Peace in the Boat

Peace in the Boat

TEXT: Mark 4:35-41

Peace in the storm… that’s an elusive thing that sounds like something I’d like; maybe you, too? Today we are looking at the story that prompted that phrase. Jesus is asleep in the boat while a storm rages. The disciples wake him and he calms the storm; all is well. But there’s more to it than that. In some ways this story has everything that we’ve been looking at for weeks in our “Jesus Among Us” series – the Kingdom of God, miracles, teaching, and Jesus at the center of it. There are also a lot of interesting details that I’ve missed before but noticed this time around.

Rather than the usual two or three point sermon I want to highlight seven interesting details from this story. And since there are so many, I’ll try to make some application as we go.

#1 Rest (vv.35-36)

We talked about this two weeks ago when we talked about the Sabbath. Jesus took time out from work, from ministry, to rest and spend time with God. Early on the morning after he healed Peter’s mother-in-law he went off by himself to pray and be alone with God. And when the crowds gathered, he asked the disciples to put out into the water in a boat so he could teach from there. It was from that setting that he told them he wanted to go to the other side. In fact, in verse 36 we read that he went “just as he was” – that’s the prior setting of teaching from the boat. So they leave the crowd and head toward the other side. It becomes apparent that Jesus is going to rest because he lays down and falls asleep. We’ve already had a whole sermon on that, but don’t miss the fact that Jesus continues to make time to rest and pray even though his work is critical to so many people. Think your job is important? Jesus was healing people and teaching about things that last forever, and he took time away to rest! And God commands us to do the same! Rest.

#2 Seek Jesus (v.36b)

Here’s another interesting detail: I had always thought that Jesus and the disciples left in one boat. But the end of verse 36 tells us that “other boats were with Him.” Did you know that? The whole crowd couldn’t follow him, though one time after the feeding of the 5000 the whole crowd walked around the edge of the lake in order to find him on the other side. This time, though, there were some others who had boats and they followed along. That’s new to me!

What happened to them? They aren’t mentioned again after this. Did they sink during the storm? Did they turn back when they – awake – saw the storm start? Were they there, in fact, as witnesses to what Jesus said and did, seeing yet another miracle when he told the storm to be still? So many questions and we don’t know the answer. But it’s a reminder that some people really sought after and followed Jesus wherever he went. Whatever their motive – his message or his miracles – they wanted to be where he was. Would that we were so interested in Jesus! Seek Jesus!

#3 Seek Peace (vv.37-38a)

You know what happened next: a big storm suddenly came upon them. And Jesus was and remained asleep. Why was that? Maybe he was that tired, that he could sleep through a storm. I hate to admit this, but I slept through Hurricane Hugo. Or rather, I woke up at my normal time and looked out the window and things were raining and blowing sideways. I was a college student at Davidson, just outside of Charlotte and I guess I was tired enough to not wake during the night. It wasn’t just a little wind; we read that “waves were breaking over the boat and it was taking on water.”

Or maybe he was perfectly at peace as the Son of God, knowing that he was not at risk from any storm. I know stress and anxiety can prevent sleep; it stands to reason that peace is conducive to resting well. In either event, I wonder if you (and I) sleep well when there are ‘storms’ in life. My guess is probably not! Stress and anxiety usually win out over tiredness. In fact, sometimes when I can’t sleep because of stress or anxiety, I’ll stay up very late rather than lying in bed, hoping that eventually the tiredness of my body will overcome the restlessness of my mind or spirit.

It seems like Jesus probably wants to lead us to another way! Seek peace.

#4 Pray… however you can! (v.38b)

So the storm came up and Jesus was sleeping. What do you do? Having read the story to the end, I suppose the best option would have been to simply carry on in faith, trusting God to provide. Or perhaps to pray for God’s help in the storm. If they did that, we aren’t told about. Next best maybe would have been to wake Jesus up and ask him for help or direction. That’s what I always thought happened in this story. But look again closely at verse 38. That’s not what they said. It’s more like a complaint: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Now maybe I’ve always read Matthew’s telling of this story, which includes, “Save us, Lord; we are dying!” (8:25) But Luke also doesn’t have the asking for help part and all three include the complaint. It seems like the gist of the waking him up was to complain and/or panic rather than ask for help or think that Jesus would or could do anything.

This was the one they had seen heal the sick and the one who had cast demonic spirits out of people. But that all seems out the window: “Don’t you care that were are about to die?!”

Nonetheless, and knowing how things turn out, I want to suggest that turning to God is always the right thing to do. Whether it is in faith (which Jesus commends) or in prayer, however formed, it’s the right thing. Prayer is communication with God and rightly trusts God. But there are examples of prayers of lament, struggle, and even doubt in scripture – just read prayers like Psalm 42:9, “I will say to God my rock, “Why have you forgotten me?” So, if you are facing or living through a storm, pray… however you can! If it’s a prayer of faith, great. If it’s a cry of desperation, that’s good, too. Even if it’s a “Don’t you care, God?” You are directing your prayers in the right direction and God hears them! Even if it’s just a cry or scream or something you can’t put words to, bring it before the Lord; scripture says that the Holy Spirit intercedes on your behalf. Pray… however you can.

