As we draw to the close of chapter 4, these verses are the final section marking the end of the first phase of the Lord’s Galilean ministry. Of this, Hiebert comments, ‘Four separate withdrawals from Galilee by Jesus and His disciples marked … the great Galilean ministry. Prompted by His desire for relief from the pressure of the crowds, Jesus’s first withdrawal was of short duration’.1
Although this event is recorded in all the synoptic Gospels, Mark’s Gospel contains details pertaining to this journey which are unique. Furthermore, it is not just detail about the journey across the Sea of Galilee but, also, a hint as to the reason that the journey was made.
It is only Mark who tells us the time, ‘when the even was come’, and the circumstances preceding this event. Whilst Luke tells us that ‘it came to pass on a certain day’, Luke 8. 22, Mark tells us what day, ‘the same day’, and all that had taken place within that day. The business is laid out for us chronologically:
Now, as the day draws to a close, He wishes to set sail over Galilee.
We have, in Mark, a further manifestation of the true Servant of God. He is ever busy, never still, always about the Father’s business.
But we have noted, too, that it was ‘when the even was come’, v. 35. The last vestiges of light would be fading as the disciples took the Lord into their boat and set sail across the water. Nothing is likely to generate additional fear than a storm upon a lake in darkness. There would be no navigational aids – no stars or moon – visible to guide them, and nothing visible from the water with the size of the waves.
The Lord gives His disciples the instruction, ‘Let us pass over unto the other side’, v. 35. On this instruction, St. John observes, ‘The Lord’ proposal … should have been taken seriously by His companions; the idea of perishing or of going to the bottom of the sea was in their minds, not in His’.2
Mark tells us the disciples ‘took him even as He was in the ship’, v. 36. They were the owners and navigators of the boat and, hence, they took Him, although it soon becomes obvious that He is in control. However, in that phrase, ‘even as he was’, we have a picture of the poverty of the Saviour. There was no elaborate preparation for the journey, He merely accompanied His disciples in the ship.
It is interesting to see the different details recorded by the Gospel writers in respect of this storm. Luke tells us that ‘there came down a storm of wind on the lake’, Luke 8. 23. He describes it meteorologically – as the weather front coming down from the mountains that surround the sea. Matthew tells us that ‘there arose a great tempest in the sea’, Matt. 8. 24, describing what came up from below and within the water itself. Mark, however, tells us that ‘there arose a great storm of wind’, v. 37.
We can note:
It is for these reasons that these seasoned fishermen, who knew something of this spot and its weather changes, were afraid for their lives.
Throughout all this initial period of the storm, the Lord has been asleep in the stern of the boat. Wiersbe comments, ‘Jonah slept during a storm … though he was running from God. Jesus slept in the storm because He was truly … in God’s will’.4 We have here a testimony to the true humanity of the Lord. John would tell us that He stopped and sat upon Sychar’s well, ‘being wearied with his journey’, John 4. 6. The pressures of the busy day meant, at this time, the Lord needed physical rest, and He slept.5
It is only Mark who mentions ‘asleep on a pillow’, v. 38. Matthew mentions the Lord’s words in the verses preceding his account of the storm, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head’, Matt. 8. 20. Mark demonstrates how true that was!
Awakened from sleep, the Lord speaks two forms of censure: ‘he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still’, v. 39; ‘And he said unto them, ‘Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?’ v. 40.
In dealing with the wind and the sea, the Lord issues a command, ‘Peace, be still’, v. 39. The word for peace is one that we might use to a distressed child, sobbing and crying. We would say, ‘hush, be calm’. The words ‘be still’ have the idea of muzzling, closing the mouth that threatened and endangered. In issuing this command the Lord leaves no opportunity for an immediate repeat, for His command effectively means ‘be still and remain that way’.
It is important to see that the Lord issues a separate command to each element, and only Mark records this detail. To the wind, He says, ‘Peace’. To the sea, He says, ‘be still’. It is for this reason that Mark, alone, indicates that ‘the wind ceased, and there was a great calm’, v. 39. Each element obeys His command. Each element is subject to His will. What was once a great storm becomes ‘a great calm’. The transformation and the immediate nature of that transformation wrought by the command of the Saviour fills the disciples with awe for here we see a display of the power of His deity.
But there is a second censure – a censure of the disciples. Having considered something of the ferocity of the storm, it might seem that the Saviour is somewhat strong in His condemnation. But they had seen Him perform numerous miracles. He had power in respect of disease and demons. In the physical and spiritual realm, He was in control. In verse 35, He had said to them, ‘Let us pass over unto the other side’. It would appear that they did not have faith. They were not prepared to take the Lord at His word. They did not believe that what He had said He was also able to accomplish, that His word would come to pass. Like Peter, on another occasion, they had looked at the circumstances, the wind and the storm, and taken their eyes off the Saviour.
Fear dispels faith and fear brings doubt. These two ingredients led them to ask the question, ‘carest thou not that we perish?’ v. 38. A moment’s thought would have enabled them to remember many occasions when the Saviour had displayed His care for and compassion upon His own. But they had forgotten! For this reason, the word of censure is issued.
Mark tells us that ‘they feared exceedingly’. This was not the fear of the storm that they had displayed a few moments earlier. This was a deep reverential awe in the presence of the supernatural. MacArthur writes, ‘The only thing more terrifying than having a storm outside the boat was having God in the boat’.6
The psalmist had written, ‘Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them’, Ps. 89. 9. Although the psalmist spoke those words of Jehovah, the Lord had demonstrated the same power in the presence of the disciples. Hence, their question, ‘What manner of man is this?’
D. E. Hiebert, op. cit., pg. 123.
H. St. John, op. cit., pg. 57.
Wuest comments, ‘The verb is epiball? to throw upon. The waves were throwing themselves into the boat. The tense is imperfect. They were repeatedly doing so’. K. S. Wuest, op. cit, pg. 97.
W. W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Logos software resource.
Wuest comments, again, ‘The noise of the storm, the violent pitching of the boat, and the sting of the cold water as it came beating into the boat, did not awake Him’. K. S. Wuest, op. cit, pg. 97.
John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, Logos software resource.