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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Peace! Be Still!


"He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”"

Mark 4:39-41

It’s now the evening on the same day. Jesus has been in the boat the whole day teaching the crowd in parables. It’s not another day, it’s the same day - and Jesus says to the disciples ‘Let us go over to the other side’.


He’s referring to the Lake of Galilee. Likely, they were on the north-west side of the lake, probably near Capernaum - that’s where Jesus has been located for a while now in Mark’s account.


We don’t know why he suggested going over to the other side. Matthew gives us the closest thing to a clue when he says, ‘Jesus, seeing the crowd around him gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake’.


So, maybe he was exhausted from a long day of teaching and knew that the crowds would continue to follow him wherever he went, so he gave the order to the disciples to cross over to a quieter area.


Presumably the boat belonged to one of the disciples - after all, at least four of them were fishermen by trade.

We don’t have to guess too much about the size and nature of the boat they were in, because archaeologists found an in-tact hull of one of these vessels a few years back.


The length of the boat would probably be equivalent to that of a modern-day single decker short bus. So, I imagine all 12 of the disciples would have been in the boat.

It would have been an open topped boat and likely would have had both a mast for sailing and oars for rowing.

But, even though Jesus may have been intending to leave the crowds behind, it seems those with boats were able to follow him. Mark says in verse 38 that ‘there were other boats with him’.

So, the scene is one of darkness, sail up, open waters ahead, crowds left behind, and the disciples and Jesus in this boat together.

And Jesus falls asleep in the back of the boat.


It’s possible he hadn’t eaten all day because Mark says ‘they took him along, just as he was’. He didn’t return home to freshen up before the voyage.

Maybe it was cold out on the open water and maybe Jesus didn’t have a coat, so he just curled up on this cushion in the back of the boat and fell fast asleep.

I think we all know what it’s like to be overcome by sleepiness. I had it this week. I was doing the bedtime stories and I fell asleep mid-sentence in one of the songs! Abigail will be able to share what that looked like with you if you ask her. I was just so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more.


Do we think of Jesus in that way? So human that after a full day of teaching - maybe cold, maybe hungry, and with a comfy cushion to lay down on - just couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer.


Hebrews reminds us about Jesus’ humanity when it says that ‘since we have flesh and blood, he too shared in our humanity’ and then it says, ‘Because he himself suffered [as a human] when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted’.


So, because Jesus was ‘fully human in every way’, he fell asleep in the boat just like we would have done.

But that’s only half the story, because, whilst the journey was smooth enough at the outset for Jesus to fall asleep amid zero commotion, at some point after he fell asleep the conditions on the lake changed for the worse.


Apparently, even though the Sea of Galilee is an inland freshwater lake, it nevertheless can be subject to open-sea-like conditions. The sea is very low and the mountains around it are steep, and they can, under the right conditions, funnel winds onto the lake at tremendous speeds.

Winds can whip up waves up to three meters tall - enough to easilyengulf any small shipping vessel. And by all accounts the conditions can change very quickly - without warning.


And that’s what appears to have happened during this voyage. Our translators use the words ‘furious squall’ to describe the wind that ‘came up’ whilst Jesus slept. The original Greek word is maybe closer to ‘hurricane’ – a violent wind.


The force and power of the wind that came up that night shouldn’t be underestimated. The sea would have been a foaming and frothing cauldron, with waves breaking over the side of this fishing vessel with intense ferocity. Mark says, ‘the waves broke over the boat’ so much so that ‘it was nearly swamped’.

That means that the boat was on the brink of sinking. It was taking that much water on board.


Such, though, was the fatigue that Jesus was experiencing that not even the storm - water coming into the boat, the tossing of the boat, or the howling of the wind - could serve to wake him up.

Mark says, ‘the disciples woke him’. Presumably they shook him awake. And they said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ The word there is ‘perish’.


As seasoned fisherman they’re looking at the situation and they think, in their professional opinion, they are all going to die!

So, when they say to Jesus, ‘don’t you care if we drown’ I think the scene in the boat is total panic. I think it’s every hand to the task - frantically baling water out with whatever they could find - most likely their hands.


That would be the normal response in those circumstances. And yet, there’s Jesus asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat.

I think they’re basically saying, ‘how can you sleep when we’re all about to die?’ And maybe they’re saying, ‘come on teacher, get up and help us bale water here’.

In other words, I don’t think they’re saying, ‘perform a miracle for us!’ The earthliness of the situation; the immanency of death, is too powerful an impulse for them to think in terms of a miracle here.

With every catching of their breath, another wave threatens to sink them - that’s all they see, I think.

It’s not all Jesus sees though. Mark says, ‘Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet!”’ - you might have ‘peace’ in your bible - ‘“Peace! Be still!”’ And the storm was gone! No more waves. No more wind. Mark says, ‘it was completely calm’.

Jesus simply spoke the storm into submission - he commanded, with the word of his mouth, the waves to stand still and they did.

Does not the wind blow where it pleases? Do not the waves march relentlessly, halting for nothing? And yet Jesus stills them with a word.


What does this tell us about the man who was so fatigued he fell into a deep sleep in the back of the boat?

