When I was younger, my friends used to watch a television reality show on the discovery channel, called the Deadliest Catch. The Deadliest Catch followed a group of Alaskan crab fisherman, who all too often would face enormous storms while boating in the ocean. On one occasion, the crew were sailing the Bering Sea, when rogue waves began to wash equipment, and nearly people, off deck. Here were the largest waves ever recorded on the show measuring 50 feet or, 16 meters high. Even if you could swim, even of you had a healthy respect for water, can you imagine being on a boat where 16-meter higher waves are coming toward you? It’s incredible that even when viewing great storms on YouTube from the safety of my home, even then, my stomach lurches. There is something about facing a storm, on YouTube or in real life, that it instils inside a human being a sense of deep dread.
As we come to our passage we see Jesus and his disciples likewise boating on a sea – the Sea of Galilee. It is fair to say that this storm did not bring 16-meter-high waves like what we might see on the Deadliest Catch, however it is still a storm on the ocean and that is terrifying. Read Mark 4:37 with me. And the great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. A great storm arises, and they are assaulted by angry waves.
One sailor who was caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, described the lake as a ‘boiling cauldron’. How would you feel placed in the middle of a boiling cauldron? If we imagine the situation for a moment, I am sure we can sympathise with the disciple’s fear. The sense of dread is still there, as they stand helpless, watching the surface of the water chop up and churn like a boiling couldron. Water nips at their toes, and before long the deck is covered in it. And if that wasn’t bad enough remember that noone can swim. If these fishermen were thrown into the deep water of the ocean, few, if any, would have the skills survive.
And it is in this boat of dread, Jesus does something incredible. And as a result, the disciples cannot help but ponder an important question about Jesus, one which we shall also consider in depth. At the end of the passage, they ask: Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? That's going to be our theme. And we will look at five points:
The Wrath to Come
1) We begin with The Storm. In Tasmania, it is safe to say that we know what it's like to have sudden changes in weather. One moment it is sunny, and it’s raining by the afternoon. Likewise, the Sea of Galilee is renowned for its sudden storms. The sea sits in a dip, and as cold air would rush down from the mountains it would hit the warm air and cause the water to churn. However, this is not just rough water, but a great storm. And with a great storm comes both the fear of death, and that great feeling of dread.
The question we cannot help but ask is what is going to happen next? Who is going to rescue them? As we look around for our expected hero, we find him fast asleep in the heart of the ship. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion (v38). The trip across would have taken about two hours, as the widest part of the lake is 13km. But Jesus is tired. He has been preaching all day, and it is evening, a time to rest. There is something remarkably human about this. The most powerful one on the planet is sound asleep. But who then, is going to rescue them from this dread? As the disciples watch the water fill the boat, you could say that they stand at the doors of death. What could possibly reverse this unstoppable storm? As far as they knew, the sea would prevail and all that they have been working for would be a waste. Jesus’ mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God, their mission, would come to a bitter end.
They were not the first men to experience dread at the sight of churning water. In fact, this encounter with water is not so foreign to the biblical authors. Just think about it with me for a moment. Have you ever noticed that all of our most famous bible stories contain water?
In the Bible, water most often signified death, as it does in our context. It was an image of destruction, an image of chaos, an image of judgment, but most often, and most importantly, if were not talking about fountain of living waters, water was the manifestation of death.
We could discover such a fact by turning to any children’s bible. What’s a really popular story containing water in Genesis? Noah and the Flood. If you remember, Noah is told by God to build an ark to escape his judgement upon the earth. He and his family escape that judgement, and the judgement appears in the form of water. A massive flood rages upon the earth and brings death upon all the wicked. Water is an image of death and judgement.
We cannot think about water without referring to the most famous story in the Old Testament. The great Exodus through the Red Sea features Israel being led through water. While Israel is being led to safety on dry ground, wicked Pharoah and his whole army are utterly destroyed from the face of the earth. In this story we see that there is life with Moses, and with God, but in the water, there is once again, only death and judgement.
Another popular children’s story is that of Jonah and the fish. Here we see Jonah on a journey much like the one the disciples find themselves on with Jesus in our passage. Let me read Jonah 1:4-5 so we can’t miss the similarities:
But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.
We have a group of people, the mariners. They are hit with a sudden storm. They become greatly afraid. And there is a man sleeping at the bottom of a ship who will eventually, one way or another, save them by making the water stop.
But once again we see, that where there is water, there is fear. The mariners, and our disciples both fear death. That’s what water portrayed in the Old Testament; death.
