On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” Mark 4:35-41 (New King James Version, NKJV)
As I thought about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the reactions many are having as a result, the story of Jesus calming the storm and sea comes to mind. For we can compare the fear and uncertainty of the disciples as they struggled to survive their stormy ordeal to the same kind of fear and uncertainty thousands are facing today because of the deadly virus. The story also illustrates how we can face these times with God and Jesus in control.
Jesus must have been very tired. His ministry kept him constantly busy, travelling here and there from country villages to sea ports and everywhere in between. He was always on the move, teaching and performing miracles, being challenged, threatened, and questioned where ever he went. He wanted to get away from all that for awhile, spend a little time with his disciples, and get some peace and quiet.
I’m sure we can all relate. We all need to take a break now and then, especially when we’ve reached our limit, extending ourselves so much in our pursuits that we can’t take it anymore. As rewarding as his work was, Jesus was no different.
So, standing on the shore looking out over the Sea of Galilee while the crowd of followers pressed around him, Jesus seized the opportunity to get away from it all. As the sun was about to set, Jesus proposed to his disciples that they get a boat and go over to the other side of the sea. So, they all boarded the small vessel and set sail.
But something was soon to happen—something that would rudely interrupt their quiet journey at night and require Jesus to intervene in a most unforgettable way. I suspect Jesus probably knew what was going to occur which makes this story even more dramatic. For it would give him a unique opportunity to teach a life-learning lesson not only to his disciples but to us, as well.
The element of surprise is usually something that gives us a jolt and, at the same time, causes us to feel overwhelmed, helpless, and downright scared. This must have been how the disciples felt as they were beginning to feel a gentle wind suddenly whipping into a frenzy over that dark lake. A squall was brewing.
The shining moon was soon covered by clouds, the wind picking up all the more. Ripples of water were turning and churning into wave after wave, growing higher and higher until they began swallowing the entire boat. The howling wind was banging against the vessel tossing everyone around from one side and then the other like a wild rollercoaster ride.
At the same time, the downpouring rain only made matters worse. Each wind-driven drop kept smacking them in their faces, stinging their eyes and piercing their ears. Every disciple, from head to toe, was as soaked as a dripping wet sponge.
Between the torrential rain, gale-force wind, and the invading waves, it was all they could do to keep the boat afloat. The water was filling the vessel faster than they could bail out. Even though some were career fishermen even they hadn’t faced such a disaster like this before, especially since they didn’t usually venture out like this in the night. They were getting desperate, feeling helpless, and not sure what they were going to do next.
Things sure had changed from the way it was just hours earlier when their day was going so well. But isn’t that typical? Whenever everything is going good, like it was for the disciples, we’re feeling pretty secure. Our outlook is cheery and positive. We are bold, confident, and even optimistic about the future. Like the song sung by James Baskett in the 1946 Disney movie, “Song of the South,” in our hearts we’re singing,
My, oh, my, what a wonderful day!
Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way,
But as we journey ahead we suddenly come upon the unexpected. We find ourselves in a situation that’s bigger than we can ever remember. And, just like the disciples, we’re confronted with a life-threatening situation that leaves us all feeling totally helpless and desperate. We’re left asking ourselves something like,
“Will we all go down with the ship? Will everyone be engulfed in this dreaded disease, COVID-19? And even if we survive, will life ever be the same again? Will we ever want to be in a crowd, shake someone’s hand, get frightened if someone in the room happens to sneeze, trust that our food and supplies will last, be able to finish school, keep our jobs, or suffer untimely death?”
We ask these questions at such a time as this because, just like the disciples, we don’t know what lies over the next wave. And when the storms of life assail, what are we to do? Who are we to listen to, to trust, and believe in? As we our struggle through our uncertainty and fear, we wonder how much longer we can hold on, keep afloat, and weather this storm until we’re safe and secure once more, sailing merrily on the sea of life.
