Follow the Leader!
Who is in your boat?
Friday in my daily time with God, I was reading Philippians 1 from our Bible reading plan. This verse jumped out at me.
Philippians 1:20 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.
Paul is in a Roman prison, facing a possible death sentence; and his concern is to be bold for Christ, to bring honor to Christ. Paul was so Christ-centered. Jesus had gripped Paul so that Paul’s whole life was oriented around Jesus. This was true of most of the early Christians—they had met Jesus, and Jesus changed everything. They were Jesus people—gripped by Jesus. Paul wanted to be bold for Christ, to bring honor to Christ. It was all about Jesus.
I want to be like that.
And I want us to be like that. So this summer, we are going back to the gospel of Mark, which we started last summer, and we’re going to read about Jesus, think about Jesus, and hopefully, be gripped by Jesus so that our lives are oriented around Him.
We’ll pick up where we left off last summer in Mark 4, with a wonderful story about an adventure on the lake.
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35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 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?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
1. The story.
Jesus has been teaching by the lake all day; the crowd was so large that He had to get into a boat and speak from there, using the lake as a natural amphitheater and the boat as his podium. At the end of the day when evening came, Jesus said, “Let’s go over to the other side.” So the disciples all climbed into the boat with Him, and they set sail for the east side of the lake. By the way, if you wonder what the boat was like, in 1986 they found a first century fishing boat buried in the mud in Lake Galilee. Just Google “Jesus Boat” and you can see pictures. The boat they found is 27 feet long, 7.5 feet wide and 4.3 feet deep. It looked something like this (an photo of a fishing boat on Galilee).
It should have been a brief and uneventful evening sail across the lake—a journey of only 8 miles maximum—that should have taken no more than an hour. But a “furious squall” came up—the Greek word can mean “hurricane”, just to give you an idea of the intensity of the storm—and water was swamping their boat.
The Sea of Galilee (satellite image) is a fresh water lake in northern Palestine. It is 13 miles long and 8 miles across at the widest point. The lake is 700 feet below sea level and is surrounded by mountains; just 30 miles to the northeast, Mt. Hermon rises to 9200 feet above sea level—this is where Israelis ski! The cold air coming down off the mountains often meets the warm air rising from the lake and creates sudden and violent storms like this one. And this one must have been a doozey, because it scared the disciples and many of them were experienced seamen. Peter, Andrew, James and John all made their living fishing every day on this lake, and would have survived many storms like this—but this one scared them! It is usually the experts who recognize the need to panic!
ILL: Has anybody here ever been in small boat during a big storm? Imagine being Abby Sunderland, 16 years old, alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean, with 30-foot swells that tossed her little boat so violently that the mast broke! I’m glad she’s safe. But you know she was scared; she set off her emergency locator beacons.
It is usually the experts who recognize the need to panic! And the disciples were terrified.
So the waves were crashing over the sides of the boat, and the boat was being swamped. They were in danger of going down, and I can guarantee there were no lifejackets in the boat, and no emergency locater beacons. Meanwhile, where is Jesus? Snoozing! He’s taking a nap in the back of the boat! He’s sleeping through a storm that is swamping the boat! That’s a heavy sleeper!
There are two explanations for this. First, it may be a striking example of Jesus’ faith. He trusted God so much that He could sleep through the storm. Second, it may be that Jesus was exhausted. He had been teaching all day.
ILL: How many of you regularly speak before groups? I learned a few years ago that delivering one sermon with passion burns up as much adrenaline as an average 8-hour workday! This is why I’m tired on Monday. This is why when we did 5 services, I started to cook around the edges: I was burning up a week’s worth of adrenaline in one day! Those of you who speak to groups know what I’m talking about—it’s exhausting.
Jesus had done this all day, from a boat, without a microphone. He was pooped! (Can you say that about Jesus?)