Be convinced by the words of David in Psalm 69. David understood that water was an image of death and used that to portray his feelings. He writes:
Save me O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in a deep mire, where there is no foothold. I come into deep waters and the flood sweeps over me.
When we jump to verse 14-15, he says:
Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me.
What does he fear? What is the thing that is consuming him. The deep waters! The flood! What do you think of when you think of the word flood? This language encapsulates the water episodes found in the bible. The psalmist cries: ‘Do not let Noah’s flood sweep over me. Do not let Jonah’s pit, the place of the dead in Jonah chapter two; do not let that pit close its mouth over me.’ Right here, David faces death. Water is used as the ultimate image of the place of death and death itself.
And so, when we have the knowledge of the biblical stories, like our disciples did, our situation becomes that much more terrifying. When we see that the water is lapping into their boat, and we think of the storm which makes the sea like a boiling cauldron, we begin to really take this threat seriously. How are these disciples ever going to make it out alive? They are about to be consumed. They are facing the flood. The threat of destruction haunts them on that boat. They are now at the doors of death.
Have you ever been at the doors of death? Have you felt the terrors of life? Have you ever felt that they are inescapable and unstoppable? Have you felt in your heart the words of David, ‘the waters are up to my neck’? Maybe you have, or maybe you feel that right now. And if you've never had that experience, you will. You will. And when you get there, what will you do? What will your response be?
2) We see the disciples response. The Cry. Look at our next verse, Mark 4:38, 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?” What did the disciples do when they were at the waters of death? They call out to Jesus, and he is their only hope. They don't have any other way. Who else could rescue them? They recognize that they are at the doors of death, and they come to the Saviour. They come to our Lord Jesus, clinging to him, and they say help me Jesus, I am perishing. Help me! Do you not care that we are perishing?
This cry mirrors the one that we've read in Psalm 69 Verse 17, ‘Hide not your face from your servant, for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.’ There is an urgency to his plea. Make haste to answer me, I am in distress right now. We read in Jonah, chapter one, when the heathen sailors are on the water that has become tempestuous. When they're facing death, how do they respond? This is how they respond, Jonah 1:13-14, says,
Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore, they called out to the LORD, “O YHWH, let us not perish for this man's life”.
The disciples cry, let us not perish was as the sailors in Jonah cry, ‘let us not perish’. These cries, show us how we might respond if we take the jaws of death seriously. How do you respond when the waters are up to your neck? Do you cry out to the Lord? Do you say YHWH let us not perish? Or do you try paddle back to shore? Do you try, like the sailors in Jonah, dump your possessions into the ocean in hope that you won't sink? Do you try save yourself? If God were to look into your life, what would he say? Is he your only hope in life and death? Look at your life, who is your Saviour?
3) Let’s turn our attention to the Saviour; our third point. Look at Mark 4:39. 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. So these disciples cry out to Jesus after recognising that they cannot escape death and they admit ‘I'm perishing’. They cry out to Jesus, and he saves them. No wonder Jesus name means Saviour. They cry and Jesus rebukes the winds and the waves with his word. Peace, be still. Or more literally, ‘shut up, be silent’. The wind and the waves obey him.
The only thing greater than the miraculous act of calming the storm is what it says about the one who did it. Here is the question we are dealing with today, and that I hope will confront you in your heart is, ‘who is it that could make the floodwaters cease?’ What kind of man could make the stormy seas of death subside? Or as the King James Version renders verse 41, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? What sort of man can do this? What sort of man can rebuke the greatest terror? What sort of man can overcome death itself? The very same question pondered at Jesus resurrection and ascension. It points ahead to his victory on the cross, where Jesus would finally overcome death. We are left with this. Who then is this man, the one who overcomes death itself? There is only one that fits the picture.
It’s the one who made the flood cease in the story of Noah. In the flood of Genesis 8:1, God makes the flood waters subside. He makes the flood cease after the rain poured on the earth 40 days and nights. In the Greek Old Testament, it says that God made the waters cease, and here they use a particular Greek word. That's the same Greek word we have here in Mark 4:39, when Jesus calms the storm. The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. The one who made Noah’s flood cease also ceased the storm.
Psalm 89:9 says, ‘You (God) rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.’ God is the King of the Sea. He is the one who stills the waves.
Psalm 29:10 says ‘the Lord sits enthroned over the flood.’ He's the king of the flood. ‘The Lord sits enthroned as King forever.’
