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MIRACULOUS MOMENTS IN MARK: Boat-Huggers And Wave-Riders: Storm At Sea

Mark 4:35-41

Jesus was exhausted.

Jesus had been preaching and teaching virtually non-stop since just after dawn. He was tired, spent, worn-out, exhausted. He thought it would be a good idea to take his band of disciples across the Sea of Galilee, away from the press of the crowds to spend a quiet evening resting and sleeping. The disciples were agreeable. So they all climbed into a boat and set sail across the Sea of Galilee toward the eastern shore. No sooner had they boarded the boat than Jesus grabbed a cushion for his head, stretched out in the stem of the vessel and fell fast asleep.

My great friend, Leonard Sweet, tells how when he was young, one of his summer jobs was serving as a lifeguard at a Christian camp up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Included in his job description was the task of taking teenaged campers on speedboat rides every afternoon. As he says, it was a tough job, but somebody had to do it! Whenever he revved up the engine and sent that boat hurtling through the water, he discovered that there were two types of teenagers in the boat. Some were what he called “wave-riders”- they stood up in the middle of the boat, straddling the bounce across the waves, while yelling “Faster! Faster!” Others were what he called “boat-huggers”- they held onto the sides of the boat, clinging for dear life, hoping and praying that this “wonderful experience” would soon be over. Len Sweet goes on to say that by the same token there are two kinds of Christians out on the tough, turbulent seas of life. Some are “boat-huggers”, paralyzed by fear and panic. Others are “wave-riders”, facing up to and then facing down the tough times in life.

Of course, that’s the real meaning behind this “Miraculous Moment in Mark”—the story of Jesus and His disciples being caught in a storm at sea. It’s quite a story…

Here is how the miracle happened.

Now the water on Galilee at that point is about five miles wide. Midway in the journey, they suddenly encountered a fierce thunderstorm. That in and of itself was not so unusual. The setting of the Sea of Galilee is conducive to producing such swiftly-developing storms—and those disciples would have experienced such storms many times before.

However, this particular storm was anything but usual. In fact, the original Greek words used in this story in Mark 4 make it quite plain that this storm was overwhelming in its power and fury. For example, the storm is referred to by the Greek word “seismos”, which means “earthquake”. The implication is that this storm was not just an ordinary thunderstorm, it was like an earthquake at sea! Another interesting Greek word is used in this story—it is “kaluptesthai”, which means “completely hidden”. The waves were so high that when the boat was in the trough of the waves, it was “completely hidden”. The waves crested and towered high above the decks of the vessel, as fearsome a sight as any sailor can ever see.

So get the picture, please. Out on the open waters of the Sea of Galilee this ferocious storm broke. The wind was roaring. The rain was lashing. The sails of the boat were being ripped. The waves were in danger of capsizing the vessel. Suddenly, stark paralyzing fear gripped those disciples—and they cried out to Jesus: “Lord, don’t you care that we are about to die here?” You see, Jesus was still asleep. I want to let that wash over you for a moment. In the midst of that raging fury, Jesus was sleeping. So calm, so confident, so trusting, so filled with faith, so absolutely at ease in the arms of God that He was able to sleep in the middle of the storm!

The disciples had no such confidence, so they rudely awakened Him—and Jesus wound up rebuking them. Now please understand that there was nothing wrong with the disciples turning to Jesus in their need. It is never wrong to turn to Jesus in life—and He is always ready to receive us even when we’re panic-stricken with fear. No, Jesus didn’t rebuke them for coming to Him—He rebuked them for what they said to Him. They said: “Lord, don’t you care about us?” A terrible thing to say to Jesus. I mean, after all, they had been with Him. They had experienced His protective grace again and again. He loved them and cared for them with His life. Yet here, in the grip of fear, they doubted His love. Note this down: Never, never doubt that Jesus loves and cares for you. He went to the cross to prove it!

My family and I have always loved the water. Some years ago, we purchased a sailboat. Our son, John David, was three-years old at the time—and it was apparent that if we were going to enjoy sailing that he would need to know how to swim. So Trisha enrolled him in swimming lessons—the kind where they throw you in and you learn how to swim, because you have to! At first he was afraid. But then he looked up at his mother and said: “Are you going to be here when I swim back?” That’s another way of saying: “Do you love me enough not to leave me?” When she said “Yes”, that was all he needed to hear. His fear was gone, and in three days he was swimming like a fish!

That points to a very basic truth in overcoming fear. How does the Bible put it? “Perfect love casts out fear.” True, if those disciples had thought at all about the tremendous love they knew Christ had for them, they never would have approached Him as they did. So Jesus rebuked them. Then, almost as if to underscore the foolishness of what they had done, and to deliver to them a message they would never forget, Jesus got up, stood in the midst of the rocking boat, and addressed the storm as if it were a puppy dog barking at the mailman. Our translation has Jesus say: “Peace, be still!” That’s quite poetic and majestic. But when you literally translate His words, they come out something like this: “Hush! Be quiet! Settle down!” And immediately, the Bible says, “there was a great calm.” The wind died. The rain stopped. The waves flattened. And the storm in the hearts of the trembling twelve disappeared too. Perfect love for Jesus does cast out fear.

Now here is why the miracle happened.

Jesus performed every miracle for a purpose. He didn’t work miracles for fun or entertainment or even to exercise His supernatural power. Just as every parable He ever told had a point, so every miracle He ever worked had a message. The message Jesus wanted to deliver to His disciples and to us is this: The miracle He wanted to show them was not the miracle of calming the storm, but the miracle of calming them in the midst of the storm! You see, Jesus wants His followers to be wave-riders not boat-huggers. He wants us to have the joy of knowing that no matter how fierce the storms we face, no matter how many crises crash upon our cruises through life, nothing of ultimate harm can happen to us as long as we are in the boat with Jesus. With Jesus in our lives and at our side, there is nothing to fear. In other words, in the tough, turbulent times in life, He may not calm every storm, but He will calm us in every storm.

I’ve had some Galilees to sail in my life. There have been times when the storms have broken upon me with terrifying suddenness. And there have been times when, like the disciples, I have run choking in fear to Jesus. And always…always He has looked at me and said: “It’s all right. I love you and I am with you.” Always He has been there. That has happened to me enough times now so that I truly believe it. As we become more and more conscious of His perfect love for us, there seems to be less and less reason to be afraid. When you catch hold of that truth in your life, then fear is finished.


Back in 1735, as John Wesley was making his way from England to Georgia on board the merchant ship “Simmonds”, the ship was caught in a storm at sea out on the Atlantic. The mast splintered. The sails were shredded. The ship was tossed about like a leaf in the wind. All those on board were paralyzed with fear—that is, all but a small group of Moravian Christians. Throughout the ordeal they sang hymns of faith. When at last the raging storm was over, John Wesley asked why they had shown no evidence of fear. They replied: “God was with us. We had no reason to be afraid.” Those Moravians had learned the secret of overcoming fear through faith in Jesus Christ. My guess is that they learned that secret from the story of this “Miraculous Moment in Mark” when Jesus and His disciples were caught in a storm at sea. And it is my hope and prayer that you and I can learn that same secret from that same story


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