The Gospel of Mark: A Tale of Two Fears

Sermon by David Strain on March 24, 2019

Mark 4:35-41

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Now if you would take a Bible in hand and turn with me to the gospel according to Mark, chapter 4; Mark chapter 4. We've been working through Mark's gospel in the evenings and we've come to verses 35 through 41. Mark 4:35 on page 839 in the church Bibles. Jesus has been teaching all day long. We've been working through some of the records of Jesus' preaching and teaching in the parables prior to this account earlier in chapter 4. He's been teaching all day long on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Back in verse 1 of chapter 4, we noticed that the crowds that have gathered to sit under Jesus' preaching ministry were so large He was forced to adopt the expedient of teaching from a boat in the water while the crowd were listening to Him from the shore. And now, verse 35, the sun has finally set on a long day of preaching and teaching in public and explaining His ministry in private to the disciples and so when Jesus announces His intention to cross over the Sea of Galilee and to continue His ministry on the other shore it was a simple matter of hauling anchor and taking the boat they'd been using all day over the Sea of Galilee. And while they're making the crossing we're going to see a great squall whips up the waves and they soon begin to break over the boat. And in this context, Jesus exercises His authority and reveals His glory as the Lord of creation and the one safe pilot that will lead His disciples safely to the far shore.


And we’re going to come at the teaching of these verses under three headings. First, I want you to think with me about the storm that causes a storm. There’s a terrifying storm on a lake and it creates a storm of a different sort inside the boat as fear and panic overtake the disciples – the storm that causes a storm. And then secondly, the calm that brings calm. Jesus, in sharp contrast to the disciples, is the very picture of quiet repose. He is asleep in the stern of the boat in the middle of the storm and when He’s finally roused by the disciples, with a mere word, He brings the chaotic forces of a fallen nature to heal and there is a great calm. The storm that causes a storm. The calm that brings calm. And the fear, thirdly, that drives out fear. The fear that drives out fear. The disciples are terrified of the storm until Jesus, with a word, silences the wind and stills the waves and then there’s a new fear that fills their hearts – the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom. The storm that causes a storm, the calm that brings calm, and the fear that drives out fear.


Before we look at the passage and consider those headings, would you bow with me and let’s go to God and ask Him to help us as we pray. Let us pray.


O Lord, now we ask You for the illumination of the Holy Spirit to give light to our sin-benighted understanding that the truth of Your Word may bear much fruit in our lives to Your glory, that we may see Jesus in His humanity and deity, in His glory and grace, in His condescension and love, in His mighty power, in His perfect authority, and we, all of us, may come again to trust Him. For we ask this in His precious name, amen.


Mark 4 at verse 35. This is the Word of God:


“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them,” – Jesus said to the disciples – “‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking 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 that we are perishing?’ 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 so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”




Are you familiar with the term confirmation bias? Confirmation bias. So a person who has low self-esteem believes no one cares for them and they're constantly monitoring, you see, for signs of negativity and the reactions of others around them until eventually, they begin to find negativity even where it is not because they're predisposed to look for it, to expect it. Or someone who is an inveterate optimist thinks that everything is going to go well, no matter what, even though there may be contraindications and signs that might not be true, they find confirmations of their prior conviction everywhere they look. Confirmation bias. I bring that up because Mark 4:35-41 is one of the places where there can be a kind of interpretive confirmation bias in our hearts as we read the text. Because we tend to think the Bible is all about us. It's all about us and so we read the story of Jesus calming the storm and we typically read it as a lovely story that comforts us with the assurance that Jesus will calm all the storms of our lives, no matter what. The main use of Jesus in the story in this reading of the text is to rescue the disciples. The disciples take center stage; we take center stage. But that's really kind of a confirmation bias that distorts the real point of the passage which is focused not on the disciples, not on us, but on the identity of Jesus Christ that's summed up for us in the climactic, rhetorical question of the disciples in verse 41. It really does cut through our bias and our attempt to make this a story all about us. It directs our gaze away from ourselves and it asks, "Who then, is this, that even the wind and the waves, the wind and the sea obey Him?" That's the question we're supposed to grapple with as we read Mark chapter 4. "Who is this Jesus? Why has He come? And how ought I to respond to Him?"


