Mark 11: King of the storm

Mark 4:35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 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?” 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. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Let me start with a question. What happens when our obedience to Jesus leads us to a storm? For some Christians, they might not have the vocabulary for it. They were brought up with the understanding that if you follow Jesus, then God will bless you with health and wealth. It is not God’s will for Christians to go through pain and suffering. Obedience to Jesus does not lead to a storm. We call it prosperity theology. However today, many Christians realised the flaw of this theology. It is extremely unrealistic and inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible. What is very common among many Christians today is not prosperity but soft-prosperity theology. Or what I call Disney theology. They believe that Christians will go through many storms but ultimately the purpose of every storm is for God to bless you with material blessings. They say that you might experience pain right now but hold on. Because if you hold on, God will restore your life and bless you with double blessings in this life. But is that true? Is that the purpose of the storm?

As to the time when I write this sermon a few weeks ago, my Bible reading was on the book of Job. If you are not familiar with the story, let me give you an overview of what happened in the first two chapters of the book. At the beginning of chapter 1, we were introduced to a man by the name of Job. And Job had a perfect resume. He was blameless and upright, he feared God, he was very rich, and he loved his family very much. Sound like a perfect Christian, right? But then at the end of chapter 1, he lost everything. He lost all his wealth, and all his children were killed. All he had left at the end of the chapter was his health and his wife. But then in chapter 2, he also lost his health, and his wife was fed up and told him to curse God. His perfect life turned into chaos in a matter of days. What happened?

This is where the Bible challenged our simplistic worldview. When suffering hits, there are two basic ways people respond to it. If you are religious, you will ask the question, “What am I doing wrong? Why is God punishing me?” This worldview operates by cause and effect. If you do good, then God will bless you. And if you do bad then God will punish you. So, the reason you face storms is that God is not happy with you, and you need to fix it. They see storms as punishment for disobedience. But the story of Job tells us that Job experience storms not because he was bad but because he was very good. The more secular worldview sees storms as random and a matter of chance. For them, storms are proof that there is no God. Or if there is a God, that God is incompetent since he can’t stop them. But the Bible disagrees with both worldviews. The Bible tells us that the God of the Bible is sovereign over every single molecule in the universe. He is in control over every single storm that comes our way and he is good. Then the question is, if God is sovereign and good, why did he allow us to go through storms? I’m glad you asked. Our passage for today deals with this question.

The stilling of the storm is the first nature miracle in the book of Mark. It illustrates Mark’s purpose to reveal Jesus’ identity to his disciples and the reader. Mark wants us to know who the real Jesus is. Mark tells us this story not primarily to tell us that Jesus will get us through the storms of life. But rather he wants us to know Jesus’ authority over the storms of life. And I believe this is the primary purpose of storms in the life of Christians. Storms in our lives are designed by God for us to know the King of the storm.

I separate this sermon into three parts: The storm; The response to the storm; The King of the storm.

The storm

Mark 4:35-37 – 35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.

If you remember what happened at the beginning of chapter 4, Jesus was teaching from a boat on the sea while the crowd was listening to him on the land. And after all day of teaching and preaching to the crowd, Jesus is tired. Let me tell you, preaching might look easy to you, but it is an exhausting task. I just came back from Indonesia and on one of the Sundays, I preached three times. At 8:30, 10:30 and 4 PM. And by the end of the day, I was brain dead. Literally. And do you know what happens when I get brain dead? I get people’s names mixed up. I once said at the dinner after church, “Hey Rachel, can you pass me the water?” And Ribka looked at me with the expression, “Why are you calling me Rachel?” True story. And last week, I called her Kaori. Preaching is hard work and Jesus is exhausted after preaching all day. So, he says to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” Now, pay careful attention. Whose idea is it to leave the crowd and go to the other side of the sea? It is not the disciples’ idea. It is Jesus’ idea. Jesus is the one who initiates this journey to move away from the crowd to get to other places to preach the gospel. And the disciples simply obey Jesus. Look at what happens next.

Mark 4:36 – 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. Does anything strike you about this verse? The answer is no. There is no deep meaning in this verse. This verse is simply an irrelevant detail. It does not move the story forward. But let me tell you why this verse is important. This verse tells us that this story is an eyewitness account. The reason Mark puts this detail in the story is because it is what happens. There is no other reason for it. It means that we must take this story at face value. It is not a legend. Throughout centuries, there have been many people who try to edit the Bible to their own liking. They say that Jesus was a good moral example, but he was not God. So, they rip out pages of the Bible that contradicts natural law, such as our passage for today. They say that Jesus was not God and never claim to be one. It was the disciples who made him God to keep the movement going. So, the disciples exaggerated the act of Jesus and made a legend out of him. But if you read the book of Mark, it doesn’t read like a legend. It has some unimportant details that have no special meaning. Why? Because the book of Mark is an eyewitness account, and it read like an eyewitness account. This means that we can’t choose and pick the kind of Jesus we want. We either agree with everything he reveals himself to be, or we reject him altogether.

