A Seattle resident trying to kill a spider also very nearly killed his house. Kyle Moore, a spokesman for the Seattle Fire Department said the man, whom authorities did not identify, used spray paint and a lighter as “a self-made blowtorch” to attack a spider escaping into a wall in his laundry room. The wall caught fire, and the man apparently tried unsuccessfully to douse the fire. The blaze then spread and caused $60,000 damage before firefighters were able to put it out. The cost was high, but the man probably accomplished his objective. “I’m pretty sure the spider did not survive this fire,” Moore told the Associated Press. “The whole wall went.”
Fear can drive us to irrational conclusions and actions. Mr. Scared-of-Spiders darn near burned down his house.
What are you scared of? I don’t mean scared in the sense of “Ooh, that gives me the creeps,” or “I don’t like spiders and snakes” or “I’m afraid of heights.” I mean what fear runs so deep in you that you genuinely fear for your life? What kind of fear leads you to take desperate actions? What brings on panic attacks? What scares you so bad you could almost die on the spot? And if there was an antidote to that kind of fear, would you take it?
As we continue our series, Summer Nights, I invite you to open your Bible to Mark 4:35-41. We’re exploring some Bible texts that take place at night. And our text today happens on an especially dark and stormy night. A word of caution as you turn to this text: let me encourage you to hold your Bible with a firm grip because there is so much fear and trembling in this text, your Bible just might shake right out of your hands.
It had been a long day for Jesus and the disciples. Jesus had been teaching the crowds and then having to go over the whole thing again with the disciples who just couldn’t seem to get it. That’s tiring work. And that’s the condition in which we find Jesus when we come to our text. He’s beat. He’s exhausted. He needs a little rest. So he gathers his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee at the end of the day and says, “Let’s go over to the other side. And you can drive.” Of course they could drive. Some of them were fisherman. They’d been all over that little sea and knew its every crook, crag, and cove. Jesus’ teaching may be a little out of their league, but sailing on the sea—now they were in their element. “You relax, Master, and leave the driving to us.” But it proved more treacherous than they anticipated. A storm suddenly blew up on the sea, and the disciples thought the boat was going under and they were going to die. They were scared spitless. Listen to the rest of the story in the word of the Lord … (read the text).
We live in a dangerous world full of disasters and calamities and criminals. One minute the college campus is peaceful, the next minute it’s a shooting gallery. One minute families are going about their normal day, the next minute the earth shakes, buildings fall, and people die. One minute you’re coasting down the highway singing along with the radio, the next minute you’re hit head on by a driver who crosses the center line. One year your doctor gives you a clean bill of health, the next year he’s scheduling you for chemotherapy. In a world of accidents and germs, terrorists and criminals, earthquakes, tornadoes, and the opportunity to hear about it all, many people, including Christians, fear for their safety, fear for their lives.
That’s where the disciples were in this stormy night at sea—fearing for their safety and their lives. These disciples pushed the panic button. They had no Weather Channel to warn them about wind advisories on area lakes, but they knew this sea. They knew storms could blow up lickety-split. They had probably endured more storms than they could count. But this storm was different. Probably the worst they’d ever seen. Mark called it a “great windstorm.” Another translation calls is a “furious squall.” And it happened in the pitch black of night. One minute all was well; the next minute all was hell.
Can you feel their fear? The deafening roar of the elements. Wind whipping and ripping their sails. Eight foot breakers playing hot potato with their boat. Sea spray stinging their faces like so many pricks from a needle. Water pouring over the rail and rising on the deck—first up to their feet, then their ankles, then their knees. Drenched and sea-sick disciples holding on for dear life one minute, thrown to their backs the next, only to fight to their feet once again and keep bailing with all their might. It’s total chaos.
Do you hear them shouting above the wind? “Bail faster! Pump harder! Hang on!”
“We’re not going to make it!”
“Where’s the Master! Anybody seen the Master?”
“I think He’s sleeping in the stern.”
“Sleeping? Well, somebody better go wake Him up; we’re drowning up here!”
But more than one somebody goes. And they find him there in the stern, head on a cushion, sleeping like a baby. The very same storm that was rocking the disciples to death was rocking Jesus to sleep. I’ve heard of people who can sleep through a storm while everybody else in the house is running for cover. Jesus is that person. The boat is tossed about like a rag doll, everybody else fears for their lives, and Jesus is sawing logs in the stern of the boat.