So Jesus is sleeping through the storm—it could trust or exhaustion, or both. But the disciples are frantic and shake Him awake, shouting, “Lord don’t you care if we drown?” Isn’t it interesting how they interpreted Jesus sleeping—not exhaustion or trust, but a lack of care for them. How quickly they assumed that Jesus didn’t care; we do the same thing. We interpret God’s silence or inactivity as a lack of care.
Jesus got up and rebuked the wind—the wording is usually used of Jesus rebuking demons—and he told the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” And the wind died and it was completely calm. Wow! How many of you want to see the instant replay on this one? I couldn’t find the video, but I did get a photo: a guy named Rembrandt took this one.
How did Jesus do this? It’s possible that He got really lucky and just happened to say, “Be still” as the storm died. Lucky Jesus—go figure. Or it’s possible that Jesus is something more than just a man, which is what I think Mark wants us to believe.
One minute, their boat is being swamped by a raging storm and they’re all going to drown. The next minute, the boat is rocking placidly on a calm sea. No one is saying anything—then Jesus breaks the silence by asking two questions, which we’re going to look at more closely.
Why are you so afraid? What kind of question is that? Wouldn’t you have been afraid? I’d have been scared spitless!
Second, do you still have no faith? What does faith have to do with it? We’re about to drown, for pete’s sake!
The disciples don’t answer—they’re terrified! They were terrified by the storm; now they’re terrified by Jesus! Have you ever been terrified by Jesus? It’s not an emotion that we often associate with Jesus, is it? Jesus is our friend. Jesus loves us; He doesn’t terrify us. Maybe He should.
ILL: I love the scene in C. S. Lewis’ classic book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in which the children are visiting with the Beavers in Narnia and learning about Aslan, the great lion (who represents Jesus). The children are nervous about meeting the lion. Lucy asks, “Then he isn’t safe?”
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Jesus isn’t safe—he’s not a tame lion, you know. Maybe we’ve lost something by domesticating Jesus, turning him into our buddy. He’s good, and He loves us…but He’s not a tame lion, and we should probably feel a little terror every now and then, like the disciples did here.
“Who is this?” they asked. “Even the wind and waves obey Him.”
Who is this? That’s the question Mark wants us to answer.
There is the story. I want to focus on three key lessons that each start with a question.
2. The lessons.
Here’s the first question.
A. Whose idea was this?
Have you ever gotten yourself in a mess and then asked this question? “Whose idea was this?”
- You decide to do a garage sale to get rid of some stuff and get a little extra cash—it’s a ton of work, it rains that Saturday, and no one shows up. “Whose idea was this?”
- You start a little fix it project—replacing a faucet in the bathroom; you end up ripping out everything and remodeling the whole bathroom. “Whose idea was this?” Patrick McManus calls this “the law of sequences”—start one thing and a whole sequence of things happens.
Now that I’m older and I’ve got so much going on, I’ll be in the middle of something and ask, “Whose idea was this?” and someone will say, “It was yours, Joe.” Oh.
I’m guessing that in the middle of the storm, while the disciples were bailing for their lives, someone muttered, “Whose idea was this?” And the answer is: Jesus. It was Jesus who said, “Let’s go to the other side. Let’s go sailing.” It was Jesus’ idea that landed them in trouble. So here’s something to think about:
Following Jesus might land you in trouble!
They followed Jesus right into a storm that almost killed them! Following Jesus might land you in trouble.
Wait a minute! That’s not how it’s supposed to work, is it? I thought that when you became a Christian, Jesus made everything better. Doesn’t He make everything happy, happy, happy? Doesn’t He lead us out of trouble, and clean up our lives, and make us new? Yes. But He’s not a tame lion. And sometimes He leads us into the storm. Sometimes following Jesus might land you in trouble. Let me give you some common examples.
ILL: Think of…marriage. When Laina and I married, we both believed it was God’s will for us to marry—we still do! Just before we married, I felt a little panic—it wasn’t doubts about Laina, but fear about the finality of marriage. This is forever! I prayed, “Am I doing the right thing, Lord? Should I marry Laina?” And I heard this resounding, “Yes” in every part of me. “It will be hard at times, and this will be good for you.”
