The storm on the lake
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
References are from the NKJV unless stated
Although violent storms were common on the Sea of Galilee, clearly this was no ordinary storm. Even experienced fishermen were filled with fear, Mark 4. 40.
We read of three ‘great’ things.
A ‘great storm’, v. 37
Each of the first three Gospels lends its own emphasis to the incident. Matthew traces the storm to a violent ‘movement to and fro’ in the sea bed beneath the surface of the lake, causing great turbulence to come up to the surface above, Matt. 8. 24. 1 Mark describes graphically how ‘the waves were beating into the boat, so that the boat was now filling’, Mark 4. 37 lit. That is, Mark is saying, the waves, churned up by the strong wind, were cascading over the side of the boat, as a result of which the water level inside was rising frighteningly fast. For his part, Luke says, ‘a storm [the word signifying a whirlwind or hurricane 2] of wind came down on the lake’, Luke 8. 23.
Later, when Jesus cried out in the face of the cross, the disciples slept, Mark 14. 37-41; now, when the disciples cried out in the face of the storm, He slept. And, in words once spoken of ancient mariners, the disciples ‘were at their wit’s end’, Ps. 107. 27.
A ‘great calm’, v. 39
Confronted with all that came up from below, with all that came in from outside, and with all that came down from above (not to speak of twelve terrified disciples), the rudely woken Lord ‘arose and rebuked the winds and the sea’, Matt. 8. 26, with the words, ‘Peace [“hush”], be still [“be muzzled” 3]’.
Now it was the turn of the winds and the waves to go to sleep, 4 and the ‘great storm’ became a ‘great calm’.
A ‘great fear’, v. 41 lit
The disciples underwent a great ‘fear transfer’, from fear of the storm 5 to fear of Him who with His word had subdued it, Mark 4. 40, 41.
Small wonder that, having witnessed the very elements of nature report to Him, the disciples were awestruck at His authority, and questioned, ‘Who is this, 6 that even the winds and the sea obey him?’
Perhaps they recalled that, long before, a psalmist had addressed ‘the Lord God of hosts’ with the words, ‘Who is a strong Lord like you? . . . you rule the raging of the sea . . . when its waves rise, you still them’, Ps. 89. 8, 9. 7
In the face of Jesus’ seeming indifference, the disciple asked, ‘Do you not care?’ A little over thirty years later, one of those disciples was able to assure believers who were going through another storm (in their case, that of persecution) that, yes indeed, although at times He may seem to be remote and unconcerned, most certainly He does care . . . that it really does ‘matter to Him about you’, 1 Pet. 5. 7 lit.
I suspect that, to all who are tempted nowadays to echo the disciples’ question, Peter would say, ‘Why don’t you cast your cares where your sins were once laid?’ 1 Pet. 2. 24; Isa. 53. 6.
Jesus had spoken clearly to the disciples of their destination, Mark 4. 35. And, in due time, ‘He brought them to their desired haven’, Ps. 107. 30; Mark 5. 1. But He had not promised them a smooth crossing . . . any more than He has promised us one! 8
Let us trust Him. Today, we can enjoy (and possibly sing) the words of the children’s chorus, ‘With Christ in the vessel, we can smile at the storm’. 9
1 W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary, article ‘Earthquake’. The word translated ‘tempest’ occurs fourteen times in the New Testament, and is rendered ‘earthquake’ on every other occasion.
2 William F. Arndt and F. Wilber Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature.
3 The same word as is used of muzzling an ox, 1 Cor. 9. 9.
4 The picturesque word translated ‘ceased’ indicates toil and weariness. ‘The sea sank to rest as if exhausted’, M. R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament.
5 Jesus asked, ‘Have you still no faith?’ Mark 4. 40. Clearly, they lacked faith, not only in His word, Mark 4. 35; cf. 5. 1, but in His person. For, if He truly was the Son of God, it was absurd to suppose that a storm could kill Him. Their panic betrayed an inadequate grasp of who Jesus was. They should have realized that, though the presence of Jonah in the ship had once endangered the lives of those with him, Jonah 1. 4, 12, 15, the presence of Jesus in the boat guaranteed the lives of those with Him.
6 This was not the only time that men asked, ‘Who is this?’ See (1) Luke 5. 21; (2) Luke 7. 49; (3) Luke 9. 9; (4) Matt. 21. 10. And compare, at His second advent, Isa. 63. 1.
7 Ponder the mystery of the person of Christ. He slept, yet calmed the storm. He hungered, yet withered the fig tree. He was weary at a well side, and yet knew the details of the Samaritan woman’s life. He wept at a graveside, yet raised the dead.
8 ‘He has never promised you an easy passage, only a safe landing’, quoted by Mrs L. B. Bowman in ‘Streams in the Desert’, for 31 March.
9 It may well be that this chorus was based on the two last lines of the first verse of John Newton’s hymn, ‘Begone, unbelief, my Saviour is near’.