Synopsis: Despite a tremendous miracle, the disciples continue to lack faith – Mark 4:35-41.
After teaching the multitude in the vicinity of Capernaum, Jesus set out across the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. During their passage, a violent storm blew down upon the lake that frightened the disciples. Storms were common on the Sea of Galilee and several of the disciples were fishermen familiar with them. To be so frightened indicates that this was a particularly severe storm. The Greek rendered “storm” can mean “hurricane” or “whirlwind.”
What precipitated this storm was the statement of Jesus to his disciples: “Let us go over to the other side.” Where the “other side” becomes clear in the next story about the demoniac from the area of Gerasenes (Mark 5:1-20).
(Mark 4:35-41) – “And he says to them on that day, evening having come, ‘We should cross over unto the other side.’ And having dismissed the crowd, they are taking him along as he was in the boat, and other boats were with him. And a great tempest of wind is coming to pass, and the waves were dashing over into the boat, so that already being filled is the boat. And he was in the stern sleeping on the cushion. And they awaken him and are saying to him, ‘Teacher! Is it no concern to you that we are perishing?’ And having awakened he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Be silent! Be still!’ And the wind abated, and great calm came to pass. And he said to them, ‘Why are you fearful? Not yet do you have faith?’ And they feared a great fear and were saying to one another, ‘Who, then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (compare – Exodus 14:16-29, Psalm 89:9, 107:29, Nahum 1:4, Matthew 8:23-27, Luke 8:22-25).
The only time in the synoptic gospels where Jesus is described as sleeping is here while he slept during a violent storm. That he needed to sleep demonstrates his genuine humanity. That he slept during a storm showed that his trust was in God.
The disciples addressed him as “teacher,” an indication they did not understand who Jesus really was. They viewed him as little more than a teacher or “rabbi.” At the end of this story, they will ask, “Who is this man?”
The disciples did not perform well in this incident; they were in great fear and acted accordingly. Furthermore, they woke Jesus out of fear and in a sudden way. Finally, Jesus charged them with having no faith. The irony is that they were even more fearful after he had calmed the storm.
A passage from the book of Jonah is echoed in the story. When Jesus “rebuked” the storm and called on the wind to “be silent,” he used the same language he used previously to rebuke demons (“Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet and come out of him” – Mark 1:25):
(Jonah 1:4-17) – “But Yahweh sent out a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. Then the mariners were afraid and cried every man unto his god; and they cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it unto them. But Jonah was gone down into the innermost parts of the ship; and he lay fast asleep.”
In the ancient mind, the sea was associated with the powers of chaos and evil. Regardless, no opposition to Jesus could succeed until his mission was finished, not even the forces of nature. This “opposition” arose after he had instructed the disciple to proceed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The passage portrays the storm’s reaction to the determination of Jesus to cross to the other side as virtually instantaneous.
Not only did the wind cease at his command, the sea was also calmed immediately. This demonstrates the miraculous nature of what had occurred; winds can suddenly cease but a body of water with its surface stirred by a storm takes time to return to a peaceful state.
Jesus then questioned his disciples (“how is it that you have no faith”). Apparently, by this time in his ministry, he had expected his disciples to acquire faith, yet even this tremendous ‘nature miracle’ failed to produce true faith. Instead, it raised the question in their minds: “Who is this man?”
As powerful as this miracle was, it did not by itself answer that question. Even though the disciples were “insiders” closely associated with Jesus, they reacted like the crowds on the “outside” to which he spoke only in parables. Nevertheless, even though the disciples requested the help of Jesus out of fear and not from faith, he responded by delivering them from the immediate danger.