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Jesus Calms the Storms

Jesus Calms the Storms

Pastor Svea Merry                September 16-17, 2023

Good morning. I’m Svea Merry, our pastor of spiritual formation. What that means is that I have the great privilege of getting to lead our small group ministry and our adult education program, namely our Bible studies and classes, and my heart beats for people to meet Jesus and grow in the formation of their faith in him.

I am excited for the opportunity this morning to bring a message that isn’t part of a specific sermon series. We finished our Preseason series last week, and our next series, Dear Church, which is a study through the Letters to the churches from Jesus in Revelation 2 and 3, doesn’t start ‘til next week. Side note – if you’re not in a small group yet, I encourage you to go to and choose one, because this series is gonna be a great one for us all to engage in together!

When the opportunity to preach today came my way, I quickly landed on the text of Mark 4, the Bible passage I just read to you. But maybe not for the reasons you’d expect. This isn’t really going to be a message about suffering, and it’s not going to end in the big idea that this text often leads to, the idea that you don’t have to fear any storm because you’ve got Jesus in your boat, so to speak. I’m not saying that idea is wrong. I’ve taught this text to that point before myself.

But I chose this passage because when I read it recently, a thought kept swirling in my head, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I kept wondering why in the world, if the disciples were in this horrible storm, and they had Jesus, the Son of God, in their boat with them, why would they ignore Jesus, letting him sleep, until they were convinced they were going to die? Did you notice that from the passage? And that led to a second question I couldn’t shake, which is: “What might make us, consciously or subconsciously, ignore Jesus like a sleeping presence in the background of our lives?

Steve and I love to travel, and almost every flight we’ve ever been on has been appropriately uneventful, but a couple of times, Steve has gotten to be the hero when there’s been a medical emergency and they’ve asked if there’s a doctor on board. As a family doc with an ER background, he’s pretty great in these situations and has been able to help in a few different ways. So, wouldn’t you think that when the disciples found themselves in a torrential storm one of them might have had the thought to ask if there was a miracle-working God on board?

Maybe you’ve heard this story taught before and the teacher or pastor gave the disciples a hard time because they freaked out and ignored Jesus, who was right there, but to be fair, the disciples didn’t yet fully understand who Jesus really was so they didn’t yet see him as the most relevant person to turn to. We know this because even when they did eventually wake him up, they weren’t asking him to do anything, they were upset with him because he didn’t seem to care about what was happening.

 I think their answer to this question would be that they didn’t yet get who Jesus really was and what he was capable of. They admired him as their rabbi, their teacher. They had seen him do miracles of healing by this point, but I doubt they thought he controlled the weather. If you’re in a medical emergency, you seek out a doctor. If you’re in a storm on the sea, you seek out someone who’s skilled in handling a boat and Jesus’s skillset was carpentry and communicating. At least 4 of the disciples were professional fishermen based on this lake who had certainly weathered many storms, so I’m not sure we should judge them too quickly for trying to handle the situation themselves at this point in their faith journey.

But what about us? We have the whole account of Jesus’s life available to us. So, why would we, if we truly believed that we had the miracle-working Jesus with us in our boat, so to speak, would we freak out about things when they get hard and not just immediately trust him? Only you can answer that for you, but let me ask you this: Do you ever feel like God is distant and detached from your circumstances? Do you ever want to say, “Jesus, it’s like you’re taking a nap while I’m getting tossed around and I’m trying to keep my head above water and I’m not even sure if you care.”

If you can relate to that now or ever in the past, you’re not alone. Listen to this transparent Psalm of David:

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep water; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.” Ps. 69:1–3

So, glad you all came to worship with us this morning! Before you leave, there are some lovely people at the Connection Center.

Just kidding. Let’s walk through this story of Jesus calming the storm together and see why Jesus is worthy of turning to immediately. I’d love you to open your Bibles or go on your phones to Mark chapter 4, (Mark is the second book in the New Testament, right after Matthew). While you’re getting there, I’d like to give you some context so you can really picture what was going on.

