Right now, and throughout history, life has been and is filled with every kind of storm: emotional, mental, medical, political, and from the weather. People are out of control, restless, and confused. All of us struggle to stay calm when faced with trials and problems. That’s why it’s so important that we remember Jesus said, “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). As a terrifying Sea of Galilee storm caused the disciples to fear for their lives, Jesus calmly and confidently stilled the raging lake with those three words. He is assuring us whatever storm we face; Jesus is the powerful, supreme, omnipotent, and sovereign God over everything.
What Does Peace Be Still Mean?
The Greek word “peace” that Jesus uses is an imperative (command) noun, siope, meaning the sea must be silent and mute. Jesus takes away its ability to “speak” and rage. Some theologians comment that the sea wanted to resist but couldn’t. Jesus overcame it and conquered it without its cooperation.
Jesus also said, “Be still.” The Greek word is pefimoso meaning to muzzle, silence, and cause to be speechless. Again, we get the sense that the storm and raging water would love to resist Jesus’ command, and yet it is powerless to fight against His power and authority. In Greek maritime usage, the sea swallows up ships, so here it is used as an order to the sea to shut her mouth in order not to swallow the ship. The ship was already taking on water and the disciples thought they would be "eaten" by the sea.
Then the writer of the Gospel, Mark, tells us the wind and churning seas “ceased” and there was a great calm. This Greek word, kopazo meaning cease, carries the idea of “grew tired.” The power of the natural elements was totally drained of its destructive force in one second at the demand and command of their creator. Jesus designed the wind and sea to be able to blow which means He also has authority over it to control its actions.
Even though the storm was resistant, the result of Jesus’s command was instant calm. The effect Jesus wanted wasn’t gradual but immediate. Many times, we don’t see immediate answers or solutions to our problems when we call on Jesus, but in this instance, He wanted to show the disciples and us, His ultimate power to fully build their and our faith.
What Is the Context of Mark 4:39?
One of the primary purposes of Mark’s Gospel account is to reveal Jesus’ identity and authority because He is the Son of God and the second person of the Trinity. We need to remember that there were many other ideas and themes (and thus examples from Jesus’s ministry), Mark could have included. But as with every Gospel writer, there is a main theme or purpose God wants to emphasize based on the people each writer was addressing—and ultimately for everyone down through time. Mark’s goal is to convince his readers Jesus really is God incarnate.
The first chapter of Mark moves quickly narrating Jesus’s baptism, temptation, beginning of ministry, calling the first disciples, healing and preaching. All in the first chapter! Mark is really making his point: Jesus is God.
By chapter 4, Mark is emphasizing more of the ways Jesus is a powerful authority. Nothing is too hard for him. Nothing is an obstacle. We aren’t surprised that the story of Jesus calming the storm is in the midst of Mark’s ongoing narration.
After Jesus preached all day to the crowds, it’s evening and Jesus commands his disciples to get into the boat to cross to the other side and He joins them in the boat. He falls asleep and a horrible storm suddenly erupts, causing the boat to “already” be filling (Mark 4:37). Most of Jesus’s disciples are seasoned fishermen and know firsthand the deadly storms that rise unexpectedly on the Sea of Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee is about five miles wide and thirteen miles long. But because it is 600 feet below sea level, it is deep in a basin where cold air and warm air from the surrounding hills mix creating ferocious storms. In fact, many fishermen didn’t fish very far from shore. They wanted to be able to return to the shore quickly before a sudden squall might swamp their boat—and them!
The disciples in this “filling” boat personally knew fishermen who had died on the lake. They must wonder if momentarily they would be next.
And what’s worse to them is that Jesus, who says He is God, is asleep. Do they feel abandoned, paralyzed with doubt about Jesus’s claims, offended by His selfishness? Do they conclude Jesus’s powers are limited? He could feed the crowd but evidently, a storm was above His paygrade. Otherwise, wouldn’t He be aware of what was going on, wake up and rescue them?
What Is Jesus Trying to Teach Us in Mark 4?
