Speaking of Jesus: His Disciples

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 4:41

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 afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”

Mark 4:39-41 rsv

Listen now to one of the most remarkable sea stories you’ve ever heard. It’s from the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 4, at verse 35: “On that day, when evening had come, he [that is Jesus] said to them, `Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them, just as he was, in the boat. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat 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 if we perish?’ 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 afraid? Have you no faith?’ And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, `Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?’”

Did you notice the fascinating detail in this narrative? Mention is made of “other boats.” We read that this one was “already filling with water.” Jesus’ exact position is described: He was in the stern, sleeping with His head on a cushion. The disciples are heard to speak harshly to Him, in what sounds like a rebuke. Later they are described as utterly bewildered.

Sounds like an eyewitness account, doesn’t it? Who else would put in touches like that, some of them awkward and embarrassing? As a writer, Mark never seems disposed to add details on his own. He’s writing, for the most part, from Simon Peter’s reminiscences. The scene is so vivid here that we almost feel like we are there in that swamped boat, don’t we? And we can sense the awe behind the question, “Who then is this?”

Think with me now about what it all means, about stormy times, about the Lord’s “peace be still” and about His disciples’ reaction.

STORMY TIMES

“Master, don’t you care that we are perishing?” How many times has a plaintive, frightened question like that been hurled toward heaven? “We’re in big trouble, Lord. Aren’t You going to do anything? Don’t You care?”

Most of us wouldn’t expect that from Jesus’ disciples, would we? They had heard His call and trusted Him enough to leave everything behind and become His followers. They had seen marvelous things. A leper had come to Jesus one day and had his flesh restored. A man with a paralyzed hand was commanded to do the impossible and did it. He stretched out that withered hand. Jesus had told a helpless cripple to pick up his pallet and go home – and the man had done just that. How that set the crowd buzzing! His disciples had begun to get the idea that Jesus of Nazareth could do just about anything. But then came the storm.

It was at the end of a long day of ministry. At nightfall, Jesus wanted to go across the lake. It seemed a perfect evening for a boat ride. The water was calm. The wind, as usual, had died down when the sun slipped behind the hills. Every now and then the Sea of Galilee could be whipped into a frenzy by a sudden storm. High winds were known to sweep in at times through a southern cleft in the hills. But no one could remember anything like that happening at night. The men with Jesus had scarcely given the weather a thought.

Suddenly, the wind came up from the south, blowing steadily. This was more than a night breeze. The idling men at the oars bent again to their work. The lake was choppy now, the going difficult. Soon the voyagers were getting wet, first with spray and then with the crest of an occasional wave. As the wind began to gust fiercely, a huge breaker crashed down on them, drenching them all. The men in the center of the boat bailed frantically. By now even the seasoned fishermen were alarmed. The boat was filling rapidly and still Jesus slept. “Master, don’t You care” they cried, “that we’re about to die?”

That sounds harsh, but can you blame them? Would we have been more respectful – at a time like that? Their boat was about to go to the bottom of the lake. It’s easy for us to criticize, especially if we’ve never been in that kind of danger. But when you’re really going through it, and it seems that the Lord is absent or asleep, it must be hard not to get anxious.

Maybe you’re struggling with cancer and it’s getting you down. You know God is with you. You know He has the power to heal. But the tumor keeps on growing and He seems to do nothing about it. What questions come boiling up in your mind! They’re pained; they’re frustrated; they’re sometimes bitter.

Maybe you’ve lost your job after working 20 some odd years in the same place. All your benefits, all your security for the future – gone. Sure, God’s never going to leave you, but how is He helping you now? The bills keep coming. The problems mount, and you’re just about to go under. Where is God in all of that? What good is it to believe in Him?

PEACE, BE STILL

Just then, amid the fury of the storm, Jesus got up on His feet and shouted. It was loud enough for everyone in the boat to hear, even above the howling wind. “Hush, be still.” What’s this? they wondered. He’s talking to the wind. He’s giving orders to the storm! Just then the gale dropped. The waves fell back upon themselves. The scream of the tempest died away to a bare whisper. The men in the boat looked at each other and then stared off into the night. No one spoke.

Now Jesus had a question for them: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Why were they afraid? That’s a strange thing to ask. The answer seems evident. A storm like that would terrify anyone, even a veteran sea-goer. But the question goes deeper. It’s not, “Why did the waves frighten you?” or “Why did the storm get you anxious?” But it’s, “Why did you think you were forgotten? Why did you doubt Me?”

We’re not called to be super heroes, people of iron who never know what it is to be frightened. The oft-recurring phrase in the Bible, “Fear not,” doesn’t blame us for having failed. God wants us to lay aside our fears, not because they’re not real or justified, but because of something even more real and significant. “Fear not,” He says, “for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God.” If you were alone, left to your own resources, the circumstances would be dreadful indeed. But you’re not.

