Taking Jesus As He Is (Mark 4:35-41)

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Johnny’s mother looked out the window and noticed him “playing church” with their cat. The cat was sitting quietly as Johnny preached to it. She smiled and went about her work.

A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptising the cat in a tub of water. She called out, “Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!”

Johnny looked up at her and said, “He should have thought about that before he joined my church.”

I laughed when I read that. And yet at the same time I could not help but to think, “Amen!” You see this story illustrates a cardinal truth of Christianity: There are implications of obligations when one experiences the privilege of the gospel. When the Lord Jesus Christ saves you He assumes the right to command you. And, like the cat in the opening story, sometimes we get a lot wetter than we had planned!

In the story before us in Mark 4 this is precisely what happened. The Lord Jesus after a wearying course of ministry (healing, casting out demons, handling intense opposition, experiencing familial misunderstandings, a schedule of exhausting teaching and intensive instruction of the disciples) gave the command to His disciples for them to depart, with Him in the boat, for the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

Normally, this sea is calm early in the morning and late at night, but on this particular occasion a violent storm broke forth. It was a treacherous and terrifying experience. And these disciples, had they been cats, would have been meowing and hissing! In fact, they very much did hiss against the Lord. The Lord rebuked them (much like Johnny did his cat): “If you don’t want to get wet then you should not have joined me!”

All too often, we find ourselves like Johnny’s cat and like Jesus’ disciples: hissing at the waters in which we are being “baptised” in the Christian walk.

As we begin to follow Christ we may find ourselves rather disturbed, discouraged and even angry at the circumstances in which we find ourselves. After all, we think, if the Lord loved me enough to save me, why in the world would He allow me to go through such trials?

Perhaps some are tempted with the thought that they are not getting out of the Christian life what they expected. And such unfulfilled expectations may have led you to grow cold in your devotion to the Lord. Such disillusionment may in turn have led you to separate yourself from the Body of Christ and you have perhaps chosen to become a lone ranger.

For others, such discouragement has produced a bitterness and thus joylessness to such an extent that they are looking for a whole different kind of Christianity. They are intent on redefining and even seeking to domesticate Jesus. Or perhaps they are undergoing a different kind of temptation. That is, perhaps they began to follow the Lord sometime in the recent past. They made a profession of faith and were baptised. They joined the church and involved themselves in the body life. Yet, over time, they have become sceptical—even cynical—because, like the cat, they never realised the uncomfortable demands of being a church member. Now they want out.

On the other hand, perhaps you are not yet in but you want to know what will be required.

If any of this strikes home then this message is for you.

Perhaps none of this seems relevant to you. If that is the case, I still urge you to continue reading so that you can be equipped to help others who are struggling with such issues.

The principle from this passage, which drives this study, is simply this: We don’t get the Jesus we want; we get the Jesus who is! Like these disciples, we are expected to take Jesus into our boat just as He was and hence just as He is.

He will take us to the other side, precisely because that is His determination. But it won’t be easy. There will be times when we will be tempted to think that we are drowning. But if we pay attention to Jesus as He is, then we will overcome such temptation and we will calmly wait for the storm to pass, being confident that, since Jesus is not panicked, neither should we! The net result will be that we will learn that He is indeed Lord.

If we will follow Christ by embracing the gospel then we will need to accept Jesus just as He is. But since Jesus was a historical figure we must know the Jesus who was if we will know the Jesus who is.

In this study, we will note four things about Jesus from this story, which reveal not only who He was but also who He continues to be.

The Setting

Let’s first understand something of the setting of this story. Mark (whom most scholars believe received his information directly from the apostle Peter) writes, “On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him.” (vv. 35-36). We note here a very simple truth: Jesus was tired.

Parallel accounts of this story are found in Matthew 8 and Luke 8. But this is the longest and most detailed account. In this account we find the phrase, “they took Him along in the boat as He was.” What exactly does this mean?

