“And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38)
In the midst of a fierce storm of tribulation in our lives, we are prone to the same response as the apostles during their physical storm on the sea of Galilee. When the waves got high and the water began to fill the boat, not only did they become afraid, but they began to question if Jesus even cared for them in the midst of this storm. Sometimes we feel like Jesus is asleep in the hull of the ship in the midst of our storms as well, and we can question if God even cares and he might even allow us to perish. When we have those doubts and fears in the midst of life’s storms, we have to remember the word of God; remember Jesus’ promise that he is with us in the storm and has promised safe passage to the other side and ultimate deliverance from these storms.
Here in Mark 4:35, we see Jesus telling the apostles, “Let us pass over unto the other side” of the sea of Galilee. Jesus made a promise to them by his words that all in the ship would arrive safely at the other side of the sea. However, as is common with all disciples of Christ, they became afraid in the midst of the storm and began not just to question the word of God, but also to question if Jesus Christ even cared for them in the midst of this storm. A great storm of wind arose on the sea and the waves beat into the ship, so much so that the ship “was now full”. Understandably, the ship being now full of water and maybe on the verge of sinking is a reason for legitimate concern. At least four of the apostles were professional fisherman who knew sailing and fishing in the sea of Galilee well. Not only were they used to having storms and disturbances in a ship, but they knew this local body of water very well. You would think that professional fisherman familiar with this sea would have acted a little more composed during this storm instead of thinking they were about to die. This shows that even those with experience in storms who apparently should have the knowledge and experience to keep their cool in storms on the sea can lose their wits when circumstance get dire and the small ship begins to be full of water.
Have you ever been in a situation when you felt that the ship of your life was not just taking on water but was “now full” of water, thinking you might be close to sinking? I believe we all have experienced that sinking, overflowing, helpless feeling during a storm to some degree or another in our lives. What is our response when we feel overwhelmed and sinking with the cares and trials of this world? I’m afraid even the most experienced, seasoned disciples can sometimes question God in the midst of severe storms in our lives. The disciples thought since Jesus, as the son of man, was taking a brief nap in the hull of the ship, that he had forgot about or didn’t even know about their severe need on deck. Sometimes we might feel that Jesus is asleep during the storms of our life. Where is God when I receive a bad medical diagnosis, a loved one passes away, I lost my job, or any degree of severe storms that come in this life? Not only do we sometimes think that Jesus is asleep in midst of these trails, but we might even question does God even care for us – “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” During these times, we have to remember what we already know and trust the word of God. God is never asleep on the job as the Sovereign Ruler of this universe. God is never asleep at the wheel when his children are in need. “Behold he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber no sleep” (Ps. 121:4). God is never asleep during his children’s trials, but he is ever with us, even if we can’t see him in the moment. When our hearts get overwhelmed and are taking on water and feeling like we might sink, we have to run to Jesus for refuge. “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2)
God’s people have a bad habit of blaming God when things get difficult, and then even acting like God has forsaken us in our time of need. Many Old Testament examples of this could be given, but just notice a few excerpts from the nation of Israel. Israel had just been liberated from centuries of Egyptian bondage, but that elation soon wore off when the Egyptians came and pinned them in at the Red Sea. You would think that God’s people would have thought back on the plagues and how God has just brought the strongest nation in the world to their knees and bond slaves came out with vast riches solely by the power of God. You think they would have reasoned by faith that God promised us to go to the promised land, so he’s not going to let us get killed in the wilderness by the Egyptians. Instead of reasoning these things by faith, they blamed God and Moses for bringing them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness and wanted to go back to bondage. In spite of their unbelief, God still miraculously delivered them by the Red Sea and destroyed the entire Egyptian host (Exod. 14:10-12). Later, the majority of Israel chose to believe the false report of 10 of the 12 spies of the land of Canaan. The land was ready for their taking; they just had to come in and possess the land, but they got afraid of the giants. Then, they again blame God for bringing them out of Egypt to just die in the wilderness, acting like God had just forsaken them (Num. 14:2-4). Then, yet again in the wilderness, God’s people got discouraged in the way. (We always make bad decisions and make rash statements when we get discouraged in the way.) They got tired of manna and again blame God for bringing them out into the wilderness to die, while the whole time God was still being faithful to give them manna to eat every single day (Num. 21:4-5). God was still providing for them every day to sustain them in trial, but they got discouraged and turned on God and thought God had abandoned them. God was so displeased with this lack of faith that he sent fiery serpents into the camp and many people died because of their grumbling and blaming God. It is such a common theme in scripture – and unfortunately in our lives too – that not only do we blame God when hard times come, but we even begin to think that God has forsaken us and doesn’t even care if we perish.
