Mark 4:35-41 (NIV) 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!”
We had just eaten St. Peter’s fish on the eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee. We got on a boat and headed toward the western bank. The sea was like glass. I said to one of the other pastors on this first ever Seminary archeological dig trip to Israel back in 1978, “Wouldn’t it be cool, if a little storm would kick up?” I hardly got the words out of my mouth when the wind picked up and the waves got higher. My fellow pastor in the boat said to me, “Be careful what you ask.” Now it didn’t turn out to be a big storm like the one we heard about in the Gospel reading a little while ago. But the lesson to be learned from that incident recorded by Mark remains the same. Let me highlight a few verses again from Mark 4. (Read verses 35, 37, 39-40) As we continue our theme, “Followers of Jesus”, today we are taught, “In the Storms of Life Followers of Jesus Are Careful What They Ask”. I. They don’t question Jesus’ care. II. They don’t question what Jesus can do.
Jesus had put in some long days teaching the crowds on the western bank of the Sea of Galilee. That was tiring for him who was born into this world as true Man. He needed some R&R, so he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” So they left the crowds for the time being and the disciples who were experienced boaters took Jesus along “just as he was”. They had all things under control and Jesus didn’t need any life jacket drills or a lesson in boating. They surely had even experienced storms on this lake when fishing because storms were and are quite common. But nothing like the one that blew out of the deep ravines called wadis in the western mountains fueled by the winds from the Mediterranean Sea. It roared so furiously that the waves began to fill the fishing vessel. These self-confident boaters suddenly were filled with the fear of drowning. Meanwhile Jesus was sleeping with his head on the pillow the pilot of the boat usually sat on.
In panic mode the disciples woke Jesus with a request. But they were not careful what they asked him. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Up to this point Jesus had mainly been teaching them and others he was the promised Messiah. So they addressed the question to him as Teacher. He had performed some miracles like changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana and healing a man’s withered hand. So the disciples did know he was the Christ. But this was a critical time. This affected them very personally. This was a matter of life and death. And their faith wavered a bit, or more than a bit. They did question Jesus’ care for them. In love, Jesus scolded their lack of faith in his care. He said, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
When we experience the storms of life, might Jesus have to say the same to us at times? We do by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We are his followers. And followers of Jesus don’t question his care, right? Well, unfortunately there is still that follower of sinful self in us also that questions his care when the storms blow. Praise the Lord he still in his word lovingly chides us also to turn to him and trust his care. His word assures us he cares no matter how anxious weather storms, sickness storms, loss of stuff or far worse, loss of loved ones storms, struggles with our faith storms and the list goes on. Peter, who was one who questioned his care in the storm tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee, wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Cast all your anxieties on him for he cares for you.” So when Satan in the storms of life whispers in our ears, “Jesus doesn’t care for or about you or this wouldn’t be happening to you”, one little word can fell him as Luther wrote. That word, “Jesus’ cross and empty tomb” where he paid for our every sin and made us children of God. At the foot of the cross and at his empty tomb we are assured, he cares deeply. Yes, even for our needs in stormy times. Recall how he cared for his mother and apostle when from that very cross he showed care for both in the days to come, “Here is your son. Here is your mother.” When I was a young boy and a storm was coming my dad would rouse us all and gather us in a safe place. He did this because he cared for his family. Trouble was, even though he cared, he really had no power to control what the storm might do. Not so with our caring Savior. His followers do not question what he can do.
“Quiet! Be still!” Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the waves. And the storm did not slowly calm down and dissipate as nature usually does. Rather we are told, “Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” Jesus, the true Man who needed rest and was asleep on the pilot’s pillow is also the Creator God who made this sea and all else that exists. And he controls all by his powerful word. He is the almighty, who can do all things. It was like putting a muzzle on a growling and dangerous animal as Jesus simple, yet powerful word calmed the growling and dangerous sea. I am reminded of how on the dig trip I mentioned earlier, we heard his word and received his body and blood on those mountains on the western side of the sea and sang, “Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters. Put you hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea.” As followers of Jesus, we can do that in the storms of life.
Trouble is, that sinful doubter inside us questions even who Jesus is and what he can do, something like the disciples were not careful in what they asked as they looked at the calm waters suddenly surrounding them. “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.” They had heard the voice from heaven say he was the one sent from heaven by his Father at Jesus’ baptism. They had seen some supernatural things he did. They knew, but… When the chips are down and the storms strike sometimes faith wavers. Then go back to his word, like this very word of God and let the Holy Spirit once again assure you who he is, the very God himself who can do all things. Even the winds and waves obey him, and financial challenges, and sickness and loss and death. Behold his empty tomb. (Much more on that next week)
OK, as a follower of Jesus by God’s grace and the Spirit working though the Gospel in word and Sacrament, I don’t have much trouble believing Jesus can do whatever I ask no matter how severe the storm might be. My weakness is trusting whether he will do what I would like him to. In fact, though I hate to admit it, I ask him filled with doubt he will. I fit what James wrote, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like the wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” That is when I need to hear again my Savior say to me, “Be still and know that I am God”. That is when something like the urging on the TV screen this past week when storms threatened to seek refuge, I need to be urged by God’s powerful word, “God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” That is when I need to go to Jesus’ empty tomb and not only know and trust that he can do all things, but to know and trust that his ways and far above my thoughts and ways. I need to be strengthened in my following Jesus and in being careful what I ask and how I ask it. The one who slept on the pilot’s pillow is now in charge in heaven. He who neither slumbers nor sleeps, always hears what we ask as he pilots our life boat through the stormy seas.
One day, you and I will look around us and see only calm. It’s called heaven.