SCRIPTURE – Mark 4:35-41 – That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 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?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Jesus Was NOT A Nice Guy sermon series
#3 – The Scary Power of Jesus
March 11, 2012
We continue our Lenten sermon series this morning called “Jesus Was NOT A Nice Guy” as we look at some of the passages in the gospels where Jesus doesn’t fit our image of a meek and mild savior. What do you do with the Jesus who is rude, crude and socially unacceptable? How do these passages affect our image of Jesus and how we worship him?
In our passage today, we’re not really concerned with what Jesus says. In this story, while he and his disciples are out at sea, he only speaks twice. First, he says to the storm, “Peace! Be still!” Then, after things calm down, he says to his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” While that might sound a tad harsh, we’ve become accustomed to Jesus speaking this way to his dense disciples. It seems like he’s constantly criticizing them for their lack of faith despite what they’ve seen and heard with Jesus. This is par for the course.
In this story, it’s not what Jesus says but how he says it that gives us reason to pay attention. Jesus has spent a long day preaching and teaching, most of it from a boat because the crowds on the shore had gotten too big. When Jesus finishes, he and the disciples pull up anchor and head out to sea to get away from the throngs and to give Jesus some much-needed downtime. He must have been tired because as soon as they hit the open water, Jesus falls asleep.
While he is sleeping, the disciples are blindsided by a furious squall which whips the sea into a frenzy and threatens to capsize the boat. Despite the disciples’ bailing efforts, the boat is swamped, so the disciples wake Jesus and plead, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” That may sound a little impetuous on the part of the disciples, like little children whining when they don’t get their way. But in their defense, it does seem a little strange that Jesus can sleep through this kind of situation.
In the disciples’ eyes, Jesus’ sleeping indicates a lack of care on his part, as if their fate doesn’t matter to him. Isn’t it ironic that later, when Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray prior to his arrest, he asks his disciples to keep watch with him, and what do they do? They fall asleep when he needs them most. So maybe in this story today they are projecting their own insecurities onto the sleeping savior.
I’m curious to know what the disciples expected Jesus to actually do when he woke up. I’m pretty certain they didn’t expect him to do what he did, or else they wouldn’t have responded with such astonishment. Maybe they hoped he would pray for them, because they knew he had some sort of hotline to God. Maybe they thought he would grab a bucket and help them bail. Or maybe they just wanted to know they weren’t alone in the midst of their storm.
Whatever the reason, they rouse him from his rest and Jesus goes right to work. Mark tells us he rebuked the wind and the sea, saying, “Peace! Be still!” How do you hear Jesus’ voice as he says this? Obviously he would have to speak loudly over the noise of the storm. I’m sure he said it with a tone of authority and force. But I think something more happened here with Jesus’ voice than just an increase in volume.
A few years ago, my family and I were out to dinner and Molly was playing in the children’s area with some other kids. At one point she came running over to us crying. We tried to find out what was going on and she told us in between the sobs that a little boy wasn’t playing very nicely with her. “What happened?” we asked. “Well, I had this ball, and he came over and he said he wanted it, and then he…STOLE…MY…BALL!” The way she said those words made all of us lean back in our chairs. It’s as if she were suddenly possessed by the Demon of Wronged Toddlers. Her nostrils flared, her eyes got fiery red…I swear I saw her head spin completely around. I started throwing holy water on her to cool her off. The voice with which she spoke was not her own.
That’s what I think happened with Jesus in the boat. When he spoke these words to the storm, he did so in a voice the disciples had never heard before. It was a voice more powerful than the sound of the wind and the waves. I bet it sounded like the voice that spoke from Heaven at Jesus’ baptism. However we would describe it, upon hearing it the disciples realize that this guy Jesus they have been following around and calling “Teacher” may be more than just an ordinary rabbi. “Who is this?” they say. Who is this Jesus who speaks like this, who can do these kinds of things?
In the book of Exodus, when Moses and the Israelites reach Mt. Sinai, God comes to the mountain in the form of lightning and thunder and smoke and speaks directly to the people concerning the laws God wants them to follow. As soon as God is done speaking, the Israelites, who were frightened out of their sandals, go to Moses and say, “You speak to us and we will listen; but do NOT let God speak to us, or we will die.”
