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. 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?” 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. 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?”
Mark 4:35-41 ESV
One of my favorite passages of The Lord of the Rings is found in the chapter of The Two Towers when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli discover that Gandalf the wizard has come back to life after dying in battle in the first book. They meet in the ancient Fangorn Forest, which contains mighty tree creatures called Ents. After Gandalf hints that the Ents might prove to be their allies in the war, Gimli the dwarf remarks that he always thought that Fangorn Forest was dangerous.
‘Dangerous!’ cried Gandalf. ‘And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord. And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli son of Glóin; for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion. Certainly the forest of Fangorn is perilous — not least to those that are too ready with their axes; and Fangorn himself, he is perilous too; yet he is wise and kindly nonetheless.’
I love that passage in many ways because it is Tolkien’s versions the scene in Narnia where Aslan is described as not being safe but still good. Especially over the past few months, I have been pointedly trying to teach my oldest daughter the lesson that being dangerous does not make something good or bad. Although my dog is a smaller breed, she still has the potential to be a great danger to my household, especially my children. Statistically, driving is one of the most dangerous actions that we can take, yet most of us do it every day.
However, this is most poignant as we discuss God, who, by virtue of His omnipotence, is necessarily the most dangerous being in existence. Of course, all who have fashioned a mental idol of God to affirm their own desires will shun the idea of God being dangerous. Yet Jesus calls to soberly meditate upon this reality: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). God is good. God is kind. God is love. But He is also far more dangerous than anything or anyone that we can encounter in the cosmos. In our text, the disciples glimpse the dangerous divinity of Jesus.
FEAR OF DEATH // VERSES 35-39
If you have been to any church for a decent length of time, you are almost sure to have heard a preacher proclaim the good news that Jesus is able to calm any storm in your life. While Christ is very much able to take the chaos of our lives and bring peace, the actual intent of the passage in Mark’s Gospel is not to promise that Jesus will instantly correct any difficult situation that we find ourselves within, but rather it challenges us to ask whether or not we will have faith to see the holiness of Jesus.
Notice that our text begins with on that day, when evening had come. This ties these seven verses onto 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, which Jesus Himself was bringing. Particularly Jesus has called His disciples to pay careful attention to what they have heard. In them, our Lord was sowing the seeds of the kingdom, and here we glimpse how far their understanding of Jesus and His mission had come.
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, out on the boat. But still, they obey Jesus and set off for the other side of the sea. The fact that Jesus left just as he was probably means that they pressed on right after His teaching had concluded. 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.
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 was 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 simply because we obey Jesus, He will keep us away from trials and tribulations. 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. In fact, following Christ may actively lead us to suffering. Jared Wilson writes:
The way some pitch Christianity, I do not see how they make room for the disciples being scared out of their minds in the storm-rocked boat while Jesus slept. The life of faith seems less Galilean and more Disney World, perhaps like one of those slow-moving boat rides through artificial happy-fun-lands, Christians merely passing through, safely observing, detached spectators to the world but not participants. But Christianity emphatically does not make every day a Friday. Unless we mean the biblical Friday, the historical church’s Friday, the Friday of the cross.
No, becoming a Christian does not ward off trouble. In fact, biblically speaking, it seems to entail the promise of more trouble. No one by becoming a Christian becomes exempt from the suffering common to every human being in the fallen world—we still get sick, we still get hurt, we still die. And on top of that, the Christian embraces the cross of Christ, opening himself up to scorn, mockery, and persecutions of various kinds.
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. Morgan notes how the disciples saw Jesus at that time:
They saw a Man tired, feeling the strain of suffering, conscious of the drain made upon Him by the success of those gathered multitudes, and the opposition which was growing against Him. He was asleep. He needed sleep; and He was able to sleep. That in itself was a sign that He was a Man of perfect physical health, and of mental peace. Mark their own words when they presently came to Him. Have You no concern? That was exactly it. He had no concern, and was at peace. He was a Man therefore of spiritual holiness. These are the elements that make for sleep. A man who is in physical health, without mental concern, and at peace with God, will sleep.
Of course, we have the parallel example of Jonah, who rested in his sin; however, that should not stop us from recalling the words of Solomon in Psalm 127, “he gives to his beloved sleep” (v. 2). His ability to rest, even though the cares of all the cosmos weighed heavily upon Him, is yet another evidence that Jesus is God’s “beloved Son” (1:11).
Next, the disciples become quite angry about Jesus’ nap. They awake Him and ask whether He even cares that they are all going to be killed by the storm (note that this included Jesus Himself). In this moment, the disciples are most likely angry because they see Jesus as lazy and unloving. Remember that 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) or at least to be awake with them as they sank into the sea, 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 so 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. As with the paraplegic’s sin, Jesus pushes past the symptoms and attacks the root of the issue.
Interestingly, the way that Jesus spoke to the storm here should bring to mind how He spoke to demon in 1:25. While some view this parallel as indicating that Jesus was casting out demonic entities from within the sea and wind, that seems to be a fairly large overreading of the text. I believe, rather, that the parallel is simply Mark highlighting the authority of Jesus. In the same way that Jesus is able to command the “cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12), so too is He able to command the cosmos itself.
