Jesus Calms the Storm
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Jesus Calms the Storm

Mark 4:35–41  (ID: 2697)

Jesus’ calming of the storm demonstrated that He is the ruler of all nature. There’s more to the story, though! The disciples were not in their predicament because they made foolish choices but because they obeyed Christ—and as Alistair Begg explains, when God leads His people into storms, He goes with us. Instead of allowing trials to separate us from the assurance of God’s love, we can let life’s tempests drive us to greater dependence on Him.

Series Containing This Sermon

Dangers, Toils, and Snares

How to Find Peace amid Life’s Greatest Trials Selected Scriptures Series ID: 22702

A Study in Mark, Volume 2

Parables and Miracles Mark 3:7–6:6 Series ID: 14102

Sermon Transcript: Print

Why do you say, O Jacob,
 and complain, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
 my cause is disregarded by my God”?

Do you not know?
 Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
 the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow [weary] … [tired],
 [nor will] his understanding [be fathomable].
He gives strength to the weary,
 … increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
 and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
 will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
 they will run and not grow weary,
 they will walk and not … faint.[1]

I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Mark and to the concluding verses of chapter 4. It’s page 710, I think, in our church Bibles, and if you find that to be helpful, both in terms of the location of the Bible and also in the location of the text, then that’s super. For those of you who are visiting us, we’ve been studying Mark’s Gospel, and we’ve come to this concluding section at the end of Mark chapter 4. So, we’ll read it, we’ll pray, and then we’ll study it together:

“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’

“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

“He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’

“They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”

Father, with our Bibles open before us, we humbly pray that as we turn to this particular passage, that we might be encountered by Christ, who is the one of whom we have sung: he who is the Lord of nature and the Ruler.[2] Help us to this end, for his name’s sake. Amen.

Well, clearly this is a familiar story. Any of us who have been around church at all or have been in Sunday school as children will not have been able to miss this one. And we may well have found that there was artwork around our home, depending on the kind of home in which we grew up, that depicted this very scene.

We may also have come to the conclusion that the message of this particular little section of Mark’s Gospel—it’s also elsewhere in the Synoptics—is simply this: “Jesus calmed the storm on the lake, and he can calm the storm in your life.” And if that is actually all that this passage is teaching, then probably we ought just to say that to ourselves a couple of times, have a song, benediction, and leave: “Jesus calmed the storm on the lake, and he can calm the storm in your life. Okay, now let’s go home.”

I think you will have already detected that I’m not so sure that that is actually the message that is conveyed to us in this little section. I’m not sure that that is actually the point of the passage—despite the fact that what I’ve just said is actually true! That the Lord who calms the storms is the same Lord who is able to calm the storms in our lives. But what is it we’re being told here?

Well, let’s just notice the details, because there are quite a few details. First of all, let’s notice that this has to do with the boat again. The boat was introduced back in 3:9, where Jesus said, because of the crowd, he said to his disciples, “Why don’t you get a small boat ready to keep the people from crowding me?”[3] It seemed to be a very sensible idea, and so it was that at the beginning of chapter 4, we’re told that “Jesus began to teach by the lake,” and “the crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it … on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge.”[4] So, he had established his own floating pulpit.

And once again, it is the boat. Indeed, it would appear that all that has just ensued in chapter 4 may well have taken place in that floating pulpit and from that vantage point. And so, it would make perfect sense for him to do what he’s already done in chapter 1, and that is be engaged in his ministry, and then say to his disciples, “I want to go somewhere else now.” It’s interesting, you find at the end of chapter 1—around verse 38, I think it is—they’re all excited about how well everything has been going, and Jesus says, “Let’s go to someplace else so that I can teach the Bible there, so that I can preach the gospel there. For that is why I have come.”[5] And here now, at the end of this teaching on the parables, Jesus says the same thing: “Let[’s],” he says, “go over to the other side.” “Let’s get out of here for a little while.”

