Jesus rules the storm – He is not ruled by it.
For nearly 30 years the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston has maintained 13 empty frames on its walls. Those 13 spaces have remained empty since March 19th, 1990, when 2 men disguised as police officers entered the museum, tied up the night patrol, and made off with their loot. At the time the stolen goods were valued at more than $500M. Today it is closer to $1B. This was the biggest and most notorious art theft in history.
One of those empty spaces is where Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” once hung. Painted in 1633 it is considered priceless, and to this day is still missing.
It is a brilliant painting, and, is of interest to us this morning. The painting depicts the scene from our own passage in Mark 4, that famous event where Jesus calms the raging storm. Christian truth is colored all over the canvas.
- One of the fascinating things about his painting is the actual moment that Rembrandt chose to depict. It was not Jesus speaking to the storm, nor was it a quieted sea, nor was it the post-miracle rebuke Jesus gives His disciples. Instead, the artist chose to depict the most chaotic moment in the whole story, the moment of greatest peril, greatest panic, as huge violent waves were tilting the boat dangerously.
- Why this moment? It could be that Rembrandt wanted to portray something everyone can relate to: the storms of life. Maybe he wanted to show that storms are a part of life.
- If so, he may also have wanted to show how men go through their storms differently. You see, in the painting everyone is doing something different:
- one man can’t stomach his plight and he is getting sick over the side of the boat,
- another is plopped down, turned away from Jesus, seeming to accept his fate,
- others are hysterically rousing Jesus, panick-stricken and as we know from the text: calling His goodness in to question “Don’t you care?!”
- while others are struggling to control the boat, valiantly trying to weather the storm in their own strength
- Rembrandt shows us through each man the different ways people go through the storm of life: self-reliance, panic-stricken, defeated, questioning God’s goodness.
- What I found most fascinating, however, was how Rembrandt uses light and dark – it is powerfully suggestive. The most illuminated portion is on those men who are struggling mightily to control the boat. Everything else is in the dark – including Jesus. Perhaps Rembrandt is showing us our tendency to rely on ourselves in the midst of our own storms. Perhaps we leave Jesus in the dark more than we realize; perhaps we don’t focus on Him as much as the storm.
- Furthermore, if you look at Jesus in the picture Rembrandt paints Him as He has just been awakened. Rembrandt doesn’t paint him standing authoritatively facing the sky commanding the storm. He’s just been shaken awake out of a deep sleep. But He looks calm and in control of Himself – a stark contrast with the men around Him. You know why I think Rembrandt chose to portray Jesus that way? Because He is showing Jesus at the very moment when He is first sought out; and Rembrandt may be showing us our tendency to wait so long in our own storms before we finally go to Jesus.
The title of my sermon today is “The Other Side”. Jesus says to His disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side” and He was speaking of the Sea. Do any of us question whether Jesus knew the weather forecast for that night? Of course He knew. So, why would He bring the disciples into that dangerous situation? Well, I think it is because Jesus had a deeper meaning when He said, “Let’s go to the other side”.
How often it is that through life you discover how you’ve changed? You go through circumstances and find what you’ve gone through has made you a different person. Maybe you’re in a new place in life, but, you find you’re also a new person. The journey you went through didn’t just get you to a different situation, it made you a different person.
Just like the Israelites were different on the other side of the Red Sea, Jesus was going to bring a change in His disciples by the time they got to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They would get off their boats and find they weren’t the same as when they got on. Jesus was going to use the stormy- journey to change them. In more than one way they would be in a different place when they got to the other side.
1: Setting Out (v35-36)
So Jesus winds down a full day of preaching and decides not to stay there for the night. Instead He directs the disciples to pull anchor, and, along with a fleet of other boats follows them out to sea.
Now I just want to make this simple point: Jesus knowingly leads them into the storm. He knew what they were in for – He knew the forecast. But the follower of Christ follows even into the storm. “I will follow you, even unto death” Peter told the Lord. At the outset of His own ministry Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into His own storm. He would be alone in the sea of the wilderness, buffeted by the enemy’s waves of temptation.
Know two things: God will lead you into storms, and, God will be with you in them. Bonus point: He is showing you that He is greater than your storm.
2: The Savage Storm (v37)
So after they set out and they are in the middle of their journey, disaster strikes. Out of nowhere a “squall” begins to rage. The Greek word is actually used to describe hurricanes. Matthew uses a Greek word “susmos”, which means a violent upheaval like an earthquake….except its water and not land that is shaking all over the place.
The waves are so big and violent that they are swamping the boat. It’s like bathtime when you have more than one kid in the tub: water sloshing and foaming everywhere. The sea is sloshing around angrily. The boat is in serious danger along with the lives of everyone on it. You can imagine the panic. What’s harder to imagine, however, is Jesus sleeping. But He is.
The Sea of Galilee is notorious for its sudden, violent storms. The geography makes for unpredictable weather. The wind comes screaming from the west or the north over flat plains and then because the Sea of Galilee is much lower, 700 feet below the top of the surrounding hills, the wind dives down to the sea. The cold air mixes with the warm air, and, the storm not only comes together but actually descends down onto the Sea.
Application: Life’s Storms come suddenly, and without warning. You and I can’t predict the future. We don’t know what lies ahead. We can’t foresee every possible scenario. But perhaps one of the greatest milestones in the Christian life is coming to realize that the future is not for us to know. The peace we so desperately seek is not in knowing what’s in front of us, but, Who’s above us.
3: Raining Skepticism (v38)
Here is a remarkable picture of the humanity of Jesus. He’s asleep. And clearly He had a long day earlier because even this storm and the wetness weren’t waking Him up. I remember I used to have a roommate who after he was in prison could sleep through everything. I mean everything. I could blast music, run a vacuum, rev a harley outside his window, and he could not be roused. He learned to sleep through noise.