The Storm That Causes a Storm

Interestingly, in the story, the disciples in the boat that night seem to share our inclination to make everything about ourselves. Don't they? Look at the text and notice with me first of all the storm that causes a storm. Apparently, the typography of the region means that the kind of sudden violent storm that overtook the disciples that night was not at all unusual. But I think we can safely surmise it must have been a particularly ferocious storm on this occasion for these men, experienced fishermen as they were, to descend so very quickly into blind panic. The word that Mark uses for a "storm" is the same word sometimes used for a "whirlwind." We are told that the wind and the waves, the waves are now breaking over the boat. The boat is filling with water. The boat has begun to sink, you see. And that's when they finally shake Jesus awake and ask their stunning question – isn't it a stunning question in verse 38? Can you imagine asking Jesus this question? "Teacher, don't You care that we are perishing?"



Now just take careful note of the title they apply to Jesus. It’s the first time it’s used in Mark’s gospel and it is a suitable title for one who has spent the whole day teaching and preaching the Gospel to the crowds and explaining His message to the disciples. And it has special relevance and meaning to the disciples because when they were alone together Jesus explained to them particularly and in intimate detail all that He was teaching to the whole crowd. So verse 11 of chapter 4, Jesus told the disciples, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables.” And verse 34, Mark himself adds that Jesus did not speak to them, meaning the crowds, without a parable, but privately to His own disciples He explained everything. So when they called Jesus, “Teacher,” that’s a term of special significance for the disciples, not just a general title that acknowledges that He spent the day teaching and preaching but He has been intimately involved in discipling and unpacking the message and showing them or laboring to teach them who He really is and why He has come and the significance of the breaking in of the kingdom of God into the middle of history with His arrival and public ministry.


And yet – so He’s their teacher – and yet for all the private instruction, for all their privileged access, for all the intimate discipleship they have enjoyed out on the water that night with the wind and the waves swamping the boat, it’s clear they haven’t really grasped the secret of the kingdom at all. The question is Greek is really a statement in the form of a question. You might translate it something like, “Teacher, You don’t care that we are perishing!” It’s not a real question; it’s actually an accusation. Their rapidly filling boat, their distance from the shore, the ferocity of the storm – on that dark night, all of it has eclipsed whatever they might have learned about Jesus in the bright light of day and in the clear sunshine of His message. Now they accuse Him of a lack of love! “Clearly, You don’t care that we are perishing, Jesus!” That’s the sense of it. The storms outside the boat have caused quite a storm of a different kind inside the boat. Haven’t they?



And the disciples share our biases if we’re honest. Don’t they? Like us, they think Jesus is all about them. They are the center of the story, at least in their own minds, and Jesus really ought to show them a bit more attention. I mean that’s His job after all. “Love me. Rescue me. Get me out of this mess. Look at this nightmare, Jesus! You can’t possibly care for me in light of all of this!” After all, being out there on the lake that night was Jesus’ idea. It was because of Jesus that they were there at all. What are we to make of all of that?


Sinclair Ferguson, commenting on this passage, reminds us. “Sometimes we find ourselves in difficulties because of our own sin and foolishness, but there are times when the Lord Himself leads us into difficulties. Contrary to the picture sometimes painted of the Christian life, Jesus did not solve all of the disciples’ problems and protect them from trials and perplexities. In fact, sometimes He led them quite deliberately into them.” The disciples have misread providence. They’ve misunderstood what’s going on. The storm into which Jesus led them and the fact that He’s asleep in the stern of the boat while they’re buffeted and rocked by the waves leads them to conclude He doesn't really love them. But the truth is, Jesus has led them into the storm precisely because He loves them.


Now I need to hear that again and again, don't you? Aren't we prone to put ourselves at the center of our own private worlds? Sure, we might know better, intellectually at least, but somewhere deep down we still believe, "Jesus is all about my comfort and my prosperity and if I'm just faithful to Him, He's going to fix everything else. Everything should work out for me. Jesus won't let me down." And then the crisis strikes and providence brings some unforeseen hardship or loss or pain and we just can't accommodate it in our understanding of the Christian life. "The Christian life is all about me being faithful and fixing everything!" And then when it seems as though He doesn't, the whole fabric of our conviction begins to fall apart. We begin to wonder if He really cares. "If He really loved me, you see, He'd take this away. He'd heal my loved one. He'd resolve my financial crisis. If He really loved me, life wouldn't be this hard. Jesus, don't You care that I am perishing?" I'm sure these words are never heard on our lips but haven't there been moments when they've echoed around in our hearts, nevertheless? "Don't You care that I am perishing?"