It seems to have taken fear for their lives that it suddenly dawned on the disciples that Jesus wasn’t on deck to give them a helping hand. They were so scared for themselves that they must have forgotten there was a passenger on board who might be able to rescue them. In their frantic attempt to bail the water out of the boat, they were too occupied to think of the One who could certainly bail them out of their dilemma.
When it all went from bad to worse, it finally dawned on them: “Where could our Teacher be?” The disciples started looking around for their fearless Leader: “Where could Jesus be at a time like this?” And then someone checked the stern or back of the boat. There he was, and of all things, fast asleep on a nice comfy cushion! We can imagine them thinking, “What nerve! What gall! We’re fearing for our lives and he’s catching some Z’s!“
At first, it might seem like Jesus was a very heavy sleeper—that he must have been able to sleep through anything, even a real bad storm. For not even the shaking of the boat, roaring wind, drenching rain, and surmounting waves could wake him. Understandingly, Jesus was probably so physically exhausted, nothing could awaken him.
And yet, there’s another side of this scene to consider…
Perhaps Jesus was able to sleep THROUGH the storm because he was the Master OVER the storm. His Father gave him the authority to perform great miracles, proving to his people that he is the Chosen One, the Messiah, who is to bring in God’s Kingdom on the earth. So, to prove to the disciples his supreme authority even over Mother Nature, Jesus remained asleep until his pupils called upon the Teacher to rescue them from the storm.
This ought to be most comforting for us to remember when we’re hit with storms striking our lives, and in particular the one we’re facing now in the form of the Coronavirus. Jesus is waiting for us to come to him, and even plead with him, to help and save us from our sinking lives. However, unlike the disciples, we ought not to feel so down and out, that we doubt as they did and say, “Master, don’t you care if we perish?”
Of course, Jesus cares. He cares enough to sacrifice his own life, to take our place by dying on the cross, so that we can live forever in God’s Kingdom. That’s how much he cares. And that’s why he bids us to come to him so that, in turn, he will take the heavy load we endure—fear, guilt, anger, mistrust, grief, and the like—and put it all on himself so that we do not have to be overburdened and overwhelmed. Indeed, he’s the Master of the sea of life, who wants us to call upon him in time of need (Matthew 11:28-30).
When Jesus saw the fear on the disciples’ faces, he arose. And looking sternly at the storm, he scolded the wind and spoke to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And no sooner had the command left his lips than the wind ceased and everything turned calmer than a soft, summer eve. And you can be sure at that moment the disciples felt just as much at peace, too.
Jesus, the Master and Teacher, then turned to give his students a timely lesson, with a couple of questions: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Ouch! Don’t you think their toes might have felt stepped on just a little? But they were still learning— learning about faith and what it really means to follow Christ especially when danger threatens and overcoming fear seems almost impossible. Why be afraid if Christ is in your boat? Where is your faith in troubled times? With those questions, we’re all in that same boat!
This story reminds us that Jesus, our Master and Teacher, is in control in every circumstance of life. He is there to calm our fears whatever they are, even now. No pandemic virus or any other catastrophe will keep us down for ever. Just remember what Jesus said, “Peace be still,” and the storm will subside. Have faith, in him!
With that in mind, I have to tell this to myself as I share some unpleasant news at this time. Just recently, I was notified that my 90-year-old dad who resides at a senior assisted living facility was tested positive with COVID-19. Imagine the shock my family and I felt when we received this news. We never imagined this would happen to us. We pray that his condition doesn’t get worse and that he starts to show signs of improvement. We’re encouraged to know that many are praying for him and we would like to ask for your prayers, as well.
At times like this, we can only put our faith in the Lord. And, however it all turns out, we know the Master is still the One in control. For we know that when it’s all said and done, whether in this life or in the one to come, all things will turn out good (Romans 8:28) just like the time Jesus calmed the storm and the sea. His peace will keep us calm, as well,(John 14:27)!
Good News to YOU!
P.S. Here’s the modern version of a song from the seventies recorded by the Brown’s (no relation to me) that’ll lift your spirits like it does mine: http://youtu.be/lGSB8FT1sKo