Marry Laina: this is what God wants; we were and are convinced of that—He led us to marry. So does that mean our marriage has been nothing but bliss and light? No, Jesus led us into trouble! Marriage is good and hard; it’s glorious and dangerous; it’s terrific and it’s trouble. It’s smooth sailing one day and a storm the next. Do you know what I mean? And when you’re in the middle of the storm you might be tempted to ask, “Whose idea was this?” and you remember: it was Jesus.
When I do a wedding a ceremony, I always remind the bride and groom that storms will come, and what keeps you in the boat is the knowledge that God wants you there. He led you to this place. “We will work this out because God wants us together.”
ILL: How about kids? When we had the opportunity to adopt Jeff as a baby, we prayed, and we believe God led us to adopt this little boy. We had no idea that he was born with disabilities—Jeff had Aspergers, a form of autism—but God knew. He led us into trouble. It was joyous and painful all at once: Jeff was delightful and maddening. Parenting Jeff was more work than the other four kids combined! It was hard—I can look back and say that it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done! Whose idea was this? Jesus.
Jesus led us into a storm; do I wish He hadn’t done that? Not for one moment. God used Jeff in our lives and our kids’ lives like nobody else; and we all love him more than words can say. But it wasn’t easy.
ILL: In 1978, Jesus led Laina and I to come here and pastor Life Center. What a ride it’s been for the last 32 years! Has it all been smooth sailing? Not even close. There have been lots of storms when I thought my boat was sinking; many times when I’ve wanted to quit and I’ve planned my resignation speech. But every time I’ve asked, “Whose idea was this?” the answer is Jesus. Just like marriage and parenting, He led us into a storm.
I could go on, but you have the idea. Following Jesus may land you in trouble. He doesn’t always lead us in the safe and easy way; in fact, He usually doesn’t.
Matthew 7:13–14 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Sometimes it’s hard following Jesus. I’m not suggesting that every storm is from Jesus; most of my trouble is self-made. But I am saying that Jesus doesn’t always lead us in the safe and easy way. Following Jesus might land you in trouble.
Why would He do this? I think the next question deals with that. It’s the question Jesus asked his terrified disciples. “Why are you so afraid? And…
B. Where is your faith?
I used to think it was odd that Jesus asked, “Why are you so afraid? Where is your faith?” What do you mean, “Why am I so afraid?” I’m about to stinking drown here! And what does faith have to do with anything when your boat is sinking? The answer is: everything. Here is the lesson:
You can trust Jesus in the midst of your storm.
Why would Jesus ask about their faith? I can think of two reasons. First, Jesus had said that they were going to other side. Second, Jesus was in the boat with them.
First: Jesus had said, “Let’s go to the other side.” Jesus wants us to trust what He tells us. If Jesus says we’re going to the other side, then we are going to the other side. “Yes, but the water is swamping the boat and we’re going to drown.” This is what we do. We “yes but” Jesus.
- Forgive as I have forgiven you. “Yes, but he’ll just do it again.”
- Give and it will be given to you. “Yes, but I can’t afford it right now.”
- Treat others the way you want to be treated. “Yes, but she’ll take advantage of me.”
- Believe in God, believe also in me. “Yes, but I can’t see you. I am afraid.”
We all do this: we “yes but” Jesus. We hear what He says, and then we voice our objections, our worries, our fears. In the midst of the storm, their fear overrode their faith; it often does for me too. It’s pretty hard not to be afraid when the water is swamping your boat; when your child has just died; when your business is going under and your house is being repo’d; when the doctor says it’s cancer; when your future suddenly becomes uncertain. Fear is the natural response. Faith is super-natural—it is something beyond our natural response. In that moment, in the midst of the storm, we need to stop and remember what Jesus said. “We’re going to the other side.”
