The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) provide some of the most interesting reading in all of the Bible. They are filled with eyewitness testimonies of the person and work of Jesus. The Gospels are an excellent starting place for any new Christian or anyone exploring Christianity.
One of the most attractive elements in the Gospels is the many stories that fill their pages. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John convey who Jesus is and what he did by telling stories. Another element that is particularly intriguing to me is the way the Gospel writers make use of the Old Testament. Whenever I read the Gospels my eyes are always opened to the Christocentricity of the Old Testament. In the Gospels, the Reality has come and the shadow of the Old Testament can properly be seen and more fully and truly be interpreted.
One example of such excellent storytelling that makes use of the Old Testament is found in Mark 4:35-41. In this passage, Mark tells the story of Jesus calming a storm. This is the way Mark tells the story:
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Not only can we appreciate this amazing story that causes both child and adult to marvel at the sheer power of Jesus, we can also see numerous, almost eerie, parallels to an Old Testament prophet. In fact, the language used by Mark is nearly identical to the language of the account of Jonah. I see at least seven parallels between Jesus calming a storm and Jonah being swallowed by a whale, though there may be more.
1. Both Jesus and Jonah were in a boat.
2. Both boats were overtaken by a storm.
3. Both storms are described in almost exactly the same way.
4. Both Jesus and Jonah were asleep.
5. Both groups of sailors wake their passenger with the fearful statement, “We’re going to die.”
6. Both situations included divine intervention over nature as the sea was calmed.
7. Both groups of sailors grow more terrified after the storm was calmed.
Seven clear parallels. One major difference; or so it seems. Mark’s story ends after Jesus calms the storm with a word. However, in Jonah’s account, he says to his sailors, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you” (Jonah 1:12). Jonah basically says, “If I die, you will live.”
Even though we don’t see this sacrificial substitution directly in Mark’s account of Jesus calming the storm, we do see another parallel when we consider the larger context of Mark’s Gospel. Mark is a skilled storyteller who is establishing the identity of Jesus now only to convey the mission of Jesus later. Later in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus would come to a cross to face the greatest storm of all–the wrath of God against our sin.
Jesus is the greater Jonah as he is thrown into the tempest so that we might live. In the words of Tim Keller, “Jesus was thrown into the only storm that can actually sink us–the storm of eternal justice, of what we owe for our wrongdoing. That storm wasn’t calmed–not until it swept him away.”
The most crucial element in these two texts is how both of them so beautifully point to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. In other words, as Jonah is hurled into the sea and as Jesus calms a storm with his words, they both foreshadow the coming storm Jesus would ultimately calm by being tossed into the tempest of God’s wrath so that we may live.
So, when you feel that God has left you alone in the storm in your life, remember that he cares infinitely more than you could imagine. If Jesus did not leave you to suffer the ultimate storm of God’s wrath against your sin, then you can trust his infinite wisdom and power to be sufficient for you when you suffer smaller storms in your life.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.