FEAR OF THE HOLY // VERSES 40-41
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 sigh 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, has 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, which is first referenced in Genesis 1:2. In those first verses of the Bible, God’s voice alone is able to command the primordial waters to separate at the forming of creation. God alone was able to unleash those waters once more as an apocalyptic global flood. God alone was able to part the sea during the Exodus, preserving His people and then drowning Pharaoh and his army. God alone held back the Jordan River as the Israelites began their conquest of Canaan. Furthermore, it was God alone who sent the mighty storm to subdue the rebellious prophet, Jonah.
Therefore, when Jesus speaks to the sea and it obeys, the disciples would have immediately started making connections, although they were connections that did not make any sense. You see, they were clearly beginning to feel as though they were in the presence of divinity (though they have not fully reached that conclusion yet), and they were filled with fear, a far greater fear than they previous had of the storm and their impending death. Now sitting in a great calm, their fear had only heightened. Someone far more dangerous than the storm was standing in the boat with them. Consider the significance of that. They were now more afraid of Jesus than they were of death.
Just as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and others felt the dread of terror in the presence of God’s holiness, so did the disciples glimpse the holiness of Christ. And fear was the proper response. Sproul warns us:
If Christ in His majesty were to knock on your door this morning, you would not say to him, “Hi, buddy, come on in.” Rather, you would fall on your face. When the resurrected Christ in His glory and the manifestation of His holiness appears, all creatures will fall at His feet because He is other. He is holy. This means that not only do people tremble at His voice, but the seas that have no ears listen to His command, and winds that have no knowledge know enough to stop blowing when He says, “Be still.” That is our Lord.
Indeed, in Revelation 6:12-17, we read John’s vision of Christ’s return in all His holy splendor, and again we find the commanding of the cosmos and the fearful response of man:
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
On that day, we too will see the holiness of Christ, unveiled and mighty enough to melt the heavens and erase the earth. All will fear His glorious kingship. For many it will be only the terror of judgment, for the first time clearly seen, like a sudden and oncoming tornado that cannot be escaped. For others, that fear will be mingled with both love and joy that the King has at last returned for His people. All people belong to one of those two groups, but only those who rejoice in Christ as Savior now will rejoice at His visible Lordship when it arrives.
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 gave us the answer to this question by announcing that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah to whom all of the Old Testament pointed, the Son of God. 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 wondered at His identity because He taught with such authority. Herod will later question the identity of Jesus. And here Jesus’ own disciples wrestled with the same question. We should note, however, that it is precisely the question that should be asked after such a display of authority: who then is this?
But even though they did not yet see the fullness picture of Jesus’ identity, He was still merciful to them. Seeing their intense fear, He asked Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? Just as the kingdom of God begins in smallness like a mustard seed, so too was the faith of the apostles. Their understanding and perception of Jesus was fuzzy and vague. Their hearing was still dull, and their vision was foggy. Yet, marvelously, Jesus did not give up on them. Instead, He will gradually foster and strengthen their faith throughout the rest of the Gospel.
But how exactly would Jesus grow their faith? In Luke 17:5-6, the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith, but He responses back with another illustration of the mustard seed: “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” The point is that the amount of our faith is not nearly as important as the object of our faith. Utter confidence in a dilapidated bridge is not enough to prevent it from collapsing, whereas a sturdy bridge will stand firm regardless of whether we have the faith to use it or not. Faith is not like the Force in Star Wars; instead, the apostles’ faith would only be strengthened by their greater and greater clarity of Christ’s identity. The same is true for us. The smallest faith is sufficient for salvation, so long as it is faith in Him who works salvation.
Finally, we can also glimpse another vision of the cross in this account. Timothy Keller points out that there are many parallels between this passage and the account of Jonah’s encounter with a storm upon the sea. After pointing out of few of those similarities Keller goes on to say,
In the midst of the storm, Jonah said to the sailors, in effect: “There’s only one thing to do. If I perish, you survive. If I die, you will live” (Jonah 1:12). And they threw him into the sea. Which didn’t happen in Mark’s story. Or does it? I think Mark is showing that the stories aren’t actually different when you stand back a bit and look at them with the rest of the story of Jesus in view. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “One greater than Jonah is here,” and he’s referring to himself: I’m the true Jonah. He meant this: Someday I’m going to calm all storms, still all waves. I’m going to destroy destruction, break brokenness, kill death. How can he do that? He can do it only because when he was on the cross he was thrown—willingly, like Jonah—into the ultimate storm, under the ultimate waves, the waves of sin and death. Jesus was thrown into the only storm that can actually sink us—the storm of eternal justice, of what we owe for our wrongdoing. That storm wasn’t calmed—not until it swept him away.
Indeed, just as Jesus calmed this storm by His word alone, Jesus Himself is the Word of God through whom the Father both created the world and is working its recreation. He alone has placated the storm of the God’s justly deserved wrath by giving His life in exchange for our own. He is not only greater than sickness, greater than demons, and greater than the wind and sea; He is greater than our sin, more powerful than any work of evil. We should, therefore, all the more take warning that His perilous holiness will either put to death entirely our sin or put us to death alongside our sin. Let us cast our faith, trembling and frail though it may be, upon Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell, yet by His own blood has ransomed us from that eternal judgment.
 J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 488.
 Jared Wilson, The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables , 52.
 Morgan, Mark, 102.
 R. C. Sproul, Mark: An Expositional Commentary, 85.
 Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 57.