The disciples felt like their ship was about to physically capsize and them drown, and they felt in that moment of severe need that God didn’t even care if they died. They viewed Jesus’ sleep as indifference and a lack of care for their trial. Instead, we can view Jesus’ sleep in the storm here as a picture of his sovereignty over creation and even storms. This was a severe, terrifying storm to the apostles, but to the Son of God, it wasn’t even worth waking up from his nap for. Jesus was in total control of the entire situation, even though to the disciples the storm seemed out of control, and they feared and didn’t understand it at the moment. They should have reminded themselves by faith of the promise of Jesus before they got in the ship that they would pass over to the other side. They also should have reminded themselves of God’s sovereignty over the seas that they should have known from the word of God. “The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of this feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers.” (Nahum 1:3-4) In just a minute, Jesus is about to carry out this verse in live-action and rebuke the wind and command the storm to “Peace, be still”, and the storm obeyed the Son of God. That is what we need to remind ourselves in the storms of this life; we need to remind ourselves of the promises of God’s word. The apostles should have reasoned by faith that no matter how bad this storm is right now Jesus won’t let us die in the water because he has already promised us that we will pass over to the other side. We reason by faith that God has total sovereign control over this storm and all the affairs of life, and even if the storm might seem out of control to us, God can rebuke the sea in a moment and still the storm.
However, we also need to remember that God will not always still the storm in our life, but he will give us encouragement to endure in the midst of the storm. In a later storm on the sea of Galilee in Matt. 14:22-33, when Jesus walks on the water, it is a similar circumstance that Jesus has commanded his disciples to go to the other side of the sea. A storm arises again on the sea, and Jesus walks on the water. The disciples are concerned because of the storm and afraid when they see Jesus. However, Jesus does not immediately stop the storm. Instead, he gives them a message of cheer and hope in the midst of the storm. “Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Matt. 14:27). Jesus does not stop the storm right away, but he gives them a source of joy that should alleviate their fears in the midst of the storm – “It is I”, which literally means “I Am” in the Greek. Even in the midst of storms, we need to remember that God is who he always has been – the eternal, unchangeable “I Am”. In this immediate instance, we see that Jesus is telling his disciples “I am with you in this storm”. Therefore, because I am with you, because I am your shield, protector, and defender in the midst of this storm, therefore, be of good cheer and be not afraid. Just knowing that Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm should give us cheer and vanquish fear, regardless of the severity of the trials of this life we will inevitably endure.
Peter comes out of the boat and walks on the water for a few steps, but begins to sink when he takes his eyes off the I Am. When we take our eyes off Jesus in the midst of the storm and start focusing on the waves, we will inevitably begin to sink and doubt the Lord. Regardless of how big the waves appear around us, we can’t look upon the waves and get distracted, but we have to keep our eyes upon Jesus in the storm. Then, once they got back into the boat, then the wind ceased from its tempest. Jesus did not stop the storm right away. God will oftentimes not take away the storm immediately when we pray to him. Storms are temporary, not permanent, and the storm will eventually be over, but it might not be right away. However, God will always give us these “I Am” encouragements to where we can not fear and even have joy in the midst of the storms of this life.