Providence of God

But in those moments we’ve misread the providence of God. Jesus led the disciples into the storm. It wasn’t a lack of care for them that brought them there. It was love that brought them there. And neither is it a lack of care for you that brings you into your present trials. The disciples called Jesus, “Teacher,” but they did not understand in the boat that night He was still teaching them. Out on the lake, as the waves begin to fill the boat, He was still teaching them. Brothers and sisters, Jesus is still teaching you in the storms, in the dark providences, in the sore trials. He is teaching you the same lesson He was teaching the disciples. There is nowhere safer, whatever trials come, than to be with Jesus. You really can trust Him to lead you through, not necessarily always to take it away, but always to lead you through, to lead you safely to the far shore. Always. So that’s the first thing – the storm that caused the storm.


The Calm That Brings Calm

Then secondly notice the calm that brings calm. The calm that brings calm. Look at Jesus in the middle of all of this. Verse 30 says that He is asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat. In 1986, a boat was discovered on the Sea of Galilee from the 1st century. It was 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, 4.5 feet deep. It could seat about fifteen people. In the stern, it had a high, elevated platform, and likely in our story, Jesus is asleep in such a boat underneath that elevated platform. There is a cushion there. The Greek says, "the cushion," which seems to indicate that that spot was equipped for people to go and shelter and rest. And that's where Jesus is now sleeping in this sheltered position, oblivious to the wind and the waves. He is worn out. He's worn out. He's exhausted after teaching all day long. That's important because it bears testimony to us about the full, real humanity of our Lord. He is a man, remember, with finite, physical resources. He's been preaching and teaching all day long. He's poured himself out in the proclamation of the Word and now at the end of the day He is utterly spent, and so He's asleep, deeply asleep in the stern of this storm-tossed boat.


The Contrast

But I think Mark wants us to see even more than simply a marker here reminding us of the full, true humanity of Christ. He wants us to see the careful contrast between Jesus in the boat in the middle of the storm and the disciples in the boat in the middle of the storm. The disciples panic because they don't understand the sovereign purposes of God in His sore providences. And Jesus, on the other hand, is serene because He knows His hour has not yet come. He knows His mission stretches out ahead of Him still. He knows the sovereignty of God is a softer pillow in the storm than the cushion on which He sleeps. He is unconcerned because of His confidence in the sovereign purposes of God in whose hands He rests. For the disciples, the storm outside the boat has shattered what peace they enjoyed inside the boat. But in Jesus' case, influence flows in the opposite direction. Doesn't it? When he was finally roused by His frantic followers, in verse 39 he stands and rebukes the wind and says to the sea, "Peace, be still. And the wind ceased and there was a great calm." The peace that let Jesus sleep so soundly, so calmly flows from Him and brings calm to the troubled waters of the sea. Here is creation raging in chaos and disorder, threatening and malicious, and here is the Creator made flesh. And when He merely speaks the Word, He simply speaks the Word and the storm comes to heel like a well-trained pet at the sound of its master's voice.


Jesus’ Mission

And in that moment, we are given a picture, right there in the middle of the storm. As with a word, He brings troubled nature to heel. We’re actually given a picture of Jesus’ ultimate mission, a glimpse of why He came. This is going to be the final outcome of His earthly ministry, not just for this one squall on the Sea of Galilee but for the whole created order. Think about it. What is the storm? It is an expression of the curse, isn’t it? You remember the curse pronounced upon creation when the first Adam sinned and fell. The ground was cursed. The fabric of creation itself was cursed. Now disordered and chaotic, dangerous, but here is Jesus the second Adam, the God-Man, who came to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. He did what the first Adam did not do. Jesus kept covenant with God. He obeyed and bled and died. The curse fell on Him, etched itself into Him. The storm of divine wrath engulfed Him and there was no peace for Him. Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” He was cursed at the cross that one day the world might be made new. The leaves of the tree from which our first parents were barred in Genesis 3, the leaves of the tree will now be for the healing of the nations. The curse undone at last. And harmony, peace restored in a new creation.


