Sermon: Sometimes Faith Keeps Us In The Boat
Scripture: Mark 4:35-41
Date: March 8, 2015
Mary, Did You Know that your baby boy would calm the storm with His hand? It’s an interesting question that points us to this story in Mark. Now there are two things we often do with this story. Sometimes we merge this story with another story of the disciples caught in a storm on the sea. But they are very different stories. In this one for instance, Jesus is in the boat with the Disciples. In the other Jesus walks on the water out to where the Disciples are. But we merge them together and we lump them in with the other miracle stories of Jesus – turning water to wine, giving sight to the blind, helping the lame to walk – and in doing so I think we often miss what this story is really about. The other thing that we do with this story, is we just tell half of it. We just tell about Jesus and the Disciples setting out for the other side of the lake and when they are half way across a terrible storm arises, apparently out of nowhere, and the disciples, become terrified and they call on Jesus to save them. But I think that’s only half the story and we’ll talk more about that in a moment. First, though, let me say that it seems to me that in the disciples reaction to the storm we have our first clue that something more than meets the eye is going on here. There is more to this story then the miracle of calming the storm with the wave of a hand. More than just the mastery of nature. I think Mark wants us to see that the key to understanding it is in understanding the nature of the storm in the first place. You see, this must not have been just an ordinary storm. Because if it had been, those disciples like Peter and James and John would not have been terrified. They had spent most of their lives before they met Jesus on the lake fishing. So surely they had been in storms before. The “other side of the lake” to which they were headed was a mountainous region and frequently storms would blow over the top of the mountains, sometimes quite sudden and unforeseen and bring momentary turmoil to the otherwise calm and pristine lake. Surely the disciples had been in those kinds of storms before. And they knew that those storms tend to blow over just as quickly as they arise. They had no doubt ridden many of them out in their time on the sea. So what was so different about this storm. What was it about this storm that had them so terrified. Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with the wave of His Hand? Or perhaps, the better question is, Disciples how did you know that Jesus could calm your storms with the wave of His Hand?
Mary, did you know? As she stood at the foot of the cross, I wonder if Mary was thinking about the power and authority that he exercised over creation? And how could she now reconcile that with the vision of Jesus on the Cross? Why couldn’t He calm this storm with the wave of His hand? Why are there times in our lives when it seems that no matter what we do, we find ourselves in the midst of terrible storms? After all, the Disciples were only doing what Jesus had instructed them to do when they found themselves in this storm. Max Lucado writes:
Where do (our storms) come from? Day after day of the dismals. Rages, tantrums. Where do those come from? What about binges? Gambling. Drinking. A wallet full of maxed out credit cards. A pantry full of empty cookie bags. We get out of control sometimes. Where does this behavior come from?
Now we might give a variety of responses to those questions. Maybe its stress. Maybe it’s an illness. A chemical imbalance. Going through hard times that lead us into the storms And all of these would be valid answers. But sometimes there are storms in our lives that just defy explanation. Things so bad that we can’t explain them away as circumstances, or environment, or genetics. Sometimes the storms come from a dark place that is deep within, rather than from the outside. Perhaps this storm terrified the Disciples so much because it did not come from over the mountain as the storms usually did on the lake. Perhaps this storm seemed to just rise up from the midst of the sea itself. You see the ancient Hebrews had a deep fear of the sea, or should I say, what lay beneath the sea. They believed that evil dwelt in the darkness of the waters. They feared that there were great monsters in the deep waters that would devour them if given the chance. It would have been very unusual for these experienced fishermen to be out in the middle of the sea. They tended to fish in the shallow waters near the shore. And even if they had to get to the other side, they would have hugged the shore and worked their way around the sea, rather than go straight across it. But Mark tells us that they wanted to leave the crowd behind, and they couldn’t have done that if they had stuck close to shore. And so they set out across the sea, where the crowd could not go. And so the Disciples were already anxious about what might be lurking below the waters. And then when the storm rose up from the midst of the sea rather than the usual way, they were convinced that evil forces were out to devour them, and they were terrified. So when they called out to Jesus, it was not so much in hope that He could calm the waters as it was that He could protect them from the evil that had engulfed them. And for Jesus it is not a matter of miracles, as much as it is a matter of faith. Once the storm has abated, rather than comfort the Disciples, Jesus rebukes them. “Where is your faith?” But what does faith have to do with the storm Jesus? You see as I thought about that I realized that often times when I am in the midst of one of life’s storms, I find myself praying for a miracle rather than praying for more faith. I pray to be miraculously plucked from the storm rather than having the calm assurance that there is no storm that is a match for Jesus’s presence in my life. I find myself praying Jesus save me rather than Jesus be present with me no matter what happens. Because I think deep down, I’m not sure that the presence of Jesus is enough to get me through some of the storms that life presents. I too often believe that I am in need of miraculous intervention, not calm assurance.
