Mark 4:35-41 – The Storm

35 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:35-38, NKJV)

What initially strikes me about this passage is the fact that the disciples are simply obeying the orders of their Master as they load up the boat and cross over to the other side. Yet, they follow the words of God directly into a storm! That can be a scary realization for us. We want to know that following God’s voice will be a guarantee against troubles and hardships for our lives. But that’s not how it works. The reality is that following Jesus can be the most risky thing we ever do in this world!

Let me share the story of Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie and her family lived in Holland during the time of the German Nazi occupation. The family felt led to open their home as a safe house for Jews fleeing the mass genocide of the Holocaust. After assisting in the rescue of almost 800 Jews, Corrie and her family were finally caught by the Gestapo and sent to die in concentration camps. Corrie never saw her father again and her sister died in the camp, but not before uttering these words: “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” Corrie was miraculously released from the concentration camp due to a clerical error, just a week before all the women of her age group were executed in the gas chambers. Corrie lived on after the war to share her story of faith with millions through her book The Hiding Place.

Corrie knew what it meant to follow God’s words straight into the middle of a storm. In “No, the ‘Safest Place’ Isn’t the Center of God’s Will,” missionary Craig Greenfied writes:

Perhaps it’s time we realized that the safest place, physically speaking, is NOT in the center of God’s will. The center of God’s will may, in fact, be one of the wildest, most dangerous places you could imagine… 
We live in this “therapeutic” culture—even in missions and ministry circles—where plenty of people will tell you that you shouldn’t have to suffer. We’ve allowed a healthy doctrine of self-care to negate a theology of suffering… We hear it all the time: You deserve comfort. You deserve perfect health. You deserve this and that.

These statements are simply not true. Nor are they helpful. Would anyone dare say these words to a soldier in battle? Would you say them to a political prisoner? Or a sailor in the midst of a vicious storm?…

So what does God promise through these trials?

His promise is simply this: He will never leave us or stop loving us. That’s all. But it’s enough. He is with you in the storm because He loves you. And He will never stop loving you.

Paradoxically, Corrie Ten Boom would later write, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” Corrie understood the double-edged truth of the words she spoke. No, the center of God’s will is not the guarantee of physical comfort and safety. (Guess what, the world doesn’t have anything better to offer!) But yes, the center of God’s will is the most secure stronghold of love, peace, and protection than anything we could ever find elsewhere

We return to our passage in Mark 4. The disciples scream out at the top of their lungs, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Perhaps we are here reminded of how many times we have cried out in our own prayers, “Lord, do You not care…?” I can’t answer why God sometimes seems to wait so long before answering our prayers. I can’t say why the storm is so often allowed to rage on as long as it does. I have absolutely no answer, and the trite platitudes and cliche quips of “comfort” are so utterly unhelpful during those times. But what our passage resolutely reaffirms is that YES, Jesus does care! Sadly, it is our own lack of faith that blinds us to the reality of His abundant care (verse 40), and it is our own lack of faith that deafens us to His reassuring whispers in the midst of our trials. And yet, the truth is that one day, even if it is at the end of this lifetime, Jesus will stand up and say, “Enough! Peace, be still!”

39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

I can’t help but chuckle a little at the disciples’ reaction here. The disciples were “fearful” at the storm, but then, in response to Jesus’ actions, they “feared exceedingly!” Who in the world is this guy that He can simply speak the sea to stillness!? I guess when the disciples woke Jesus, they at most expected Him to grab a bucket and start helping bail out water. (I think a lot of times in our prayers that’s about the most we expect Jesus to do, too.) But what Jesus actually did was something completely beyond their wildest imaginations.

Yet, seeing how dramatically and suddenly Jesus caused the storm to cease in this particular story can at times be discouraging for us. After all, we can barely bring ourselves to believe that Jesus would–that Jesus could–stop the storm that rages so fiercely in our own lives. I think this difficulty brings us back around to where we began in this study: Following Jesus is not a safeguard against tragedy in this life. You see, Jesus may have miraculously stopped this storm in a moment’s time, but a few years later, He agonizingly stumbled up a mountain dragging a cross behind Him. And He told us that we also would have our own cross to carry as we followed after Him. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “The cross is laid on every Christian… Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die” (The Cost of Discipleship). In other words, yes, we are called to die–sometimes to die to our own plans and ambitions, sometimes to take up a cross of suffering and sacrifice–but the end of our life meets the beginning of a new life of communion with Jesus. And no matter what happens in the journey, what we can know is that there will not be a moment where Jesus is not with us, lovingly holding us through it all.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39, NLT)

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Mark 4:26-34 – Seeds of the Kingdom

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it?” (Mark 4:30)

Humor me and try this exercise with me: If you were asked to describe the term “kingdom” to a four-year old, how would you do it? What kinds of words would you use? I for one would use adjectives of strength, might, and authority! I’d try to convey the idea of control and and power. But that’s not what Jesus did, did He? No, instead of palaces, fortresses, and armies, Jesus redirects His listener’s gaze downward, to the tiniest of seeds…

Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” (Mark 4:27-29, NLT)

There are a couple of points that stick out to me here. First of all, Jesus seems to be using this parable to dispel the illusion of control that we have of God’s kingdom-building process. No matter how hard we try—no matter how badly we want to—we can’t make a seed germinate. We can’t force the seed to grow or sprout. In fact, we don’t even really “understand” how the whole process work. For all we know, that seed is dead, hopelessly buried away forever… Until one day, we begin to see the first inkling of life, that very first green blade, begin to peep through the surface! The process is mysterious and miraculous. Even at the first sign of growth, however, we may have to wait much longer than we would want until the next stage of development is reached. We often try to speed up the process on ourselves (especially on others!), but, that’s not our job. That’s up to Someone Else. Which leads me to my second observation: We’re not in control of the seed’s growth, but we can help scatter the seeds. Notice that word scatter. It’s definition is “to throw in various random directions.” This means we’re supposed to be out there in the world liberally dispersing seeds of hope, love, comfort, generosity, and witness of the gospel message everywhere we go! Finally, in addition to assisting with the nurturing and protection of the seeds, we then get to help harvest them!

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32, NLT)

Jesus’ words here remind me that I shouldn’t be discouraged when I don’t always see the big, spectacular “God things” in my life. We may think we’re missing out on the dramatic faith moments in our lives–it seems I’m always reading about them in others’ lives, after all. But the truth is that God promises to take and work with the small mustard seeds in our own unique life journey. We just need to be willing to offer and surrender what little we do have. That way, over time, He can nurture and grow the small, seemingly-insignificant seeds into big things for His kingdom.

Likewise, the next time we’re tempted to discount ourselves or someone else, exasperatedly giving it all up as a “hopeless cause,” we should again remember this parable. The mustard seed grows invisibly, gradually, yet steadily. It keeps us guessing. We never quite know what exactly God is up to. Until one day the tiniest of seeds grows into the largest of trees, spreading its branches and offering its leaves in shelter and nourishment to those around it. With God, what once seemed impossible becomes miraculously possible.

No wonder seeds were one of Jesus’ favorite kingdom illustrations! They remind us of the need for ceaseless patience and unwavering trust. It’s not a question of whether something is possible or not with God. It’s a question of whether we’re willing to stick around long enough to see the final result.