The disciples were afraid that they would perish that night. They didn't understand that Jesus came to give them life, to give them life. He would perish that they might live. That's why He came – to give us life at the cost of His own. And Jesus' question to them in verse 40 is the question, actually, He asks of us all as we face the strange motions of a frowning providence in our own lives and experience. Do you hear Jesus' word to you? "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? Do you really think there is a safer place in all the universe than in this boat in the middle of this storm if I am here with you? Don't you see yet why I have come?" After all the teaching, all the discipling, even stilling the apparent threat of the storm, even after all of that, this threatful storm seems to carry more weight with the disciples than His presence, Christ's presence, and promise and power. He's simply saying to them, "You can trust Me. Trust Me." Isn't that the Word of Christ to you, to me? Don't we need to hear Him say that again? "You can trust Me. Trust Me. I am the only safe object for your faith. Trust Me. I will pilot you safely to the far shore."


The Fear That Drives Out Fear

The storm that causes a storm. The calm that brings calm. Finally, notice the fear that drives out fear. The fear that drives out fear. The disciples' fears are transparent, aren't they, in the question they ask Jesus. "Don't You care that we are perishing?" Jesus sees their fear, He calls them on it in verse 40 – "Why are you still so afraid?" But when He rose and spoke so calmly in the face of the howling wind and the pounding seas, "Peace, be still," a new fear fills their hearts. Verse 41, they are "filled with a great fear, and said to one another, ‘Who is this, even the wind and the sea obey Him?" The word that Jesus uses for the disciples' fear of the storm really means "cowardice." It's terror. They're afraid they're going to die. It's cowardice. But the word that Mark uses to describe the response of the disciples after He stills the storm, for their fear it's a different word. Literally, he says, "they feared a great fear and said to one another, ‘Who is this, even the wind and the sea obey Him?'" The great fear that fills them is the proper response of creatures to the Creator. The story is almost a paraphrase of several places in the psalms – Psalm 89:8-9 for example. "O Lord, God of hosts! Who mighty as You are, O Lord? With Your faithfulness all around You, You rule the raging sea. When its waves rise, You still them." Or Psalm 107::23-32:


“Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.”


“Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obeys Him?” It’s a rhetorical question. They know exactly who it is. And the great fear that fills their heart that drives out every other fear is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom. They’ve come to see that their teacher is no mere rabbi like all the others. He is the Lord of glory come down for them and for their salvation. In place of their former cowardice before the storm, their hearts are now consumed with holy awe before the Lord Jesus Christ. What’s happened?


The great Thomas Chalmers, principal of New College Edinburgh in the middle of the 19th century, once preached a famous sermon called, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Here’s his basic argument. “We have affirmed how impossible it were for the heart by any innate elasticity of its own to cast the world away from it and thus reduce itself to a wilderness. The heart is not so constituted.” And listen to this, “The only way to dispossess it of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.”


Now here's why I bring that up. How do you overcome the confirmation bias that puts self at the center, only itself to be overcome with cowardice and panic when providence gets hard? Not by screwing ourselves uptight and saying, "Snap out of it! Pull yourself together, man!" The only way is by the expulsive power of a higher, deeper, sweeter fear – the fear of the Lord. The holy wonder and reverential awe that bows before the Lord Jesus Christ and names Him Lord of all. Don't fear the wind and the sea. Fear the Lord with a great fear. Tremble before the God-Man, the Lord and giver of life, who gave His life that you might live. That's a fear that drives out all others. One who fears the Lord need fear nothing and no one else. One who fears the Lord need fear no one and nothing else.

Our hearts are far too small not to fear. Aren’t they? The question is, “Which fear will rule you?” The fear that overwhelms us, the panic that we won’t cope when hard providences come – we typically feel that way because we think we should be sufficient for every challenge. We’re over-confident. We’re far too self-assured. We’ve put ourselves at the center of the story. But when you come to realize our life story and the story of all things is the story of Jesus – He’s the center of the story – when you come to trust in Him, rest on Him, when the fear of the Lord holds your hearts, all other fears must depart. So which fear is going to rule you? The fear of the storm or the fear of the Lord?


Let’s pray together.


Lord, we confess to You that we put ourselves in the center of the story all the time. We tell ourselves the lie that we are sufficient for whatever is waiting around the next bend in the road and then when we get there we realize that we’re not and we’ve overwhelmed and panic strikes. And we find ourselves accusing You – “You don’t really care. If You really cared, You would smooth my path and ease my passage and make everything okay for me.” We’ve forgotten the words we were singing earlier, that even the inward trials that so wound us are employed by Your hand from self and pride to set us free that we may find our all in You. Please give to us the fear, the fear of the Lord, that sweet, reverent trembling awe that trusts the great King and the Lord of creation, the Lord Jesus, that can expel, that can expel worldly fears. For we ask it all in Jesus’ precious name, amen.

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