Jesus Journey: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Christ

Day 26

Wind and Waves

Read John 6:16–25; Mark 4:35–41; Mark 6:46–51

We’re on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, the very lake Jesus often sailed with his disciples. It’s early in the morning and we’re enjoying the sunrise from a wooden ship built as a near-replica of those first-century vessels.

My 13-year-old son tells me this is his favorite thing so far about his trip to Israel.

Of course he loves it. He grew up on the ocean, in Santa Cruz, California. Waves and water mean one thing to him: Fun. Whether it’s sailing, surfing, boogie-boarding, stand-up paddleboarding, body surfing, or just swimming, there’s no shortage of water sports in our culture. You can see the same recreational opportunities in Israel. Today. But in Jesus’ time, water was looked at a lot differently.

The seas, whether the ocean, or smaller bodies of water like lakes, were not usually places of enjoyment for the people of ancient Israel. Generally speaking, the seas were feared.


Ancient Israel was not a seafaring society. It never developed a lot of technology for water navigation. The seas were seen — accurately — as uncontrollable.

I’ve often thought the Hebrew Scriptures sound like they were written by a culture that was carrying a corporate memory of some great trauma from water. Oceans and lakes are often referred to in violent terms — great floods and storms.

Very few Israelites in the Bible — maybe only the professional fishermen — voluntarily go on water. No one seems to go sailing or swimming for fun, even though the country is right on the ocean and has two large lakes (and even though other ancient peoples who lived here did have swimming pools and pleasure boats). When the Israelites have to go out on the ocean in the Bible, they always use some other country’s sailors and marine technology.

The very word for “sea” in Hebrew is apparently derived from the name of the evil god in the Babylonian creation myth, and carries connotations of a mysterious, malign, and threatening force opposed to God’s order. 33

Almost every time the sea is mentioned in the Old Testament, it’s a place of chaos and terror.

When it first appears in Genesis, the “surface of the deep” is empty and dark.

Of course there’s Noah’s destructive flood. Job even compares the sea to a monster (Job 7:12).

Psalm 65:7 speaks of God as the only one with the power to “still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves….”

The people knew: The surface of the water may look calm now, but in the next moment a rogue wave or tide might change everything.


And there were plenty of waves on the Sea of Galilee. Just thirteen miles long and seven miles wide, it’s still very dangerous.

Cold air descending from the often snow-covered Mount Hermon range, just twenty miles away but almost ten thousand feet higher than the surface of the lake, collides over Galilee with warm air from the below-sea-level Jordan Valley, creating volatile weather systems. As recently as 1992, ten-foot-high waves crashed into downtown Tiberius, flooding the city and destroying millions of dollars of property.

With all that in mind, I picture this scene as I look at the lake from our wooden boat….

…a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Mark 4:37–39

Did you notice? No magical incantation. Jesus adds no drama to the situation. He doesn’t raise his hands and strike a pose and invoke the mighty powers of the spirits of nature. As someone said, “Jesus quickly rebukes the storm as if it’s a misbehaving child” — almost off-handedly.

And note the disciples’ reaction: They were afraid before. Now they’re absolutely terrified.

“Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” Mark 4:41 NLT

The disciples were astonished at Christ’ control over the frightening force of water, even more than the other miracles they had seen to this point. If they were vulnerable to the vicissitudes of water, then what about this man, who, it is dawning on them here, they had obviously been vastly underestimating to this point?

“Who is this man?”

He can “calm the roaring seas, the roaring of their waves.” Which Psalm 65 said only God can do. Jesus has an almost casual power over a force of nature that represented primal chaos to their culture.

And Jesus made this point more than once. In John 6, for example, he appears to the disciples when they are trying to row out of a storm:

A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough… they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” John 6:18–20

As John Ortberg points out, in the original Greek, that last phrase is just four words. Literally it reads:

“I am; no fear.”

The take-away for me? Jesus is Lord over all the things you and I fear, too; over all that represents chaos to us. He is ultimately in charge. He is God with us, in all our storms.

He doesn’t always calm the storm exactly when and how I want him to; but he is always willing and able to calm me.


Where in your life is Jesus saying, “I am; no fear”?

If the ocean and lakes represented the deepest, darkest fears of the ancient Israelites, what is the primal fear for you? What storm terrifies you? What is fiercely roaring in your heart?

Is it death? Flying? Finances? Public speaking? Jesus can calm your fear. He is Lord even over that. Make no mistake: The storm doesn’t always pass. But you can learn to always see Jesus there.

Matthew makes an interesting comment in his account about what happened after they were so terrified: “And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” (Matthew 14:33)

This is a first. Their respect and enthusiasm for this man is turning into worship. The disciples are beginning to believe there is far more to this man than they can see. There are depths and dimensions to this Messiah that they never anticipated.

And they have another surprise waiting on the waves.


Write down one thing you’re worried or fearful about right now. Each time that worry/fear crosses your mind today say (out loud if you need to), “I choose to trust Jesus who says, ‘I am. No fear.’”