Summary: The problem with the disciples is not that they didn’t have enough faith to trust Jesus in the storm. The problem is that their faith was not directed at the real Jesus.
As we move along in our study of Mark, we would do well to review the purpose and theme of the gospel. Mark and the other gospel writers had an agenda, which was to tell the “good news” about Jesus Christ. They were not writing biographies to give insight into the man Jesus. Though what they wrote was historically accurate, they were writing propaganda in the true sense of the word – material intended to demonstrate and persuade that Jesus of Nazareth was Jesus the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God. The good news was that the Christ had brought salvation. The events of Jesus’ life and his teachings were selected and put together to present him as the Messiah, the Savior, who was crucified for the salvation of his people and who is now the risen Lord.
The theme of Mark’s gospel is stated in the first verse: The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark is saying, “I am about to lay before you such wondrous words and actions of this man Jesus, that you will see that he was and is no mere man but the actual Son of God.” Throughout his gospel, he begs the question, “See, do you get it now who he is?” He has been doing this in the chapters we’ve already read. Some examples are:
And this was [John the Baptist’s] message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (1:7,8).
Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (1:23,24).
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (2:5,6)
Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God” (3:11).
The manner in which Jesus heals and exorcises demons presents him as one with authority over the created order. He is proclaimed Lord of the Sabbath. Mark shows how the religious leaders regarded him as leagued with the devil and how his family regarded him as mad; the unspoken challenge for us was to make our own decision. The theme of the parables was a challenge for the readers to possess ears that really hear, i.e. to truly understand the truth about Jesus.
Our present passage closes with this question: [The disciples] were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this?” (4:41). Let’s turn to our passage now and pray for the ears to hear what is being taught.
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.
Jesus, if we understand Mark right, has spent the day teaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. From the description in 3:7,8 we understand that a large crowd would have gathered around and he likely had taught from a boat. The evening has come, and, as he had stated early in his ministry, he has to keep traveling in order to preach to as many people as possible. Mark tosses in the otherwise unknown element that there were other boats that accompanied the boat he and his disciples were in.
Next, we are told that 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Here the action begins. A big windstorm has come up, which is not unusual for that lake. It is mostly surrounded by high hills and is itself more than 600 feet below sea level. In a couple of places there are gaps between the hills that create a funnel for winds and intensify their strength. These winds can come suddenly, as in this case, and catch boaters off guard.
This is a serious situation. The boat – and it is a boat, not a ship – is not merely being rocked by the waves. They are breaking over the boat, filling it with water, so that it will soon sink if the waves do not stop. The disciples realize that drowning is a very real probability. Remember, at least four of them are experienced fishermen of that lake. They would have taken what measures they could to save the boat, and they know the real danger. Death is before them.