Real Faith for a Real Life in a Real World.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wot? No Faith?

2 June 2013
Mark 4:1 & 35-41


Do you ever feel jealous of those too-good-to-be-human people who seem to be able to do anything, and do it better than everyone else? 
•    They don't just cook, they would stroll easily to the final of Master Chef and win it. 
•    They don't just play the guitar, they play the piano, drums, trombone, flute, and xylophone, and all to concert standard. 
•    Their lives are tidy and organised, and they always seem to be in control. 
•    As if all that isn't enough, they're stunningly good looking too!

Do you know the sort?

Then there's you and me! 

Fortunately for us lesser mortals, the Bible is full of people like us who get things wrong or make a mess.  Sometimes they're very important people like the disciples of Jesus, who seem to spend a good deal of their time in the soup.  Here, they fall short in the most important aspect of Christian living: faith! 

Like them, we can be faithless.  Like them, we can discover that God's faithfulness is rock solid.

The chapter starts with Jesus speaking to the crowd on the shore of Lake Galilee.  Because the crowd was large, he got into a boat and put out from the shore to give himself space to speak and be heard. 

At the end of the day, and still in the boat, Jesus says to his disciples, "Let's go over to the other side".  So, they set off: the disciples, probably the boat's owner, and Jesus, just as he was.  Tired from the day's ministry, Jesus found a nice, soft cushion, lay down in the back of the boat and went to sleep. 

The disciples had no idea why they were crossing the lake, they were just doing as Jesus had asked.  They also had no idea of the trouble that lay ahead of them.

Galilee is notorious for storms caused by squalls coming down from the surrounding hills. Some of the disciples were fishermen and would have been familiar with Galilean storms.  They had probably experienced them before, but there was clearly something about this one that scared them witless. 

We have to acknowledge they had some faith—but until this point it was only in their boat and in their own abilities to sail it.  And now their boat is about to sink and they have no idea how to sail it out of trouble.

We can learn quite a lot about faith by looking at their lack of faith and the responses it led them to. 

We'll see they had:

•    no faith in Christ's leading
•    no faith in his presence
•    no faith in his motives
•    no faith in his nature.

So firstly, the disciples, at this point in their experience of Christ, had

No Faith In His Leading

They failed to grasp the significance of what Jesus had said for the predicament they found themselves in.  Had the disciples any faith in his leading, they could've faced the storm with a different attitude altogether.

Jesus didn't say, "Let's see if we might manage to get to the other side," or, "Let's launch out from the shore and hope we make it."  He said, "Let's go over to the other side."  This was Jesus speaking.  Their objective was certain because Jesus had spoken.  They were going to the other side of the lake.  Whatever might happen in the middle.

Each of us who is a believer has embarked on a journey that Jesus has asked us to make.  We've been called to be disciples.  He has said to us, "Follow me", and scripture tells us how to follow and that the destination is everlasting salvation.  He hasn't said what will happen along the journey but, if we obey the call to follow as true disciples, we will get there.   

Unfortunately, we can make wrong assumptions about our Christian life.  Crossing the lake, as Jesus had asked, didn't guarantee the disciples a trouble-free journey.  If God asks us to do something he won't necessarily sweep all obstacles from our path.

I think of friends whom God lead to work in a remote part of Kenya.  They didn't get much enthusiastic support, they faced a lot of opposition and difficulty including severe illness, but they were lead to establish a hospital and to be witnesses for Jesus.  They were certain of their calling and they achieved their objective.  I can't imagine that there weren't times when they wondered what on earth God was doing with them, but they remained faithful.  God's word to them carried them through. 

Christ's leading can sometimes be difficult for us to discern.  The disciples actually heard Jesus speak to them about crossing the lake.  For us it isn't so easy because he isn't physically present.   When problems come along it may seem so reasonable to question our course.  At times like that, we need to remember God's leading and use our faith; to continue in our choice to follow.  

Here's our first insight into faith: If God says you're going somewhere, you can be confident of reaching your destination. 

Have faith in his leading! 

The next problem we see in the disciples is that they had

No Faith In His Presence

We aren't told how the other boats were fairing, but there was something special about this boat that should have inspired faith for the disciples.  They had Jesus in their boat, and by now, they'd seen him performing miracles.  They could've gone straight to him and asked for help instead of battling on against the storm.  We're told that the waves were almost swamping the boat, yet Jesus was left to sleep on.

We can imagine the disciples using all their experience to get through the storm: bailing out water, throwing things overboard, frantic action everywhere.  Yet Jesus was still left to sleep.

What stops us trusting in his presence?  Perhaps the disciples thought they knew better; after all, they were the fishermen, and what would Jesus, a carpenter, a preacher even, know about sailing through storms?  Let him sleep!  We'll do this in our own strength.

There was once a particular problem I faced at work: an important computer system had failed and I had to fix it.  Eventually, after a couple of hours getting nowhere by my own efforts, I prayed very earnestly about it.  Within 10 minutes I had the solution.  When I was asked what the problem had been, my only honest answer was that I hadn't prayed soon enough!   

I see the presence of Jesus in the boat as a kind of allegory of the ancient promise of God to be with his people in doing the things he asks them to do. 

Gideon in old testament times was told by God to save Israel from the Midianites, and was promised by God, "I will be with you."

Moses, doubting his ability to confront Pharaoh, was promised by God, "I will be with you". 

