Jason Helopoulos / Oct 23, 2016 / Mark 4:35-41
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
Let’s pray before we read God’s word. Our Heavenly Father, we’re thankful that you’ve chosen to make yourself known through your word. We pray that you would keep our minds from running off to things that happened last night, things that will happen later today or later this week, or even to other things that are going on in the room. Help our minds, hearts, and souls to be caught up in the truth that will be proclaimed here today. Lord, we desire to give you glory. We want to worship you with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Would you shape that today for your glory? In Christ’s name we pray, amen.
This is the holy and inerrant word of God:
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Though the grass withers and the flower fades, the Word of God stands forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The disciples’ words are hauntingly familiar. I think of Job and his questions in response to a life that’s filled with so much pain and so many trials. I think of David, who was surrounded by enemies on every side. He kept crying out in the psalms, “How long, O Lord?” But mostly, I think of the question that’s often upon our own lips when bad things happen: “Does God really care?”
I wonder how many people have asked that over the last year alone, as we’ve watched things happen in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Charleston. I wonder how many of you have asked that in the past month or even the past week, as you endure your own horrific personal trials. When we’re in the midst of trials, this is an all-too-human response.
“Does God really care?” It’s a question that many of us have wrestled with and, and we find a ready answer to it here in Mark 4. In this passage, Christ gives a very clear and comforting response to that question, so I want to take a look at that this morning.
Let’s set up the context to the question first, though. We jumped right into the end of Mark 4. If you start at the beginning of Mark 4 and weave your way through it, you’ll see that Jesus has been teaching all day. He has been giving parables to the crowds that have gathered around him.
After this long day of preaching, evening has come, so he says to the disciples: “Let us go across to the other side”—meaning, the other side of the Sea of Galilee. So the disciples get into a boat with Jesus and begin to cross the sea to get to the other side, where they can spend the night and find a little time for rest. This would’ve been a very ordinary journey for many of them. Remember, at least four of them were fishermen, who labored on this sea day in and day out. It was their labor. It was what they did. They knew this sea, because they ran a business on it.
Many of you work at Michigan State, or are students at Michigan State, and you know the campus. Whenever I have to go on campus for something, I end up weaving my way around until I eventually find the place I need to be. It’s hard to find my way. But you all know it, because you’re there every day. It’s your place of business and labor. It’s the place where you live. So it was with these disciples.
But though they knew the Sea of Galilee, it could still suddenly surprise them. It was not (and is not) the calmest of waters. A sailor always had to be prepared when journeying out onto this sea, because it sits in the midst of a basin, with mountains coming up around it. The warm air from the water can go up and merge with the cold air from the mountains, and violent storms can suddenly erupt in the midst of the sea. This is especially true at night, when the worst storms happened.
On this night, as Jesus is crossing the Sea of Galilee, one of these violent storms erupts. It’s so violent that these seasoned sailors—men who labored on this sea every day!—were afraid for their very lives.
When I read this passage, I couldn’t help but think of the account of Jonah. There are so many parallels between the two accounts. The gospel writers don’t bring this to the forefront, but they had to be thinking about it as they were writing this account. Just as Jonah was asleep in the hull of the ship when the storm arose, so Jesus is asleep in the stern of the ship as a storm arose. You can almost feel the scene: the wind was howling, waves broke over the boat, and it began to fill up with water. Just like the boat that Jonah was in began to fill with water and sink, so the boat that the disciples were in began to fill with water and sink. Just like those sailors came to Jonah and awoke him, and the captain came in to ask him to call out to his God, so now the disciples awoke Jesus. And, as that captain said to Jonah, “Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish”, so the disciples ask Jesus if he doesn’t care that they’re perishing.
What a question for Jesus! It’s easy to read this passage and have your mind focus on the storm, but the question is really what frames the passage. As the writer of this Gospel, Mark doesn’t want us to focus on the sea, but on the disciples of Christ in this boat, the question that they asked Jesus, and Jesus’ response to that question. He wants us to see everything through the lens of the question.