Mark believes that this storm is no ordinary storm, but rather has been stirred up by the evil forces that lie just below the surface. Human Beings fear above all the storms that evil can stir up in our lives. In fact, we have personified evil and given it the name Satan and we recognize Satan as the enemy of everything that is good. So if you have a good marriage this morning, beware because Satan will stir up the storms and try to destroy it. Satan will try to corrupt your children. If you have a good job, Satan wants to take it away from you. I heard a preacher the other day say that Satan is the reason for the Ebola outbreak, and another that Satan is the reason behind ISIS, and crime in our streets. The Disciples believed that evil existed below the surface of the water and that occasionally Satan would cause the waters to rage and claim the lives of good people. I believe that’s why they were so terrified. When we look at the whole story we understand that, in Mark’s way of thinking, the Disciples believed that Satan had conjured this storm to keep them from making it to the other side, because he knew what Jesus was going to do there. So here’s rest of the story.
Read Mark 5: 1-20
Mary, did you know that Jesus could calm the storm with just a wave of His hand? I think in Mark’s telling it’s a question that speaks not so much about Jesus as the worker of Miracles but rather about Jesus and the problem of evil in our lives. And I think that one of the questions that Mary was wrestling with at the foot of the Cross is the same question that we wrestle with when confronted with the cross, when we find ourselves in the midst of the storms of our lives and that is the question of evil. In fact, the Gospel writers imply that as Jesus hung on the cross, a great storm arose. Darkness came over the whole land and the veil of the Temple that separated God from humanity was torn in two. Now some accounts say that it was an earthquake that caused that to happen, but others say that a bolt of lightning struck the veil and ripped it apart. Either way the implication is clear. The evil that had separated God and Humanity had been defeated forever by Jesus’s death. Mary, did you know?
This story begins when the disciples and Jesus got into a boat and sailed across the sea of Galilee to the land of the Gerasenes. Now we need to remember that the sea of Galilee is not a very big sea. About 12 miles wide at its widest point. On clear days, you can see across it. But while the physical distance isn’t great, the spiritual distance is. On the western shore of Galilee are numerous fishing villages that are populated by Jews. But the eastern shore is made up of steep cliffs, and the Jews referred to it as the wilderness because the population on the Eastern side was inhabited by the Gentiles. Jews did not cross over to the Eastern shore. And so the first century Jew would have snapped to attention at the beginning of this story. To escape the Jewish crowds, Jesus was crossing over into the land of pagans. And as soon as Jesus steps out of the boat, this wild man comes running toward Him. Mark tells us that he comes from the cemetery wearing the remnants of chains around his wrists and his feet where they had tried to bind him, but he was so strong that he had broken the chains. All of their lives the Disciples had believed that this was an evil place. So imagine the apprehension they must have been experiencing, especially after the storm on the sea, and then the first person they encounter is this man possessed by demons, by pure evil. Now in retrospect Mark tells us two things about this wild man. One is that he lives in the cemetery, the land of the dead. His own people feared and hated him so much that they had left him for dead. It’s a grim reminder of what happens when evil takes control of a life. The Apostle Paul writes about the “strongholds” of Satan as those places in our world and in our lives where Satan has taken control. There are times in our personal lives when Satan establishes a strong hold. Paul says there are times when he does the very thing that he doesn’t want to. Evil had established a strong hold in this man’s life. And then Mark says that Night and day he cried out in anguish and cut himself with stones. He was trying to destroy himself. I read this week that, on average, every hour of the day, somewhere in the United States a teenager tries to take their own life. And thousands are successful every year. Talk about evil establishing a strong hold. Sometimes in the presence of evil we cry out. This man used stones to cut and bruise. And some today seek to mutilate themselves like this but many are more sophisticated. We use alcohol and drugs. Over work. Over eating. Evil makes us seek to hurt ourselves in so many ways. And then Mark says that day and night this man cried out in anguish. So many experience a seemingly endless restlessness. We are never content. God seeks to give us peace, but Satan tries to take that away. Paul talks about being content in all things. But we struggle to find contentment in this world. We are constantly told that we shouldn’t be content. That we should have better bodies and prettier faces. That we should have a bigger house, a fancier car, a better job, the latest gadgets. There is restlessness to our lives that is not from God. And if we are not careful that restlessness can establish a stronghold in us that will constantly tell us that we’re not good enough. That there should be more to life. And evil isolates us. Evil hates community. Satan hates what we’re doing right now. This man was completely isolated, ostracized from community. Scripture tells us that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for one to devour.” And so evil isolates us from those who care about us. Evil is a destroyer of family and fellowship. And