It tells us he did something that the Psalms tell us only God can do.

Psalm 65, ‘You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Saviour…who stilled the roaring seas, the roaring of their waves’.

Psalm 89, ‘You rule over the surging sea; when waves mount up, you still them’.

Or best of all Psalm 107, ‘Some went out on the sea in ships…they saw the works of the Lord his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest [a storm] that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it drew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven’.

God, Hebrews says, made the universe through Jesus. And Psalm 33:8 says, ‘by the word of the Lord the heavens were made’. And, Jesus sustains all that he made by ‘his powerful word’ Hebrews 1:3 says.

Therefore, Jesus can certainly control what he has made by his wordalso.


What the disciples witnessed Jesus do, and what we are witnessing through Mark’s account, speak to the majestic and glorious God-ness of Jesus.

Don’t be charmed only by the humanity of Jesus and fail to see the God-ness of Jesus. See both! These are his two natures profoundly evident for us in one account.

Mark says, in verse 41, the disciples were ‘terrified’ at what Jesus did. That word is stronger than the one Jesus used in verse 40 to describe how the disciples had been in the face of the storm - he used the word ‘afraid’. But here it’s more like, ‘they feared with fear great!’ It doubles down on the fear in the Greek.


It’s normal for people who have been in life threatening situations to experience physical shock. We know what it looks like - eyes rooted to a spot, replaying the scene over and over, shivering, shaking, collapsing even.

But seeing Jesus still the storm was more shocking than anything they had seen in the storm.


Try to imagine what it was like to witness the power of the storm and then to watch Jesus speak and control it.

Try to imagine what it must have been like to be so insignificant in the face of this raging tempest that for every half litre you bale, it dumps another 500 in the boat.

And then, to watch Jesus speak to it and the raging sea become a mill pond. What manner of power is it that makes a hurricane force storm obey?


In truth, the disciples were just like others who encountered Jesus in his God-ness. Think of the guards who came to arrest Jesus in the Garden - they were so afraid of him that ‘they shook and became like dead men’.

Or John when he beheld Jesus in his vision, he says, ‘When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid”’.

The disciples were terrified by Jesus. Dare we say it, the storm looked tame in comparison.


Do you think of Jesus this way also? Do you think that one day you’ll meet this Jesus face to face - in all his awesome power and majesty. Arrayed in unspeakable splendour.

When you do, you will want him to be for you and not against you. It will be too awful for words if you are faced with that kind of power arrayed against you.


Jesus was for his disciples. He didn’t direct his unspeakable power against them, he directed it for them. He saved them.

And so I wish that everyone would see the power of Jesus in this account and fear him so much that they would all run to him; and not away from him.

I want everyone in this room to say to themselves, ‘he must be for me and not against me otherwise I am doomed’.

If you think that way you’re right!


Do you know why Jesus came into the world? He came to save sinners, not to let them drown in their sins. That means that he’s 100% ready to save you.

When those disciples woke him up, he didn’t wait around; he saved them right there and then. And he’ll save anybody right here and now who goes to him and says I want you to be for me Jesus - please save me!


The disciples said to each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him’. And now we know the answer: he is God!

Now, we’ve got to deal with verse 40, as much as there might be an inclination to pass over it.


These are the only words Mark records Jesus speaking to his disciples during this event and they’re not very complimentary. Verse 40, ‘He said to his disciples [so he regards them as his own - his disciples], “why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

I think that these words from Jesus would have felt like a rebuke to them. And I think they are intended as a rebuke to them.


The words ‘Why are you so afraid?’ imply that Jesus expected them to be less afraid than they were.

And the second half of what he says sounds like rebuke also because, when he says, ‘Do you still have no faith?’ he implies that they shouldhave had faith, and they didn’t.


And putting the two together, he seems to be saying, that their fear at the storm demonstrates they have no faith. Or to put it positively, ‘if you had faith, you wouldn’t have been afraid’.

Now I think this is problematic for us because, if we say ‘how on earth could Jesus expect the disciples not to be afraid when their lives were at the mercy of an unquenchable storm’ then we raise questions about Jesus’ empathy.

Let me ask you, for example: if you encountered someone who had experienced a close shave with death would you say to them ‘why were you so afraid’? I doubt it!

I think you would be considered pretty callous if you did. So that’s a problem for us as we hear Jesus speaking in this way to his disciples.


So then, maybe we go the other route and say, ‘Jesus is right, they shouldn’t have been afraid, and a rebuke is what we would expect here’. But then we are, to a person I think, first-rank hypocrites.

I don’t think there’s a single person in this room who wouldn’t have been afraid in the face of that storm, with the type of boat they were in, and the baling power they had at their disposal, and the ferocity of the storm.

Their resources were just so out-scaled by the storm that the odds of survival were inordinately low. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would have been afraid.


Now I don’t want to be a hypocrite, and neither do I want to accuse Jesus of a lack of empathy or expecting something of the disciples that no one can naturally do.


Mark has already shown us clearly Jesus’ heart for people - driving out impure spirits, healing the sick and demon possessed, cleansing a leper, and making a paralysed man walk. So, there’s no doubt that Jesus knows empathy. He cared deeply for people.

