I have chosen the calming of the storm from Mark 4:35-41 to show how Mark links Christology and discipleship in his gospel. The main issue in this pericope is not so much ‘you lack faith,’ but the identity of Jesus Christ. The one who teaches is the one who is sovereign over all of creation. This teacher is the savior.
This is a popular passage for many preachers. I have heard several sermons on this passage. They usually go something like this: Jesus and the disciples are in the boat together, there is a storm that comes up and they are drowning. They are threatened and the disciples, the poor disciples, are very much afraid. They are panicking while Jesus is asleep at the stern. He seems to be a really heavy sleeper, so as they rouse him, he stands up and calms the storm. The basic message is whatever trials you have in life, God will save you and help you to weather the storms of life.
I would suggest that this is a possible application of this text but it is a secondary application. We have somehow missed the primary point: Christology.
Jesus As Authoritative Teacher
I want to mention the context of this first miracle. The calming of the storm is in a string of four miracles beginning in 4:35 and continuing through chapter 5. These miracles come after a section of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 4:1–34. Mark is not so much interested in giving the content of Jesus's teaching as he is in saying Jesus is an authoritative teacher. Given this context, one of the first features to consider is, “How does this miracle relate to his teaching?”
Mark makes this connection between the identity of Jesus as the authoritative teacher and his miracles at the very beginning of his gospel. Mark 1:21–28 is one of Jesus' first miraculous deeds. It is an exorcism that is set in the context of teaching. After he rebukes the unclean spirit by saying, “Be silent and come out,” the people “were all amazed so that they questioned among themselves, saying ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’” His powerful miracles are tied to his teaching. What are the implications of saying the one who teaches is the one who exercises authority over demons?
This pattern of linking teaching and miracles continues directly after the calming of the storm, where Mark again writes about Jesus as teacher. What comes after the calming of the storm? There is the exorcism of Legion (5:1-20), the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus’ daughter (5:21-43). Right on the heels of this series of miracles, where is Jesus? He is in Nazareth, teaching in the synagogue. What is the response of the people who are there? They reject his teaching (6:1-6).
What does the calming of the storm have to do with the exorcism of legions, the healing of the hemorrhaging woman and raising the dead girl? All of these miracles are tied together, and they all speak about Jesus' unchallenged, unique authority.
That teaching, and the identity and authority of the teacher, are the issues at stake in the calming of the storm can be seen in Mark 4:38. Remember that odd little statement where the disciples wake him and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He is no mere rabbi. But he is called “Teacher” here for a reason. Matthew and Luke word it differently. Matthew is pretty clear: “Lord, save us!” (Matt 8:25). Luke writes “Master, save us!” (Luke 8:24). It portrays that their Christology is more akin to what we understand. But here in Mark, “Teacher” seems a little odd.
In Mark 4:39, Jesus “awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Be at peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” There are two interesting Greek words there that are being used: siopa and pephimoso. They are both in the imperative, they are commands, to the wind and the sea. Pephimoso basically means "be silent" or "be muzzled." This is an exorcism word that also appear in Mark 1:25, the first exorcism in Mark. When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, “immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent (phimotheti), and come out of him!’” (Mark 1:24-25).
Why use the same words that were used in exorcism with a nature miracle? Surely nature itself is neutral. It is human beings who sin. Why would you have Jesus in such a highly oppositional stance to nature? Did he come to destroy nature? Why would anyone dare to reject this teaching, this Teacher? To reject this teaching is also to reject his miracles. And if we are talking about that ultimate miracle of redemption and atonement, then there is a lot riding on this.
Mark's Use of the Old Testament
One good way to make sure you are not going off course interpreting a passage is to make sure you understand the Old Testament allusions, imagery and texts that are cited in the relevant New Testament text. It is absolutely critical for anything that you want to do in the New Testament.
Mark is drawing on several Old Testament texts to show that Jesus is sovereign over creation, specifically the wind and sea.
Psalm 106 and 107
Psalm 106:6-9 speaks of God bringing salvation by rebuking the raging sea:
“Both we and our fathers have sinned;
we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name's sake,
that he might make known his mighty power.
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry,
and he led them through the deep as through a desert.”
Notice especially that Psalm 106 is speaking about God’s salvation in the Exodus. This is exorcistic language. He is there to redeem his people.
Psalm 107:28-30 continues this theme of salvation through storm-calming:
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.”
In Isaiah 51, there is another allusion to the Exodus:
“Was it not you who dried up the sea,
the waters of the great deep,
who made the depths of the sea a way
for the redeemed to pass over?”
Isaiah is calling forward the imagery of God the Redeemer from Exodus and the nature of the miracles God wrought for his people, specifically the parting of the Red Sea. There is no redemption unless you have the God who sovereignly commands all of nature. That is one component of his status as a teacher with unparalleled authority. We need to think again anytime we reject Jesus's teaching. Who exactly is it that you reject? Christ is the new Moses, is he not?
Perhaps some of the most significant Old Testament allusions in this miracle are to the book of Jonah. Like the calming of the storm in Mark, there is a great storm, scared passengers, and, most importantly, there is someone asleep in the boat. Jonah 1:5 says, “Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.” The captain of the boat comes down and says to Jonah “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” Just as in Mark, those on the boat believe the one who is sleeping is unconcerned about the plight of the sailors.
Another link between Jonah and Mark is the response of those in the boat after the sea is calmed. After Jonah is thrown overboard and the storm ceases, “the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows” (1:16). In Mark, the response is similar: “they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (Mark 4:41).
The Gentile sailors in Jonah got it. The sea calmed, and they saw that as God's work. They recognized that God was right there in the middle of the ocean. They saw him, they recognized him, they made sacrifices, and they made vows. What is the response of the disciples? They ask “Who is this?”
If we divinize the Apostles and the disciples, then we begin on the wrong footing. They did not know it was God in their midst, the one who rescued his people in Exodus. He is exercising the same divine prerogatives of that God they claim to know, believe and obey. And what happens when he is in their midst? They do not recognize that. Do you see that phrase, “Why are you so afraid”? Have you still no faith? That is the beginning of hope. This is not the end of the disciples’ story.
It is from here that you have to read Acts and the letters of the New Testament to see how their faith turned around. So if you struggle with faith and ask yourself, “Who is Jesus Christ? Does he control the waves and the sea? Is he in command of that nature, that absolute sovereignty that was required for salvation?” Take heart, because the story is not finished yet. The story was not finished for the disciples and it is not finished for you. I know this: you cannot remain here. This is not the place that you stay and hunker down and call it good. There is much more coming, and that is where you and I are headed.
Watch the complete lecture from Dr. Park below: