Jesus had just finished a long, hard day of teaching people who didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Some preachers and youth ministers can relate to that… So after he had been teaching – standing up in a boat, in the sun, all day – he told his disciples to pile into the boat an head over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Keep in mind, four of these guys (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) were professional fishermen. Their entire lives had revolved around the lake. If it looked like a storm was coming, they would have waited to set out. But there was no indication that THE storm was in the forecast. In fact, this is probably what the lake looked like as they set off:
Calm. Serene. The sky turning from blue to yellow to orange, and the water doing the same. The calm before the storm.
As the sun went down, the wind picked up, storm clouds blew in, and things took a turn for the worse. Cool, dry air from the mountain range east collided with the warm, moist air from the lake – ingredients for mega thunderstorms. Sudden storms were not uncommon on the lake, so the professional fishermen should have known how to handle it. But they couldn’t. This was something bigger than they were used to.
Place yourself in that boat – 27 feet long by 8 feet wide with a mast, sail, oars, nets. Possibly thirteen men were occupying this small space while being rained on from above, drenched from the sides by the waves breaking over the boat. There is zero visibility as they yell out orders to secure the sails! bail out the water! tie down the nets! hold on to each other! brace yourselves! Where’s Jesus?!
He’s in the back of the boat…asleep…on a cushion…
Now I’ve slept through some thunderstorms, but this is ridiculous. You can sense the anger and frustration in the disciples’ voices: “Wake up! Don’t you care if we drown?!” We need all the hands we can get! Grab a bucket and start bailing! Do something! Anything!
Sometimes we forget who’s in the boat with us. They had seen Jesus heal people with all types of diseases. They had seen him drive out demons. All signs point to the fact that he is someone special, someone unique. But they didn’t make the connection that Jesus is Emmanuel – God With Us. The creator of the heavens and the earth – the second member of the Trinity – the Word made flesh – the Fullness of God – was there in the boat with them. And they think he would just let them drown?
This is just one of many instances in Mark’s gospel account where the disciples – those closest to Jesus – just didn’t get it. However, they only reacted how most of us tend to react when we go through storms. When things start falling apart around us and all we know is swept into chaos (darkness and the sea were common expressions of chaos, evil, and turmoil in the ancient world) – it’s easy to sit back and think that God doesn’t care. It’s easy to forget who’s in the boat with us and to forget that he is ultimately in control of everything.
He’s got it covered.
So he got up and rebuked the wind and the waves. Keep in mind, Jesus also “rebuked” the demons when he was driving them out. This was not a meek and gentle request. This was a stern command and chastisement, better translated, “Shut up and calm down!” And the wind immediately stopped, the clouds scattered, and not a ripple was left in the lake.
Jesus turned around and asked his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
And in this part of the story, we would expect the disciples to breathe a sigh of relief, praise God, and continue on their voyage. But note their reaction: they were terrified.
They were afraid during the storm. But they were terrified after it.
Sometimes we forget who’s in the boat with us. They were confused. They thought Jesus was a rabbi, maybe even a prophet, but who can control the sea but God alone? The answer is in the question. For the ancients, and even for us today, the sea was a source of incredible, unmanageable power. No one could, and no one can control the sea. We have ways of protecting ourselves, but we can’t stop the hurricane from hitting land. We can’t divert the tornado. We can’t prevent the earthquake.
And if creation itself is this unmanageable, how much more so the Creator of it all? Jesus himself could not be managed, could not be redirected, could not be stopped. Jesus was on a mission, and nothing, not even the fullest expression of evil and chaos, was going to slow him down.
Before we start trying to tame Jesus and make him into something he is not, let us pause to remember that the Creator cannot and will not be wrangled, captured, or bagged and tagged by his own creation.
Don’t forget who is in your boat.