So, Jesus and the disciples make their way to the other side of the sea. And something unexpected happens. An ordinary evening trip across the sea suddenly turns into an evening the disciples will never ever forget. And 2000 years later, we are still talking about it. A storm happens. And there is nothing strange about a storm in the sea of Galilee. Galilee is known for its stormy weather. But this storm is different. This is not an average storm. Mark tells us that it is a great windstorm. The storm is so great that it makes the disciples fear for their life. Now think about it. There are four fishermen among the disciples. They spent most of their life on the sea. But they are terrified of this storm. Let me put it this way. Anyone ever experienced very bad turbulence on a plane? What happened? We got worried. But then we heard the pilot spoke through the P.A. system. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing very bad turbulence right now. So, put on your seat belt and remain in your seat. It is going to be a tough ride for the next few minutes, but we are going to get you through it.” At that moment, we were okay because the pilot got it under control. But if the pilot ever got on the P.A. system and said, “O my gosh. We are going to die. We are going down.” We would be screaming with him. Right? This storm terrified even these four fishermen. They try everything they can to deal with the storm, but the storm is getting worse every minute. To the point that the waves are breaking into the boat and the boat is filled with water. The great windstorm threatens to sink the boat and kill everyone on the boat.

What can we learn from this storm? We learn that storms can come anytime, anywhere, and without invitation. I wish storms would call us in advance to let us know that they are coming. It would be nice right? But they don’t. All it takes is a single phone call to turn a gentle breeze into a tempest. One moment, everything is perfect. The night is quiet, and the stars are shining. The next moment, our lives are unravelling. The night is loud, and the stars are hiding. 2020 and 2021 teach us that storms do not need an invitation. Covid19 happens just like that and all of us are still recovering from its effect today. Here is something that we must understand about Christian life. God never promises a smooth journey in life. There is an important detail in this story that we must not miss. This storm is not an accident. This storm does not catch Jesus off guard. Jesus is the one who leads the disciples into the storm. The only reason the disciples are faced with the deadly storm is because they obeyed Jesus. Obedience to Jesus does not exempt us from storms. Following Jesus does not mean a storm-free life. I know it might surprise some of us but listen carefully. Sometimes the will of God will lead us directly into a storm. Every storm in our lives is not an accident but divinely ordained by God.

But here is a question that we must deal with. Why storms? I mean, we can understand a storm for Jonah. One day, God came to Jonah and told him to go to Nineveh to preach to the city. But Jonah disobeyed God and went on a boat to Tarshish instead. And because of it, God sent a huge storm that threatened to destroy the boat and kill everyone on the boat. We get that right? God sent a storm to discipline the disobedient Jonah. But a storm for obeying Jesus? It does not make any sense. Why does God allow a huge storm to threaten the life of the disciples who are obeying Jesus? I think we have the answer by looking at what is happening at the end of this storm. Here is what we find out. The storm is extremely essential to the spiritual growth of the disciples. Without the storm, they would never grow to be who they should become. Let that be an encouragement to us. Many of us are going through seas of difficulty and storms of trouble right now. Some of you lose your job and are hit with waves of worry. Some of you are sick and are flooded with fear. Some of you are in a personal conflict and it feels as if your boats are sinking. Some of you lose someone you loved and you are drowned in sorrow. You obey Jesus and you are faced with a great storm. And your boats are breaking. The encouragement is that Jesus is aware of the storm you face. You are not there by accident. He leads you into the storm so that he can shape you through the storm. Let’s move on with the story.

The response to the storm

Mark 4:38 – 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?”

