"No Fear 'midst the Fury"
September 10, 2006 Mark 4:35-41
Life is fragile. From the moment we decide to get out of bed in the morning, we encounter a series of risks. Scarey accidents and threats to our life and health may come; the winds of fortune or circumstance may blow, the waves may crash into us and knock us off-centre; but the Lord invites us into a relationship with Him in which we discover God is powerful to save, He cares about us, and wants us to rely on Him in complete faith, no matter what happens.
Dr Henry Morris tells the true story of a young pilot named Tom (now with Missionary Aviation Fellowship) who was flying at 30,000 feet when his plane exploded. All in the plane were killed except Tom. As Tom was plummeting to the earth, he pulled the rip cord, but his chute failed to open. At the last minute, the chute did open but it was in shreds, hardly breaking the speed of his fall. (And you thought YOU were having a bad day!)
Meanwhile, a Christian woman was standing in her driveway watching this horrifying scene. Knowing he was in desperate trouble, the woman prayed for his safe descent. Tom, needless to say, was praying, too. Tom landed virtually at the feet of the woman. Looking up, they saw that the ropes of his parachute had caught in two trees, breaking his fall and lowering him gently to the ground! What a wonderful, unexpected - one might even say 'miraculous' - deliverance from certain death!
Perhaps you can think of situations in your life - probably not quite as dramatic - when you were pretty certain YOUR 'goose was cooked', so to speak; but somehow you lived. Through the Lord's great mercy, your life was spared. Now, a skeptic might hear that same tale and dismiss it as haphazard circumstance, rather than divine intervention. What makes it a 'miracle' instead of just coincidence? Eduard Schweizer says, "An event is a miracle only if God speaks to us in it...Occasionally God has to wave a flag before our faces, so to speak, in order to make us sit up and take notice." Seeing that both Tom and the woman watching were praying, they probably perceived his rescue (correctly) as a work of the Lord's saving grace. But for some anxious seconds, their faith was greatly tested.
It had been a full and busy day of ministry for Jesus and the disciples as they put out from shore that day on the Sea of Galilee. The Lord had suggested they sail across to the other side of the 12-by-7 mile lake. Suddenly, as v37 tells us, "A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped." The Sea of Galilee is located in a depression some 700 ft below sea level and is surrounded by hills. Frequently a rush of wind and the right mix of temperatures can cause a storm to come suddenly on the lake. Cool air from the Mediterranean is drawn down through the narrow mountain passes and clashes with the hot, humid air lying over the lake. Storms on the Sea of Galilee were known for their suddenness and violence. Waves and winds colluded to threatened the seasoned fishermen's very lives. The disciples must have wondered if they were going to die.
Storms come crashing into our lives, upsetting us and threatening us, from all kinds of avenues. A week ago Meredith and her friend Amanda were travelling from Edmonton to Manitoba in Meredith's car when Amanda (driving) felt it go onto the gravel at the right shoulder of the Trans-Canada Highway. Amanda got it back onto the pavement, but perhaps due to a mechanical failure, the fully-loaded little 95 Neon continued across the 2 lanes and went airborne out over the median, rolling over twice and flipping once before coming to rest right-side up on the grass, blowing all 4 tires. As the girls slid sideways across the pavement then spun around in mid-air, they found themselves wondering, "Is this it? Am I going to die?"
Storms may come in many other forms. Difficulties and conflicts come and drain us financially, forcing us to cash in our life-savings to meet looming monetary demands. There's a late-night phone call and the voice on the other end says, "I have some bad news". The doctor interrupts what should have been a 'routine' check-up with an unfavourable diagnosis. Nature has run amok. William Willimon writes, "We moderns, because we have devised so many means of protecting ourselves from nature, tend to be nature romantics. But this story of Jesus and his disciples in a boat renders another world, a world where storms rise up out of nowhere and nature puts us in peril. If you have ever suffered from cancer, you know that world. In cancer, the normal reproductive processes, the 'natural' workings of cells, somehow go out of control, reproduce with astonishing speed, oblivious to the checks and balances of the body. The once placid lake that has been our body on most days becomes an angry, raging sea." Nature that was created "very good" in the beginning has been affected to its core by Adam's and Eve's sin; Paul describes it as "in bondage to corruption" until Christ's return and its final redemption (Rom 8:21). Each week in my hospital visits I see the calamity caused by sin and sickness in bed after bed.
