Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
There is no need to panic in the storms of life when we’re in the same boat as Jesus.
Each Sunday before New Year’s Day, we have an opportunity to open up God’s word and receive a word of encouragement for the new year. And in that spirit, I ask that we turn to the Book of Mark Chapter 4:35-41. It’s there that we find a story from the life of our Lord that gives us a wonderful and much-needed exhortation for the year to come.
The word of encouragement we draw from this passage is simply this: No matter what may happen in the coming year—whether in terms of the uncontrollable world events that may occur around us or the unexpected challenges that may fall into our personal lives and into the lives of those we love—we will never need to panic if we keep our focus on Jesus.
Mark tells us of a very busy day that occurred in the life of our Lord and His disciples, as He taught the masses by the Sea of Galilee. He writes;
And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. 36 And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. 37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. 38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? 39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41).
Isn’t it interesting how often, in reading the Gospels, that we seem to encounter stories that involve a boat out in the midst of a violent storm? I’ve had that experience. and so many of my Vincentian people who have. They tell me it’s terrifying; because it’s a potentially deadly situation over which you have absolutely no control whatsoever.
The Old Testament describes a situation in Psalm 107:23-32 that seems to anticipate this miraculous story of our Lord. Even so, it makes me a little sea-sick when I read it.
Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters,
They see the works of the LORD,
And His wonders in the deep.
For He commands and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up the waves of the sea.
They mount up to the heavens,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry out to the LORD in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still.
Then they are glad because they are quiet;
So He guides them to their desired haven.
Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of the people,
And praise Him in the company of the elders (Psalm 107:23-32).
Praise God that the wind and the waves are under His control! But because they’re not in any way under our control, it can be a terrifying thing to be in the midst of them. I think that a boat in the midst of the storm, then, is a perfect way to describe certain kinds of situations in life.
I’m not talking here about situations in which we have some measure of influence on the outcome. If we’re doing something wrong and are suffering for it, for example, we can often make things better by obeying God and doing what is right. Or, if we have the foresight to see that something disastrous is about to happen, it may be that we have the capacity to take preventative measures and avoid trouble. But I’m not talking about that kind of situation.
Instead, I’m talking about the kind of situation over which you and I have absolutely no control whatsoever! I’m talking about those times when something arises that completely overwhelms you—something that tosses you around, and threatens to destroy you; and that you literally cannot do anything to bring it to an end, or influence its outcome. Like the psalmist says, your “soul melts because of trouble”, and you “reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man”, and you’re at your “wit’s end”. From a human standpoint, you are completely at the mercy of circumstances—like a helpless boat tossed about in a storm.
Perhaps you’ve been in such a situation. Perhaps more of those kinds of circumstances will arise in the coming year. But I believe this passage gives us good news. If they come, we won’t ever have to panic—so long as we’re in the same boat as Jesus!
Let’s look a little more closely at this passage. And to begin, I can just imagine someone asking, “What does it mean that Jesus was asleep in the boat in the midst of this terrible storm?” And I have a good answer for that. It was because He was very tired.
The fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel begins by telling us that Jesus “began to teach by the sea”; and as it turned out, so many people had gathered around Him that he couldn’t even stand on the shore any longer. So, He got into a boat, pushed out into the Sea of Galilee, and taught people as they stood along the shore.
That’s one of the most endearing pictures we have as Christians of our Lord’s ministry on earth, isn’t it?—visualizing Him teaching the multitudes from a boat in the sea? And what a day of teaching it was! It was a time in which He taught them many of the parables we have grown to love—the parable of the sower and the different soils; the parable of the lamp under a bushel; the parable of the seed that grew up overnight; the parable of the mustard seed. And what’s more, He often met alone with His disciples and explained everything to them personally. This, then, was a day of legendary teaching! And good teaching is exhausting work—especially when there are lots of people involved.
Our Lord was always about the Father’s business—whether it was healing people, or travelling, or ministering to individual needs, or preaching to great crowds. And so, at the end of this very busy day, “when evening had come”, He pulled His disciples close to Him and said, “Let us cross over to the other side.” (This, I believe, was because He had an appointment to keep the next day with the demon-possessed man in the country of the Gadarenes—but that’s in chapter five, and we should save that for another sermon.)
