A Powerful God

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Would you turn, please to that account of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4.35-41. You can find it on p 1006 in the Bibles in the pews. And on the back of the service sheet you'll find an outline with my main headings for you to follow. You'll see that I want us to think about this remarkable incident from three different angles. First, the storm. Second, the Lord. And third, the disciples.

What are your memories of storms? There is one that stands out vividly in my own mind. It occurred when I was a boy.

I was nine. I had recently started at boarding school in a big house in the country. I was in bed in my dormitory of about ten boys - iron bedsteads lining the walls. Life felt pretty uncertain. I was away from my parents for an extended period and for the first time. And I remember the thunder and lightning crashing right overhead and the heavy rain lashing down. The large old sash windows rattled furiously in their frames as they were buffeted by the wind. It was a fiercesome storm but the feeling I had was not one of fear - rather of comfort tinged with excitement. Tucked up in bed with my blankets tight around me, I knew I was safe. I could marvel at the power of the storm, but I didn't feel threatened by it. I was right in the storm, but protected from it.

A storm isn't a problem if you have secure protection. The difficulties arise when you're exposed, unprotected, and right in the thick of it. And that, of course, was how those disciples saw their situation on the Sea of Galilee that day. So my first heading is:


First, THE STORM THAT THREATENS TO OVERWHELM

Jesus has had a long hard day teaching by the Sea of Galilee. 4.1:

The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. He taught them many things…

Perhaps the press of the crowd got too great for them to land. In any case, verses 35-36:

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 [no opportunity, I suppose, to fetch the oilskins and the life jackets], in the boat. There were also other boats with him…

- no doubt a little flotilla following after him, reluctant to let the celebrity go so easily, with sons calling out to their incompetent fathers, 'Come on dad, overtake that one in front.' And then, as apparently happens not uncommonly on the Sea of Galilee, v37:

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.

A situation that was probably quite festive suddenly turns nasty, and mere tiredness turns to terror at the prospect of being drowned.

Not many of us make our living on the sea nowadays. So not many of us have experienced a storm that was genuinely dangerous for us - even life threatening. But of course storms don't just come at us in the form of weather. Nor are we told how Jesus calmed this storm in case we get caught out one day by a freak wind when we're fishing on the Sea of Galilee. For 'the Sea of Galilee' read 'life'. For the storm, read any set of external circumstances which are beyond our control and which threaten to overwhelm us. It doesn't take long for our calm lives to be shattered.

There's a powerfully descriptive verse in Acts 27. The apostle Paul was crossing the Mediterranean, as a prisoner under guard on his way to be tried by the Emperor in Rome. A hurricane force storm battered them violently. Acts 27.20:

When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.

No light at the end of the tunnel. No let up to the battering. Seemingly no hope. Have you been there? Do you feel that's where you are even this morning?

Storms like that come into our lives in all shapes and sizes. Last week in the south I met a woman whose husband recently died. He was in his early thirties. They were on the point of celebrating his graduation as a mature student with a first class degree. Their future was looking bright. His mother was travelling from Africa to join in the party. He was killed in a motorbike accident. His wife rang her mother-in-law to tell her, and instead of coming for a party, she travelled instead to her son's funeral. Storms threaten to overwhelm us.

Susan Hill in her autobiographical novel, 'In the Springtime of the Year', describes the impact on a woman of the realisation that her husband has been killed in an accident on the farm. She writes:

She wanted to run away, get out of herself, out of this fear, and she could not move; she wanted to hide, in a cupboard or behind a chair, as she had hidden from thunderstorms as a small child… she managed to get as far as a chair in the other room, and to sit on the very edge of it, all her nerves and muscles bunched up hard together…. The air smelled thick with her own fear.

For recent generations in this country the storms of war are something we watch across the plain from the vantage point of safety. But events unfolding in the Middle East are a reminder that for so many people around the world today the total disruption and danger of war are all too real.

