The Uncontrollable Sea
Last month we looked at Mark 4, and the parable of the sower. I want to continue with Mark 4 this month as well. But first I want to tell you a little bit about my family. I have been researching my family history recently.
Here’s me and my father
Can you see the shirt he’s wearing? It has a boat on it.
He works as a computer programmer, but his hobby is sailing. My grandfather, my father’s father, was in the military. He was a sailor.
His father was called Phillip Cozens. He was a sailor and a fisherman. He was such a good sailor that he used to steer the Queen’s yacht.
He also used to own the beach in a port in England called Southampton.
There was a small hut on the beach, covered in seaweed, where the family used to store all their fishing gear.
His father - my great-great-grandfather - was called Daniel Cozens. He was a fisherman as well, and so were all of his seven boys. The Cozens family is a fishing family. Maybe not any more. But we were.
And fishermen, more than anyone else, respect the sea.
They work with the sea. They need the co-operation of the sea. If the sea does not co-operate with them, they are in trouble. The sea can be a very scary thing.
Here in Japan, we are surrounded by the sea.
Do you know one of the most frightening words in Japanese? tsunami. If the sea does not co-operate with us, we are in trouble.
The people of Israel also lived next to the sea.
They understood the power of the sea. The sea was a wild and uncontrolled thing. In Jewish thought, the sea was chaos. The world was formed when God turned that chaos into order.
Our story today is about the sea. (Read Mark 4:35-41)
Jesus has been very busy. He has been teaching, and healing, and big crowds have been around him. The evening is coming, and he is tired. He is really tired. He wants a break. He wants to get away. So he wants to go where nobody will find him. He goes across the lake to the South, to the Gentile area, where good Jewish people won’t follow him.
Many of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen. They knew the power of the sea, and they knew the sea of Galilee. Here’s the sea of Galilee.
It’s in a valley, surrounded by hills. It reminds me a bit of Kyoto.
Do you know how Kyoto can have very strange weather? Galilee is the same. The sea is usually very flat. It is very good for fishing.
But if the wind comes down the valley, it goes around and around the mountains, and there can be terrible storms.
Jesus is right in the back of the boat, asleep. He must be very tired! Because when there is a storm, the front and the back of the boat are the places which move the most. The middle of the boat doesn’t move very much at all. But Jesus is right at the back. His head is on a pillow and he is fast asleep.
Why is Mark telling us all about how tired Jesus is? By the time Mark was writing, a lot of people had forgotten that Jesus was really a man. They believed that he was completely God, and he just looked like a man. Some people said that when he walked in the dirt, he had no footprints. But Jesus was really a man! He was really human. He got tired. He wanted a break. When he asked the Samaritan woman at the well for a drink, it was because he was thirsty.
It is good to remember that Jesus was a man. He knows what it is like to be hungry or thirsty or tired. The book of Hebrews says that “he was tempted in every way”. He is not some distant God. He understand us. He understands our feelings. He went through life with us.
Jesus may be asleep, but the disciples are not. They are terrified. They think they are going to drown. So they wake him up.
Have you heard this anywhere before? Everyone is in a boat, there’s an important prophet on board, a big storm comes, the prophet is asleep, and they go and wake him up to ask him for help. Sounds like Jonah to me. Let’s have a look at Jonah 1:4-6:
Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.”
The disciples do the same thing. How can you sleep? Don’t you care that we are about to die? If you are a prophet, you can talk to God for us.
But Jesus doesn’t talk to God. Jesus talks to the sea. He tells the sea to shut up. This is important. I know Christians who think that the Devil is chasing them. Every time that something goes wrong, they say they are being spiritually attacked. Everything is a curse or a spirit or a demon. Maybe sometimes they are correct. But most of the time there is a more obvious reason why they have a problem. In this story, the problem is not the Devil. Jesus has a problem with the sea. So he talks to the sea to sort it out.
At the beginning I said that the Jewish people saw the sea as wild and uncontrolled. The sea does not listen to anyone. But when Jesus talks to the sea, the sea listens. Mark has been reminding us that Jesus is a man. But a man cannot calm the sea. Only one person can calm the sea. There is a little story about this in Psalm 107. Let’s have a look at it. (vv23-29)
Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.
Only one person can calm the sea. Only the Lord God who made the sea can tell the sea what to do.
When the storm and danger is gone, the disciples are still scared. They are more scared! Before, they were scared of the storm. Now they are scared of Jesus. I would be scared too, if someone could tell the weather what to do! But Jesus asks them why. He asks them if they still have no faith. Actually, he asks “Do you not believe it yet?”
Believe what? Before they believed that Jesus could help them. That’s why they woke him up! So far Jesus has been doing lots of miracles.
They had seen what Jesus can do. They had faith in what Jesus can do. But he wants to teach them something else. They had faith in what Jesus could do for them. He wants them to have faith in him. He wants them to believe that he is both a man and that he is God. He wants them to trust him with their lives.
If we do not have this trust, we can treat God like this.
A slot machine. We put in a prayer. Sometimes we get an answer, and we’re happy. Other times we don’t get an answer, and we go away disappointed. We are disappointed because God did not do what we wanted. We want to control God, but like the sea, God is uncontrollable. This is why it is important to trust Jesus for who he is, and not just what he can do. One of the missionaries in our group tells a story about when his daughter was growing up. Whenever he came back from being away from home, she would look at his hands. She was looking to see what she could get from him. Sometimes he brought her a present, and she was happy; when he didn’t, she was disappointed. Then when she grew up a bit more, when he came home, she would look at his face. She had learnt that, even if he didn’t bring her a present, he loved her.
It is the same with Jesus. If we know and trust that Jesus is good and that he loves us, then we will trust him when we do not get an answer, as well as when we do. That is what “faith” really means. But like the disciples, we sometimes have to go through a very scary experience with Jesus to understand this. Then we learn that God can be trusted, and we stop treating him like a slot machine.
Sometimes we treat the Bible like a slot machine too. We pull the handle, and see what comes out. I read a verse… aha, this is what God is saying to me! I can read the Bible as if it is a book about me. When Jesus is telling us what to do, it is easy to read. We’re happy. Maybe it’s hard to do, but it’s easy to read! I know what I have to do. But when Jesus is doing something, like calming the storm, it is a bit more difficult. We go away disappointed, because it’s harder to know what we have to do. Where do I fit in? When Jesus is calming the storm, where am I? Maybe it is saying that Jesus will calm the storms in my life. Maybe he will, but that is not what the story is about! The Bible is not a story about me. It is a story about God.
The question Mark is asking in this passage is the same question the disciples ask. Who is this? He is a man, but he is God. He teaches, but he also controls the wind and the waves.
Who is Jesus?
It is the most important question in the world. And then there is the question that Jesus asks - do you believe it yet? Can you trust him? Do you still look at what he can do for you, what he can give you, or do you simply believe he loves you?
Who is Jesus? That’s the question that comes through the whole book of Mark. He never tells you the answer directly. He wants you to work it out. Who is Jesus? It’s the question I will finish with today.