Sunday Evening Musings – Jesus and the Sea
The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. (Psalm 18:13-15 ESV)
This is one of a huge number of texts, from the very opening words (Gen 1:1-2 CEV) all the way through the Hebrew Scriptures’ that depict the One True God locked in conflict against the sea (see the end of this piece for some representative scriptures). There’s a reason that in The Revelation, John writes that there will be no sea in the new heavens and new earth. It should come as no surprise to us, then, that as we open the New Testament, we find the Christ embroiled in this same conflict.
It has never been a good idea to try and cross the Sea of Galilee in the evening. Ancient fishermen stayed near the coast because they knew that their boats were no match for the storms that would often lash the lake. But these were no ordinary fishermen — they were also unlikely disciples of a young rabbi who was developing a reputation for power, wisdom, and unwillingness to back down from conflict. So when the Teacher said, “Let us cross to the other side,” I’m sure the guys exchanged some uncomfortable glances, but despite any misgivings, they push the boat away from shore. And (shocker-of-shockers!) a storm blows up!
This is a recurring theme in the Gospels – when Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee, look for the sea to come after him! Why? The powers of evil in the spiritual realm use the waters to intimidate, terrorize, and inspire worship from humans. Yamm, Rahab, Leviathan, Baal? Any of those sound familiar? The ancients believed that lakes and oceans were portals directly to the underworld. In Mark 4:35-41, we find Jesus the Son of God confronted with two of these dangers, Yamm (the Sea) and Baal (the god of storms) coming together to destroy him. And he SLEEPS! How could he sleep through such a conflict? Maybe how he answers the conflict can give us a clue.
You see, when Jesus awakens, he doesn’t pray to the Father for protection. He doesn’t rattle off a series of prayers like a typical rabbi might have. Scripture tells us very simply, “he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea,’Peace! Be still!'” What kind of rebuke is that??? “Peace, be still.” That sounds like a blessing, not a rebuke! In fact, that’s how we sing it – let the song “Master, the Tempest Is Raging” run through your mind for a moment, with its choral refrain of “Peace, peace be still.”
Rebuke, though – there’s an interesting word. This isn’t the first time we encounter it in Mark. In Mark and Luke, one of Jesus’ early miracles is the rebuking of a demon that has plagued a man at the synagogue. There, Scripture tells us, “But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!'” The word rebuke is the same in each account, and be silent is from the same root as the word translated be still in the storm-stilling accounts. Jesus muzzles and silences the winds and the waves with the same no-nonsense use of power that muzzles and drives out demons. This relationship is further pointed out by the fact that in all the synoptics, Jesus drives out Legion in the very next passage.
So Jesus attacks the storms the same way he attacks demons: he tells them to shut up and get out! But that still doesn’t tell us why he would sleep through the storm, or why he would be so bluntly cranky with his disciples afterward. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” he challenges them. Were they just supposed to believe that because they were with Jesus, everything would be okay? I don’t think so. Look a little bit earlier in Mark.
And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. (Mar 3:14-15 ESV)
It is these twelve, that Jesus is teaching to handle the power/authority to handle evil powers, who are in the boat. These twelve who come to Jesus convinced they are perishing. These twelve who have already seen how Jesus deals with demons… maybe Jesus slept because he was tired, and he expected his disciples to trust him enough to use what he’d given them?
The Twelve aren’t hopeless, though — they know their Scriptures. Not like Jesus does, of course, but surely enough to recognize the theme pointed out by the Psalm 18 quote above. So, when they ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” are they beginning already to imagine that this might not just be the next great prophet, but maybe (just maybe… how could it possibly be… I don’t know but did you see what he just did…) YHWH Himself finally returning to Israel?
in HIS love,
[Gen 1:1-4; Ex 14-15; Joshua 3; Ps 29:3-4, 10; Ps 74:10-17; Ps 104:7-9; Prov 8:27-29; Job 7:12 (where the Sea is mentioned by name) 38:6-11; Hab 3:8-15; Nah 1:4; Isa 17:11-12; Isa 51:9-11]
PS: Here’s a much better piece about the conflict between YHWH and the powers in the sea, written by a master storyteller and preacher.