Is Jesus in Your Boat?

The Voice of Hope
Is Jesus in Your Boat?

Is Jesus in Your Boat?

Mark 4:35-41

            Few ships in the world are more famous than the Titanic. She began her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912, from Southampton, England, to New York City. On April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg and in a few short hours broke apart and sank. More than 1500 people lost their lives in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.

            On the Sunday after the Titanic sank, Belfast, Ireland, was in shock. The Titanic was built by one of the premier shipbuilding firms in the city, and it was considered virtually unsinkable. As you can imagine, the townspeople were devastated. Men met on the city’s streets, grasped each other’s hands, burst into tears, and parted without saying a word. One church lost 16 of its male members to the icy waters; they were all mechanics on the Titanic. And on that dark Sunday, the pastor in that congregation read Mark 4:35 to 41.

            As we continue our study of the Gospel of Mark, we come to this text. It is the dramatic account of Jesus and His disciples on the Sea of Galilee amid a horrendous storm. The title of this study is a question, “Is Jesus in Your Boat?” I hope you can stay with me. Listen now as I read Mark 4:35 to 41.

             As we look at the interaction of Jesus and the disciples in this text, we’ll see that the only unsinkable vessel in history was the little boat occupied by the sleeping Savior. How you answer the question, “Is Jesus in your boat?” will have far-reaching and eternal consequences.  

Consider the Humanity of Jesus

            As I read and meditated on this short text, I was impressed by how few words are spoken. There are several short commands and questions, but they are loaded with so much meaning.

            Jesus makes the first statement; “Let’s cross over to the other side.” It is the evening of what has been a hectic day. The events included the blasphemous accusation by the Pharisees, the visit of the family to rescue Him from the crowds, leaving the crowded house for the sea, teaching parables from a boat, and more parables in the house, and back to the sea again. Now, they are preparing to cross the sea!

            Here is evidence of the humanity of Jesus. He was physically tired, and it was time to find some relief from the pressing demands of the constant crowds. He had been so busy there hadn’t even been time to eat, according to Mark 3:20. Think of the emotional drain that constant ministry put on Him. The needs were endless.

            They were on the west side of the lake and a voyage to the eastern side in the evening would be a delightful and refreshing change for the weary Jesus. Furthermore, the eastern side of the lake was much less populated, making it a good place to rest. But as is often the case with Jesus, there’s more to the story. He has a divine appointment on the other side of Galilee.

            So, they started their voyage. They took Jesus with them in the boat, the one He had been teaching from. Mark is the only one who mentions other little boats with them. People must have gathered around Jesus’ boat to be closer to Him and to hear His teaching.

            It reminds me of our trip to Israel in March 2023. When our tour group visited a site, there were always those who were taking pictures or looking for a place to sit. I tried not to be obnoxious or pushy, but I often tried to get as close to our guide as possible. He was a walking encyclopedia of historical and biblical information and I wanted to hear and learn all that I could. I believe that’s what it was like to hear Jesus teach.

            We know Jesus was exhausted because He immediately fell asleep in the back of the boat on the pillow. “The pillow” was a cushion where the person steering the boat would sit. Jesus must have been exhausted to sleep in such cramped quarters. He also must have had implicit trust in the men who were sailing the boat. I don’t sleep in a car if I don’t trust the driver.   

            Isn’t it comforting to know that Jesus experienced physical exhaustion just like we do? Serving others by meeting their physical and emotional needs is hard work. It drains something out of you. Although Jesus was God in the flesh, He voluntarily laid aside His divine rights so He could identify with us in our weakness. Let’s remember this critical fact.  

Consider the Anxiety of the Disciples

            Most of us are like the disciples. It is easy to exercise faith in the little, everyday experiences. As long as the situation is familiar to us and we are comfortable in the routines of life, we don’t think too much about the need for faith.

When you leave your house to drive to the grocery store or your job, you don’t usually think about all the things that could happen to you, do you? If you do, you trust that God will bring you safely back home again – as He’s done countless times before.

            But what happens when those routines are upset? How do we respond when things begin to spiral out of control? These questions lead us to consider the anxiety of the disciples.

            As they sailed across the lake, a great windstorm arose. Luke says, “It came down on the lake.” In northern Israel, Mount Hermon rises 9,200 feet above sea level. The Sea of Galilee sits 700 feet below sea level. When the warm air rising from the Jordan Valley collides with the colder air coming down from Mount Hermon it can trigger violent storms.

            So, a violent storm came from Mount Hermon into the Jordan Valley and struck the Sea of Galilee with tremendous force. The Greek word translated as windstorm means a hurricane or a whirlwind. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, uses this same word in Job 38:1 where God speaks out of the whirlwind, and Jonah 1:4, where He raised a violent storm to confront His wayward prophet.

            Most of the men in this boat were seasoned sailors. They knew the unpredictable nature of this lake. They had been through many storms and tempests. They didn’t scare easily, but this storm was different. The waves were mountainous, and water was pouring over the sides of the boat. The disciples bailed as fast as they could, but it was a losing battle. The boat was rapidly filling with water. They were in imminent danger of being swamped and going to the bottom! Luke says, “They were in jeopardy.”