Do you know what Jesus does during the storm? Jesus is sleeping. Can you imagine the scene? While everyone on the boat is fighting for their life, Jesus is sleeping on his pillow at the back of the boat. And the only time it is recorded in the four gospels that Jesus sleeps is during a storm. I mean, I am sure Jesus sleeps every night. But why specifically mention that Jesus sleeps during a storm? Because it is the opposite of what we would do. Do you know when we are not sleeping? Do you know when we are wide awake in our bed at 3 in the morning? During a storm. In fact, we don’t have to face an actual storm to be sleepless. Just the possibility of facing a storm is enough to keep us awake at night. Am I right? During my recent trip to Indonesia, I was sleepless a few times. Why? Because I was in close contact with different people who got Covid. There was one time when my friend picked me up and took me out for brunch. And on the way to brunch, he told me, “Oh, by the way, my girlfriend got Covid a few days ago. But I checked this morning, and I am fine.” I slowly put my mask back on in the car. And then we spent about two or three hours without masks during brunch. I thought everything was fine. And then two days later, he messaged me, “Yo bro, I am positive.” And that night I couldn’t sleep. I was still awake at 4 AM. I was like, “Why do I feel uncomfortable when I swallow? Do I have a sore throat? Why does my arm feel sore when I hold my pillow? Do I have body aches?” I felt like I had all the symptoms even though there was nothing wrong with me. Does anyone know what I am talking about? During a storm is when we oftentimes are not sleeping. But Jesus sleeps during a storm.

And it is not as if Jesus is pretending to sleep to teach his disciples a lesson. Jesus is not faking it and keeping one eye open like what your kids would do when they pray and they put their fingers up and they are peeking through. Jesus doesn’t do that. He is truly exhausted, and he intended to sleep. How do we know? Because he has a cushion with him. If I see you come to church with a neck pillow, I know that you have pre-decided to take a nap during my sermon. Jesus was tired and he needed sleep. It shows the humanity of Jesus. Jesus gets hungry, tired, and angry just like us. But it also shows Jesus’ complete trust in God. Jesus knows that God’s plan will never fail. It doesn’t matter how great of a storm in front of him, he will make it to the other side. He knows that God is in absolute control of every little detail of life. No harm would come to him without God’s permission. That is why he can sleep while others are panicking. Maybe the reason we can’t sleep and are wide awake at night is because we do not trust that God is in absolute control over our lives.

Look at the disciples’ response to the storm. It is the total opposite of Jesus. The disciples are frightened, desperate, and frustrated. They try everything they can in their own strength to deal with the storm, but nothing works. They are helpless before the great storm. The boat is almost sinking. And their teacher is sleeping. So, they say to one another, “You wake him up.” “No, you wake him up. I am not waking him up.” And Peter probably goes, “Fine, let’s wake him up together.” So, they wake Jesus up and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Do you see what they are saying? They are saying, “Jesus, can’t you see what is happening all around us? Don’t you have Instagram and Twitter accounts? Don’t you see the daily number of cases and death? Don’t you know what happened between Russia and Ukraine? Don’t you see the flood around us? Don’t you care about us? Why are you sleeping? If you love us, why would you let us go through this? If you love us, why would you let us experience this storm?” They accuse Jesus of not caring about them. Maybe they thought that since Jesus can perform miracles, all would be well if they simply stick to Jesus.

And before we blame the disciples for their response, remember that we are just like them. When life does not go according to our expectations, when we are faced with a storm, it is easy for us to assume that God does not know and does not care about us. We assume that if God does care about us, then obviously he won’t let it happen. And I can see this happens again and again in my own life whenever things get hard. I remember when I was first diagnosed with cancer, my first response was to blame God. “God, where are you? Don’t you care about me? Don’t you love me? After five years of Bible college, is this what I get?” Anyone who has followed Jesus for some time has experienced the moment where God seems sleeping. Where God seems silent. Where it feels like God does not care. And this is where our faith is tested. Storms reveal the quality of our faith. We know this. It is not good times that prove whether we are true Christians or not. It is not a season where everything goes according to our expectations that shows whether we are genuine or not. It is when nothing goes according to our expectations that prove whether our faith is real or not. Storms reveal the quality of our faith. So, if life goes wrong and we are mad at God and we point finger at him, “God, how could you let this happen to me? I did not deserve it”, and we walk away from God, it shows that we never love God in the first place. We can easily claim to have faith in Jesus when everything is calm. But what happens when we follow Jesus, and a storm hits us? Let’s learn from the disciples. Their response might be wrong, but they do one thing right. They know where to get help. They wake Jesus up. I do not know what kind of storm you are facing right now. But here is my question. Where do you look for help amid your storms? There is no one better to call on than Jesus. Call to him amid your storms because he cares for you.

