If you read the Gospels, you’ll likely notice that much of Jesus ministry takes place near or even on the sea. You can take it at face value or you can look deeper into what the sea represents. Of course that’s what I did.
According to a study by Mark Ballenger (applygodsword.com), bodies of water are often a barrier to blessings. God had to split the Red Sea to set the Israelites free from slavery. God had to stop the flow of the Jordan during flood stages so his people could enter the promise land. In other parts of the Bible, bodies of water are symbols for evil, death, and chaos…
Some might question then, why Jesus spent so much time near such a representation. I ask, why wouldn’t He? Didn’t Jesus come to defeat evil, death, and chaos? Ballenger goes on to write, if bodies of water symbolize death, evil, chaos, and all the other things which are not natural to God’s original creation, then for Jesus to walk on the stormy waters seems to symbolically reveal the reality that Jesus conquers death, evil, and brings the order creation groans for.
So why is this important? My most recent studies have been in the Gospel of Mark and it took me two months to study my way through the fourth chapter. It opens with Jesus teaching by the sea.
He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.Mark 4:1 (NASB 1995)
This is usually a fly over verse in that it describes Jesus, where He is, and what He’s doing, but doesn’t seem to reveal anything significant. On to the next flannelgraph.
But wait, there’s more. Jesus got into a boat on the sea while the crowd remained on land. There’s a separation happening here. And if we apply what the sea represents, this verse suddenly becomes much more significant. Jesus is in a boat over the representation of death, evil, and chaos. That very thing separates Him from the people on the shore. Jesus, the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah is separated from the crowds of people by death, evil, and chaos. This is the reason He came—to remove that separation. But it hadn’t happened yet.
Jump ahead to verse 35. Jesus now instructs His disciples to go to the other side. Notice that He didn’t give them a choice. They were already in the boat, and Jesus said, “Let’s go.”
A post from St. Stephen Presbyterian says it better than I can:
“Let us cross over to the other side,” Jesus says in our Gospel today. When Jesus says those simple words to his disciples, they probably about had a heart attack. Jesus had been preaching on the western bank of the Sea of Galilee, which meant, basically, that he was preaching to people like himself and his disciples—his fellow Galileans, mostly poor fishermen and their families, mostly Jewish, with a strong regional identity. And suddenly Jesus is saying, Let’s go to the other side, by which he means, let’s cross the Sea of Galilee, at its widest point, from west to east, and go to other side, which in modern times we’d call the Nation of Jordan, and which back in those days was a land filled with people completely different from Galileans. This was Gentile territory, an area called the Decapolis, or the Ten Cities, populated by Arabs and by people from every part of the Roman Empire, sophisticated types, people who were proud Romans. Even the Jews who lived on the other side were completely different from Galileans. Jews who lived in the Decapolis were comfortable with compromises most Jews wouldn’t have made. They were willing to live among and work among people that Jews considered unclean, maybe even engage in unclean practices like eating pork. There were key Roman units garrisoned there. These people didn’t like Galilean Jews and Galilean Jews didn’t like them; and here’s Jesus saying, let’s cross over to the other side and hang out with them! The other side isn’t just any other side, it’s the dark side, and it’s like Jesus saying to them, “Come to the dark side, Luke!”St. Stephen Presbyterian
It was bad enough that Jesus didn’t give His disciples the option of whether or not they wanted to spend the evening on the sea travelling to a heathen land, but then a storm kicks up. What I find amusing here is that no less than four of the disciples were professional fishermen. They knew this sea better than most and had surely encountered storms before. Either their commission to fish for men had turned them into pansies or this was one heck of a storm.
Jesus was not bothered by the storm. The disciples had to wake Him up to tell Him they were all going to die.
Most preachers use this account to let us know that Jesus is in the boat with us! No matter what storm we encounter, He’s there ready to calm it! But what if that’s not what this is about at all?
Maybe the boat is simply a boat. Maybe the point is that Jesus is just trying to get us to the other side.Karoline Lewis
Because left to our own devices, we’d rather stay where we are. That’s human nature. But it also seems to be the nature of faith. We can’t seem to hear Jesus’ invitation — “Let us go across to the other side.” How easy it is to stay in our comfort zones; to default to our pet theologies; to remain in what is known, even though that which is known has become unbearable. We would rather ignore the desperate need for change than make the change happen. So we sit. And we wait. For what? The right time? For someone else to make the first move? Maybe this is why Jesus doesn’t give the disciples any time to think about the trip — “On that day … ” We would think about it forever. “Thinking about it” is always one of our best excuses.
Have you kept in mind what the sea represents? Death, evil, chaos.
Do you know what the wind represents? In a positive light, the wind often represents the Holy Spirit, but in a negative light, wind is often used as a picture of futility… Wind also negatively signifies doubtfulness or uncertainty (jesusway4you.com).
Jesus wasn’t concerned about death, evil, or chaos, nor did He have any doubt or uncertainty. He wasn’t bothered by the storm at all. But the disciples, on the other hand, weren’t so confident. They accused Jesus of being uncaring while the storm threatened to overtake them, filling the boat with water.
Now what’s the real threat here? The water isn’t. Think about it. Water on its own does nothing without outside interference. It’s there. It sits. It has no power unless acted on by an outside force. The sea on its own is powerless. Death, evil, chaos are powerless.
But enter the wind. The wind is what causes the waves to rise up. That doubt and uncertainty makes the death, evil, and chaos seem like more than they really are.
Take a look at what Jesus does when He’s so abruptly awoken.
And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.Mark 4:39 (NASB 1995)
It was the wind that caused the storm and Jesus rebuked that, but what we have recorded are His words to the sea. Jesus spoke to the chaos, not the doubt and uncertainty. At least not the representation of it.
He addressed the doubt in His disciples.
And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”Mark 4:40 (NASB 1995)
There are a lot of questions we can ask ourselves as we consider these passages in a new light:
- Am I looking for more options when Jesus gives me a direct instruction?
- Do I fear the death, evil, and chaos even though they are powerless?
- Does my doubt feed the chaos around me?
- Do I expect Jesus to rebuke every storm for me?
- Can I overcome my doubt and uncertainty to avoid the storms?
If you think this is a lot, just wait until the boys land on the shore. If you think there’s peace after the storm, read on into Mark 5.