TITLE: Crossing the Lake Mark 4:35-41
It has been interesting to watch the blame game during the recent disasters which hit the southern part of our country. The mayor was to blame. No, it was the director of FEMA. No, it was the governor of the state. No, it was the people who refused to evacuate. No, it was the people who built the levees. No, it was the president. You know what? It was a storm! And when a storm that size hits, no amount of human intervention could have prevented what happened. There will always be enormous loss of property and lives. Storms will come and stuff will happen.
Storms came in the life of Jesus as well. He and the disciples found themselves in the middle of a ferocious squall out on the lake. This was nothing unusual on the Sea of Galilee; it is in a basin surrounded by mountains and notorious for furious storms. Rising just to the North over the lake is beautiful Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon is capped with snow, and sometimes the cold air from the top of Hermon rushes down the mountain and blows across the lake. The force of the cold air meeting the hot moist air around Galilee can be explosive, as it was on the day in our story. Jesus and his friends are in the middle of the lake when the squall hits. It is terrifying and it looks as though they will not survive the storm. What happens next is something for which neither the reader nor the disciples are prepared.
Allow me to point out some obvious and simple lessons from this story. The first is: Storms will come. The apostle Peter reminds us: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). There are many who do not seem to understand this. The disciples seemed to be shocked that they were in this position. After all, wasn’t Jesus with them? Wouldn’t God protect his Messiah, and therefore protect his followers? How then could this happen? I sometimes meet people who have the same feeling of shock when some storm comes into their lives. Didn’t I do all the right things? Isn’t God supposed to watch out for his own? Doesn’t he protect those he loves? How can this be happening to me? I am sure those are the questions which were marching through the heads of the disciples.
I was reading in the book of Hebrews this past week and I came across a fascinating passage. It was talking about Abraham and the wonderful promises God made to him, but then this verse popped out at me that says, “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Hebrews 6:15). I looked this passage up in the original language which puts it much stronger. It uses the word macrothumia which can be translated “longsuffering.” That would make it say, “And so after longsuffering, Abraham received what was promised.” God made a great promise to Abraham, but in order to receive it, Abraham had to go through longsuffering. This is life, even with the promises of God. Endurance and faith are the keys, and these things are only possible because of the promises and faithfulness of God. The Bible says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).
There are some people here today in whose life a storm is raging. For some of you it is financial. For others it is a health issue. Still others are being swamped in the area of relationships. You have tried to be a good person and do the right thing, and yet you feel like you are sinking, and you want to know the same thing the disciples wanted to know: “Jesus, don’t you care if I drown? Are you aware of what I am going through?” What is interesting is that when Matthew and Luke tell this story in their gospels, they leave out this question about whether Jesus cared about them and their perilous situation. Matthew and Luke simply record the words of the disciples as, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25, Luke 8:24). I’m sure that these words, and many others, were said as they shouted in fear for their lives. Some Bible scholars conjecture that Matthew and Luke thought the words of the disciples were extremely inappropriate. How could you say that to Jesus? But they did, and those were their true feelings. They were in a storm. They were frightened, and they could not understand how or why this was happening.
Here is what a storm in your life does not mean. It does not mean that God does not love you. It does not mean that God is angry with you, or that he is paying you back for something. God is not toying with you. Sometimes the storms that happen in our lives are self-made. But many times it is just that storms happen, and trying to analyze what happened or assign blame is a fruitless activity. We live in a fallen world. And as Jesus said, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). In other words, good and bad happen to all. The important thing is whether or not we are prepared for them.
A TV news camera crew was on assignment in southern Florida filming the widespread destruction of Hurricane Andrew. The camera panned the area where, amid the devastation and debris, one lone house was still standing on its foundation. The owner was cleaning up the yard when a reporter approached him and said, “Sir, why is your house the only one still standing? How did you manage to escape the severe damage of the hurricane?” “I built this house myself,” the man replied. “I also built it according to the Florida state building code. When the code called for 2x6 roof trusses, I used 2x6 roof trusses. I was told that a house built according to code could withstand a hurricane. I did, and it did. It could be that no one else around here followed the code.”