For some of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world it's persecution that hits them like a storm as they try and bear witness to their Lord and Saviour.

So, for instance, in Pakistan on Christmas Day, a presbyterian church was attacked by armed assailants. The attackers threw grenades into the church. Three girls, aged 8 to 15, were killed. Seventeen other people were injured, several of them seriously.

Recently a top-secret document from the Government of another country came to light that describes a systematic campaign to expose and destroy unregistered Protestant churches. The directive issues instructions to terminate "illegal Protestant activities", and to confiscate "illegal publicizing" materials used for evangelism. It says that "stubborn members" - that is, believers refusing to "voluntarily obey regulations of the government" - should be (I quote) "severely punished."

We may not be at risk of persecution, but other things may threaten to overwhelm us - like a serious illness; or an exam failure that wrecks a life-plan; or unemployment; or financial disaster; or a child gone badly and dangerously off the rails; or a breakdown of relationships central to your life but out of your control such as the divorce of your parents.

Now there may be questions in your mind. Perhaps you're thinking: 'How's that relevant to me, because I have never experienced such a storm that's threatened to overwhelm me?' Answer: the storm will come. Even the most protected of lives has to face the storm of our own death. I remember my father saying to me years ago that he felt he'd never had to suffer. After that he lost his business, had a big operation, and had major family traumas. The storm will come.

Or maybe you're thinking, 'Surely if you're a Christian, God prevents such storms from happening in your life?' Answer: we have no such promise. Rather the opposite - we're promised that storms will come. As J.C.Ryle puts it:

Christ's service does not exempt His servants from storms.

If you're comforted by the hope of a storm-free life, then you're depending on a false hope. We do best to look to the Lord who has the power to still the storm. And that's my second heading:


Secondly, THE LORD WHO STILLS THE STORM

To feel the full force of what happened next on the Sea of Galilee, we need to understand the Old Testament background. Storms at sea and storms in life were well understood. For instance Psalm 55.4-8 recounts the experience of King David:

My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me.

Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.

I said, 'Oh that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest -

I would flee far away and stay in the desert;

I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.

Something else is well understood too. Who is the one who controls and orders the wind and the waves? It is God alone. So God rescued Noah - Genesis 8.1:

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.

So also the almighty God rescued his people from Egypt - Exodus 14.21:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

No wonder Psalm 89.8-9 says:

O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.

Back to the Sea of Galilee - Mark 4.39:

[Jesus] 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?'

Here are five simple but profound lessons that we can transplant from that moment deep into our own lives. Then they can be ready to draw on when the pressure mounts.

First, Jesus is present with his disciples. Verse 38:

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.

Seeing Jesus calmly sleeping in the stern of their boat should have been enough for those disciples. For the Israelites in the wilderness there was the cloud by day and the fire by night which showed the Lord's protecting presence. The disciples had the Son of God himself just an arm's length away. If they'd truly understood who he was, that would have been sufficient for them. What do we have, as the disciples of Jesus today? We have his promise: 'Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.' He is with us.

Second, Jesus cares for his disciples. With the sea crashing around them and the boat taking water faster than they could bail it out, verse 38:

The disciples woke [Jesus] and said to him, 'Teacher, don't you care if we drown?'

It's not a question even worthy of an answer, and Jesus doesn't give it one - except through the eloquence of his actions. Does Jesus care for us? He cares enough to die for us. Will that do as proof? Or do we want more? Jesus is with us, and Jesus cares for us.

Third, Jesus has the power to protect his disciples. The presence of Jesus and the care of Jesus wouldn't be enough to assure us of deliverance from the storm without this. But look at the power of Jesus. Verse 39:

He got up, rebuked the wind and said the waves, 'Quiet, be still!'

This incident is intended as a graphic illustration of the almighty power and authority of Jesus. Let's allow this to penetrate our minds and sink deep into our hearts. Jesus Christ rules over the surging sea. The whole creation is his footstool. If a storm is raging around you, it's not because Jesus can't handle it, like a tennis player struggling to return the 120 mile an hour serves of a champion. Jesus has almighty power. He can deal with the storm. It takes just a word. If he doesn't, it's because he wants to teach us and change us first.