Psalm 93:3 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!’ YHWH is mighty over the image of death, mightier than the flood. So, then the real question must be answered.
The question posed in Mark 4:41, Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey him? Who then is this? Who?
There is a great psalm that describes the situation perfectly. It is here that we will see the answer clearly. Please turn to Psalm 107:23-30; read with me, please.
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; 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.
First, we read about some merchants who sailed upon the great waters. They are taken by a storm. Here they also, are at the doors of death. And what do they do? Verse 28 says, ‘they cry out to YHWH’ they cry out to Him. And then what happens? The winds and the waves are stilled, they are hushed by Almighty God. He is the one who rules over the seas.
Our question was, who is this Jesus that he says over the waters hush and be still? In the NASB they decide to translate, peace, be still as ‘hush be still’. When Jesus speaks these words in Mark the waters are hushed, and the waters are stilled. Who is it that does this hushing and stilling in this psalm?
Who is it then, that the wind and the seas obey him? It is Almighty God. God is the one who can save us from the flood and death, he is the one. And here when the disciples cry out to Jesus, we see that Jesus is the one. Jesus is the God of the Bible, the king over creation.
It is no wonder the disciples after seeing him calm the storm, are filled with great fear. It's quite interesting that they are filled with a great fear, which occurs after the storm is gone. It is only after they've been delivered that for the first time the passage says they are filled with a great fear. This shows us that the thing to be honoured, the thing to be revered, the thing to be feared is not the storm, but the one greater than the storm, the one who commands it. The one who conquers death.
They are filled with a fear that is great, in the literal Greek. That is the same phrase in the Greek Old Testament that is used in Jonah 1:10 to describe the sailors. The sailors likewise show a ‘fear that is great’. What do they fear? They fear God, they fear the God of the waters. Likewise, the disciples understand this point; the God of the waters is to be feared. This brings us to my fourth point.
4) The Wrath to Come. Maybe you have not had a fear like this. Maybe you have not faced the waters of death yet. Persecution will come. Your health will fade. At one point all men will come to that unstoppable force, the waters of this story. Death. In Matthew chapter seven we read about two men who build their houses. One builds their house on a rock, the other builds their house on sand. When the wind and the waves come against the house on the sand, it falls and crumbles. When the wind and the waves come against the house on the rock it stands. The wind and the waves come to both. They come to all. You will face the wind and the waves. What is your life built upon?
Maybe your young, or one of those rare people that can breeze through life and death is not really a threat and there are no waters of death you have ever faced. There is always the possibility that you may face another lake. If you do not face the waters of death, you may have to face something more terrifying than the Sea of Galilee. More terrifying than a boiling cauldron, or a 16-meter-high wave. This lake of affliction is the lake of fire promised when Jesus returns.
Do you fear the storm? If you fear the storm right now in your soul, take heart. Take heart because Jesus can save you from the wrath to come. Jesus can save you, so cling to Him and He will save you from the judgment.
We’ve read Psalm 69:15-17 a few times now. David fears the flood that is sweeping over him. Verse 15 says ‘Let not the flood sweep over me or the deep-water swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me.’ What's his response to the waters which are consuming him and threatening to take him? He says in verse 17, ‘Hide not your face from your servant for I am in distress. Make haste to answer me.’ Cry out to God if you're afraid of the storm and do not know what to do.
Cry out now. Do it now, before the flood comes. Don't wait until the waters have come up to your neck. Say David’s very first words in Psalm 69:1. ‘Save me O God’. Do it now before you drown like the disciples would have without their Saviour. Cling, as your only hope, to Jesus Christ, and He will save you.
5) In our last point, The Response, let's briefly look at the response of Jesus to the disciples after they have been saved. Read with me what Jesus says in Mark 4:40. Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? When these disciples clung to Jesus, what was Jesus response? If you are clinging to Him, Christian, this is Jesus message for you. Fear no more and do not be of little faith! Jesus says ‘You are on my boat now. How is it, that when you are on my boat, you fear the storm? Why has terror gripped you when you were in my care?’
Matthew Henry, speaking about this text beautifully puts it. He writes, ‘a ship that has Christ in it, though it may be tossed, cannot sink.’ Again, ‘a ship that has Christ in it, though it may be tossed, cannot sink.’
Jesus message is to be strong and courageous. Continue to trust in the king of creation to rescue you. It is then, that we can truly be filled with gladness at our great salvation. The gladness for the deliverence from the storm. The gladness of the sailors in psalm 107 who cry. ‘Let us thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man’. Amen.