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An angel in the whirlwind.
Your season of suffering is not outside the scope of God’s sovereignty.
This article was originally written for 1517.
One of the more intriguing details that is often overlooked in the Gospel of Mark is the fact that Christ’s famous stilling of the storm on the Sea of Galilee occurs on the very same day as the events in chapters 3 and 4. Immediately after spending an entire day ministering to those with diseases, summoning the twelve, rebuffing the scribes, and teaching an array of parables, Jesus orders his disciples to ready a boat so they can cross over the waters. He intends to get away from the crowds and get rest. Christ is wearied, exhausted, and in need of solitude and sleep.
This, indeed, is an entirely human moment expressed by our Lord. It is touching that even he needed solace from the multitudes. There is no emotion you can imagine with which Jesus is not familiar. He is “a man of suffering who knew what sickness was”; a man who “carried our pains” in his own body (Isa. 53:3–4). He was afflicted with all our infirmities and “sympathizes with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15). Including sleep. Yet, even still, he is Lord. There was never a moment when he was not divine. There was no instance when he was not in control. Not even as the chaos of the storm swirled around him and his disciples.
The apostles cast off following the command of their Teacher and are immediately caught in a “great windstorm” (Mark 4:37). A violent hurricane wreaks havoc on the little craft that’s ferrying the kingdom of God. The storm itself isn’t all that unnatural or unusual for the Sea of Galilee, with its geography lending itself to fierce tempests which come upon boats swiftly. But what is fascinating to me is that Jesus’s command to “cross over to the other side of the sea” is uttered without the slightest hint of what was ahead of them, even though he knew what was going to be there for him and his apostles (Mark 4:35). This storm was no accident. They weren’t caught in the middle of it by happenstance or ignorance. Actually, it came about by obedience. They followed their Lord’s command and commotion followed them. We can understand the disciples’ alarm, then.
The distressing days of life alarm us all. We are frightened, at times, because it can feel like God has left us. “Where is God?” “Why would God do this?” “Why would God let this happen?” These are understandable questions. But notice, Jesus never details the manner in which they would “pass over unto the other side,” just that they would. The command to follow Christ does not always (necessarily) guarantee calm days ahead. In fact, I think it rarely does. Sometimes storms are part of God’s will for us. Sometimes obedience involves suffering. Such is why, I think, the apostle Peter makes the bold statement in his first epistle that his readers need not be surprised when trials and testings arise, “as if something unusual were happening” (1 Pet. 4:12–14). Sometimes the troubling days are here for a reason.
And the difficult part is accepting the reality that we may never know the reason for our adversity. We may never be made privy to God’s plans and purposes for us, and why it involved heartache and heartbreak. But that’s okay. It’s not for us to know. That’s why it’s called faith. “The life of faith,” writes Robert Capon, “is simply the constant willingness to trust that . . . there’s another hand that holds our life along with us” (48).
I’m incredibly thankful for that other hand that holds onto me. Without it, I know I’d be living a terribly fretful and frenzied life. And oftentimes I live that way anyway. But the comfort of faith does not come with insights into the future or explanations for life’s events. It comes with knowing the One who has ordained and ordered the future already. Who knows the ends from the beginnings. He is the lone certainty in a life comprised of a million uncertainties. Like the apostles, we aren’t often enlightened as to what lies ahead. But we are free to be ignorant of the days ahead so long as we are informed of One who goes with us. Such is what disciples apparently forgot.
This furious windstorm, though a usual occurrence for this body of water, was no ordinary storm. It was so ferocious, in fact, that the apostles are fearing for their lives, many of whom were experienced sailors in their own right. But as the winds and waves beat upon their bark, they are petrified that this is the end. Their little craft is being swamped by the surging breakers. Their situation is dire. And where is Jesus? He’s at the back of the boat, “sleeping on the cushion” (Mark 4:38). The disciples are panicking and their Teacher is napping.
I can sympathize with the disciples’ reaction. It appears as though Jesus doesn’t care. “Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” (Mark 4:38). Frustration oozes from their lips. Jesus’s seeming disinterest in their present circumstances troubles them almost as much as the trouble that surrounds them. “While you’re back there napping, we’re over here trying not to die!” All things accounted for, they sound right. It looks like Christ is indifferent to their plight. Our own seasons of suffering often make us come to similar conclusions.
