The three Synoptic gospels all relay the famous story of Jesus calming the storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25). Each gospel presents Jesus sleeping when a treacherous storm hits the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:24; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:23).
Jesus Himself 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?” (Mark 4:38 NASB)Jesus’ humanity is on full display when the scene begins as God does not sleep (Psalm 121:3-4). It is significant that Jesus’ humanity is so prevalent when the scene begins because when it ends with him effortlessly calming the storm, his divinity takes center stage (Matthew 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25).
As is characteristic of Mark’s gospel, the evangelist provides details that the other accounts omit. In this story, Mark adds that Jesus rested his head on a pillow and that he was positioned in the vessel’s stern (Mark 4:38). C.E.B. Cranfield (b. 1915) remarks, “It suggests the vivid remembrance of an eye-witness (Cranfield, The Gospel According To Saint Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, 173).”
The incident is a rarity as this event marks the only instance where Jesus is said to have slept. Mark 4:38 also marks the only time the word for “cushion” (proskephalaion) appears in the New Testament. The definite article used to describe it indicates that Jesus used the only cushion on board.
Mark also documents Jesus’ location on the boat - he is in the stern, prumna (Mark 4:38; Acts 27:29, 41). In nautical jargon this means he was in the back. Robert E. Picirilli (b. 1932) explains that the stern “in a fishing boat of this type was probably a slightly elevated deck in the rear (Picirilli, The Gospel of Mark (Randall House Bible Commentary), 137).”
Many have seen a strong connection between Jesus’ calming of the storm and the Jonah story, so much so that some have argued that it is a retelling. The detail of Jesus sleeping in the stern has played a role in the discussion. Rudolf Pesch (1936-2011) argued that a Galileean fishing boat would not have a stern and as such the ship in Jonah influenced the gospels. While Robert H. Gundry (b 1932) acknowledged a similar pattern in the two incidents of wind-water-boat (Jonah 1:10, 16; Mark 4:38), he refuted the notion of an exact replica based upon Jesus’ location - “Jesus goes to sleep up in the stern, not down in the hold as Jonah did (Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross: Chapters 1-8, Volume 1, p. 246).
Can you relate to this incident? When have you been exhausted and napped? What do Mark’s added details add to the story?
While Matthew notes simply that “Jesus was sleeping” (Matthew 8:24 NASB) and Luke says that Jesus “fell asleep” (Luke 8:23 NASB), Mark shows that Jesus was intentional about sleeping. He finds an isolated spot and gets comfortable with a pillow. He did not merely doze off like a grandfather at a family gathering.
Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.The details that Mark includes demonstrate that Jesus made time to rest. Do you?
Your mattress and pillow can contribute to better sleep, too. Since the features of good bedding are subjective, choose what feels most comfortable to you. If you share your bed, make sure there’s enough room for two. If you have children or pets, set limits on how often they sleep with you — or insist on separate sleeping quarters.