“Quick question,” that’s the words those hawking internet, phone, or electrical try to stop you with outside and inside stores. But they ask the question really only to give you their answer. In the midst of a storm, the Lord does say to Job: “I will question you, and you will answer Me.” But it’s God’s answers that come to the fore. Our text, also in the midst of a storm, same Greek word as used in the Septuagint, has 3 quick questions.
We’ll take the last first. It’s the Lone Ranger one. Who is this? Where does this question come from? Already over a year ago, Nathaniel confessed, “You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” They’ve seen Jesus turn water into wine; heal multitudes by the sea, cast out a Legion of demons, resurrect the window of Nain’s son, and more, and yet here they repeatedly ask each other “Who then is this Man?” They rushed to wake Him some saying, “Teacher”, some saying, “Master, Master” and yes some saying, “Lord”, but whatever they expected from Jesus it evidently wasn’t what He did. “Even the wind and the waves obey Him.” In 480 B.C. Herodotus reports that when King Xerxes learned the sea had swallowed the bridges he had built to cross from Asia to Europe he “gave orders that the Hellespont should receive 300 hundred lashes and have a pair of fetters thrown into it” (vii, 35, 387). Xerxes looks foolish; Jesus Divine.
Not to the disciples. He only looks “divine” in the creepy sense of “Other”. How about you? In the storms of your life, when the seas are running high, do you lose track of who Jesus is and what He did? Because Jesus commands winds and waves even as He does demons, some think this is a demonic storm. That would perhaps explain the utter unmanning of the 4 men in this boat who grew up on this sea, who sailed it day and night. Likewise, the Christian is attacked physically by devils, the world, and his own flesh for being a Christian. And so when we’re attacked in body, do we forget that Jesus, God the Son, came in our flesh and blood, in a human body and soul, to redeem us body and soul? Do we forget that He promised that the hairs of our head are numbered and makes the over the top promise that “not a hair of your head will perish” (Lk. 21:19).
Quick question: Who is this Jesus that you trust so completely for eternal rescue but are iffy about for earthly rescue? Who is this Jesus whom you believe to give you His very own Body for Bread and Blood for Wine as Medicine for Immortality but worry about what or how He deals with your mortal coil? Who is this Jesus whom you trust has kept the Laws of God you don’t and can’t keep and borne the punishment, the hell your failures deserve in His Body? A better question is why is this a question at all?
Let’s go back to the first quick question: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Only Mark has this direct slap in the holy face of Jesus. Matthew and Luke only record them saying, “We are perishing”. And Matthew alone, who records them addressing Jesus as ‘Lord’, records their plea to be saved. Only Mark has the stinging question, but in Greek it’s not as harsh. It expects a ‘yes’ answer. “Teacher, you do care that we are drowning, don’t you?” They had seen Jesus’ compassion for the suffering. They had heard Him say, “Fear not.” “Stop being afraid.” They had watched Him reach into Death itself and pull people back to life. Surely He cared about His special 12, didn’t He?
Quick question. Do you expect Jesus to answer ‘yes’? “When you’re caught by a gale and you’re full under sail” and you’re wondering where the love of God goes “when the waves turn the minutes to hours”, do you expect a ‘yes’ to the question does God care? Shame on you if you don’t because you know the full story. The disciples have yet to see Jesus go to dark Gethsemane. They haven’t been to bloody Calvary to see Jesus abandoned by His Father to their eternal hell. They’ve yet to hear Him ask, “My God, My God why has Thou forsaken Me?” They have yet to see that Jesus cares to death and back for you, me, the world of sinners.
There’s more. They’ve yet to see the empty, open tomb and the risen Jesus that proves God accepted His holy life and guilty, damned, death as payment in full for their sin and sinfulness. You know this. You know as The Message Bible paraphrases Heb. 2:14-15: “By embracing death, Jesus destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.” You understand as a parent that a child at certain ages can be so overwhelmed by a situation that he can’t find refuge in your strength, promise, plan. But there comes an age when that just makes you mad.
