Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"THROUGH THE STORM AT SEA, CHRIST TEACHES HIS DISCIPLES TO WORK IN THEIR DAILY LIVES WITH THE PREACHING THEY JUST HEARD."
Markk 4:1-12; 26-41
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
There is something settling, something comforting, in the event recorded around our text. Itís settling, comforting, because here is displayed a majesty that should put to rest every fear we might ever encounter: He "rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ĎPeace! Be still!í And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm...." In the words of Ps 107:
"The Lord, their fears allaying,
Bade storm and wind be still;
Hushed were the waves, obeying
Their Makerís word and will."
We can share the disciplesí response:
"How happy were the men
When He the calm provided
And He their ship again
To longed-for havens guided" (Ps 107:11).
Security, safe-protection at the hand of the Almighty Ė the miracle of the stilling of the storm reassures us that with the Lord around, we need not fear.
And maybe thatís the reason, beloved, why this account of Christ stilling the storm has become somewhat of a favourite for Godís people through the ages. Songs have been derived from it, allegories made from it. Itís understood that the disciples of Mk 4 represent the Christians, you and me; the waves and the wind are the storms of life. And the comforting lesson of this miracle-become-parable is that we need never fear in the face of any of lifeís storms; as long as we go through life with Jesus aboard, we shall surely arrive securely at the longed-for harbour.
Now, much can be said for the thought that life is safe Ėdespite storms- because Jesus is with us. The thought is certainly Scriptural. But in the passage before us today, congregation, the Lord our God would have us learn more than that the Christian is safe in the ship of life as long as Jesus is aboard. As we come to grips with the events of this past week, itís this deeper message we need so very much.
What that message is? This: with this storm at sea, Christ tests His disciples, tests them to see whether they will work with the instruction they have just received. For Christ looks in the storms of everyday life for fruits on the preachingÖ, and in this case these fruits were lacking. At the same time, Christ underlines through this miracle at Sea that His kingdom is certainly coming; no storm can stop Christís work of redemption. So I summarize the message of our text with this theme:
THROUGH THE STORM AT SEA, CHRIST TEACHES HIS DISCIPLES TO WORK IN THEIR DAILY LIVES WITH THE PREACHING THEY JUST HEARD.
1. The cause for the storm
2. The lesson of the storm
1. The cause for the storm
On the evening of a certain day, Jesus with His disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Jesus slept while the disciples did the sailing.
In the course of the crossing, a vicious storm suddenly blew upon the little boat. In itself, it was nothing unique that such a storm should arise. The location of the Sea of Galilee in a depression meant that breezes frequently sank from the hot, dry country around the lake into the damp depths over the Sea. And that generated a hazard for the ships on the water.
But this particular storm was, apparently, more vicious than average. For we read: "there came a great squall of wind," with as result that "the waves were breaking over into the boat so that the boat was already filling." The disciples were experienced sailors; as career fishermen on the Sea of Galilee they knew how to sail, knew also the Sea and how to approach these sudden storms. Yet in the face of this particular storm, even these experienced sailors feared for their lives; such was the vicious nature of this great squall. So in desperation they approach the sleeping Teacher and chastise Him for His lack of concern at their plight: "do you not care that we are perishing?"
For our part, brothers and sisters, we feel that we can understand the fear of the disciples. If they, seasoned sailors, fear for their lives, surely the storm must have been bad. If they are afraid, who are we, landlubbers, to suggest that they ought not to have feared?! Yes, we can sympathize with the terror of the disciples.
But we are to realize, congregation, that the Lord does not agree with our sympathy for the disciples. For Jesus asks that penetrating question: "Why are you so fearful?" We understand correctly that with this question Jesus rebukes the disciples for their fear. And that reaction of the Lord we find surprising; may one not fear when oneís boat is being swamped?
To understand the Lordís response to the terror of the disciples, we have to look into the cause of the storm. And we can discover that cause when we consider the occasion when this storm happened.
Notice that the account of the stilling of the storm begins with a reference to time (vs 35): "on the same day, when evening had come." By introducing the account of the stilling of the storm with these words, Mark connects this storm with the events of the earlier part of the day; Mark sees this storm as an extension of what happened earlier in the day.
What had happened earlier on that day is recorded in the first part of chap 4. Christ had spent that day teaching about the kingdom of God. Thatís what we conclude from vs 11, and itís repeated in vs 26, where Jesus says that "the kingdom of God is...."
Now itís true that Christ did His teaching in this chapter through parables. The reason for that was that many in the crowd did not wish to understand Jesus anyway; they followed Him for the sake of sensation. So Jesus spoke in parables, "so that ĎSeeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understandí" (vs 12). But for those who were truly interested in the kingdom of God, to them it was given that they might understand the secrets of that kingdom as Christ revealed them in His parables. And so that the disciples would understand exactly what Jesus meant in His parables, He gave them more than ears to hear; privately He also explained everything to them (vs 34).
It was the disciples who were in the boat when the storm struck. It was these same disciples who had listened to Jesusí teaching all day, who also had that preaching explained to them in clear language. What, now, was it that Christ had taught specifically to them in the course of that day?
