, sometimes God will send you through a storm where it seems like He is absent, like He is asleep. He wants to bring you to a point where you cry out: do you care? As fire exposes the impurities in precious metals, so too will trials expose the hidden unbelief in your heart. And not only is the unbelief exposed, but is then brought to the Lord who can calm the storm and heal our unbelief.
But, unexpectedly, after Jesus calms the storm the disciples, rather than being relieved, are filled with an even greater fear.
A Great Fear
“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?” Mark 4:41. One would think that the disciples would be breathing a sigh of relief or feel a wave of gratitude towards Jesus. Instead they are filled with great fear, “a fear which is greater than any fear of a storm,” (Schweizer, p. 110). While it would certainly be an awesome sight to behold this miracle, the “fear” the disciples are exhibiting here is not just awe or respect or a “wow” moment. However you quantify the amount of fear the disciples experienced during the “great storm,” seeing Jesus stop the storm brings an even greater fear. Why?
Well, the disciples suddenly become aware that this man is not a mere teacher. He is something much, much more. The disciples would have known that in the Hebrew Bible there is only one Person who has mastery over the chaotic seas, who can make the storms be still with a simple word of command: Yahweh. From Genesis one, where the spirit of God hovers over the waters and Yahweh brings about orderly creation by His Word, to the story of the Exodus where the breath of Yahweh splits the Red Sea, to the psalms that repeatedly describe Yahweh conquering the sea, to the book of Nahum that explains that Yahweh “rebukes the sea” (Nah 1:4), over and over again in the Old Testament it is Yahweh alone who can speak, and the wind and the waters obey Him. Look at Psalm 107, a description of what it will look like when Yahweh brings His people back from their exile (Ps 107:1-3), which appears to be a near prophecy of this very event in Mark 4:
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw 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; 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. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. – Ps 107:23-30
This sounds almost like a play by play description of our text in Mark 4. There are two major differences here, though: (1) the people cry out to Yahweh and He stills the storm; in Mark 4, the disciples cry out to Jesus and He stills the storm. And, (2) in the psalm we are told that the people in their boats are glad when the waters grow quiet; in Mark 4, the disciples are terrified. They are terrified because they realize that, unlike the psalm where they pray to God who is in heaven, in their boat the God of heaven, Yahweh Himself, has come down and is now in their midst. Jesus is Yahweh. And this is a terrifying reality for them. One commentator explains, “Jesus is still a stranger to his own followers, for they are better able to handle the possibility of their own death than the possibility of the presence of God among them. In this instance, God’s nearness in Jesus is not something reassuring but something profoundly unsettling, even terrifying,” (Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, PNTC, p. 152).
R.C. Sproul, in classic book, The Holiness of God, wrote a chapter where he looks at this account in Mark 4 and fittingly titled it “The Trauma of Holiness.” All throughout the Bible, when God reveals Himself there is a uniform response from men: fear. Why? In Eden, Adam and Eve had perfect communion with God. God would come to them, speak to them, bless them, all without any fear. It is only after Adam and Eve sin that they then hide in fear from God (Gen 3:8-10). From Israel (Ex 20:18-21), to Isaiah (Isa 6:1-6), to Daniel (Dan 10:7-10), to Peter (Luke 5:8), to John (Rev 1:17), over and over again when sinners come into the presence of God they are frozen with fear. It is a traumatic experience.
This may seem odd to you. Isn’t God’s presence what we want to experience? Why would we be afraid of God? Well, let me tell you very plainly why sinners should be afraid of God: God is holy. What is God’s holiness? It is His perfect righteousness and purity; His “total other-ness” that He as the only God, Creator, and Lord possesses that makes Him a being in a class by Himself. And because He is holy, He has a perfect and total hatred of anything that is unholy, that is, sin. Listen to Psalm 5:4-6, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” This is why the disciples are more terrified of Jesus than they are of the storm—it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31). They are like criminals who become suddenly aware that the man they have been casually making conversation with is actually the chief of police—the Law has found them out and will now hold them to account. The stormy sea is just a crude shadow of the far greater storm of God’s holy wrath aimed at sinners, and now this God, the holy judge of the living and the dead, is sitting in the very boat with them.
What will they do?
