“Keep Calm, Jesus Is in the Boat” (Mark 4:35-41)
“Be still, my soul.” Oh, really? You don’t know what I’m going through! My life is a wreck! My finances are in free-fall. My health–oh, don’t get me started! It’s just one thing after another. First it’s this, then it’s that–I get one thing fixed, and then something else goes wrong. Relationships gone wrong, too. Loneliness, despair, depression. Well, and then there’s what’s going on in the news. A shooting in South Carolina, nine innocent people killed–in a church yet! Where was God in this? Asleep at the switch? Doesn’t he watch over his people? Doesn’t he watch over me? And you’re telling me to sing, “Be still, my soul”? Come on, get real!
Well, yes, let’s get real. Because it would be just wishful thinking if we had no basis in reality for singing “Be still, my soul.” That would just be happy talk, whistling past the graveyard, if there were nothing more to it than that. But dear friends, I want to tell you today that there is a real basis for us to say to our souls, “Be still.” And that is because we have a Lord who says to the storms of our life–even to real, physical storms–“Peace! Be still!” And so I am keeping it real when I say to you now, “Keep Calm, Jesus Is in the Boat.”
Our text is the Holy Gospel for today, from Mark 4, Jesus calming the sea. The sea being referred to is the Sea of Galilee. I’ve been there. I’ve even gone in a boat across the Sea of Galilee. Only, let me tell you, for a “sea,” it’s really more like a big lake. Oh, it’s bigger than the lakes in Terre du Lac, and it’s bigger than Lake Timberline. It’s fairly large for a lake, but it’s not what you would think of as a “sea.” However, because of its location, situated in the Rift Valley, where the winds can come down from Mount Hermon and sweep across the water, whipping up the waves in a hurry–yes, the Sea of Galilee can act like a sea when a storm whips up all of a sudden.
So here are the guys in a boat–and keep in mind, many of them are experienced fishermen who know these waters better than anyone–and even they are starting to panic. It’s night, it’s dark, and the winds and the waves are too much for them. The storm is starting to fill the boat with water. Will they make it? Or will this be the end for them?
But wait! They remember who’s in the boat with them. It’s Jesus, their master, their teacher. And what have they seen Jesus do up to this point? These disciples have seen Jesus do some amazing things. They have seen Jesus heal diseases and cast out demons. He seems to have an inside track with God somehow. Yeah, maybe he can help. So let’s ask– Huh? What’s this? He’s asleep! Here we are, about to drown, and he’s sleeping! Look at him, lying there on a cushion! Let’s wake him up! “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The disciples have known their master to be a caring man of God, willing and able to help people in need, so this just doesn’t make any sense–that he would sleep right through this urgent crisis, that he would not care about, and do something about, their deep distress.
Do you ever feel like these disciples? Like, where’s God in this? Doesn’t he know what I’m going through? Why doesn’t he do something about it? He’s got the power. I know he loves me. At least I think he does. So why is he letting me suffer like this? Don’t you care, Lord?
That was how the disciples felt. And once Jesus wakes up, he shows that he really does care, that he’s not going to let them perish. He rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And it was so. And evening and morning were the– Oops! Wrong story. That’s the Creation account, isn’t it? God speaks, and it is so. And that’s the point, isn’t it? Jesus here is demonstrating authority over nature itself, over the created order. And only God can do that.
And Jesus exercises this power in connection with his care. He has care and concern for his followers, and he has the power and authority to do something about it on their behalf. This is comforting. This is encouraging. Know this today, Jesus is not going to let you perish. You will not perish eternally. Rather, you will live, live forever, because Christ is exercising his authority on your behalf. He speaks, and you are saved. He speaks to the wind and the waves, “Peace! Be still!” and they are at peace, they do become still. The word of the Lord makes things happen.
