In Mark 4, Alistair Begg gleans six simple observations and applicable lessons about who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him. Sudden, unexpected storms arise, even in the lives of obedient believers. True conversion does not obliterate our human frailties and faltering faith, but believers can take comfort in knowing the tender patience, compassion, and steadfast hold of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the storms of life.
Let’s take our Bibles and turn together to Mark chapter 4, to the portion of Scripture that we read earlier. We began our worship this morning by reading from the words of the 145th Psalm, which are printed on the front of the bulletin. I think the reading there goes up to about the seventh verse, and if you were to read further in the psalm, you would come to these words:
The Lord upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
And as we have been going through our time of worship this morning, it would seem, in the singing of the hymns and in the nature of the worship, that there is a very definite theme running through all that has been sung and all in which we’ve shared. And on account of that, I want to turn our attention this morning to a classic illustration provided for us—not only in Mark’s Gospel, but you find it in the other Gospels—of this truth of the fact that the Lord upholds those who fall and that he lifts up those who are bowed down.
Our study this morning is of a devotional nature, and my desire in it—prayerful desire in it—has been that it might result in our being taken up afresh with the Lord Jesus himself, not in some sentimental fashion but rather as a result of having our minds stirred anew to the truths concerning Jesus and the wonder of what it is to know him as Savior and friend. It surely must have been on account of this that Paul said to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ.” And on other occasions we’re told to stir up our thoughts by way of a pure remembrance of Jesus, so that we may be taken up anew with the wonder of who he is, that we might be able to say the words of Song of Solomon and apply them to Christ: “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” That we might be able to take the words of the hymn writer who wrote the hymn, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear”—John Newton—and remind ourselves that Jesus is my “Shepherd, Brother, Friend, my Prophet, Priest, and King, my Lord, my Life, my Way, my End”—therefore, that he might “accept the praise which we bring.”
So that’s the focus of where we’re going this morning, and I hope that it will prove to be, in the purposes of God, a word to many a heart. The troubled nature of life that surrounds us and some of the significant factors which some of us deal with as individuals makes a study such as this of supreme importance. It’s possible, you see, for us to give talks on medicine and yet to have grown cold with our patients. It’s possible for us to be able to articulate the essentials of marital bliss and yet to be distanced from our loved one. It’s possible for us to be able to speak eloquently on the doctrines and principles of Christianity and yet to come to worship on a day like this devoid of a love relationship with Jesus Christ.
So, as we trace our way through what has been a familiar story for many of us since infancy, I trust that its familiarity will not distance us from it nor make us immediately assume in the reading of it that we know all there is to discover in it. I make no apology for the simplicity of this study. Indeed, I hope that it will be supremely understandable by all.
I want to notice six points in this little scenario described for us here in Mark’s record, and they are straightforward, and I’ll give them to you.
First of all, we notice that the boat “was nearly swamped.” We’re told that in verse 37: the boat “was nearly swamped.” Now, we’re also told how this had come about, because, as we’re told at the beginning of verse 37, “a furious squall” had come up. If you read the parallel passage in Matthew chapter , you discover that Matthew adds the interesting note that it came up “without warning”—that it was plain sailing for a bit, and then, as is possible in that context there, down through the wind tunnels, as it were, of the surrounding hills, there was swept up a storm. The Sea of Galilee being not unlike Lake Erie insofar as it is rather shallow, and therefore, it doesn’t take much time at all for it to go from being becalmed to actually being a storm-tossed inferno. And the result of the gravity of the storm was that the boat was taking in water, so much so that it appeared highly likely that it would be completely swamped.
Lesson number one: this incident serves to remind us that following Jesus does not insulate from the storms of life. Following Jesus provides no insulation, in categorical terms, from the storms of life.
Now, it may be that this early on in events, the disciples thought it could, and perhaps they thought it would. Maybe they had begun to imagine, since they had seen Jesus already do miraculous things, that if they simply stayed close to Jesus, all would be well. They would enjoy smooth journeys, they would enjoy fine weather, they would know an easy course, and they would experience freedom from trouble. And if that was at all in their thinking, then they would have been the forerunners of many who today look for such guarantees on the path of faith. And it is not uncommon to hear the life of Christ described in such terms as to make people believe that if only they will do their part, which is rather minimal, then Jesus will do his part, which is rather large, and we may be able to anticipate life with no prospect of furious squalls, no danger of difficulties, and no notion that ever the boat, the vessel of our life, could be swamped.
