Monday, July 27, 2015
Sermon - Mark 4. 35-41
Audio of this sermon is available here
35 On that day, when evening had come, He told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the sea.”
36 So they left the crowd and took Him along since He was already in the boat. And other boats were with Him. 37 A fierce windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But 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?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 Then He said to them, “Why are you fearful? Do you still have no faith?”
41 And they were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (HCSB.)
Before immersing ourselves in this passage, it’s worth noting that in the 1980’s a drought exposed a well-preserved first-century fishing boat in the mud of the Sea of Galilee, giving us a good idea of the sort of vessel featured in this story:
Under the direction of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, archaeologists began a race against time to carefully extract the boat from the mud before the waters returned… Pots and lamps found inside the boat dated it to the first century. Carbon-14 testing further confirmed the dating. The design of the boat was typical of fishing boats used during that period on the Sea of Galilee. In the back of the boat was a raised section like the one where Jesus could have been sleeping, as indicated in the Gospel accounts. The boat could accommodate 15 people including crew. This archaeological discovery confirms the description given in the Bible.[i]
Writing around the middle of the first century, and probably drawing upon the eye-witness testimony of the apostle Peter, Mark presents his account of one of the more unusual miracles of Jesus. The miracle is unusual because it’s not a healing or an exorcism. Rather, it’s a ‘nature miracle’, like Jesus walking on the water or feeding the five thousand, which highlights God’s power over nature.
I’d like to clear aside a traditional reading of this passage that I think is a miss-reading, here represented by the introduction to Mark 4:35 f in William Neil’s One Volume Bible Commentary:
'Four stories are now added showing the power of the Messiah over the demon world. Mark makes no distinction between the stilling of the storm (4: 35-41) and the healing acts of Jesus. All are evidence of his authority over Satan’s domain. Jesus uses the same word: "be muzzled", in exorcising the demon who caused the storm, as he does in the case of the demoniac in 1:25.' (William Neil’s One Volume Bible Commentary, Hodder & Stoughton, 1962, p. 365.)
Jesus’ use of one word several chapters ago is a thin foundation upon which to build an interpretation. It seems to me that in fact only two of the four stories in this section of Mark clearly have to do with Satan (the daemoniac and the woman with the issue of blood). Moreover, there’s no evidence elsewhere in scripture that demons can control the weather.
Finally, Mark’s account simply doesn’t read like Jesus is responding to a satanic assassination attempt! Jesus doesn’t address himself to a demon, but to the wind and the sea: ‘39 He… rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!”’ Yes, Jesus’s command anthropomorphized nature; but who among us hasn’t rebuked a computer when it fails to work?! Our rebuke doesn’t mean we think the computer is demon-possessed and neither does Jesus’ command for the wind to ‘shut up’.
So, if that’s not what’s going on in the calming of the storm, what is happening? I think we can better appreciate Mark’s story if we think about the biblical understanding of miracles. The New Testament uses various Greek words to describe miracles, including:
· Dunamis – an act of power (‘Dunamis’ is the root of English words such as ‘dynamic’ and ‘dynamo’)
· Teras – a wonder
· Semeion – a ‘sign’
Michael Poole brings these terms together when he explains that: ‘Dunamis focuses attention on the cause of a miracle in the power of God. Teras refers to its effect, and Semeion to its purpose.’[ii] As a nature miracle, Jesus’ calming of the storm is clearly an act of dunamis. One effect of this teras is obviously to rescue the boats and their occupants; but another effect of the miracle is to leave Jesus’ disciples as frightened or awestruck of him as they had been of the storm he stilled. You see, the significance – the semeion – of this miracle is definitely not a comforting message about how those who carry Jesus in the boat of their lives can find peace in knowing that he will calm all the storms of life and rescue them from danger (an application William Neil’s commentary unfortunately makes)! For one thing, such a take-home message clearly wouldn’t be true. Plenty of people find life all the stormier, and sometimes shorter, for being a Christian.
So what was it that put the fear of God in to the disciples on this occasion? Jesus’ command of wind and wave would surely have brought to mind the following verses from Psalm 107:
‘Others went out on the sea in ships, they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.’ (Psalm 107: 23-29)
You see, it’s not demons that scripture describes as controlling the sea, but the Lord God of Israel who, directly or indirectly, lifts the waves up high or stills the storm. And here is Jesus, addressing himself to the storm as God. In other words, Jesus’s miracle of calming the storm is an enacted claim to divinity – and one that carries with it powerful supernatural evidence of its truth. And that’s why the disciples end the story as much in ‘fear’ or ‘awe’ of Jesus as they were of the storm he stilled. Amen.
[i] Ralph O. Muncaster, 101 Reasons You Can Believe: Why the Christian Faith Makes Sense (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2004), p. 72-3.