Why Are You Afraid?

Why Are You Afraid?

25 He spoke, and the winds rose,
    stirring up the waves.
26 Their ships were tossed to the heavens
    and plunged again to the depths;
    the sailors cringed in terror.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards
    and were at their wits’ end.
28 “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
29 He calmed the storm to a whisper
    and stilled the waves.
30 What a blessing was that stillness
    as he brought them safely into harbor!
31 Let them praise the Lord for his great love
    and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
– Psalm 107:25-31

35 On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 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?” 39 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. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 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?” – Mark 4:35-41

The disciples of Jesus were frightened for their lives.  Their question is honest and desperate:“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  The fear in their hearts and the urgency of the question have a powerful resonance just now.  A tiny virus we can’t even see has brought our nation and much of the world to a standstill. The coronavirus has yet to hit here in Idaho with full force, but I believe our governor, Brad Little, has done exactly the right thing in asking us to stay home except for essential needs. This is very real.  A pastor friend of mine in Sacramento is ill with COVID-19, and two members of his church have died.  The storm is real. 

The truth is we live storm-tossed lives.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation.”  What is unique in this moment is we’re all facing the same storm together, all in the same boat, you might say.   And as the waves come at us, one after another, the question of these frightened disciples resonates in our hearts: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  Do you care, Lord?  We can face the wind and waves, we can face sickness and even death, if we know you care.

They called Jesus teacher,and he is teaching here.  He responded to their question with a question of his ownthat puts the whole struggle in a new light.  He said, “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  In the long run, the problem of fear is a problem of faith. We do well right now to let Jesus ask us, why are you afraid?  It’s not asked unkindly.  Jesus is always up to something good.  Let’s look at the details of the story.

V. 35 begins, “On that day, when evening had come,Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’”  It was the end of a long day of public ministry, and Jesus was exhausted.  They set out in their boat across the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, leaving the region of Galilee which was Jewish, and going to the other side of the lake, which was mostly gentile and pagan.  Mark says they took Jesus in the boat just as he was, indicating how tired he was and why he fell asleep so quickly.

Somehow, it’s helpful to see Jesus exhausted, unable to keep his eyes open.  Think of the doctors and nurses on the front lines of the epidemic, how exhausted they must be.  We’re all tired right now.  Making it through a day can feel like a major accomplishment.  So, it’s encouraging to see Christ dealt with weariness and exhaustion. Hebrews 4:5 comes to mind: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness.”  He knows what it is to be human.  He went through every human condition, subject to every human pressure, even such a simple thing as being tired at the end of a long day.  Remember that in Jesus you have a High Priest who will minister to you with sympathy and understanding.

Then came a 911 emergency. Vs. 37 says,“And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.”  The Sea of Galilee is large, about sixty-four square miles.  (By comparison, Payette Lake at McCall, Idaho, is about eight square miles.)  The Sea of Galilee is in a valley, between hills on each side that form a sort of giant wind tunnel.  I’ve been there once.  It was cold and the wind howled the whole time.  At certain times of the year, storms can be especially treacherous when cold winds blow down from the Golan Heights, and meet warm air rising from the water.  This was a severe storm, and all the more dangerous because it was at night.  Isn’t everything more frightening in the dark? They are far from shore, and the boat was filling with water.  They were in real and present danger.  

But I wonder, when the disciples awakened Jesus and said,“Don’t you care that we’re about to die?”, was there really nothing theycould have done?  Remember, that question was their fear talking, not their faith. Were these the most extreme conditions these experienced fishermen had ever seen on those waters?  Did they really have nowhere to turn, nothing they could have done?  

I think they’re acting in fear, not in faith.  Fear has a way of taking any threat and magnifying it so that it fills our field of vision.  I think this because the disciples were a lot like you and me.  I know it doesn’t take much of a threat for my heart and mind to go to the worst possible outcome.  Fear has a way of gripping the heart and filling the mind in a way that pushes faith right out.  I also know that fear makes people say irrational and sarcastic things. Things like, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  That’s the question of a desperate and fearful heart. 