And if you have come to worship this morning believing only in a God who prevents you from being swamped, and you’re swamped, explain to me what you’re going to do. You’re either going to run, or you’re going to have to find a different god, or you’re going to have to come to a different understanding of God. And if you believe in a God who prevents his children from ever knowing difficulty, then you don’t believe in the God of the Bible. You don’t believe in the God who had Jesus as his Son, who was forced to experience extreme difficulty in his life and finally died an ignominious death, nailed upon a cruel cross. So let us lay down as axiomatic that to follow Jesus does not provide insulation from difficulties in life.
And indeed, when we look at what we’re told here, it was as a result of their obedience that they faced the furious squalls. Jesus said, verse 35, “Let[’s] go over to the other side.” And so, “leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.” In other words, Jesus said, “We’re going to the other side.” They said, “Fine, we’re going to the other side.” It wasn’t that Jesus said, “We’re going to the other side,” and they said, “No, we’re not,” and as a result of saying “No, we’re not,” they got themselves in difficulty. It was a result of saying “Yes, we are” that they got themselves in difficulty.
Do you have a theology that can cope with that? You see? So many people say, “Oh, you’re in difficulty? Then you must be… done something dreadfully wrong. You must have turned right when Jesus said, ‘Turn left.’” No. They turned right. Jesus said, “Turn right,” and before they know where they are, they’re aboard a vessel that is about to be swamped.
In the place of obedience, those of us who have lived the Christian life for any time at all must affirm from the experience of our lives that there will come to our days furious squalls without warning. The sudden and unexpected loss of health. The routine visit for the checkup to the hospital, followed by the devastating news that it was not as routine as we might have hoped. The telephone call which brings word that we have lost a loved one. The invitation into our boss’s office that gives us the news that we no longer will be working in the same department, and indeed, we may no longer be working. The sorrow of parting with loved ones, and the pain of looking into their face and wishing we could keep them, and knowing that we can’t. The boat was nearly swamped. And such is the experience of many a life this morning, because following Jesus does not insulate against life’s storms.
The second thing we notice is not simply that the boat was almost swamped but that the Master was sound asleep. Now, that’s not what we would like, is it? I mean, if we’re going to get swamped, we would expect that he would at least stay awake. Look at verse 38: “Jesus was in the stern.” I think that’s the back, right? And he was sleeping.
Lesson number two: Jesus was a real man, and therefore, he understands the struggles we face. He was asleep, and, says Mark, he was asleep “on a cushion,” or on a pillow. It’s profound, isn’t it? That he who made the universe—he who could have, if he had chosen, turned wood into a special substance fit for his head so that he might rest—must have turned around and said to one of the disciples, “Anybody got a cushion or a pillow in here? I’m gonna have a sleep.” The Lord of Glory slept! And he slept on a pillow. Why? ’Cause when you put your head down on the back of a boat, it’s awful hard. And if you get your ear bent underneath you, especially if your ears are like mine, you might wake up and never be the same again. So you always have to make sure that when you take the cushion, you make sure your ears are in the right position when you lie down.
I don’t mean to be facetious in any way, but Jesus, in the reality of his humanity, had a body just like ours. Have you ever worked that out? Jesus had a body just like us. That’s why he got thirsty, that’s why he was hungry, and that’s why he got tired. And that’s why he can express sympathy. If he did not know fear, if he did not know fatigue, if he did not know hunger, if he did not know pain, if he did not know emptiness, how in the world could he ever be the one to whom we run today in the experience of such eventualities in life? So when we look at the simple truth that the Master was sound asleep, we are reminded of the fact that in his humanity we have one who understands our weaknesses and one who is no stranger to our predicaments.
Are you here this morning, and you feel alone and neglected? Then Jesus knows how you feel: “He came [to] his own, and his own received him not.” At the end of the day, even his own disciples deserted him and fled. So there is no experience of neglect or desertion that we might ever know that hasn’t wrung the heart of Christ.
Are you here this morning, and you feel yourself to be misunderstood, to be slandered, to be misrepresented? Then Jesus knows exactly how you feel. For he was abused. He was despised. He was called a glutton. He was called a winebibber. He was called a friend of publicans and sinners—which was actually true; it wasn’t an insult. He was called so many different things that misrepresented the wonder and beauty of his character.
Are you here this morning, and you’re aware of the trials which come into your life as a result of the attacks of the Evil One? Heinous thoughts from your past, accusations that come into your life, and you wonder why and how? Remember that Jesus wrestled for forty days and forty nights in that wilderness experience, and then he faced the Evil One himself.