The storm is swamping our boat, threatening our lives. Of course we're afraid. But where is the Master? Over there, back in the stern, "asleep on a cushion" - the one customarily kept under the coxswain's seat. Jesus has crashed due to the heavy demands of a day of teaching and healing the crowds. Yet somehow there's something more than fatigue keeping Him asleep amidst the storm; He's at total peace despite the upheaval around Him, sails ripping and water splashing in over the side. How can He sleep at a time like this?
V38b, "The disciples woke Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, don't You care if we drown?'" That's the question we're really wondering down deep, isn't it - "Don't You care?" We know theoretically, at least the Bible tells us, God has the power to help us, He's able to do anything; "All things are possible with God." (Mk 10:27) Question is, Does He really care about US? Do we matter to Him? Is God so big and so mighty that it's really nothing to Him, of little significance whether we live or die? Aren't we just little fly-specks on the eternal windshield of things?
Back a couple of centuries, the Deists assumed that God created the world, set certain processes in motion, then absconded, leaving us to our own devices. In the modern worldview of the 20th century which places so much importance on science and the predictability of natural laws, we've edited out any need for God based on our technological abilities. The idea of a God that intervenes to help becomes archaic, superstitious. Australia's Professor Davies, a recipient of the Templeton Prize for progress in religion, contends that if the Christian faith is to be credible to modern people, we've got to get over the notion of an 'interventionist' God, a God who hears, cares, and acts for our good. Professor Davies says such a God is not only an offense to reason, a rebel against the laws of nature, but also incredible to modern skeptical people.
Shakespeare in King Lear reflects a pagan view of deity in Act 4, Scene 1: "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport." That may be true of the gods of the Greeks or Hindus or Norsemen, but not the Hebrews and Christians. Tertullian speaks of some who believe in a nonactive and passionless God, a God with no feeling; in particular, no feeling for us. Tertullian asks, "Who needs a god like that? The gods of the pagans care only for themselves."
Terrified of the wind and waves, the disciples shake a sleeping Jesus awake and demand, "Don't You care if we drown?" Jesus doesn't say a word but gets up, rebukes the wind and says to the waves, "Quiet! Be Still!" or, "Peace! Be silent!" Sort of the way you might tell your meowing pet cat, "Hush!" V39b, "Then the wind died down and it was completely calm."
So much for a non-interventionist God; so much for not overruling the laws of nature, or not offending our modern reason. The Biblical God is bigger than our philosophies, and certainly bigger than our technology-worshipping need to feel in control (as if we ever were!). Jesus doesn't just help row or bail out the boat, He stops the storm. He doesn't just SAY "I care", He proves it by bottling the billows. God responds to those who call on Him to be saved.
V41, the disciples discover something new to be terrified at, something even more direct and challenging to the root of their beings than an environmental flare-up: "They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!" Who indeed - that's the point of Mark's whole Gospel. Those familiar with the Old Testament would say this must be God who stops the storm. Psalm 65(5ff), "You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior...who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves..." Psalm 107(23-30) tells of those who go down to the sea in ships and find themselves similarly threatened, "They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away...Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed."
When the girls were spinning around in mid-air, I'm told the other girl was praying aloud like crazy and Meredith was saying "Amen!" repeatedly. And then it was over. They found themselves right-side up, a little shaken up and bruised, but not seriously injured. Their lives were spared; the Lord heard their heart-cries and saved them. Though they were absolutely out of control, God showed Himself to be completely in control, and acting to preserve them. Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves and brought a great calm. Schweizer asks, "Do we expect God to act in connection with Jesus in such a way that authoritative commands are given and that a new creation results?" Do we really expect that?
In v40, the Lord of the universe who has just rebuked the raging elements now turns and rebukes His disciples, asking, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Note how Jesus cuts through the fog to address the 2 key things, 2 forces that are at the deep "ground floor" of our being - fear, and faith. Fear is driven out by faith. If they had trusted Him more, they wouldn't have been so terrified by the storm.
The choppy waves and variable winds that had been rocking the boat were reflected in the instability of the disciples' internal spiritual life. The Lord's brother James later wrote stressing the need for faith in those who make a request of God: "when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord..." (Jas 1:6-7)
Believing has answered the question, "Who is this?" Believers have become convinced that God not only has the power, but that His purpose encompasses our preservation; He's not only Sovereign, but His lovingkindness means those He's chosen are precious to Him. His will is to save them for eternal life, so we're truly secure.
Faith allowed Jesus to sleep during the storm because He knew His heavenly Father from before creation. David McKenna writes, "He who is the Word by which all things were made has no reason to fear a storm. He who foresees the making of a new heaven and a new earth sleeps in the knowledge that nature's peevish outburst can be controlled by its Maker."