The Disciples’ Sinking Faith
Let’s take a look at that. It’s an interesting scene. The boat is breaking amidst the pressure of the wind. It’s being swamped by the sea. But that’s nothing compared to what we see from the disciples. They look at this storm and their dire circumstances—and they see Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat. Their faith in him begins to sink faster than the boat itself. In many ways, the boat serves as a symbol of their faith, which they allow to be swamped by their circumstances, to the point that they ask Jesus (in an accusatory way), “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
Before we pile onto the disciples, we have to confess that we’ve been in places like this ourselves far too often. It’s very human and natural. We allow our circumstances to dictate to us, and we lose our perspective. These disciples look like us. Their faith in Jesus was strong earlier in that day. They felt secure and stable with Jesus when they were sitting there in the afternoon. It was an afternoon filled with sun rays striking upon their faces as they were sitting out there, hearing Jesus preach, with the breeze blowing by. Their faith was solid. Then, as the icing on the cake, Jesus took them aside privately and began to instruct them about the parables he had been telling!
I was preaching at a conference this weekend. We would have breaks for meals, so this other conference speaker (who’s very well-known in the evangelical Reformed world) and I decided to have lunch together. We went to this restaurant to have lunch, and we were talking. But very quickly, two young men came to the table. He had just finished preaching a sermon and they immediately began firing questions at him about it. They wanted to soak up everything that they could from him. I just sat back in my chair, being a nobody, and watching these two young men, and I had a little smile on my face thinking about this passage.
These disciples are amidst all of these other people in the crowd, hearing these parables—but then Jesus takes them aside. He’s just given the parable of the sower and the seed, and he takes them—just them!—aside, and begins to explain it in more detail to them. They were part of the inner circle! They had all of these benefits.
I remember when I was seven years old, on the soccer field. My soccer coach came to me one day before practice started, took me aside and said, “Jason, this is what I’m going to do in soccer practice today. I’m telling you, and only you, because I want you to lead by example.” He probably did that because I was foolishly disrupting practice all the time, but I thought, “This is a wise man. Everyone should be following him.” I was part of the inner circle, standing on firm ground. He knew what he was doing.
The disciples had a wonderful afternoon with Jesus. Their trust and faith in him was solid. They were enjoying all the benefits of being in the inner circle. But now their circumstances have changed. They’re on the sea, and their blissful, restful afternoon has disappeared. Solid ground has suddenly become tenuous waves. The sun’s warm rays have been exchanged for wind and stinging rain. Their lives are in jeopardy. Their faith is sinking—not just the boat! They’ve allowed their circumstances to dictate their faith them.
There is a great temptation for us to do this. How often the thought crosses our minds or lips that the Lord may have abandoned us, may be blind to us, or possibly doesn’t actually know what’s happening to us in the midst of our circumstances. We find ourselves forgetting Christ—maybe remembering him, but not believing that he really cares—not believing his promises, which we reveled in earlier in the day, and could have boldly declared to anybody else around us. Now they seem so distant, or maybe even unreal.
That’s how it usually works. Our circumstances change for the worst. They begin to consume our minds. We allow our mind to be consumed, and they diverts our attention. Finally, it seizes us. Suddenly, our hearts are seized, and Jesus’ proclamations that we found sweetness in and promises that we reveled in are no longer sweet to us.
Let’s be realistic here. Let’s not pile on an undue burden on the disciples. Were they wrong for paying attention to the wind and the waves? No! It’s human to be affected by our circumstances. This world is real. We’re not Stoics, who deny that anything around us is actually happening. But they were wrong in letting it consume their minds, divert their attention, and seize their hearts. Circumstances affect us, but they’re not the determining factor for our outlook, our affections, or (most importantly) our faith.
But if we’re honest, we’ve all been down this road. At least to some degree, it usually ends with some kind of question along the lines of, “Does God actually care?” Maybe some of you are there this morning. But here’s the question we have to start with: “Did Christ know that the storm would arise? Before they stepped into the boat that day, did he know that a storm would come upon the Sea of Galilee?” Of course! Yet he said, “Let us get into the boat and cross over to the other side.”