This was a man who understood that storms were coming. It had nothing to do with him, it was about the area in which he lived and the nature of storms. His job was to be prepared. When the sun was shining and the skies were blue, it may have seemed foolish to put the extra expense and trouble into building a hurricane proof house. But when the hurricane came, it was anything but foolish, it was quintessential wisdom. The important thing is not trying to understand all the various reasons why storms come, but to be prepared for them before they do.
The second lesson of this story is: Jesus is with us in the storm. It you are going to be in a storm, the one person you want your boat is Jesus. Jesus could have stayed on the shore and let them take all the chances by themselves, but he did not do that. Where they went, he went.
The problem for the disciples was that he was with them, but he was asleep. He was asleep due to two things: 1) total exhaustion from ministering to the crowds, and 2) total peace, knowing who he was and who his Father was. But they interpreted it as a lack of caring. It is interesting that this is the only place in all the Bible that we read of Jesus sleeping. Several times we read of him staying awake all night and praying, and we wonder how he did that. He obviously had to sleep, but this is the only recorded incident of him sleeping. It is ironic because this is a time when you would think it was impossible to sleep. The disciples wondered how he could sleep through the storm, and how he could sleep when they were in danger. They expected him to be attentive to their needs even in his sleep.
We have all been there, haven’t we? You are in the middle of a crisis and it seems like God is off somewhere taking a nap. You can almost hear him snoring. He doesn’t seem very responsive to your need. At least we know that we are in the same boat as the disciples. But what is Jesus’ response when he is awakened? After he rebukes the storm, he rebukes his disciples. He asks them two questions: “Why are you so afraid?”, and “Do you still have no faith?”. Fear and faith are incompatible. You might expect that Jesus would be compassionate here. “Why are so afraid?” the disciples might say. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was the raging storm around us, the violent pitching of the boat, the water swamping the boat so that it was starting to sink. Maybe it was that we thought we were about to drown. Just stuff like that. Don’t you think we had a right to be anxious?”
But Jesus was hoping that what they had seen him do in the past would provide a stronger faith in the future, but that was not the case. So first Jesus had to calm the storm, and then he had to calm his disciples. Has God ever done anything for you in the past? Has he solved any problems or answered any prayers? He is hoping that his faithfulness in the past will cause you to trust him in the future.
And here is the third lesson: Jesus will calm the storm. At the perfect time during the perfect storm he exercises his power over the storms of life. God is never in a hurry, and the reason he is never in a hurry is because he knows exactly what to do at exactly the right time. He does not go by our time. At just the right time, not the right time as far as the disciples were concerned, but just at right time, Jesus stood up and calmed the storm. Don’t worry, God has you in mind. He knows and understand you and your situation. He cares for you. His timing is perfect. The Bible says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). He is always watching out for us. Peter wrote, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12).
The fourth lesson is: It is only in the storm that we truly understand who Jesus is. I think the most amazing part of the story is the disciple’s reaction to Jesus. When Jesus asks them why they are afraid, it is the Greek word meaning fearful in the moderate sense. But when Jesus calms the storm, the Bible says, “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’” (Mark 4:41). The Greek literally says ephobethesan phobon megan: “they feared with great fear.” They just thought they were afraid before. They were afraid of the storm, but they were terrified of Jesus. Their fear of the storm was nothing compared with the fear they had when they realized who it really was who was with them in the boat. It is one thing to be in the boat with someone you believe was sent from God to be a great teacher and spiritual leader. It is quite another thing to be confined in a small space with One whom you suddenly realize is the Lord of the universe. Your knees give way and you begin to tremble. You find it difficult to breathe. Your insides are shaking and you cannot stop.
