The Stilling of the Storm

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Mark 4:35-41
SMAS 9am and 10.30am
(24.6.12)

Last week we witnessed Jesus teaching His disciples about the Kingdom of God through parables. Previously they’d seen him exercise authority over sickness, demons and death. Impressive and exciting to say the least. But they are still at the beginning of their learning curve. Jesus is just about to give them a practical lesson that will shake up their ideas about who the King of the Kingdom is.

Sometimes, today’s disciples treat this miracle, something that actually happened, more like a parable – a story with a meaning. Not without good reason: it’s quite legitimate to think of it as story where the storm represents the problems of life and that, with Jesus in our boat, we will be safe and rescued from danger. There’s also the idea that the Nave, the body of the church where we sit has the same root as the word Navy. It’s the ‘boat’ of the church and many churches have beams in their roof resembling an upturned boat.

BUT none of this would have been the main message the disciples walked away with at the time. Mark didn't include this miracle in his gospel for these reasons. He was building up a picture of who Jesus is. Although the disciples have seen Jesus do amazing things they don’t seem to have much idea that Jesus could do anything about the storm.

This passage is often presented as showing their lack of faith but I think that accusation’s a little misplaced. They haven’t known Him that long, why would they be expecting this? When they wake Him, I think it is in panic. Feeling helpless in the face of great danger, they want to share their fear and to prepare him for the worst. "Do you not care that we are perishing?" i.e. was he not bothered by the impending disaster? Even, for all we know, they may have been expecting Him to start helping bail out water! (Matthew’s gospel does seem to suggest their hope he could do something about it, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing.")

Assuming, maybe, they were asking Him for help, what’s new? Throughout the Bible, God’s people have called upon Him for help. Surely it’s to their credit, that faced with a storm and fear, the disciples took what little faith they had and placed it in Jesus. Being in the presence of Christ meant that the situation did not overcome them.

Luther says their little faith was enough in the presence of Jesus. Great faith doesn't need Christ's assurance or presence. Great faith stands before God without need of the support and strength of a saviour. Little faith needs a Christ! "If the faith of the disciples had been strong ... they would have said to the sea and the waves: Beat against us as you may, your forces are not strong enough to overthrow our boat, for Christ our Lord is on board with us...." The disciples had only a little faith but they invested it in a big Lord and that’s why they were not destroyed.

Being a Christian does not provide the promise of a danger free life. Jesus isn’t a lucky charm. In fact we’re more likely to encounter problems the closer we get to Christ because that’s when the devil feels threatened: something this passage demonstrates this all too well.

Jesus has started to draw large crowds to hear His teaching about God. He boards the boat to go over to the other side. Meaning, to the Gentiles. God’s word is about to spread. The devil wouldn’t like this and the nature of this storm has demonic undertones. The Jews felt that the sea was the realm of the devil, an uncertain place in which evil resided. By the time Mark was writing this, the church was meeting massive persecution that would give this story deeper meaning. They could also have been wondering if Christ was really asleep and oblivious to their sufferings.

The disciples fearful cry that He should know they are sinking, gives a contrast to the calm of the one who was sleeping through it all.

The wind and the spray would have awakened most of us. But He’s asleep. Possibly from exhaustion. Possibly confident of divine protection.

Plainly, the disciples don’t have the same confidence. Their shock at His taking such great authority over the storm is, therefore, all the greater. Astounded to the point of fear that this man, Jesus, had the power to control something as powerful as a storm.

As fisherman they would have known that you shelter from a storm, you don't order it to cease! He addresses the winds and waves as though they are His servants! The words "Peace! Be still!" are stonger than first apparent. "Peace - Be silent," Jesus commanded the waves. "Settle down. Stop your rampage!" "Be still - be muzzled. Let your snarling come to an end! Stop frightening these people." He who separated the waters from the waters in the very beginning of time now spoke to the waters with the word of command - and they obeyed him!

During the storm the disciples were afraid. Turning to Jesus, He calms the storm but does not calm them. The fear of the disciples is neither calmed nor eliminated but transferred from fear of the storm to fear of the person of Christ himself.

For the first time the word ‘terrified’ comes into the story. Whatever fear they may have experienced when winds blew and waves thundered was minor compared to the fear that now suddenly comes over them. The point of this miracle is not how to overcome fear, but of whom we are to be afraid?

Who is this? What does it mean to be mixed-up someone who holds this power? The only one who can control nature is the one who created it. The disciples were afraid twice in this story. The first time: of the storm. The second time of being in the presence of someone with the power to control a storm. Jesus, God and man. This incident adds to what the disciples knew about Jesus, and the picture of Jesus that Mark is building up. Jesus only had to say the word and someone was healed, evil spirits driven out, the dead rise to life or the forces of nature obey him.

We can sometimes dwell too much upon the humanity of Jesus at the expense of his divinity. That diminishes the sense of awe that we should have when we come into his presence. It can also diminish the priority that we give to worshipping and following Him.

Who is this man? Maybe a difficult question at the stilling of the storm but increasingly more difficult as time went on.

Especially when standing under the cross. Rather than simplifying the answer, it became more complicated and thorny as time moved on. It is not a once and for all answering of the question "Who is this man?" It’s a question that must be answered over and over again as storms blow and waves come crashing over the sides of the boat of our lives.

This passage doesn’t mean that once Jesus stands up and shouts, "Peace! Be still!" there will never be another storm. Storms will come regularly as our faith rocks the devil’s boat.

Who are we to fear? The demons in the sea or the Lord over the sea? We are to fear the Lord. I have seen Him overcome tremendous powers of evil. He is mighty indeed.

If we truly see what He can do, just as the disciples did when they saw a new side to this man, when they recognised Him as God, we too, should be fearfully and wondrously amazed.

Colossians 1:15-17
'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'.
Amen.