Note: The following is brief summary of a sermon that I have preached on a few occasions. I find the message and lessons from this well-known passage to be always helpful, and I pray likewise for you. The sermon can be heard here.
This text, which is the concluding verses of Mark 4, gives the account of Jesus miraculously calming a storm upon the sea. If you have been to any church for a decent length of time, doubtless you have heard a preacher proclaim the good news that Jesus is able to calm any storm in your life. Well, certainly that is one application of the text because Christ is very much able to take the chaos of our lives and bring peace. However, the actual intent of the passage is not to promise that Jesus will instantly correct any difficult situation, but rather it challenges us to ask whether or not we will have faith through the storm.
The idea of faith is only natural considering the previous verses in this chapter. Notice that verse 35 begins with “on that day, when evening had come”. This ties the final verses with the rest of chapter 4. During the first thirty-four verses, Jesus taught the crowd of people using parables, which both revealed and concealed the mysteries of the kingdom of God. The final parable that Mark mentions is the parable of the mustard seed. In this parable, Jesus describes how faith within the kingdom of God begins small but eventually becomes so large that others are blessed because of it. This teaching about faith is important because in our text of study the disciples have a chance to exercise their own faith.
For the purpose of this study, we will break the text into four parts (the titles of which I have borrowed from John MacArthur). The first three will be the calm before, during, and after the storm, and the final part will be the storm after the calm. May the LORD mold and change our hearts as we analyze this text.
The Calm Before the Storm (verses 35-36)
On that day, when evening had come, he 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.
After an entire day of teaching, Jesus tells His disciples that they will now be traveling to the other side of the sea. They had no idea what His plans were, and they were likely very tired from the long day in the sun. But still, they obey Jesus and jump into a boat. The fact that Jesus got into the boat “just as he was” probably means that He went into the boat immediately after teaching. There was no short break for rest or a meal. They instantly set out for the other side of the sea, following the instruction of Jesus.
The Calm During the Storm (verses 37-38)
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 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?”
Interestingly, once the disciples and Jesus are upon the sea a storm comes upon them. There are a few points to consider here. First, the sea in question is the Sea of Galilee, which is really more of a large lake. It is about 13 miles long by 8 miles wide. This large lake in Israel also sits well below sea level while the hills and mountains surrounding it are above sea level. This means that cooler air from the higher elevated land often meets the warmer air in the low elevation sea. Thus, the Sea of Galilee is known for being very volatile, often being suddenly struck by powerful storms. It was not unusual for boats upon the sea to be hit by such storms; however, this knowledge did not make them any less deadly. For the waves to come over the boat and fill it with water displays the intensity of the tempest. Make no mistake, this storm was of life-or-death importance.
Second, recall whose idea it was to come out upon the sea: Jesus. Let’s make sure that we understand what is happening. They did what Jesus told them to do, and it placed them in a life-threatening situation. How could this be? Why would Jesus lead them into such an awful predicament? Too often, we tend to think that because we obey Jesus He will keep us out of the storms of life. We believe that because we have Jesus with us that everything is going to be smooth sailing. However, this is not case. Jesus led them into the storm. Their obedience to Christ took them directly into a life-or-death circumstance. The same is true for us. Life is filled with unexpected storms. Following Christ does not change that fact.
Third, notice the response of Jesus to the storm: He slept. I love this point in the narrative. After teaching and pouring Himself out to so many people, Jesus was exhausted. Though tumults of life were raging around Him, His body needed sleep, and He rested in the peace of God. One of the most difficult commands to obey in the entire Bible is “do not be anxious for anything”. I tend to become so troubled and anxious about the storms around me, or even about the prospect of future storms. Nevertheless, it is a biblical command to not become anxious. Peace and anxiety are diametrically opposed to one another, and both are inseparably related to belief. Anxiety is the product of unbelief, while peace is the effect of belief (and trust) in God. In order to be anxious over a circumstance, we must first either not believe that God is sovereign over it or that God does not care for us. Jesus, being God, did not become anxious. Though the storm was threatening outside, Jesus was resting and in peace.
The Calm After the Storm (verse 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.
Next, the disciples become quite angry about Jesus’ nap. They awake Him and ask whether He even cares that they are going to be killed by the storm. In this moment, the disciples are most likely angry because they see Jesus as lazy and unloving. Remember that we have already been told that the water was flooding into the boat. When this happens, the natural response is to begin scooping the water back into the sea so that the boat stays afloat. During a storm like this, every hand helps in shoveling water and keeping the boat above water. Therefore, they began to get angry that Jesus was not pulling His weight in saving them. Jesus was not doing His part in helping them ride through the storm.
Of course, Jesus still does not help them scoop out the water; instead, He speaks three words, calming the sea and dismissing the storm. Certainly, that response was not what the disciples expected to come from their Teacher. They wanted Jesus to help with the water in the boat (the symptom of their problems), but He spoke directly to the storm (the source of the problem).
How often do we do this with God? During hardship or difficulty, we beg God to help us, but we want Him to do it our way. If we experience financial troubles, we pray for Him to give us a quick buck, but He speaks to us, changing the mentality with which we view finances. Jesus never bothers with the symptoms; He attacks the root of the issue.
The Storm After the Calm (verses 40-41)
He said 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?”
We would think that Jesus’ commanding of the storm and the saving of the disciples’ lives would have elicited a joyous reaction or at least a sign of relief. They, however, respond with terror. While they were afraid of the storm, Jesus now filled them with great fear. Why did they respond this way? The Hebrew culture, as well as many other Mesopotamian peoples, had a certain hesitancy toward water. They believed that water is the embodiment of chaos and the instability of nature. In the Old Testament, the ocean is closely associated with the concept of the deep in Genesis 1:2. In those first verses of the Bible, God’s voice alone is able to command the primordial waters. Therefore, when Jesus speaks to the sea and it obeys, the disciples would have immediately started making connections. They get the feeling that they are in the presence of divinity (though they have not fully reached that conclusion yet), and it fills them with fear. Someone far more powerful than the storm was standing in the boat with them.
This leads them to ask the most important question of the Mark’s Gospel: who is Jesus? In the first verse of the book, Mark spoils it by announcing that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah to whom all of the Old Testament pointed. But after this initial declaration, the book does not mention Jesus being the Christ again until chapter eight, when Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ. In fact, the entire first half of Mark builds toward that one question that Jesus asks His followers: who do you say that I am? The demons declare Jesus’ identity. The crowds wonder who Jesus is because He taught with such authority. Herod will later question the identity of Jesus. And in times such as this, the disciples struggle to understand who their Teacher is. This most important question of Mark is also the most important question of all time. Who do you say that Jesus is? Do you say that He is simply a good man? Or do you worship Him as God made flesh?
The End of the Matter
What then can we conclude about this passage of Scripture, or what lessons can be learned from it? First, storms in life will happen, and there is no means of avoiding all of them. Our world is fallen and broken by sin; therefore, troubles will come. Our only solace is that Christ is with us through it all.
Second, this text shows that Jesus certainly has the ability to calm storms, but we must ask ourselves whether we will trust Him in the midst of those storms. Will we maintain faith in Christ through life’s difficulties?
Third, we also must remember that Jesus never guarantees that we will make it through storms alive. He only promises to be with us until the end of the age. Hebrews 11 gives a massive list of great men and women of faith. It points out that by faith some performed wondrous miracles, while others, still by faith, died. The glory of the gospel is that “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” Jesus never stops loving us. He never stops caring for us. Even if He does not calm the storm around us, He will calm the storm within us and bring us safely to the other side.
 Matthew 28:20
 Hebrews 11:32-38
 Romans 14:8