Jesus was already in a boat teaching the people, and it would seem that He just remained in the boat and they set off “in the boat as He was”. And so, they left the multitudes along the shore and made their way to the other side of Galilee in the evening. And we’re told that “other little boats were also with Him”—which lets you know that the boat Jesus was in was also a little one.
Now; you might be tempted to think that, in the course of following the Lord Jesus, you’d never run into trouble. But if you follow Jesus for any length of time at all, it really doesn’t take long before you discover that that’s not true. The disciples were there with Jesus, right after a day of great ministry, when “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so that it was already filling”. These were experienced fishermen. They knew what this could mean. It would be bad enough for the boat to begin to fill when the waters were calm, but for the boat to begin to fill with water in the midst of such a storm would—ordinarily—mean death! But the Lord Jesus—as if nothing were going on at all—”was in the stern, asleep on a pillow”. We’re told that the disciples “awoke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’”
Now; stop for a moment. Have you ever cried out to God like that in the midst of one of the life’s storms? Perhaps a terrible financial situation struck you. Perhaps you hear something serious from the doctor. Perhaps a tragedy struck your family, and you were utterly unprepared for it. Or perhaps you’re already at the end of your rope because of the multitude of life’s demands, and just one more thing came along than you had the physical or emotional resources to meet. Have you ever felt like crying out to God as they did? “God! Can’t You see what’s going on? Are You Asleep? Don’t you care that I’m perishing?”
I believe that describes one of those ‘storms’ in life. It’s a situation of crisis over which you have no control. You’re absolutely at the mercy of the circumstances and can do nothing in your own power to change them. And let’s be honest; we often do exactly what the disciples did—cry out to God in a state of panic and say, “God! Don’t you care?”
But the Lord Jesus did care. Look at what He did. We’re told that “He arose and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” Actually, what He said was a bit stronger than that. He actually said, “Be quiet! Be muzzled!” Can you picture Him rising up from the pillow—perhaps with His hand out to the wind and the waves—shouting orders? And what’s remarkable is that the wind and the waves did exactly as He said. One word from Him and the storm was over. In fact, we’re told that “there was a great calm”. The same word that was used to describe the windstorm was also used to describe the calm that came afterwards—”great”.
No sooner did He rebuked the wind and the waves, but it seems that He then turned to rebuke His disciples. “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And once again, this passage surprises us. You would think that the disciples would then have been relieved—that their great fear would have been replaced by a great calm that was like the calm all around them. But no. They were more afraid after the storm was calmed than they were when it was raging! They “feared exceedingly”—or, as it has it in the original language, “they feared with a great fear”. And they weren’t afraid of the weather. They were afraid of this Man sitting in the boat with them who could command the weather! “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
Who indeed? The Son of God—the very One who can command the wind, and the sea; and even all the circumstances of life that seem so out of our control. As someone has well said, “Fear Him—and you’ll never need to fear anything else!”
Now; what I believe this passage has to tell us is that in the coming year—no matter what the circumstances; no matter what storms in life may be that toss our boat—we will never need to panic if we keep our focus on Jesus.
I suggest we should begin with what the disciples learned at the end. They held the Lord Jesus in an attitude of reverential awe and fear. They saw that He merely stood up, spoke a word of rebuke to the wind and the waves, and the wind and the waves obeyed. One word from Him and a great tempest became a great calm. When it was all over, they said, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the waves obey Him!”—or, as some have translated it, “What kind of man is this?”
And I put it to you that, so long as we are—as we might say—in the boat with Him, we will never need to be in a state of panic in the storms of life . . .
1. WHEN WE REMEMBER JESUS’ AUTHORITY.
The reason the wind and the waves obeyed Him was that of who He is. He is the Son of God, and nothing is ever outside of His sovereign authority.
Think of the attitude the apostle Paul had in the book of Philippians. He wrote that book, as you may know, while he was in a prison cell somewhere. He wasn’t entirely sure whether he would be released or executed. But he wasn’t in panic or despair over it. He could accept what happened either way. He was absolutely confident in the sovereignty of His Lord. His fellow Christians were also suffering a “storm” of their own—a trial of persecution. He wrote to them of his own experience and said,
For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. 23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: 24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; 26 That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:19-26).
And he urged his Christian friends to have the same confidence in the sovereign Lord while in the midst of their “stormy experiences”:
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. 29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; 30 Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me. (Philippians 1:27-30).
When things are out of our control, we only panic if we get our eyes off of the One who truly does control all things!
