A Great Calm

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 22:12 mark.

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

There are three great things about this text from Mark’s Gospel. No, literally: there are three things that Mark describes as “great.” There is a “great storm of wind.” There is a “great calm.” And there is a “great fear.” To my mind, the last two should be reversed. It should be that there was a great fear because of the storm, and then when Jesus does His work, there is a great calm. But that’s not how it goes, because the disciples do not realize fully who Jesus is.

There is a great storm of wind, and the disciples are frantic and fearful. The waves are coming over the side of the boat, and starting to fill up the boat. Because some of the disciples are fishermen, they are used to being on the lake, and they probably know when they are in real danger. So they’re bailing water, doing whatever they can to keep the boat from being swamped, and to keep themselves from drowning. And in the middle of it, Jesus is sleeping in the back of the boat, maybe under a little cover, with His head on a cushion.

With this great storm comes a question from the disciples: Teacher, do You care that we are perishing? Is it of concern to You that we are dying? I am not sure whether the disciples are asking because they think that Jesus can do something, or if they’re asking because they don’t know how Jesus can sleep when He’s about to die. Either way, the great storm prompts this question: Jesus, do you care?

Jesus wakes up and speaks to the wind and the waves. He rebukes the wind and tells the sea to be silent and stay that way. Two of those words are used in chapter one when Jesus is dealing with an unclean spirit. He rebukes it, and tells it to be silent, and to come out of the man. Jesus treats the wind and the sea as if they are living creatures with wills and conscious actions. Though they don’t have minds or wills or souls, they are still His creatures, and He is the one through whom all things were made. So if Jesus tells them to do something, they have no more ability to disobey than do the unclean spirits. And then there is a great calm, like glass on the lake. You’ve seen it if you’ve ever been near a lake in the early morning. A great calm.

And with that great calm comes another question, this time from Jesus to His disciples: why are you so fearful, so cowardly? Do you not yet have faith? The calm of Jesus, sleeping in the storm, ought to have spread to the disciples. They ought to have recognized that Jesus was with them in the boat, and no matter what happened, they can’t be destroyed as long as they are with Jesus. But instead there is a great fear, as the disciples realize they haven’t understood who Jesus is. And with the great fear, a third question: Who, then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?

Three great things, three questions. And though the disciples don’t yet have the right answers, they have the right questions: does Jesus care, and who is He? We might be tempted to draw the lesson from this that Jesus will “calm all our storms,” or something like that. But the point isn’t about Jesus’ action, except as far as it shows Jesus’ identity. Who, then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?

There will always be fearful things around us. People in general have found a lot of things to be afraid of this past year. Underneath all of it is a fear of death. That’s what the disciples were ultimately afraid of, and that’s what we are afraid of. Who is this Jesus and does He care? This is the God who is the creator of all that exists, and He is right there with them. And He’s there not just to be with them, but to bring this calm to the entire creation, to put an end to the chaos and destruction that have overtaken creation. This God has put on flesh and blood and entered into His creation in order to put it right. Does Jesus care that we are perishing? His care is seen in this, that He comes to perish Himself, to be killed on the cross in order to prevent us from perishing. He lets death destroy Him in order that death will not destroy us.

This is the Jesus who was with the disciples and who is with us. He not only has authority over unclean spirits and the wind and the sea, but He has demonstrated His authority over life and death by rising from the dead. The question is not about all the fearful things around us. We will never be free of them as long as we are in this creation. If it’s not one thing, it will be another. As soon as we think we’ve gotten one fearful thing under control, there will be another. If it’s not this virus, it will be another one. We are never going to be free of the things that threaten us with death. So the question is not whether we can be free of those fearful things, but whether the Creator is with us in flesh and blood. Is He or is He not? Do we still not believe?

Do we not believe His word and His promise? The same Jesus who was in that boat is here with us. The disciples could not see that He was anything other than another man. And we cannot see Him here among us. We are in exactly the same position, subject to faith and not to sight. But that does not change the reality that the Jesus who is Lord of His creation, who is Lord of life and death, is here with us. What shall we fear? We are on the Rock of our salvation. We have an anchor that no storm can shake. We have the resurrected Lord, from which not even death can separate us.

The fearful things remain, but the Lord gives to us His calm. He was not sleeping because He didn’t care. He wasn’t sleeping because He couldn’t do anything or because He was resigned to some fate of death. He was sleeping because He trusted His Father and because it was His creation. And that rest and calm is ours because He is ours, until the day when the great calm overtakes this entire creation and chaos, fear, destruction, and all our frantic action ceases.

Do not be afraid. “When the fight is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again and arms are strong. The golden evening brightens in the west; soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest. Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest,” as we wait for the yet more glorious day when all the saints of God rise in bright array. However faintly, we can hear that distant song, sung by the great cloud of witnesses that waits with us. Their Jesus and ours gives us His own body and blood, nourishing and strengthening us, giving us His calm again and again, until we see it and experience it fully in the paradise of God.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/18/21

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