Read Mark 4:35-41
Jesus has just finished a long day of teaching near the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The time has come for them to head to the opposite side of the lake and begin healing and teaching in the communities there. We are told a couple of pertinent details about the journey. A significant storm began as they were making there way across the 7 mile span and Jesus was taking a well deserved nap.
I grew up around lakes in Texas and I can tell you that storms on a lake are no small thing. Apparently, this is particularly true of the Sea of Galilee because of the unique topography around it. All of Isarel, west to east, is a series of radical changes in elevations in a comparatively short distance. As a result the Sea of Galilee is in a basin of sorts that channels the wind across the water when a storm rages through the region. A similar dynamic can be experienced when the wind is channeled through office buildings in a modern city or even apartment complexes in a smaller town. The point is that the storms on the Sea of Galilee can be nasty and we need to remember that these guys are not in some modern style watercraft, but a homemade boat designed for fishing and not much else.
Have you ever napped on a boat? It’s glorious! The boat rocks back and forth and if you are sleeping directly on centerline it is the closest thing to being in a cradle that you can experience. When you consider the crazy compacted schedule that Jesus has been keeping and the incredible amounts of physical and mental energy he has exerted it is no wonder that he is “dead to the world” in the back of the boat.
We are told that when the disciples, all of whom are experienced fishermen, decide to wake Jesus they are worried about dying because the boat was already taking on water. I think it is important to pause here and really put yourself in the moment. The storm is wicked, perhaps there was rain and perhaps there was just wind and waves. Even without rain the waves alone could be devastating and frightening. The image above is described as one of the “mountains of water” that form on Lake Erie during a storm. A fishing boat in those days would have had a very low side to make it easier to haul a net of fish onto the boat. It wouldn’t take much for a series of significant waves to begin filling the hull up. Water is coming into the vessel, each wave striking the boat would have began to feel like invisible fists pounding the side threatening to capsize her or worse break her apart. If the worst happens it is several miles to shore in storm driven waters. Every one of these men grew up around these waters and every one of them likely has known someone who has drowned there. No wonder they were afraid!
That last point about the deadliness of the sea is pretty crucial for really understanding this story. In the ancient Jewish tradition, the sea represents evil and chaos. The sea is unpredictable and kills. You see this in the very first verses of the scriptures. God’s spirit hovers over the waters of the void and begins to bring order out of chaos. The sea is given its limits but is always there as a symbol of the forces that are opposed to God. You see it in the final pages of scripture when the beast rises up from the sea in Revelation and when the new creation is finalized we are told that the sea is no more. So while the story is about the day that the disciples nearly died on a boat trip across the Sea of Galilee it metaphorically means so much more.
The disciples rouse Jesus from his deep sleep and level an accusation against him, “Do you not care that we are perishing!”
Jesus stood and rebuked the wind and commanded the sea, ” Be silent” and the lake became calm.
Take a moment and meditate on the two images.
How would you feel?
Try to imagine the feelings of fear and dread of the waves and the storm replaced with the feelings of relief and dread at what just happened. The fellow next to you in the boat just told the weather to stop and it did. Not impressed? Try it yourself sometime. You won’t get very far. As I write this it is 80 degrees Fahrenheit before 10 AM in Texas. You don’t think I want to make it cooler with the sheer power of my will? How many brides would kill to be able to control the weather before their outdoor wedding? Each of us is powerless against the forces of heat, cold, wind and rain. Each of us except Jesus. That is by the way I think Mark’s point in his retelling. Recall that Mark is a gospel bent on guiding every reader / hearer into making a decision about who Jesus is and in this moment he wants you to realize that Jesus commands the forces of nature and they obey.
In verse 41, the disciples ask “who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” They would have had the benefit of growing up hearing the dozens of references in the psalms, proverbs, Job and prophets that YHWH does this very thing. They would have grown up being told to remember how YHWH had delivered their people from Egypt by commanding the sea to part and allowing them to cross over on dry land. This is what they were dealing with and why we are told a great fear (literally a mega phobia) gripped them in the wake of Jesus action.
“Who is this guy?”
That is the question with which we must wrestle.
Now some of you will respond to this with a ho-hum. Maybe you are a life-long Christian and you settled on the answer “who is this guy?” a long time ago. You may ask, what about the storms of my life? My boat is floundering. Where is the word for me the reassurance that Jesus will calm my storms? I have come to this post wanting to know that Jesus can stop the storms in my life. I have job trouble. I have debts. I have addictions. I have marital strife. I have cancer. What about me? Doesn’t Jesus care that I am perishing?
The very same accusation that the disciples leveled against Jesus is on our own lips many times.
And Jesus said to them, “Why are you so cowardly; do you still have no faith?”
It is not two questions as most translations put it but a single question. The nature of Jesus question, condemnation really, is to link the fear with the faith. In other words, if you had faith you would not fear but rather trust. I know this because the Greek word used is particular. It is not, phobos, from which we get the word phobia. Phobos is the word used in verse 41 to describe the awe struck fear that has over come them. Phobos is the word used throughout the New Testament (Phillipians 2 for example) to render the “fear of the Lord” that is the beginning of wisdom as the Old Testament (proverbs 1) so succinctly summarized the journey of faith in YHWH. Here though, in verse 40, the word is deilos, a word that used in ancient Greek to describe the cowardice of soldiers who desert in battle and the inaction of the farmer who is paralyzed by fear of the future. Deilos is always used negatively and connotes a paralyzing fear. Incidentally this seems backwards for English speakers because the word phobia was picked up in psychology to describe the rational and irrational fears that effect us.
We are also used to thinking of faith as a matter of the mind alone. To many of us, having faith is having the correct belief. In linking faith and cowardice Jesus is linking faith with action. The person who has faith is the person who trusts. The person who does not have faith is the person who is paralyzed by fear. It is not simply understanding (mind) who Jesus is but knowing (heart and mind) who he is and allowing that deeper knowledge to guide our actions and our responses. Jesus is surprised that after watching him cast out demons and healing people that the disciples are still so timid when the storm comes.
Think back on your life and recall the times that God has provided for you what you needed: the doors that have opened, the healings that have occurred, the resources that were given. The life of faith is not simply understanding who God is but allowing that understanding to put you in a place of trust where you can live in a relationship towards God that is a life marked by the expectation that God will provide.
The accusation was “Do you not care that we are perishing?” The answer is if you trust me then you know that I care and that you matter.
I do not think that the life of faith means that there is never a reason to fear. There are scary things out there: violence, war, famine, disease, divorce, unemployment, snakes… it is a long list. There is nothing wrong with the instinct to fear but faith calls us to get past the fear to trust that the Lord will carry us through all things even death when that day comes.
So how do we live it?
Be assured. Fear not. The Lord knows your circumstance and your need before you ever vocalize it. Use the Lord’s prayer as your guide and pray that pattern daily: Praise God, ask for your needs, seek forgiveness and grant forgiveness, ask for deliverance from the evil that is out there, expect and look for the will of God to be done more than your own solutions, and finish reminding yourself that all glory and honor will forever belong to God. Doing so will train your heart and mind to trust in God’s provision and in God’s timing. When in doubt recall what God has done and know that God will do what is necessary.
- What makes you afraid?
- Are there areas of your life where you are not acting because of fear?
- When was the last time you prayed the Lord’s prayer?
- What is one thing you could do today to trust God more?
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As always the above reflection is given freely. If you choose to share it in a group bible study of your own or as a devotional before a small group meeting, etc. please let folks know where you got it. It is written with fear, foreboding, and prayer by a fellow hypocrite who is just trying to figure out the road ahead.