Now, you will notice that the details are such that this is clearly an eyewitness account. Maybe Peter was the eyewitness. We don’t know. Somebody told Mark and gave them the details. So, for example, you will notice that it is noted that it was in the evening that this took place. You will notice also that “there were other boats with him.” If you were a journalist, this would be some of the material that your editor would be expecting from you: “Don’t just write down the big thing, ‘Jesus went in a boat,’ but actually, give us a little bit more than that. People want to know what’s going on.” There were other boats. We’re also told that the squall was a “furious squall,” in verse 37; that the waves were actually breaking “over the boat”; and that this wasn’t something that was just a passing issue, but that the boat was in danger of being completely swamped, and therefore those in it. We’re then told where Jesus was in the boat: he was “in the stern.” We’re also told what he was doing in the boat: he was sleeping. And we’re also given the detail that he was “sleeping on a cushion.” And that’s quite remarkable! And then we’re told that the disciples woke him up, and they said to him, “Don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, got the thing sorted out, and then he said to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” And then they were completely freaked out, and they started to say to one another, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Okay?

The Lord who calms the storms is the same Lord who is able to calm the storms in our lives.

So, there are all these details there—the indication of eyewitness account. It’s good for us to think about this, because when we go back out into the community tomorrow, people will want to tell you, “Well, your Bible is a concoction. Just some people made it all up. It’s just a big invention, and you really shouldn’t pay any attention to it at all.” Most of the time, they never read the Bible themselves. They just read that in a magazine and decided to annoy you with it.

Now, let me ask you a question as well. As we look at this, why were the disciples where they were? Why were the disciples out on the lake? And why did they end up in the storm? Well, first of all, notice why they were not there. They were not in the middle of a storm, they were not facing this predicament, because they were disobedient, because they had been bad. They were not in the predicament because they had made foolish choices. We do know that we get ourselves in all kinds of messes as a result of making foolish choices. Our own lives testify to that, and the New Testament speaks to it as well.

But what we learn here is that it was as a result of their obedience that they found themselves in the eye of the storm. It was obedience to the word of Jesus that found them in the place that buffeted them and challenged them. And God is a God who, for his own purposes, leads his people into storms, leads his people into difficulty, leads his people into experiences that make them wonder whether we have any faith at all. You can’t read your Bible without being confronted with that, and this section makes it pretty clear.

Now, we don’t want to delay on anything tonight. Indeed, I think that the pace of the record is so good that it would be a real nonsense for me to string it out. So let’s just notice that this storm in verse 37 is a furious storm. I’m not going to try and impress you with all my knowledge of the geography of the area, as if somehow or another, on the few occasions that I’ve been on the Sea of Galilee, I was able to detect all of this information, I’ve stored it up in my mind, and I can produce it at the drop of a hat. Not for a moment!

But what had happened here, and what apparently happens on the Sea of Galilee, is similar to clear-air turbulence. You know clear-air turbulence; it’s why they say to you, “We suggest that you do as we do up here in the flight deck: that you keep your seat belt as least loosely fastened around you, in the unlikely event that we fly into something that we can’t see, that we can’t anticipate.” It’s very easy for them to do so when they see cells. They can see that both on their radar. They can see it out of the window, depending on the nature of the flight. But what they can’t see is clear-air turbulence.

And this particular lake was capable of something very similar. The geography of the area, the hills… It’s a thirteen-mile long, it’s seven and a half miles wide. It sits approximately 650 feet below the Mediterranean Sea. And as a result, when the cool air rushes down, for example, from Mount Hermon and the surrounding mountains and meets the hot air that’s coming up off the surface of the lake, then it is recorded both in the Bible and in secular history that the place is famous for these kinds of violent storms. And it must have been quite a violent storm for it to have caused those who were familiar with the sea to be as distressed as they were.

So, what was essentially a routine journey for them—“Let’s go across the lake,” there was nothing in that—led to this furious storm and led in turn to their cry for help. The boat was being swamped. They were clearly in great danger. And Jesus, who has apparently fallen asleep—presumably immediately, like my father-in-law. When he used to fly, he was asleep before ever anything… He never heard any of the announcements at all. He was long gone, and he just slept blissfully. I admired it greatly. And Jesus must have been doing something similar. In the boat, he’s been doing all of this talking, everything else: “Is there a cushion back here?” “Yes, we have one in the back there. You can use that.” He said, “Fine. I’ll use the cushion,” and he laid the cushion down, put his head on it, and before he knew, he was just fast asleep. And so they’ve got to go and wake him up.

