There’s an interesting story in Mark’s Gospel that I’ve been spending time with this week following the tornadoes that came through our city. Jesus, at the beginning of Mark 4, is beside the Sea of Galilee, teaching the people who’ve huddled up around Him to listen to His parables. The sun was shining. There was a gentle breeze. The birds were singing. The people were as calm as the sea as they hung on every word spoken by Jesus.
When evening arrived Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “Let us go over to the other side.” The crowd was still there. They would have stayed and listened to Him as long as He taught, but Jesus said, “It’s time to go.” Let’s pick up the story at this point, in Mark 4:35.
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!” (Mark 4:35-41 NIV)
When Jesus and His disciples got into the boat and headed out across the Sea of Galilee the weather was calm, so calm that Jesus, tired from a long day of teaching, fell asleep in the stern of the boat on a cushion. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, Mark says, “a furious squall came up…” We, who live in Oklahoma, have no problem understanding how a furious storm can come up out of nowhere and terrify. Like the storms that come up all around us in Oklahoma, there are unexpected powerful storms that come up on the Sea of Galilee.
There are reasons why such violent storms come up on a frequent basis on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is 700 feet below sea level. Just 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee is Mt. Hermon which rises to an altitude of 9200 ft. In addition to Mt. Hermon, the Sea of Galilee is surrounded by hills. On the eastern side the hills rise to as high as 2000 feet. Storms come up because of the differences in temperature between the seacoast and the mountains. The hills and Mt. Hermon are a source of cool dry air, but around the Sea of Galilee the climate is semi-tropical with warm, moist air. Mix all of those ingredients together and you’ve got great differences in temperature and pressure changes that results in strong winds that funnel through the hills and pound the Sea of Galilee.
Now, that’s enough from Mike Morgan and Gary England. I will assure you that the disciples weren’t looking for a meteorologist’s explanation as to why the storm had come out of nowhere…they were terrified. They were more than terrified. They believed that they were going to die! They were so afraid that they woke Jesus up. Read along with me in Mark 4:38.
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?” (Mark 4:38 NIV)
“Teacher, don’t you care…” And that question is still with us isn’t it? Does God care that our lives are threatened? Does God care that people have died or lost everything? And if God cares then is He incapable of doing something about it? Those are important questions. Very important questions. These questions are prominent in many people’s minds whenever and wherever tragedy strikes. The truth is, it doesn’t take a huge tragedy like the Oklahoma tornadoes, Hurricane Sandy, or the tsunami that hit Japan to cause people to ask, “God, don’t you care?” I’ve known people who have lost an elderly loved one who have asked the question. I’ve known folks who have lost a job and have asked the question. I’ve known people who have struggled with health issues who have asked the question. I’ve known people who have felt all alone, isolated from those around them, ask the question. God does care and He is more than capable of quieting any storm. This morning I hope to show you, from our study of Mark 4:35-40, some important lessons we desperately need to know.
Let me take you back to the story of Jesus and His disciples in the midst of a furious storm. When the disciples woke Jesus up from His nap and asked Him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” Jesus got up and quieted the storm. Read Mark 4:39 with me.
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. (Mark 4:39 NIV)
Jesus, like a momma in Wal Mart dealing with a cantankerous child and giving him that look, said, “Be quiet!” And the storm did as it was told. Amazing! There’s something you need to know that will make it even more amazing to you. Ancient cultures viewed the waters as dark, powerful, mysterious, scary, and uncontrollable. The oceans and seas stirred fear in the hearts of all of the people. The disciples were afraid, but Jesus simply stood up and said, “Stop it!” and the winds stopped and the waters were calm. Amazing! Make no mistake about it, He is more powerful than any storm. We are not the victims of nature’s fury.
Did you notice something? The disciples asked Jesus a question, “Teacher, don’t you care…?” I’ve read this story over and over again this past week and I don’t find that Jesus answered them. Instead, after He quieted the storm, He asked them a question, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Why were they so afraid? Well, it doesn’t take much time to figure out the answer to that question does it? Were you afraid when the sirens were blaring on Monday? If you were watching the weather reports on television and you live down around where the tornadoes came through town, were you afraid? I heard person after person on television being interviewed say, “I thought I was going to die.” When we encounter uncertainty, when our “norm” gets scrambled, we easily become frightened and begin to question everything.
When we are afraid, when we experience heartache of any kind, we have a choice to make—will we trust God in our uncertainty or will we allow our emotions to dictate our next steps? Let’s go back to the story. Take a look at the beginning of the story in Mark 4:35.
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” (Mark 4:35 NIV)
Jesus had told His disciples that they were going to the other side. In all of the time that He had spent with them, with all that He had told them, had He even once broken a promise? Had He ever said, “Fellas, I’m sorry, but I was wrong about what I said.” If Jesus said something then the disciples could trust Him. He didn’t tell them the specifics of what would happen while they made their way to the other side. Jesus simply said, “Let’s go to the other side.” If they could trust Jesus, and He had never given them any reason not to trust Him, then they could trust that they were going to the other side. The same goes for you and me. If Jesus says something then you and I can trust Him. In John 14:1-3, Jesus said,
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3 NIV)
What did Jesus say? He said that He was going to prepare a place for us, right? “Us,” being all of those who have trusted in Him as Lord and Savior of our lives. He also said that He would come back for us, right? He said that He is going to do this so that we might be where He was going? Where did Jesus go when He rose from the dead? He ascended to Heaven, right? So, our promise from Jesus is this: He has gone to prepare a place for us and He will come back for us. When? Will we live to graduate from high school? Maybe. Will we live to get married and see our children? Hope so. Will we live to see our grandchildren? It’s possible, but we don’t have an answer to that question, do we? God’s Word teaches us that God knows the number of our days before the first one is ever lived. (Psalm 139:16) How many days will you or I live? God has not given us that information has He? He simply tells us that He knows every single moment that we will live.
Jesus said He will come for us. How will Jesus come? Will He come in a tornado like He did for those little ones who were in the Plaza Towers Elementary School or will He come to a Hospice House like He did for Tami Bramel’s mother-in-law this week? We don’t know that either, but we have His promise that He will come. That’s enough. My friends, please let this lesson sink deep, deep into your heart and mind. The Lord is true to His promises. He will come for you and for me.
There’s another promise that I want to share with you that is equally important when you are confronted with the questions that surface when heartache and tragedy strike. Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, He spoke to His disciples and gave them instructions as to what they were to do after He left. After He gave them their mission, He gave them His promise. Listen to this.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)
I want you to focus on the last sentence. Jesus said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The word He used for “age” is the Greek word, “????” (aion) and it means, “for ever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity.” If you are in Christ there is never a time that you are without His presence.
It is interesting that Matthew begins his Gospel with the announcement to Mary that she is going to have a child and His name will be called, “Emmanuel.” Do you know what that name means? It means, “God with us.” The baby was born, He was “God with us,” and He is still with us to the very end of time.
On Monday night, when I arrived at Allen and Cheri’s house and saw how the tornado had left it uninhabitable, my heart just sank for them. Little Grant is going to be born in just a few weeks. I walked into the room that Allen and Cheri had prepared for him and knew that he wouldn’t spend even one night in that room. My heart just sank.
There was a bunch of folks from the church who came to help Allen and Cheri load their stuff on Monday night. Once we finished with the work at the house we huddled up, grabbed hands, and prayed together. I had a thought. The house was gone, but the Lord’s presence was untouched by the power of the tornado.
I was talking to a friend of mine this past week and we were discussing this Scripture when he said, “But what about those kids that died in that school?” I reminded him that the Lord didn’t promise to keep us from death, but that He will be with us in all circumstances and situations. Paul wrote,
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)
Tornadoes can separate us from our belongings, death can separate us from our loved ones, but nothing can separate us from the love of God that is present with us in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is with us. He will come for us when our time on this earth is over.
On Saturday afternoon, after we got Cheri and Allen moved into their new home, Annie and I went down to Moore to see if we could help. We had planned on going to the Orr Family Farm as I had heard on the radio that they needed help. The traffic was just crazy and I got impatient so I turned into the parking lot of a church. Annie said, “I thought we were going to the farm?” I said, “It’s going to take forever. Let’s see if we can help here.” We got out and started walking until we saw an elderly lady and a younger man loading some of their belongings. There were two Salvation Army workers who were just arriving and the man started talking to them so Annie and I started helping the lady. After we finished loading their belongings we introduced ourselves and began to listen. It was her son’s house and from where we were standing, in his garage, we could see the Twin Plazas Elementary School just across from where his backyard use to be. We found out the ladies name is Barbara Lewis. She said her son, Scott, was getting ready to go to work at Tinker when the sirens went off. He got in his car and drove the two blocks to his son’s elementary school, Twin Plazas. When he arrived he was met by Ms. Simpson, the Principal, who said, “Zac is right down there.” Scott saw Zac, who was crying, gathered him up in his arms, and said, “You’re safe now son. Let’s go home.” As soon as Scott pulled into his driveway they got in the storm shelter in their garage, locked the door, and Barbara told us in no time the tornado was on them. The tornado passed, Scott opened the door of his shelter, and everything was gone. Barbara said, “The seven kids who died over there were all in Zac’s class.”
Barbara continued to talk. She said, “The Lord says that He won’t put more on our shoulders than we can handle.” I said, “Barbara, can we pray for you?” She said, “Sure.” I called one of the Salvation Army workers over, a young woman named Sharon whose family lived only a block away from the tornadoes path, and said, “We want to pray for you and Barbara.” Annie, Barbara, Sharon, and I all grabbed hands and thanked God for sparing the lives of Scott, his wife, Julie, and Zac. We asked the Lord, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, to gather those who have lost loved ones in His comforting arms and walk them through their ongoing storm. We then prayed for the Lord to strengthen Sharon and all of the other volunteers who are wearing themselves out trying to help those in need.
Barbara, Scott, Julie, Zac, Sharon, those who have lost loved ones, and those who have lost their homes need to be reassured of the love, grace, mercy, and Sovereignty of Almighty God in death and in life, through rejoicing and in suffering, and in every other situation in life.
We will all die my friends, but God is greater still. He has promised that He will come for His own when our time on this earth is over. Through His Son, Jesus, death has been defeated and we can experience eternal life. God is with us in death and in life, through suffering and in times of quiet peace, God is with us. These promises are the anchors we must set firmly in place or the heartaches and trials of this life will lead you to conclusions that are absolutely false.
As devastating as tornadoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis are there is still a greater storm and it is the storm of sin. Can you hear the winds of sin howl in the night? Sin has ripped more homes apart than all of the tornadoes combined. Sin has taken more lives than all of the natural disasters that have ever come upon the planet. Each and every one of us has felt the destructive forces of sin wreak havoc in our own lives and in the lives of others. Just as we are powerless to stop the forces of nature so are we powerless to stop the effects of sin on humanity, but we are not without hope. The Bible teaches that while on the cross Jesus took the full force of sin’s weight upon Himself, your sin and my sin. The sky grew black and His body was torn to shreds, but He was lifted high for all the world to see as He took our sin upon Himself.
Jesus knows about storms. He is the Lord of the storm. There are times that He quiets the storm and calms the wind, but not all of the time. I can promise you that even in the stormiest times of your life He can quiet your soul and still your anxious heart. You can trust Him whatever may come. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 26, 2013