Examining the context, we learn that the Lord had spent most of that day teaching the multitudes, many whom claimed to be disciples. He spoke various parables by which He sought to explain the nature of the kingdom of God. These parables made it clear to all who had eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand that those who followed Christ would be expected to persevere in the faith—especially when to do so would not be popular—and yet these parables also highlighted the progress of the kingdom and the victory that would be God’s.

Verse 1 helps us to see the setting for what we are examining in this study. It appears that the crowds were so large and so thronged Him that Jesus chose to teach them from a boat. He entered the boat (presumably with the Twelve), which was then pushed out a little ways from the shore. This was helpful in several ways.

First, it gave Jesus a helpful vantage point from which He could preach. He could see the crowd better at a bit of a distance and perhaps this position would also enable Him to be better heard.

Second, this position also protected Him from the masses, which had erroneous, unbiblical expectations of Him. On more than one occasion the masses had interpreted Jesus’ presence (and His obvious divine powers) as evidence that He had been sent by God to overthrow the Romans and to restore the kingdom to them. One purpose of these parables was to correct such wrong-headed notions. The kingdom would certainly advance and expand, but not in the fleshly way which so many had imagined (largely because of some really bad teaching at the synagogues!).

Nevertheless, Jesus taught from this boat, and when He finally finished, He was quite exhausted. The last thing that He wanted to do is to go to shore and be swamped by this crowd of listeners. To do so at that point would accomplish nothing of value either for them or for His kingdom purpose.

He therefore commanded the disciples to hoist the sail for the other side. It is at this point of departure where we read that “they took Him along in the boat as He was.” What does it mean, “as He was”?

G. Campbell Morgan explains:

That is, without making any change of situation, without making any special preparation for crossing over, or for being away for any length of time. In all probability the phrase . . . also suggests that He was tired with the strain and tension of the day, the crowds pressing upon Him, and the pouring out of Himself in parabolic teaching, followed by the private exposition of His teaching to His own disciples.

“They took Him along in the boat as He was”—without prior preparation; without checking the weather report; without unnecessary delay; and without Jesus getting any kind of rest on the shore. And the reason for this is because He planned to sleep on the boat. He was looking forward to some rest.

In short, “as He was” means simply that He was exhausted.

Mark’s Gospel is very busy and active. The thematic word in it is “immediately” (“straightway” in the KJV). It has been referred to as the “Go Gospel” because, as you read it, you always find Jesus on the move.

Many believe that Mark wrote as he interviewed Peter and it is for this reason that the Gospel of Mark has so many personal eyewitness details (such as 4:36—“other little boats were with them”—and 4:38—“He was asleep in the stern on a pillow”).

As Peter recounted the broad outline of the life and ministry of Jesus over his three years with Him, Mark compiled this account, leaving out some details as he connected event after event. It is for this reason that Mark is a wonderful tool by which we can evangelistically introduce unbelievers to Jesus. It is also why you feel so out of breath when you read it!

As you read the chapters and events preceding 4:35 it becomes very apparent that Jesus had had very little opportunity for rest. He was daily busy healing people, casting out demons, teaching the masses, and being opposed by hate-filled religious leaders. And when He did have opportunity to sleep in He chose rather to get up early and pray (1:35). And, of course, He needed to pray because He was human.

When Jesus ministered, He—like we do—exerted effort. It cost Jesus emotionally, physically and even spiritually to minister (see Mark 5:30). Thus, at this point in the timeline, Jesus needed some sleep and saw the trip across the Sea of Galilee as the opportunity for much needed shuteye.

This is the main point behind the phrase “as He was.” He was tired!

For us to properly appreciate Jesus as He is, we must first know Jesus as He was. We must know that He was human; He was man. Yes, He was God but as the songwriter said: “Meekness and majesty, manhood and deity, in perfect harmony the man who was God.”

If we underestimate His humanity then we will not have a Saviour for only a man could save us. Jesus took upon Himself the form of a servant so that He could and would save those who are servants to sin. He is the Second Man from heaven, the Last Adam. He succeeded where the first man, Adam failed. Jesus was tempted in all points like we are and yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). When Jesus died on the cross He shed real blood, and the nails pierced real flesh and His cry of dereliction came from a true human heart and through vocal chords like yours and mine.