So the disciples reach down and shake his shoulder. “Wake up, Teacher. Don’t you care that we’re going to die?”
Now what kind of question is that—“Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” It’s a desperate question. The disciples were at the end of their oars. They had done everything they knew to do and things got worse instead of better. They were desperate. And they were peeved. There’s a barb of sarcasm in this question. “Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” The question anticipates this answer: “No, of course you don’t care.”
- If you cared you wouldn’t have sent us on this midnight cruise in the first place.
- If you cared you wouldn’t be sleeping.
- If you cared you’d be on deck helping us bail.
- If you cared you’d at least join us in wringing your hands in worry and fret as we try to ride out this storm.
“Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” It was a desperate question, an angry question: “Don’t you care?”
I know that question. Do you?
- Lord, cancer is getting the best of me. Don’t you care?
- Lord, how am I ever going to pay that bill? Don’t you care?
- Lord, my marriage is going down in ashes.
- Lord, I don’t think I’ll ever get through this grief.
- Lord, I can’t find a job.
- Lord, I can’t find a friend.
- Lord, I’m getting mistreated for being a Christian.
“Don’t you care? Don’t you care? Wake up! I’m drowning down here. Don’t you care?”
Sometimes we wonder. And that’s what the disciples were wondering about too. Their safety and security were threatened by a storm, and Jesus fell asleep on them. So they woke Him up.
And Jesus did His thing. Because Jews and the early church believed the sea to be a place of evil and chaos, Jesus spoke to the sea like he talked to demons. Mark says, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Silence! Be still!’” And it was so. Just like that the storm was over. The wind held its breath, and the waves quit jumping on Jesus’ bed. Everything was calm and still.
Having heaved other things during that rock-‘em-sock-‘em storm, the disciples now heaved a sigh of relief. But they were still afraid—not of the storm, but of Jesus. The same voice that brought wind and waves into order now focused on them. Do you see the disciples standing there on that soggy deck, dripping wet from the storm, still panting from their labors, eyes as big as saucers? And this time Jesus asks the questions: “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” And though the text doesn’t say, I suppose Jesus went back to bed.
But the disciples couldn’t sleep. A new kind of fear gripped them: fear of Jesus—this Holy Terror who orders winds and waves around like they were flunkies on a job site. “Who is this?” the disciples asked each other. “Even the wind and the sea obey him!”
Who is this, indeed? We don’t know what the disciples expected Jesus to do about the storm when they woke Him up, but they sure didn’t expect what they got. The whole thing terrified them—Jesus terrified them. If they were frightened by wind and wave, they were doubly frightened by One who could shut them down with a word. Jesus did that. So this is a story about Jesus.
It’s more than a lesson for the church in enduring adversity. The disciples don’t have to endure this storm for long. Jesus gets up and shuts it down in a heartbeat. But most storms that come upon us in an instant are seldom calmed in an instant. It’s not that Jesus can’t. It’s just that Jesus rarely does. Some of you are riding out personal storms that have blown you about for years—disease, disability, fractured relationships, financial burdens, some brought on by catastrophic crises. Speaking in weather language, there are many storms in life. All of life is not lived in under a high pressure system. Low pressure blows through every now and then and sometimes stalls into a stationary front. In a fallen world, storms come, safety is threatened, security is thin. Danger lurks in our world and it could pounce on us at any time. That’s just the way it is, and no amount of fretting and no amount of wishing it away will do any good. Storms are a fact of life. Many come. A few linger. Some are more threatening than others. But everybody is going to spend some time in the storm. Lost people. Christian people. Everybody.
And when we pull anchor and skip out onto the sea of life, what we need most are not techniques to endure the storm, not some philosophy that tries to make sense of it. What we need is Jesus in our boat—Jesus—who doesn’t stand outside the storm but who is with us in the thick of it. The early church recognized this. That’s why in early Christian art, the church is often pictured as a boat plowing through a perilous sea with Jesus in the midst. Later, Rembrandt would paint this famous picture (show picture). Mark’s original audience for this gospel was the church in Rome. Man, did they ever need this message! Nero was in power. Christians were being persecuted, imprisoned, burned at the stake, and thrown to the beasts. Talk about a raging storm! They were in fear for their safety and their lives. They needed to be reminded of just who this is in their boat.