Christ spoke of the kingdom of God. That term of Scripture does not refer to a physical kingdom of such and such a size. What is meant instead is that God is King over all the world; all is His kingdom, nothing falls outside of His sovereign control. The only thing is that not all in the world acknowledge that God is King, is sovereign. When we read that Godís kingdom is coming, then the point is that God in Christ is compelling people to recognize, to admit that He is King, is sovereign. So on the last day every knee of every created thing will bow before the King of kings; they will acknowledge that He in truth is God.
Christ spent the earlier part of the day teaching about the kingdom of God. By means of parables He told His disciples that kingdom grows. The sower, eg, went forth to sow his seed, and some seed fell on rocks, others on poor soil, others on good soil. Some of that seed was plucked up before it could bear fruit, but other seeds grew well and produced a rich harvest, some bearing 30 fold, some 60 fold, some 100. And the point in it all was this: the kingdom of God is coming; though some seed may be plucked up and other seeds may be choked, the promise is fixed: there shall be fruit, God shall be recognized and acknowledged as king.
Thatís also the point in the parable of the growing grain in the vss 26-29. The seed is sown, and then the farmer can go to bed; he need do nothing more for the seed for it invariably grows by itself. So it is with the kingdom of God; it is sown, its beginnings are established, and so of necessity it will grow into a full plant - God will be acknowledged as king by the world.
Again, to what can this kingdom of God be compared? Jesus asks attention for the mustard seed, the smallest of the seeds. But it grows, and nothing prevents it from becoming a tree and being acknowledged as such by the birds of the air, for they nest in its branches. As the mustard seed grows from tiny to large, from useless to being a home for the birds, so also the kingdom of God grows from tiny to catholic, for the well being of one and all. And nothing can stop its growth. The kingdom of God: thatís all the world. And that kingdom is coming, and that means that all the world will be made to acknowledge that God is sovereign over all.
This is what Christ had taught in the course of the day, and what the Teacher had explained privately to His disciples. But, we understand, this information, like all preaching of the gospel, should not go into the disciplesí mental file, there to collect dust until it be needed for future discussions. No, the disciples should work with this instruction. Thatís why it was given!
So it is that at the end of this dayís teaching, Jesus says to His disciples: "Let us cross over to the other side." That statement was an instruction for the disciples to get into their boat and sail across the sea. But it was more than instruction, beloved; it was also a promise, a promise that Jesus and the disciples would safely get to the other side. For thatís the way it is when Jesus says something; it shall happen as He desires. And that is something these disciples should know; they had just heard on that very day what Christís kingship and sovereignty was all about.
The disciples, sailors that they were, took command of the boat, sailed it across the water. The Lord, meanwhile, lay down in the stern to sleep. Yes, the Sea of Galilee was given to unpredictable storms, but Jesus was working with that which He had taught in the course of the day; Jesus knew who was sovereign, knew that all creation had to acknowledge God as king, had to listen to Him. So Jesus could do as David had done when Absalom pursued him (Ps 3); he lay down and slept. Jesus, too, laid down and slept, confident that He was safe in the hands of the Almighty.
But while the Master slept in peace, and while the disciples rowed their boat, the Lord God caused a cold draft from the dry lands to rush down upon the damp air over the lake. He was King, in firm control over all, and therefore He commanded the wind to blow and the waves to rise. And since He was King, the wind and waves obeyed Him.
But the disciples are slow to understand that the reality of Godís kingdom means that all the world is securely in His hands. Despite what they had heard in the course of the day about the kingdom of God, it does not dawn on them in this storm that howling winds and thrashing waves must obey the Creator. It doesnít dawn on them and so they fear. They are terror stricken, because they see the elements rage, and they do not see that Godís kingship means that all creation must submit to the King of kings. They see the elements rage, and do not see behind the raging elements the hand of their God. They are terror stricken, because they do not work with that which the Teacher had taught them in the course of the day. Christ explained what the kingship of God was all about, but the disciples do not appreciate that neither sea nor wind, neither storm nor tempest, can separate them from the love of God. The secrets of the kingdom of God, the fact that God was forcing His sovereignty to be acknowledged, did not become living realities for the disciples. They had listened, they had learned, but in the problems of daily life they forget what Jesus had taught them, do not work with the Lordís preaching. Thatís why Jesus responds to them as He does: "How is it that you have no faith?" Have you forgotten all I taught you today? Have you not digested My teaching, have you let it go in one ear and out the other, or have you perchance stored it in your mind as interesting but not all that relevant for the ups and downs of every day living? Do you not realize, O My disciples, that My teaching is practical, is very concrete, means everything for daily living? Why then are you afraid, O men of little faith?!
So we find ourselves in the heart of the second point:
2. The lesson of the storm
What is that lesson? Itís this: if Godís kingdom is real, if God is sovereign over all, there is every reason for Godís people to be secure, at peace. The reality of Godís kingship means that in the nitty-gritty of live there is no room for fear in the heart of the child of the King of kings. For his God controls all.