Notice that Jesus was never worried about the Big Bad Storm.  When he was awakened, he wasn’t shaken by the wind and waves.  He rebuked the storm the same way a good teacher would rebuke a child who was being loud and disruptive in class.  He said, “Peace!  Be still!” Literally in the Greek it’s, “Quiet!  Be muzzled and stay muzzled!”  He was pushing back the danger, and also calming the noise and confusion.  Jesus treated the storm as a difficult challenge, a demanding set of circumstances, but not as an out-of-control death spiral. (Once again, it’s human for our hearts and minds to imagine the worst possible outcome.  By saying this, I don’t want to minimize COVID-19 at all.  The threat is real, and right now staying home is the right thing to do.) 

This was a hard storm, and the threat to the disciples was real.  But rather than grab Jesus, and accuse him of not caring, they had an opportunity to show maturity and leadership.  They had an opportunity, in other words, to show faith.  Faith means taking everything to Jesus, but it does not mean we let fear consume us and demand of Jesus that he make the problem go away.  It doesn’t mean we accuse him of not caring.  Faith, in this instance, could very well mean trusting that Jesus is with them, staying calm, bailing out the boat, working together, rowing toward shore, and relying on the other boats if they start to sink.  They had an opportunity to trust Jesus and strengthen each other under trying circumstances.  In other words, faith was called for.  But instead they panicked, and questioned Jesus in a way that was really an accusation: Do you not care that we are perishing?   

New Christian believers sometimes have the mistaken notion that coming to Christ means the end of life’s troubles.  And for many, at the beginning of their journey with Christ, there is wonderful provision!  Doors open at the right time, the sun comes out just when the clouds were gathering, and God seems to answer every prayer.  Possibilities abound.  Then the storm strikes.  And that’s when the journey to maturity in Christ begins.  Maturity comes from trusting God when there is no discernable evidence of his presence.  Storms are the school in which we learn faith.  And getting overwhelmed and controlled by fear is one indicator of how much we have left to learn.  

But it’s not danger, or even the prospect of death that we fear most.  Our deepest fears are about eternity and the character of God.  The disciples had placed their ultimate hope in Jesus Christ. They’ve seen him heal with mighty power; seen him release sufferers from the power of demons; heard him tell truths no one ever spoke before; they saw in him a Spirit-given intimacy with God they had no experience with; they had seen him challenge empty and hypocritical religion, and boldly declare the love of God.

Now he’s asleep in their hour of crisis.  I don’t think the deepest fear is that we might die.  The deepest fear is; what if he’s not who he claims to be? What if he can’t follow through? Or worse, what if he’s powerful and just doesn’t care?  

Friends, I have trusted my life to Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose again,and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, and who will return in power and glory.  I would be shaken to the core if these things turned out not to be true. But God’s dependable Word, and the experience of my own life – and many others – have shown me two things:  1) The boat won’t sink, and 2) The storm won’t last forever.

The boat won’t sink.  Jesus Christ keeps his promises.  He won’t sink.  The gospel won’t sink.  You can put the whole weight of your life on Jesus Christ.  He will supply everything you need in every circumstance.  Body and soul, in life and in death, we belong to him.  

The storm won’t last forever.  In this world you will have tribulation, said Jesus.  He is so realistic.  But the end of the story is not more suffering.  At the end of the story is glory, joy, the welcome and approval of God our Father, being made like Christ, the end of evil, the victory of God.  In this hope we press on with confidence and joy.

Three things in Mark’s account are described as great.  First, there was a great windstorm.  Second, there was a great calm after Jesus said, “Peace!  Be still.” Third, the disciples had great fear.  The surprising thing is this great fear came after the great calm.  With great fear the disciples said, “Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” They’re awestruck because, being good Jews, they know there is only One who commands the wind and sea, there is only One who commands the forces of nature, viruses included.  

Dear believer, he’s in your boat, and he says,“Peace!  Be still!” Because of him, the boat won’t sink, and the storm won’t go on forever.  Now, what is he calling you to do?