We should be growing in our discipleship with each trial that comes. After we faithfully endure it, then our faith should be stronger than it was before. This is the process of the “hope formula” in Rom. 5:3-5: “3) And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4) And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5) And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” With each tribulation that we faithfully endure with patience, that gives us “experiences” of God’s faithfulness in the past. When we encounter the next inevitable tribulation in this world, we don’t fret or crumble or fear, but we look back on past experiences of God’s faithfulness and that gives us hope for God’s continued faithfulness in our current trial. That should be the process of growth in hope for the maturing Christian. We glory in tribulations and storms of this life because they are opportunities for us to grow and strengthen our faith and to honor God in the midst of the storm. Then, when we faithfully endure those storms, we have hope and confidence that God will bless us in the next trial, regardless of how severe it is. We can then also encourage others from our experiences to have hope in God to bless them in their trials and storms of this life. We don’t fret and blame God and turn on God during storms, but we rely on God’s faithful experiences in our lives and other saints to give us hope for God to give us grace sufficient in this storm as well.
Now, let us consider a positive example of faith and how we ought to trust in God’s word in the midst of a storm. In Acts 27, Paul warned the centurion to not sail due to the weather, but he didn’t listen, and they were in the middle of a hurricane named Euroclydon. This storm was so bad that they hadn’t seen the sun or stars in almost two weeks, and “all hope that we should be saved was then taken away” (Acts 27:20). In the midst of that literal “hopeless” situation, when everyone else was saying their final prayers and preparing for death, Paul stands up and declares faith in the promise and word of God. He says that an angel told him that there would be no loss of any man’s life on the ship, and that Paul would be brought before Caesar and no one would die. His response in faith to the promise of God was: “Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” (Acts 27:25) In the midst of a storm where no one else had any hope, Paul stood up and boldly declared he believed the promise of God regardless of how bleak the situation appears to his natural eyes. He believed the promise and word of God in a hopeless situation and encouraged everyone else on the ship. They ended up being shipwrecked and spent 3 months on a remote island, but no one lost their life, and Paul made it to Rome to testify before Caesar just exactly as God had promised. Paul’s hope in God in the midst of the storm was founded upon all the past “experiences” of God’s faithfulness for him in tribulation. Paul had lived out the Rom. 5 hope formula, and he had faith in God even in the middle of a hopeless situation. We need to follow Paul’s example and believe the promise of God, regardless of how bleak or hopeless the storm around us might appear in the moment.
We never need to fear that our ship will finally capsize, and we will perish when Jesus is in the ship with us. No matter how much water from the storms of this life overflows the sides of our ship, we are never in danger of dying in the middle of the sea because Jesus has promised safe passage. As long Jesus is in the ship with his children, we shall never perish. Jesus has promised all his children that we shall never perish because we are held securely in the Father’s hand. “And I give unto [my sheep] eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) Any doubt that if Jesus cares for us or if he would forsake us during difficult times was forever settled on the cross. Jesus didn’t forsake us when all the sin of God’s elect was placed upon his righteous head. That would have been the time to bow out, and justly allow all the elect to receive their just recompense of reward. Jesus proved his great wealth of affection when his body was broken for me. Jesus unquestionably proved that he cares for his people in eternity by dying for our sins on the cross, and thereby proved he will never forsake us in the comparatively minor storms of this life. God will never forsake his people in the storms, we will not perish, but God has perfectly secured safe passage to the other side of heaven for all his people. As long as Jesus is in the ship with us (and he always will be), we are secured and promised safe passage to the other side in heaven with our God.
Does Jesus Care? (Written by Frank Graeff, 1860-1919)
Does Jesus care when my heart is pained, Too deeply for mirth and song? As the burdens press and the cares distress, And the way grows weary and long?
Does Jesus care when my way is dark, With a nameless dread and fear? As the daylight fades into deep night shades, Does He care enough to be near?
Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed, To resist some temptation strong? When for my deep grief I find no relief, Though my tears flow all the night long?
Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”, To the dearest on earth to me, And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks, Is it aught to Him, Does He see?
Chorus: Oh, yes. He cares. I know He cares, His heart is touched with my grief. When the days are weary, the long nights dreary. I know my Savior cares, He cares.