After Jesus had taught the crowd, a change in the scene occurs. As we have seen in the past, Mark can follow a crowd section followed by Jesus withdrawing with or without his disciples (Mark 1:35-39, 3:13-18). The author continues to point out the various people who interact with Jesus and their opinions. But what about the closest followers, the ones who Jesus explains the meanings of the parables to, who have been given the secret of the kingdom (Mark 4:10-12)? Who do the ones closest to him think Jesus is? This change of scene begins a new section of the Gospel focusing on the power of Christ. We have seen his power and authority before, which continues to point out his dominion over creation. One of Mark’s main themes throughout the Gospel is discipleship, the ongoing process of loving, learning, and obeying Christ. Today’s passage shows us the perspective of the disciples rather than the outsiders and the crowds. The disciples ask questions that we will look at today that even today faithful followers of Christ might have, even in the year 2021.
I. Do you even care? (25-38)
Before we look at these questions, let us seek to understand how these questions are asked. I want you to imagine you are standing in a boat just as Jesus finished teaching parables to the crowd (Mark 4:1, 33-34). The boat is off the coastline of the Sea of Galilee. This boat is not a small boat but about 26 feet long and over 7 feet wide, and about four and a half feet tall. You are scratching your head about the lamp, a measurement, a farmer, and a mustard seed. You turn to the other disciples and ask about the parables, “what do you think they mean? Remind me to ask Jesus about them later.” The sun is starting to set over the mountains which surround the sea of Galilee. It is more like a lake that sits 628 feet below sea level. With mount Hebron over 9,000 feet above sea level. The lake is like a basin with the surrounding mountains that encircle it. The cool evening breeze blows across the lake, and then you get a smell of fish. You are reminded that this boat in which Jesus taught from was used for fishing. The fishermen and townspeople are dispersing back to their homes to get ready for bed. You, again, think about Jesus’ teaching and are still perplexed by what it means as you see the sun sinking into the horizon. Then one of the disciples turns to you and said Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side.”
Sometimes Jesus will do this, leave the crowd and the people, and seek a new place. The people in the boat begin to work like a clock (which has not been invented yet). A simple task for fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John. They grew up on the sea. They were fishermen from birth. They know the wind, waves, and boat like the back of their hand. Each knows where to stand and what to do. They speak to each other as they set off. Other boats stay close to them as they make their way to the other side, as Jesus had instructed them. Four rowers start to place their oars into the calm water of the lake. Everybody has their place that they should be and knows what to do. You look around for Jesus to ask about the parables, but you don’t see him. You ask one of the other disciples, but he explained that Jesus went down into the stern and was asleep on a cushion. The everyday murmur of the disciples continues as the wind continues to blow across the lake.
However, the cool breeze begins to increase, and the slight breeze becomes a howling gust. The cool air from the tops of the mountains is meeting the warm air rising from the lake. In a moment, the clear sky is covered with dark clouds. The lake, which once was still, is now undulating with waves, and the boat that was once tranquil is now rising and falling with the waves. Up and down. Just as the boat is down, the waves are coming up, and the water is breaking against the side of the boat. You hold on to whatever you can find, and again the experienced fishermen start yelling over the howling wind. They pass you a bucket, and you instinctively start throwing water over the side of the boat. You might not know how to sail, but you know water does not belong inside the boat. The atmosphere has changed drastically, from sitting and listening to Jesus, now you are in a boat scooping water. The yelling starts again as the others are asking where Jesus is? And Peter goes down to the stern and finds him still asleep on the cushion. Then the other disciples wake him up, they ask him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Do you not care? This question is asked in the middle of the sea of Galilee, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a storm. This is not a philosophical question of Jesus, but as the disciples’ feet are wet with water that has come over the side of the boat, this question is emotional and genuine. They ask this question as the boat is rocking and the wind is howling. The question comes when they fear for their lives and believe it is close to the end. Do you not care? This is the exact same question that Martha asked of Jesus when Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, “Do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” A sense of abandonment for Martha. Or even worse, this is the example Jesus uses of the hired hand in John 10:13, who cares nothing for the sheep. The disciples were unknowingly asking if Jesus is a shepherd or a hired hand. Do you not care? Later in the Gospel of John, it is said of Judas that he did not care for the poor (John 12:6). Now when we think about it, of course, Jesus cares for us. He is the good shepherd who is not like the hired hand. He cares for Martha; he cares for the poor. The disciples ask a question that true disciples still ask today. Do you not care?
In a hymn called, “Does Jesus Care?” Frank Graeff wrote in 1901, following a series of deaths in his family since 1880, losing three sisters and his two parents all before turning 40. He writes this hymn which can be the cry of many believers, like the disciples in the boat that night.
Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or 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 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?
The disciples’ question is raw and asks a hard and heart-hitting question. Does Jesus care? We go through the pain and suffering the uncertainty of tomorrow. Life-threatening events like a sudden storm or even a long, drawn-out season of pain and doubt. At that moment on the boat, the disciples were not thinking of their plans for tomorrow but asking about their end. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” This word for perishing is ‘apollymi,’ which means destruction, the same word used by the pharisee’s and the Herodians when they sought to destroy Jesus (Mark 3:6). The difficult part of the question is not that they are in a storm, but I think the hard part for them was that Jesus was asleep. Asleep like the farmer in the parable of the seed growing. But just as the parable of the seed growing, the farmer sleeps, trusting in God’s providence. Jesus is asleep because he knows his time has not yet come. It is hard for the disciples to know why they are in this boat at this point. But can you remember why they are in the boat because Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side.” Jesus’ words and instruction haves caused them to be placed in this moment of trusting in the providence of God. Years later, one of the disciples in this boat would write a famous verse, as he is carried along by the Holy Spirit. Peter, after this night, and many other events like this, wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:6-7). After years of experience, Peter instructed others who call themselves disciples to cast their anxieties on God. He gives two reasons why they should cast their anxieties to God; 1) because of his mighty hand and 2) because he cares for you. Two reasons we cast our anxieties to him because of his power and provision. Years later, Peter writes down the answer to the question asked on the boat that night, Do you even care? Yes, Jesus cares, and he cares for you.
The refrain to the hymn, “Does Jesus Care?” echoes what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:7,
O 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.
II. Who is this? (39-41)
We return to that night, right after the question was asked of Jesus. Jesus stands up and does not address his disciples but rebukes the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” Two words in Greek. He commands them both to be silent. The waves which once were breaking on the side of the boat are now calm. The wind, which was once bellowing, is now silent. As quickly as the storm came, by the words of Jesus, now it is gone. And in the silence, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks two questions that would echo in their ears for the rest of the trip and maybe even throughout their life. Perhaps you have had moments like that when someone whom you love dearly asks a simple question or makes a simple statement which is then engraved on your mind. That night Jesus turned and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” The faith which Jesus saw in the men who helped the paralytic man down through the roof. Why are you so ‘cowardly’?
The disciples turn to one another and start asking another more important question than the previous question. If you understand the answer to this question, it can help us with the first question. They ask, “Who then is this?” They see Jesus’ power to command the wind and the sea, and they obey him. To command the sea and wind is nothing, but to have them obey is the part which has the disciples in great fear. There are three times in this passage the word ‘great’ is used. The first is the ‘great windstorm’ (vs. 37), the second is ‘great calm’ (vs. 39), but the final one is the ‘great fear’ (vs. 41). The Greek heightens the last ‘great.’ More literally should be translated, “and they feared a great fear…” Both Matthew and Luke explain the disciples marveled, yet Mark shows the reverent fear of Jesus following the calming of the sea. Both are interconnected. Mark shows that the great wind and the great calm that happen outside the boat are nothing when the disciples see great Jesus inside the boat. The fear of the wind is moved to the man in their midst. They don’t quite understand who Jesus is at this point in the narrative. They call him teacher when he is asleep, but to do not quite understand, although they are on the ‘inside’ who has been given the secret to the kingdom of God. They have not yet fathomed that the person who just calmed the sea and the wind is the great I am. Who created the wind and the sea, who sustains the wind and the sea, and who made the wind and the sea for his own glory.
Who is this? Who is Jesus? This question is the vital question of the Gospel of Mark, which you must answer. This question has eternal consequences, with serious ramifications. When we ask a serious question seriously, we need to answer it. The disciples had seen Jesus heal many people, and yet they still stood in reverent fear of him. To them, he looked like a man and sounded like a man, and yet the wind and the seas obeyed his voice. We often want a Jesus who is our friend, who is by our side. Yet we do not want a Jesus who is to be feared. However, the first question, “Do you even care?” asks an important question. But the second can bring us even more comfort when we go through difficult seasons in our life. The first question can be answered yes, but the second shows Jesus’ power to do something. As Peter explained, the two reasons we cast our anxieties to God is not only that he cares for you, but he is powerful enough to do something about it.
The disciples fear but feared the wrong thing in the wrong way. They feared the wind outside the boat when they should have reverently feared Christ in the boat. They, at this point, did not quite understand that Jesus was more than a prophet, and a good preacher, but he is the Son of God, in the flesh. He was coming so that none should perish but have eternal life. We can ask the question, but we need to be willing to answer the question we ask, Who is this?