From a boat on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus has been teaching a large crowd all day (Mark 4:1). Nothing surprising about that then or now. Even today there remain Olympians who regard Jesus as a great teacher. When evening comes, he tells his disciples to cross the sea and so they set off (v. 36).
A “great windstorm” arises and sends waves “breaking into the boat” (v. 37, English Standard Version, here and following). As experienced fishermen, the disciples judge the storm confronting them as overwhelming. Evil’s triumph seems certain.
The disciples turn to Jesus. In their panic, they do not refer to him by name by cry out, “Teacher!” (v. 38). They do so because their fear of death is greater than their knowledge of Jesus.
The story doesn’t make clear what the disciples expect Jesus to do. Speak words of assurance to them? Grab a bucket and help bail? Awakened, Jesus simply speaks a word and “the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (v. 39).
The story, however, does make clear that Jesus does the unexpected: “they were filled with great fear” (v. 41). The disciples feared death. Jesus reveals himself as sovereign in relation to natural disasters that many times threaten and sometimes cause death. A word from him silences the storm.
So Jesus reveals himself to be a great teacher but something much more as well. Yes, he speaks instructive words. But he also speaks words which dispel that which threatens us with death. Jesus dispels threats of death in two ways. One, he transforms a threat of death into a presence of peace: “the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (v. 39). Two, he transforms our fear of death into faith in him (v. 41).
Faith has three aspects: knowledge of, trust in, and loyalty to Jesus. We can’t be loyal to Jesus unless we trust him. We can’t trust him unless we know him. But knowledge of Jesus is much more than what usually passes for knowledge today. In conventional terms, knowledge of Jesus means agreeing to abstract statements about him made by church leaders. In biblical terms, knowledge of Jesus means a deepening relationship with Jesus as the one who speaks to us today with words which dispel the threats of death we face.
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