It is interesting that this is the second time in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus has rebuked something and said, “Be still.” The first time was in the first chapter where Mark says, “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!’ ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. Come out of him!’” (Mark 1:23-25). And the people respond in a similar way to the disciples. They say, “What is this? . . . He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him” (Mark 1:26-27). Throughout Mark’s gospel the disciples, as well as others, keep coming to new understandings of who Jesus is, and it is always in the context of some crisis.
This is true for us as well. We keep meeting Jesus in new ways as we meet him in new crises. We don’t really understand who he is or the power he has until we see him in action. This is what Peter meant when he said, “Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
It was terrible to be blind, but the blind man could not see who Jesus was until he was healed. The deaf man could not hear Jesus until his ears were opened. The affliction of the lame man brought Jesus to his side and he was able to leap and dance so that he loved the Master and wanted to follow him. Sin had ruined Mary until Jesus delivered her and she was able to understand who he was. Doubting Thomas was devastated by the events that led to the death of Jesus. Everything seemed futile and depressing after that. But Thomas experienced Jesus in a whole new way when he saw him after the resurrection and placed his finger in Jesus’ hands and side. He fell down crying, “My Lord and my God!” It is in those crisis moments that we really understand who Jesus is. If you place your complete faith and trust in Jesus, you will have a greater understanding of him, a deeper relationship with him, and a new love for him when the storm is over. You will see his power over darkness and the depth of his love for you. Jesus is telling us to live by faith, not by fear.
Come, Thou Almighty King (BH #247; CH #27; CO #307; GC #475; LBW #522; LW #169; PH #139; TH #365; TNCH #275; UMH #61; WR #148)
Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken (BH #398; CH #709; CP #388; LBW #358; LW #294; PH #446; TH #522-523; TNCH #307; UMH #731; VU #772; WR #598)
Be Still My Soul (CH #566; LW #510; TNCH #488; UMH #534; VU #652, 734, 854)
Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies (CO #424; LBW #265; LW #480; PH #462, 463; TH #6, 7; UMH #173; VU #336)
Eternal Father, Strong to Save (BH #69; CH #85; CO #601; LBW #467; PH #562, TFWS #2191; TH #608; VU #659)
Give to the Winds Thy Fears (PH #286; TNCH #404; UMH #129; VU #636)
Also known as "Give to the Winds Your Fears"
God of Grace and God of Glory (CH #464; CP #577; LBW #415; LW #398; PH #420; TH #594, 595; TNCH #436; UMH #577; VU #686; WR #569)
God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale (CH #70; PH #272; UMH #122)
It is Well with My Soul (BH #410; CH #561; TNCH #438; UMH #377)
Jesus, Lover of My Soul (BH #180; CH #542; LW #508; PH #303; TH #699; TNCH #546; UMH #479; VU #669)
Jesus, Priceless Treasure (LBW #457, 458; LW #270; PH #365; TNCH #480; UMH #532; VU #667)
Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me (LBW #334; LW #513; UMH #509; VU #637)
Lonely the Boat (PH #373; UMH #476)
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (BH #208; CH #517; CO #454; CP #485-486; GC #622; JS #391; LBW #315; LW #286; PH #376; TH #657; TNCH #43; UMH #384; VU #333; WR #358)
Moment by Moment (BH #415)
My Hope is Built (BH #406; CH #537; LBW #293, 294; LW #368; PH #349; TNCH #403; UMH #368)
Stand By Me (CH #629; UMH #512)
The Storm Is Strong (CH #181)
When Christ Was Lifted from the Earth (BH #562; CO #622; TH #603, 604)
Jesus Calls Us (BH #293; CH #337; LBW #494; TH #549, 550; TNCH #171, 172; UMH #398; VU #562)
O Jesus I Have Promised (BH #276; CH #612; CP #438; LBW #503; PH #388-389; TH #655; TNCH #493; UMH #396; VU #120; WR #458)
Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart (BH #245; CH #265; LBW #486; PH #326; TNCH #290; UMH #500; VU #378, 877; WR #132)