The setting for this story is the Sea of Galilee, which to this day, is a place prone to sudden, intense storms because of the topography of the area. The sea, a large lake really, is 7 miles wide, 13 miles long. It’s bordered by some incredibly high cliffs, particularly on one end, with mountains on both sides, but the mountains on the east, in particular, skyrocket up. Mt Hermon, which isn’t far away, is 9200 feet above sea level, and yet this huge lake down in the valley between the mountains is 700 feet below sea level. Weather nerds like me are fascinated by this because whenever you’ve got super-cooled air blowing over a mountain range mixing with warm air over a below-sea-level lake, you’ve got a recipe for violent storm patterns that can develop very fast.

I haven’t been to Israel myself, but I’m told that on the western side of this lake, there are signs at some of the sea-side restaurants warning people to move their cars out of the parking lots if it rains because the lots can flood rapidly and you don’t want to walk out from lunch only to watch your car get swept away in the flood waters.

This story happens at the end of a long day. Jesus had been teaching crowds and crowds of people on the lakeshore. We find out earlier in this chapter that the crowd clamoring to hear him was so large that he got in a boat and sat in it a little bit off the shore to teach, presumably to be able to better communicate with the whole crowd and maybe also to avoid getting swarmed.

Picking up in today’s passage in Mark 4:35, it says,

That day when evening came, [Jesus] said to the disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.”

I love these details. Can you picture Jesus, resting on that boat, tired and weary, but hopefully satisfied at the end of a great day of ministry as the sun goes down and evening sets in? He’s with his friends, telling them where he’d like to go next. Notice that the verse says they left the crowd behind, taking Jesus, ‘just as he was’, in the boat. They didn’t go into town for supper first, he didn’t go back to change into comfy clothes. They just set out right from where they were when he finished teaching and headed out to cross the lake as the day faded into night. I’m not intending to make anything more out of those details than is there, other than I love that Mark included them. They’re the kind of details that remind us that this story was relayed by the people who were actually there.

As you’re picturing them in this boat, maybe it helps to have an idea of what it might have looked like. The picture on the left is the real remains of a boat that was excavated from the bottom of the Sea of Galilee and dated to the same era when Jesus lived. The boat on the right is a model of what it probably looked like. It held 12-15 people and could be powered either by a sail or rowed by 4 people with oars. A decent-sized boat, but not where I’d want to be in a bad storm.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.”

More great details. Not only is Jesus choosing an odd time to demonstrate his chill, sleeping ability, we know that he’s in the stern, the back end of the boat, comfortably asleep on a cushion. And the storm isn’t just a storm, it’s a furious squall. The original Greek here isn’t actually the word for furious, it’s the word for great or huge which is “mega”. They’re in a mega-storm. And we know that the storm has advanced to the point where they’re swamped, the waves are crashing in over the sides, and the boat has almost completely filled with water. They are about to sink. Can you picture them, drenched, scared? Can you see the winds and the rain pelting your face? Can you picture the blinding flashes of lightning and the roar of the thunder?

Now, remember that some of the disciples were professional fishermen on this lake. They knew the weather patterns; they’d been fishing here with their fathers since they were little boys and had, of course, been in bad weather before. So, the fact that they’re caught in a storm isn’t what’s significant in this story. What is, though, is that they think this is the end. They’ve already done everything they know how to do to survive. They’ve gotten to the point that they’ve accepted their fate. They’ve given up. They are going to die. It’s only then that…

The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Isn’t that fascinating? Why did they wait so long? Why did they treat him as an irrelevant sleeping figure in the back of the boat? I wonder if they fell into the trap of being self-sufficient and thinking they could handle it on their own, not wanting to bother him.

Do you ever do this? Do you pride yourself on being highly capable and self-sufficient, and so it isn’t until you’re out of options that you turn to God in desperation? Or does pride lead you to wait until a crisis hits to turn to Jesus? If you’re honest with yourself, is your spiritual life unsatisfying because you’re not really sure if God is there or if He truly cares about you? If that’s you, you’re so welcome here. Thank you for getting real. Let’s find hope together.