You see, what had happened to them was that they had very quickly passed the point of their know-how. In fact, they had found out that their know-how wasn’t sufficient for this circumstance. They found that they were in a circumstance where they had lost control. Actually, they never had control, but the notion that they had control has now been completely taken from them. And so they go to Jesus, who is asleep, as Mark records for us, on the cushion, and they wake him up.

Now, if you have the impression, if I have the impression—and I have to be careful that I don’t fall foul of conjecture in this—but for myself, I can’t imagine that they just dispatched one; that they had a little committee, and they said, “Now, who would like to go and wake Jesus up?” and eventually one of them was elected, and then he went over to Jesus and just ever so slightly just pulled on him a little bit and shook him on the shoulder, and eventually Jesus stirred, and he said, “I’m sorry… I’m sorry to trouble you, but some of the others are getting very frightened. And, I mean, I’m cool with it. But I was nominated to come, and maybe you could do something to allay their fears? You don’t have to do it now, but sometime in the foresee… I mean, sometime, you know, before we get to the other side, sometime in the foreseeable future, maybe you could do something.” No. No, I don’t think it went like that at all. I think it was like, “Now, Jesus! Please! Quick! Do something! Look at us!”

It was that kind of encounter, that kind of storm—not a storybook storm, not a painting, but a flesh-and-blood reality that chilled them to the core and caused them to cry out for help to the only one that they thought was possibly able to remedy their circumstances.

And they must, as I say to you, have been phenomenally overwhelmed in order to find themselves in this predicament in this sea. And notice what they ask. This is the worst of all questions! This is a terrible question: “Teacher,” didáskale, “don’t you care if we drown?” Oh, ask Jesus something else, but don’t ask him this! “Don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus must have looked up into the eyes of the questioner and thought to himself, “Hey, I called you into my band, didn’t I? I wouldn’t have called you if I wasn’t going to take care of you. Don’t I care? The reason I’m in the boat is because I care. The reason I’m in the world is because I care. The reason that I’m going to go to the cross and die for you guys is because I care.”

But that’s why we started from Isaiah 40, those of you who were paying attention—which reduces the number considerably. Why did we start there? “Why do you complain, O Jacob, and why do you say, O Israel, ‘My circumstances are hidden from the Lord’?” Before we start to stand up in judgment on the disciples, let’s just be honest enough to recognize that we know this kind of question—that in the midst of the extremities of life, when the waves break over the bow, as it were, of our vessel, when we feel ourselves in danger of being swamped, we’re not always immediately going for verses from the Psalms simply to remind ourselves of truths that we’ve learned long since. But we may find ourselves, like the disciples, inquiring, “Don’t you care if we drown?”

You see, what had happened to these disciples was very straightforward. It can happen to us in an instant. And that was that the storm, which was the immediacy of their circumstances, so filled their minds that it came between them and the assurance of Jesus’ care for them. The storm—the reality of it, the chilling reality of it, the undeniable challenge that was represented in it—came between them and their assurance of Jesus’ care. And it caused them to lose sight, or lose sound, of Jesus’ word. Because Jesus’ word had been straightforward. In verse 35: “Let us go over to the other side.” Jesus didn’t say, “Let’s go out on the lake and see if we can drown ourselves.” Jesus said, “No, we’re going over to the other side.” That was his word: “Let’s go over to the other side.” Now they find themselves in the middle of the deal, and not only do they doubt the assurance of his love for them, but they doubt the reality of his word to them.

Isn’t that what happens to us? So, the times that we need to, as it were, lay hold of all of his promises, we’re tempted to step back from them. And the times when we most need to turn to his Word and find in it all the succor and strength and help that we require, we’re tempted to give up reading our Bibles! “Look, everything’s gone wrong! I don’t think I’m going to read my Bible now. I like to read my Bible when everything’s going right—I feel good, a nice cup of coffee and a nice day. But look, the whole thing’s hit the fan! What am I going to do now?” “Lord Jesus, don’t you care if we drown?”

