Fear and Faith

Reading: Mark 4.35-41


Richard C. Trench was Archbishop of Dublin at the end of the nineteenth century. In the last two years of his life he fought with great courage a progressive terminal illness which left him increasingly paralysed. On one occasion he was a guest of honour at the banquet of the Lord Mayor of London. He seemed to be growing more and more uncomfortable until someone asked if he felt well enough to continue. “It has come at last,” he murmured. “Complete paralysis of my lower left‑hand side. And yet with Christ as my companion, I shall endure it with courage.”

At this point the lady sitting next to him leaned across and gently said, “Your Grace, would it be a consolation to you to know that it is my leg which you have been pinching for the past quarter hour?”

Many people have been helped by the prayer of serenity, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” However, the prayer doesn’t go far enough in realising that the Lord is with us in our situation. He may bring us deliverance out of the situation or grace within it.

Fear

Jesus had been using parables to teach many things about the Kingdom of God. So many people crowded round him on the shore of Lake Galilee that “he got into a boat and sat in it” (Mk 4.1).

“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ ” (vv. 35-38)

Of course, the four fishermen among them were familiar with storms on the lake. North-east of Lake Galilee is the area we call the Golan Heights. In this view from Kibbutz Ginnosar we see how the Golan dominates Lake Galilee (http://www.peterjblackburn.com/israel/lgalil10.htm). Looking down from this beautiful vantage point at the top, there can be no doubt why the Syrian army used Golan Heights to drop shells on Israeli Kibbutzim on the other side of the Lake and why Israel security insists on keeping this land (it also happens to have the best vineyards) (http://www.peterjblackburn.com/israel/lgolan02.htm). On this mountainous terrain that wind storms develop and suddenly break out on the sea. Violent storms can arise quite quickly in these conditions.

That is just what happened on this occasion. The sea had been calm when they set out. Suddenly and without warning, a strong wind was buffeting the sail and waves were crashing over the side of the boat – “so that it was nearly swamped.”

A situation like this requires “all hands on deck.” We would expect Peter, Andrew, James and John – the four fishermen – to take charge and direct the others in trimming the sails, balancing the boat, bailing out water…

And “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” Some people will sleep through anything! Jesus, of course, was thoroughly exhausted. His divinity was about to revealed, but here we see his humanity. It had been a heavy day of teaching, ministering, healing… The crowd was demanding. He needed a break – “Let us go over to the other side” (v. 35b).

Jesus also lived in full confidence in the Father’s purpose for his life. He had no sense of panic, even amid wind and waves. He also had practical confidence in his friends. With a sea-worthy boat and a good skipper – no problems!

But even the seasoned fishermen were scared in this storm! It looked beyond their skill and boat to stay afloat! “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Fear and Faith

The outcome was that Jesus commanded the wind to be quiet and the waves to be still – literally “he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Be silent! Be muzzled!’ ” The wind died down and there was a great calm (v. 39).

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40) Striking, isn’t it? The storm is past but they are still afraid – “terrified” in the presence of the one who has authority even over the wind and the waves (v. 41).

Fear and faith… We think of doubt and unbelief keeping people from faith. Perhaps, more often than we realise, it is fear.

There is, of course, a healthy fear that keeps us alive and well. It moves us into action and sends us in prayer to God. That is a fear which goes hand-in-hand with faith. Proverbs 1.7 reminds us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”  That is a statement about faith and the life of faith – about God and our need to relate to him.

But the fear of the disciples in the storm was an unbelieving fear – Jesus doesn’t care about us! At the end of the story they were filled with uncertain fear – we are Jesus’ disciples, but who is he really and how can we relate to him?

We need to understand that faith in God doesn’t mean we do nothing! Faith will move us to use our skills – and our bailing buckets!

Remember when Paul was being taken prisoner to Rome? They were caught in a violent storm, so bad that Luke recorded, “We finally gave up all hope of being saved” (Acts 27.20b). Then one bleak morning Paul came out and said, “I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an anger of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me” (vv. 22-25).

Paul was trusting in the God “whose I am and whom I serve.” So all of us can take heart – all of us will be safe. But we do need the sailors to stay on board (v. 31). And we need to eat food if we are going to survive (v. 34).

Living by Faith

A family were on holiday in a remote cottage. There was no electricity and no water on tap. The only gas was from a camping stove. At bedtime, the young daughter was extremely brave about going upstairs with her mother by the light of a candle. But a puff of wind blew the candle out, leaving them in total darkness. The little girl was afraid.

“I’ll go back downstairs to get the matches,” said mother, “but don’t be afraid – Jesus is here with you.”

“But Mum,” replied the daughter. “Can’t you stay here and we’ll send Jesus for the matches?”

Fear isn’t all negative. It is a normal healthy protective response which we can overdo to a point where our ability to act is paralysed. As we have noted, there is a healthy “fear of God”.

Martin Luther once said, “Being afraid of God is different from fearing God. The fear of God is a fruit of love, but being afraid of him is the seed of hatred. Therefore we should not be afraid of God but should fear him, so that we do not hate him whom we should love.”

We are to live by faith and not by fear. Our healthy awareness of who God is, our realisation of the identity of Jesus… is not to lead us to be “terrified”. He loves us and calls us to live by faith and not by fear. What will that mean in the practical realities of our daily living?

Living by faith means that at the centre of our being there is the confident knowledge that God has loved us, redeemed us and welcomed us into his family. We are already his child and we can depend on his good will towards us.

Living by faith means that we are depending on all the resources that God makes available to his children. He has promised to be with us. His grace is going to be sufficient for us. His Word will guide us. His Spirit will be within us with enabling power.

Living by faith means that, while we may not know the details of life, we are sure of the outcome. We rightly make our plans. Yet, finally, it is not for us to know all the details. We can very much want a particular outcome, but our trust is in God, no matter what.

Who is this Jesus, that even the wind and the waves obey him? He is the very Son of God who is “worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise” (Rev. 5.12).

“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Let us not live in fear, but by faith in him.


© Peter J. Blackburn, Cairns Northern Beaches Uniting Church and Glenmead Village, 25 June 2006
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.


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