And on that day, when even was come, he saith unto them, “Let us go over unto the other side.”
And leaving the multitude, they take him with them, even as he was, in the boat. And other boats were with him. And there ariseth a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the boat, insomuch that the boat was now filling. And he himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion:
and they awake him, and say unto him, “Teacher, carest thou not that we perish?”
And he awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, “Peace, be still.”
And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
And he said unto them, “Why are ye fearful? Have ye not yet faith?”
And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41).
The storm is perhaps one of the most powerful yet ephemeral forces in God’s creation. In whatever its manifestation–thunderstorm, tornado/cyclone, sea squall, hurricane/typhoon, tsunami, blizzard–we experience the raw power of nature, see most aspects of civilization grind to a halt, and sometimes experience great loss. And then, after a few minutes, hours, or days, it will be gone. The devastation and ruin remain, eerily illuminated by a bright shining sun and what seems to be the hope and promise of a new day.
A storm, by its very nature, is tempestuous; for thousands of years they have struck fear into the hearts of men. Facing the elements in the midst of a storm is the type of thing of which nightmares are made! In the midst of the tempest, stillness, calm, and peace seem far away.
While going about to the various cities and villages in Galilee, Jesus decides to travel across the Sea of Galilee with His disciples (Mark 4:35-41). The Sea of Galilee is only about 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, hardly something you would think would cause anyone much distress. But we must remember that in the ancient world most boats tried to stay very close to land and did not venture out into any open sea; their boats were much more at the mercy of the elements than many ships today. And even if the Sea of Galilee does not seem spectacularly large, you do not want to be in the middle of it when a storm comes through. Wind, rain, and sea do not mix well.
Jesus and the disciples were on a boat, and other boats were with them; it seems as if there was no expectation of any storm. Nevertheless, a storm arose, and it was a powerful one: the boat was covered by the waves and was taking on water. They would capsize if nothing were done; the odds of them surviving in the storm-tossed waves were slim. Upbraid the disciples for declaring that they were about to die all you want; if you were in that boat at that moment, odds are you would be saying the same thing!
In the midst of it all, Jesus is sleeping! He might have been quite tired; perhaps there is some allusion to Jonah and his sleeping in the midst of a storm (cf. Jonah 1:5). Jesus has no reason to be afraid, and He knows it. The storm does not bother Him. He sleeps, therefore, waiting for His disciples to finally show their faith. After all, it is not as if the storm just happens to come upon Jesus unawares. He knew the storm was coming before He ever got into the boat. He wanted to cross over anyway even with the knowledge of what was about to occur!
The disciples thought they were perishing, and looking at things from a human, physical, earthly perspective, they were. In nature storms tend to persist until they are over; they do not quit halfway through, save for the eye of a hurricane. The situation seemed extremely dire. They no doubt did all they could until the moment when they could do no more. Then they turned to Jesus!
How gentle or sharp Jesus’ rebuke is toward the disciples is challenging to discern on the basis of the text itself, but it is a rebuke nonetheless. He wants to know why they are afraid; do they not yet have faith (Mark 4:40)? Or, as Matthew renders it, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26). The question is evidently rhetorical, for they were afraid because they were of little faith.
Their response reinforces Jesus’ claim: they are astounded. “Who is this that even the wind and sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:41). It is not as if the disciples are completely unacquainted with Jesus; they have been following Jesus, listening to Him preach and teach, seeing Him work all sorts of miracles, healing all manner of illnesses, and generally going about doing the things the Messiah would do. Sure, they believed in Jesus. But their faith was little. They did not fully trust Jesus as One having all authority over the creation which He helped make.
The disciples went wrong because they first tried to do everything they could without Jesus’ help. They called upon Jesus only when nothing else could be done. Imagine how much effort and distress could have been eliminated had they turned to Jesus as soon as the storm began to swell!
We still experience all kinds of storms in life. It is certainly good to call upon God in prayer when in the midst of a thunderstorm, hurricane, or something of the sort, but we certainly should not lose faith if our petitions for the immediate end of the storm do not come to pass. Yet it is in the more metaphorical “storms” of life where the lesson of Jesus and His disciples really hits home.
These “storms” come in many forms. Perhaps we or someone we love contracts a terrible illness or receives a dire prognosis; we may find ourselves persecuted because of our stand for the Lord; we may have lost our jobs; perhaps someone we love has recently died. Maybe we have more bills than we have funds; perhaps we are caught up in some addiction or strongly tempted by pleasures. Whatever this “storm” might be and however it may have started, it really represents a test of sorts, a catalyst to demonstrate just what kind of faith we have.
We will be tempted to act just like the disciples did. When we are confronted with the “storm,” we will find it easier to hunker down and start doing everything we can in order to withstand and endure it. Perhaps we will be able to endure it for a long time; perhaps we might even weather one or two “storms” through our own strength (or so we think). But the “storm” or the time in the “storm” will come when it is clear that there is nothing else we can do. If we then turn to God and expect Him to now deliver us from our “storm,” what kind of faith have we shown? It is a little faith; it does not truly trust in God and His mighty power, but our own. Maybe God will rescue us despite ourselves. Even if He does not, it does not mean God has failed or is somehow deficient. The deficiency is our own.
We should instead use such an opportunity to demonstrate and increase our faith (cf. James 1:1-4, 1 Peter 1:3-9). From the beginning of the “storm” until the end we should petition God through Jesus our Lord and entrust ourselves to Him and His power. This does not mean that we sit idly by and do nothing, but it also does not mean that we frantically try every avenue without consideration of and petition to the Lord. Perhaps God will rebuke that storm and peace will prevail; perhaps you will still need to weather the storm, but through God in Christ you can have the internal peace, calm, and stillness to persevere.
If we truly believe in God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, we will glorify Him for having the power over the creation and power over every situation no matter how dire it may seem, and we will entrust ourselves to Him and His goodness. The “storms” of life, just like the storms we see in nature, are ephemeral; they will pass away. Sunlight will again shine down on us. Will we be exposed as having little faith or as being full of faith? Will we maintain composure and true peace and stillness despite the storm? It all depends on whether we believe in Jesus in pretense alone or whether we truly trust in Him as Lord and Savior. Let us exhibit faith even in the “storms” of life, persevere in hope, and glorify God in all circumstances!
Ethan R. Longhenry