Christ demonstrates that there is no place for fear by stilling the storm. The disciples are terrified, but Christ speaks a word Ė"peace, be still"- and lo, the winds cease blowing and the raging sea is instantly as smooth as glass. Here is pointed up the sovereignty of the King; even wind and sea obey Him. Well are the disciples impressed by what they have just seen; they are filled with awe and marvel at the sovereignty of God in Jesus Christ. They thought to be overwhelmed shortly by the waves breaking into their boat. But here is pointed up the reality that the child of God need fear nothing; all things are so in the hands of the King of kings that no thing can so much as move apart from the Lord directing it so. And all is in His hand because creation itself recognizes that God is king; His kingdom comes.
Here is pointed up also the truth that these disciples are to work with that reality of Godís sovereignty in every circumstance of life. Theyíve just heard the preaching; that preaching has to be applied. Sailors they are by trade? That means that in their sailing they should know themselves secure in the hands of the King of kings, the God of heaven and earth. Even on the water, even in the storms of life-at-sea, nothing in all creation can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus. God is King, and therefore wind and sea must obey Him.
This event of the stilling of the storm at sea occurred before Christ defeated the hosts of hell on Calvary. But if Jesus, beloved, before He went to the cross, could rebuke the 12 disciples because they did not work with the realities of the dayís teaching, how much more would a rebuke from the Lord be in place for who live after Christís triumph on Calvary when we fail to work with the fact of Christís kingship!?
We live in the New Testament dispensation. Christ has been crucified, suffered the anguish the hell, cried out that all was now finished, that Satan was defeated, our sins paid for. He arose from the dead to prove that even death itself acknowledges the lordship of God; death too has to serve God. Christ Jesus has been taken up from earth into heaven, there to be crowned with glory and honour at the right had of the Father; Heís Master over the Universe, King of kings, through whom the Father governs all things. So: neither rain nor drought nor storm nor earthquake nor even death come by chance; not a hair can fall from our heads without the will of the King of kings. So securely are all things in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ that nothing happens in all creation unless He permits it, unless He lets it happen. It is as the apostle John was shown on Patmos: no one was found worthy to open the scroll of world history, except the Lamb of God. He could open it, because He controls that history. Be it famine or war, pestilence or death, epidemic or storm: it is the exalted Christ who controls all events exactly because His kingdom has come. Good Friday is fact, Easter is fact, Ascension is fact, and therefore is Christís kingdom a reality; He is sovereign and creation itself acknowledges Him. Because Christ is enthroned as Lord of the Universe, because today all creation knows that Jesus in king, can and does the King of all tell winds to blow and winds to be still, and those winds obey Him.
But, beloved, itís not just the big things that are in His control. King He is, and therefore are also steering wheels and brakes, bicycles and cricket balls, snowflakes and cancer cells in His hands. The big difficulties of life, the small difficulties of life: nothing comes by chance, but all is in His sovereign control. And as He could once say to the wind and the waves to be still and they obeyed, so He can instruct a car to slide, and it will obey.
I realize that millions of persons on this earth will not admit that Christ is king. But that does not change the reality a dot. God has said that the ascended Son is King, and thatís why I accept His word as true, and therefore in turn I know myself secure in His almighty hands. So there is reason to lie down relaxed, reason to sleep in peace, convinced that no storm in life can harm us, no tempest can separate us from God. For all is in His hands; His is the kingdom and the power and the glory. As Paul could say to the Romans: "I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Christís kingship is reality. This is no intriguing theory good only as a conversation piece. The word God gives Sunday after Sunday is practical, and God wants His children to work with the preaching in every circumstance of life. God is King? In the particular circumstances into which God has led us as congregation this week, God would have us to apply that reality. That means concretely: in the face of injury and death weíre not to despair, nor to speak of accidents as a fatalistic thing. Weíre instead to know that our Father in Jesus Christ was in sovereign control of every detail on Tasmaniaís Lyell Highway. And since He makes no mistakes, since He is busy making His kingdom come, gathering His church through the events He executes, there is every reason for us to be at peace, to know ourselves secure in His sovereign and wise and caring hands. Through icy conditions the Lord took John to Himself so that He could receive the crown of glory. Who will dispute Godís sovereign care over John? Through icy conditions the Lord put Vernon in the hospital Ė and now uses the hands of the doctors for Vernonís rehabilitation. Who will dispute Godís sovereign care over him?
We need to go on. But weíre not alone. Our God is Lord of lords, a King of such splendour that snow and ice are in His hands, and so are the hairs on our head. This is a reality with which we need to work in the ups and downs of daily living.
And be assured, my brothers and sisters: it is not at all impossible for us to work with this faith, to trust our mighty Father. The Christ of Mk 4 has ascended into heaven to pour forth His Holy Spirit even into our hearts. That Spirit makes us able. We may consider the storms of life to be impossible, but the promise is this: nothing can separate us from the love of the King of kings; more, He gives strength to persevere even in the worst storms of life.
The prophet Isaiah once said it like this: "Fear not.... When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.... For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour" (Is 43:1ff).
Beloved, go home in peace. Amen.