This morning I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church. I chose to speak on the passage in Mark’s gospel entitled “Jesus calms the storm”. As this was an “All Age” service with the children staying in with the adults rather than going to Children’s Church, the sermon was rather simpler than usual.
Mark 4:35 – 41
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!”
Anyone ever been on a boat or a ship?
Some go on boats for pleasure and others for business.
I understand that my great grandfather was a sea captain involved in trading with Chile in South America, in the days before the Panama Canal. So he had to navigate his ship round the bottom of South America and the hazards of Cape Horn and Terra del Fuego. Beyond Cape Horn the next land was Antarctica.
But its nice to have a relaxing boat trip. We were in Pisa in Italy a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed a boat trip through the town on the River Arno seeing parts of Pisa that you wouldn’t see from the roads.
The one certain thing about being on the water be it river, lake or open sea, is you can never tell what the weather is going to do next. Water can be so unpredictable.
The sea can be flat as a mill pond one moment and suddenly all can change.
Our son Sam and his wife Naomi were recently in Zimbabwe visiting Naomi’s grandad and family. They went to see the famous and magnificent Victoria Falls; and being young and adventurous they went white water rafting on the Zambezi river some distance below the falls. I think there were about a dozen tourists and a guide in an inflatable boat. There were stretches of calm water and then they would come upon the rapids where the river flowed quickly over and around rocks and drop several metres. At one point Sam was the only one in the boat, everyone else including the guide were tossed into the water. Thankfully they all got back into the boat safely and were able to carry on with their journey.
Even big ships can get into trouble and be affected by the waves. Gaynor and I came back last week from a cruise on the MS Ventura. It is a huge ship: 115,000 tons in weight, 18 decks high and 291 metres long; that’s the same as 32 London buses lined up end to end. There were 3000 passengers and 1400 crew. It was big!
And yet before we left Southampton dock we were all shown how to put on our life jackets and where to meet if we had to abandon ship and get into the lifeboats.
Whilst we were in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of France we sailed through a storm with 90 mph winds and waves 4 metres high – that’s up to your bedroom windows if you live in a house! The ship did move about and certainly did rock during the night but we were safe.
You never can tell with the weather and no matter how big your ship you should never underestimate the power of nature.
And so to our Bible reading.
It’s been a busy day for Jesus and his disciples, teaching by the lake, which was also known as the Sea of Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River, rainfall and springs on the northern side. It’s really a freshwater lake, 13 miles long and 7 miles wide. At its deepest point the lake is only 150 feet deep. The rabbis said of it, “Although God has created seven seas, yet He has chosen this one as His special delight.” At 209 metres below sea level it’s the lowest freshwater lake in the world.
The lake was very busy with fishing villages around its shores. According to Josephus a 1st century historian there were in Jesus’ time some 230 fishing boats on the lake. In those days people used nets; either small ones thrown into the shallow water or bigger ones let down into the water from a boat.
Many of Jesus’ disciples were local lads – fishermen who had made a living on the Sea of Galilee. These were men who knew the area well and would be aware of the perils involved with being on the water.
Now evening had come and Jesus suggests going across the lake, probably to have some peace and to leave the crowds behind. Lets face it we all need time to rest and relax and recharge our batteries.
None of the local lads object to Jesus’ suggestion. Clearly they thought it was safe to go on the journey. After all they often went out fishing on the lake after dark, coming home in the early morning. They knew the lake and I am sure they would have said to Jesus if they thought there was a storm coming.
So they set off on their short voyage across the lake. Jesus settled down in the stern, the back of the boat and was so relaxed that he went to sleep.
However the peaceful calm of the Sea of Galilee can quickly become transformed by a violent storm. Winds funnel through the east-west aligned Galilee hill country and stir up the waters quickly. More violent are the winds that come off the hills of the Golan Heights to the east. Trapped in the basin, the winds can be deadly to fishermen. A storm in March 1992 sent waves 10 feet high crashing into down town Tiberias and causing significant damage.
But as we know from our reading it was quite an eventful trip. Suddenly the weather changed and we read in v37 “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.”
The fishermen had, no doubt, dealt with storms all their working lives but now there was something far worse. This is something they can’t do on their own. The only thing left is to wake Jesus and get him on the case. You feel the tension and the fear as we read in v38 ‘The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
It seems in their terror they have forgotten who Jesus is. Jesus the son of God cares for all creation. We are reminded in Psalm 121 that God is on the case 24/7; as the Psalmist wrote “he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
Jesus is described in Colossians 1:16 & 17 as follows: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Jesus, who was the creator of the universe, deals with the situation as we read in v39 “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. ”
Asking Jesus to help us in life’s problems is always the best thing we can do. Like the disciples in the boat we have to ask him. Its our decision.
A few years ago we were stranded at a service station on the M6 toll road. Our car’s starter motor had failed. I could have just sat in the car and complained that the AA didn’t come to my rescue. Well. they only knew I needed help when I phoned them and asked for assistance. Once I made that call we just had to wait for the patrol to arrive to fix the car.
Because God has given us free will, we have a choice to call out to Jesus to save us, or to remain silent and muddle through on our own. Jesus will not come to our rescue till we ask him. Having prayed the prayer we just have to wait on Jesus, just as I had to wait for the AA patrol to arrive having made the call.
If you have come to put your faith in Jesus, when you find yourselves in one of life’s storms, you are not on your own because Jesus has promised to be with his followers to the end of time. Even if you do not always feel his presence he is with us in everything we face in life.
Jesus does care even if it appears that he hasn’t instantly calmed the storm, he will be with you in the boat and you will not go under.
We read in v41 that “They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
And whilst the disciples were terrified when the storm stopped at Jesus’ command, we do not have to be terrified, for although he is the Son of God and the creator of all things he is also our friend.
This is what God said to his people through the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before Jesus was born: Isaiah 43:1 – 3 “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; ”
God will come to our rescue if we believe in him and we ask him. Amen.