Why Jesus Rebukes His Disciples on the Stormy Sea – A Commentary on Mark 4:35-41

Jesus rebukes the disciples

It’s a well-known story. Jesus and his disciples are crossing over to the other side of the lake. Jesus falls asleep in the boat. A furious storm breaks out over the sea. The boat fills with water and Jesus remains asleep. Panicked, the disciples cry out to Jesus. He wakes and calms the storm.

After Jesus quiets the wind and the waves, he turns to his disciples and says “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

So why this rebuke from Jesus? Why does he criticize the disciples? What, precisely, is Jesus bothered with?

I’m finding this passage absolutely fascinating because I think there is something really subtle going on that I have just noticed for the first time.

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. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:35-40)

At a surface level, in the passage, Jesus is correcting his disciples for not trusting in him, for not having faith. But Mark 4:37 tells us that the boat was nearly swamped. So is Jesus telling them that they need to wait even longer—until the boat is full to the brim with water? Do they need to wait to wake Jesus until they’re all fully underwater and flailing around in the sea? After all, at that point Jesus would have been plunged into the lake also.

The answer to those questions is: I don’t think so. I don’t think this passage is about the storm water rising. It’s not a test of faith for the disciples of whether Jesus can save them.

But rather it’s about the fact that when the disciples come to Jesus they say, “Teacher, don’t you care for us?” (Mark 4:38). That is how they wake him. That is how they call for his help. The question of faith is not whether Jesus CAN save them, it’s whether he CARES enough to consider it.

The disciples come to Jesus with this assumption that because they’re facing a challenge, and a pretty significant one (drowning), that it means Jesus doesn’t care about them.

Let me say that again, the disciples assume that just because they are facing a significant threat to their lives, that means that Jesus doesn’t love them. It’s this idea that Jesus scolds them for. The disciples need to learn to trust that the presence of hardship doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t care for them.

Oh how I am reminded with this story to reflect that when I call out to Jesus in hardship, am I approaching him from the assumption that he is abandoning me? Am I falling into the same foolish paradigm that the disciples did on that day on the water? When I call out to Him may I do so just knowing that He cares, that He loves me regardless of whatever happens to our ship.