The king of the storm

Mark 4:39-41 – 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. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

If there is any scene in the book of Mark that I want to witness with my own eye, it is probably this scene. It is breathtaking. Imagine it. The great storm is upon the sea. The waves are crashing. The boat is sinking. The disciples are panicking. Then Jesus wakes up from his nap. He looks at the storm, he rebukes the wind, and he says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” This is weird. Do you realize how strange it sounds? A while back, at Mike and Kim’s wedding, the holy matrimony was outdoor. And the weather forecast for that day was rain. But we prayed and praise God he answered our prayer by giving us perfect weather. But imagine if it was raining that day. Mike and Kim would have been disappointed. But hey, they flew me all the way from Sydney to Bogor for this very reason, right? So, I say to them, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” And I walk to the holy matrimony place under the rain, look up at the rain clouds and yell, “Enough. Stop raining right now. It is time for a wedding. Sun, show your face!” Mike and Kim would say, “I think our pastor has lost his mind after the 7-days quarantine.” Right? And if it works, Mike and Kim would be terrified. By the way, I have tried it before. It was raining and I wanted to play soccer so badly. So, I yelled at the rain to stop, and nothing happened. It was awkward. But Jesus is different. Jesus yells out, “Peace! Be still!” And in Greek, the phrase “Be still” is in perfect passive imperative. What Jesus is saying is, “Be quiet. And remain quiet!” This is like how you speak to a little kid. And it is. The word rebuke is the same word used in the book of Mark of the rebuking of evil spirits to shut their mouth. It does not mean that the storm is of evil. But it does mean that just as Jesus has absolute authority over evil, Jesus has absolute authority over nature.

Pay attention to what happens next. The moment Jesus speaks, the great storm stops. The wind ceased and there is a great calm. Not just calm, but a great calm. So, one moment, the disciples were almost drowning because of a great storm. And the next moment, there is a great calm. Dead calm. There is no wave whatsoever. There is no sound of the wind. The sea is as smooth as glass. You can almost see your face on it. This is fascinating because it would usually take a couple of hours for the sea to gradually calm down from a great storm. But a great storm turns immediately into a great calm at the word of Jesus. And Jesus is not calling on a higher power. Jesus does not use any incantation or magic spell. He does not do a special move with his magic wand and say, “Abracadabra.” Oh no. All he needs is his word. Because the power to make the storm cease lies in himself. And when Jesus speaks, the wind and the wave respond immediately because they hear the voice of their king speaking to them. Jesus Christ is the king of the storm.

And let me tell you why this is absolutely staggering. In the Bible and many ancient cultures, the sea is a symbol of destruction. No one can control the storm in the sea. But one. In the Old Testament, only God has the power to still a great storm. And in this story, Jesus has the power to still a great storm with his word. In the stilling of the storm, Jesus does again what only God can do. Jesus displays the same authority and power as the God of Israel. Do you see what is happening? The stilling of the storm is not merely a demonstration of Jesus’ authority. It is a revealing of Jesus’ identity as the sovereign king of the universe. This story is an invitation for us to trust Jesus in the storm. I love the way David Gooding puts it. “The story of the stilling of the storm is not, of course, meant to tell us that Christ will never allow any believer to perish by drowning, or by any other natural disaster. Many believers have so perished. It does demonstrate that he is Lord of the physical forces in the universe, that for him nothing happens by accident, and that no force in all creation can destroy his plan for our eternal salvation or separate us from the love of God which in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Do you hear that? If Jesus is the king of the storm, it means that Jesus is also king over flood, earthquake, fire, heat, virus, and every force of nature. And the promise is not that if we trust Jesus, we will never suffer harm. The promise is that if we trust Jesus, he will be with us in harm. No force of nature can separate us from the love of Christ because Jesus Christ is the king of the physical forces in the universe.

After Jesus stills the storm, he says to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And look at what happens next. This is the key verse to understand this story. Mark 4:41 – 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” When the disciples witness what happened, they are not celebrating with one another. There is no high five and chest bump. They do not come to Jesus and give him a big hug. Instead, they are filled with great fear. Why? Because they have never seen anything like it. The disciples have seen Jesus did many wonderful things. They have seen Jesus heal in the synagogue. They have seen Jesus cast out demons. They have seen Jesus heal the paralytic. They have seen Jesus cleanse a leper. They have seen Jesus heal the man with a withered hand. But they have never seen a person rebukes a storm and the storm submit to it. And now the disciples must make a choice. They must make up their mind on the identity of Jesus. Who is Jesus? Who is this man that even the wind and the sea obey him? And they are filled with great fear because they finally realise that the person who is with them in the boat is no ordinary man. They were terrified at the great storm, but they are even more terrified at the great calm. Because now they know that they are in the presence of the king of the storm. It is one thing to fear the storm, it is another to be in the presence of the king of the storm. And the presence of the king of the storm is far more terrifying than the most destructive storm. And the story end. The story does not end with a calm sea but with the disciple’s amazement of Jesus.