Life’s stormy, unexpected days not only make us question God’s purpose but also his presence. “Where are you God?” “Why aren’t you bringing me out of this?” Like the disciples, it feels as if God is sleeping on us. “The bad news of life’s storms,” writes Larry Parsley, “is compounded by what appear to be snoring sounds coming from our supposed Savior. But the fact that he can sleep assures us that he is completely unafraid of what is currently terrifying us” (62).
Satan would have you fret yourself with your circumstances. He wants you in a commotion, in a frenzy over things you cannot control or change. He wants you to think you’re all alone because such notions often lead to the resignation of faith. Such is the nature of Jesus’s rebuke: “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). At that moment, the apostles’ faith hadn’t merely diminished, it had deteriorated. It was gone. Despite witnessing a slew of miracles and sitting under the tutelage of Christ’s own exposition, the apostles did not get it. They were still in the dark about what it meant that their Master was the Messiah.
Jesus, of course, wasn’t napping because of disinterest or indifference. He was napping because he knew who he was. “The Son of God” (Mark 1:1). The Word incarnate. Yahweh enfleshed. He is stronger than and sovereign over whatever crisis you are facing. I love the detail we are given in verse 35 where we are told that “other boats were with him.” It wasn’t just the apostles’ boat that was caught in this storm, there were other little ships with them. And notwithstanding whether these other boats were filled with faithful followers or just those wanting something from him, Jesus’s omnipotent mercy extended to all of them. His presence calmed the entire sea.
One of the other details that strikes me is the fact that as Jesus sleeps, he is not awakened by the wind or the rain or any of the elements of the storm, but by the disciples’ commotion. God is not surprised or moved by any event that comes into our lives. He is not shocked or startled or deterred by the apostles’ storm. Neither is he of yours. But at once upon cries of desperation, he moves to action. “He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Silence! Be still!’” (Mark 4:39). Jesus wakes up and scolds the storm. He muzzles the raging waters. The wearied Deliverer speaks and wearies the storm. With a word, the “great wind” is beaten back into “great calm.” What an affecting scene, wherein one moment Jesus is resting from human exhaustion, and in the next, he is exercising divine authority over nature itself. In a single moment, Christ demonstrates both his humanity and his deity. Alexander Maclaren puts it wonderfully when he writes:
Wearied as He was, the disciples’ cry at once rouses Him, and the fatigue which shows His manhood gives place to the divine energy which says unto the sea, “Peace! be still.” The lips which, a moment before, had been parted in the soft breathing of wearied sleep, now open to utter the omnipotent word — so wonderfully does He blend the human and the divine, ‘the form of a servant’ and the nature of God. (166)
The stilling of the seas is not so much a parable of words but a parable of actions. Jesus shows his apostles that they were seeing but not perceiving, hearing but not understanding who he was (Mark 4:12). He is God’s parable to us. A living parable. A divine mystery. He is the fullness of God in the form of flesh. Such is who was in the boat with them. Such is who is with you even now.
Regardless of the storms and trials of life, the Lord is with you. Your Master is in the boat with you to assure you that you will pass over to the other side (Mark 4:35). This is the good news. There is an Angel in the whirlwind. The Creator of the storm is the Deliverer from the storm. “He who sends the storm, steers the vessel,” writes Thomas Adam (99). “You think a hurricane can stop my kingdom?” Christ seems to say. “I’m the Lord of this hurricane!”
Nothing can disrupt God’s plans and purposes for you — not even the storm you are currently in. Your season of suffering is not outside the scope of God’s sovereignty. Though your hardships and heartaches are painfully real, the gospel’s promise is of an equally real Savior who is present with you through it all. He is not absent or indifferent to your calamity. Rather, he walks hand-in-hand with you through life’s intensest storms. He is your “helper who is always found in times of trouble” (Ps. 46:1) — not only because he walks with us through trouble but because he knows what trouble is. We have a God who knows what suffering is. We have a God who suffers with us. Who suffers for us. He came to be abandoned so that you and I could be found. He came to be hated so that you and I could be loved. He came to die so that you and I could live.
Thomas Adam, Private Thoughts on Religion and Other Subjects Connected With It (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1843).
Robert Capon, The Youngest Day: Shelter Island’s Seasons in the Light of Grace (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2019).
Alexander Maclaren, The Gospel According to St. Mark: Chapters I to VIII (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1906).
Larry Parsley, An Easy Stroll Through a Short Gospel: Meditations on Mark (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2018).