Mark tells us that all of that has happened in the life of this man. The Gerasenes had given up on him. Left him for dead. But, the point is that God never gives up on him. And that’s where we enter the story. There are going to be times when Satan tries to establish a stronghold in our lives and there will be those who want to give up on us. Maybe our parents. Maybe our boss. Maybe our spouse. Maybe even the church. But God never gives up on us. And so what does God do for this man. He sends Jesus. The reason that Jesus made this journey into this forbidden land was to save this man. After the encounter with the man, what does Jesus do? He gets back in the boat and they sail back to the other side. He has no other business to do with Gerasenes. The only reason he came is to save the man. Thousands of seekers coming to him on the other side of the sea. So many needs. And yet God tells him to get in the boat and go and save this one man that everyone else had given up for dead. Because that’s how much God loved this man. And that’s how much He loves you. And in telling the story the way he does, Mark implies that Satan knew he was coming. And so as they were sailing across the sea, Satan kicked up this terrible storm to try to stop them. But he could not stop Jesus. Evil is no match for the presence of Christ. And the minute that Jesus sets foot on the land, Satan knows he is defeated. There are many Christians who fear Satan, as though they think that he is more powerful then Jesus. The disciples feared that evil was more powerful than the the presence of Jesus. “Where is your faith?” Jesus asks them. But Satan is no match for Jesus. He never has been. How powerful is Satan’s control over this man? What is your name? Jesus asks the demon. I am legion, he says, as if Jesus should cower at the description, because a legion was a division of the hated and feared Roman army. 6000 men composed a legion. A legion could subdue nations, but not a child of God. 6000 demons were no match for the Son of God. Jesus brushes it away with the wave of a hand. Mary did you know?
There will be times in our lives when we will give in to sin and temptation and in those moments, Satan will establish a stronghold in our souls. He will seem like legion to us. But Jesus will not let us go. He will come to us. He will save us. And there is nothing that Satan can do to stop Jesus. When I was in youth group, we used to sing a song that said, “Greater is he that is in you, then he that is in the world.” Jesus was stronger then Satan’s legions and salvation came to the Gerasene man. The grace of God will always overcome evil. It did on the sea and on the shore that day. And it did on a cross on Calvary. And it will in our lives. Mary did you know that the evil that put Jesus on the cross would not have the final say? That soon the tomb would be empty. That your Baby Boy is the Lord of all creation?
So what do the disciples do while all of this is going on? They stay in the boat. Can you imagine how hard it must have been for Peter to stay in the boat and not leap to Jesus protection when this wild man charged Him? Peter was a man of action. But he stayed in the boat and kept his eyes on Christ. Mark wants us to understand that the battle with Satan is not our battle, it is Christ’s battle. As long as we stay in the boat and keep our eyes on Christ, receive His grace in the midst of the storms, never lose faith in His presence, then evil can not establish a stronghold in our hearts. It’s when we jump out of the boat and run ahead of Christ, when we take our eyes off of him, when we give in to the immensity of the storm rather than the grace of His presence, when we think we can or perhaps can’t do it ourselves, that we give in to sin and temptation, that evil has us, if only for a season. I wonder if, as Mary stood there at the foot of the Cross, if there came that moment that she just wanted to give up, cry out to God – no more. Don’t you care that I’m dying here too. I don’t want to be favored anymore? After all, Jesus was her only Son. He had taken care of her. Now there would be no one. She would have to join the other Daughters of Jerusalem, begging on the streets just to survive. ” I wonder if for a moment Satan put those thoughts in her head. But we have nothing to fear from Satan as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus. And so at the foot of the Cross, Mary looked to Jesus and He said, in essence, “Mary, where is your faith? Don’t you know that I will care for you always?” And then His eyes shifted to John, “Behold your son. He’ll take care of you in my name.” At the last supper He said to the Disciples, “I’ll take care of you. I will not leave you orphaned.” And that’s His promise to us. Isn’t that what the writer of the chorus that we sang earlier meant when he wrote: Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. Sometimes the church teaches that we should have enough faith to get out of the boat, but sometimes faith keeps us in the boat. Our lesson to take away from this story is not about storms, or demons, or pigs, or the power of evil. It is about the grace of God that comes for us when everyone else has given up on us. It is about the grace of God that saves us even from the storms that the devil himself stirs up in our lives. It is about keeping our eyes on Jesus when it seems that all hell is breaking loose around us. For Mary it was about having as much trust and faith at the foot of the cross as she had had kneeling next to the manger. To know that no matter how fierce the storms of her life might become, her son, God’s Son, our Lord, can calm them with the wave of His hand. Sometimes it’s faith that keeps us in the boat, or at the foot of the Cross, riding out the storms, because Jesus is with us always, and that is all that we need no matter what storms may come.