“Shhh.”

It can be a real challenge to rest in God when hard times seem to either drag on or pile on – or both.

Stressful seasons provoke us to doubt God’s goodness, presence, or existence. It’s hard to recalibrate and turn to God in prayer. It can be even harder to be contemplative about what He may be doing in us because we’re consumed with everything that is happening to us.

Many of us, Christian or not, are familiar with the famous passage in Mark chapter 4 when Jesus calmed the storm. The sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake on earth and just to the North of Galilee is Mt. Hermon, the highest point in Syria. When the cold air from mountains and warm air across the sea collides – the storms come fast and violent. The disciples – experienced sailors who had experience with these storms – thought they were going to die.

As the storm raged and their lives flashed before their eyes, their Messiah was taking a powernap, so they accused Jesus of not caring. If you’ve ever had to endure a prolonged season of trials, and woke up feeling as though Lemony Snicket was going to start narrating your day at any moment as you mustered up the energy to roll out of bed to face your series of unfortunate events, then you can relate to why the disciples cried “Jesus, don’t you care that we’re dying?!”

The disciples thought what most of us moderns think: if God is all good and all powerful, then I should not be in this storm. I am in this storm, therefore God is neither all good nor all powerful.

However, a raging storm and a sleeping Saviour make a provocative statement: God actually does allow those He loves to go through massively difficult and tumultuous times. As much as we would prefer not to admit this, being contemplative about what God might be working in us always takes a back seat to ruminating over what we think God should be doing for us.

While it’s true that God will never abandon us, in our moments of gospel amnesia, we find little comfort in being reminded that God is with us. Let that sink in. The incarnation of Christ and the indwelling of His Spirit literally means “God with us“, and yet, so often when things hit the fan in our life, we relate to that gift of grace with the enthusiasm of a child unwrapping underwear on Christmas morning.

At least I have. Come on, doing leave me hanging, people.

We are so busy with the buckets in our figurative storms, we often don’t stop to really reflect on the implications of this passage being about a literal storm. I recently did this and found it incredibly encouraging. As I share this with you, I hope you will be encouraged as well.

Historical literary critics like Richard Bauckham assert that there are clear indicators in ancient literature that distinguish the difference between when you are reading poetry and when you are reading eyewitness recorded history. Mark gives us details like the fact that there were “other little boats around” and Jesus was “asleep on a cushion”. Those sorts of details are inconsequential in poetry. They do nothing to further the plot or develop the characters, which is how details in ancient poetry used. The gospels are not written in a poetic way but a matter-of-fact way and the details they give us are there simply because the eyewitnesses recalled them. [1]

To illustrate this, let’s do a quick comparison. Hesiod’s theogony depicts the origin of the gods, and godlike power is always described in cataclysmic, poetic ways. When Zeus used his power to defeat Titans you find phrases like, “lighting bolts thick and fast, trailing indescribable supernatural flames rising into the divine sky with such sparkling flare they dazzle the strongest eyes.” [2] 

Smash cut to Mark 4:39 and read how the Son of God used His power:  “Jesus said to the sea, “peace be still.”

That’s it.

That’s not how one writes ancient epic poetry.
That’s how a fishermen tells a scribe to record history.

No lighting bolts. No indescribable supernatural flames. Just the King of creation exercising His power over creation by telling the raging sea to be quiet – like it was a toddler having a tantrum.

The phrase “said to the sea” in Greek is “kai eipen te thalasse.” The tone being one speaks with such authority they definitively end a conversation.

Jesus woke up – and shushed a hurricane.

Then Jesus asked the disciples why they were fearful. The text does not use the Greek word phobos for fear, in reference to dread, but dilos which is a word associated with losing confidence.

Jesus was not concerned that they didn’t trust in Him enough, He was concerned that they didn’t trust in Him at all.  When the waves started crashing, they let go of Him – but in true gospel fashion, Jesus never let go of them.

He was calling them back to a place of trust in Him.
He’s always calling us back to a place of trust in Him.

That’s encouraging! Whether we’re strong in faith or weak in faith, mature in faith or new to the faith – we all get the same strong Christ when the waves start crashing.

You’d think that after Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples would have gone from panic mode to celebration mode – but no. The text actually says they went from being “afraid” to “exceedingly afraid”. Mark 4:41 says that “they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

Ancient cultures (and fishermen in particular) respected & feared the sea with a sense of great awe because it was a place of untameable power.  When Jesus shushed the hurricane they needed to rethink reality. The sea didn’t deserve ultimate reverence and awe – Jesus did. The sea wasn’t untameable – Jesus was.

The disciples were afraid they would die under the waves of the Sea. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus died under the waves of sin on the cross. Jesus went under the waves of judgement for your sin so the waves of God’s grace would cover your sin. 

Jesus was abandoned by God in His storm so that you will can always be comforted by God in yours. He took your place in the ultimate storm and when the King returns – He will calm every storm.

Just like the wind vanished, suffering in every form will vanish. Just as the waves fell into silence, the waves of grief and sorrow will fall into silence. He will wipe every tear from every eye. Every good thing will be restored and every sorrowful thing will be eradicated.

Regardless of what you are facing right now – be encouraged, friend.
By grace & faith – you are united to the One who shushed the hurricane.

Press on,

Paul

[1] I found the the historical literary criticism of Richard Bauckham referenced in Tim Kellers Book “Jesus the King” Chapter 4, an informative study on the Gospel of Mark.

[2] Hesiod’s Theogony, Line 662

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