Jesus, Lord of the Storm
July 22, 2012 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Gospel of Mark
Topic: Trials Passage: Mark 4:35–41
On November 9, 1975, a freighter called the SS Edmund Fitzgerald left port from Superior, Wisconsin crossing Lake Superior for a steel mill on Zug Island near in Detroit Michigan. The National Weather Service predicted normal November weather, with a winter storm passing to the south of Lake Superior. Five hours later that forecast was revised to warn of a massive winter storm that would encompass all of Lake Superior. Winds reached near hurricane force and waves as high as 35 feet were recorded. Shortly after 7:15pm on November 10, with no warning or distress signal, the Edmund Fitzgerald plunged to the bottom of the frigid lake with all 29 of its crew members.
The story of the Edmund Fitzgerald was made famous by the musician Gordon Lightfoot, who wrote the song, Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald as a tribute to the ship, the sea, and the men who lost their lives that night, so it is more famous than most, but it is not an unusual story. It is estimated that every year 100 ships weighing over 500 tons are lost at sea. That’s two large ships a week. If you add in the number of smaller ships lost at sea, the number would be far higher. Any experienced seaman knows that when a ship puts out to sea, there’s always a chance it may never return.
In Mark 4, as Jesus and his disciples set out to cross the Sea of Galilee, they are suddenly hit with a violent storm. Mark uses the word seismos –literally “earthquake”- to describe the storm and the boat is taking on water and even the most sea-hardened fishermen among them is frightened that they are about to sink.
It is a violent storm – maybe even supernaturally violent - probably the worst storm these men had ever experienced, but Mark’s ultimate point isn’t to impress on us the power of the storm but the power of the Savior. In fact, it is one of three stories told consecutively that told together reveal Jesus’ authority over nature, demons, and death so that as we read it we might see and believe that Jesus is lord over all things and that our faith in him might grow. As we read these verses, we can be assured that Jesus is Lord over the storms in our lives as well. Let’s ride this storm with the disciples and meditate on four truths that are more than truths in times of storms, they are anchors for our souls in the midst of the wind and the waves.
I. Storms come
The first thing we learn from this account is that storms come. Following Jesus doesn’t exempt us from encountering storms in our lives; in fact, the disciples were in danger of this storm only because they were following him. Look again with me at verse 35: On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” They were on their way to ministry in the country of the Gerasenes where Jesus will deliver a man oppressed by a legion of demons. They were on a kingdom mission.
The storm that slammed into them wasn’t a result of disobedience or their being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was the result of their obedience and being in the right place at the right time. This storm was the will of God for their lives!
We live in a fallen world and storms can whip up unexpectedly and slam into our lives with a force that threatens to capsize our lives and everything we hold dear. The last couple days the news has been full of the tragedy of the man who burst into a premier showing of The Dark Knight Rises and shot and killed 12 people. For us it’s another tragic story on the news but for those who knew and loved those who were senselessly killed it is a seismic storm and I’m sure there are parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, who right now feel as though their lives are going to capsize with the force and the seeming senselessness of the storm.
Storms can hit our lives in many ways – the loss of a loved one, a health crisis, a serious accident, losing a job at a time when finding a job is challenging. Some of the most painful storms are those that hit our relationships. Storm clouds can gather over a marriage – waves of conflict, bitterness, and even loneliness can fill the boat and sometimes even sink the marriage. I just got the sad news that a couple that Janice and I were once close to recently got divorced. Parents and children can hit storms in their relationships as well, with painful results for both parent and child. Some storms are from within – the cold wind blows across the soul – winds of depression or loneliness or fear – and maybe no one else sees the storm but you feel it deep within. Sometimes it’s not the force of the storm but the length of the storm that makes it difficult. I remember one night when I lived on a sailboat with my dad, we got hit with high winds that lasted all night long and – even though the boat was anchored – was pushing the it towards other boats and shallow water where it could be seriously damaged. We had to wake up every hour to check our position and had to reset the anchor a couple of times. Sometimes a trial seems manageable at first but it doesn’t go away and over time it begins to wear at you.
Storms come. And following Jesus may actually lead us into storms that we wouldn’t go through if we didn’t follow Jesus. Following Jesus is the way to eternal life but Jesus never said it was the way to an easy life. Many commentators believe there was something ominous – even demonic - about this storm and Jesus rebukes it the same way he rebukes the demoniac. Can some of the storms in our lives be generated by the enemy of our soul? The Bible indicates so. One of the ways that Satan attacked Job was through a windstorm that killed his children. But we need to look past Satan’s hand in the storm to the sovereignty of God’s hand in the storm. Whether this storm is demonic in origin or not, Jesus intended his disciples to go through this storm for the sake of their faith – it was necessary for the growth of their understanding of who Jesus is and their faith in him. That brings us to the second point.
II. The storms in our lives can create a crisis of faith
The word “crisis” comes from the Greek word krisis which means a crucial or decisive point and in our language it probably originated as a medical term to describe a sudden change for better or worse in the course of a disease. In other words, the results of a crisis are not necessarily bad, sometimes it can be a change for the better.
When the storm gets so bad that the boat is taking on water and is really in danger of swamping, even the seasoned fishermen are somewhat panicked and when they see Jesus sound asleep in the stern they wake him up with the harsh accusation, don’t you care that we are perishing? Don’t you care? They read Jesus’ exhausted sleep as a sign that he doesn’t care. The first thing that sinks in the storm is the disciples faith!
There’s something about the storms of life that can do a number on our faith. Like the disciples often it causes us to wonder where God is, why He doesn’t calm the storm, and the thought creeps into our mind that God must not care, especially if the storm goes on for a long time.
