Jesus Is Sovereign

So we have just heard a story about Galilean fishermen in 30AD, and there’s a good chance that when you hear that phrase — “Galilean fishermen in 30AD” — your first thought is probably not that you have a lot in common with those guys.

When we think about people we have things in common with, or the people who are most like us, some of the last people we’d ever think about are Galilean fishermen in 30AD — and yet Mark would tell us to hold on a minute, that actually we have more in common with these fisherman than we could ever imagine, and that this story here at the end of Mark 4 proves it, and that if at first we’re skeptical, we just need to understand the story. 

So that’s my goal in the sermon. I just want us to understand this story as Mark tells it to us here in Mark 4, verses 35–41. And instead of having three points to the sermon, it’s more like the sermon has three parts, and each of these parts I think become increasingly practical. Mark intends for this to be an applicable story, so here are the three parts:

  1. Hear the story
  2. Understand the meaning
  3. Embrace the application

So let’s pray and ask for God’s help. 

Father, the unfolding of your word gives light, and imparts understanding to the simple, and this morning we come simply to this word. We come humbly and hungry, and we ask that you would teach us, and feed us. Show us the glory of Jesus, your Son. We ask this in his name, amen.

1) Hear the Story

Okay, well the first thing we need to do is hear the story, and when I say “story” I don’t mean anything fictitious by that. This story at the end of Mark 4 is an actual historical event that happened in the life of Jesus. It’s an event that is also recorded by the Gospel writers Matthew and Luke (see Matthew 8:22–27; Luke 8:22–25), but one thing that makes Mark’s account a little different is that he gives more details. He mentions things that don’t seem to have any bearing on the story itself, but he mentions them because apparently they just really happened. He mentions things that sound like the sort of things someone would mention if they were actually there — someone like Peter.  

See, going way back to the early church, there is a lot of evidence that suggests that the Gospel of Mark is actually dependent upon the eyewitness accounts of the apostle Peter. It was a common belief among the early church fathers that although Mark is the writer of this Gospel, Peter is the one who basically dictated how these events went — and that’s the reason Mark includes so many minor details. We’re going to see that in this episode of the storm. Marks gives us a raw account of how this happened. 

First, check out verse 35:

On that day, when evening had come, he [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

And so for context we need to back up to the beginning of this chapter. Back in verse 1 of Chapter 4, Jesus has been teaching a crowd of people, and the crowd had gotten so big that he got into a boat that was floating close to the shore, and started teaching from the boat. That is how Mark sets this scene up. 

So imagine the Sea of Galilee; imagine a shoreline; there’s a boat in the shallow water; and Jesus is sitting in the boat, on the water, teaching people who are standing on the shore. 

And then in verse 35, on the same day that he had been doing this teaching, when it became evening, Jesus said to his disciples, basically, “Okay, now, let’s sail over there to the other side.”

Verse 36: 

And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with them.

So Jesus is in the one boat with his disciples, but then there were some other boats with them that followed, but the focus is on the boat that Jesus is in with his disciples.

And so they were sailing out across the sea, which is big — the Sea of Galilee is about 40,000 acres; so 13 miles long and about 8 miles wide. So don’t imagine a little lake here. This is a big body of water, and it was not uncommon for there to be violent windstorms, which is what happens here. 

A terrible storm came. The actual wording is something like a “great hurricane of wind.” And then verse 37 says, “… and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling with water.”

And this little word here about the timing is an important detail. The disciples are about to come to Jesus and have a conversation, but we need to know that before this conversation happened, by the time they come to Jesus, the boat is already filling with water. 

So this is a desperate situation. Things have gone from bad to worse. Waves are crashing over the boat; the boat is filling with water; and so the disciples, these Galilean fisherman in 30AD, by this point they have all grabbed buckets. They are working hard to get the water out of the boat; doing whatever it takes so that they don’t sink; and the come to Jesus in the stern of the boat, and Jesus is . . .  asleep.

Mark tells us that Jesus was asleep on a cushion. 

I hope you know that pillows are important. I learned in the 5th grade that the average head weighs about eight pounds, and that we use pillows for our necks, not our heads. This changed my life. Your poor neck has to hold up your head all day long. Get yourself a good pillow.

