Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to be Calm(ed)

(NOTE: This post contains the content of the original sermon I was planning to preach. Due to a severe thunderstorm with high winds of 136 mph causing major damage in the area, I altered the message the night before the sermon. Some of those notes will be posted at my personal blog

Have you ever asked the question which kind of storm would be the worst? While it is possible for almost anywhere to have an effect by most types of storms, some places are obviously more prone to certain types of storms than others. The north has ice storms, the south and/or east often faces hurricanes, the west is less concerned about storms, but earthquakes are a major concern. In the Midwest, we often face severe thunderstorms, which sometimes produce tornadoes, and often produce flooding. And that is just America. Typhoons, major sandstorms, and other types of storms happen elsewhere.

Each one of us have personal storms that come into our lives, and unlike weather related storms, we frequently have little warning. And while each storm is different, they can all have adverse effect. These storms might be health-related, financial, emotional, or all of the above. In these types of storms we generally know where to turn, but being willing to do it is another matter. But a spiritual storm is far more complicated. A spiritual storm can wreck us in all kinds of ways, and again, although we know we need to turn to God, because we feel He is behind the situation or involved somehow, in many cases, we choose to exclude Him or even blame Him, let alone turn to Him.

It is often said, quite incorrectly, that God will not give us more than we can handle. As we will see in our passage today, that is false. But the truth is that God will never give us more than He can handle. In the midst of the storm, we need to remember that so that we will turn to Him.

The Setting – The Sea of Galilee

Our passage today begins by stating it is evening, a detail that actually shows how authentic the Bible is. Jesus has been teaching from the boat (cf. Mark 4.1, notice “just as He was” in verse 36), and is now ready to set off for the others side of the sea with His disciples. And then came the windstorm, which created the crisis for this story. But before we get to that, let me set fix the Sea of Galilee in our minds.

On our recent trip to Israel, the first glimpse of the Sea of Galilee was quite the opposite of the squall described in this story. The water was unbelievably calm. The next day we would take a boat ride – again on very calm waters. The picture to the right is looking south from the boat, near Tiberius on the morning of the boatride.

But from what I understand, these windstorms can come with little warning. The Sea of Galilee is about 13 miles long and about 7 miles wide, so it is not big, but it is about 700 feet below sea level and is in a deep basin with mountains all around – some of which are 3000+ feet high. (See the map below.) About thirty miles to the northeast, Mt. Hermon rises over 9000 feet above sea level so the temperature differences between the altitudes could be extreme which could be a cause for such a storm.

A Topographical Map of  the Area Around the Sea of Galilee
As we consider the challenge of the storm that Mark records in chapter 4, we must remember that at least four of those with Jesus were fishermen, and at least two had a boat. And they didn’t just fish anywhere, they fished on the Sea of Galilee. So for this storm to be such a challenge, it had to 1) catch them off guard (or they would likely have gone around on land (Gadara was only 13 miles), and 2) it had to be an especially intense storm.

Apparently, both of those factors are true, because the waves were coming in and the boat was already filling. Where was Jesus? Asleep, in the stern, on a cushion. This likely means that He was in the captain’s chair. Several years ago, a song entitled Jesus Take the Wheel became quite popular. The notion of the song is that when we are in trouble we should let Jesus take the wheel. It might even sound better to think that we should allow Jesus to have the wheel so we don’t get in trouble. But the reality here is that Jesus was at the wheel, and yet trouble came. Why? Because He was asleep? No. Because these disciples had a lesson to learn!

The Lesson

So how did they react to this lesson? Not well, but probably like most of us do at times. Panic is probably a good word. Look at verse 38: “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?”
“The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” by Rembrandt
This question is really a harsh rebuke against Jesus by the disciples! But it was an intensely emotional and honest one as well. Notice, that they call Him teacher. That IS what He was to them. You might recall from earlier in this series that “disciple means “one who learns but truly Jesus is so much more! This lesson is to help the disciples see the truth of who He really is. These men had been around Jesus for some time now, but they still didn’t understand who He really was.

Jesus woke up, rebuked the wind, and then said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Two distinct miracles are mentioned here. First, the wind stopped. Second the sea was calmed immediately. Typically, when the wind stops, the waves do not, at least for a while, except when Jesus is involved. In verse 37 a great windstorm came upon them. In verse 39, a great calm surrounded them. And the cause – was the great power of Jesus.

Having rebuked the wind and the sea, now Jesus rebuked the disciples. Last week’s post was about Jesus use of parables to allow His followers to gain understanding, and yet those who were “outside” (as Jesus called them in verse 11) would not. Well, here the understanding was not in the form of a parable, it was in the form of an experience. But this experience led them to fear, not to faith. And fear is the opposite of faith.

