As I’ve studied “big questions” over the past couple of weeks, one in particular stuck in my mind. It’s a question the disciples asked Jesus during a big storm while they were crossing the Sea of Galilee in boat.
Now a great windstorm developed and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was nearly swamped. But he was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. They woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” So he got up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Be quiet! Calm down!” Then the wind stopped, and it was dead calm. And he said to them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?” They were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey him!”Mark 4:35-41, NET
There are a few questions in this story. The disciples ask Jesus, “Don’t you care that we are all about to die?” I’m not sure they even expected Him to do anything other than wake up and reassure them. But then He calmed the storm, and had questions for them. He asked, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?” From His perspective, there’d never been anything to worry about. That the disciples were worried showed they didn’t yet fully trust in Him or His power. Then the final question is one the disciples asked among themselves: “Who then is this?” Typical rabbis could not order a storm to stop and have it obey. This teacher they were following was clearly different than the usual prophets or rabbis.
Commander and Creator
The Jews of Jesus’s day, including His disciples, were typically very familiar with the words of the Old Testament. Some of those words likely came to mind during this storm and miracle. In Job, God describes Himself as the one who “laid the foundations of the earth,” “shut up the sea with doors,” and “made clouds its garment” (Job 38:1-11). Psalms describe Him as the one who “walks on the wings of the wind” and “makes lightnings with the rain” (Psalms 104:3; 135:7). In the prophets, He’s the one who keeps the sea and its waves in check, causes the waves to “stir up and roar,” and “makes storm clouds” (Jer. 5:22; 31:35; Zech, 10:1). Perhaps the scripture most likely to come to the disciples’ minds, though, is in Psalms.
Those who go down to the sea in ships,Psalm 107:23-29, WEB
who do business in great waters;
These see Yahweh’s deeds,
and his wonders in the deep.
For he commands, and raises the stormy wind,
which lifts up its waves.
They mount up to the sky; they go down again to the depths.
Their soul melts away because of trouble.
They reel back and forth, and stagger like a drunken man,
and are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry to Yahweh in their trouble,
and he brings them out of their distress.
He makes the storm a calm,
so that its waves are still.
No wonder Jesus’s disciples were “overwhelmed by fear” even after He proved they weren’t going to die in a storm. He’d just done something only Yahweh could do. By calming the sea, Jesus illustrated He was God here on earth in the flesh.
Storm-Maker and Anchor
In scripture, waves and storms are used as metaphors for great trials. God’s anger and judgement on persistently sinful people are linked to storms (Is. 28:2; 29:6; 30:30; Jer. 23:19; 30:23; Ezk. 30:3; Joel 2:2; Nah. 1:3). David speaks of being surrounded by “waves of death” and “floods of ungodliness” (2 Sam. 22:5; Ps. 18:4). Both David (figuratively for despair and possibly depression) and Johan (in a more literal sense) talk about being in the depths of the sea with “waves and billows” passing over them (Ps. 42:7; Jon. 2:3). In all these verses, the storms are representative of great trials or hardships.
The purpose of such tempest and storms is “that they may seek your name, Yahweh” (Ps. 83:15-16). We’re to learn from the storms of life to listen to Yahweh and turn to Him for shelter and safety. Those who don’t learn that lesson may make “a shipwreck concerning the faith” and eventually find that God does not listen to their cries for help during storms (Prov. 1:24-29; Zech. 7:13-14; 1 Tim. 1:19). As the writer of Hebrews said, though, I am “persuaded of better things for you, and things that accompany salvation, even though we speak like this” (Heb. 6:9, WEB). Bible teachers don’t share warnings in order to condemn; we share them as reminders to keep faithfully seeking God. The righteous stand firm in the whirlwind and storm since they are founded on the Rock, and that is what I want for myself, for you, and for all who follow the Lord (Prov. 10:25; Matt. 7:24-27).
Keep Jesus in your boat, and the storms of life have no power over you. You might get tossed around and nearly swamped, as the disciples were when they cried out asking if Jesus cared that they were dying, but ultimately there’s nothing to worry about. Faith and hope anchor our souls (Heb. 6:19; 10:23).
With Jesus on board our ships, we can weather the storms of life. Working together in unity, He and His Father are the same God who created the seas and storms, and rule over them (Gen. 1:6-8; Job 28:23-27; Ps. 93:3-4; Eph. 3:8-9). They are the ones who’ve seen faithful people through earth-shaking storms and who still the roaring sea (Ps. 46:2-3; 65:7; 89:9; 107:29-30). Today, He still saves and anchors us so that “we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14, NET).
Yahweh, you are my God. I will exalt you! I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago, in complete faithfulness and truth. … For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat, when the blast of the dreaded ones is like a storm against the wall.Isaiah 25:1, 4, WEB
If we’re in the middle of a storm and asking God, “Don’t you care that we are about to die?” the answer is two-fold. First, God tells us we don’t need to worry so much; He’s got this. Second, He assures us that He definitely does care; He cares so much that Jesus came to this world and lived and died as a human being to save those who believe in Him and give them everlasting life.
As we face the storm-like trials of our lives, remember that Jesus is there with us in our boats. Even if it seems like He’s fallen asleep and isn’t paying attention, He still has us in His power and under His protection. Hold fast to Him, and He’ll get us through.
He has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can people do to me?”Heb. 13:5-6, NET
Featured image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay
Song recommendation: “Praise You In This Storm” by Casting Crowns