Have you come here this morning, and your mind is in agony and it’s in turmoil? Could it compare to the agony and turmoil of Christ as he cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s a simple truth, but it’s this: there is no one better suited to deal with the predicament you and I may face than the Master whom we find sound asleep on a cushion. It was on account of his humanity that he needed to sleep, and it was on account of his deity that he could sleep.
Thirdly, the disciples were really afraid. The boat was nearly swamped, the Master was sound asleep, the disciples were really afraid. Look at them. I mean, can’t you imagine them all scurrying around? I imagine them talking to one another, saying, “No, you wake him up. I’m not waking him up.” And then when somebody did wake him up, claiming that they never thought it was a good idea to wake him up in the first place; it was, you know, Peter’s idea or something. So these big, brave men, in the midst of the sea, are freaked out. And so they wake him up—verse 38—and they say, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Lesson number three: true followers of Jesus Christ still ask dumb questions. True followers of Jesus Christ still know their frailty and their fears. Now that ought to be an encouragement to some of us who’ve spent a week asking dumb questions, right? Because we may have chided ourselves that if we were a real follower of Jesus Christ, we wouldn’t feel this way, and we wouldn’t ask this question. Isn’t that how we’re often made to feel? You know, “If I really knew what this was about, I wouldn’t be asking this stuff.” Well, here, look: they could look him in the eye, they could eat breakfast with him every day, they could observe his miracles firsthand, they were right by his side, and where are they? They’re in panic stations. They’re guilty of unbelief. Look at them: “We’re going to drown.” They didn’t believe that he could keep them safe. They’re guilty of distrust: “Don’t you care if we drown?” They’re guilty of impatience. They could at least have waited until he wakened up to tell him. But because of their distrust and their unbelief, their impatience took over.
How like us, so many times. As long as all is well and plain sailing, as long as the flaps have come up as they’re supposed to come up, all is fine, you know. But as soon as the turbulence hits, soon as the winds and the waves get up, it reveals to ourselves our weaknesses. And the thing that I noticed so clearly as I was reading through this is this simple truth: that Peter and James and John and the rest of them were not so spiritual that they couldn’t be afraid. And as long as you and I live in this body—as long as we live this side of heaven—we’re going to be confronted by our own frailty.
We only need to read the history of God’s people to recognize that that’s the case. One illustration: Abraham. We read the story of Abram, and God comes to him and says, “Abram, I want you to get up and go out.” He didn’t tell him where; he just told him when. And so we’re told, as we read in the account in Genesis, that Abram got up and he went out. Tremendous faith!
But you remember when they discovered that there was a famine and they were going to have to go down into Egypt for food? And when they went down into Egypt, he recognized that his wife was so cute that somebody would probably want to steal her from him? And so the great hero of faith gets frightened. Faith’s heroes know fear. He was then distrustful, and he decided that God wouldn’t be able to care for him, and so he contrives his own plan. And he tells Sarah, “When we get down here, say you’re my sister. That way, you may get in trouble, but I’ll save my neck.” Real nice guy. But what was it did it to him? It was that although he was on the path of faith, he was tyrannized by his fears.
Now, this morning, as we look at this passage, don’t let’s become super spiritual and say, “My, my, what a bunch of duds these disciples were.” Let’s be honest enough to admit that if we had been present, we wouldn’t have been any different from the boys in the boat. We would have been right there scrambling around with them.
Now, since we recognize the truth in ourselves, there’s a subpoint to this. If I recognize in myself such frailty, such fear, and such faltering, and if I want God to tolerate it in me, then what right do I have not to tolerate it in you? And as you think this through, recognize that there are flaws in the most priceless diamonds that come from South Africa. But the fact that they’re flawed does not negate their value on the world market. They may not get as much, but they’re still very, very good—even flawed. And those who seek to follow after Jesus Christ, those who are our brothers and sisters this morning in the family of faith, earnestly contending to go on, are flawed. Is that a surprise? No. Why? ’Cause we’re flawed! And we want God to tolerate our flaws, and he wants us to tolerate the flaws of one another. And as you look upon these disciples in this panic-stricken condition, let us recognize that while we hold tenaciously to the fact that one is not a true Christian until they become genuinely converted, we must also recognize that a man or a woman may be converted and yet liable to doubts and to fears. The hymn writer says, “When I fear my faith will fail, [He] will hold me fast.”
So, the boat was nearly swamped, the Master was sound asleep, the disciples were really afraid, and fourthly, the storm was completely stilled. Verse 39: “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ [And] then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” With a word, he silenced the issue.