If you reject that Jesus then you have no Saviour. As John wrote of His beloved Lord, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world” (1 John 4:2-3). Again, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 John 7).

Certainly, Jesus is more than a man, as the following verses reveal, but let us pause and worship Him for His perfect humanity.

Finally, the shores were filled with the multitudes and this superficial popularity would have been a hindrance to His ministry. Even the sea was not a full escape, for “other little boats” were with Him. They had to take Him as He was to escape the superficial response of a self-absorbed people.

The Storm

Having observed something of the setting of our story, let’s now look at the storm that arose on the sea, and particularly at the attitude of Jesus in the storm.

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

(Mark 4:37-38)

In a word, Jesus was tranquil in the midst of the raging wind.

The Sea of Galilee is notorious for its violent storms. Because it sits between mountains some 200 metres below sea level it is geographically positioned to break forth in somewhat unpredictable and unrelenting squalls. In the words of one eyewitness, “The wind having gathered force seems literally to tumble in avalanches upon the water, and beat it into wildness . . . a furious storm.”

Such was the kind of storm in which the disciples, and Jesus, soon found themselves.

As the furious wind beat the waves against the boat it was not long before they began to take on water. At this point the disciples apparently panicked (v. 40) and began to assume the worst.

The word for “perishing” in v. 38 means “to utterly destroy.” It is used of those who die in their sins and who thus “perish” in hell (John 3:16). It was used of Herod’s attempts to destroy baby Jesus (Matthew 2:13). Clearly, the disciples did not expect to make it out of this dark night alive. But Jesus did. And we know that because He was fast asleep in the boat. He was perfectly calm.

When we view this scene we are amazed as we see Him in the boat “as He was”—peacefully tranquil. Alan Cole comments, “The Lord’s deep sleep did not only show his very natural weariness: it also showed his tranquil faith.”

There are different ways in which one can be tranquil. Thee is a tranquillity of indifference (which the disciples so rudely assumed of the Lord) and the tranquillity of confidence. It is the latter which we see here. And why shouldn’t He be tranquil? After all, He set out for the other side and He fully expected to get there. Further, He knew that He came to die on a cross, not to drown in a storm!

Warren Wiersbe insightfully observes, “Jonah slept during a storm because of a false sense of security, even though he was running from God. Jesus slept in the storm because He was truly secure in God’s will.” He exemplified Psalm 4:8: “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Jesus had complete confidence in His Father and therefore He was calm when those around them were losing their cool. There was another reason that He was so calm but we will see that later. For now, let us look at these fearfully fitful disciples.

It appears as if the disciples were screaming while Jesus was sleeping! As the disciples panicked they noted that the Lord was sleeping at the stern of the boat. After a day of exhausting ministry He was contentedly resting. And the disciples assumed the worst: that He just didn’t care.

Please note that it was because they took Jesus along in the boat “as He was” that they were now where they were: in the middle of what they perceived to be a life-threatening storm. If only Jesus had booked into a hotel rather than seeking refuge in a boat!

Perhaps these disciples were tempted to complain: “He told us to launch for the other side ‘just as He was’—without any preparation. We could all see how exhausted He has been over these past few weeks. And with what we know of the potential dangers regarding this sea, we should have insisted that He, and we, rest for the night before embarking on what we suspected could be an arduous journey. Now we are in this terrible storm, we need all hands on deck, and Jesus is sleeping! Oh, why did we accept Jesus ‘as He was’?”

I can just imagine the disciples complaining at this point: “Why in the world did Jesus not wait until morning to make this trip? If He had done so, then we could have perhaps more properly perceived the weather conditions and we could have avoided this storm. Simon at the weather bureau hardly ever gets it wrong! And even though we know that these Galilean storms often come about without any warning, at least we would be fighting for our lives in the daylight. Oh, why did Jesus lead us to make this trip ‘as He was’? We don’t like the way that He plans; we are not too thrilled with the way that He leads. What a mess we are in! Why, after all, was it so important that we go the other side anyway?” Such hissing no doubt, if not vocalised, was most certainly in their hearts.