And he knew their natural responses too. He wasn’t oblivious to their personhood - that’s why he became a human. So, there’s something more going on here.


Let me try to illustrate what I mean and then apply it to the situation. Having children is useful because we are God’s children and the way little children behave in comparison with their wise and capable parents is roughly parallel, albeit in a flawed way, to the way the children of God behave in comparison with their Heavenly Father.


I imagine most parents will have experienced seeing the panic on their little child’s face when they suddenly realised that in the busy crowd, they couldn’t see their parent any longer.

I’ve had this a few times, where I’ve got eyes on them, but they’ve lost sight of me. I can see the panic on their faces. And the relief is amazing when I go over to them and say, ‘don’t worry I’m here’.


In that situation they have almost always said to me, ‘Few! I thought you’d gone’. And my response has nearly always been the same, ‘Do you think I would leave you; I love you too much for that!’


One of the most distressing things for a parent is to see their child worried. I think we are wired as parents to protect our children from anxiety. And when they are little, one for the ways we do that is by being there for them. We’re in control of the situation and they’re not.

When we’re around they trust that we know what we’re doing, and we’ll keep them safe. When we’re not around they panic.


So, I think that Jesus’ desire for his disciples, and by extension for us, is that we not be anxious. Anxiety is a horrible thing; it robs us of joy. And Jesus wants us to be happy. That’s why he saved us!


Jesus saved us to be happy in God. He saved us so that we wouldn’t have to go on searching for happiness in things that can never make us ultimately happy.

We were made for God, and our hearts will search for God until they find him. And, if we don’t find him, we are destined to be unhappy forever. We simply have to find God to find lasting happiness.

So, Jesus died to bring us into relationship with God and thereby, to finally find our lasting happiness.


Jesus pictures this elusive relationship as treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, ‘in his joy’ he went and sold everything he had and bought that field.

He doesn’t mean you can buy your relationship with God; he means it’s worth everything to get it! Everything else is passing away, but Godlasts forever. Everything else is thin, but God is infinitely deep.

The point is that Jesus wants us to be happy, he doesn’t want us to be anxious.

Therefore, like little children we ought to know what he is like - in complete control of the whole universe.

Like little children we ought to feel very safe with him - we’re not in control but he’s got us, and he is in control. And like little children we ought to feel no anxiety unless we find that he is not with us.

If we find he’s not with us, then we should feel anxiety.

So, the disciples had Jesus in the boat with them and they knew what he was like. They saw everything he did. They saw him heal, and drive out, and cleanse. They saw him do things that no one else could do.

They also heard everything he said - they heard him speak in ways they heard no one else speak.

And they had testimony about him too. Andrew heard first-hand John the Baptist testify that Jesus was the ‘Lamb of God’.

In other words, they had a good picture of who Jesus was by this time, yet they were afraid because of the storm.

I’m sure every parent can identify with this too. A situation where you’ve got your little child in your arms or by the hand and you’re right there in control, and irrationally they are crying with fear.

I’ve seen this scenario most often teaching my kids to ride their bikes. They will say ‘I’m going to fall daddy!’ And I say, ‘don’t worry I’ve got you. Look! My hand is on the bike. It’s ok’.


And sometimes I’ve been firm with them saying, ‘if I let go then you can be afraid, but I’m right here I won’t let go! You really don’t need to scream that much!’


I think this is what Jesus is saying to the disciples. ‘I was right there, and you know who I am, you really didn’t need to be afraid. You need to learn to trust me. You need to learn to have faith!’

The key difference between children with their parents and us with our God is this: when a parent calls their children to trust them, they mean that they will do all in their power to prevent them from being physicallyhurt.

But when Jesus says ‘trust me’ he means he will do everything required to prevent us from being eternally hurt.

And here’s the rub: doing ‘everything required’ may mean allowing us to be physically hurt or it may even mean death. That’s the bit we find so hard.


So, for example, when Jesus urges us not to be afraid of those who can kill the body, it’s because he wants us to fear the one who can throw body and soul into hell. He wants us to focus on what really counts - eternal realities.

So then, how should the disciples have reacted to the storm? What response would have satisfied Jesus and have allayed his rebuke?

I think it would have been something like this: ‘Ok, the storm is starting to break over the boat here guys, but we have Jesus with us, and we know he is approved of God and powerful to save. So, we can feel very safe right now.

Afterall, it would be better to die with Jesus in the boat, than it would be to survive without him.

So, we’ll bale the water until this boat sinks or Jesus saves, but whatever happens, Jesus is for us and therefore God is for us, and no storm can take that away!’

I think Jesus would have been very happy with that response.

Jesus wants us to so trust him that we really believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

And so, to have Jesus in the boat is to have the utmost confidence, and hope and expectation that all will be well.

Jesus’ love is better than life. What shall separate us from his love? Not trouble, not hardship, not danger, not depth, not power(ful) storms and certainly not death.


Therefore, Jesus’ words to the waves are words to our hearts too: ‘Peace, be still!’


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