And Jesus was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion. Mark 4:38
Today we learn what trust looks like from God’s perspective.
This is an amazing scene. Jesus has been travelling the countryside with his disciples, teaching in parables, healing the sick, bringing hope and mercy to those who are lost. All along the way, we’re told, he goes into greater detail with the Twelve, sitting quietly with them in the morning or evening and answering their questions about how the parables apply to life. And then, one night after teaching about faith – you’ll remember the parable from last week, about the gardener who spread his seeds and then did what? …went to bed, and got up, and faithfully went about his day, and went to bed again, and kept on faithfully going about his days until one day, without him knowing how or even really when, the seed of faith had sprouted.
So it’s evening, Jesus has just shared this last parable, and then he says “guys, it’s time for us to go to the other side of the lake”. The ‘lake’ we’re talking about here is the Sea of Galilee, 13 km across, the same lake where Peter and Andrew and James and John had fished for years. So they hop in a sail boat and head out into the dark night, along with the other boats also catching the evening wind as it changes direction.
So there they are, bobbing about in a little lboat on the dark waters when the gentle breeze becomes a mighty storm, so big that the waves are crashing up over the side, as they start to notice the water gathering around their sandals. And having just been taught about faith, what do the disciples do? They freak out. They’re anxious. I imagine them calling to each other, passing around buckets or basins. Having grown up around opinionated fishermen, I imagine them calling to each other in pretty salty language about whether or not they should turn back. We know it wasn’t their boat, so I imagine Andrew or John, one of the guys who had called in a favour from an old fishing buddy, worrying how they’re going to pay for the damage to the boat since Jesus already had them give up fishing, so it’s not like they were earning any income.
The wind is howling, the waves are crashing as chilly water creeps up over their feet, they’re yelling, they’re worried, they’re scared and probably fighting amongst themselves.
…and where was Jesus?
Mark 4, verse 38: “and Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion”.
(Isn’t this fun? The Bible is full of surprises!)
Now this might seem a little shocking. It might even seem offensive, or wrong when we first think about it. Our Lord’s closest friends aren’t just anxious – they’re fearful. They’re scared to death: they yell at Jesus, “don’t you care that we’re going to die?!” They’re scurrying about, talking about turning around, wondering about the damage that could be done, maybe even wishing that Jesus would get off his cushion and give them a hand bailing out the boat.
What’s going on here – in their moment of life and death anxiety, hearts pounding, wind howling, waves crashing, the Lord’s asleep!
I think the disciples’ question is a fair one: does Jesus not care that they’re perishing? It’s like the Israelites in the desert with Moses: “have you brought us here to die? There were plenty of graves back where we came from!”
Yet, even through all these difficult questions, this is where we find an incredible lesson.
Faith is a gift; it’s not something we can drum up within ourselves. Like the gardener, our task is to faithfully rise and go about our day while God gives the growth.
But trust… well, that’s a different story.
Trusting God in the Storm.
Trust isn’t a gift – it’s something that must be exercised, it’s something that increases with use, just as we know that being found trustworthy with something small results in being entrusted with more.
Are the disciples’ worries and concerns and fears legitimate? If you’re out at sea in a sailboat at night in a windstorm, you don’t have a lifeboat or any lifejackets, and your boat is taking on water, is it fair to be worried? Yes. The concerns are all legitimate.
But this is where trust comes in.
Whose idea was it to get into the boat this night? Was it Peter? Andrew? Matthew? No, Jesus set the course. Jesus knew the starting point, he set the destination, and he knew the way to get there.
And, did Jesus send them off alone to fend for themselves? No. Now, you might say it doesn’t look like he’s very actively involved – he’s asleep on a cushion, after all. But the question can’t be “do I see exactly how God is involved in this situation?”. No, the question of faith is simply “is Jesus with me?”. The same Jesus who said that when we go forth on his mission, he is with us always. The same Jesus who said that wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he’s in their midst. So maybe you can’t see what he’s doing – maybe it looks like Jesus is taking a nap – but is Jesus in the boat? Yes.
So, out on the dark, stormy sea, is it right for those disciples to take action, to grab buckets, to bail out the water? Yes, absolutely.