That’s true, okay, but that’s not why Mark tells us this. The detail here about the cushion is just because Mark is telling us an eyewitness account. Peter and the disciples saw the real Jesus asleep on a real cushion. The disciples are in a panic; they’re dumping buckets of water out of the boat so they won’t sink, and Jesus is taking a nap on a pillow. 

And when the disciples find him like this, in verse 38, 

And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

And what a snarky thing to say to Jesus. When people are stressed out and frustrated, they tend to say snarky things like this. The disciples come to Jesus and basically rebuke him. This is not a real question. This is a passive-aggressive accusation from Galilean fishermen in 30AD. 

Jesus, don’t you care that we’re dying here? Jesus doesn’t care. Everything is hopeless. 

That’s the spiral we’re looking at. But then in verse 39, Jesus wakes up and rebukes the wind and sea. He speaks to these forces of nature and he says, “Peace. Be still” — two direct commands. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And Jesus continues the conversation. He says to his disciples in verse 40: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Verse 41: And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” 

And that’s the story. That’s how it happened. So we need to hear that story, and now we need to understand its meaning. This is Part Two. 

2) Understand the Meaning

So Mark has given us this raw account of what happened, but there’s more to it. Mark has a theological purpose in this story. He wants us to know something about Jesus and our response to him, and here it is — this is the meaning of this story — Mark wants us to know that Jesus is God himself, and that we should respond to Jesus in humble awe. 

There are a couple ways that Mark shows us this. 

The first way has to do with this entire new section here beginning in verse 35. After the section of Jesus teaching the four parables in Chapter 4, starting here in verse 35, Mark follows the four parables with four miracles. So this is very neatly arranged. The actions of Jesus back up the teaching of Jesus. The words of Jesus are followed by the works of Jesus — and the works of Jesus show us that Jesus is sovereign over nature, sovereign over demons, sovereign over sickness, and sovereign over death. That is Chapter 5. And we know that there’s only one person who has that kind of authority: it’s God himself. And Mark is saying here, Yeah, it’s Jesus.

A second way we see Mark’s theological message here is that he makes some key allusions to the Old Testament. And by these allusions, the overall point is that he wants us to see the continuity between Jesus and the God of Old Testament. 

There are at least two main allusions. Let me show you: 

First, there is an allusion to the story of Jonah. 

A couple years ago we studied the Book of Jonah together, and if you remember, Jonah is one of the most infamous prophets in Israel’s history. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh but Jonah doesn’t want to go, and so he flees in a boat going in the opposite direction; but then a storm comes; Jonah is cast overboard; a whale swallows him and spits him out; so he changes his mind and goes to Nineveh and preaches and the whole city repents. The story of Jonah is about the mercy of God on the nations. 

So what does that story have to do with this event here in Mark 4? 

Well, it’s not all direct, one-to-one comparisons, but the allusion has to do with the storm at sea.

Jonah is on a boat, with some sailors, and there was a great windstorm. And the text tells us that the sailors were absolutely panicked; and that they were so terrified that they started throwing cargo overboard so they wouldn’t sink; and while all this was happening, guess what? 

Jonah was in the inner part of the boat asleep. And the captain of the boat comes to him and rebukes him, and says, basically, What are you doing? Wake up and pray to your God, and maybe he can help us. Maybe your God can keep us from perishing. 

That’s Jonah Chapter 1, verse 6, and that’s the main grammatical connection between Jonah and Mark 4. The disciples use the same word for “perishing” in Mark 4 that is used in Jonah four times (1:6, 14; 3:9; 4:10).

And not only that, but the sailors in Jonah call out to God; and God calms the storm; and their response to the calm is fear. Just like in Mark 4. 

And so again, these two events don’t line up perfectly. The sailors had to throw Jonah overboard, and that doesn’t happen in Mark 4, but there is an allusion. There is continuity: and it’s that in the same way that God acted in the story of Jonah, God is acting here in Mark 4, except here in Mark 4 it’s Jesus who is doing the action. 

