That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 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?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Jesus had been in that boat all day. At the beginning of Mark chapter 4, we learn that Jesus was in the boat because the crowds were so large that He couldn’t stand on the shore. Now it’s evening, and Jesus says, “Let us go over to the other side.” The storyteller includes a odd detail, that they disciples, “took him along, just as he was, in the boat.”
Just as He was? How was that? That was in the boat, tired from teaching all day. They didn’t change boats, or disembark, but they just set out in the same boat where Jesus had been teaching all day. “There were also other boats with him.” There were more than 12 disciples in Jesus’ party, and they all wouldn’t fit in one boat. So they simply set out for the other side of the lake, and Jesus fell asleep.
Now, all the boats face not just a storm, but a furious squall. Waves break over the boat. It is nearly swamped. Jesus sleeps right through it, probably feeling pretty good being rocked in the stern by the storm. I don’t know about you, but if I wake up and it’s storming, the rain puts me right back to sleep.
The disciples see the storm, and they see Jesus sleeping, so they wake him up, and jump to conclusions. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Who said Jesus didn’t care? That was their conclusion because he was sleeping despite all the trouble.
You may have heard the old saying, “If you aren’t upset, you obviously don’t know what’s going on.” Here, the disciples presume that Jesus knows but doesn’t care. They presume that without intervention, they will drown. I can’t imagine what they wanted Jesus to do. They didn’t expect him to calm the storm, because when that happened, they were terrified.
Does this ring a bell in your life? The storm’s raging, the waves break over the side of the boat, it looks like all is lost, and where’s Jesus? Fast asleep in the stern! Right away we jump to the conclusion that we’re doomed, and that Jesus doesn’t care.
Maybe it’s an illness, and you pray for healing, but it just gets worse. Maybe it’s a troubled child who gets even deeper in trouble after you start praying. Maybe it’s debt, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, another bill comes in. And where’s God while all this is going on? Apparently, fast asleep somewhere. God either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, or both.
But let’s consider what our faith is. Our faith says that God knows everything. Look at Matthew 10:29-31 – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus says. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside of your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
“The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” That says God knows, and God knows in great detail. “So don’t be afraid …” That says God cares and has good in store. “…you are worth more than many sparrows.” That tells us that God has affection for us that even goes beyond God’s care for the rest of creation.
If all of this were obvious, Jesus wouldn’t have to say it. If we could see it, we wouldn’t need faith, would we? And yet we despair in times of trouble and wonder if God even cares.
I happen to notice that everyone here is breathing, alert and relatively upright. That tells me that you survived all the trouble you’ve been through. There might have been times when you didn’t expect to survive. But you did. Sometimes we say we “dodged the bullet”. But that implies that the intent is to harm and good fortune helped us avoid the harm. I think things work the other way around.
The book of Ecclesiastes (9:11) puts it this way:
I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
Time and chance – circumstance – dumb luck. We don’t always get what we deserve; otherwise, the race would be to the swift and food would come to the wise. Time and chance – not God directly – keeps things from always going as they should, or as we think they should. This is what caused Jeremiah (12:1-2) to question God:
You are always righteous, Lord,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?
You have planted them,
and they have taken root;
they grow and bear fruit.
You are always on their lips
but far from their hearts.
If life was fair, the wicked would not prosper. If God was just, the wicked would not prosper. And if God was clear and obvious, we might even all agree on what wicked is.
So God lets things happen by chance, by dumb luck, in this fallen world. If God cares – and God does – then that means God has given us the resources to overcome hard times. God lets things happen that we don’t agree with. We think an all-powerful and all-loving God would do things differently.
But that isn’t necessarily true. Jesus said the branches that bear fruit would be pruned to bear more fruit. No one wants to go through pruning, but God might know that trouble will make us stronger and more fruitful.
“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” That’s a loaded question. What if Jesus knew that they would not drown? He doesn’t have to care about something that won’t happen. In that case, all he has to deal with is the disciples’ lack of faith.
We go through storms, and we know it. There’s no denying we’re in a storm when the storm is raging. But we are wrong if we say, “God, don’t you care if we drown?” We think the storms were all sent by God and that we survived them by dumb luck, or by our own cleverness. I think the opposite, that the storms were the result of dumb luck, or our own mistakes, and that we survived by the grace of God.
So Jesus calms the storm. There are plenty of disciples and lots of other boats; lots of witnesses to the fact that even the wind and waves obey Jesus. “Who is this?” they asked. This tells them, and it tells us, that faith or no faith, Jesus is no ordinary man. “Why are you so afraid?” Jesus asks. “Do you still have no faith?” Their fear was the result of not knowing what would happen, and of expecting the worst, even though their Lord and Savior as in the very same boat.
Aren’t we like that? Don’t we usually expect the worst to come from the storms we go through? But – on the other hand – however – in contrast – haven’t we survived all of those storms that we thought would drown us? Didn’t God come through one way or another every time? And if God watched over us on all those other occasions, what makes us think God won’t do it for this storm and the next storm, too?”
Jesus says don’t be afraid. Don’t worry. When we are afraid, we need to look back on what God has already done in our lives. We need to look into the scripture at what God has done in history. We need to talk to our Christian brothers and sisters in church to learn what God has done in their lives, too.
Growing faith is about learning from these experiences. The teacher tells us that God cares, and our life circumstances demonstrate that God cares. God cares. God might not move the way we want him to, he might not condemn or reward people like we think he should, but everything in our doctrine and in our lives shows us that God really does know and God really does care. In this case, faith just calls us to look at the good things God has done and start relying on God to do more good things in our lives. We can trust God, and a Savior so strong even the winds and waves obey him.
So have faith. Fear not. See the good things God has done, and tell others about them. Eventually, we will know the truth, that God is working all things for good among those of us who believe.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.