Sunday, 21 June 2015

Why are you so afraid? Mark 4

The Gospels are primarily about answering the question “Who is Jesus?” In the Gospel of Mark we read about Jesus casting unclean spirits out of people, he heals the sick, and in this week’s reading he stops a storm. In the next chapter Jesus is again shown to have power over demons, and he even brings a little girl back from the dead. Mark is showing us that Jesus has power over every major power that human beings face. Whatever Jesus faces he is shown to be the superior power. This leaves the disciples asking, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” This is the question the Gospels want us to keep asking as we read through them. Who is this that has power over demons? Who is this that can forgive sin? Who is this that can heal a leper? Who is this that can bring a girl back from the dead? Who is this that can raise his hand and calm a raging storm? And notice he does this without praying to God to stop the storm. He doesn’t ask God to raise the little girl from the dead. He doesn’t pray to God for the healing of the paralytic. No, Jesus speaks to the demon for it to leave. He speaks to the storm and the storm stops. He speaks to the little girl and calls her back from death. His words change reality. So who is this? Who else creates reality by speaking?

So the main question Mark wants us to ask is “who is Jesus?”. But, Jesus asks an important question back to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Yes they are in a storm, but they are in a storm with the one who has power over sickness, and demons, and nature, and death itself. If that is who they are with, why are they so afraid? Jesus’ question echo’s the command of God and His messengers that we hear over and over in the pages of scripture- “fear not” (Gen 15:1; 21:17; 26:24; Ex 14:13; 1 Chr 22:13; Is 35:4; 40:9; 41:10; 41:13; 41:14; 43:1; 43:5; 44:2; 44:8; 51:7; 54:4; Jer 30:10; 46:27-28; Dan 10:12; Dan 10:19; Joel 2:21-22; Zeph 3:16; Hag 2:5; Zech 8:13, 15; Matt 10:31; Lk 2:10; 12:7; 12:32; Jn 12:15; Rev 1:17, etc).

Jesus might ask us a similar question. We often live in a perpetual state of fear. We are afraid people won’t like us. We are afraid we aren’t doing a good job. We are afraid we might get sick. We are afraid we might not have enough money to be secure. We are afraid for our children. The news is full of reasons we should be afraid. We might have very good reason to be afraid because the dangers might be very real and imminent. The disciples were in a real storm. IT was not a mirage. At times we are in real storms.

But, they had Jesus with them. He was sleeping, however, and so he seemed to not be in control. For us God might seem to be asleep. God might seem to not be in control, but could it be that fear is really a breakdown of faith? Faith is trust. So how might our fear be about a lack of faith?

If it is true that 1) God is with us, and 2) God is all-powerful, and 3) God loves us more than we can imagine (not mere sentimental birthday-card-once-per-year love, but real love that would overwhelm you if you knew the full extent of it), then what reason would we have to be afraid. We might see our fear in life as an expression of a lack of trust that God is with us, or a lack of trust that God is all-powerful, or a lack of trust that God loves us. If we really can come to truly believe those three things are true about God we should not be bound by fear.

Let’s look at these three aspects of God.

First, we are told that God is with us. The fancy theological word for that is ‘omnipresent’. The idea that God is always with us is found all over the Bible. When Jesus gives the great commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew he says “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20). One of Jesus’ names is found in Isaiah (7:14)- “Immanuel”, which means “God with us”. In Hebrews we read, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Heb 13:5-6; Deut 31:6). In Paul’s letter to the Romans we read not only that God is with us but that nothing can separate us from God’s presence- Nothing “in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39). In Psalms 23:4 we read the familiar words, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Regardless of how we feel God to be present, or absent, if God is truly God, then God is constantly present. God’s loving eye is constantly on us. When my kids are playing in front of their grandparents they can watch them for hours without saying much at all. It is the gaze of love- not judgement, but love.

Yes the storm is bad, but He is with us in the storm.

Second, we are told that God is all-powerful. The fancy theological word for that is ‘omnipotent’. The God we worship is the creator. From nothing God created the universe- stars, galaxies, planets, and the 10,000 kinds of birds. Imagine the power of a being that could create the universe. Jesus expressed this power by showing power over sickness, evil, nature, and death. This same Jesus is described in the letter to the Colossians, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:15-20).

Yes, the storm is bad, but He is more powerful than the storm.

Third, we are told that God loves us more than we can imagine. The fancy theological word for that is ‘omnibenevolent’. The familiar passage from John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. In John’s first letter we are taught that “God is love” (1 John 4). When Jesus described God in the parable of the Prodigal Son he described God as a loving father who welcomes back a wayward son, full of love and forgiveness (Luke 15). The spiritual teacher Richard Rohr points out, “the people who know God well- the mystics, the hermits, those who risk everything to find God- always meet a lover, not a dictator” (everything belongs, p.131).

Yes, the storm is bad, but He loves us and ultimately wants the best for us.

If we really have faith that 1) God is with us, and 2) God is all-powerful, and 3) God loves us, then what reason would we have to fear? It doesn’t mean that we won’t have bad things happen to us. It doesn’t mean we won’t face storms. I don't always get why the storms are allowed. I do know that my children sometimes suffer and I allow it for a greater good (for example, if they need to get a needle, or if they need a time out and learn discipline). I'm not going to pretend to understand why suffering is allowed. But if we really believe in God and we face the storms of life we can trust that God is with us, that God is powerful, and that God loves us. Our temptation is to look at the storm and to throw out one of those three truths about God.

We will face storms, but the ultimate end will be safety. We will walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23). Like Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego we might face powerful people that want to do us harm, and we might even be thrown into the furnace (Dan 3). We will carry our own cross (Matt 16:24). But, as followers of Jesus we are told that resurrection awaits. There is never a reason to ultimately fear because God is with us, God is all-powerful, and God loves us more than we can possibly imagine. The storm will not be the last word in our lives. With our God there will always be reason for hope no matter how bleak thing look in the moment. 

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