The fifth verse of Gordon Lightfoot’s song Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald captures that question with these words:
Does anyone know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
…They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters.
We can wonder where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours and makes the days feel endless. Storms have a way of creating a crisis of faith – but remember, crisis isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can mean a change for the better as well as for the worse.
The worst thing we can do in a storm is to turn away from God and rely on ourselves to get us through it. The last communication coming from the Edmund Fitzgerald was at 7:10pm when another ship radioed and asked how she was doing. The captain of the Fitzgerald replied, "we are holding our own." 5 minutes later the ship sank to its doom. When we go through storms, God doesn’t want us to hold our own, He wants us to hold onto Him. And know that He is holding onto us! The disciples had a crisis of faith – we know that because Jesus asks them, why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? but at least they had the faith to wake Jesus up! Their accusation also carried in it the implication they believed Jesus could do something about the storm.
If all you have faith for is to cry out to Jesus in the storm, do that! Don’t try to hold your own. Don’t try to make it through by your own strength. Don’t withdraw from God but draw near to God, even if it’s in desperate fear and with weak faith. Jesus’ rebuke isn’t an angry rebuke, it’s a tender rebuke. If you knew who I am, if you knew my love for you, you’d know you have nothing to fear. For the Christian, the storms are to batter us to the only safe harbor there is – the refuge of Christ. And here we see two truths about Christ that is an anchor to our souls in the storm:
III. Jesus is Lord of the storm
When Jesus asks them if they still had no faith, it was because they had seen enough that they should have believed in his power. They had witnessed Jesus heal the sick and cast out demons. Nevertheless, this storm was to reveal yet another aspect of Jesus’ power that they had not yet witnessed. We see in this story an intriguing contrast between the humanity of Jesus that desperately needs sleep to replenish his energy and the power and authority that can rebuke the wind and waves and they immediately obey him. Just as we will see in the next story the demons must obey his command, and in the next story just as death must yield to his command, the forces of nature must obey Jesus.
Jesus is Lord over all nature. The wind, the waves, the sea, the earth, the stars – all must obey him and obey him perfectly. If Jesus commanded the sun to stop shining, it would obey him immediately. In fact in the OT, Joshua asked God to give them extra time to fight the Amorites and the Lord somehow gave them an extra day to fight whether He supernaturally slowed the earth’s rotation or did it in some other way. We don’t know exactly how the Lord accomplished this but Jesus is Lord over all of nature.
This is not irrelevant to us and the storms we face. Our faith needs to be anchored deeply in the sovereign power and authority of Jesus. When we know and believe that nothing enters our life but by the sovereign permission of the Lord, then we can trust that God can stop it at any time. He has the power to do something about it. Central to the early church’s faith was that Jesus is Lord. Not a lord, but the Lord. He’s not just some good natured half-god who would love to do good in our lives but can’t always quite pull it off. He is Lord over all – including every storm that comes into our lives.
But more often the crisis of faith has us question Jesus’ love more than his lordship. Like the disciples, we ask, don’t you care that I am drowning? Don’t you care that my life is sinking? Don’t you care?
IV. Jesus is the lover of our souls
Let’s close by relooking at the question they asked Jesus: do you not care that we are perishing? It’s a natural question in the circumstances but it’s also a deeply ironic question. Does Jesus care that we are perishing? Jesus left his throne in heaven to come to earth to give his life in order to save us from perishing.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10
This is the twin truth that anchors us in the storm: Jesus is Lord over the storm and Jesus loves our souls and came to save us from perishing eternally. If he cares about us enough to give his life to save us from hell, then we can be assured that he loves and cares for us in the lesser storms of life. If you are going through a fierce storm right now, can you know that Jesus is going to end the storm soon? No. Can you know that Jesus loves you with a stronger and fiercer love than the storm? Yes. If you’re in a storm, the greatest comfort you can experience isn’t the promise that the storm will soon lift. It’s that Jesus is with you in the boat. He is with you and committed to you and loves you. He will not let you perish no matter how fierce the storm gets. And he will use the storm to help you see him better and trust him more.
I realize that if you are in a storm right now, it can seem easy for someone not in that same storm to tell you it’s ok just trust the Lord. I don’t want this to sound glib or breezy – when I’ve gone through storms I know what it’s like to feel like my soul is being tossed to and fro. But God’s word isn’t breezy when it promises us that His love is stronger than any storm, stronger than our sin, stronger than Satan, stronger even than death. Jesus came to save us from perishing eternally and he gave his life because of his love for us. Hold onto his love when you are in the middle of a great storm and never let go. And be assured, based on God’s unbreakable promises of His word, that He will never let go of you. As your faith grows, you will be able to see beyond the power of the storm to see the power of the Lord and His love and that may not speak peace immediately to the wind and the waves, but it will speak peace to your soul. Jesus is Lord of the storm and the lover of your soul. Be at peace.
If you’re not a Christian, I urge you to come to Christ and ask him to save you. Maybe you’re going through a storm right now, and maybe you’re not, but the Bible says that the great storm of judgment is coming to all men and the only port of safety is Christ – because he took the judgment that you and I deserve on himself at the cross. At the same time that the Edmund Fitzgerald was loading its cargo, another ship, the SS Wilfred Sykes, was loading up in the opposite dock. In contrast to the Fitzgerald, the captain of the Sykes foresaw that the storm would hit Lake Superior directly and he chose a route that would keep him close to the lake’s northern shore where he could quickly find a port of safety. The only port of safety from the day of judgment is Christ – will you come to him in faith and ask him to be your Savior and give him the reins of your life as Lord? I urge you to do that today.
Let’s stand together as we close with a song.
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