God’s choice to include this incident in Mark’s Gospel is Him trying to teach us we are often like the disciples. We tell ourselves Jesus is God and unlimited in power, but when He doesn’t perform according to our specifications, we doubt He is equal to the task. We are worried, desperately trying to use a bucket to dump the water out of the sinking boat. We feel abandoned, believing He doesn’t care. How can we have peace and stillness amidst storms?
What the disciples thought was disastrous and something no one could conquer, Jesus completely subdued with three words; in fact two Greek words. The very water, lake, mountains, and people he created were completely under His control. He didn’t have to exert extra power. He wasn’t stressed. In fact, He was so at peace, He was asleep. None of the other passengers in the boat were asleep—even after an exhausting day of ministry. That would have been impossible for them in the midst of such danger. Only Jesus who has complete confidence in God’s power within him as God/man could be at peace.
Finally, when the disciples wake up sleeping Jesus, they question Him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”(Mark 4:38b). Their question almost sounds like a rebuke. Interestingly, it’s women who usually care about “being cared for.” Here are physically strong men who put their lives at danger fishing who are expressing a need to be cared for.
The disciples don’t ask Him to take care of the storm. They have no confidence Jesus can take care of such a huge problem. At that moment, it’s most important that He cares about them. Yet, His seeming unawareness also communicates He doesn’t know what to do. He is oblivious and selfish. He only cares about His own comfort and weariness.
And then Jesus uses three words as He addresses the raging storm: “Peace! Be Still.” In a second, everything is calm. They are struck with awe that this seemingly impossible problem has been totally eliminated by three words.
Their reaction amongst themselves? “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). To them controlling the wind and sea was the ultimate challenge, something they certainly had never been able to do.
Jesus is revealing through this story that when we observe and experience the daunting “storm, wind and sea” of life that seems so overwhelming to us, we need to strengthen our faith in Him. That’s why this incident ends with Jesus’s question, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
Jesus is not angry with them, but He is urging them to trust Him—to have increasing faith. He is teaching them. When He stated, “Have you still no faith?” it’s the kind of urging that asks, “Don’t you remember all the things I’ve already done for you? Don’t you realize I am God who is showing you who your God really is? Just as I easily calmed this storm which seemed insurmountable to you, there is nothing that is too hard for me. Next time remember what I just did and have faith I’ll do the right, loving and caring thing for you next time.”
Jesus was teaching His disciples—and us—nothing is impossible with Him. Our faith can grow.
How Can We Have Peace and Stillness amidst Storms?
In order for us to have peace and stillness amidst the storms of life, apply these principles from this story.
Know that God’s “lack of action” isn’t a lack of caring (I Peter 5:7).
God may not act in our timetable. Often God allows things to get worse so that His deliverance is even more glorious for His name’s sake and more faith-building for us (Romans 8:28).
Identify and express feelings. The disciples expressed their sense of abandonment and lack of being cared for. Jesus didn’t rebuke them. He heard them and responded. Jesus experienced human emotion and understands (Hebrews 4:15).
Tell ourselves repeatedly God is absolutely all-powerful—omnipotent—for any battle, temptation, problem, and uncertainty. He may not always respond the way we think best, but ultimately, He sovereignly will do the right thing. Do a Bible study of God’s nature in order to find out what attribute is most meaningful and what attribute doesn’t seem true to you (Psalm 103:8-14).
Be in awe. Ask God to open your eyes to the ways He is working. Be assured He is patiently developing your faith little by little (Philippians 1:6).
When life assaults us, remember this story that God specifically led Mark to include. Our loving Father knows our faith is often weak. Remind yourself of this touching story of Jesus’s care and power.
Photo credit: Pexels/Johannes Plenio
Kathy Collard Miller delights in sharing biblical insights to inspire Christians to trust God more and know His attributes in truth. She is the author of 58 books and over a thousand articles and blog posts. Her most recent book, co-authored with her husband, Larry, is God’s Intriguing Questions: 60 New Testament Devotions Revealing Jesus’s Nature. Larry and Kathy live in Southern California and are international speakers, parents, grandparents, and lay counselors. www.KathyCollardMiller.com
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