In fact, all through Jesus' life one can see His surprising confidence that His times are in the Father's hands. At the outset of His ministry, in John 2(4), He tells His mother, "My time has not yet come." In John 7(6,8) at first He declines to go to the Feast of Tabernacles with His brothers, saying, "The right time for me has not yet come..." When He does go and His opponents try to seize Him, John notes, "but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come." (Jn 7:30) When it's just before the Last Supper, Jesus directs His disciples to tell the person who's room they'll be using, "tell Him, the Teacher says: 'My appointed time is near.'" (Mt 26:18) Finally, in His prayer at the Upper Room and at Gethsemane, He can say, "The time has come / the hour has come." (Jn 17:1; Mk 14:41) His trust in the Father gave Jesus certainty that no harm would befall Him ahead of time.
Flip ahead a couple of decades to the storm-tossed Mediterranean near Malta. The apostle Paul is in custody, being transported by ship to Rome. For two weeks a gale rages and drives the ship far off course; the sailors have tossed all the payload and rigging overboard in a desperate attempt to save their lives. Luke, who was on board, records: "When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved." (Ac 27:20) Everybody must have been shaking in their boots, thinking this is going to be it - they're goners. But one day Paul stands and says to everyone, "now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.' So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me." (Ac 27:22-25) See how Paul's trust in God's plan for him gave him assurance despite the storm? And God's as good as His word - it turned out just as He said.
Jesus' question to us in our own private "storms" is, "Why are you full of fear? Have you still no faith?" He wants us to trust Him. The storms are an opportunity to deepen our faith past the head level into our whole life. Schweizer comments, "Believing is not simply intellectual agreement to certain statements; it embraces the whole of life...to believe means to rely upon God and His might in such a way that one positively expects to encounter this might [power] again and again in Jesus."
There's a saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes." It's in the crux of the crisis - when the ripcord won't open, when the car's spinning around in mid-air - that you discover what you truly believe, deep-down. What a blessing then to know the powerful arms of Jesus are carrying you through; that you can be at peace knowing the outcome rests with Him.
Storms have their benefits. James also writes, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." (Jas 1:2-3) Such tests are necessary in order for us to become "mature and complete", having a faith that has been proven. In some ways you don't really know what your deepest convictions are until you've been through something life-threatening crisis like that. After, it gives great assurance; you can be a witness to God's preservation, and the peace He supplied through it all. In that sense, perhaps such events aren't so much "accidents"; they'd be better referred to as "appointments", as Jesus referred to His "appointed time" (Mt 26:18).
Many of you will recall Cheryl Welch, the missionary to China who spoke at our service at the end of July. Cheryl is attending her mother who is in the last stages of terminal cancer. I received an email this past week about how they're "weathering the storm." Listen for the note of faith and trust in God's sovereign power through these trying times.
Cheryl writes, "Since the last update, my mother's condition has deteriorated considerably.She is now (still at home) confined to her bed.The cancer has apparently gone into her spine; she has spinal chord compression; as well, other areas that showed up as "hot spots" are experiencing more pain….thus, for about two weeks now she has been taking hydromorphone every 2hrs to control the pain... However at the same time it puts more stress on her heart (as well as the fact that her heart is working overtime to keep her breathing - she's functioning on her right lung only). We're told this is what to expect at this stage of her illness.
"Her prayer still remains the same - that the Lord will take her quietly in her sleep. She has no fear about dying (PTL) and is at peace because she knows that her last breath on earth will be her first in heaven. On a lighter note, we praise the Lord because he has kept the cancer from spreading into the brain. She is alert, has her mental faculties…she conducts all her business affairs from her bed…everyday she thinks of more things...It's been a Joy for me to be her messenger/delivery person - ESP this past week, she sent many gifts out to local business people that have supported her and family over the years; as well as special gifts she's given to her home care workers and palliative care nursing team….She said to me the other day that when she was going for treatments she didn't feel prepared to leave this world, but having this extended time (even though it's meant prolonged suffering) to get her house in order, etc...has truly been a gift of time from God...
[Cheryl concludes] "As you know my original plan was to head back to China mid-September. Due to my mother's condition, my role as primary caregiver; as well, I feel I need to stay until she goes to be with the Lord….; so , we're just trusting the Lord for His timing."
Praise God for His grace and strength for Cheryl and her mom - transforming this painful, trying time into a triumph of hope and trust in His lasting salvation, as He speaks peace into their storm. Let's pray.