Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is episode 70 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last episode, I gave an overview of the parables that Jesus taught and why He taught them. There were several important points I made related to how we interpret them, but perhaps the main thing I hope you took away was that Jesus is NOT redefining or reworking what the Jews understood the kingdom of God to be. He’s not saying that the kingdom is a spiritual reality that was coming through His ministry, nor was it a proclamation that God was becoming king and re-taking ownership of the world through Jesus. He was simply clarifying who would actually inherit the promise of the kingdom. This is the same theme of John the Baptist’s message, and this has been the same theme of Jesus’ ministry up to this point as well. Remember, according to Mark 4, all of Jesus’ disciples understood the meaning of the parables because He explained them. They weren’t trying to figure out what they meant. This is reflected in their teaching later on in the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament.
Well today we’re going to look at the next scene the Gospels record for us, and that’s the calming of the storm. I absolutely love this scene, it’s probably one of my favorites in the Gospels. Let’s read from Mark 4:
"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 4:35–38 ESV)
Mark tells us that it is on the same day as the speaking of the parables that this event happens. Jesus had spoken them to the crowds and then went inside and explained them to His disciples. Let’s look at our map for a second. Jesus likely was in his hometown of Capernaum, and then when evening came He wanted to go across to the other side of the sea of Galilee. As we’ll see in the next episode, Jesus and the disciples would eventually land in the region of the Gerasenes. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this would have been because of different spellings in different Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, but it probably would have been somewhere in this region.
So Jesus gets in the boat with His disciples, they leave the crowd, and they launch out. And as they sailed, Jesus fell asleep in the stern of the small vessel. We aren’t exactly sure what the boat was like, but some have speculated it might have been similar to a fishing boat that archaeologists unearthed in the Sea of Galilee in 1986. This particular boat was 26-1/2 feet long, 7-1/2 feet wide and 4-1/2 feet high. It was probably one the Sea of Galilee's largest class of ships. Fore and aft sections were most likely decked, and it probably had a mast, meaning it could be both sailed and rowed. Now there is no evidence that links Jesus and His disciples to this particular boat, but what’s cool about the find is that it does give us a little bit of an idea as to what boats were like in the first century.
Mark tells us that Jesus was asleep in the back on a cushion, and as He slept a great storm arose on the Sea of Galilee. Because of the unique terrain around the sea, sudden windstorms like what we read about here were not uncommon. The lake’s surface is approximately 1,280 feet below the surrounding hills and 690 feet below sea level. The sea measures 13 by 7.5 miles and has about 30 miles of shoreline. It's because of this dramatic drop in elevation that storms form.
Well, the storm is raging and the boat is filling up with water. Remember, many of these guys in the boat are experienced fishermen, fishermen who have fished on the very lake they are crossing probably many times before. And they are freaking out here, assuming that they are done for and that they’re going to die. How crazy was this storm that experienced fishermen were this scared? Now all three of the Synoptic Gospels record the miracle that ensues. Let’s keep reading in Mark:
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 4:39–41 ESV)
In this scene we see such a beautiful juxtaposition of Jesus’ humanity and His divinity. In one moment, Jesus is asleep on a pillow because He is so tired from His day of ministry. Remember, He didn’t use His own power as God to shield Himself from the human experience. He is fully and completely human - His body became fatigued and hungry just like ours. But in the next moment, Jesus calms the storm and the entire sea with a word. Metaphorically, the creation recognized it’s creator’s voice. And the disciples now have another reason to freak out. Mark says they were filled with great fear. Why? I believe they realized that the One in the boat was far more frightening than the storm pounding on them from the outside. Jesus is clearly the greater of the two magnitudes - Creator and creation. As we will continue to see throughout our journey through the Gospels, the disciples are undergoing a process of discovering the true identity of the One they thought they knew so well. Remember back in episode 45 when we looked at John 1 and the disciples’ confession of Jesus as the messiah? Well here they discover that there’s more to Jesus than just being the Messiah. What do they say? “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
I think it’s important to see that the disciples’ journey was not in believing that Jesus was the Messiah. They started out with that. Though as we will see, that belief was tested. But their bigger journey was discovering the fullness of who He really is - His divinity. The boundary lines of their understanding were expanded again and again and Jesus just continued to shatter them. Just when they were lulled into seeming understanding of Him by His humility, we see instances like this one where the enormity of His identity comes into view. That’s the journey they are on, and as we’ll see, by the end of the Gospels they are worshipping Him.
This scene from the Gospels is probably one of the more familiar ones to us, but I want to bring it down to a more personal level to help you meditate on it and give you a sense of how dramatic it was. Imagine spending time with Jesus throughout a regular, ordinary day. He did some teaching, the crowds are just teeming around him, and then you get in your car with Him and He gets in the back seat. Picture your own vehicle and what it would be like to look in your rear view mirror and see Jesus in the back seat, sleeping. That’s how near He came. We can’t forget that. At one time in history, God in the flesh was so near - you could watch His chest go up and down as He slept. And He’s just in your back seat as you’re driving along. Let’s say you’re driving somewhere a few hours away, and all of a sudden you’re on the flat, boring plains and a storm arises out of nowhere. If you’ve ever driven through a severe storm with your car, you know how terrifying it can be. And all of a sudden a tornado appears in your path and it’s heading right towards you. And guess what, Jesus is still in your back seat, sleeping. So you scream and yell and wake Him up - “Jesus, we’re going to die!!! A tornado is about to hit us! Don’t you care?” And what does Jesus do? He wakes up, puts down the window, and says “peace! be still!”. And in a single moment, the storm is gone and it’s blue sky in front of you and you’re just driving along again. And Jesus puts the window back up and says “why were you afraid? Didn’t you know who I was?”
Now that’s what happened in this scene, and this is why we have to meditate on the Gospels. We have to get past these events as merely Sunday school stories. We’ve got to put ourselves in the scene and carry it over to our context so that we feel the indescribable nearness of Jesus and How close He came in His humanity. For the disciples, this event was not something they just passed over without any emotion. It was so real to them, and through meditation, we have to go there. It’s not complex - we just talk to Jesus, imagine what it was like, and trust the aid of the Holy Spirit to make the Gospels come alive to us and make Jesus a real person rather than just an idea. He’s really going to be on the earth again, and we really will see Him with our own eyes just like Israel did in the first century.
Well I want to finish this episode today by talking about the Old Testament content for this event. Because of our Western culture’s saturation in Greek and Platonic thought, we often wrongly assume that this storm was started by a force we sometimes call Mother Nature, and that Jesus had to override that force and “rebuke” the bad storm. But that’s not the way the Bible presents God at all, and that’s not the way we should understand what’s going on in this scene. According to Scripture, God actively presides over His creation, sustaining all things moment by moment. Satan wasn’t in control of the storm, God was. And some react to that statement asking if it’s possible for Jesus to rebuke Himself. I don’t think that’s what’s happening here either. This may be a very new idea to some of you, and I certainly can’t make a biblical case for it all in a couple of minutes. But I’ve linked a teaching in the description below if that interests you. Check out this verse from Psalm 107:
"they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders."
(Psalm 107:24–32 ESV)
Do you see what the Psalmist is saying here? The Lord is the one who commanded and raised the storm, and then He was the one who made the storm be still. Undoubtedly the disciples had this psalm in mind at some point after they had experienced it. Once again, their circuits were fried as they slowly began to realize who Jesus really was - the very God of Israel Himself.
In the next episode we’ll find ourselves on the other side of the sea meeting up with a demonized man and watching Jesus heal him. Until then, you can go back and find any episodes you’ve missed on my website at www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and I hope to see you next time!