Jesus, however, was understandably exhausted. There are two errors to avoid in your view of Jesus. One, that He is a man but not really God (Arianism). Two, that He is God, but, not really a man (Gnosticism). Jesus was God in the flesh. He experienced humanity: He got hungry, He got thirsty, and, He got tired; He also went through all the growing physically we do; and He felt physical pain. He was human.
So we see the human-ness of Jesus here, but, we also see His divine peace. This storm is not a concern for Him. It presents no threat to His peace of mind and His ability to rest.
But while He was resting, it wasn’t just water that was raining down on Him. Their terrified skepticism was pouring out too. The rain couldn’t wake Him, but, take note that their desperation did.
Notice those 3 crucial words, “Don’t You care?!” Interestingly, only Mark records those 3 words. Again we see with Mark not only the fast-paced action of Jesus’ life, but, those intimate windows into the human soul. “If you care why don’t you do something? How can you just lay there and sleep?!” “If you’re God why don’t you stop this? If you’re a loving God why are you letting this happen?”
We’re in the story now, aren’t we?
One thing that is true of God is that He will use storms to bring to the surface what is really inside of us. For the disciples, their lack of faith was coming out: in their frantic, their panic and their terror. The storm outside created a storm inside. How was it that Jesus was not a storm of fear Himself? A couple things come to my mind:
First, See Jesus. Look at Him sleeping. It isn’t indifference, it isn’t exhaustion…it is Divine Peace. Yes, He may have come down, but, He is still above His Creation. He is still the Maker of all things and controls all things, holds together all things, and sustains all things. He rules the storm, He is not ruled by it.
Second, His peace is available to those who look to Him in faith. “In my you will have peace,” Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart I have overcome the world.” They can experience that same peace. But that peace wouldn’t come from eyes fixed on the storm. Peter walked on the water in the storm so long as he kept looking at Jesus. Only when he turned and looked instead at the storm and the waves did Peter begin to sink.
Caesar Milan, the famous dog trainer, has tips for how to bring your dog into crowded, busy, and noisy areas. Taking a dog into a public place can be risky – there is an overload of stimulation, smells, sights, sounds, that are going on chaotically all around. But a well trained dog will do great. One of the many tips he gives is to teach the dog “Focus”. Focus means that the dog learns to look at you and watch you. The way its done is to teach a command word like “Watch me” so that when you say it the dog knows to focus on you. The benefit of this is that in the dog learns not to be overwhelmed or distracted by what’s going on around him, but, rather, he can find his guidance by looking at you.
“Watch” Jesus. No matter what’s going on around you, Look at Him. He’s your peace in the storm.
4: Jesus Rules the Storm (v39)
So Jesus gets up and deals with the storm. Just amazing. He can stir up the storm like He did with Jonah, but, He can make it still too. Quote Psalm 107:28-29.
And That voice – wow. “Let there be light”. “Abraham, get up and go to the land I will show you.” “Moses! Moses! Take off your sandals and come over here.” “Lazarus, come forth!” “Be still!”
The disciples were learning that this was not just another Rabbi. This was not even just another prophet. Elijah held up the rain, but, it wasn’t him – he asked God to do it. Moses didn’t part the Red Sea – it was God who did it. This is Jesus, not asking God to do it, but, Himself doing it. Because He is God. “And the word became flesh” “In Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form” “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Christ”
No, Jesus rules the storm. He is not ruled by it. You see, if we look at Jesus then we will be like Him – at peace, still, confident, sure. If we look at the storm we will become like the storm – raging, chaotic, unstable, wild, thrown around. No, those who follow Jesus, look at Jesus, look to Jesus, and are like Jesus.
From Faith Comes Peace (v40)
Notice Jesus says, “Do you STILL have no faith?” The implication is that after their time with Him they should have seen more than enough from Him to put their faith in Him.
This is interesting, this isn’t the unbelief of skeptics. This is the unbelief of ignorance. None of us believes as he ought to yet. Each season of life God takes us through is meant to teach us new ways to trust Him. The key to trusting God in new seasons is remembering how He has been faithful in past seasons. We are to carry forward the faith we learned from prior seasons of trial.
Instead of saying, “Well God, I don’t know how you’re going to get me through this. I can’t believe you’ve got me here. I guess I can’t trust you after all”, we are to say, “Well God, I’ve never been through this, I don’t want to go through this, but, I know you’ve shown yourself faithful before. I know that I can trust you. Show me how to trust you now.”
You cannot miss the connection Jesus Himself makes between faith and peace. Faith is the key to peace. If you trust God, your heart will be settled. If you do not trust Him, your heart will not be settled. The peace that passes understanding is available, but, God will not give it to someone who doubts and balks at Him.
Terrified More of Jesus (v41)
I think at this point they are more scared of Jesus than they were of the storm. This is the fear of the Lord. Do not let the fear of God be lost on you.
Whoever believes in me has crossed over from death to life – John 5:24.
Do you see yourself in the scene?
“the scene is resplendent in emotional resonances and a dizzying sense of turbulence. Clustered around the mast and clinging to any available fitting, the disciples are a mosaic of horror and gloom. There are only two faces within the scene that portray a sense of calm – Jesus and a mysterious thirteenth disciple. Their faith tested, the group display panic, doubt, and sorrow, but there is one individual who is aware of the fate of the fragile craft. Deep amid the crowd, staring straight out at the viewer is a self-portrait of Rembrandt himself, who contemplates his own place in this turbulent sea of belief and redemption. – iCanvas Print Description