Perhaps some of them were berating themselves; after all, they were the supposed experts about boats; at one point they even owned some. They never should have taken sailing orders from a carpenter! What did a Nazarene carpenter know about sailing? Was this not so typical of teachers? They thought they are experts about everything. His preaching was great—spellbinding—but what did He know about sailing? “Why did we listen to Him when He told us to cross to the other side? Why did we not resist taking Him ‘as he was’? Had we done so, we would not be in this mess. If we survive this ordeal then the next time we will not be so gullible to take him as He is. No, we will do a better job of planning.

Let me be pastoral and ask, and you? Have you ever questioned the wisdom of the Lord? Perhaps not overtly or crassly, but no doubt we have questioned His providence. And is this not the same thing? Have you ever thought that you knew better than the Lord? Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a storm wondering if this really is a part of God’s original plan?

If so, then you can relate to these disciples.

But consider that they had to take Jesus “as He was” because there was no alternative. You see, He commanded them to do so. And by the way, so it is with you and me. If we will have Jesus in our boat, if we will bow to His command to launch forth in life with Him in our boat, then we too will need to take Him as He is. And when we do so then we can expect some storms.

We should never expect an easy ride when we take along Jesus as He is. J. C. Ryle helps us to see that Jesus “has never promised us that we shall have no afflictions. He loves us too well to promise that. By afflictions He teaches us many precious lessons, which without it we should never learn.”

As mentioned earlier, the shores were filled with the multitudes made up of many who held superficial views of Him. And such a storm no doubt did much to cause some of these little boats to return to the safer shores. Likewise, the trials that accompany us when we take Him as He is into our lives are designed partly to separate the wheat from the chaff; to make a distinction between the true and the false.

Let us take this story to heart. Let us learn that Jesus was tranquil because He was trusting. We too can trust our heavenly Father in the worst of times just as we do in the best of times. God is always good!

The Sovereign

Now let us note the response of Jesus to the panicked disciples.

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

(Mark 4:39-41)

Jesus’ response to the ordeal was, in a word, terrifying. The Lord awoke, calmed the sea and the disciples were amazed. They learned from this experience that obeying the Lord as He was would sometimes lead them into storms.

But let us also note another lesson learned: Obeying Jesus as He was resulted in a greater vision of who He really is. And the same is true for us: When we take Jesus along in our boat—as He is—without questioning, without what we would term appropriate preparation, then we can be sure of the same experience. And how badly we need it!

Jesus “arose” from His sleep. And He was not happy about it! I do not say that irreverently, but in the context of all that we have seen thus far.

Our Lord was tired, tranquilly asleep, and frankly, there was no reason to wake Him. Everything was under control. You see when they took Him along in the boat as He was, they took God with them! And so, whether asleep or awake, Jesus was perfectly in control. The disciples should have seen that if He was not alarmed by the storm then neither should they be.

Yes, Jesus perfectly trusted the Father and yet at the same time He was the Creator. Creation was thus no threat to Him and He proved it by rebuking the wind and commanding the sea to be still. It was as though He said, “Come on, wind and sea, enough already!”

Ryle comments, “The elements knew the voice of their Master, and, like obedient servants, were quiet at once.” And Walter Wessel observes the important truth that “the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus Christ is not only Lord over His church but also Lord of all creation. The Creator Lord also controls what He has created.”

Jesus was trustfully tranquil and they should not have bothered Him. To have done so was dishonourable, and the way they did so was rude. “Do You not care that we are perishing?” What an insult! The Creator Christ came to die for them; how could they ask such a question?

Now, they might be excused since it was still early days in their discipleship and therefore they were still fuzzy regarding His identity. But I dare say that we have no excuse. First, we are not perishing, and second, the reason we are not perishing is precisely because He does care! He ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25; etc.).

