January 7, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Gospel of Mark
Jesus Is in Control of the Elements
As we come back to our message series from the Gospel of Mark, we have witnessed the start of Jesus’ ministry through the first four chapters. We heard Jesus’ arrival announced by John the Baptist who then baptized Jesus. We read about Jesus’ time of testing by Satan.
As Jesus began his ministry, we recognized him as an authoritative leader when he called his disciples to follow him. We saw him as the authoritative teacher when he taught in the synagogue and called out an unclean spirit. And we learned that Jesus is the authoritative healer who has control over sickness and healed the paralytic. Even though Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, people still misunderstood his teachings and did not see the signs of the Kingdom of God.
Coming to the message where we last left, we heard Jesus as the teller of parables of the Kingdom of God that cause us to respond to his stories as they reveal our human experiences, both good and bad.
And so today, as we continue our journey through the Gospel of Mark, we discover the Jesus who brings peace in the midst of storms. We discover a Jesus, who is in control of the elements. Would you pray with me?
The sea is not friendly. The Lake of Galilee was and still is notorious for its storms. When I was in Israel in January of 2008, we had the chance to cross the Sea of Galilee on a wooden ship from Tiberias to Capernaum. Many days, the lake is calm with the sea gulls following the ships that cross, hoping to get some morsels of food. What one first notices is that the Sea of Galilee is not a big lake. It is only thirteen miles long and eight miles wide with a depth of only 141 feet.
The Jordan River feeds in from the north and empties from it in the south until the river ends at the Dead Sea in southern Israel. The Golan Heights sit to the east of the lake and so the lake sits in a valley. Storms on the Lake of Galilee can come out of the blue, especially when the winds drive down out of the mountains that surround it. Because the lake is not real deep or large, the waters can become chaotic very quickly, much like our Lake Erie.
We learn from our scripture that after Jesus had been teaching in parables throughout the day, he decided to leave the crowds and cross over to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee to the country of the Gerasenes. Jesus is controlling the action. “Let us cross over to the other side,” he said. Not only are Jesus and the disciples crossing over, but we read that there were other boats with him. So, more people are with Jesus than just the disciples in the boat with him. This suggests that the Kingdom of God is not limited to the number of the “insiders,” like the disciples, but to all of God’s people. They wanted to be with Jesus.
Jesus was in the boat in the position in which any distinguished guest would be transported. Our scripture says that Jesus was in the stern sleeping on a cushion. We know from ancient literature that, “In these boats…the place for any distinguished stranger is on the little seat placed at the stern, where a carpet and cushion are arranged. The helmsman stands a little farther forward on the deck, though near the stern, in order to have a better look-out ahead.”
Scripture reads, verse 37, A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. As I said before, the sea is not friendly. In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, Van Bogard Dunn writes, “[The sea] is the enemy of human life, and in this story, it is a metaphor of death, the ultimate and irreversible calamity. The threatening storm is the backdrop for the serenity of Jesus, who was ‘in the stern, asleep on the cushion.’”
Jesus is our peace in the midst of chaos and storm. We now know him as conqueror over sin and death. Jesus, asleep in the stern amidst a raging storm is not an act of human courage, but a symbol of the victory of God over sin and death. Jesus does not fear death because death cannot separate him from the all-conquering grace of God.
It is certainly clear that the disciples are not models for faith. Their courage fails in the hour of crisis. Notice the striking contrast between their anxiety for their lives and the complete confidence of Jesus. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Since the disciples have not heard the gospel, they have not yet turned from reliance upon themselves to trust in the sovereign power of God. As Dunn writes in his commentary, “[The disciples] have not participated in the death of the cross, so they do not know the life of the resurrection. Their frantic concern to save themselves only serves to reveal that they are lost. In contrast, Jesus in complete indifference for his own safety is the one who has found his life.”
[Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” It is interesting to note that the words Jesus addressed to the wind and the waves are exactly the same as he addressed to the demon-possessed man we talked about in the first chapter of Mark several weeks ago. Just as an evil demon possessed that man, the people in Palestine believed that the destructive power of the storm was the evil power of the demons at work in the realm of nature. Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
I will say it again; the sea is not friendly. When the great Chicago fire consumed the Windy City in 1871, Horatio G. Spafford, an attorney heavily invested in real estate, lost a fortune. About that time, his only son, age four, succumbed to scarlet fever. Horatio drowned his grief in work, pouring himself into rebuilding the city and assisting the 100,000 who had been left homeless.
In November of 1873, he decided to take his wife and daughters to Europe. Horatio was close to D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey, and he wanted to visit their evangelistic meetings in England, then enjoy a vacation.
When an urgent matter detained Horatio in New York, he decided to send his wife, Anna, and their four daughters, Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie, on ahead. As he saw them settled into a cabin aboard the luxurious French liner Ville du Havre, an unease filled his mind, and he moved them to a room closer to the bow of the ship. Then he said good-bye, promising to join them soon.
During the small hours of November 22, 1873, as the Ville du Havre glided over smooth seas, the passengers were jolted from their bunks. The ship had collided with an iron sailing vessel, and water poured in like Niagara. The ship tilted dangerously. Screams, prayers, and oaths merged into a nightmare of unmeasured terror. Passengers clung to posts, tumbled through darkness, and were swept away by powerful currents of icy ocean. Loved ones fell from each other’s grasp and disappeared into foaming blackness. Within two hours, the mighty ship vanished beneath the waters. The 226 fatalities included Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie. Mrs. Spafford was found nearly unconscious, clinging to a piece of the wreckage. When the forty-seven survivors landed in Cardiff, Wales, she cabled her husband: “Saved Alone.”
Horatio immediately booked passage to join his wife. En route, on a cold December night, the captain called him aside and said, I believe we are now passing over the place where the Ville du Havre went down.” Spafford went to his cabin but found it hard to sleep. He said to himself, “It is well; the will of God be done.”
He later wrote his famous hymn, which we just sang, based on those words. “When peace like a river, Attendeth my way, When sorrows, Like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well, It is well, with my soul.’” Spafford’s faith rested in the peace and calm of his Savior, Jesus Christ when he wrote, “O, Lord haste the day When my faith shall be sight.”
During the chaos and storm on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples’ faith comes into question. [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” So many times, in the midst of the storms in our lives, we are so anxious and worried about our own survival that we cannot see the kingdom of God at work around us. The disciples’ faith was inadequate as a response to the Kingdom of God.
What we see in this scripture is that Jesus, as the Son of God, is in control. Dunn writes in his commentary, “Regardless of how the storms rage and human beings lose themselves in anxious efforts to save themselves, God reigns and offers all a new possibility of peace and calm…. The victory of God in Christ is irreversible. Before it the storm is impotent. The wind ceases. The sea is calm.”
In the presence of Jesus, there are three areas that allow us to have peace even in the wildest storms of life. First, Jesus gives us peace in the storm of sorrow. When sorrow comes, Jesus tells us of the glory of the life to come. He changes the darkness of death into the sunshine of the thought of life eternal. He tells us of the love of God.
Second, Jesus gives us peace when life’s problems involve us in a tempest of doubt and tension and uncertainty. There come times when we do not know what to do; when we stand at some crossroads in life and do not know which way to take. If then we turn to Jesus and say to him, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” the way will be clear. The real tragedy is not that we do not know what to do; but that often we do not humbly submit to Jesus’ guidance. To ask his will and to submit to it is the way to peace at such a time.
And lastly, Jesus gives us peace in the storms of anxiety. The chief enemy of peace is worry, worry for ourselves, worry about the unknown future, worry about those we love. But Jesus speaks to us of a Father whose hand will never cause his child a needless tear and of a love beyond which neither we nor those we love can ever drift. In the storm of anxiety, Jesus brings us the peace of the love of God.
Even in the chaos and storms of life, in sorrow, doubt, tension, uncertainty, and anxiety, Jesus is with you and me. It is our faith in him that allows peace to reign in our lives. Jesus is in control and that allows us to say, “It is well with my soul.”