In Jonah the sailors came to Jonah and asked him to pray to God; in Mark 4 when the disciples came to Jesus, they came to God himself. And it all had the same result. The storm was stopped; and the response was fear and awe. That’s the first allusion. 

The second allusion to the Old Testament is to Psalm 107. 

Psalm 107 is a psalm of thanksgiving and praise to God for his steadfast love. In the psalm, the writer is recounting all the ways that God has intervened to deliver his people, and one such way was in a storm. This is what the psalmist says, verses 23–29,

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Psalm 107 is a psalm about the sovereign power of YHWH over the wind and sea so that when YHWH’s people find themselves threatened by the wind and sea, they know who to go to. In Psalm 107, in a storm, God’s people called to him, and he stopped the storm. 

Mark shows us that the same thing is happening in Mark Chapter 4, except that here, in Mark 4 YHWH is Jesus; Jesus is YHWH. 

That’s the meaning of this story! That’s the message that Mark is trying to get across to us. And we see it in the response of the disciples, which is raw. This is an unfiltered, untidy response. They see Jesus speak to the wind and sea, and calm the storm, and it was shocking. They did not break into song. They did not slap Jesus on the back and tell him thanks. They were filled with fear, and they said, in verse 41, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”

And there are three things we can learn here. Mark intends for this to be a practical story. 

3) Embrace the Application

On one hand, this is a story about Galilean fishermen in 30AD, and we don’t really have a lot in common with those guys. 

But on the other hand (the more important hand), this is a story about followers of Jesus who find themselves in a desperate situation and they need God to come through. And we all have something in common with that. We’ve all been there, are there, and here are three takeaways.

Here’s the first:

1. Jesus cares for you.

And I want you to hear it just like that, short and simple: Jesus cares for you. Or maybe just say it this way: Jesus cares for me. 

I think it’d be good to memorize those four words, and keep them close to our hearts, because when the desperate situations come, when the storms come, this is the first truth we forget, right? That’s at least what happens in the storm of Mark 4. We can see it in the disciples’ question in verse 38. 

They say to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care what we are perishing?” And to be honest, I can hardly stomach that question. It is so misguided, and so wrong, and so embarrassing for them, that I wince every time I read it. How can they ask Jesus this question? How dare they think that Jesus doesn’t care for them? 

If I’m honest, in a Minnesota nice kind of way, I want to shake these guys. Their rebuke, their presumption, their ignorance annoys me . . .  until I also find myself in a boat that has waves crashing over it, and it’s filling with water, and I think I’m going to drown, and Jesus is no where in sight. 

And then I remember how many times have I come to Jesus — do I come to Jesus — and whether or not I say it out loud, I come to him thinking, “Jesus, don’t you even care?”

And the answer is Yes. He does care. He cares for you. And even when it seems like he doesn’t, when it seems like he’s no where in sight, or that he’s off doing other things, the story reminds he cares. He meets his people in their need. He shows up for them in power. 

In answer to the disciples’ question, however snarky and lacking in faith it was, Jesus says to them, and to us, “I am here, and I care.” 

And I want you know that. Jesus cares for you. 

2. Jesus can do more than grab a bucket.

And for this second point, I want to give credit to my Community Group. We were discussing and meditating together on this passage a few weeks ago, and all kinds of insight came from that, and especially this point. 

It really has to do with Jesus’s question back to the disciples in verse 40. After they come to him and ask for help, and he helps them, Jesus asks the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Now why does Jesus say this? I mean, they were about to sink, and they came to him for help, so why does he say they had no faith?

And I think the answer has to do with the disciples’ expectations when they came to Jesus. There’s no reason in this story that we should think that they came to Jesus in verse 38 expecting him to calm the storm — and in fact, we know this, because when Jesus did calm the storm they were amazed. It shocked them. So why did they come to Jesus in verse 38 and what were they wanting him to do?

Remember the scene: they’re in the middle of a great windstorm; waves are breaking over the boat; the boat is filling with water; they’re terrified and in a panic and they’re doing whatever they can to keep this boat from sinking, which meant running around with buckets trying to get the water out, and they say to Jesus, who is not helping them, “Hey, don’t you care?”

