Wednesday, June 29, 2016

GOING DOWN WITH THE SHIP—NOT!

Pixabay (Public Domain)
Mark 4:35-41

I remember standing at the living room window in our apartment on Montgomery Avenue back in October, 1954. Heavy rain and slashing winds had roared in from the west. Here in Timmins we only caught the tail end of Hurricane Hazel. To the south of us the story was different.

As the story goes: “On October 15, 1954, the most famous hurricane in Canadian history struck Southern Ontario. Hurricane Hazel was projected to dissipate, but instead re-intensified unexpectedly and rapidly, pounding the Toronto region with winds that reached 110 kilometres per hour (68 mph) and 285 millimetres (11.23 inches) of rain in 48 hours. Bridges and streets were washed out, homes and trailers were washed into Lake Ontario. Thousands were left homeless, and 81 people were killed—more than 30 on one street alone. The total cost of the destruction in Canada was estimated at $100 million (about $1 billion today). This storm would change the Toronto landscape forever and mobilize the need for managing watersheds on a regional basis.”

I don’t remember feeling afraid, but I was only five years old. My mother stood beside me and I am sure she was probably feeling something very different from what I was feeling. It was a fierce storm—even up here in the north.

We have no control over nature. I am sure that out in the area around Fort McMurray, citizens and first responders knew the feelings of helplessness, fear, stress, even anger, as they faced the wildfire that recently roared through Northern Alberta—a fire over which they have little control and in fact said that only another act of God—rain—could stop.

Earthquakes, fires, floods, tsunamis, erupting volcanoes, hurricanes, drought—Paul comments: “…the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22) as it waits for redemption, for restoration, for God to put things back the way they were before sin entered the world. 

Those “pains” are scary. 

The disciples of Jesus were no less subject to the anxiety and fear of nature out of control than we are.

Jesus had just finished telling several stories, or parables, to His followers. This had all taken place by the lake. The crowd had been so big that Jesus borrowed a boat and sat in it while the crowd gathered along the shoreline to listen to Him. Here is what happened after He had finished with what He wanted to say.

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”


Recently it was brought to my attention the importance of what Jesus said when He and His disciples first got into the boat.

He said, “Let us go over to the other side.” Now the disciples were still in their training period. They didn't completely understand what they have committed themselves to. They still didn’t “get it.” But we can’t be too hard on them, because we often don’t “get it” either. Their faith was weak, but then again, ours often is as well. If they had “gotten it” when Jesus said that they were going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, they would have known that that was exactly where they were going to end up. They might have understood that the storm they were about to face would be difficult but not life-threatening. This assurance would have been simply based on Jesus' words.

If God says that we are going across the lake, then that is where we are going—no matter what!

The Lord had just finished a long day, and rather than jump out of the boat and be immediately swarmed by the crowds, He called His men to climb into the boat and make their trip by sea. He was tired. Despite being fully God, Jesus had all the frailties of man—He got hungry, thirsty and tired. So He did what anyone who is tired should do—He curled up in the stern of the boat and took a nap.

Several of Jesus’ disciples were seasoned fishermen. They knew about heavy weather and had probably experienced quite a bit of it before. But it seems that this storm was unusually strong.

Just after we sailed on my first cruise, everyone on the ship had to participate in the lifeboat drill. We had to put on our lifejackets and proceed to our designated lifeboat stations and get instructions from the people who, in the event of an emergency, would help us to safety. I paid attention. I am not a fan of drowning. I pay attention when I am flying over large bodies of water. I want to know where my lifejacket is. I am not a fan of drowning. I don’t go into small boats if I can help it. I am not a fan of drowning. I won’t even put my face under water. I am NOT a fan of drowning.

So I can relate to the fear that these men felt.

There are two clues in the story that should have encouraged the faith and banished the fear of the disciples. Jesus said that they were going to cross over to the other side. Jesus was sleeping like a baby in the stern of the boat even in the middle of this wild storm.

But instead of taking what Jesus was doing through all this as a good sign, the disciples were annoyed that the Lord was still asleep and they interpreted that as lack of concern for their well-being.

Sometimes when things go wrong for us, we react in a similar fashion. If God doesn’t respond to our situation, He must be asleep and doesn’t care. So we get annoyed at Him.

They didn’t “get it.” They didn’t see this as the test of faith that it was. They didn’t analyze what they already knew about Him, and then come to the conclusion that if Jesus was in the boat with them everything would end up okay whatever happened. This is God here in this little piece of wood, the One who created and controls all this stuff. This is the One of Whom the psalmist wrote: "O Lord of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them" (Psalm 89:8, 9).

But they didn't "get it" so they woke Him up.

Then comes the kicker: “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”

Have you ever noticed how many times people use the term “Mother Nature?” It’s usually connected with some complaint about the weather. The term has its origins in the worship of female deities who are supposedly responsible for giving life. So the phrase is pagan in origin. The truth is, God controls His creation. The Scriptures are full of descriptions that support this, especially if you read the last few chapters of Job and some of the psalms. For example, Elihu, one of Job’s friends was right when he said this:

How great is God—beyond our understanding!…He draw up the drops of water which distill as rain to the streams [evaporation]; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind. Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion? See how he scatters his lightning about him, bathing the depths of the sea…He fills his hands with lightning and commands it to strike its mark. His thunder announces the coming storm; even the cattle make known its approach…He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth. After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice sounds, he holds nothing back…He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ So that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man from his labor…The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen. He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. At his direction they swirl around over the face of the whole earth to do whatever he commands them. He brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love” (Job 36:26-37:13)

And here in Mark we are reminded again of who controls nature.

The disciples, when they processed what He had done, were “terrified.” Why were they terrified? Why were they not relieved, or grateful or happy or something! Their question “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” leaves us with the impression that they had just come to the realization that this man they had just woken up from a sound sleep and accused of not caring about them, was not just an ordinary man!

I wrote a little note in my Bible after this verse: “Fear of anything or anyone other than God is lack of faith.

Apparently the words “Fear Not!” or something similar, appear 365 times in Scriptures, once for every day of the week. That should tells us something—FEAR NOT!

But, for me, the best story and the best reminder is this one. When I was on staff at Oakwood Baptist Church in Toronto we used to work with the Sunday School to put on some pretty impressive plays. One of the these plays was the Christmas story. Oakwood was quite multi-cultural in those days—still is. The three shepherds chosen for the play were white kids, but the angel was black. The shepherds were to sit around their fire talking and the angel would appear to them with the good news that Jesus had been born. So there they were. The angel appears and says “Fear not!” And according to the script the shepherds shriek on terror at the top of their lungs. You would have had to see it to appreciate it, but this skinny black kid all dressed in white with the gold halo around his head, doesn’t crack a smile. There is a pregnant pause, and then he says with just the right amount of rebuke in his voice, “And what part of ‘FEAR NOT’ do you NOT understand!

It’s a simple statement that is hard for us to grasp. If we have come to faith in Christ, God is in the boat. We have absolutely nothing to fear.

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