Quick question. This one from Jesus. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Do we go with this NIV translation? The Lutheran EHV is almost identical: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still lack faith?” I think The Message paraphrase better: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?” Even the NASB says in the margin “literally ‘cowardly’”. In Rev. 21:8 deilos is translated ‘coward’ or ‘cowardly’ by most versions. There it says, “the cowardly” go to hell with “unbelievers, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars”. Here Jesus links their cowardice to their lack of believing. This is not the doctrine, the faith that we believe, but believing. Jesus would rescue us from “Fear Strikes Out.” This is the true story of Jimmy Piersall who played Major League Baseball in the 50s and 60s. The fear of striking out became obsessive and controlling which led to more of it. I often warn you that positive thinking Little Engine that Could theology is not faith. The opposite of this, and equally to be warned of, is “Fear of Striking Out”, i.e. being afraid you can’t.
But hang on. Just what were they suppose to believe? Augustine said they had forgotten that Christ was with them. And Augustine admonishes us, “Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten His presence. Rouse Him, then; remember Him, let Him keep watch within you, pay heed to Him” (ACC, II, 61). The promises of God don’t go out the window, or the boat, just because the wind and the wave make you blind to them. You forgetting the promises, the power, the presence of God doesn’t mean they aren’t there. God in your flesh and blood is not Puff the Magic Dragon. Just because one gray night, or stormy day, you stop coming to play along the cherry lane doesn’t mean the Lion of the Tribe of Judah ceases His fearless roar. God the Son remains faithful and fearless even though we’re fearful and faithless. Unlike Puff He doesn’t sadly slip into a cave because no little boys, or big ones for that matter, cease to trust Him, forget about Him, grow out of Him.
Follow the text. Jesus is the one who says, "Let us go over to the other side." Matthew records Jesus got in the boat first. The disciples followed Him. Jesus put them in this boat at this time and elected to cross right then. You know the adage. “You made your bed, now lie in it.” That’s a law truth. I can see the storms of my life as all due to me. My unbelief, misbelief, and other great shame and vice. Just as I can trace bodily aches and pains to things I did when I was a young, so I can trace fears, worries, mental aches and pains to past sin and sinfulness, to habits and patterns of faithlessness I’ve developed over years. Paul closes the great chapter on what it means to be a fallen man but still a Christian with these words: “So with my flesh I serve the Law of Sin.” The wages of sin is death so my flesh is dying. My Sinful Nature as a blind, dead, enemy of God doesn’t believe anything, hope anything or fear God, and so it suffers and worries and frets and fears over everything that happens to the flesh. When my flesh bows up, the Law says, “You made your bed now lie in it.”
This is not the Gospel’s answer to the quick question: “Why are you such cowards?” It’s true; your flesh serves the Law of Sin, but your mind, says Paul in Romans 7, serves the Law of God. The law of sin is engraved in your body. No one has to teach it to you. Paul describes the answer to his sinfulness which is “Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” as the Law of God. Just as you are drop dead certain of your sin, sinfulness and what you deserve. Just as you can see how your own sin and sinfulness have made your bed of pain, worry, fear, and fretfulness, see that the “Law” of God in Jesus says something different. Just as the disciples were put in that boat and into that storm by Jesus, so according to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, whatever boat you are in of sickness, of sorrow, of fear, of death itself, it’s the USS Jesus. Actually, Jesus is both boat and fellow passenger.
Parents challenge their kids as they grow. I had them walk logs, climb trees, jump into canals for turtles. I had them carry guns, even the girls, shoot guns, even the girls. Now, do you think I ever put them in a place I shouldn’t have? Of course I did; I’m sinful and fallen and made poor decisions. But as a loving parent did I knowingly do that on purpose? When they were real young did I knowingly put them where I couldn’t catch them if they fell? No, so how can we believe our Heavenly Father does any less and not in fact infinitely more and better than we do with our kids?
It is a ‘law’ of God that where the Christian goes the Christ goes. If you’re heading for a storm Jesus is going in, with, and on you. If you’re going into the operating room, your Jesus, unlike your other loved ones, doesn’t kiss you at the door and leave you to it. No, Jesus purchased with His life and death the right to be with sinful, fretful, fallen you always, even to the close of the age let alone beyond the operating room doors.
One last quick question: When David asks in the Introit “The Lord is the stronghold of my life-- of whom shall I be afraid?” You know that’s rhetorical, right? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (20210627); Mark 4:35-41