Now, we shouldn’t be surprised at this, because, as we read in John’s prologue that Jesus Christ was the creative agent of the universe, we read, “He was with God in the beginning,” and “through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Think about that. He made the sea. So why would the sea ever be a problem to Jesus? Why would it ever be an issue? Now, he could understand why these disciples would be fearful, but when he addressed the matter, it was simply a matter of saying, “Would you cut that out, please?” And the sea obeyed him.
Now, you can explain that away as you choose, because you don’t like to believe in a God who performs miracles. But if you want to believe in the God of the Bible, then you believe in a God who performs miracles. You believe in a Jesus whom Paul says, when he writes to the Colossians, is the one who not only created everything, but he is the one in whom everything holds together. In Colossians chapter 1, we read, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” In Jesus, everything holds together. Even the most disparate features of our lives hold together in Christ. That is not to say that the difficulties are removed, that is not to say that the pain has gone, that is not to say that fear has been obliterated, but it is to say that because Christ is all-powerful, we may trust in him to give us victory over the storms we face.
Do you believe this morning that, having come to worship on this day and in this place—got up, got dressed, brushed your teeth, did all the things, sat down beside the person next to you, did as good a job as you can of covering up what the real issues of your life really are—and hidden away somewhere in your handbag—in your purse, ladies, or hidden in your wallet, Mr. Businessman—is a ton of trouble?
Do you believe that Jesus Christ is able to deal with the storms in your life? And if you do, will you not let him? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is able to remove the clouds of guilt with which Satan comes to tyrannize us? The accusations which he brings? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is able to deal with a broken heart? That he is able to fill the gaps of unrequited love? That he is able to touch a weary spirit? That he is able to deal with an anxious soul? That he is able to bring perspective to an ambitious man?
See, what I’m really saying, in essence, this morning is—and I’m saying it first to my own heart, and I want you to know that—I’m saying this: I need a fresh view of who Jesus is. I need to see him as the creator of the universe, as the calmer of the sea, as the one in whom everything holds together. And then I need to see the troubles and potential perplexities of my existence in light of the wonder of who he is. We need a bigger view, a larger view, of the power of Christ, the power that calmed the storm.
Fifthly and penultimately, notice that the question was then tenderly asked. The storm was completed stilled, and the question was tenderly asked. Notice that his rebuke was for the wind and the waves; it was not for his disciples. He rebuked the wind. He didn’t rebuke them.
Now, I find that remarkable. Because no teacher ever had such a slow class as Jesus had in these characters. No teacher’s patience could ever been as stretched to the limits of endurance that he experienced with this group. And correlatively, no scholars ever had such a patient and forgiving teacher.
For example, just in Mark’s Gospel, if you turn to Mark 9:34, what do we find these students in his class asking? And he “came to Capernaum”—verse 33—and “when he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’” The kids in his class were arguing, “but they kept quiet.” Why? Because they didn’t want him to know what they’d been arguing about. As if he didn’t know! “Because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” It’s really embarrassing, you know? Really embarrassing. ’Cause we can really identify with it.
Mark 6:52. Look at his scholars now. He’s just fed five thousand people, plus women and children. He’s done this as a result of being prepared to use five loaves and two fish. That’s incredible. Do you think if you’d seen that, you’d believe anything after that? Sure. Do you think if immediately after that he’d started walking on the water, you would have said, “This is it, man. You know, tremendous! Here he comes, walking on the water.” Well, look at what we’re told: “When they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost.” What a group! What a bunch! What a bunch of people to try and turn the world upside down with! And they were all freaked out again—“terrified,” verse 50. And then he gets in the boat, and they were all “completely amazed,” because, Mark tells us—verse 52—“they had[n’t] understood about the loaves.” Why? Because they had hard hearts.
If you turn into Luke’s Gospel and to chapter 9, you discover them hard at work on another angle when you look at the fifty-fourth verse. Verse 51:
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, [and they] went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. [And] when the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
What a great idea, you know? As if they could call fire down from heaven! They said, “Let’s torch the place!” Then, “Who’s that? There’s a ghost here!”
What a wonder that Jesus did not rebuke these cloth-eared characters, but he chose instead to rebuke the waves! Lesson: let us not be so quick to rebuke those who do not believe all that the prophets have spoken, to rebuke those who are slow in heart. He did not reject them for their unbelief. He did not dismiss them for their cowardice. Instead, he displayed compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience. I say again, no teacher ever had such a slow class, and yet no class ever had such a patient teacher.
