Do you have friends who’d benefit from regular devotionals like this? Do let them know about being Friends of Union so we can encourage them too.
by Michael Reeves
Thank you so much for committing to stand with us. And we want to stand with you and bless you. So as part of that, regularly, we’re going to send you a devotional just for you—to encourage you, friends of Union. So, come with me to Mark’s Gospel now. To Mark 4, from verse 35.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35–41)
I want to look at this because who knows what weather we’ll sail in this year? I’m sure we’ll see both sun and rain. But there is a general sense across the world that we’re in stormy times. The church seems all too beleaguered. It sometimes feels as if Jesus is asleep at the wheel. We’re still feeling the effects of the pandemic. And now there’s the cost-of-living crisis to face.
But look, in Mark 4, it’d been a pretty great day. Jesus had drawn great crowds who marvelled at his teaching. Not much of a cloud in the sky it seemed. And then, this storm. For so it normally is throughout the history of the church: great successes and advances come with great challenges and afflictions. Where the gospel advances, the devil will rage.
And now look how the disciples act. Terrified, they cry, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” They call him “Teacher,” and yet the storm seems to have blown all their faith away. And isn’t that often how it is? In the good times, we have no idea how scanty our faith really is. When all goes smooth, we can feel very faithful, for it is easy, but it is when the storm comes that faith is really tested. And then, in those stretching times, it is easy to grow weary in faith— fatigued. And then it can seem—because Jesus has not swooped in to deliver us with a miracle and make things better—it can seem as if Jesus does not care for us. He seems asleep at the wheel, and we’re left stressed and anxious.
And notice what that does to their behaviour. They cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Desperate and despairing, they become unkind and abrupt. And unbelief always has that tendency—to make us out of sorts with others, ungracious. Of course! For when we are worried for ourselves, ee don’t have the wherewithal to be kind to others. When our faith wavers, we grow both fretful and unfriendly. So, let’s ask the question, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Was he indifferent to them?
Now, remember, although Christ was asleep, he was in exactly the same situation and danger as the disciples. If the boat sank, he’d go down with it. So how could he sleep? He slept not only because he was tired, but because he felt safe in his Father’s hands. We don’t tend to read in the Gospels about Jesus sleeping, but here it is picked out, because through his sleep, he was educating his disciples. His sleep was a sermon, teaching them: “Don’t be so afraid. Rest on God, even in the middle of a storm, for you are in the hands of him who cares for you.”
His sleep was not indifference, and neither does he lack in care now when he seems quiet and asleep in heaven. And if that is ever your temptation—distress because he doesn’t seem awake—then walk by faith and not by sight. When he seems not to care—because you’re stressing and he doesn’t seem to be doing anything—remember: he cannot be uncaring. His love endures forever. He is kind in all his works. He cannot not love. He is love. And now, having bled and died for you, he cannot forget you or grow cool towards you.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Sometimes it can feel as if he does not. But faith teaches it cannot be so. Instead, here, he was teaching them. He was teaching them first of all about themselves. Without the storm, they would probably all have been like Peter, like James and John, thinking they could bear anything; they could be baptized with his baptism. They’d never falter. They were strong. Through the storm, they saw how weak they were. And through storms, we likewise see how weak we are. And without seeing that, we’ll never rely on him, if we think we are strong.
He was also teaching them about what it is to go with Christ. For here, it wasn’t as if the disciples had chosen to go on a pleasure cruise. It wasn’t as if they’d walked away from Christ to go on holiday. They were in the boat because he told them to. He said, verse 35, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.”
They were suffering because of doing right. And that is often what so troubles Christians when they struggle. They think “what have I done wrong” or “what have we done wrong?” Particularly when others, especially unbelievers, seem to be doing well. But to go with Christ does not mean a life of ease. It means to swim against the stream. It means to be at war. It means to follow him to glory through suffering.
Hard seasons do not mean God has turned away from us. The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and many times he works a greater wonder when he brings his people through trouble rather than simply keeping them clear of trouble and at ease. And so it was here. Without the storm, they would not have seen the glory of the master of the wind and sea. Through the storm, they learned a lesson of his deity.
See what happens when they even begin to grasp that lesson. While the waves crashed, they’re full of fear. And then he stills the storm. And look, we read, “And then they were filled with great fear.” But do you see? It is a wholly different fear now. Instead of fearing the storm, now they fear him, and the fear of him drives out all other fears.
Friends, if we take him to be what he really is, then confidence and rest in him will temper and soothe our anxieties; and then we will be able to share his confident rest even when the storms rage. Little faith always means much anxiety.
So, who knows what we’ll face this year. It may be a year of calm and great sunshine. There may be clouds and wind. But either way, let us not be driven by the weather of the moment. Let’s—each of us—refresh ourselves and grow in our knowledge of him, so that like the disciples, we are filled instead with a great and anxiety-stilling fear of him.
Remember how Peter, when he stops looking at Jesus and looks at the waves, that’s when he starts to sink? So, when you feel the anxiety growing, fill your gaze with him. Remember who he is and be filled with a different fear. For then we will be less fretful under pressure and more friendly with each other as we sail.
Friends, whatever the weather, Jesus is on board. He is with us. He will not leave us. He is never indifferent. And he is the master of the waves. May he continue to bless you richly, friends.