Which did not mean, Hey, tell the wind to stop!, but it meant more like: Hey, grab a bucket!

The question behind their question in verse 38 is not for a divine miracle; it’s for cooperation. They just wanted Jesus to grab a bucket. That was their lack of faith. 

And I can’t help but think about how much we do this same thing. We’re just like these Galilean fishermen in 30AD — because a lot of times when things get hard for us, when the storm sets in, we can come to Jesus saying, “Hey, Jesus, I’m doing my part here. I’m working hard here with my bucket. Can you pitch in a little effort?

We can come to Jesus not in full surrender to his power — that’s too much, too risky — so we come to Jesus just wanting him to grab a bucket. 

That’s the reason we mumble our prayers. This is something that Melissa and I have been talking about lately. It’s easier for Christians, I think, to ask bold things of God for other people than it is to ask bold things of God for ourselves. We say clearly and loudly for our friends, “Jesus, please stop that storm for my friend!” We can do that.

But when it comes to our own hardship, we can tend to shrink back and mumble, because we know that if we ask loud and clear, so that Jesus hears it and we hear it but Jesus chooses not to answer the way we’re asking, we know that’s going to hurt, and so we say, [mumbling], “Jesus, you think maybe you can help me out here?” “Jesus, can you grab a bucket?”

And whatever that is, it’s not faith. 

So I need to tell you something. Jesus can do more than grab a bucket. Ask him to do more. In humble faith, you can ask him to stop the storm. 

3. Jesus will rescue you from every enemy set against your soul.

And that’s good news, right? It is good to know that Jesus will indeed rescue us, just like he does here for the disciples. I think everybody can agree that this is good. But here’s the thing with that: this can only be true of Jesus because of something else is true of Jesus in Mark 4, and it’s that Jesus is sovereign in his power.

We see that in verse 39. “Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing?” —

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 

I don’t know how sharp you are when you first wake up. Maybe some of us can go from being in a deep sleep to immediately being our best, but even if that is you, nobody can do what Jesus does here. Nobody can go from sleeping through a windstorm one minute to all of a sudden telling that wind to stop, and it does. This is a shocking scene.

Try to imagine this. Try to imagine being there. Jesus didn’t have to do it this way. He could have just made it all stop without saying a word, but instead, he turns this into a showdown. He wakes up and he addresses the wind. He speaks to the wind like he speaks to the demons. He rebuked the wind; he spoke to the sea: Peace! Be still! And there was peace. And it was still. 

Jesus speaks and the great storm became the great calm, because Jesus is sovereign in his power. And if Jesus has this kind of power over the wind and sea, he has this kind of power over whatever enemy you’re facing in your life 

Because Jesus is sovereign in his power, he is able to rescue you, and he will rescue you from every enemy set against your soul. And he has given us more than this story to prove it. 

In fact, the three things we learn here from Jesus in this boat are made even more clear when Jesus was on the cross — 

Jesus cares for you — does he? 

All your sins. All your guilt. All your shame. Jesus took it all upon himself for you. 

Jesus can do more than grab a bucket — can he? 

Bearing your sin, and guilt, and shame, Jesus died on the cross in your place, absorbing the judgment you deserved. 

Jesus will rescue you from every enemy against your soul — is that right? 

Jesus died and was buried, and on the third day, he rose again. He rebuked death and said to the grave, No more. And the greatest enemy against our souls was destroyed, so that now, right now, there is absolutely nothing, nothing, that can separate you from the love of God in Christ.

The Table

And we come to this Table this morning declaring this truth. We come here to this Table to remember the death of Jesus, and to enjoy our fellowship with him, and we come here in adoration. We come to this Table singing! So this morning, as we take the bread and cup, let us revel in the power of Jesus for us. Let us this morning, church, receive this Table in wonder and awe at who Jesus is! We’re coming with bread first.

Jesus, you are the mighty God, and we thank you in this moment, and we praise you. We adore you, Jesus, for your power and for your love, and we ask now that you would overcome us with your wonder. By your Spirit, and show us your glory, in your name, amen.