And when it was all over, coming through the crucifixion and arriving on the other side, he might have gathered them together and given them a real talking to—said to them, “Aha! Here I am. You didn’t expect me. No wonder, you bunch of dead brains. Why did you run away? Why did you go and hide? What a group of characters you are. Couldn’t one of you have stayed? What was that slumber party you had in the garden of Gethsemane, for goodness’ sake? Call that a prayer meeting? You were all asleep. And all I said was, ‘Couldn’t you watch for one hour?’” But none of that! None of that! Instead, a breakfast on the shoreline. He prepares it and calls them to it. A walk in the sand with Peter: “Hey, Peter, let me ask you: Do you love me, Peter?” “Lord, you know. You know.” “Hey, let me ask you again, Peter. Do you love me?”
He comes to Thomas, the doubter, that we would have been prepared to say to, “Oh, go ahead, Thomas. Take a walk, man. If you can’t understand it now, you’ll never understand it.” But not Jesus. He comes and he says, “Okay, Thomas, here’s the deal: you can put your fingers in my hands, and you can put your hands in my side. Just stop doubting and believe.”
And when it was all said and done, and he takes his leave of this scattered group, he lifts up his hands on blessing upon them, and he is taken up into heaven. What a word to those of us who have responsibilities for people, to remind ourselves that Jesus cares for the least as well as for the greatest and that he never deserts those who are in his care.
Finally, you will notice that their reaction was hardly surprising. “Why are you so afraid?” he said. “Do you still have no faith?” How that question must have reverberated through them, the way it reverberates through some of you this morning. Because the answer is, “No, I don’t have faith.” And you needn’t stay like that another day. But look at their reaction: “They were terrified and [they] asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”
The manifestation of the power of Jesus created fear and wonder. That fear and that wonder is missing in our horizontal world. That fear and wonder is missing, the element of transcendence. The wonder of the psalmist’s cry: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou [should visit] him?” “Why, oh God, would you leave me to this day? Why would you spare me to this day? Why would you give me breath to this day?” They didn’t go on a television program. They didn’t write a book. They didn’t do a tape series. They fell down in wonder and in fear.
Can I ask you a question this morning? Have you ever, once in your life, ever fallen before Christ in fear and in wonder? Have you ever, Mr. Businessman, got flat on your face in the floor, in the privacy of your room and of your life, and cried out to God for his mercy upon you? Or do you think you did it yourself? Do you have such a short memory?
Jesus Christ is our friend, but God is transcendent, and it’s the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom—the fear which these men knew, which didn’t distance them from the Master but drew them in.
I say to you in conclusion this morning that the gospel is not ultimately a collection of doctrines. It is a revelation of a person in Jesus. We can talk about salvation, and that’s fine, but let’s talk about our Savior. We can talk about redemption, but let’s talk about our Redeemer. We can talk about justification, but let’s talk about our Jesus.
Here in this little incident, nestled at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, is the reminder that Jesus is a living Christ, he is a realistic Savior, he is a genuine friend, and he is an unchanging companion. And when once we get a sight of that, what other response could ever be accurate and real enough than to say, “You know what, Lord? I want you to take my life, and I want you to let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. I want you to take all my moments and all my days. I want you to take my money. I want you to take my family. I want you to take my future. I want you to take it all.”
The boat was nearly swamped. The Master was sound asleep. The disciples were really scared. The stormed was completely stilled. The question was tenderly asked. And the reaction was hardly surprising.
 Psalm 145:14 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 145:9 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 145:18 (NIV 1984).
 2 Timothy 2:8 (NIV 1984).
 Song of Solomon 2:16 (KJV).
 John Newton, “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” (1779). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Matthew 8:24 (NIV 1984).
 See Hebrews 4:15.
 John 1:11 (KJV).
 See Luke 7:34.
 See Matthew 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13.
 Matthew 27:46 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 12:1 (paraphrased).
 See Genesis 12:10–13.
 Ada Ruth Habershon, “When I Fear My Faith Will Fail” (1906).
 John 1:2–3 (NIV 1984).
 Colossians 1:15–17 (NIV 1984).
 Mark 6:49 (NIV 1984).
 See Luke 24:25.
 Matthew 26:40 (paraphrased).
 See John 21:9–10.
 John 21:15–16 (paraphrased).
 John 20:27 (paraphrased).
 See Luke 24:50–51.
 Psalm 8:4 (KJV).
 See Proverbs 9:10.
 Frances Ridley Havergal, “Take My Life and Let It Be” (1874). Paraphrased.
Copyright © 2020, 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.