             In all this commotion, activity, and noise, Jesus was sleeping! So, the disciples “awake” Him (Mark uses the graphic present tense). In their fear, they cried out, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” It was a rebuke to Jesus. Imagine sleeping through such a storm!

            You and I have been there, haven’t we? We trusted Jesus and we went with Him for a pleasant sail through life, as it were. All of a sudden, a storm, seemingly out of nowhere burst upon us. A terminal illness, a tragic accident, an untimely death, a broken relationship, or a shattered dream destroyed our calm. We were in danger of sinking in confusion and despair and Jesus seemed oblivious to our plight. He was nowhere to be found. And we cried out “Lord, where are You, don’t you care about us?”  

Consider the Authority of Jesus

            Mark’s narrative is understated. He wrote, “Then He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still.’” Jesus’ simple commands were, “be silent” and “be muzzled.” It makes me wonder if Jesus even raised His voice.

            Immediately, the wind ceased, kopadzo. It means to cease through extreme fatigue or being worn out with labor. The sea sank to rest as though it were exhausted from its beating. As suddenly as the storm had burst upon them, just as suddenly it vanished. That was astounding to the disciples, but what was more astounding was the immediate “great calm” that ensued.

            The surface of the lake went from an angry boiling pot to a sea of glass. Not a ripple broke the surface. Anyone who knows anything about how storms affect water knows that after the wind dies, the waves take hours, sometimes days, to subside. In some ways, the glassy waters were a greater miracle than the sudden cessation of the wind.

            As the disciples continued bailing water out of the boat, their thoughts were racing. They were trying to wrap their minds around what they were experiencing. And then Jesus broke the silence. “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”

            Can you imagine the disciples processing these questions? “Why were we afraid? We were afraid we were about to drown. We were afraid you didn’t love or care for us because if you did these things wouldn’t happen to us!”

            “Why are you afraid? I am here with you. “Where is your faith in Me? Don’t you understand that I am the Lord of nature? You are safe with me anywhere and everywhere.” These men had accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but they hadn’t yet realized all the ramifications of that truth. How often would Jesus ask us these same questions?

Consider the Perplexity of the Disciples

            The disciples were afraid before Jesus calmed the storm, but now they’re terrified! Now that the immediate danger was past, I imagine them looking at each other dumbfounded and speaking in hushed voices, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the waves obey Him?”

            They knew Jesus had power. They had seen Him heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, cast out demons, and even raise the dead. But this was something else; power to control nature?

            The disciples were growing in their apprehension and comprehension of who Jesus was. Apprehension refers to the act of understanding something in a way that is fearful or anxious.  They were terrified. They were overawed by what they had just experienced. This is what happens whenever sinful mankind realizes he is in the presence of the Holy God.

            Comprehension refers to the act of understanding something in a way that is clear and complete. Slowly but surely these men were gaining a better understanding of who Jesus was. He was no ordinary Rabbi! His teaching and lifestyle were completely different than the religious teachers of the day. He cared about the needs of others more than His own needs. He entered into other people’s pain instead of standing proudly aloof.  

            We mustn’t be too critical of the disciples. We have an advantage over them. We have the Holy Spirit living inside us and yet we still struggle with our fears. We still wrestle with trusting God in the storms of life. We’re perplexed as to why God allows such traumatic experiences in our lives. We too are on a journey of apprehending and comprehending who God is. When we understand how much Jesus loves us, we can remain calm amid the most violent storms.

            It is interesting to compare this account of the life of Jesus with the account of Jonah. I’m indebted to the late Tim Keller for his insights on this text.

            Both Jesus and Jonah were in a boat. Both boats were overtaken by a violent storm and both Jonah and Jesus were sleeping through the storms. In both accounts, the sailors said, “We’re going to die!” In both cases, there was divine intervention, and the sea miraculously became calm. After the sea became calm, the sailors were even more terrified.

            We have two almost identical stories but with one critical difference. In Jonah’s experience, he said, “Throw me overboard. If I die, you will live.” So, they threw Him into the sea. In Mark’s account, that doesn’t happen, or does it? Is Mark implying that the stories aren’t that much different? In Matthew 12:38 to 42 Jesus tells the crowd, “I’m the real Jonah.”

            “He meant this: Someday I’m going to calm all the storms and still all the waves. I’m going to destroy destruction, break brokenness, and kill death. How can He do that? He can do it only because when He was on the cross, he was thrown – willingly, like Jonah – into the ultimate storm, under the ultimate waves, the waves of sin and death. Jesus was thrown into the only storm that can actually sink us – the storm of eternal justice, of what we owe for our wrongdoing. That storm wasn’t calmed – not until it swept Him away.

            If the sight of Jesus bowing His head into that ultimate storm is burned into the core of your being, you will never say, ‘God, don’t you care?’ And if you know that He did not abandon you in that ultimate storm, what makes you think He will abandon you in the much smaller storms you are experiencing right now?” [1]

            Someday, Jesus will come and still all storms for all eternity. If you and I allow that truth to penetrate to the core of our being, we will be assured of His love. We will be absolutely convinced of His love for us, and we will respond to the storms of life with the calm assurance that His hand is on the tiller of our boat.

            Is Jesus in your boat? If not, why not invite Him into it today? You won’t be truly safe until He is in your boat.

[1] Timothy Keller, Jesus the King, pp.61-62

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