Couldn’t Jesus have said, “Wait! Let’s wait two hours. A storm is coming. We’ll let it pass, and then we’ll cross to the other side”? Could he at least have said, “You know what? I’m going to lay down and take a nap. Don’t worry. There’s going to be a storm, but it’s going to be okay. We’re going to get across to the other side. I’m just going to lay down my head and sleep.” At the very least, he could have done that. But he didn’t do any of that. He just told them to cross the sea. He led them into the trial. In fact, he appointed them for it. Was it because he didn’t care? Of course not.
The Purpose of Storms
Interestingly enough, Christ often leads us into these trials and storms—because he does care. Serving Christ doesn’t give us an exemption from this world’s trials. Is that because he doesn’t care—because he’s merciless or harsh? No! Rather, it’s because he cares for and loves us. Listen, Jesus is not primarily concerned with our comfort or tranquility in this life. That’s too superficial and small. He gives comfort and tranquility, and is surely concerned about even the least of our trials in this life, but he is even more concerned with our eternal comfort and tranquility. He’s concerned with our holiness, faith, and life in him. If he must take his people through deep waters to mature them in holiness and faith, he does so without regret. It’s an act of monumental love.
You may say, “Well, I’ve had more than enough.” I understand, but I’ll give you this guarantee: when we’re finally in heaven, we will not regret the road that took us there, no matter how difficult or hard. Think with me about this scene, for example. The disciples would have gone to bed that evening with the parables of Christ going through their mind. They heard the parables of the mustard seed, of the lamp under a basket, and of the sower and the seeds.
You remember the parable of the sower and the seeds. The sower goes out and sows the seeds of the word of God. Some are thrown along the path, and the birds of the air (that is, Satan) come and pluck it away. Other seeds are thrown in rocky ground and immediately springs up, but are scorched by the sun. Then there is seed which is thrown among the thorns (the cares of this life), which eventually snuff out the life that was there. Finally, there was seed which was thrown upon fertile soil. It grows, increases, and is bountiful.
I imagine these disciples would have gone to bed that night with all of these parables going through their minds. No doubt they would’ve thought that they were the fertile soil—that their faith was strong and their hearts were rooted in Christ. Yet they may not have experienced and tested that knowledge, and seen their own hearts and faith in light of it. But here, in one small crossing of the Sea of Galilee, their faith and hearts were laid bare. They were shown in a moment their own weakness and frailty. They were taught the great monumental lesson that everyone needs to learn: we have to be utterly dependent on Christ and look to him in faith.
It was easy to trust him on the hillside, but at that crossing of the sea, it’s as if the Lord is asking them, “Dear disciples, will you trust me when your life is in jeopardy? Will you have faith in me even if the world comes bearing down upon you?” Why? Because he knew that they were going to need that kind of faith in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Every single one of these disciples would be persecuted. Every single one would even die a martyr’s death, except the apostle John. He knew what they needed, so he showed them love by leading them into the storm.
Make no mistake: he is always a good Shepherd to his people. When we’re in the midst of trials, tribulations, and sufferings, we have to keep reminding ourselves, “He is my Good Shepherd. He is leading me!” Wrong expectations for following Christ have shipwrecked many a persons’ faith.
In marriage counseling with people, I’ve found that one of the greatest sources of conflict, discouragement, and depression in marriage is false expectations of one another. That can ruin a marriage, and it can shipwreck a faith. He hasn’t promised that once we have chosen to follow him, everything will be easy and smooth from then on out.
I was sitting in a session at that conference this weekend. Two pastors who were teaching on a long pastorate. They had both been at their churches for 30-35 years, and they were talking about doing that, some of the storms that they weathered, etc. There was a couple in their 70s who were sitting to my left, and I was watching them weep. The wife kept wiping away tears, and the husband kept passing over Kleenexes and wiping tears from his own eyes.
Eventually he raised his hand and began telling his own story. He’s a pastor and who has been pastoring a church for 35 years. It grew into a church of 500, but over the past two years, they’ve gone through a church split. 70% of the church left. This man has been, I assume, faithfully serving the Lord for all these years at this church. He’s coming to the close of his ministry, heading into retirement. The way is not easy or smooth. There’s a lot of pain involved.
Christ does not promise us that there will be no trials or sufferings in this life. Rather, that’s his promise for the next life. The promise in this life is that he will walk with us through the trials and sufferings—that he is Immanuel, “God with us”.