Jesus is the reason and the remedy for fear
While Jesus has revealed Himself as the Son of the living God—which leads disciples to fear—He also has provided the remedy and solution to our problem. The disciples ask Jesus, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” They, of course, are speaking of the storm—which Jesus deals with. But they speak better than they know. Jesus has not come to only save these fishermen from a storm on the sea of Galilee—He has come to save them from a much worse storm; a storm that lays at the pit of all of their fear: the judgment of God.
I wonder if you have noticed the many parallels between this story in Mark 4 and Jonah. In Jonah, there is a terrifying storm, threatening to destroy a boat (Jonah 1:4). Jonah, like Jesus, is somehow sleeping through the storm and is rudely awakened by the sailors, questioning him how he could be asleep at a time like this (Jonah 1:5-6). And, like Mark 4, God supernaturally stills the storm and saves the boat from being destroyed. However, unlike the story in Mark 4, the storm comes from Jonah’s rebellion against God; there is no indication that the storm in Mark 4 is from anyone’s rebellion. Further, the storm is stilled in Jonah by Jonah being thrown into the raging sea (Jonah 1:15). In Mark, no one is thrown into the stormy sea, or at least not yet. Later, Jesus will explain that in the same way Jonah spent three days and three nights in the heart of sea, so too would he spend three days and three nights in the earth (Matt 12:40). When Jesus goes to the cross, dies, and is buried, He is being thrown into another kind of sea. He is going to die in the place of sinners—He is going to absorb the wrath of God directed towards sinners. You see, Jonah was thrown into the sea because of his sin; Jesus was thrown into the raging sea of the wrath of God for His people’s sins.
Jonathan Edwards, the great puritan theologian, once described the wrath of God like boiling water held behind a dam. But, he warned, “If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in Hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it,” (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God).
Picture yourself standing before Edwards’ dam. It extends up so high that you cannot see its top, and shoots sideways so wide that you cannot see where it ends. Suddenly, the dam detonates; the concrete fractures, the leaks spray out, and the face of the dam cascades downward in an avalanche of rock and water. The day of judgment has come. You are utterly helpless to do anything to keep from being destroyed. But before you stands the cross, and as the waters of judgment fall, the cross somehow absorbs them into itself, leaving you protected as it sweeps by. This is what John Wesley came to believe. After returning to England he went to a meeting where these truths were being taught from the book of Romans, John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed” and came to trust in Christ and Christ alone for salvation.
Friend, take shelter under the shadow of the cross. Don’t let the waters of judgment overtake you—the God who will judge you would rather deliver you. Do you still have no faith? Trust in Jesus. And when you do, this radically changes how you go through the storms.
Jesus has power over chaos
Not uncommonly in the OT wind and waters symbolize hostile forces over which God prevails (Ex 14:21ff; Job 12:15; 28:25; Ps 33:7; 65:7; 77:16; 107:23-30; 147:18; Prov 30:4; Amos 4:13; Nah 1:3ff). When Jesus silences the storm we are seeing more than just a nature miracle, we are seeing a theological point being made: all of the forces of darkness, chaos, and entropy that want to unravel our lives—all of them are under the mastery of our Lord Jesus. Their proud waves go only as far as the Lord determines.
So, friends, wherever you are in this storm we are all weathering:
Stay at home parents, trying to learn to work from home.
Extroverts dying to spend time with people.
Grandparents scared to go the grocery story and fighting off loneliness
Business owners afraid their companies might have to cut workers to survive
Employees who have been cut
Spouses and parents feeling at their wits end
Remember this: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Rom 8:32. If Jesus can silence the storm of the judgment of God, then He will not abandon you through the storm of quarantine, through the storm of isolation, fear, and death. Friends, you will go through storms in your life, and at times it will feel like you are perishing—but remember, there is One in the boat with you who has power over every storm, who can be trusted, and who loves you.
Thou art the Lord who slept upon the pillow,
Thou art the Lord who soothed the furious sea,
What matters beating wind and tossing billow
If only we are in the boat with Thee?
Hold us quiet through the age-long minute
While Thou art silent and the wind is shrill :
Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, are in it;
Can the heart faint that waiteth on Thy will?
– Amy Carmichael