Well, now, maybe you are not out on the lake much, so maybe this exact scenario does not fit your particular situation. But you have other threats to your well-being. You have other dangers you face, both physical and mental, threats to both body and soul. Illness, disease, disability. Danger on the highways. “Afflictions, hardships, calamities,” as Paul says. It’s the human condition. Some of it we bring on ourselves. Some of it others do to us. And some of it, we don’t know how it happened, all we know is that it hurts and it stinks. And there’s one thing we all face sooner or later, and that’s the grave. Death. It has its way of touching all of us–first, indirectly, as we mourn the loss of loved ones and see ourselves surrounded by death. And eventually, the Grim Reaper will come calling our name, and how are we going to get out of that?
Here’s how. It’s because Jesus is in the boat with us. It may seem for the moment like Jesus is sleeping and that he does not care. For the moment, it may feel that way. But rest assured, when those waves come so hard and so close that you feel like there’s no hope, there is still hope. Jesus will speak to all the threats that threaten to overwhelm you–Jesus your Lord and Savior will say to the devil’s accusations and to the death that would swallow you up–Jesus will speak his authoritative word and say “Peace! Be still!” Jesus will say, “Shut up, devil! You have no room to talk! My shed blood has covered those sins. They are washed away and forgiven.” Jesus will say, “Be muzzled, death! My resurrection has turned the tables on you. You will not have this one. She is baptized. You will not have him, either. He is one of mine. They will live forever in my kingdom.”
“And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” And yet there is another calm still to be bestowed. It is the calm that Jesus will give to his disciples. Because right now, they don’t know what to make of all this. If the storm distressed them, this power display by Jesus absolutely astonishes them. “Why are you so afraid?” he asks them. “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?”
The disciples are realizing that they are in the presence of one whose power goes far beyond anything they have witnessed before. Who is this man? He commands the wind and the waves? Who can do that but. . . ?
Yes, who can do that but God? Now we have come to the bottom line of this story. It’s about who Jesus is. The more time the disciples are spending with Jesus, the more they see him do, the more they hear him speak, the more they realize this is no ordinary rabbi. The realization is beginning to dawn on them who this man might be. Could he be the Messiah? Is he the Christ? Jesus is revealing himself to be just that.
But still, they will discover even more about this man Jesus. They will learn what kind of a Messiah he is. Not just a glory king. But a king who will suffer for their sins, to do the will of the Father who sent him. It doesn’t make sense by the world’s standards, but it does by God’s. Here is one who can command the waves, and yet he willingly goes to a cross to suffer and die. Why? Because this is the way, the only way, that the storms of life–and death–can be stilled. This is the only way there can be true peace, peace with God, so that we can safely make it to our harbor. Here is Jesus, the very Son of God, the Word of God by whom all things were made, and he does this suffering and dying for you.
And this is how now you can keep calm when all about you is storming and howling. Because Jesus is in your boat. He will not let you perish. Things may look bad at the moment, but in the big picture of things, you know you’re going to make it. You know in the end he will bring you safely home. Jesus is saying to you today, to your fearful heart, “Peace! Be still!”
The other day there was that horrible tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine innocent people gunned down by a drug-crazed, hate-filled madman. These Christians had welcomed him into their Bible study. And then he goes and kills them. Awful. Evil. But then on Friday I heard the statements of the victims’ family members to the killer. They said things like, “I forgive you. You took something very precious from me. But I forgive you.” Another person said, “I forgive you, my family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most . . . Christ.” Still another said, “May God have mercy on you.”
These people had just gone through the most terrible storm you can imagine. But there was no hatred in their voice. Sorrow, yes, but no hatred. Only love and forgiveness. Where did these people find the calmness and the strength and the peace to be able to speak these powerful words of forgiveness? It’s because they knew that Jesus was in the boat with them, and that he was in the boat with their loved ones. And they knew that their boat was going to make it through the storm and get safely to the other side.
So it is for you. You have the same Savior in your boat. The disciples, you and me, those grieving people in South Carolina–we’re all in the same boat. With Jesus. And that’s a good place to be. “Peace! Be still!” he speaks to the wind and the waves. “Peace! Be still!” he speaks to our fearful hearts. “And there was a great calm.”