Jesus subdues the storm. Who is this?? Mark 4:35-41

The literary structure of Mark 4:37-41

Today we’re in Mark 4:35-41 looking at the familiar story of Jesus calming the stormy sea. This is a rich story, with a lot to teach us. So much so that I plan to work with it again next week. The focus for today is on what we learn from this episode about the identity of Jesus.

First we begin with –

The setting

As we saw, Jesus has just spent the day teaching the crowds in parables.

35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.”

Notice first of all that it’s “evening,” either dark or starting to get dark. And Jesus wants to go to the eastern shore of the sea of Galilee. [This is the first time that Jesus leaves Galilee after starting his ministry there, as Mark tells the story, going over to a predominantly Gentile region.] He may be, once again, trying to find some peace from the crush of the crowds (4:1; 36)

The phrase “they took him with them in the boat, just as he was” most likely means that since Jesus was already sitting in the boat when he was teaching (4:1) they simply left with him still sitting there.

JesusBoat
This is a boat recovered from the mud of the Sea of Galilee in 1986

The “other boats” with Jesus aren’t mentioned later in the story, although it’s possible that they too got caught in the storm.

Now let’s look at –

The story

And it begins in dramatic fashion with a great storm.

37And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.

“A great windstorm” refers to a sudden whirlwind from above, like a tornado. The sea of Galilee was (and is) subject to such sudden storms because of its geography. And this was an intense one. The wind pushed the waves over the side of the boat and it was filling up with water. If this didn’t stop, they would sink. It was a real crisis. We know it was bad because some of Jesus’ disciples were experienced fisherman, and as we will see, they thought they were about to die! (v. 38)

38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.

I think this shows his humanity. Jesus was tired! Tired from teaching all day and it was evening, or possibly night time by now. So Jesus is in the back of the boat asleep, unaware of the crisis taking place. But not for long. v. 38 goes on –

And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

The disciples are in a panic. And so they wake Jesus up and rebuke him, because he doesn’t seem to care! Undoubtedly they want him to do something so that they don’t die. But what they want is unclear. They certainly didn’t think he would perform a miracle, because when he does, they’re totally shocked. So perhaps they wanted him to pray to God for deliverance, that they would survive the storm.

Next we see how he does much more than this. Jesus himself turns the storm into a great calm

39And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (I have translated it “silence” instead of ESV’s “peace.”)

Jesus told the wind to stop and told the sea to shut up. By the mere power of his words the storm and the waves cease and there is calm. It went from being a “great windstorm” in v. 37, to being “a great calm” in v. 39.

40He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

So he not only rebukes the sea, but just as his disciples rebuked him, here he rebukes them. After seeing all that the’ve seen, do they still have no faith in him? We’ll come back to this part next week, Lord willing.

A great awe

41And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”

I think it’s interesting that his deliverance of the disciples from what they feared, paradoxically, makes them have great fear!

Notice the further movement of the story-line. It goes from a great storm, to a great calm, to a great awe on the part of the disciples. This is the awe that you have when you see God act in power to save. God is suddenly revealed and it’s astonishing.

With regard to his identity, Jesus is obviously much more than they thought he was. They had seen him teach with great authority. They had seen him heal people. They had seen him cast out demons. But this was something entirely more astounding, which causes them, and us – to ask –

Who is this?

“Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

To answer this, first we need to remember the Hebrew background of the “deep waters” which are connected to the powers of evil or Satan. 

That this is a part of what is going on in our story can be seen in that Jesus speaks to the storm as a personal force. He “rebuked the wind” telling it to stop! And he “said to the sea, ‘Silence! Be still!’” – v. 39. And in fact the words “rebuke” and “be silent” are the same words spoken to a demon in Mark 1:25 in the context of an exorcism. So we’re dealing not just with a nature miracle here, but with the powers of evil.

The second thing we have to remember is that Yahweh is the one who subdues the stormy waters, and all the powers of evil that they represent. For instance Psalm 93:3-4 says, “The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty!” God is stronger than the stormy sea and the forces of evil and chaos.

But even more specifically 1. Yahweh rebukes the treacherous sea:

  • It is God who “rebuked” the primordial waters at creation and they receded – Psalm 104:7.
  • It is God who “rebuked the Red Sea and it became dry” – Psalm 106:9.

In the same way Jesus rebukes the storm in our story and it responds.

2. Yahweh stills the waters:

  • It is God “who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves. . .” – Psalm 65:7.
  • It is God who – “rule(s) the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” – Psalm 89:9.

In the same way Jesus stills the waters in our story and they are calm.

What I’m saying is that the truth of Jesus’ identity is revealed in this incident. God miraculously saved them – but it was Jesus who acted! Not by praying to God, but simply by speaking the command. This is why the disciples are puzzled and confused. They ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Well, only Yahweh does this, but Jesus just did it! What does it mean? n the story they remain puzzled; they can’t seem to connect all the dots.

But for the reader of Mark it should be clear that Jesus is God’s Son. And so, ‘like father like son.’ Jesus does just what his Father does and calms the stormy waters. He is nothing less than God in the flesh, present with us.

Now, we may also underestimate who Jesus is, like the disciples did, so that we go through life afraid that he can’t take care of us in our trials. But in our story today we learn that Jesus is more than able to save us from any and all evil; from any situation we find ourselves in. Jesus is God with us. And he can speak peace and calm into our lives as well.

And not only this, Jesus is worthy of our awe and praise. The disciples were in awe of him, and later came to acknowledge him as the Son of God and worshiped him. And as we see Jesus do his work in our lives and in our midst, we too should be awed and amazed. And we should lift him up in praise and adoration.