And who is this One in the boat? Mark tells us in no uncertain terms. Mark strings four miracle stories together to capture something of the magnitude of this Jesus in our boat—something of His power.
First, Jesus shuts down the raw forces of wind and waves—
He is the Lord of creation.
Then, Jesus casts out a legion of demons—
He is Lord over Satan and hell and everything evil.
Next, Jesus heals a woman of an incurable disease—
He is Lord over sickness.
And finally Jesus raises a little girl from the dead—
He is even Lord over death and the grave.
Jesus is each of these things and all of these things. And He is in the boat with us. So exercise courageous faith. This is a dangerous world. There are many things we fear. Sometimes it even looks like evil is winning and the storm is having its way. The poet e. e. cummings expressed our anxiety like this: “King Christ, this world is all aleak, and life preservers there are none.” Sometimes we feel that way. It’s easy to live like the disciples in our story—fearful, fretting, faithless. It’s easy to live that way in our dangerous world. But we don’t have to. Jesus is in our boat, and Jesus will get us to the other side. No matter what storms may come, we’re Christians. Let’s act like we know who’s running the show down here. And let’s get our eyes on Jesus, show a little courage and have a little faith. There’s nothing that’s going to happen to us that comes as a surprise to Jesus, nothing that Jesus can’t handle.
A week or so ago I was visiting with a lady some of you know. Her name is Reese. She’s 95 years old, been widowed for a while, and has been on hospice care for about three or four months. I got word that the family believed the end was coming quickly. I hadn’t seen her since just before I left for South Africa at the end of March. So I went to see her. When I arrived, she was awake and alert. Her family said, “She wants to visit with you alone.” So I sat by her bed and we visited.
She said, “I was so weak this morning, I really thought this was going to be my last day.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes, and it was so … exciting!” Yes. You heard me right. She didn’t say scary or terrifying or worrisome or depressing. She said the immediate prospects of her death were “exciting.” She pointed to a black-and-white picture that hung on her wall. It was a picture of a pretty lady. “I finally get to see my birth-mother,” she said. “You know, she died when I was five weeks old. Her sister raised me. But I can’t wait to meet my mother. I get to see Jesus and I get to meet my mother.” That’s pretty exciting all right. And for the next half-hour or so, this dear, dying lady recounted a blessed life, a faith that saw her through good times and hard times, a wonderful family, and a precious Savior who had walked with her every step of her long life’s journey.
When she was just a kid, she invited Jesus into her boat. And whether she experienced violent storms or smooth sailing, Jesus watched over her and took care of her and carried her. And now that she can see the shoreline on the other side, she’s not only at peace, she’s like a kid on Christmas Eve. “Will morning ever get here?”
St. Augustine said in his comments on this gospel story of Jesus and the storm, all we need to do is to awaken the Christ in us. “What do I mean?” asks Augustine.
I mean you have forgotten his presence. Rouse him, then; remember him, let him keep watch within you, pay heed to him … A temptation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging sea. This is the moment to awaken Christ and let him remind you of those words: “Who can this be? Even the winds and the sea obey him.”
So, Church, come hell or high water, disease or death, storm or struggle, you have nothing to fear. Jesus is in your boat. Storms may swamp you but they can’t sink you. Satan may defeat you but he can’t destroy you. And death may take you, but it can’t have you—because Jesus is in your boat. Fear Jesus and you don’t have to fear anything else. He who rides the storm like a chariot, He who crushes Satan under His foot like a roach, He who pulled the stinger out of death, He is in your boat, and He will get you safely to the other side. So take courage, have faith, and do not be afraid. If you keep your eyes on Jesus and trust Him with all your heart, no storm will ever get the best of you forever. Not even death.
John Newton, that former sea-faring slave trader turned preacher and hymn-writer, learned that very thing after he came to Jesus for salvation and life. Listen to his words (I’ve paraphrased a little):
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come.
‘Twas Christ that brought me safe thus far,
And Christ will lead me home.
All the way home.
Preached: June 11, 2017
First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR
John Scott McCallum