Well, “he got up,” verse 39, and he “rebuked the wind and [he] said to the waves, ‘Quiet! [And] Be still!’” And “then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” Notice again the eye of detail here. It wasn’t simply that the wind began to die down while the billows continued to search. No! Hendriksen, commentating on this, says, “Winds and waves synchronize in the sublime symphony of a solemn silence.” In other words, it wouldn’t have been impressive if, over the next twenty or twenty-five minutes or so, everything finally calmed down. Because they would have been left saying to themselves, “Well, I know he stood up and he said something, but frankly… I mean, for the first five or seven minutes, I thought we were still curtains, you know? I mean, it’s only just calmed down now. Who knows whether he did it or he didn’t do it?” That wouldn’t be enough to settle their hearts, would it? No! “Wheesht,” he says, “quiet!”

Well, it’s an interesting thought, isn’t it, Jesus speaking to waves, Jesus speaking to a lake, Jesus speaking to the sea? Can the sea hear? How could the sea hear? Lakes can’t hear. Trees can’t hear.

This is Calvin. If in doubt, go to Calvin: “Not that the lake had any perception, but to show that the power of his voice reached the elements, which were devoid of feeling.”[6] “Not that the lake had any perception, but to show that the power of his voice reached” the very lake and “the elements, which were devoid of feeling.” Because what is actually happening here is that the lordship of Jesus over creation, his rebuke of the forces that apparently challenge and buffet, as we’ve seen in the demonic instances so far, are established clearly in the minds of the disciples.

So, when we read Genesis 1, it says, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”[7] So for God to stand on the deck and say, “Let the sea be calm,” the sea will be calm. And for the Jewish mind, they recognized… Because Jewish people were not actually sailors. They left that to the Phoenicians. The Jewish people were not known as sailors. They were not a seafaring people. For them, the sea represented challenge, represented mystery. In Daniel 7, it represented monsters! And one of the indications of God’s lordship and sovereignty was in his power over the elements, over the seas. So, for example, the psalmist speaks of God as gathering the water of the sea into jars and putting the deep in storehouses.[8]

So then, having calmed everything down, Jesus has a question for his disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” “Well,” you say, “but I thought, in verse 11, the secret of the kingdom of God had been given to the disciples?” Yes, it had! How’s it working for them? Hm? When push comes to shove, they find out where they really are. It’s a matter of degree. They have enjoyed the benefits of God’s revelation to them in Jesus. He’s taken them as his core group. He’s begun to unpack for them some of the mystery. But nevertheless, here, in the midst of this circumstance, they discover where they really are. And the circumstances reveal their lack of trust. And therefore, what we have is a salutary and a necessary lesson.

And then, finally, in verse 41: “They were terrified and [they] asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’” This is where we find out that the message is not the idea of “Jesus stilled the storm, and therefore, he can still the storm in your life as well.” Because actually, what happened was Jesus caused a storm, didn’t he? He stilled the natural storm on the lake, and he caused a spiritual storm in the hearts and minds of the disciples. He calmed the sea, and he stirred them up—and he stirred them up because they found themselves saying, “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?”

In every storm and in every trial of our lives, there is an opportunity for us to wonder again with the disciples concerning the identity and the authority and the majesty of Jesus.

We might have expected them to say, “Nice one, Jesus! We knew you could do this all along. That’s absolutely super! Just what we thought. Secret of the kingdom. Hey, hey, fabulous! You’re our man.” No! No, “Sheer awe swept over them,” as Phillips puts it. “Sheer awe swept over them.”[9] Because they had brought Jesus along—notice the little phrase there in verse 36— “just as he was, in the boat”: they left “the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.” Now they have to discover just who he is. Because in this incident, they’re given a glimpse of his majesty. It’s as if somehow or another, the lightning in the midst of their storm shines, and there’s a clarity to the circumstances that is there just for a moment before it is all enveloped again in the cloud and in the storm. And that’s exactly what has happened to them.

