Seminarian Nicholas Mount

Text: Mark 4:35-41

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Luke Skywalker had Yoda.  The karate kid had Mr. Miyagi.  I had Donald Hayne. Um…yeah…he’s not famous.  He’s not even green.  Nor did he train me to do anything awesome like harness the power of the force or to do the iconic crane kick to defeat my enemy but he was a guru of sorts.  He gave me focus…discipline…and patience to know when I should talk to a television with conviction.  Yep, my grandpa knew it all.  He knew when to plead his case to a ref.  He knew when to yell “Ugh”.  He knew when to say “Yes!” or “Alright” and I soaked in every last bit of it.  In time, I also acquired the low art of watching televised sports. 

Now, isn’t it just a little strange that we do this?  You know, talk to televisions.  I really wonder what somebody that knows little about television and being a sports fan would think.  After watching us for a bit, they may wonder why we are talking to something that really doesn’t respond back.  Of course, they would have a point.  After all we are using an atypical way of communicating.  Let me explain.

Now, a simple model of typical communication must have three key things.  The first is this: someone or something that sends a message, like a living breathing human being.  The second key thing is a message.  And the last thing you absolutely need to complete the model is someone or something to receive the message.  So in review you need: Someone to send a message, a message itself, and someone or something to receive message.  Simple enough.  Yet, we find reasons to not use this typical model all the time and for good reason.

Even in our account today Jesus does not use this typical model of communication.  There is, of course, someone sending a message: Jesus.  There is a message: Quiet! Be still!  Yet the last part of the model, the receiver of the message, oddly enough, is the winds and waves?!?  Now why would Jesus be using a message tailor made for the human ear when he is addressing the wind and the waves? 

In fact, generally, when scientists talk about the role of air and water in spoken communication: they identify both of them, not as a possible recipient of a spoken message, but as the substance or medium used to send the message. To say it another way, water and air carry spoken communication to the ear much like how a copper wire conducts electricity from one point to another.  Yet, while a copper wire carries electricity, air and water carry sound from the vocal cords to the human ear.  So, why then does Mark so clearly record for us that Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the waves “Quiet! Be still!”?  Why did Jesus need to use words at all, you could ask.

There are two good reasons why Jesus addressed the winds and the waves. The first reason was to provide for the physical needs of his disciples.  Of course, he could have saved them in any number of ways.  But, he didn’t.  Jesus in his complete freedom chose to stop the wind and the waves by speaking to them, and they obeyed.  He calmed both the storm and the hearts of the disciples with one crisp command.

To backtrack a little bit, the distress of the disciples had slowly grown stronger as that storm grew worse and worse.  They saw the wind whipping around them and water pouring into their boats.  Yet…it wasn’t the water or waves they feared but the lethal combination of the two.  They feared death.  In this instance, their faith was failing them.  They forgot or never fully realized who Jesus is.  The miraculous things they saw him do before made little impact on how they viewed their current peril.  The immediacy of the storm blotted out those memories, as it demanded their undivided attention.  They had failed to believe that in the back of the boat was the one who could change water into wine, who could heal paralytics and who would later remove the sting of death.  The reality was that they were in safest hands imaginable.  Jesus could and would provide for their physical needs.

Despite this lapse of faith, Jesus did not leave them in the lurch but responded to their cry for help.  He answered their question “Teacher don’t you care if we drown”, with an emphatic, yes!  Jesus does care!  The storm was calmed.  We can take a great deal of comfort from this account.  Jesus responded to their life-threatening situation in their time of need and disregarded their lack of faith.  He lovingly used his powerful word to protect them.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus responds to our physical needs as well.  In fact, he created everything that sustains us with his powerful word.  In the book of Genesis we can read these life-preserving proclamations.  Genesis 1:3 states: and God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. In verse 9 we read: And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. In verse 11 it reads: Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.

These commands are continuously in effect for our good.  He continues to provide for us daily with food, water, and shelter.  He gives us sunshine and the perfect mixture of gases so that we can breathe.  He has provided us with a place to worship today and with fellow believers to encourage us.  He richly provides for our physical needs daily and this providence is firmly rooted in his powerful word.  We, like the disciples, are protected and preserved by God’s powerful voice, maybe not as dramatically as our account today but certainly just as faithfully. 

To return to our earlier question: Why does Mark clearly record in this account that Jesus rebuked the wind and waves, saying “Quiet! Be still!”?  Why does he use human language at all?  He certainly didn’t have to use it.  He could have quietly sat in the boat and caused the winds and the waves to stop without saying a single word.  The first reason was simply because God chose to respond to the physical needs of the disciples in this way.  That is, this was the means by which he chose to put his mercy in to action.  The second reason addresses, more directly, a deep-seated spiritual need and also helps us grasp why Jesus chose to use human language. 