Is it right for them to call out to Jesus and say ‘Lord, we need you!’. Yes.
Is it right for them to say ‘maybe we should turn back.’ ‘Maybe the cost is too high, who will fix the boat if this doesn’t work’. Is it right for them to say ‘I can’t see a way out of this, this will be the death of me.’ No.
Even when the storms are swirling around us, that’s where trust teaches us to draw the line. My friends, hear this –
If Jesus sets the course
and Jesus is in the boat
we will make it to our destination.
It’s far better to be in the raging storm with Jesus, following faithfully where he leads, headed with him and with our brothers and sisters towards the destination that our mission requires, than home, safe asleep in our beds, but going nowhere.
It’s an odd sort of encouragement, isn’t it?
How much easier it would be if, by having Jesus in the boat, we could just avoid the storms altogether. But that’s not how it works.
Jesus didn’t create the storm – the storm is just part of life in this fallen world, and we know Jesus didn’t purposefully make a storm come up to teach them a lesson or any other pious foolishness; after all, Jesus rebukes the storm – he wouldn’t rebuke it if it was doing what He wanted.
But I believe Jesus knew the storm was there, he knew it was coming. But can the storms of life separate us from the plans God has, from the destination to which he’s asking us to follow? No, never.
Jesus set the course.
Jesus is in the boat.
They’re going to make it to their destination.
But it requires trust. Here’s the hard lesson: it’s not the storm that’s going to keep them from their destination. The one who created wind and waves is with them, and He’s at peace. The only thing going to keep them from their destination is if they give in to their fears.
If they say “I know Jesus wanted to cross over, but this was a bad idea, lets go back”, they might try to blame it on the storm, but the decision to turn back was theirs.
If they say “I know He can walk on water; I know he can heal the sick and feed the hungry and raise the dead, but I’m scared, I’m running around franticly, and he won’t run around franticly with me”, we might blame it on the storm, but the decision to turn back is ours.
Rather, the question we can ask is: “are we going where Jesus leads?” Did He set the course, or was this my plan? If it’s my plan, turn back!
The question we can ask is, simply, “is Jesus with us?”. Am I going my own way? Do I have the body of Christ, my brothers and sisters, carrying this burden, facing this storm with me? Have I invited my brothers or sisters in Christ to walk with me, knowing that when two or three are together, Jesus is there; or, am I trying to face this alone, with no room for Jesus or anyone else? If the only one you can trust is yourself, then yes, turn back.
You see, trust is knowing that the one who set the destination and is going with you on the way will complete the good work that has begun. He will guard us, guide us, keep us, and feed us; he will guide the future as he has the past – because, really, no matter how anxiously we flail about, who else can be our helper? If the waves are going to crash through the side of your boat, your little bucket isn’t worth trusting in. Our only hope – in life and in death – is that we are not our own, but belong to God; and if we’re in the boat that he chose, on the course that he set, and he’s journeying with us, we don’t need to fear the storm.
Not just forgetting fear.
But this is not just about ignoring the storm, or bottling up our fears. We are disciples. We are the apprentices learning from our Master.
And what is the goal of the Christian life? The imitation of Christ.
“Jesus 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?”
As we grow into the image and likeness of Christ, as our anxious mind is transformed by following God’s will, as our hard hearts are replaced with tender hearts of flesh, we not only trust God’s destination, but we, too, will learn to be at peace – maybe even able to sleep through! – the storms life throws at us. Even more, when we trust the course He has set and are sure of his presence with us, we will learn, with Christ, to simply echo his voice which settles the storm and brings peace.
Have you met those people? People facing incredible hardship, real pain, maybe even those for whom the dark clouds of death are closing in. Yet, through a life of faith, they’re not afraid. They know that Jesus set the course they’re following; they know that Jesus is with them; they trust they’ll make it safely to their destination, and that, my friends, opens the door to the peace that passes all understanding – peace that makes no human sense, apart from the sure and certain faith that God will complete the good work that he has started.
And Jesus was asleep on a cushion. Should we fear? No. Put your trust in God, and remember:
If Jesus sets the course
and Jesus is in the boat
we will make it to our destination.