When I was a little girl, I was given a cross necklace that once belonged to my great-grandmother. I loved it and felt special for being the owner of this piece of jewelry from a woman I hadn’t ever met but heard beautiful stories about. I wore it all the time, but once when we were at a swimming pool, I took it off and set it in the locker with the rest of my stuff. After we got home that evening, I realized with horror that I had forgotten to put it back on and must have left it in the locker. I remember feeling like I’d gotten punched in the gut. I felt awful that I had lost this family heirloom. I felt so awful that I couldn’t bring myself to admit it to my mom. I lost sleep over this. I felt terrible. A couple of weeks later, with it still bothering me, I finally said something, and she jumped up and said, “Oh yeah, it’s in my purse. I noticed you’d left it and grabbed it before we left and forgotten to give it back to you.” I was both immediately relieved and kicking myself! If I’d just said something to my mom sooner, I would have spared myself all that stress. I wonder if some of the times that we feel stress in our lives and in our relationship with God, we could alleviate it so much quicker if we turned to him and unloaded what was on our hearts before we let it get to the point that things feel so desperate.

But maybe you haven’t done that because it seems like God’s been asleep in your storm, so to speak. When the waves are soaking you, and God seems distant, do you want to yell out, “God, you’re leaving me alone right when I need you! You’re letting the storm get me. It’s like you don’t care. Because if you loved me, you wouldn’t let me be going through this.” And that’s what the disciples seemed to be screaming at the moment when they said, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Of course he does, but the frank truth is that He sometimes lets storms happen because He may have His purposes for them that we might or might not understand. Consider this: if God is powerful, sovereign, and good enough to blame for our storms, He also must be powerful, sovereign, and good enough to have reasons why they’re happening—even if we can’t understand those reasons. You can’t have the first half of this statement without the second. If you did, you wouldn’t have God. You would have an imaginary friend who is under your control.

When the disciples lashed out at Jesus and accused him of not caring, notice his response.

In saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  isn’t he saying, “if you really believed in me and believed that I loved you, you could have been calm with me during that storm.” Their accusation is misguided – don’t think, “Jesus, if you love me, you won’t let the storms come into my life.” No, it’s so much better than that for us. Jesus is saying, “If you love me, you don’t need to fear the storm. The storm answers to me. And I’m not scared. You have no need to panic.”

Let me ask you this: Why could Jesus sleep during that storm? It wasn’t bothering him! He wasn’t threatened by it! Let’s go back and look at how he deals with the storm.

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 reminds me of a mother whose kids are being just a little too much. “Sit down and be quiet.”

And in comparing Jesus to an exasperated mom, I don’t mean any disrespect. In fact, quite the opposite. For Jesus to handle the storm like a parent redirecting a hyperactive preschooler is awesome. Do you know what it shows about him? He’s completely in control. He’s not at all phased. He’s not frightened. He’s not freaking out. He’s not in over his head. He’s got this.

There’s a sweet scene in a Robert Redford movie from about 25 years ago, The Horse Whisperer, where he is playing a cowboy and teaching a teenage girl how to drive a pickup truck in a huge open field in Montana. She’s scared and not sure she can do it, but he’s laid back and totally relaxed. He tells her to simply follow the long, straight cattle path they’re on and then says he’s gonna take a little nap while she drives, laying back and putting his big cowboy hat low over his forehead. Seen here, she’s clearly nervous by him checking out, but he’s doing it very intentionally to convey to her that he’s not worried, that it’s all okay. Delightfully, he peaks out from under his hat when she’s not looking to make sure it truly is. She might have felt on her own, but it’s he’s really still in control. He’s keeping them safe, even if it looks like he’s taking a nap.

Have you ever wondered if Jesus curled up on that cushion to take a nap on purpose? I don’t think he did anything without purpose! Yes, he was fully human as well as fully God and may have been validly tired after a long day, but it would be really weird if we suggested that his human side was so tired that he couldn’t wake up in a hurricane. I don’t know any human who can sleep through that! So what was it that he was intentionally conveying to everyone in the boat by that nap?

