“On that day, when evening had come, he told them, ‘Let’s cross over to the other side of the sea.’ So they left the crowd and took him along since he was in the boat. And other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. He was in the stern sleeping on the cushion. So they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been in a situation that left you completely unnerved, but didn’t seem to bother the other person at all? How were you feeling then? You probably had three competing emotions all vying for dominance in your mind. The first was fear because of the unnerving situation you were in. The second was frustration that the other person was not equally bothered by the situation as you were. The third was wonder at how the other person could keep cool in a situation like the one you were facing. As Jesus and the disciples headed across the Sea of Galilee one evening after a long day of teaching, this was exactly the situation in which they found themselves in one of the wildest stories in the Gospel of Mark. Check this out with me.
The story of Jesus commanding the wind and waves to stop is one of the big ones in the Gospels. While John left it out, the other three all tell it. The event marked a pretty major turning point in Jesus’ ministry and in the disciples’ understanding of just who He was. We’ll look at the first part of this today, and finish it up tomorrow.
Jesus had been teaching by the shore of the Sea of Galilee all day long. This was things as they usually went. This wasn’t the first time He’d done this and it wouldn’t be the last. It wasn’t the first or last time He had used a boat as His pulpit so the crowds didn’t crush Him. By late afternoon He had finished up and most of the crowds had dispersed for the night. If word got out that He would still be there in the morning, they would be back. Jesus, though, had other plans.
As the sun was getting low on the horizon, Jesus told the group to get their stuff together because they were going to the other side of the lake. Coming as it did when they were all pretty tired and ready to relax by a fire with some dinner before calling it an early night, this declaration would have hit them like a bucket of cold water to the face. The other side of the lake was Gentile territory. There was no telling what they might encounter over there. We might have fussed about the timing of the command, but the seasoned fishermen among the group would have been used to being out on the lake over night. That wasn’t the problem. The location would have left them unsettled.
But, Jesus was the rabbi and when the rabbi spoke, his followers obeyed. Jesus and the twelve were likely all together in a single boat, but there were other followers who traveled with them everywhere they went. There may have been two or three more boats in addition to theirs forming a little armada that evening. Mark doesn’t tell us how many there were, but there was at least more than one extra boat. The safety in numbers they had would have given them some comfort as they prepared to head into potentially hostile waters.
Now, the geography of the Sea of Galilee is such that the weather on the water can change in an instant. One moment the Sea could be calm and beautiful and the next it could suddenly turn wild and violent. This was something they all understood from living in the region, and as they began making their way across the Sea, they experienced it firsthand. A wild and violent storm blew up out of nowhere. These were experienced sailors, but even they were struggling against the wind and the waves. The waves were big enough they were breaking over the side of the boat and things were looking pretty grim. They surely all knew stories of ships that sank in these very storms and it was becoming clear to them that they were preparing to become another cautionary tale.
In other words, they were terrified. They were fighting to keep the boats afloat, much less heading in the direction Jesus told them to go, and all the while, Jesus was asleep in the front of the boat.
Now, this is one of those points that seems like it should be significant. Not a few preachers have done their best to turn this into a metaphor of some sort or another. Mark is making a spiritual point here about Jesus’ peaceful spirit in the storms of life. Not a few powerful and beautiful sermons have been structured around that idea. Call me a skeptic, but I’m not so sure. I think Mark’s point in noting this detail is simply this: Jesus was asleep in the front of the boat. There was nothing spiritual going on here at all. He was exhausted from teaching all day, the high stern of the boat they were in provided Him a covered, comfortable place to sleep, and He was passed out.
You know as well as I do that when you’re asleep hard enough, a freight train rumbling through your room may not be enough to wake you up. I occasionally snore at night. On those nights, my poor wife will do everything she can to wake me up and get me to turn over, and I just won’t budge I’m so sound asleep. She’ll tell me stories of her efforts in the morning and I almost never remember any of them.
Jesus was that sound asleep.
Meanwhile, the disciples were growing more and more panicked all the time. They weren’t just fearful for themselves either. Remember: There were other boats with them. We know Peter, for one, was married. It may be that one of the other boats held his wife. Maybe even his children. The disciples were fearing for their very lives and there Jesus was, sleeping like He hadn’t a care in the world.
Their fear and frustration and wonder built and built and built as the storm grew more and more threatening until the dam finally broke and they did what no disciple would have ever dreamed of doing to his rabbi. They rebuked Him. I read one interpreter who argued that this was probably presented as a question, not a rebuke, because of the post-Easter frame of reference Mark’s original readers would have had. I’m not so sure. Mark didn’t pull any punches about making the disciples look like cowardly, faithless, clueless, fools in the rest of his Gospel. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be willing to do so here.
The disciples were scared out of their minds and Jesus’ peacefulness finally bothered them enough that they woke Him up and fussed at Him. Hard. “Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” In other words, what the ________ (you fill in your favorite curse word there) are you doing sleeping up there while the rest of us–including folks in the other boats–are fighting for our lives? Get up and do something!
Tomorrow we’ll see together how this turned out. For now, let me go back a bit on what I said a minute ago and make a bit of a spiritual point to leave you pondering something until then. Usually, when we see another person refusing to be bothered by a situation that has us completely unnerved, the reason is that we don’t understand something that they do understand. Their understanding is what gives them this peace that defies what we see as rational sense.
The disciples didn’t understand Jesus. We’ll see tomorrow just how profoundly this was the case, but for now, consider this: Sometimes in our own lives, the reason we are struggling with anxiety or depression in some situation is because we don’t understand Jesus as well as we could. Where could you stand to put a little more trust in Him? It may not make any sense in the moment, but then, you can’t see the whole picture so it won’t. Rest assured, He can. And if He’s not bothered, you probably don’t need to be either.