Morgan observes this point when he writes, “The value of this story, the lesson to be learned is not that He calmed the storm but rather that there was no need to wake Him.” In other words, since Jesus is the Son of God these disciples had nothing to fear. In fact, love for and trust in Him should have made them very slow to panic and to so rudely accuse Him of indifference.

Their accusatory question—“Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”—reveals wrong-headedness on at least two counts.

First, Jesus was far more than a “Teacher.” He was (and is) Lord. Had they not been paying attention for the past four and a half chapters?

Second, the word “we” should be taken comprehensively. That is, they assumed that Jesus was about to perish with them. They had such a wrong view of Him that they thought that He was no different than them! Had they perceived who He was, and had they loved Him as they should have, they would have looked at His calm demeanour and taken encouragement.

They should have reasoned, “I guess if He is not alarmed then neither should we be. After all, this is not Jonah asleep in the boat—a rebellious prophet trying to run from God; rather this is the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) who is fleeing the crowd precisely because He follows God.”

Before these disciples ever encountered this storm they were exposed to all the evidence that they needed that Jesus of Nazareth was Lord. He had demonstrated this in a whirlwind of activity as recorded in the first four chapters of Mark. Note some of the evidence in the opening chapters of Mark’s Gospel that point to His Lordship.

First, His Lordship was declared by His Father (1:1-11). Mark wastes no time getting to the point that Jesus of Nazareth was Jesus the Son of God (1:1). If He was not the Son of God then none of what follows would have followed.

Second, His Lordship was demonstrated over all areas of life:

  • He was Lord of the devil (1:12-13; 3:20-30);
  • He was Lord of doctrine (1:21-22, 27, 39a);
  • He was Lord of demons (1:23-28, 34, 39; 3:11-12, 15b);
  • He was Lord of disease (1:29-34a, 40-45; 3:7-10);
  • He was Lord of demands (1:35-39);
  • He was Lord of disabilities (2:1-12);
  • He was Lord of the Day (2:23-3:6);
  • He was Lord of destinies (1:14-15, 16-20; 2:13-17, 18-22; 3:13-19, 31-35; 4:1-34a).

They were about to receive an apt illustration of this last point.

It was in the light of these declarations and demonstrations of His Lordship that we can see the foolishness of the response of these disciples.

The very fact that He was fast asleep in the midst of such atmospheric disturbance was further proof that He was Lord. They took Him along in the boat as He was, and when the storm erupted, He remained as He was: Lord!

Since He was Lord, He did not need to be awake in order to be in control. Whether Jesus was awake or sleeping was irrelevant; He was Lord in every area of life, including in and of the storms. He was Lord when the journey began and He was still Lord when the journey got dangerous and He would be Lord as they reached their destination (v. 35; 5:1).

What an important lesson to embrace! Yes, if they would have considered the evidence of His Lordship then this story would have turned out very differently. And what about your story?

In health and in sickness, in wealth and in poverty, in early New Testament church history and in 2011 New Testament church history, in times of spiritual victory and in times of spiritual defeat, in seasons of gospel receptivity and in seasons of gospel rejection, in times of abundant friendships and in times of loneliness and uninvited isolation, in times of youth and in times of aging, in times of feasting and in times of famine, in times of answered prayers and in times when heaven seems as brass, Jesus is Lord.

I think we get the point: When we take Jesus as He is we will never need to worry that He will cease to be exactly what He is: Lord.

But note the response of these disciples as recorded in v. 41: “They feared exceedingly.” That is strong language. Literally, this could be translated, “they feared a great fear.” The word “feared” means “to be terrified” and it is often used to describe the fear of the Lord (Matthew 10:26; 17:6; Luke 1:50; 1 Peter 2:17; etc.).

This experience gave them some insight into the fuller character of Christ. Though they had seen Him as a man who was tired, now they began to see Him as God who is terrible. They had good reason to be terrified. And so do we.

