on a boat (with Jesus)

‘As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”’ – Mark 4:35-41 (NLT)

When it comes to telling people about Jesus, one overarching idea is this: don’t focus on what’s wrong, focus on what’s right. Or in more specialised terms: the truth is not anti-heresy, the truth is the truth.

But when it comes to this story I often break this rule, because there’s an interpretation of this story floating around that is just not very helpful. And I feel like I just have to call it out for you. But first let’s look at the story itself:

Jesus has been preaching all day long by the shore of the lake, and now it’s time to leave. So he gets in the boat, and his disciples, many of them are fishermen, set sail. Jesus is really tired at this point so he takes a nap. And then the storm comes out of nowhere, a storm so fierce that it had these tough, experienced fishermen crying like a bunch of 12 year olds. So they cry out to Jesus, Jesus calms the storm with but a word.

So the unhelpful interpretation goes like this: look at what Jesus can do, he says a word, the storms are calmed, everything is awesome. So what are the storms in your life? Which areas do you want to invite Jesus into so he can calm those storms for you?

But there are a lot of problems with that interpretation: this story is not fluffy, it’s actually kind of disturbing. Partly because it ends on a tense note: Jesus doesn’t say “Aw, are you ok? I love you guys.” He’s actually pretty upset with his disciples because they don’t understand who he is. And the disciples themselves are still none the wiser. They’re left wondering who this man is, who can command the wind and the waves. Who is this guy?

Which means, actually, that the focus isn’t on us, it’s on Jesus. Who is this guy? He’s a man who can command the wind and the waves apparently. That’s kinda weird. Also why didn’t he do it earlier? The Bible doesn’t give us an answer there. But in the end he did calm the storm. Because he has the authority over all things.

So what does this mean? Here’s a better interpretation of this story: Jesus is King of Creation, and Lord even over the storms – and that’s a comfort and also a challenge.

On one hand it means that yes, Jesus does have power over the storms in our lives, and he can calm them with just a word. When we invite him into the boat, we are sailing with the King of Creation who can save us from even the worst storms.

But on the other hand, that’s just it – he’s the King of Creation, and he’s not just some genie who answers us whenever we want. Sometimes we invite Jesus into the boat and it seems like he just goes right to sleep. Then the storms come, and we scream and wave our arms and we’re like “Jesus, save me, I’m gonna drown!” and it seems like there’s no answer. At best you hear Jesus snoring, at worst there’s just nothing. These things do happen, and it is very, very tough to go through.

But he is the King of Creation and the Lord over the storm. When he doesn’t act it’s not because he can’t, or he’s being a jerk, but because he is King, and his timing isn’t always the same as ours. That’s something we have to come to terms with.

That’s not very comforting, but this is: we can trust him – because he’s not some far off King who doesn’t care, he’s a King who knows what it means to go through the storm. In this story the disciples cry out “Please save me, I’m gonna die!” Does that sound familiar? You could hear similar words at the Garden of Gethsemane, right before the crucifixion: “Please save me, I’m gonna die!” Only at Gethsemane, there was no answer. Jesus died. The storm took him.

Jesus went through the storm of the crucifixion, the worst storm ever, having to die apart from his Father, and no one was there to bail him out that time, not until his Father raised him from the dead. Nobody answered Jesus’ cries at Gethsemane. In the end Jesus went through it, he lost his life – but God raised him up at the very end. And he went through that deadly storm so that we wouldn’t have to. We’ve been spared that worst of storms, but that doesn’t spare us from the ones in our lives here and now.

So this is the Jesus that we invite into our boats. He is a King who doesn’t answer our beck and call, and sometimes has a seemingly maddening sense of timing; but he isn’t heartless, and he doesn’t enjoy watching us lose our minds in the storm. He won’t stop the storms from coming, and we never will know why bad things happen. But he knows what it means to go through the storm, he knows what it means to cry for mercy but receive no answer. We can trust him because of what he has done for us. But it’s not easy. The Bible doesn’t tell us why storms come, or when, or how, or whether or not we’ll lose everything. But if we invite Jesus onboard we ride with the King who has been through it all, and what’s more he went through it for us. We can trust him, but it’s not easy, and in fact it often makes storms seem more unbearable.

But in the end this story forces us to think: who is Jesus? Do we trust him? If you don’t want to trust him, that’s fine. If you do, know that it won’t be smooth sailing. But you are sailing with the one who has weathered the worst storm, he knows what it’s like, he weathered it for you. Somehow, some way, it’ll be ok, because he is the King. But it won’t be easy. Do we trust him?

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