Joshua, on taking over from Moses, was promised by God, "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you."

Jesus himself says, "... surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

So here's another insight of faith for us: If Jesus gives you a job he goes with you.  You can be confident he doesn't send you out on your own.  Don't struggle on in your own strength!

Have faith in his presence! 

As for the disciples, they've another point of failure to demonstrate because they had

No Faith In His Motives

We find it easy to believe the Lord is with us when the seas are calm; it may not be so easy in a storm.  We can lose sight of the Lord, we may wonder what he is doing, and we fail to see any value in our trials.   

Jesus had given the disciples no reason to go to the other side of the lake.  We know from reading on in Mark's gospel what was to happen.  On the other side of the lake there was a demonised man who was uncontrollable, and outcast from society.  Jesus was going to set him free, transform his life, and make him an important messenger of the gospel in that region.  Jesus had a job to do.  All the disciples knew about was the storm.

The ferocity of the storm may have given the disciples good cause for fear, but they had even better cause for faith because Jesus was with them. 

Maybe they would've had more faith in Jesus if he hadn't been asleep.  Have you ever wondered how he could do that?  Can you imagine sleeping in a boat that's awash and about to sink?  He must've been very tired, or perhaps he was just waiting to see what the disciples would do . . .   

The time came when they decided they were losing their battle and they woke him up.  It's quite clear what they believed.  If they'd had faith, they may have said, "Lord, we've a bit of a problem here but we know you can help;" but no. They cry, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"   

Now the Lord could've turned around and said to them, "If that's your attitude, I'll just get out here and walk the rest of the way!" but he didn't.  He responded in a totally unexpected way—he brought an end to the storm. 

There's something remarkable here – I mean apart from controlling the weather.  The Lord responds to cries for help, even when faith is non-existent.  And his answers can be surprising! 

How like the disciples we can be!  We wrongly expect to have no problems in the Christian Life. When they occur, we wonder if God has forgotten us, or has gone to sleep, or if he really cares.   But, like the disciples, we don't always know what God is doing.

Why should we have to face problems?  Why are there often difficult circumstances that stretch our faith to the limit? 

If we don't use our muscles they wither away.  If we use them, they develop and become more powerful and more useful.

Similarly, our faith needs exercise; it needs testing circumstances for growth.  Our spiritual muscles are developed by facing problems with faith, not by avoiding them.  Problems will come!  Remember that God is with you and won't let his purposes fail. 

Our choice of faith is to go on believing that God is good, that he has our best interests, and his highest glory in mind.

Have faith in his motives! 

The final point is about the disciples' biggest shortcoming. They had

No Faith In His Nature

Jesus rebuked the wind and waves and brought an end to the storm.  The disciples should have been relieved and thankful.  In fact, they were now terrified because of what they'd just seen Jesus do. 

They also found themselves rebuked for their lack of faith.  Jesus says, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

Here's another insight: Jesus expects us to have faith, and he expects us to use it! 

On first glance, it seems the disciples were rebuked for being in fear of their circumstances.  But there's another possibility.  Look at their question in response to the Lord's rebuke: "Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey him?" 

What a question, "Who is this?"  They hadn't yet realised that Jesus of Nazareth was none other than God-made-man. 

Look at what John says of Jesus at the start of his Gospel:  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made."

John sees Jesus of Nazareth's identity with God and his role in creation as crucial to understanding who he is.  This is the Jesus whom the disciples had in their boat. 

What might they have expected of him if they had known? Would they have been fearful? Wouldn't they have expected him to have authority over his own creation?  If the disciples had really known who was asleep in the back of their boat they could've faced this storm with relish, and expected to see the power of God at work!

This is the Jesus in your life! 

Do you face life with fear, or with faith in the creator of all things who is with you in every circumstance?  Are you awash and expecting to sink with the day-in, day-out struggle of life or do you expect to see the power of God carry you through? 

Bring back into view the one whom you worship and whose Spirit can empower you.  His nature is the whole basis of our faith.  We can have faith in his leading, his presence, and his motives because of his nature. 

Have faith in who Jesus is!


What about us?  How does all this apply to us, here? 

Obviously, we can take the lessons of the passage personally as an encouragement to help us keep faith through all those difficulties and problems we all face in life.  Christ is with us on our personal journey across the lake of our life.

In addition, Jesus was on a mission that day.  The disciples were involved in that mission.  That mission faced potential disaster.  Christ is with us as we engage in the mission he has given us here.

What is God asking us to do?  We have our part to play in extending God's invitation to follow Christ to the people we live among.  We have the sometimes bewildering task of reaching out to our community; of finding new ways to take God's love to the people we mix with every day.

Are we on board, or are we watching from the shore?

Are we ready, willing and able to work the boat?  We are called to work with God, not just watch things happen, just as the disciples had to work the boat, before and after the storm.

Extending God's invitation will not always be easy.  Our own personal walk will not always be easy.
•    It will involve sacrifice.  
•    It will involve new priorities—putting the Kingdom of God first!
•    It will involve commitment to personal discipleship, to following Jesus closely.

Whatever we take from this today, whether as encouragement on an individual level, or as encouragement as we rise to the challenge of being Christ's witnesses, let us have

•    faith in his leading
•    faith in his presence
•    faith in his motives
•    faith in his nature

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