Jesus, as He was, was in fact God. He is God. That can be terrifying to a sinner. It should be terrifying to a sinner. In fact, if the Jesus you claim to believe does not terrify you then you have not believed in the Jesus who was and therefore you do not believe in the Jesus who is.

It is vital to be sure that the Jesus we are taking along in our boat is the Jesus who was and who is. That is, we had better be sure that the Jesus in our boat is the Jesus of the Bible. And the Jesus of the Bible, the historical Jesus, was rather terrifying. Yes, terrifying!

Just ask Peter (Luke 5:8). Ask the demons (Mark 5:8-10; etc.). Ask Herod (who was so terrified by Him as a baby that he sought to kill Him). Ask the Pharisees (who like Herod, feared His threat). Ask Pilate (John 19:10-12), or ask his wife (Matthew 27:17-19). Ask the centurion that stood by His cross (Matthew 27:54).

If we do not embrace Jesus as He was then we do not have Jesus as He is. We are then following a phantom Jesus who in the end will prove impotent to save.

Is this the Jesus that you have in your life? One day we will all give an account to Jesus as He is, as He was, and as He will forever be. Will He say, “Enter into the joy of your Lord,” or will His response be, “Depart from me, I never knew you”?

The Saviour

But let us close by seeing something of Jesus as Saviour. Jesus “arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (v. 39). And immediately as they arrived on the other side of the sea, tired as He was, Jesus encountered a demoniac and delivered him from his affliction. In short, He was tenderhearted.

As we land this plane we want to do so with a complete picture of Jesus as He was. And who was He? He was the sovereign who saves. He was the otherwise terrifying God who is also tenderhearted. And, in fact, those who find Him tenderhearted no longer need to be terrified. Sinners who have been terrified by the sovereign can be transformed by the tender Saviour.

When they arrived on the other side they were immediately confronted by a demonised man. And to make a (wonderfully remarkable) story of grace short, Jesus delivered, healed and transformed this man. Now we see more clearly why it was that He came along in the boat as He was!

Yes, He was tired and certainly a boat is not the best place to rest. Had He gone to shore the crowds would have crowned Him and He could have escaped so much of the afflictions that yet awaited Him. But you see, He came to seek and to save the lost. And in order for Him to seek and save this demon-possessed man, the disciples needed to take Him along in the boat as He was. It was important that He get to the other side: There was a sinner on the other shore that needed to be saved. Regardless of how tired our Lord was, He came along as He was to do what needed to be done. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

Jesus’ entire earthly life was characterised by such selflessness. But nowhere is this more clearly seen than on the cross. He went to the cross as He was—exhausted, beaten, ridiculed—and yet persevered to glorify His Father by saving sinners. Have you seen Him as He was—as your tenderhearted Saviour?

Because they took Him along in the boat as He was the gospel spread to the other side. Delay was not an option for our Lord (cf. Mark 1:35-39).

If we will truly follows Christ as His disciples then we must be willing to take Him along as He is to where He wants to go. We must be willing to endure some storms if those on the other shore will receive His saving benefits (Romans 10:13-17).

What are you willing to endure for the cause of the spread of the gospel?

“Let us leave these verses with the comfortable recollection that Jesus is not changed. His heart is still the same that it was when He crossed the Sea of Galilee and stilled the storm. High in heaven at the right hand of God, Jesus is still sympathizing – still almighty, – still pitiful and patient towards his people.” (Ryle)

As we come to the end of our study let us observe that what Jesus was—triumphant—He still is with one exception: He is no longer tired!

Believer, He is not wearied by our requests for help, He is not exhausted by our failures and His powerful working in our lives does not make Him tired. He is the Lord who keeps you and neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:3-4). If you are in a storm then confidently pray and trust. Heed the words of John Newton:

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring,
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.

Unbeliever, Jesus is not tired of saving sinners. He will save you. Will you embrace Jesus Christ as He was and follow Him as He is? Repent and call upon the name of the Lord today.