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The Greater Storm

June 24, 2018
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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The Greater Storm
Mark 4:35-41

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 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?” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends.

It would be very easy, as I’m sure many pastors have done before, to use this Gospel pericope to remind you of how God will see you through the trials – the storms, if you will – of life, plentiful as they are. It’s not that this is a wrong idea; God does, indeed, promise to bear with you through the storms of life, promising that He will never leave you nor forsake you, but this is not the overall point of the text. No, to find the fuller meaning, we must look in a bit of an unlikely place.

On the surface, our Old Testament lesson for today does seem to jive with our Gospel text, especially with the theme that God is in control of all things, and far be it from me to question the lectio continuum. That said, in my humble opinion, the story of Jonah is a better fit, because the parallels are staggering. Indulge me for a moment, if you’ve never considered the parallels between these two texts. We all know how Jonah was called by God to be a prophet to the people of Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, an enemy nation. We all know how Jonah, for whatever reason, did not want to do it, but instead ran in the opposite direction, chartering a ship to take him far away to Tarshish. Well, the Creator of all things does not take lightly when His chosen prophets rebuff His call, so a brief reading from the prophet of Jonah:

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

This is followed by the more infamous part of the story, with Jonah being swallowed by a God-appointed whale/fish and staying there for three days and three nights before being hurled (literally) back onto dry land, at which time Jonah proceeds to do what God had told him to do: go to Nineveh and preach. And the story continues from there.

Let’s see … a great wind and storm … people on a boat in the midst of said storm … a protagonist who is also on the boat but sleeping … questions raised over the apparent indifference of said protagonist as he sleeps … how the sea is eventually calmed. The parallels, as I’ve said, are impressive. However, the meaning of our Gospel text is not derived from the parallels, but rather the differences.

In Jonah’s story, the reluctant prophet tells the pagan sailors that he must be thrown overboard into the sea in order to quell and still the cacophony, to quench the anger of the one true God. Jesus simply stands and, in a stronger word of rebuke than is often piously translated, muzzles the pure chaos of this hurricane-like storm, almost in passing. It’s almost as if He’s got more important things to worry about – which probably explains the disappointment in and apparent annoyance with His followers when He asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

See, unlike Jonah, whose storm seemed to define his narrative as God rebuked him through natural means, Jesus has no need of such rebuke. Indeed, this storm that He and His disciples had crashing around them in their dinky fishing boat is not the focus. As the King of kings and Lord of lords, a roaring, menacing violent storm as is described in Mark was as nothing but an irritation. Does He Who created the wind and the waves have any fear of them? Of course not; He’s still in control of them, as He is with all things! No, there is a much larger, more deadly squall that Jesus has come to deal with.

This greater storm began spinning with the calamitous decision of Adam and Eve to rebel against God’s single law. It took form over all creation as it descended from the perfect and good order God had originally created into the chaos and brokenness that now impacts the entire cosmos. It’s likely that this greater storm of sin, death, and the devil was more on Jesus’s mind as they crossed the Sea of Galilee to Gerasa. This greater storm would require that, like Jonah, Jesus be sacrificed to the chaos and cacophony in order to save those who don’t even know Him or, really, love Him. He does it to save the world and all that is in it. And in the same way that the seas and winds backed down, obeying with no protest or grumble, so sin, death, and the devil shrink away and are silent before the Creator of all things – we actually see this literally happen throughout Mark’s Gospel account as Jesus forgives people their sins, commands the devils to release those they are oppressing, and certainly in His victory over death in His glorious resurrection, as well as the promise that this victory will be delivered to all who hold fast to His promises, at His return!

So, yes, it is no secret that, in the “storms of life,” Jesus has given you His promise to bear with you, to suffer alongside you while you are in the midst of it. Storms will come – financial, medical, familial, what have you, and you can be sure that Jesus will be there with you in the heart of it. However, that doesn’t mean that He will bring you through it and everything will be okay in the temporal sense. Indeed, ultimately, a day will come when you and I will likely enter into a most violent storm, the one spinning in the valley of the shadow of death, and we will not come out of it alive. But that’s okay. Why? Because we hold fast to the promise that, while the temporal storms faced here may claim our life, goods, fame, child or wife, though these all be gone, the victory has been won! The kingdom ours remaineth! The Day is fast approaching when the Lord of creation will return and will tell sin, death, and the devil, once and for all, to sit down and shut up, and they will have no choice but to obey.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” My dear friends, this is Jesus of Nazareth, Who is the Christ. This is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity – true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary. He is our Savior, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and all storms will be silent before Him.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.