But the disciples couldn’t see all of this. It’s a wonderful scene, when you think about it. They’re fishermen, and Jesus is the son of a carpenter. Yet they turn to him, asking for help. They ask that accusatory question, based on their false expectations and their faith having been wracked by their circumstances: “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
Jesus Answers the Question
Jesus doesn’t answer their question with words—but make no mistake: he answers their question. He awakes to their faith-wavering question, the howling of the wind, and the crashing of the waves. In two small commands—three words—he says, “Peace! Be still!” Mark says, “the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” The disciples didn’t get a verbal response from Jesus like they expected, but he clearly answered it, both for them and us.
It’s going to take a few minutes to unpack it, but it’s more than worth it. Let’s take a look. Jesus is sleeping. The storm is raging. The wind is howling. The boat is beginning to fill with water. The disciples are struggling. Then, with two small commands, the storm is halted. “Peace! Be still!” It’s done.
Why? Because the sea knew when its master was speaking to it. We’re told in Genesis 1 that God formed the seas from the chaos with a word. So Christ calms this sea in its chaos with a word. Who do the seas obey? They only have one master: God. Jesus does what only God can do. He created the waters, and the waters become peaceful at his command. It is him alone, the psalmist says in Psalm 107, who made the storms be still and the waves of the sea hush.
Remember the Jonah account? After Jonah is awoken, he cries out to God and God calms the sea. What do they sailors do? They immediately fear God. They ask Jonah to call out to his God, because they know that only God calms the storm. Only God can protect the sailor upon the sea. When the sea stops raging, the sailors recognize this. Jonah says that they feared the Lord exceedingly.
In a wonderfully similar way in our passage this morning, the disciples have the same response to Jesus. Even as Jonah’s sailors were moved from fear of the sea to fear of God, so these disciples (some of whom are sailors) move from fear of the sea to fear of Jesus, and rightfully so! They say in verse 41: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
I love that Mark begins this story with a comment (verse 36) that the disciples left the crowd and “took him with them in the boat, just as he was.” But they didn’t know who he was. Even as the sailors on Jonah’s ship were forced to face and acknowledge the one true God, so the disciples are now forced to look at Jesus and see him for who he is.
So are we. That’s what this passage does. The gospel writers each end this account with a rhetorical question that requires you and I to answer this question as well. They just leave it hovering out there. I love how Matthew says the disciples asked it: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” The answer is simple. There is only one possible answer. Jesus is not a mere man. He’s God. Only God could do this.
Everyone knows this. I was reading this account years ago in family worship. My son was 6 years old at the time. After I read this account, I asked my family, “Why is it that Jesus can calm the storm, but when there is a storm raging outside our house, we can’t?” At six years old, my son immediately said, “Because he’s God!” Everyone knows it.
Yet we must note that the disciples were not incorrect to ask, “What kind of man is this?” He is man as well, and the passage screams this to us. There are some who approach this text by saying that Jesus was pretending to be asleep in the boat. That’s gobbledygook nonsense. I take a preacher’s nap every Sunday afternoon after I preach, but he was preaching all day. He was worn out—dog tired. So he curls up in the boat and sleeps on a pillow. In his humanity, Jesus required sleep. We see in accounts throughout the gospels that Christ grew weak, tired, and hungry. Don’t deny Christ’s humanity. He was asleep on the boat because he was tired. Who wouldn’t be, after a day like that?
Yet, even as he was sleeping, he was awake. As we said, he is also God. Psalm 121, one of my favorite psalms, tells us that God neither slumbers nor sleeps. Was he asleep? Yes! Was he awake? Yes! Jesus (in his humanity) was asleep on the boat, and (in his divinity) was directing the wind and the waves. He was asleep and yet (as Hebrews 1 tells us) he was simultaneously upholding the universe by the word of his power. All things were being held together by him, as we’re told in Colossians 1:17. The second person of the triune Godhead governs all of creation. When he became flesh, he did not abandon his divinity. He is fully God and fully man. He demonstrates it clearly in this passage. He is asleep, and yet he is awakened. In a moment, with two small commands, he exercises his divine omnipotence, power, and sovereignty so that the disciples might see.
“Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” the disciples asked. The answer is that he is the God-man. God came down out of heaven, became flesh, and was born of the womb of the virgin Mary. Here’s the kicker: why did God become flesh? So that we might not perish.
“…do you not care that we are perishing?” What a question for the God-man! He enjoyed perfect happiness, joy, riches, glory, and heaven, and would do so for all of eternity. Yet he descended from his heavenly home, entering into his fallen creation. He who only ever knew holiness entered into this fallen world. He had nowhere to lay his head and no home to call his own. He was mocked, rejected, and slandered. He was beaten, flogged, and cursed by his own creation about trials and tribulations. The greatest of all trials and tribulations that he would endure on that bloody cross was the very curse of his Father.
Does he care whether we are perishing? More than you can possibly imagine! He cares with his very life! He came and died so that we might not perish—so that our greatest possible enemy—not mere tribulations or physical death, through he saves us from that, but eternal death itself—might not have us in its perishing grip for all of eternity!
Jesus says in John 10, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” He says in John 6, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” “…do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus answers the disciples’ question by saying, “Look at who I am! I’m God, come down in flesh for you! Do I care whether you’re perishing? What a question. Yes, more than you can possibly comprehend.”
Disciples of Christ, your circumstances may cause your faith to be tempted with doubt. That’s part of being fallen, frail, weak human beings, still in the flesh. But when you do, remind yourself of this: God cares for you. The incarnation speaks of God’s everlasting, eternal care for his people. He became flesh for our sake.
Then we turn to the purpose of the incarnation. Why was he born? So that he might die for us, who are truly perishing.
When you have those doubts (which we all do in moments), force yourself, as we’ll sing, to survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died. See from his head, his hands, and his feet sorrow and love flowing mingled down. He endured the greatest of trials, sufferings, and tribulations so that we might not. He cares.
Do you doubt his care for you today? Look at the God-man, and especially at the cross. Are you in the midst of trials this week? Look to the cross, and the God-man on it. Some of you are in a good season of life. Thank God! I’m happy for that. It’s wonderful! But trials will come, and when they do, look to the God-man and the cross. Keep reminding yourself that God cares for you more than you can comprehend. He became man, suffered, and died so that we would not perish.
As Christians, our trials and tribulations can swamp our faith. During the persecution of the early Near Eastern church, they often worshiped in caves in the Near East. It’s no accident that we find a consistent drawing among multiple cave drawings that they made: a picture of Jesus standing in a boat on a rough sea. As they saw it, it was Jesus standing with his church in the midst of persecution. They understood that he is with us, and that he cares.
I’m not very clever at names for sermons, but this is an exception. I’m very proud of this one. I entitled it, “Sinking Faith in Christ, the God-man.” That title could mean two different things, couldn’t it? Sinking could be an adjective, where it speaks of our faith beginning to sink in the midst of our trials and tribulations, like we see of these disciples in the boat.
Or it could be a verbal participle: Sinking faith in Christ. In the midst of our trials and tribulations, we can choose to sink our faith deeper into Christ and rely upon him. In the midst of trials and tribulations, you are going to choose one or the other: either your faith is going sink under the weight of it, or you are going to choose to sink your faith deeper into Christ, in utter dependence on him. I hope it’s the latter rather than the former.
We need a faith which understands that the God-man cares for us. He is our anchor in the midst of the storm. “Do you care, Lord Jesus?” His answer is in his incarnation. His answer is in his life, and ultimately in his bloody death on the cross, which he did for you. Does he care that you are perishing? With his very life, he cares. That’s his answer to the disciples’ accusatory question.
Let’s pray. Oh Lord our God, we’re thankful that you are a God who cares. You would have had every right to damn us for all of eternity—to not save us from ourselves or from your wrath. We’re forever grateful, and even that seems trite to say. We’re exceedingly grateful and eternally thankful, that you chose to send your Son; and Christ, that you chose to come into this world to live and die for those of us who were perishing for all of eternity. In our moments of weakness, trial, and tribulation, we pray that we would look to you in complete and utter dependence, sinking our faith deeper into you, for you are more than worthy of all our trust. In Christ’s holy name we pray, amen.
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