And second, Jesus was in the boat with them. They weren’t in the storm alone; Jesus, the Son of God was in their boat. Now, if they had time to think about it, I’m sure it would have dawned on them. “Wait a minute. Our boat is not going to sink. Jesus is in it!” Is God going to send His Son to save the world and then lose Him in a drowning accident? Imagine an angel reporting to God, “Uh…we’re really sorry about this, Heavenly Father, but Jesus drowned in a storm on Lake Galilee today.” And God says, “Bummer. That really messes up the plan!” Not gonna happen!
Jesus was in their boat; and He is in your boat too, if you’ve invited Him into your life. When you give yourself to follow Jesus, He moves into your life—all of it—even the storms. He’s in your boat.
- When I was diagnosed with cancer, Jesus was in our boat. After receiving the news from the doctor, I told Laina, “I woke up this morning in God’s hands; nothing has changed; I’m still in God’s hands.” I knew Jesus was in my boat and that gave me peace in the midst of a storm.
- When our son died, that was easily the biggest storm in our lives; but Laina and I discovered that Jesus was in our boat. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t feel the pain—it was awful. But we weren’t alone; and we knew that we were going to other side.
If you look up in the Bible the words, “Don’t be afraid”, you’ll usually find right after them, “for I am with you.” Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Jesus is in your boat.
Scott Krippayne sings a song that says, “Sometimes He calms the storm, and other times He calms His child.”
“Where is your faith?” Jesus asked them. In the disciples’ defense, I want to point out one thing they did right: they came to Jesus. It finally dawned on someone, “Jesus is in the boat! He can help us!” And it a panic they woke Him up. It’s better to come to Jesus in a panic than not come at all! They knew where to turn; by going to Jesus, they showed some faith!
And with a word, Jesus calmed the storm…and terrified them! The last question is the one they asked:
C. Who is this?
How many of you would have asked this same question if you had been there? “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey Him!” The evidence was piling up: Jesus was more than just a man. The conclusion they finally came to was:
Jesus is fully man and fully God.
Jesus is fully man. He was exhausted, sleeping through a storm.
And Jesus is fully God. He could command the wind and the waves, something only God could do.
Who is this? Jesus is fully man and fully God. This was the inescapable conclusion they came to after living with Jesus for three years; watching Him heal the sick, raise the dead, calm the sea, feed the multitudes, and forgive sin; listening to His teaching that was unlike anything they had ever heard; watching Him give Himself to be crucified, and then be raised from the dead. The inescapable conclusion was that Jesus was fully man and fully God. We call it the incarnation: God became one of us.
Remember, these men were Jews, strict monotheists. This is not a conclusion that they would have come to easily or naturally. This exploded their paradigm. They believed in one God. Now this one God stood before them as a man, and yet prayed to His Father and promised to send His Spirit. As followers of Jesus, they asked the question, “Who is this?” and came to the inescapable conclusion that He is fully God and fully man.
But that led to the question, “If there is only one God, what is Jesus’ relation to the Father and the Spirit? How can there be three and yet only one.” Jesus’ followers came to believe in the idea of the Trinity. They didn’t dream up this idea; they were forced to it by the evidence. The Trinity is not an easy concept; if you were making up a religion, you wouldn’t create this concept. It’s far too difficult to understand. The early Christians didn’t create the concept of the Trinity; they were forced to it as the only way to explain the Jesus story.
- Here are the facts about Jesus.
- Here is the only explanation that accounts for all the facts. (They rejected lots of partial explanations: Jesus was not human or not divine.)
- It’s a difficult explanation.
- Tough: it’s the only one that is true to all the facts. So let the chips fall where they may.
Who is this? That’s the big question. That’s why Mark leaves it hanging in the air at the end of this story. Who is this?
They were so convinced that Jesus was God that they gave everything to follow Him and spread this message. We’re back to where we started: they were gripped by Jesus. Jesus changed everything, so Jesus was everything. They became Jesus people.
If you had been in the boat and seen Him calm the storm…
If you had been by the cross and seen Him give His life…
If you had been in the upper room and seen Him raised to life…
I think you’d be a Jesus person too. And that’s what I want to be, and what I want you to be.