And that's the fourth lesson: Jesus may not end the storm immediately. Why did he even allow that storm to rise on the Sea of Galilee? Why did he allow the disciples to fear for their lives? In this case the reason is clear. He wanted to teach the disciples more about who he is, and more about faith. Through them, he wanted to teach all his future followers, including us. We can't always see such a clear purpose for the storms in our lives. But the purpose is still there. Jesus isn't arbitrary and capricious in his dealings with us. He always acts with loving purpose as well as irresistible power.

Then the fifth lesson is simply this: the storm passes. Verse 39:

Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

The sky may look black as black. The force of the wind may be as fierce as ever. But in God's good time the rain will cease and the sun will shine and the sea will grow calm. There's no point in denying that there are times when we find that hard to believe. But that's a deficiency in our faith. It's a result of having our eyes on the sea and not on Jesus. Verse 40:

He said to his disciples, 'Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?'

Jesus will never leave us. He cares for us. He has absolute power. He may not end the storm immediately. But he will end it. He will make everything new. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. No more death or mourning or crying or pain. That is his promise.

So to final main heading:


Thirdly, THE DISCIPLES WHO LIVE IN FEAR

Fear is inevitable for all of us, because we're such puny creatures, always surrounded by powers that are way beyond our control. The question is, who or what will we fear? Those disciples began with fear of the storm, fear for their own safety. They end with quite a different kind of fear. Verse 41:

They were terrified and asked each other, 'Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!'

They were scared stiff of the storm. They thought the storm was powerful. And so it was, in comparison to them. But in comparison to Christ it was a ripple on a puddle. They're given a mere glimpse of his majesty - and the focus of their fear is transformed.

Many people are driven to Christ by some kind of storm in their lives. They realise their weakness and glimpse his glory. That was the experience of John Newton, the writer of 'Amazing Grace'. He literally committed his life to Christ during a storm at sea. Maybe you're finding yourself drawn to Christ as the result of some kind of storm in your life. Well now is a good time to transfer your fear away from the storm and onto Jesus. He deserves to be feared. But you'll find that fear of Jesus, who loves you and protects you, is very different from fear of impersonal or hostile forces.

But let's not wait for storms to come and drive us into the arms of Christ. He is not changed. Today he has the same heart, the same sympathy, the same patience, the same power as he did that day on the Sea of Galilee. Draw near to him today. Put your faith in him today.

Joseph Scriven was born in County Down in Northern Ireland. He was a brilliant student and went to University in Dublin. Life got even better - he fell in love and got engaged to be married. The day before the wedding, Joseph's fiancée was drowned. That terrible sorrow made him turn to God. He became a Christian and began to follow Jesus. In 1845 he went to Canada as a teacher. He fell in love again - and got engaged. The young woman became seriously ill, and died, before they were married. Joseph was very unhappy. But he never stopped trusting Jesus. He became well known where he lived for his kindness and generosity.

Back in Ireland, his mother fell ill, and he wrote a poem to her to encourage her with what he'd discovered through all the 'storms' that he'd been through in his life. He never intended to publish it. But when later Joseph himself was very ill and dying, a friend came to see him and found the poem. 'Who wrote these beautiful words?' he said. Joseph replied, 'The Lord and I did it between us.' Joseph's friend got the poem printed - and it became a famous hymn. It begins like this:

What a friend we have in Jesus

All our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear -
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Let's bow our heads to pray:

Lord Jesus, help us to learn what Joseph Scriven learned, and what the disciples began to learn on that boat in the storm: that when you are with us, we will still go through all sorts of troubles - but you care for us, you are powerful and stronger by far than any troubles, and you will protect and rescue us from them. Help us to trust you, so that we need not be afraid. Amen.

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