Don’t miss it. This is the lesson of the storm. The point of this story is not about storms or eliminating storms. Mark doesn’t end the story with a calm sea. Mark ends the story with the disciples realizing that the one who commands the wind and the waves is standing in the boat with them. The stilling of the storm is for the disciples. Jesus wants the disciples to know who he is. He wants them to know that the one who is with them is far greater than whatever is against them. Jesus wants them to fear him more than they fear the most destructive force. Because the fear of Jesus has the power to defeat all other fears. This is the lesson for us. When we fear Jesus above all, we do not have to fear anything else. The storm we face in life is never about the storm; it is about the one who is with us in the storm. What we need is not for our storms to be over as soon as possible. What we need is to recognise that the king of the storm is with us in our boat. And if we have Jesus in our boat, we have no reason to be afraid. He will see us through the storm. The storm will only open our eyes to see more clearly the presence of the king of the storm with us. And at the end of the storm, we will say like the disciples, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

But the question for us is this. How can we be sure that Jesus is with us in our storms? Here is how. The story ends with the disciples questioning the identity of Jesus. They are still not sure. But today we know better. We have something they did not have yet. We have the full Scripture. And when we look at the Scripture as a whole, it is very hard for us to miss the comparison. This story is very similar to the story of Jonah in the Old Testament. Jesus even calls himself the greater Jonah. Think about the comparison. First, both Jesus and Jonah are out on the sea in a boat. Second, both Jesus’ and Jonah’s boat are overtaken by a great storm. Third, both Jesus and Jonah are asleep in the storm. Fourth, the people in the boat wake them up and say, “We are perishing.” Fifth, in both cases, there is a miraculous intervention by God that calmed the sea. Sixth, in both stories, the people in the boat are more terrified after the storm than they were during the storm. Can you see the similarities? However, there is one little difference between these two stories. Jonah calms the storm by saying to the sailor, “Throw me into the sea. The only way for you to survive is for me to perish. If I die, you will live.” And they throw him in, and the storm immediately cease. But not so with Jesus. Jesus simply speaks to the storm and the storm immediately cease. Jesus lives. But the story is not finished. Remember Jesus does not say that he is Jonah. Jesus says that he is the greater Jonah. And just like Jonah, Jesus will also be thrown into a storm. But the storm that he will be thrown into is no ordinary great storm. Jesus will be thrown into the storm of all storms. Jesus will be thrown into the storm of God’s wrath toward sin. And by his death, he will calm all storms. He will defeat death. He will destroy destruction. And one day, there will be no storm.

Can you see what happened? At the cross, Jesus was thrown into the ultimate storm for our sake. Jesus suffered the ultimate storm of eternal justice. Why? So that you and I who put our faith in him may never have to endure the ultimate storm of God’s wrath. Can you see Jesus did all that for us? Because this is what we need when we face storms in our lives. To the degree we know that Jesus is thrown into the ultimate storm for us, to that degree we can trust him in our smaller storms. What we need is not deliverance from storms. What we need is the presence of Jesus in our storms. The gospel is not that if we trust Jesus then Jesus will deliver us from all storms. The gospel is that if we trust Jesus, Jesus is on the boat with us. And Jesus is the king of the storm. And he has promised that not one hair can fall from our head without his permission. All our days are already written in his book before one of them come to pass. When we realize who Jesus is and what he has done for us and he is on the boat with us, we won’t be afraid of anything else. Because if Jesus did not abandon us in the storm of God’s wrath, surely he will never abandon us in our storms. He will bring us safely to his arm. We do not know how long our storms will last. We do not know what the future holds but we know the one who holds the future and that’s what matters. Jesus Christ is the king of the storm. Let’s pray.

Discussion questions:

  1. Explain the problems with prosperity theology and disney theology. Give some examples.
  2. “Jesus was a great man / teacher / prophet. But he was not God and never claim to be one.” Why is this statement problematic and inconsistent with the testimony of the Bible?
  3. Look at the contrast between Jesus and the disciples’ response to the storm. Which one reflects your response and why?
  4. Why did Jesus allow his disciples to experience a great storm? What does it tell you about the storm that you experience?
  5. How does the gospel enable us to stand firm in our storms?
  6. Spend time to pray for people in MC and people you know who are currently experiencing a storm.

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