Philip Casmer

Who Is This?

by Philip Casmer on June 23rd, 2024
Mark 4:35-41

A poet of old wrote it like this: 

23 Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
Ps 107:1–43 (NIV)

Reads almost like a summary of Mark 4, doesn’t it? Except it was likely written about 1000 years before the disciples took Jesus along to cross Galilee. That was Psalm 107. A poem for “the redeemed of the Lord” to tell their stories… of trouble they caused or faced, from which the LORD delivered them. 

You know, actually, that’s the way believers throughout the Old Testament talked. Other psalms sang it that way too. About the LORD, who is he? The one who “stilled the roaring of the seas…” (P65:7) The one with great love – generational love – covenant love to bring about a forever king and Savior. “Who is like you?” the psalmist asks. “You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.” (89:1, 9) Or 2 Samuel – David’s song when enemies surround and the waves of death rolled over him, but the LORD rode out at David’s cry – and creation itself bent to his power: “The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at the rebuke of the Lord.” (22:16)  Or Psalm 104 – not just about power over creation but creative power itself – “at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.” (104:7) 

It’s clear that God’s people in the midst of their distress called upon the LORD, the Almighty One, who acted with great power to “rebuke” the forces that would destroy them, to “calm” the seas and still the waves, to bring peace and safety. Believers asked who he is and declared who he is for their own comfort. Which means, an author like Mark would have had these in mind and probably presumes that this kind of knowledge and question is in our minds too as we read from Mark 4. So, keep it there as you consider what he wrote.

It’s the same day as all the parables. Jesus had taught all over – out and about with people, in a house, from a boat by the lake. Maybe that’s where they were when evening came. Jesus wanted to go – from the east side of the Sea of Galilee across to the west. It’s 8mi across at the widest place, a decent crossing in my mind (but I’m not “boat people”, so…). But the disciples didn’t hesitate – must have been doable. So, they left the crowds behind and “took him along just as he was.” Consider that word for a brief moment…

It’s mundane, I think. But how was he? Probably Mark means that Jesus said, “You know, let’s go across…” and they were like, “On it…” No steamer trunk, no quick shopping trip for provisions; perhaps he was already in the boat and they loaded up and went. And, of course, skip one verse ahead and find how he was: “in the stern, sleeping on a cushion,” because, after a full day of teaching and miracles, one would be tired. Consider that… No matter what mundane thing Mark meant, that’s how he was, altogether – just like you are / like you should be. In the back of the boat, tired from work, in need of rest, he dozes – no, sleeps hard without a care, actually. Even in a great storm.

And such a thing we might expect… Being 700 ‘ below sea level, winds from the hot plains and hills around would naturally drop right onto that low lake so that… “A furious squall,” a “great hurricane of wind” arose and battered their boat and waves swept over it so that, rather quickly, they were swamped – “the boat was already filling up.” Which means they would soon be sinking down, which is frightening. So, of course, they’re raising him up from sleep and they’re saying to him, “Teacher, you care, don’t you, that we’re going to die?” Consider that word for a moment too.

Because you speak it too. Though, I don’t mean to say this story’s about you. It’s not. It’s not a metaphor for making great crossings in life or meeting the dejected in liminal spaces, nor is it a picture of the Church like an old, wooden ship… It’s about Jesus, but, of course, he’s there with them in that moment… So who can help relating to what those disciples were experiencing? We have our own storms, don’t we? Whatever yours are – let’s just call them the moments/seasons/things in your jobs and your marriages and your health – because of stuff you’ve done, sins you have, others’ problems – where it seems like you’re gonna sink – swallowed up, where it’s dark and your lost, and you’re tossed about and can’t get steady. Where everything you can see is disconcerting and scary – great storms. Martin Luther said, “These are all waves that fall over your little [boat], cause you to despair, and force you to cry out: ‘Save, Lord; we perish’.” 

Consider that word you share with them – and however you’ve said it – two things are true: 1) it is a cry of faith, isn’t it? We’re lost and we need help! And the one to whom we cry can provide it, presumably. Which is good… But 2) the disciples’ word at least presumes that Jesus maybe doesn’t care that they’re all going to die. With which you may relate – how often have you felt like he has gone away or is indifferent or is asleep at the tiller – and you argue with him like Job with all your justifications: “I have been good, by golly! So behave as I think you ought to, Mighty Creator of all things! Climb into this little box I have made and behave as I like!” How often felt like he shouldn’t care because you are a rarified form of bad, we deserve nothing – or we are just insignificant, surely he has more important and cosmic things than to deal with people who are dust (Ps 103:14). 

Listen to Jesus’ question to storm-wracked disciples: “Why are you cowards? Do you not have faith?” He asks you, all wet and white-knuckled and shaking with the exertion of all this… Have you given in to base fear? That things you see have greater power than the one who made them? Have you let your trust latch on to what you can see, what you can earn, how good things feel? Even after all he’s promised and done, what you’ve read, all he’s given, how you can mark out his manifest care for your life – still? – no faith?

Blessedly Jesus shows us where faith ought to be. He graciously arises to command the storm – he rebuked the wind and stilled the waves. No longer was it a great storm but (literally Mark uses the same word) a great calm. Whatever they were experiencing, Jesus turned it to the same degree in the opposite direction. And produced something of the same measure in his disciples: “they feared a great fear” – same word – in awe they stepped in with that great cloud of witnesses who had asked after it and declared it – the Lord’s saving power for his people – “Even the wind and the waves obey him!” So they asked too: “Who is this?”

Who indeed? This one who lies asleep in a boat, tired like you, yet exercises power the greatest machines we make cannot – with only a word? This one who ordered the stars in their pathways, corralled the great waters, bent creation to his will, who sails across lake waters under that same starry sky – willing to be God’s saving Word? This one who is the measure of right yet will feel the great storm of God’s wrath against all our wrong – and cry out that final word? This one who will leave the grave calm and still – empty – who has spoken of you forgiving, familial, favorable words? This one who wanted to be taken along as he was, yet is also with each of you, always, to the end – he gives his word? Who indeed…

Mark leaves it as the last word – their question – and that could be frustrating, I suppose. But what if, instead – because they were just beginning to get it but you know it for certain – Mark lays it in your lap like a gift? So that you’re never lost, for when you can’t see, so that you aren’t afraid, so that you look at the right things, so you can rest in peace? When the storms come, you have only to ask: “Who is this?”

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