And so, I think the point of application ought to be this: in every storm and in every trial of our lives, there is an opportunity for us to wonder again with the disciples concerning the identity and the authority and the majesty of Jesus.

It ought to be no surprise to us that much of first-century Christian art depicts a boat in the sea. If you’ve ever looked at early Christian art in museums and in galleries and so on, you often find the boat in the sea. You find the fish as a sign as well. But the boat in the sea is routine. And what that picture was, or is, was a picture of the church in the world. And the early readers of Mark’s Gospel, who were buffeted by the oppression of Rome, who were threatened to be undone by the terrors that were breaking over them and would have swamped them, didn’t need a Sunday school lesson that said, “Jesus fixed that, and he’ll fix you too,” true as that may be. But they needed the lesson that you and I need, and that is that he is majestic, that he is King, that he is ruler of all nature. And whether by his intervention our cancer is cured, or whether it takes us prematurely from our perspective, whether the breakup in relationships is resolved in the way in which we desire or would design for ourselves, the very storm itself is an opportunity for us to make this discovery, which is vital in everything: that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, that he is the ruler of all nature, and that he is the majestic King.

I find myself singing choruses as I wrap this up, both of them coming from the ancient days in Glasgow. And one was the old hymn—yeah, I think we have it here, probably—“There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, no, not one! No, not one!”[10] So if you’re tempted to say, “Lord, don’t you care if I drown?” don’t let the storm get in between you and the assurance of his love, and don’t allow the circumstances to close down for you the promises of his Word. But rather, may these things, which are inevitable parts of life, drive us again to him.

And the other chorus was the old Sunday school chorus, “Do you want a pilot?”—that is, not a pilot of an aeroplane but a pilot who brings the boats into the harbor. I was in Portsmouth in England in June, and I noticed that there was a destroyer. Portsmouth is essentially one of the main bases for all of the Royal Navy. And as I was out walking on the shoreline one day, I noticed that a vessel was brought in, and there were two pilot boats that brought it in. And I happened to remark on it in the evening when I was speaking at this conference, and, of course, eventually someone comes and tells you everything. And I said, “It must be a pretty hard entry, or he must have been a pretty poor captain, that he needed two pilot boats to get him into the harbor.” And a lady came afterwards, and she said, “Oh no, you’re absolutely wrong.” She said, “That vessel was part of the Indian Navy, and the ship had come from one of the seaboard ports of India, and this was his first time in Portsmouth.” I mean, basically, she said, “Cut the guy a bit of slack,” you know. “He needed two pilots to get him in.” So I apologized, and then I thought, “Well,

Do you want a Pilot?
Signal then to Jesus;
Do you want a pilot?
Bid him come on board;
For he will safely guide
Across the ocean wide
Until at last you reach
The heavenly harbor.

And these are rough seas out there. We don’t want to go out and try it on our own, do we?

Father, thank you for the Bible. Thank you for this little record of your amazing power revealed before your disciples. Thank you for the encouragement we derive from realizing that they were feeble folks just like ourselves—that in the midst of the trauma and in the inescapable nature of their circumstances, at least from their perspective, they realized that their faith didn’t amount to much at all, and they needed to see again your majesty and your power.

And so do we, as we look out on the days that lie ahead, as the vessel of the church—both the local church and the church throughout the world—sits, as it were, in the seas and oceans of the world, buffeted and threatened, being swamped and overwhelmed. And we pray that we may not allow these events in life to obscure for us the reality of your redeeming love and the reliability of your unerring Word. So we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Isaiah 40:27–31.

[2] “Fairest Lord Jesus,” trans. Joseph A. Seiss (1677, 1873).

[3] See Mark 3:9.

[4] Mark 4:1 (NIV 1984).

[5] Mark 1:38 (paraphrased).

[6] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. William Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 1:425–26.

[7] Genesis 1:3 (NIV 1984).

[8] See Psalm 33:7.

[9] Mark 4:41 (Phillips).

[10] Johnson Oatman Jr., “No, Not One!” (1895).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.