An encouragement for disciples. Jesus’ kingdom parables. Mark 4:26-34

Two seed parables parallel structure – Mark 4:26-32

Have you ever worried about how Christianity is doing these days? I do. I think about the moral compromise of so many churches, the divisions over often silly things, the biblical illiteracy among us and how we are so unlike the early church that Jesus began. Is God really going to be able to use us to bring about his purposes?

Today we’re finishing up Jesus’ parable discourse in Mark 4, looking at vs. 26-34. Here Jesus gives his disciples words of encouragement because as we have seen the response to Jesus’ ministry thus far has been mostly one of rejection; it has been disappointing to say the least. And he gives his disciples encouragement by way of two seed parables, which I think can encourage us as well, as we think about how things are going in our day.

The first one is –

The parable of the growing seed: Mark 4:26-29

And here Jesus is once again speaking to the crowds.

26And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.”

Here the seed and the kingdom of God are being compared.

27He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

There’s a contrast here between the farmer and the seed in the ground. After he sows the seed the farmer basically does nothing. Notice all that could be said, that isn’t – the farmer’s tilling, fertilizing, weeding and dealing with pests and so on. This is done intentionally to highlight what Jesus  wants to focus on – the growing seed.

It “sprouts and grows.” The farmer doesn’t even understand how this happens. It says, “he knows not how” the seed sprouts and grows. It’s beyond him. But the seed not only grows, it goes through several stages of growth – the blade, the ear and the full grain in the ear. And all this, we are told, happens “by itself.” The seed has within it the ability to bring forth life and growth.  So Jesus is saying – that once the farmer plants the seed – the life and growth of the seed, or the kingdom, comes from itself.

 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Now that the growing part is over the farmer comes back into the picture, but only to receive the result of the seed’s growth.

This image of harvest is a common one in the Bible for the resurrection. (The phrase “at once he puts in the cycle” echoes Joel 3:13) So the ripe grain speaks of the final day.

What’s the lesson we learn from this? Even though there is rejection and a disappointing response, and the kingdom which has been planted seems insignificant now, the kingdom will grow step by step by its own power until the final day and the harvest is ready.

Like the farmer we can’t make this happen or even understand how it happens – other than sharing the gospel. But the kingdom will produce life, growth and in the end, the harvest of the final day. This is a real word of encouragement to the disciples given what they are experiencing at this time following Jesus and the meager results so far.

The second parable is –

The parable of the mustard seed: Mark 4:30-32

30And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth . . .”

Once again, a seed – here a mustard seed – and the kingdom of God are being compared. The mustard seed, we are told is the smallest of all seeds. And it is like a grain of sand. Now, it’s not technically the smallest seed. Some seeds are microscopic. But proverbially in Jewish thought – it was used of the smallest of all things.

“. . . 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches . . .”

This is the key contrast of the parable and points us to the meaning. Something that starts off so small and seemingly insignificant, in the end becomes something quite large – the biggest of all garden plants. And the black mustard plant can grow to a height of 6-10 feet.

And then v. 32 ends –

“. . . so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Along with the language of “large branches,” this phrase emphasizes the largeness of the plant; birds can make nests in its shade.

But it also alludes to some Old Testament references where trees represent kingdoms and birds building nests in their shade represent nations under their control (Ezekiel 17:22-23; 30:6; Daniel 4:12; 21).So this is a way of saying that in the end the kingdom will have worldwide dominion. It will be the greatest of all kingdoms and empires ever.

So the lesson here is that even though there is rejection and a disappointing response, and the kingdom seems small and insignificant – in the end the kingdom will be the biggest kingdom with worldwide dominion

The smallness of its present form is not a true indicator of what it will become; it will cover the whole earth. This also is a real word of encouragement to the disciples given what they are experiencing at this time following Jesus, rejection and a meager response.

And then we come to the conclusion of this parable discourse –

Conclusion: Mark 4:33-34

33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

 So these are just some of Jesus’ kingdom parables. There are others, for instance in Matthew 13 there is also the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the parable of the leaven, the parable of the hidden treasure, the parable of the pearl of great price and the parable of the dragnet.

When it says, “as they were able to hear it” it means that the content of his parables was pretty basic stuff. For instance, he’s not ready to talk to them yet about his death and resurrection and the role this plays in the coming of the kingdom. But the form of the teaching was still in parables, which were like riddles and had to be explained. And so he told his disciples what they meant.

Lessons

Alright, what can we take from all this? Notice that Jesus was drawing great crowds still. Chapter 4:1 begins by saying – “a very large crowd gathered about him.” Even as he’s turning away from the crowds and all those who reject him to focus on his disciples, he draws great crowds. But Jesus isn’t interested in great crowds. It seems to be all that American Christians care about, but not Jesus. Jesus is interested in disciples. People who are sincerely and earnestly learning to follow him and to walk in his way. And although there are few of these at this point, he turns his focus to them.

These parables also teach us a bit about how the kingdom comes into this world. The kingdom is already here, but not fully here yet. That awaits the final day. This is what some call the “already, not yet” of the kingdom of God. Many thought that the kingdom would come full blown all at once. But Jesus indicates that there’s a process involved. It begins with his first coming and there is growth and then the fullness comes with his second coming. The kingdom is already here, but not yet all the way here.

And then finally, I want to say that we too should be encouraged by these parables. We’re not in the disciples’ situation. Today Christianity is worldwide. But, as I said at the beginning, we can truly wonder at what passes for Christianity today.

These parables should also encourage us in our situation. The kingdom, that is, true Christianity, will grow step by step by its own power until the final day and the harvest is ready. And the kingdom, again, true Christianity, in the end will have worldwide dominion over all the earth. Like the disciples we can have confidence that our work will bear fruit in the end. God’s purposes will be accomplished.