The NIV chapter break between 4 and 5 is in an unfortunate place. 4:1-34 is a distinct unit and 4:35-41 clearly fits together better with the miracles in chapter 5. There is a common theme in the four miracles in these verses. In each one people are afraid and each time Jesus points to the importance of moving from fear to faith.
Jesus Calms the Storm (Mark 4:35-41):
What’s the big deal…Jesus calms one storm on one sea to save one boat full of people. Out of all the storms, seas, and people who have needed saved why is this one such a big deal? Ben Witherington (Mark, 174) points out the first big picture item that is happening in this series of stories. What three forces in the ancient world can you name that would be outside your control?
1 – Nature
2 – Spiritual powers
3 – Death
In these stories Jesus confronts these head on, commands them into submission, and wins. Notice what Jesus says to the storm, “Quiet! Be still!” He commands it. He speaks to it. He is re-creating and subduing nature. In the very beginning God separated the waters above from the waters below (Gen 1:7). In Mark 1:27 Jesus rebuked an evil spirit and it obeyed. In the next story Jesus rebukes a legion of demons and they obey. Jesus is not just calming one storm. He is demonstrating a far greater power through this one representative act. The kingdom of God is breaking in and people are going to need new wineskins in order to accept this new wine because what happens next is even more inconceivable. But first notice the reaction of the disciples – they were afraid and Jesus calls them to faith.
Jesus Triumphs in Gentile territory (Mark 5:1-20):
In 4:35 Jesus said, “Let us go over to the other side.” Other side of what? The Sea of Galilee. What was on the “other side?” Gentile country. We tend to read the Gospels very flat with one miracle being just as astounding as the next but that is not how they would have heard this. Jesus is crossing into enemy territory. On the way in they go through a storm, which he stills. When they get there they dock the boat at a cemetery, next to a field of pigs, and a bleeding man filled with not just one demon (like in Galilee) but a legion of 2000 demons. In the words of Three Dog Night, this is the place “mama told me not to come.” Just like with the storm, Jesus commands the demons out of the man and they obey.
From this point on we get a back and forth parallel between Jesus ministry in Galilee and his ministry in Gentile country across the Sea of Galilee. Each time they enter Gentile country they encounter a storm (BWIII, 174). The order of Jesus’ miracles in Gentile/pagan country mirrors the ministry he did in Galilee (Jewish country). Ever wonder why Jesus fed 5000 and 4000? It was not 9000 Jews he fed. It was 5000 Jews the first time and 4000 Gentiles the second. What was Jesus very first miracle in Mark? He exorcised a demon in the synagogue in Galilee (Mark 1:21-28). After that crowds of sick Jews were put before Jesus for him to heal. What was the first miracle Jesus did on Gentile soil? He exorcised a demon (Mark 5:1-20). After that crowds of sick Gentiles were put before Jesus for him to heal. By the way, I give Witherington credit for bringing most of this to my attention.
But here is what the commentators miss. The disciples on the sea were afraid and Jesus pointed to faith. The crowds that came to see the healed many named “formerly possessed by Legion” were afraid and Jesus didn’t point to faith. How could he? They didn’t have the Torah, prophets, etc. What did Jesus do? He told him, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” N.T. Wright points out that this man was the first apostle to the Gentiles rather than Paul (Mark for Everyone, 57). Instead of pointing them toward faith, he pointed this freed man to teach them about the Lord and his mercy to build their faith. The two stories that follow also deal with faith.
Jairus’ daughter and a Sick Woman (5:21-43):
Jairus comes to Jesus with a bold statement of faith, “He pleaded earnestly with him, ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ So Jesus went with him.” (5:23-24). By the way verse 24 makes a great memory verse! Mark departs that story for a moment in one of his classic “Markan sandwiches”. He tells the story of the woman who had been bleeding 12 years who in faith touched Jesus clothes to be healed. Notice what happens next. Jesus asks who touched him. The woman comes forward, “trembling with fear, told the whole truth.” Notice Jesus’ response, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” (5:34). Fear – faith, fear – faith, fear – faith. We see it again in the completion of Jairus’ story. People came and said his daughter had died. At this Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (5:36). Jesus goes to his house, enters her room, and commands her to “get up.” Even though in the grave, her spirit obeys and she is raised from the dead.
Jesus’ words ring loud and true – Don’t be afraid. Just believe. Are you facing a storm? Why lack faith? Why be terrified if Jesus is in the boat. The message of these four stories is this – Jesus has the power to control what to us is uncontrollable. Because of that we need to put away our fears and believe.