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Pastor Glenn McDonald: Stilling the Storm



Every day during this season of Lent we’re looking at the miracles of Jesus – his spectacular displays of supernatural power that are reported in the Gospels.    

 

Stilling the Storm

 

In 1986, the receding waters of the Sea of Galilee revealed an archaeological treasure.

 

A pair of brothers, poking around the edges of the lake during a prolonged drought, discovered the mud-encrusted remains of an ancient wooden fishing boat.

 

Archaeologists hurriedly excavated the find before exposure to air caused further damage.  The boat was 27 feet long, a little less than eight feet wide, and could have held up to 15 people.  It had a shallow draft and a flat bottom – perfect for casting nets near the shore.  It was made of 10 different kinds of wood.

 

Most significantly, carbon dating revealed it had been built sometime between 50 B.C. and A.D. 50 – a span that corresponds to the time of Jesus. 

 

Journalists immediately dubbed it the Jesus Boat, although there is no way it could ever authoritatively be linked to his ministry.  Nevertheless, the humble craft – now on display in a Galilean museum – is like a window into the New Testament.  Such boats are mentioned an astonishing 50 times in the four Gospels.  Visitors now have a way of picturing what it might have been like to crowd into one of those homemade fishing vessels. 

 

One of the voyages shared by Jesus and his disciples was particularly memorable.  It’s safe to say they never looked at their Master quite the same way again.  Here’s how Mark describes it:

 

That day, when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.  There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.  The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

 

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!”  (Mark 4:35-41) 

 

The Sea of Galilee isn’t an unusually large lake.  It measures 13 miles north to south and 8 miles at its widest, east to west.  But it boasts unique geological features.  It lies almost 700 feet below sea level.  Only the Dead Sea – some 104 miles to the south, at the other end of the Jordan River – sits lower, at 1,300 feet below sea level.  

 

We know that four of the disciples – Peter, Andrew, James and John – caught fish for a living.  They were keenly aware of the Sea of Galilee’s unusual meteorology. 

 

The lake is surrounded by dormant volcanoes.  Approaching weather fronts are occasionally accelerated through black basalt hills.  Brief but intense storms may feature violent winds and high, choppy waves.  Local legends suggested there might be a portal to hell at the bottom of the lake, allowing unfriendly spirits to rise to the surface from time to time.

 

For fishermen, therefore – whose job was to head out onto the lake six days a week after sunset – there was always an element of primordial fear. 

 

Those fears must have spiked when Jesus suggested, “Let’s go to the other side.” 

 

Most of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life take place on the northwest side of the lake, the area around Capernaum, which was heavily populated by faithful Jews.  The “other side” was a coded expression for the southeast shore, which was known as the Decapolis or Ten Towns.  This region was thoroughly pagan.  No Jewish boy who valued his spiritual integrity would ever be caught dead on the southeastern side of the lake.

 

Dr. Jim Martin, a Bible scholar and archaeologist, points out that while these areas weren’t that far away in terms of actual miles, the Decapolis was, in the popular imagination, something like the dark side of the moon.

 

Jesus’ insistence on heading toward the “other side” would be like a Sunday School teacher telling their class, “I’ve arranged for us to spend the weekend strolling around South Central Los Angeles.  Who’s up for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure?” 

 

Jesus apparently has no abiding concerns about their destination.  He falls sound asleep on a pillow in the stern of their small, crowded boat.  But when a “furious squall” suddenly descends, the disciples lose their composure.  A shallow draft is no help at all if waves are crashing over the sides of the boat.  It’s entirely possible that most of them don’t know how to swim. 

 

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  This is the age-old question.  Our greatest need is not, “Lord are you really there?” so much as, “Lord, do you actually give a rip about what we’re going through right now?”

 

Gary Inrig, a pastor in Loma Linda, California, makes an important observation.  This whole trip was Jesus’ idea.  Without so much as a warning, storms of all kinds will come crashing into our lives – even when we are doing exactly what God has asked us to do. 

 

But it’s often in those particular storms – the ones that happen in the very places where God has asked us to go – that we learn that he is all we really need. 

 

For a few frantic moments, the disciples must be rethinking their assumptions about Jesus.  They’re in a serious crisis.  But he’s not directing things.  He’s sleeping.  What kind of leadership is this?  Doesn’t he care?

 

What Jesus does next elevates their reassessments to a whole new quantum level. 

 

Jesus, awakened, stifles the wind and the waves with a verbal command.  Various English translations include, “Quiet! Be still! Settle down!” Think of a parent confronting a roomful of sucrose-energized preschoolers: “Now, that’s quite enough!”  Or perhaps an exasperated music lover shouting to their digital player, “Alexa, I forbid you ever to play Baby Shark again!”

 

The winds cease.  The waves flatten.  The great storm is followed by a great calm.

 

And suddenly the disciples are gripped by a great fear.

 

So far this night they have been afraid of the storm, of capsizing, and of what might await them on the other side.  Now they are afraid of Jesus.

 

“Who is this?” they ask (Mark 4:31).  The King James Version renders the same line, “What manner of man is this?”  In other words, what category of human being does Jesus fit into?

 

All of us, at one time or another, are afflicted by xenophobia.  Xenos is the Greek word for “stranger.”  We feel uneasy, uncomfortable, maybe even anxious around people we don’t yet know or cannot figure out.  We may hardly notice it, but all our lives we’ve crafted little slots in our minds where we can categorize the Other Person.  As soon as we can, we identify them as a good person, or cynical person, or reliable person, or sad person, or dangerous person. 

 

What little slot does Jesus fit into?  The disciples have never been in the presence of someone who orders around the wind and the waves the way someone might order a sandwich.

 

“Who is this man?” 

 

They are gripped by an undefinable sense of awe that the Bible calls the fear of the Lord. 

 

Little do they know that this won’t be the last time they see Jesus do something on the Sea of Galilee that will defy all categorization. 

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Would you like to explore previous reflections, and learn more about this ministry?  Check out glennsreflections.com.


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