Jesus spoke his command to share something with his disciples.  His method was really no different than how we watch televised sports with our families or friends.  We speak out loud to be overheard.  It’s in this way that we share how we feel about the game, our dismay, our surprise, our hopes, and, if our team does well, our joy.  This is how we share the experience with one another.  Jesus was speaking to the wind and the waves to be overheard, to reveal to the disciples then and to us now something very special about himself.  Jesus wanted them know that he has the power to calm the storm with one little command from his lips.

Of course, this is not the first time Jesus revealed himself through an indirect statement.  In the previous chapter in Mark, chapter 2, we read about the paralytic who was lowered by his faithful friends through the roof.  After being lowered, Jesus saw their faith and he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven”.  The person Jesus clearly addresses, in this account, is the paralytic.  He even addresses him as “Son”.  However, Jesus did not say this only for the benefit of the paralytic’s personal faith.  He was once again speaking to be overheard.

After Jesus had publically forgiven the paralytic’s sins, the teacher’s of the law began to squirm with discomfort. They knew he was claiming something only God himself could claim.  Jesus made it abundantly clear that he is God when he said to the teachers of the law, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

There was no question that Jesus was making it clear to them that he is God.  This was an act of mercy on the part of Jesus.  He did not want to hide from them the fact that he was God.  He came to this world to reveal himself and redeem us.  It was the same type of mercy he showed his disciples in the boat.  He did not want to leave them in the darkness of their ignorance but to bring them into the light of truth.  The truth that he is the one and only begotten son of the Father, the true Messiah that Israel had been waiting for.

Both the teachers of the law and the disciples failed to recognize that their God was presently among them.  Of course, they, like us, were in desperate need of God’s word. There is no other means to convert human hearts to a God-pleasing faith.  The disciples and Pharisee struggled with their faith because of their sinful nature just like us.  For both groups, sinful pride separated them from their Redeemer.  The teachers of the law put faith in their own good works, as if these works could make them spiritually clean.  They were not looking for, or longing for the true Messiah.  They couldn’t see that the spiritual boat they had constructed from their own good works was full of leaks and destined for destruction. 

Look at the disciples for a moment. They had been with Jesus, and not until things became extremely dangerous did they finally turn to him and ask him to save them.  By focusing on their own abilities, they failed to trust in Jesus.  Their panic showed how far their self-reliance had taken them. 

Pride is a dangerous thing, and so very subtle.  We like to think that we have everything under control; our physical welfare, our spiritual welfare.  We can handle it, right?  Honestly, no we can’t.  The very fact that pride takes hold of us is raw evidence that we are spiritually corrupt and not acceptable candidates for God’s heavenly kingdom.  And what is human pride, after all?  It is faith in ourselves and this faith in ourselves pushes true faith in God to the side, then out of sight, and eventually buried for good.  We end up relying on our strength, on our understanding, on our scientific findings, and in this we praise the minds of one another, all the while spiritually crippling ourselves because we do not give thanks for the blessings that only come from God.  We blind ourselves as we praise ourselves.  Our sin is laid bare before an all-seeing God.  He sees our overconfidence in our strength and intellect and though he has every right to be angry with us and to bring his wrath…he loves us anyway.  This is our wonderful God; compassionate and abounding in love.  As we read in the book of Lamentations, God is merciful to us unceasingly.  Lamentations reads,

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Jesus knows how spiritually weak we are, so he provides many proofs for us to aid our faith.  In John 4 Jesus says,“Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe.”  While some might try to say that Jesus is simply rebuking unbelievers in this account, I would give caution to this understanding.  We are spiritually broken people in need of revelation, in need of true light.

As it is recorded in Dueteronomy and later repeated by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'  We need to be continually nourished with God’s word.  Jesus shares these words with us today so we may know the great power of God’s word.  When he opens his mouth to speak all creation must obey, the winds and waves must obey.  God’s word is powerful.

As a compassionate father God has spiritually provided for us through his word.  He uses the word and sacrament to create and strengthen our faith because we are weak.  He looks at us with compassion and provides for us what we could not create on our own.  That is, our faith!  He deserves all the praise and glory for this wonderful gift.  For by this faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we receive eternal life.  By this faith, a work of his hands, his righteous life has been credited to us.  By this faith his death on the cross has become our death.  And by this faith his resurrection has become our resurrection.

 Brothers and sisters, we are richly blessed because the word and sacraments, the marks of the true church, are actively being used among us.  Give thanks to the Lord, who by his word calms the uncertainty in our hearts and replaces this doubt with the certainty that we are his loved children.  His word is powerful.  Amen.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way (2 Th 3:16). Amen.