God’s Word for You
Mark 4:37-39 The waves and winds still know…
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, May 21, 2022
37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (NIV)
I have described this kind of sudden squall through the eyes of a 19th century American naval officer in my Luke commentary (Vol. 2 p. 444-445). The geography of the mountainous bowl surrounding the Sea of Galilee is deceptive even to the experienced sailor. The mountains rise in the far distance all around the sea, many of them obscured by haze, many miles away. But the valleys and narrow ways between the peaks and the tall hills create tortuous pathways for certain winds to find. A day that seems perfectly clear overhead may turn into a sudden, fierce storm in the sea, which is what happened on this evening.
Waves broke over the sides of the boat, and it began to fill with water faster than the disciples could bail it out. Some of the disciples such as Matthew and Judas were landlubbers, and might have been more concerned about their sea sickness than other dangers. But several of them were experienced sailors, and even they began to despair. The three accounts show that they all began to call out to Jesus with varying titles but the same urgent words:
“Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25).
“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38)
“Professor! Professor! We’re going to drown!” (Luke 8:24)
Each of them called to Jesus with respect coupled with the definite fear of drowning. Here in Mark, their question amounts to the same thing as the exclamations reported by Matthew and Luke. Many years later, John appears to have felt that the others covered the account well enough without his own recollection of what they all said and feared. In John’s Gospel, these events fall within the phrase “Some time after this,” John 6:1, meaning after the Passover evidently suggested by “the feast of the Jews” in John 5:1. We think that this miracle took place in the fall, about four or five months before he fed the 5,000 (and walked on the water, Mark 6:30-56).
They were excited and afraid, and there was Jesus, sleeping in the stern or back of the boat. Why was Jesus sleeping? He was tired. His human nature was subject to fatigue just as ours is, and he permitted himself in his state of humiliation to need to sleep. Now awakened by his followers, he used his divine power to quiet the wind and still the waves. For some readers who have experienced a sudden drop of the wind, the first action might not seem miraculous (although it does to us with faith), but anyone who has experienced any kind of waves in a boat—the wake of another boat, for example—knows that that churning water and heaving waves big enough to come over the sides of a boat don’t suddenly stop and “be still.” This was the voice of God.
Christ does miracles whenever he wills; things no human being can do (John 9:32), things the Father alone does (John 5:19-20), but which he himself accomplishes (as opposed to the Apostles, who performed miracles later on purely and entirely by the grace of God and not their own wills). Jesus does this by commanding, as we see here in his words spoken to his creation and not to any human or to any spirit. Christ performs his miracle for his own glory, glory he must receive as God, “I will not give my glory to another” (Isaiah 48:11). With his miracles, Christ confirmed what he also said in his preaching: He is the only-begotten Son of God, and as to his divinity, he is equal to the Father (John 10:30).
The result of the miracle in nature was complete and absolute obedience. Nature is affected by the sins of mankind: “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17). Nature groans “right up to the present time” in this bondage of death and decay on account of Adam’s sin (Romans 8:20-22), waiting for its release. But unlike fallen man, nature is completely subject and has no will of its own. Man has only the will to sin (Genesis 6:5) and no other free will at all. But Christ commanded the sea, and the sea obeyed. He commanded the wind, and the wind obeyed. These things teach us the Law and condemn us for our sinful stubbornness because they show his power and the way it should be obeyed. But this passage also teaches us the Gospel because Jesus had compassion on his friends and rescued them. He was teaching them to trust him; would we like a harder lesson than theirs?
He answered their prayer, and God invites to pray. If he didn’t want us to pray; if he didn’t intend to hear us and answer us, he would not have given us the command to pray nor the promise that he would hear and answer (Jeremiah 25:12; Daniel 9:23). So we pray with confidence, and we humble ourselves to think ourselves to be like the headstrong wind or the buffeting waves; we want our way, and we soar and surge wherever we please (we think, although we are truly just driven along by the crowds of other winds and waves). But whenever God commands, we want to obey. If he says, “Quiet!” will I be quiet, or will my mouth keep moving? If he says, “Be still!” will I be still, or will I keep fidgeting and indulging my sinful will? If he says, “Love one another,” will I do that, including the love of Christian discipline that calls sin a sin, or will I just try not to make waves?
The waves and winds still know…
Pastor Timothy Smith