#5 God with Us (v.39)

The first thing Jesus does upon waking is calm the wind and sea. He will speak to the disciples after that. What is especially significant with this miracle is that he speaks directly to the wind and sea. The word choice is so specific and personal that some scholars liken it to his rebuking and silencing of demonic spirits. He ‘rebukes’ the wind and sea and says, “Hush, be still.” And the wind dies down and the waters become perfectly calm. (v.39) But what is even more significant is that he does something only God can do. In our call to worship and first reading we read some of Psalm 107, written of those who do business on the waters. The fisherman would have known it well. In that Psalm those on the sea get in trouble and cry to the Lord, who “caused the storm to be still so that the waves of the sea were hushed.” (Ps. 107:28-29) God, who created the wind and the waves, has authority over them. All Jesus’ miracles demonstrate his authority, but this one seems especially direct in showing that he is God in the flesh. This is the same Jesus you and I trust and follow: Emmanuel, God with us.

#6 Fear or Faith? (v.40)

Now Jesus turns to them with a teaching moment. I think he has their attention! “Why are you afraid? How is it that you have no faith?” (v.40) Again, they have seen multiple miracles, things only explainable through the presence and power of God. Why would they not have trusted God in the storm? Or why would they have not wakened Jesus believing that he could help them? Why wake him only to complain? I mean, I get it; I’ve done the same thing. I’ve seen and known God’s faithfulness throughout my life, but all of a sudden something can knock all that memory and faith to the ground. As if God’s never seen this challenge.

Jesus’ words remind me that in the absence of faith fear can grow and dominate my thoughts and behaviors. Faith is not some mysterious advanced level for Christian mystics. If it were understanding how or why God does what He does, that would be different. But faith only seeks understanding, it isn’t the same as full understanding. Rather, faith is TRUST, trust in God’s power, love, justice, faithfulness, wisdom, and more. It is trust that God IS God. Fear loses its hold over us when we have faith. If you need to dig into that, spend some significant time in Psalm 27. We’ve done entire weekend retreats and sermon series on that one Psalm. It reminds us that faith is greater than fear because God is greater than the things we fear.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?
(Psalm 27:1)

Why are you afraid? Where is your faith? In whom do you trust?

#7 The Awe of Encountering God (v.41)

If you thought the disciples were afraid before, that was nothing. They had seen storms before. They had seen high waves and felt the fear of nature. But now we read that they “became very much afraid.” It’s a different ‘afraid’ than at the storm, thought. Jesus had asked them why they were deiloi (fearful, timid, afraid) but here in verse 41 they are phobon (afraid; shaken to the core; existentially afraid). In one sense the two words for ‘afraid’ could be interchangeable, but in this context they are different. The second ‘very much afraid’ is a response to realizing they were in the presence of the Lord. They ask the question, “Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey Him?” They knew full well that only God could do this thing.

Sometimes I have distinguished the “fear of the Lord” as a kind of reverential awe as opposed to what we normally think of as fear. But I think I can go too far in that direction. This story, especially ending here, points to something I think we lose sight of about God. Realize the disciples had just faced a life-threatening storm. They were worried for their lives, even to the point of waking and berating Jesus for not caring about them. But that paled in comparison to realizing just who Jesus was. Even having heard the teachings and seen the miracles, they had not yet seen it to this degree. This is more like Isaiah 6 where Isaiah encounters God and says, “Woe is me; I am undone!”

I think there is a distinction to be made there for us as well. Some of us have grown up in the church or in Christian families. We’ve heard the stories and even believed them: Jesus was the Son of God and came to teach us about salvation, God’s love, the Kingdom, and more. He is worth trusting and following. But all that is not the same as a personal encounter with the living God through Jesus Christ. That’s one of the things parents face with raising children in the faith and in the church. We can teach all the things, but we can’t create that encounter with Jesus. That’s between God and the individual. That encounter can be as gentle and healing as a mother’s touch on a sick child or it can be as powerful and undoing as a thunderstorm or the stillness after the storm!

And I don’t want to make anyone doubt the legitimacy of your faith. If you haven’t been brought to your knees by an encounter with God, don’t think that you don’t know God. Again, God can meet you in a big way or as a “still, small voice.” But what I do want to lift up is the awe of encountering God as God, not just as a bunch of beliefs or behaviors. God introduced Himself to us as a person in Jesus Christ and invites us to follow personally and then corporately as those who trust Jesus. The disciples would get there; they were early on yet in following. Even at the cross all but one scattered and hid. But eventually they gave their lives fully to following and serving Jesus. And I imagine for all of them, this particular stormy night was a significant event in cultivating the faith to do so.

So if you find yourself in a storm, or WHEN you find yourself in a storm, remember this story and how it unfolded. There are number of entry points into the story and ways it can inform and bless your faith and your life. And even if your faith is not fully-formed, know that God sees you, is with you, and loves you more than you can imagine. Amen.

Some Music Used

  • Preludes
    • Perfect Peace (Youngblood)
    • Choir: Like a River in My Soul (Osiek)
    • My Prayer (Eric Vanderheide soloist; Rick Bean composer)
    • Choir: Peace I Leave with You
    • It is Well – Rick Bean, jazz piano
  • CHOIR: To First Seek the Kingdom
  • The Lord’s My Shepherd (Psalm 23) (Townend)
  • It is Well (Bethel)
  • Eternal Father, Strong to Save
  • Postlude: Be Still My Soul (Rick Bean, jazz piano)