That’s the kind of reaction I envision the disciples having here. Up until this point in Mark’s gospel, they’ve seen Jesus heal people, they’ve heard him teach on a variety of topics and tell his parables, but they haven’t seen anything like this. This is the first of Jesus’ nature-related miracles, and it is a game-changer. Other rabbis could preach great sermons or teach important lessons. There were even some folks who could do miraculous healings. But speaking with God’s voice and calming the sea? The disciples didn’t know this Jesus. Who is this?
This miracle is about more than just stilling a storm. You see, in those days, the sea was more than just water. It was a great unknown. Because the people didn’t have submarines and scuba gear, they thought that the water was where evil resided. No one dared go Hillbilly Handfishin’ back then! It was the home of Leviathan, the great sea monster. It was the locus of evil, and therefore only God could control the waters, as God did in Genesis when God’s spirit swept over the waters and brought order to chaos. Calming storms, defeating evil, was the kind of thing only God could do. And yet, here is Jesus, seemingly just a man, issuing commands that even the wind and the sea obey. This Jesus is scary.
And that’s a good thing, because otherwise our temptation is to domesticate Jesus a little too much. In the Pastor’s Class, one of the things we do is look at different artists’ representations of Jesus to try and get a sense of what Jesus looked like. In these paintings we see a Chinese Jesus and an Italian Jesus and a dark-skinned Jesus and a white, silky-haired Jesus. And what we learn is that in each of the paintings, Jesus was portrayed to look like what the artist thought Jesus should look like. So a Chinese man painted the Chinese Jesus and an African-American man painted the black Jesus and so on.
That’s the temptation we subconsciously deal with. We make Jesus into our own image in order to better understand him, because we feel more comfortable interacting with people who are most like us. We focus on the parts of Jesus we like, the stories where Jesus comforts and heals and teaches, so that we don’t have to be confronted by the Jesus who stills raging storms or speaks words of division. That Jesus is scary.
As I read it, the point of this story is not that Jesus stilled the storm. If that’s the main point, then we set a very dangerous precedent. The disciples run into a storm, they ask Jesus for help, and he immediately removes the danger. To say that’s how Jesus always works is flippant and insensitive in the face of the deaths from last week’s tornados and other storms that have cut paths of destruction in this world. This story is not a promise that Jesus will always speak peace to our storms.
But it IS a promise that Jesus will speak peace to us in the midst of our storms. This story is a reminder that this is no ordinary man, this is not someone to take lightly, and if we’re willing to accept him in all his humanity and in all his divine power, he offers us, not the absence of trouble, but his presence in the midst of trouble. Jesus doesn’t always remove the rough waters of our lives, but he does offer us the full extent of his formidable power to help us steer through them. This story is a reminder that in the storms of life, we are never alone.
This is not the kind of Jesus to whom you can snuggle up. I don’t ever want to get comfortable with this Jesus. But I do want to know that when I am overcome by a storm that threatens to sink my ship, when it feels like God is absent and I want to cry out, “Don’t you care that I’m perishing?” I can call on THIS Jesus, the One who speaks with the voice of God, who can not only calm the storms but also the fear and panic inside me that those storms cause.
How would you describe the seas of your life? Is it smooth sailing? Choppy water? Are you in the midst of a great windstorm or furious squall? Has the storm passed? Wherever we are, Jesus is there, too, right in the boat with us. That statement carries extra meaning for us when we remember that this sanctuary was designed in the shape of a sailing vessel. I guess you could say we’re all in the same boat. And Jesus is with us. He’s no ordinary man. In fact, he’s a bit scary. I’m not sure I want to get too close to this Jesus. But I trust him. In the midst of my storms, despite my sometimes sinking faith, I know I am not alone.
We can’t expect Jesus to take away all the hardships and challenges in our lives. He doesn’t still all our storms. But if we let him, he will speak a word of peace to our fearful and anxious hearts, allowing us to navigate the challenges with face with a sense of confidence that Jesus is not asleep, even if it feels that way, but is standing with us. May we have the faith to see in Jesus more than just a friend. Jesus is powerful. Jesus is a bit scary. Jesus is the son of God.