Many sermons based on the story of Jesus stilling the storm (Mark 4:35-41) end up with application to the hearers along the lines of of “Whatever your personal situation, whatever difficulties or challenges you face, Jesus can be with you in your boat and can still the storms in your life”. This is the point which is made in the notes for this passage in the NIV Life Application Bible:
“Think about the storms in your life – the situations that cause you great anxiety. Whatever your difficulty you have two options. You can worry and assume that Jesus no longer cares, or you can resist fear, putting your trust in him. When you feel like panicking, confess your need for God and then trust him to care for you.”
While the spiritual truth about the care and compassion of the Saviour for us in our trouble is undoubtedly true, is that the real point of this incident and the reason why the Holy Spirit included it in the Scriptures? Such application fails to take into account the context of the passage in Mark’s Gospel, as well as the overall purpose of the book.
These past few days, while on retreat in Bushmills with the ministry students who are commencing their new academic year at Union College, Nigel McCullough opened up an alternative and more insightful understanding of this story. Having examined the account of Jonah’s experience in the Old Testament book, he drew parallels between Jonah and Jesus and their experiences of a storm at sea. Both were sleeping when the storm hit their boat; both were awakened by their fellow mariners; and in both cases the occupants of the boat were more terrified after the storm than they were in the storm. But the point he made, and which is hinted at in the ESV Study Bible notes on Mark 4, is that Jesus is the new and better Jonah. This follows the connection which is made explicit by Jesus himself in Matthew 12:41: “Now one greater than Jonah is here”.
Unlike the disobedient prophet, Jesus readily commits himself to do his Father’s will. He goes willingly to Jerusalem, in the direction his Father had determined, where the storm of God’s wrath is “hurled” on him, just as the storm was “hurled” on Jonah’s ship and threatened to destroy it. Like Jonah, he endures three days and three nights in the depths, hidden from human eyes. But, also like Jonah, he emerges again with the clear testimony that echoes Jonah’s conviction, “Salvation is of the Lord”. And because of Christ’s obedience, his death and resurrection, we can have real peace and know that the storm of God’s righteous judgment will never be hurled against us. Our salvation is secured by the active obedience of Christ, the greater and better Jonah.
Not only did Nigel make some helpful and pertinent points arising from the story of Jonah for those of us in Christian ministry, but he also modelled for us how the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are to handled. He showed us that the story of Jonah, like many other Old Testament stories, “whisper Christ’s name”. May our ears be sensitive enough to hear those whispers so that we are drawn to worship and praise our Saviour with new love and devotion.