When troubles come, how do we react? Are we fearful and anxious? Is there some way to calm the storm?
Let’s understand that there is someone who calms storms.
We will look at Mark 4:35-41 and what we can learn from a squall on Lake Galilee.
Mark 4:35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Crossing to the Other Side (Mark 4:35)
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”
What journey does Jesus invite us to make? Jesus crossed Lake Galilee to make disciples on the other side. Sometimes when we have a destination, just getting there can be a headache. A name for where the congregation sits in a church is the nave, coming from this very story where the disciples were on a mission in a boat. Unlike the disciples, we don’t have to travel far to find new converts. The unconverted masses are all around us. Jesus invites us across the street to talk to our neighbors about him. We could all just sit in the boat by the shore and create a boat club that never sails, but that is not our calling. We are to go across the stormy lake and make converts. So come on board. Let us go to the other side.
Leaving the Crowd Behind (Mark 4:36)
And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.
When we go on a journey with God, we leave the comfort of the crowd behind on the shore. We leave old associations behind, ways of doing things that we hold so dear, as we journey into the unknown with Christ. Church life is about change. Old traditions change. Is our faith built on the rock of Christ or the sand of human failures? When Abraham was 75 years old God asked him to leave a lifetime of investment and a crowd of friendships and acquaintances behind. Would we? Many leave Christ and return to the world rather than stay in the boat of the church. We are called, not to stay ashore in the comfort of the crowd but, to go on a journey with a small band of brave souls willing to follow Christ to the other side.
Taking Jesus Just as He Is
It is amazing how we like to create a Jesus in our minds to be just like we want him to be instead of just as he is. When the disciples took Jesus across the lake, they took him along just as he was. What would our churches look like if we took Jesus along just as he is? The way he lived wouldn’t fit in with some churches today. He partied with the rich and touched the unclean and marginalized. The way he spoke was sometimes offensive and blunt and sometimes mysterious and hidden. He often went against local religious customs and expected his followers to live lives of self-sacrifice instead of self-indulgence. How would our lives look if we took Jesus along just as he is? Though the winds of traditionalism are strong, he can calm the storm.
A Great Windstorm (Mark 4:37)
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.
Sometimes when we follow Jesus we run into a storm. Converts from some countries and religions face death for following Jesus. Faithful Christians everywhere face the storms of life. Sometimes life is so out of control that it feels like we are swamped. Why does God allow these storms even in the life of a Christian? We need to learn in faith that whatever God allows is for our ultimate good. We may be angry at him for our suffering, but he does ultimately have a loving purpose. We don’t know the why, but we do know the end of the story, that God will wipe away all tears from our eyes; there will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain. (Revelation 21:4) And if there is no more crying, there will be no more reason to cry.
Jesus who Sleeps through Storms (Mark 4:38)
But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Why did Jesus sleep through a storm that had so frightened his disciples? Their ordeal took them to the brink of sinking and losing their lives. In the context we can guess that Jesus was totally exhausted from a day of preaching and healing. However, there is more to it than that. Are we tempted to ask if God has gone to sleep when we face terrifying ordeals? Are we tempted to ask if God even cares? Of course we are. Yet, we read of Jesus’ power over even the waves. We also read of his rebuke regarding the disciples’ lack of faith. We are no different and Jesus is also no different in character. He will often allow our circumstances to go to the point of sinking, but he is there and always has been to calm the storm.
Don’t You Care
Jesus! We’re dying here! Don’t you care! That was the cry of the disciples during a sea storm. Does God care about us? Joseph was falsely accused and imprisoned for 13 long years. Perhaps he had in mind that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) Job did ask the question though. He asked why he, a devout follower of God, should suffer. God does care. He created a world without suffering and chaos, but in love he created us with free choice. Humanity sinned and rejected him. We reap the consequences of humanity’s failures every day. Someday, suffering will cease and pale into insignificance compared to the glory that will be revealed us. (Romans 8:18) Let us not become bitter, but turn to God.
What do we do when we encounter fierce squalls on the sea of life? We live in a time when middle class wealth has dropped dramatically. We worry about health care, car payments, cancer, identity theft, immigration, industrial pollution, internet viruses, military conflicts, strange new religions, terrorism and taxes. Life can be wonderful one minute and we are faced with a terrible even the next. We are then tempted to ask, does God even care? The answer lies not in the disciples’ faith, which was obviously as weak as ours, but in the fact that Jesus was with them. If we open our eyes and look, we will see that God is with us too and always has been. Even as our faith is weak, God’s presence reveals how much he cares and Jesus is there to calm the storm.
Peace! Be Still! (Mark 4:39)
He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
It was not the disciples’ faith that calmed the sea, but Jesus. Sometimes we think that if we just had enough faith, God would open up the Red Sea so we could escape the Egypt of our problems. But this story reminds us that it is not our faith that causes God to intervene. He intervenes when he sees fit. Deliverance from life’s storms does not depend on how much faith we have, but on Jesus. Jesus actually “rebuked” the storm, the same word used when he rebuked demons. This could allow us to personify the evil in the wind, giving a name to the dark storms of our lives. Church life too can be like being in a boat facing rough waters. As trouble from outside and inside affect the church will we ask Jesus to calm the storm?
Why are You Afraid? (Mark 4:40)
He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
How much of our lives are ruled by fear? Are we afraid of our finances? What about our health, crime, terrorism or bosses? Fear is everywhere in our society. Is our fear because we lack faith? Faith is trust in God. We trust that other drivers will keep to their side of the road, and that the sun will rise tomorrow, but do we trust God? Why didn’t the disciples ask Jesus for help? Why did they react so sharply and ask him if he cared? That’s what fear does. It makes us belligerent. Even being falsely accused, Jesus calmed the sea. God is merciful towards our fear. And then, the disciples fear Jesus and not the storm. Let us bring our fears to God and watch as he transforms them. God is so much bigger and filled with grace than we thought.
Who is This (Mark 4:41)
And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
The disciples were “very terrified” that even the wind and sea obey Jesus. Their journey across the Sea of Galilee was perhaps about 7 miles (12 kilometers). The lake has a mild climate but can experience sudden and violent storms which can create waves of ten feet (3 meters) high and can cause damage to lakefront towns. It was perhaps such a storm that tested the faith of the disciples. Jesus used the opportunity to challenge his disciples about their lack of faith. Though our faith may be small, we can ask Jesus to calm the storm. The disciples did not yet understand who Jesus was and the power of his kingdom. They asked who he was. Must the church learn the same lesson? In 2000 years we have had many storms. Must each generation learn the power of Jesus?
When Jesus does NOT Calm the Storm
When Mark wrote about Jesus calming the storm, many of his audience were facing martyrdom. It was a Christian holocaust that lasted roughly 300 years, as Roman Emperors attacked the church over ten periods of persecution. How could the story of Jesus calming the storm relate to those who would die in their own storms? How does it relate to us who face our own catastrophes today, such as losing a loved one, losing a career, facing homelessness, or to Christians in North Korea who face losing their lives to a modern day murderous Caesar? In such circumstances, when faith is tested way beyond its elastic limit, we can have calm in our hearts, knowing that Jesus will never leave us and even if we must die, he will carry us beyond the final storm of death into eternal peace.
Life is filled with storms, some of our own making. Jesus taught us to live by faith and not fear. He slept through a storm when we would react in fear. The world needs us to tell the story of Jesus who calms storms.
[All Scripture: New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]