Let’s face it some fear seems rational. Frankly, I know I should side with Jesus, but if I was in the boat that night, I would be frightened, especially seeing those who were experienced on those waters being frightened. Other fear does not seem as rational. For instance, our dog used to run from flies...well if she didn’t try to eat one. Despite the size difference (our dog was medium sized), the buzzing noise scared her so she would run to hide. The truth is that we all have things that we shouldn’t fear, but we do. For instance, consider a spider. Many are terrified by spiders. Now I don’t like spiders, but consider how much bigger we are compared to the spider and then determine which species should be scared of the other. Our fear is usually rooted in what might happen. But for the disciples, their fear changed from what might happen to a GREAT FEAR of who Jesus was (v. 41)! The disciples were more afraid after the storm was calmed than during it.

Why? They were beginning to realize that their Teacher was far more. And they did not know what that truly meant – at least, not yet. As the reader in the story, we know something far more. We have already been told – in the very first verse of Mark – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. For the men in the boat, they had just taken one step closer to realizing that truth.

A Parallel Story – Jonah

Now, before I get to the conclusion, I want to take you back to a story that has several parallels to this one. Many know the story of Jesus calming the sea, but you may have learned this other story first. I am talking about the story of Jonah. These stories are not completely related, but they do have some remarkable similarities.

  • Jonah 1.4-5 says that a great wind came upon the sea, the boat was in trouble, and Jonah was sleeping. (Compare Mark 4.37-38.)
  • Jonah 1.6 indicates the captain woke Jonah up, asking for Jonah to plead with God (cf. Mark 4.38).
  • Jonah 1.9 reveals that the Lord made the sea so He controls it (cf. Mark 4.39).
  • Jonah 1.16 show that the men in the boat feared God for what had happened (cf. Mark 4.41).

But let us not overlook two major differences, lest we think that Jonah and Jesus are so well connected.

1. Jonah was running from doing the work of God, but Jesus was teaching others by doing the work of God.

2. Jonah was thrown into the sea so that God would stop the storm, Jesus spoke, as God, to stop the storm.

For, as Jesus said, in Matthew 12.41, regarding the repentance that came when Jonah preached at Ninevah, “Behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”

To Fear or To Revere

The story of Jesus calming the storm has so much application for our day. Remember, Mark was writing to Christians, primarily, in Rome who were experiencing some level of abuse and would soon face intense persecution. Knowing that Jesus is there, even if He doesn’t seem active, gave many Christians in that day the confidence that Jesus would be able to deliver them from the trials of their day.

Like the Roman Christians then, and many others throughout the centuries, today’s culture is (becoming) hostile towards those who profess faith in Jesus. And our reaction to this hostility is concern, which is fine. Jesus told His disciples to “be wise as serpents, but innocent as doves” as He sent them out to accomplish His mission (Matthew 10.16). But concern is one thing and fear is another. Many pray certain words, but saying them is one thing, believing them is another. For instance, in Psalm 23. many will say “I will fear no evil.” But do we? We have a choice to make – either fear or faith. And that choice leads us to our JOURNEY letter this week.


The JOURNEY letter for the week is: R – Revere.

Let me give you four quick thoughts regarding the difference between faith and fear.
  • If we have fear, we cannot revere. But we can be bold, if our faith holds.
  • Fear requires nothing. Faith requires trust.
  • Fear produces panic. Faith remains calm.
  • Fear usually leads to failure. Faith always leads to worship.

Again, we must choose, but if we are following Jesus, then fear really shouldn’t be an option.


Opportunity: When the storms come into our life, our faith is tested. Others will be watching to see how we respond. If we panic, then we are really showing others that we do not believe in the power of God.

Learn to trust God through the fear. You know what makes your fearful. Present these items to God and ask Him to drive out the fear as your learn to trust Him more.

Live in spite of fear. We do many things in life despite the risks. For instance, you may drive a car despite the thousands of people who die every year. Don’t let your fear of a few minor things keep you from accomplishing some great things for Jesus.

Love the opportunities He gives. God gives you opportunities to grow and to serve. As we do, some opportunities may be challenging and generate a little fear. Realize that God can use every opportunity to help us grow. And perhaps, your response, through the fear, might be the very time someone puts aside their fears and learns to trust Christ.

Lead by showing your faith. I didn’t say by sharing your faith (although that is critical), but by showing your faith. Look at the Opportunity again. When we live our life in fear, we show the world that we don’t really trust God as much as we say we do. You might want to argue about degrees of trust, but the fact is it boils down to either we trust God or we don’t. Show others that you trust God, and by doing so, they will realize that your faith is not just talk, and so God really can be trusted – no matter what happens – good or bad.

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