Summary: When we face some great obstacle or some uncontrollable force in our lives, we have a Lord with us who is greater than all the forces in the created world. We can pray to God with confidence that he’s able to do anything we ask.
Di & I were watching a show the other day where they were previewing the latest movies and one came up that we decided was just too close to the truth to bear watching. It was based on the tsunami in 2004. Do you remember it? Those horrific scenes of the ocean rolling in and swallowing everything in its path. [video clip] 230,000 people died in 4 different countries. Do you remember watching the news reports and being reminded once again of the awesome power of God’s creation and humans’ inability, despite our great advances in science and technology, to fully control it?
Of course to the ancient peoples of the middle east, the sea, in particular, was seen as the image of unpredictability, of anarchy, of all the forces of evil that opposed God and his people. You can understand why, can’t you? The sea can be a fearsome thing even for those who know it well. [Video clip - the Perfect Storm] [Well the storm on Galilee wasn’t quite a Perfect Storm but] as we’ll see as we go through today’s passage Jesus’ disciples were among those who knew the sea and yet could be afraid of it.
In fact in today’s passage we find two types of forces that people fear. First there’s the power of the sea, which we all understand, but then there’s that other power that so many fear because they can’t understand it or comprehend it. That is the power of the spirit world. [Again there’s something very contemporary about this issue as well. TV shows and movies regularly portray all sorts of supernatural forces that our modern, scientifically trained, minds don’t want to admit. Yet these forces have been known and talked about since the scriptures were first written.]
I wonder how many of us have trouble believing that God still intervenes in the world in a miraculous way. When we pray do we really believe that God can and will answer our prayers? Or do we hedge our prayers to make them more ‘reasonable’, not asking for anything that’s outside the realms of the rational and explainable? Do we asking for patience rather than healing? Do we prefer to put up with the hardships of life rather than ask God to change them? Or are we so overcome by the troubles that we face that we simply forget to look to God for help?
Well, in today’s passage we find two situations where Jesus is confronted with uncontrollable forces: the forces of nature, the sea and the wind, and the forces of the spirit world, a legion of evil spirits. And what happens? As he confronts them he shows that the power he has is far greater than any power of the created world.
Let’s have a look at the passage. Mk 4:35: “On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.” Just as an aside by the way, notice this last bit of redundant information: “Other boats were with him.” These other boats aren’t mentioned again, they’re just one of those things that the person telling the story remembers. But this is the sort of thing that indicates that this is a true eye witness account. The person telling the story remembers the little details as well as the important parts.
Anyway, as they’re going across the lake a great windstorm blows up. Lake Galilee is the sort of place where a gale can spring up in a very short time, making sailing very dangerous, particularly if you’re a fair way from land. And that was the case here. This great storm had blown up and despite all the efforts of the disciples the boat was being swamped.
Now as I said before, these were Galilean fishermen. This was their profession. They’d spent all their life on the lake, probably since they were old enough to walk. So they knew what they were doing. If there was some way of saving the situation they would have found it. But they also knew the dangers of the sea. No doubt they’d known people who’d drowned because they’d been caught out in one of these storms. And now they’ve found themselves in a similar situation. They’d done all they could and it wasn’t enough. It looked like the ship was lost and them with it.
Meanwhile, what’s Jesus doing? Well, he’s asleep in the back of the boat. He’s so exhausted from teaching and healing that he’s fallen asleep on the helmsman’s pillow. He’s totally oblivious to the chaos that’s going on around him. That is, until they come and wake him up. They wake him to tell him that he’s about to die. There’s a real sense of fear here in the way they approach him. They’ve seen this sort of storm before and they know what happens to people who are caught in the midst of one. All their experience and knowledge says “You’re going to die!”