What the disciples forgot in the boat that night was that Jesus was there with them, Healer of the sick, Master of the demons, Lord of all life. They forgot that He had called them, led them to trust their lives into His care and assumed responsibility for them. They thought He didn’t know because they saw Him asleep. They thought He didn’t care because right up until the last moment He did nothing to help them. Jesus challenges those doubts, “Why are you so afraid? Have you no faith?”

That last question is the really disturbing one. Up to this point, the disciples had seemed like believers. But this was the first emergency they had faced with Jesus. How they acted now revealed a good deal about them.

Crises test character. We never know how strongly rooted a tree is until winds of gale force begin to beat against it. We can never tell how powerful a muscle is until it has to work against stubborn resistance. And for us who call ourselves believers, it’s often the cruel pressures of life, the seemingly overwhelming difficulties that bring to light the depth or shallowness, the strength or weakness of our faith. What that night at sea made clear was that these men still had much to learn about trusting their Master.

It was an ocean storm that later taught John Wesley that same lesson. Early in his ministry, he was sailing to the New World, hoping to do missionary work among the Indians there. A group of German believers was also on board. When a violent storm threatened all of their lives, these Moravians displayed amazing courage. While the tempest raged around them, they were cheerfully calm, sure of God’s care over them and their families. Wesley realized to his chagrin that they had something he lacked. They had an assurance of faith which he was to find only years later when his heart was “strangely warmed” at Aldersgate. And many of us, I suppose, haven’t yet been liberated from faithless fears and anxious mistrust. Maybe what we’re going through right now points up our personal need along those lines.

But that doesn’t mean that we are hyprocites or that we have never trusted Jesus at all. The Lord isn’t pronouncing His disciples to be apostate. He isn’t saying, “See, you never knew Me.” He’s asking them rather to take a fresh look at their lives. Whatever their convictions are, they’re acting now as though they don’t trust Him.

These disciples, like many of us, were not unbelievers but doubters. Unbelief is a settled kind of disposition, a refusal to believe in spite of evidence. Doubt is different. Doubt is a sickness that afflicts real faith. Those who doubt want to believe but have difficulty doing so.

You may be battling with doubts like that today. You’ve seen the Lord’s hand at work before and you want to believe that He’s with you now, but you’re almost at the end of your rope and He doesn’t seem to notice. Your faith seems to be slipping away.

For the disciples in the boat, the change that came was dramatic and sudden. At one moment they were about to abandon all hope and in the next everything was different. They were asking Him if He really cared and now He’s asking them if they really believe. So they’re through complaining to their Master, at least for the time being. Now they’re talking to themselves. They hardly dare to look at Him but they whisper to one another, “Whoever can He be? Even the winds and waves do what He tells them.”

THE BIG QUESTION

That’s the question we’re driven again and again to ask. Confronted by the fact of Christ, the life He lived, the works He did, the words He spoke and the mysterious way in which He affects peoples’ lives even today, we shake our heads in wonder. We can’t escape the insistent question, “Whoever can He be?” He seems on the one hand totally human. There He is, a weary sleeper in a fishing boat at the end of a hard day. But moments later He is the Storm-King, giving orders to a mighty wind. And those elemental forces which we can hardly predict, let alone control, quiet down at His word like docile puppies. Who then can He be? It’s one thing to give religious talks, even to make sick people feel better. The ingenious can always find ways of explaining those cures away. But when you scold hurricanes and get immediate results, you must be someone out of the ordinary. Jesus speaks to the wind and the sea as though He had them in His pocket. He treats the world as though it belonged to Him. Can He really be the Lord of everything?

But maybe you’re not convinced. You say, “Well, that was impressive back then. Maybe they saw Him calm a storm. I guess I’d believe too if I witnessed that. But I’ve seen some storms He didn’t stop. Some ships go down. Some 747s crash. Cancer has killed a lot of people, and many believers go to torture and death without God’s intervening at all. What does it mean for me that God did something great on the other side of the world centuries ago? How do I know today that He cares about me and what happens to me?

I’ll tell you how. We know something now that those men in the fishing boat didn’t know. Since they rode out the storm that night, Jesus has gone to Jerusalem and given Himself to die for us, to suffer for our sins. He came from heaven not simply to startle people with the wonders He did, but to meet our greatest need and to make us right with God. He showed His love in the most powerful way imaginable by dying in our place. And now He’s alive, Victor over death, Lord of heaven and earth, Savior of the world.

He may not always bail you out of your troubles at the last minute. He may let the waves swamp your boat while He seems to sleep through it all. But that night on Galilee still shows who He is. And that day on Golgotha proves for all time that He cares when we’re about to perish. Trust Him. Trust Him. And even though He doesn’t still all your storms, you can be sure of this: He’ll be with you in the midst of them and bring you to a safe harbor at the last. God bless you.