Mark 4: 35-41
“With Jesus in the boat we can smile at the storm, Smile at the storm, Smile at the storm, With Jesus in the boat we can smile at the storm, As we go sailing home.” (Children’s chorus based on this incident in Mark.)
A storm at sea
Jesus had been working hard, teaching the crowds, healing the sick. He was exhausted. So he said to his disciples, “Let’s get in a boat and go to the other side of the lake”. That was the Gentile side – he knew it was unlikely that any Jewish people would want to go there. Jesus climbed into the boat just as he was and lay down on a fisherman’s leather cushion at the stern of the boat. Within a short while he was fast asleep – worn out. And so they set off in their boat, and a few other small boats with some other followers of Jesus went with them.
Now, weather conditions on Lake Galilee are treacherous. The hillsides and valleys all around the lake funnel the winds. Sometimes a squall can blow up out of nowhere, with no warning. That’s what happened here. One moment all was peaceful and calm, the next they were struggling against strong winds and huge waves. The waves were breaking over the boat and they were in danger of being swamped. The disciples panicked – but there was Jesus, fast asleep! One is reminded of Jonah fast asleep, below deck on the ship to Tarshish. The difference is that in Jonah’s case, his sleep was an escape from a guilty conscience. In the case of Jesus it was sheer physical and mental tiredness. He was asleep and he was at peace.
All this was too much for the disciples. “Master don’t you care if we drown?” they cried, as they tried to rouse him. Jesus rubbed his eyes, got slowly to his feet, and in a loud clear voice said, “Quiet, be still!” Jesus spoke to the storm just as you might command a barking dog to be quiet. And the wind just petered out, the waves died down, and calm came over the sea.
“Why are you so frightened?” he said to his disciples. “Do you still have no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and fear. “Who is this, even the wind and the waves obey him?” It was fear that had led them to awake the master. Now he is awake it is replaced with a much more profound awe and fear. Who is this man?
At the beginning of this incident we see a very human Jesus. He lies down in the stern of the boat just as he is: unwashed, unfed, totally worn out. He seeks the oblivion and restorative power of sleep. This is a very human Jesus. He is so obviously a man, and we can all identify with him. But when he calms the storm they see his divine power. Here is a man who can control the weather with a single word of command. We see no magic mumbo-jumbo here, no incantations, no spells. Not even an invocation of the name of Jehovah. By his own power Jesus stills the storm, with a word of command. And the wind and waves obey him.
Who is this man? He’s more than just a man. What then, an angel? A semi-divine being? No, something more than that. For the disciples this was the beginning of a steep learning curve that will lead ultimately to Thomas’s great words of faith: “My Lord and my God!” The recognition of the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Storms of life
Now we, as followers of the Risen One, also believe that Jesus is Lord and God. We also believe he has power to calm storms. Like many preachers, and commentators, and hymnwriters of the past, we can see a parallel with the storms of life which Jesus can calm.
“Will your anchor hold in the storms of life, When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain, Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?
“We have an anchor that keeps the soul Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move, Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.”
Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake; All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.”
what do we mean by “the storms of life”? Well, I suppose, all the “heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to”, as Shakespeare says in Hamlet.
We are thinking of all the trials and difficulties we face at times. For one person it might be financial crisis of debt. For another: life-threatening illness. Or it could be bereavement. It could be be pain and disability. It could be rejection and opposition, perhaps persecution for one’s faith, or because of one’s race. Some might suffer slander and backbiting. Others might be worried about loved ones: their safety, their heath, their moral or spiritual well-being. It might be the burden of broken relationships or divorce. It might be the pressure of work or the stress of responsibility. It might be the loss of a job or the pain of long-term unemployment. It might be the intolerable burden of caring for someone else. This is a far from comprehensive list. I’m sure some of you could add to it from your own experience.
With Jesus in the boat we can smile at the storm
Whatever the storms of life may be, we know we are safe if the Lord is with us. Those disciples were safe as long as Jesus was in the boat with them, even when he was asleep! God would look after him: it was not his destiny to drown in Lake Galilee. Rather, he was to go on to die at Calvary. That was God’s plan. Yes, “With Jesus in the boat we can smile at the storm”.
But notice this: Jesus has to be in the boat with us. Have we got Jesus on board?
Our church, the Presbyterian Church of Wales, faces many storms at present – have we got Jesus on board with us? If we are seeking to glorify him, then we will weather the storms.
We have storms in our lives too. Ask yourself: “Have I got Jesus on board? Is he the Lord of my life? Does he rule my actions? Do I know him as my Saviour? If the answer is “yes”, then I can face the storms of life that come at me. The Lord is in the vessel of my life, I need not fear the storms. And if, perchance, he does not calm the storm, then he will give strength to endure it. If we have Jesus on board, then we can face the storms. But if we don’t yield our lives to him, then there is no way we can expect his help in our lives.
So, once again, the call is to follow the Risen Christ, who is Lord and God in human form. “Immanuel: God with us.” He will be with us in the boat as long as we have invited him on board.