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More Than A Title

Mark 4:35-41

You all have heard many sermons on this text about the importance of faith in the midst of the storms of life. Though a sound interpretive move it actually has nothing to do with Mark’s purpose for writing it. It is meant to answer the one question of Mark’s gospel, “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?


We thought we had the answer in Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, The Son of God.” Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son. But for Mark’s audience, and for us, this answer is utterly insufficient, even misleading.  


Knowing someone’s name and title does give us some information but our pre-conceived notions all too often skew the truth. This was especially true for both the notions of Messiah and Son of God. Peter so misread the title of Messiah that Jesus warned him, “Get behind me Satan.” This retort makes it absolutely clear the danger of jumping to conclusions about Jesus.


Mark sets out to give a complete answer and I hope that his answer not only surprises but shocks you. We have political intrigue, hometown gossip, adoring thronging crowds, acts of deep compassion (that will only grow stronger), exorcism of demons, and even still there is more to be revealed. 


Despite one powerful head-scratching miracle and encounter after another, after today’s passage the disciples are even more bewildered, in awe, and asking themselves, “Who is this guy!... even the winds and the sea obey him!” Such power did not compute with any worldview in which they operated. Not even the concept of Messiah nor “The Son of God” was sufficient to explain this power.


The Messiah was meant to be a leader, a powerful king, like David, who would defeat Israel’s earthly enemies. Though the prophets offered hints of something more, the common person believed this messiah would be beloved by God, dear to the Lord’s heart, the best of humanity, but still human. This story adds a cosmic dimension to this person of Jesus; one that would not have been in the minds of those expecting the Messiah or Son of David.


Mark has crafted this passage carefully to indicate that Jesus’ actions are about something more than simply controlling the weather. The word for "storm" in verse 37 is the same word used for "whirlwind" in Job 38:1. The whirlwind was the place of raw power clouded from human eyes from which God often speaks but more generally indicates something beyond human comprehension and power. According to Markan scholar, Lamar Williamson, the connotation is that the supernatural is present in the storm. 


To those in the ancient world the raw power of the wind and the sea represented the forces of chaos that not even the gods could so easily control. In general, the battle of God verses the sea was a recurring them in the Hebrew Bible. More particularly in Jewish thought the Leviathan was a monstrous serpent that represented the ancient malevolent force of the sea. In vain men strive to slay this beast, for that power does not rest within humans. But in Isaiah we learn, “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.


Only God had the power to tame the sea. There are others who have commanded nature. Take Elijah for example. He calls down fire from heaven to consume a ritual offering in order to defeat the prophets of Baal. Listen to Elijah’s prayer, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and have done all these things at Your command.”


There is a subtle difference between Jesus’ act and that of Elijah’s. Elijah prays and calls upon God. Jesus gets up and does it Himself. The disciples recognize both Jesus’ direct action and the supernatural status of the sea when they say, “Who then is this that the winds and the sea, obey him?” Jesus is obeyed by this ancient force of chaos. And what is creation in ancient thought? The power to bring order out of chaos. And how did God accomplish creation? By speaking a word, “Let there be light!?” and how did Jesus bring order from this chaotic storm? By a word, “Peace! Be Still!


Suddenly in the eyes of the disciples, Jesus has gone from wise teacher, clever debater and healer to something far more.


Note the disciples didn’t actually ask Jesus for help. Rather they woke Him up saying, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing!?”  The devastating and deadly raw power of nature has frustrated and frightened people since the very beginning even to today.  


We may have felt as if God was asleep over this Coronavirus. It absolutely confuses us that God would not arise to strike down plagues and storms. The fact that nature of which we are a part, and even our own bodies would rise up to destroy us in cancerous ferocity. It is like a family member striking us down. It does not seem right. How can the world be made like this?


Genesis seems to agree. Upon being expelled from the garden, suddenly things didn’t work as they were meant to at the beginning. To bring forth fruit from the earth would require toil, that is backbreaking work and furthermore the animal kingdom would bite the heel of man, that is it would rise up against us.


The Apostle Paul concluded that creation is fallen just like humanity is fallen. He described it as suffering birth pangs in Romans. Remember that birth pangs were another result of fallen creation.


He tells us creation waits with eager longing, like us it longs to be restored. 


The harmony of all creation will someday be known. Viruses will be no more. That is the promise and the hope. But that time has not yet come. And in those times when we wonder, “Where is God?”, “Is God asleep?”, “Don’t You care that we are perishing?” we would do well to remember today’s story.


This passage shows us that even though God has not yet redeemed creation, at times, God will intervene in nature and bring healing.


Mark tells a slightly different story of this event than Matthew. Unlike in Mark, in Matthew, the disciples actually ask Jesus to help but before He calms the sea He first castigates the disciples, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” But in Mark, Jesus’ first act, before He says anything, without even being asked, is to calm the sea and then secondarily He teaches the disciples.


It is almost as if the Bible is giving us two ways to view God and it is up to us which Christ we believe in – the one who first acts in compassion, or whose first act is to scold us and put us in our place only helping after making us feel guilty for being weak and afraid as are all of us.


Mark’s Jesus is closer to us. He is not called “Lord”, like in Matthew, but “teacher”. He does not praise Himself like in John but remains the humble servant. He is asleep in Matthew and Mark, but Mark adds that He is asleep on a cushion. Making Him feel more human, like He was truly tired, exhausted in fact, not just faking it. But even so, in the moment of seeing fear on their faces He rises up to calm the storm. Who is this man?


The legions of Harry Potter fans out there will remember a quote from Sirius Black, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” There is another similar quote from Malcom Forbes, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”  


Before these quotes a 19th century English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, wrote the words:

I think you may judge of a man’s character by the persons whose affection he seeks. If you find a man seeking only the affection of those who are great, depend upon it he is ambitious and self-seeking; but when you observe that a man seeks the affection of those who can do nothing for him, but for whom he must do everything, you know that he is not seeking himself, but that pure benevolence sways his heart.


When all of these quotes are applied to Jesus, we see a person who more than anyone demonstrates a character of such blinding love and humility it can scarcely be imagined. He is Lord, Messiah, and Savior; but it is His compassion for the crowd, His patience with His disciples, and His love for His enemies, that shows, more than any title, “Who is this man, that even the winds and the seas obey Him.”

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