Isaiah 40:27-31, Mark 4:35-41
March 11, 2018
There is an often used expression in our world these days. Maybe you know it. When someone is talking about “stepping things up” or “Raising the bar,” they will talk in terms of taking something “to the next level!” Have you heard that expression?
Well, that’s what I think is happening in this story with Jesus. Here at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, we’ve seen him do many things. We’ve seen him “teaching with a new authority.” We’ve seen his popularity rise. And that’s great! We understand that about him. We get that.
We’ve also seen him do miraculous things. We’ve seen him heal people. We’ve seen him casting out demons. That’s a little less understandable, I think. Other people have claimed to have done that kind of thing over the years. And maybe we’re not so sure about that when we hear it. Maybe we even see some people as “charlatans.” The Pharisees looked at Jesus in that way. They saw him as using some kind of “trickery” to do what he did. They even accused him of casting out demons because he was in league with them! Remember Mr. Harold’s message from last week.
But still we sort of get that. Jesus did those miraculous things, and we’re ok with his power to do those kinds of things. We might even see them as “no big deal.” “Very good, Jesus! You healed that man!” “You cast out that demon! Your power is evident!” “That’s all great!”
But then there’s this story! This story today raises the bar! This story takes the whole thing “to that next level!” This is the story of the “greater power” Jesus commanded! And that power shocked even those who had been there with him all this time.
When I preached last year at one of the Community Lenten Services, (I think it was at Cornwells) I talked about the waters of creation, the chaos on the face of the deep, from Genesis one. I talked about the fearsome nature of water and the power of the sea and it’s storms. And I talked about how the people of that time saw the seas, the waters, as the ultimate power in all of nature. Maybe you remember that sermon. (It’s on line if you want to read it again. It was called “The Face of the Deep.”)
Well, these disciples knew that power. They were fishermen! They grew up on that sea. They knew the power of its storms and it’s unpredictability. They lost friends, fellow fishermen to the sea.
We know that power, too. We’ve witnessed that devastation many times before. We’ve seen it in Sandy, Katrina, Maria, and many others. And we’ve seen it just recently, in the past couple of weeks. And we see it live! Our televisions bring that power right into our living rooms! We see it on our computers. It comes right on to our phones! Then, to know all of that, and to think of a person being able to calm that kind of storm with just a word – (Three words, actually! “Peace! Be Still!”) – that is the greater power!
Think of what it was like for these disciples, these fishermen. And again, we read these stories with our “Bible voice,” and we kind of take them for granted. They’re just part of the picture of Jesus. But think about what they were seeing. Yes, so far they had seen a lot. They had seen the crowds respond to their Master’s teaching. They had heard his “new authority.” They had seen the demons bowing to his power. They had seen him heal many people! But now… this!
Look at their reaction! “Who is this?” they asked. “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?” I think that word “even” is the key word here! Yes, the demons obey! Yes, the diseases are gone! Yes, he even has the power to answer the Pharisees! All of that was impressive, no doubt! But now, it’s like they didn’t even know him! “Who is this?” “Even the wind and waves obey him!”
I think this is a great story for us. Because I think that it calls us to ask what we believe about God’s power. And at what point do we doubt God’s power? I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll agree that there is a point. We believe certain things about God’s power. We know he can do things up to a point. But beyond that, we’re not sure.
And that point moves sometimes, doesn’t it? And sometimes it has to do with our needs. “Sure God, you can part the Red Sea.” “Sure Jesus, you can cast out demons and heal people and raise the dead.” “But my problems… I don’t think so.” “My problems are too big!” The reality of our needs, our problems, seem big, and we doubt God can do anything about them.
The disciples were in that state. Notice here, that they didn’t ask Jesus for help! They didn’t say “save us, Jesus!” I don’t think they thought he could do anything. There situation was beyond that point. I don’t think they believed he could do anything about it. It was just a cry, “We are dying!” (“Don’t you care?”)
Do you remember the conversation I told you about a few weeks ago? It was the conversation I had with the woman in Seminary who said she didn’t believe Jesus could heal people. Those healing stories in the Bible were all myths, she said. And she didn’t believe it because he didn’t heal her father when he was terminal. Which is traumatic, of course. But her conclusion was “He didn’t, therefore he can’t.” Again, I was very uncomfortable with that kind of reasoning about God. And I still am. I think it’s better to think in terms of, “He has therefore he can!” I hope you do, too!
Now, that doesn’t mean that he will. And we don’t always know why! (I know I’m using a lot of these kinds of words here!) But I want to encourage us to focus on the “can.” God is able! For one thing, that keeps us looking to him, seeking his answers, trusting in him, learning to trust in him, to bring us through whatever we may face in this life.
God has the power! And I’m grateful he does! And I’m glad to know that his power is indeed beyond my feeble ability to believe! One of my favorite verses about the power of God is Ephesians 3:20. There Paul writes, “Now to him, who by the power at work within us, is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” We should read that verse every day! God’s power is far above what we are able to believe. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s very comforting, and it’s also very challenging!
God has the power to heal all of our diseases, to fix all of our problems, to fill all of our needs, to grant all of our requests. But sometimes we aren’t sure. And sometimes our doubts about God’s power are tied to our doubts about his very existence. Sometimes we wonder about that. And we feel the same way. We worry that if we doubt the existence of God, he will cease to exist. But if we really think about it, God’s existence does not depend on our ability to believe he exists. God is there, even when we doubt!
I believe it’s the same with God’s power. His power does not depend on our ability to believe it. And we can know that what Paul said is true. God’s power is beyond – far beyond – “all that we ask or think.” And we can know that, and we can seek to grow in our ability to trust him and to trust his power.
With a word, Jesus calmed the sea. He showed the “greater power” he commanded. It shocked his disciples! But it was also recorded for all time, so we can know this story of his greater power, too! I encourage you to think about that and remember that today. As you do, listen for the words of this last hymn we’re about to sing. Particularly listen to the second verse. Listen and sing with meaning these words, so beautifully set to music by Jean Sibelius:
Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake,
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope thy confidence let nothing shake.
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know,
His voice who ruled them when he dwelt below.
Eternal God, whose power once came to this earth in Jesus our Lord. Help us to believe. Help us to trust your power. Help us to know we need that belief and trust. Help us to know better the man who stilled the water. And to follow. We pray in his name, Amen.