There’s a verse I like in the Psalms that would be easy to take out of context:

For [God] grants sleep to those he loves.

Psalm 127:2b. Now, don’t feel alienated if you struggle with insomnia. If that’s you, this doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. The principle, when interpreted correctly, is that those who are in Christ, have no need to lay awake in fear or distress. They can sleep peacefully, trusting in God, because he is watching over everything.

Jesus could sleep amidst the howling winds and the crashing waves because, as God, the sea couldn’t do anything to him. And this is far more significant theologically than we might understand at first glance. You see, ancient Near East cultures dreaded the dangers of the sea and considered it a place of evil. It was the place where your loved ones may go out and be swept overboard in the unmanageable power of the waves and be swallowed up and vanish from you forever. The sea was a dangerous and violent, grief-filled place.

We see this motif all throughout Scripture, even beginning on the first page. From the primordial waters of chaos, God created order. In Psalm 93: this poem contrasts the power of the Lord God over the power of the seas. Look at this:

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the word is established, firm and secure. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.”

But now the contrast:

The seas have lifted up, Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea— the Lord on high is mighty.

In Daniel’s apocalyptic vision, the prophecy of 4 beasts depicts them as evil creatures who emerge from the sea. And at the very end of the Bible, in Revelation, when speaking of the paradise he saw awaiting us in the new heavens and earth, John says that there was no longer any sea. Now, this doesn’t mean there will be no more oceans or bodies of water in the age to come, but that there will no longer be a place of evil that takes, that kills, and robs us of the ones we love.

Throwing a bone to all my fellow Scandihoovians, do you know the story about the 11th Century Danish king Canute who had some subjects in his kingdom who got a little over-eager and thought he might be a god? To refute this silly notion, he walked up to the sea and told it to stop. Obviously, it didn’t, and because only God could stop the sea, and he couldn’t, that was how he established he wasn’t God.

And so, with that in mind about the power of God and the evil imagery of the sea, put yourself back in the soaking-wet shoes of the disciples. They fear the sea, and their nightmare is becoming real. And so when Jesus puts the sea in its place as easily as a parent telling a kid to sit still and be quiet, they suddenly understand Jesus in a whole new way. Suddenly the roaring winds and waves are gone, along with their misconceptions. The text says everything now was completely calm – but in the Greek, just like the storm was a mega storm, there’s a fun play on words here and the Greek describes it now as being mega-calm.

Now who is the most relevant person onboard to handle this emergency: the professional fishermen who have survived some storms before, or the one who can turn mega-storms into mega-calm?

There’s a great comedic element at this point in the story: before Jesus calms the storm, the disciples are sure they’re going to die. After the storm, now they’re terrified!

“They were terrified and asked each other, Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

And when Mark wrote their words down in his gospel for us to read and ends the story here abruptly, I think he intended everyone who ever hears or reads this to be gob-smacked by this right along with them. Who is this Jesus, indeed? Who is this one who can tell nature what to do? How would you react in the moment you expected to die to have the threat neutralized and suddenly discover that your mentor was actually God?

But if you can appreciate how the disciples in the boat were terrified at this point, can I show you something else that absolutely blew my mind when I saw it? Look at verse 36 again:

36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.

Have you overlooked this phrase in the story?! Not just that there were other boats out there on the lake, there were other boats out there with him. Can you even imagine how terrified those poor followers of Jesus must have been? They, too, were in the mega storm and then presumably in the sudden mega calm. And Jesus wasn’t physically in their boat. But because of Jesus and who he is and what he can do, he was just as sovereign over their experience.

