Sermon: Two Questions During the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

Text: Mark 4:35-41
Proper 7, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I was once in charge of leading a Vacation Bible School. I remember very clearly that our Gospel reading from Mark was chosen as one of the Bible Stories. The way the story was told, especially in its application, was infuriating to me. It asked the question, “What are the storms in your life?” You’ll find preachers and hymn writers alike often doing the same thing: allegorising the storm. “When the storms of life surround you, and the waves are breaking in upon you,” they say, “just remember that Jesus is Lord of the storm!” So we avoid the story’s main point by turning it into an allegory of the things that try our souls. Even a hymn in our hymnal pleads:

Jesus, Savior, pilot me

Over life’s tempestuous sea. 

Unknown waves before me roll,

Hiding rock and treacherous shoal. 

Chart and compass come from thee. 

Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

LSB 715:1

While the thought is no doubt correct, this specific reading is not about that. It’s not an allegory. Our text is not about how you can weather life’s storms. If you think that this story is about how you should turn to Jesus during the hard times in life, I fear you may have missed the point. Well then, what is the point of this text? There are two questions in the text which represent the two main points of this story.

Question 1: Don’t you care?

It was Jesus’ idea to go across the Sea of Galilee that evening. He says, “Let’s go over to the other side.” The disciples agree, and off they go. A great storm arose. That isn’t surprising, given the mountains that surround the Sea of Galilee. Cool air from the Mediterranean whips through those mountains and mixes with the warm, humid air hanging over the lake. The result is sudden and swift storms. 

The situation has become dangerous. The disciples are in is a small boat on a big lake. The howling wind threw the waves against the ship’s side, and it began filling with water. The fishermen were anxious. They knew all about the sea; they’d had their share of near misses. It’s “all hands on deck” time, and everyone starts bailing water from the boat as the wind and waves continue to toss it around. 

And where’s Jesus in all this commotion? Jesus is in the back of the boat, where the rudder that controls the ship is. He’s sleeping on a cushion, the place where the captain of the ship sat to guide the rudder. So not only is Jesus asleep, he’s getting in the way, sleeping with one arm draped over the rudder as the boat bounces around the waves. 

So what’s the problem? If the boat goes under, Jesus goes with them. The problem is that He was asleep. A sleeping Jesus is as good as a dead Jesus when your ship’s sinking. “We have got to wake Him up.” He can’t save you if He’s asleep, right? So they wake Him up. “Rabbi, get with the program. Don’t you care if we perish?” How can you sleep at a time like this? “Wake up and grab a bucket before we go under.”

The disciples are angry: doesn’t he care that the boat is about to go to the bottom and take them with it? Don’t you care? Or are you just going to sleep through the whole thing? It’s an indictment of motive. If Jesus cared, he would do something. If Jesus cared, He wouldn’t be asleep in a time of crisis. You’ve probably said, or thought, the same thing when life got a bit “overwhelming.” At least the disciples could see Jesus sleeping and grab hold of Him to wake Him up. He isn’t quite so shakeable for us, is He?

The cry of the disciples is a cry of fear, doubt and abandonment. We can hear this same cry often repeated from the lips of God’s people. In times of bodily danger or public commotion and disaster, in circumstances that threaten us with suffering, we can feel doubt and abandonment. “Don’t you care?” Where is God amid my distress? If God cared, he would do something about it! Has God abandoned me? “God, don’t you care?” Has that ever been your thought? Does God care when you’ve lost a loved one,  when someone has hurt you or when you’re facing sickness or financial ruin? “Don’t you care?” If God cares, why do events in the world and my life go so badly? Maybe God does not care.

Question 2: Don’t you have faith?

Jesus opens a sleepy eye and looks around at the wind, the waves, the water, the soggy, frightened disciples. And He says, “Silence! Be still!” “Be still.” That’s all it takes. One little word and the chaotic waters are calm, and the storm is still. The wind and the waves know their Master, and they obey. Jesus is the word that called them into being. They must follow, and they do. Mark says, “there was a great calm.” Peace. Silence. That’s the power of Jesus’ Word. With a Word He heals, He casts out the demons, He calms the storm. It isn’t a big deal. He barely needs to be awake.

 Jesus looks at His disciples – dripping wet, fearful, seasick, panicked. “Why are you afraid? Don’t you have faith?” Faith is not about believing that a specific thing is true. When Jesus asks, “Do you still have no faith?” he’s asking if they trust him. He means specifically trust in God’s promise to save the world and set everything right again through the Old Testament Messiah. He is asking. “Don’t you trust me? Do I have to keep proving myself to you guys? Don’t you trust that I am whom I say I am?” He’s asking us the same thing this morning. That rings in our ears, too, in our moments of doubt and disbelief. Why are we so afraid? What do we fear more than Jesus? 

Mark says the disciples were “filled with fear,” not at the storm but Jesus. Jesus wants your fear. “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” What causes your heart to race? What keeps you up at night? Jesus wants you to trust him more than that! Don’t fear the wind, the storm, the tumour, the insult, the injury, the illness or the grave. Don’t fear what can only destroy the body but cannot harm the soul. Fear God. Fear the Son of God, for He will swallow up your fear. Who is greater than the Lord? Why would we dare to assume that God does not care? Of course, He cares. God became a man because our sin is a weight on us, pulling us into the deep. He cared all the way to the cross, where He slept in death, bearing our sins. If Jesus singlehandedly conquered sin, death, and the Law by dying on the cross, don’t you think He has everything else covered as well? Won’t he make everything right again?

Please make no mistake about it; Jesus cares. But do you trust him? Do you trust the Jesus who leaves you with nothing but a Baptism, a Word, a bit of bread and wine, and a promise? Or do you want more? On a more personal level, will you trust Jesus when your life is threatened, your property is lost, your death is imminent? Will you trust Him when you’ve been hurt or are suffering? Will you trust Him when He doesn’t lift a finger to help us but lets us go under into the depths of death? Will you trust Him?

A third question, “Who is this guy, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Good question. You know the answer. Now we come to the actual point of the story. It’s not about how we can weather the storms of life. It’s about who Jesus is. He is the Lord, the eternal Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, the word made flesh, the Saviour of the world. No one else can rebuke the storm. No one else can speak to wind and waves and have them obey. There’s only one like this, and He happens to be the one in whom you are baptised, in whom you believe. And He ought to be feared more than wind and waves and cancers and clogged arteries and terrorists and demons. There’s more power in one little word from Jesus than in all the waves of the Pacific Ocean in a storm.

The same word that stills the storm is the word that forgives your sin and justifies you before God. He gives you this very day his body and blood to eat and drink for your forgiveness and restoration by that same word. You are safe, dear baptised believer. Safer than you could ever imagine. Safe in life and death. You can go through life thinking that you’re orphaned or alone, living in a world controlled by the powers of evil. Or you trust the promises of this Jesus, who is God in the flesh. Because of his death and resurrection, he now offers a whole new future for our world and your lives. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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