Now; it has always been fascinating to me to think of what it was that caused the Lord to rebuke His disciples. I certainly don’t believe it was because they woke Him up! But I don’t believe that it was because they were upset from being in a storm either. Our Lord certainly understands it when we have times when we’re fearful. And I most certainly don’t believe it was because they cried out to Him. I believe the Lord would have us cry out to Him more often! Rather, I believe what upset the Lord was the focus they had when they came to Him. They said something terrible to say to the Lord—”Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
Do you remember that there was another time in the Bible when someone said such a thing to Jesus? Do you remember the story of Martha and her sister Mary? Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus—listening to Him teach. Martha, on the other hand, was busy in the kitchen—trying to prepare a meal for everyone. Martha was worried and bothered about it all. She was a bit of a dither. And she came to Jesus and—in very similar words—dared to say, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” (Luke 10:40).
If I may say so; it’s a terrible thing when, in a state of panic over our circumstances, we run to Jesus and say, “Lord, don’t You care? Don’t You care that I’m going through this? Don’t You care that I have to do that? Don’t You care that I’m suffering?” Of course, He cares! What a horrible thing it is to suggest that He doesn’t care! It’s an expression of having focused our attention on the circumstances rather than on Him. And I believe that’s why the Lord rebuked them as He did.
Do you notice that He didn’t say to the disciples, “Why are you so fearful? Don’t you know you’re in a very reliable little boat? Don’t you know that the wind will not blow strong enough to capsize the boat? And don’t you see that there are other small boats here? If you fall out of one, you can just swim to another. You’re in tough circumstances; but don’t you see the good points about your circumstances? Why can’t you think positive?” Instead, He first calms the wind and the waves; and then brings the matter back to His own sovereign power over the circumstances. “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” They forgot, in the midst of their circumstances, who it was that they should have been focusing on.
This reminds me that, in the midst of the storms of life, Jesus’ concern is not the storm. His concern is our trust in Him. And that teaches us that we will never need to panic when we’re in the midst of the storms of life . . .
2. WHEN WE PAY ATTENTION TO JESUS’ CONCERN FOR OUR TRUST IN HIM.
Perhaps you’ll remember another “boat in the storm” story. It was the one in which Jesus came walking to the disciples as they were tossed by the waves. They were terrified when they saw Him; but He told them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).
Do you remember how Peter said, “Lord if it is You, command me to come to You on the water?” So Jesus told Him to come, and he stepped out and walked on the water to Him. But the Bible tells us that
“But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? 32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. 33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:30-33).
I suggest that we can walk on the waves of the storm, where Jesus is if we will keep our eyes on Him by faith. But the moment we take our main focus off Him and put it on our circumstances instead, we sink in them.
How much better it would be if, in the midst of the storm, we run to Him and say, “Truly You are the Son of God!” That would be exercising faith in Him—and that would be paying attention to His great concern for us.
Now; there’s one more thing to think about. And to me, it’s fascinating. In the midst of this horrible storm—while the disciples were running about in a panic—the Lord “was in the stern, asleep on a pillow.”
I wonder what would have happened if one of the disciples had taken notice of that; and said, “Hey fellas; maybe there’s nothing to worry about after all. Look at the Lord. He’s asleep. He doesn’t seem worried. Maybe we shouldn’t be worried either.” This reminds us that we will never need to be in a panic in the midst of the storms of life . . .
3. WHEN WE EMBRACE JESUS’ OWN ATTITUDE.
How wonderful that we can stop in the midst of our trials, look to our beloved Lord Jesus—the Son of God who exercises sovereign control over all things—sit as it was at His feet, learn from Him what His attitude is in it all, and be as much at peace about it all as He is.
When Jesus faced the terrors of the cross, He was calm and courageous. And before He went to the cross, He said,
Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33).
The Lord Jesus even gives us His own attitude of peace as an enabling work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, if we will simply accept it and rest in it. The Bible tells us that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is “peace” (Galatians 5:22), and that fruit is the peace of the Lord Himself. He told His disciples that night;
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27).
So, dear brothers and sisters; even though we don’t know what the new year may bring our way, we won’t ever need to be in a panic about it. Even if we enter into the midst of stormy times, those storms are not stronger than our Lord. He is absolutely sovereign over them. He seeks that we keep our focus on Him by faith—and not on the circumstances themselves. And He invites us to partake of His own peace while in the midst of them.