And that’s really good news for all of us! Because, as followers of Jesus, sometimes we can calm ourselves with the idea that Jesus is in our boat, and that gives us the courage to trust him, but sometimes it isn’t that easy. Sometimes, as followers of Jesus, we can feel like we’re following right along with him, headed in the same direction, aiming for the same place, and POW. Mega storm. And hard as we may try to see him and feel his presence with us, we might have a night like the poor souls in the other boats, and we feel hopelessly tossed around in the darkness of night. But Jesus is still just as real and capable in those moments for us as he is when we feel like he’s right next to us in our boat. His power is not limited by our faith or our feelings. His power is in who he is. The storms will do what he wills them to do whether we can see him do it or not. For me, that’s even more encouraging than telling myself to be calm because he’s in my boat. Because no matter what, he’s still in control of the storm, it's not a problem for him, and he will either stop it or see me through it.

So, I ask you to consider with those who experienced this event, who is this Jesus, the one the winds and waves obey? How does understanding Jesus for all that he is, all that he can do impact you?  What would it mean to face that problem that feels insurmountable right now, knowing that it’s completely within Jesus’s ability to control it? What encouragement would it give you to work on your marriage or another relationship that matters to you if you knew he was able to guide you through it in His wisdom? What peace would it give you to rest tonight knowing that Jesus knows the crisis you are facing, and He can absolutely see you through it or even make it stop?

If you have not yet surrendered your life to Jesus, I invite you to do that today. Simply express to Him right now that you recognize you need Him to be the Lord of your life, you recognize your brokenness from sin and your inability to weather the storm on your own, and that you want to accept the gift of salvation he made available to you through what he did for you when he died to redeem you from your sins and was resurrected as proof that he lives to be your Savior forever.

Or if you do know Jesus as your Lord, but you’ve been letting him sleep, so to speak, while you try to handle life your own way, hear him today inviting you back into a more connected relationship with him. Hear him inviting you to be with him, to stop trying so hard on your own, to rest while he handles the storm for you.

How can you do this? I’m glad you asked. I’ll give you 5 ways – not because that’s all there is but because that’s what fits on my slide.

  • Spend time with him.
  • Read about him. Study him. Get to know him better through all that was said about him in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
  • Notice him at work in your life and express your gratitude to him.
  • In every aspect of your life, look to him and be intentional about being more like him.
  • And pray. Talk to him all throughout your day in prayer, in everything, the big things and the little things.

And for any of you who wish you wanted to do things, but don’t feel it, here’s what I’d suggest to you. Pray, “Jesus, I want to want you. Grow my desire for you.”

What I have seen is that the more we make it our practice to be with Jesus and seek to be more like him, it becomes unthinkable to be in a storm, or even in the calm, without him.

Our mission as a church is to lead people to be fully devoted followers of Jesus. Of this Jesus whom the wind and waves obey. And I love hearing the stories of many of you who are being transformed by Jesus. When we know Jesus for all that he is and all he can do, we may want to just sit in the boat with him in the mega calm forever. And most messages on this chapter end here with the beautiful idea of trusting confidently in Jesus in our boat. But he may have even more for us than that. Before I close, I’d like to elevate the ending and quickly show you one last beautiful thing.

In the next chapter, right after this story, Mark tells us that when Jesus and the disciples finally reached the other side of the lake and got out of the boat, they were met by a man who was horribly afflicted by demonic spirits. I’m not going to tell the whole story, you can read it yourself later, but I want to show you how it ends. Jesus freed this man of the torment and gave him his life back again. The man was over-the-moon grateful, but when the demons left the man, they destroyed a herd of pigs. and the pig-tenders who saw this ran into town and told everyone, riling up the townspeople, and they pleaded with Jesus to leave.

But then we see this:

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.”

So understandable. This man had also been in a storm, a very different kind of storm, and he, too, encountered the incredible, life-changing power of Jesus and wanted to stay safely in the boat with him. But,

Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you. So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”

Friends, I don’t know what the wind and waves are like in your part of the sea today, but I do know that Jesus is more than able to stop it or see you through. He is able to do immeasurably more than all that we ask or imagine. Even though you may be in turmoil, he is peaceful and calm and capable and looking to you with open arms waiting for you to turn to him. And on the other side of that storm, you get to leave that boat as a person whose life has been transformed by his power and amaze others because of what he’s done for you.

Let’s pray.