Freedom From Fear: Fear of Circumstances

Freedom From Fear: Fear of Circumstances

It had been a long, hard day for Jesus.  He and His disciples had gone into a house near Lake Gennesaret – also known as the Sea of Gailee – to get some food and water and rest, but they could not because of all the people pushing and shoving to get close to Jesus.  They wanted Him to heal their diseases or disabilities or cast out the demons who were tormenting them. 

Some of Jesus’ family heard about the hubbub and decided to do an intervention with Him because they were convinced that He had lost His mind.  Then some experts in the Jewish Law came from Jerusalem to hear Jesus and declared that He was possessed by Satan.  After that, Jesus’ mother Mary and His brothers showed up and sent word for Him to come out to them – probably because they thought He was crazy, too.

But Jesus kept teaching.  He told some of His best-known parables that day: the Sower, a Lamp on a Stand, the Seed that Grows – without constant attention from the one who planted it, and the Mustard Seed. 

By evening, Jesus was wrung out – so He asked the disciples to get in a boat with Him and row to the other side of the lake.  Getting away from the crowds and the controversy for a quiet and refreshing sunset cruise was just what He needed – even if some from the crowd did follow in other boats. 

That turned out about as well as the “three-hour tour” that Gilligan, the Skipper, the Howells, Ginger, Mary Ann, and the Professor took on the S.S. Minnow. 

The Sea of Galilee is about 700 feet below sea level – only the Dead Sea is lower – and is ringed by hills.  The hot air at that depth pulls storms down from higher elevations through the Jordan Valley, and they quickly start to circulate violently on the lake.  Mark uses the same word for this storm as was used in the story of Jonah – and you remember how violent that one was.  That was the kind of tempest that hit the boats in Jesus’ party.

The waves beat the boat, rolling over the sides and filling it with water.  At any moment, it could sink and leave everyone to tread water in a deep lake in the middle of a mini-cyclone.

Understandably, the disciples started to panic.  And there was Jesus – in the back of the boat, sleeping on a comfy cushion, apparently oblivious to the obvious danger.  Our Lord was sleeping like a proverbial log.

The disciples awakened Him – probably shaking Him and yelling at Him, “Master!” – at least they called Him that – “Don’t you care that we are dying?”  Not “might die”, but “are dying.”  They were convinced that they would be dead in no time unless Jesus did something.

And why shouldn’t they expect Him to do something?  He had been casting out demons and healing people for most of the day.  Surely, He could handle a squall on Gennesaret.

Or did they even think that in their fear?  Maybe they were so busy bailing water to keep the boat afloat that all they wanted Jesus to do was to help bail.  Maybe they never gave His miraculous powers a thought.   

In either case, Jesus got to His feet – hard to do while the boat was being tossed about – and rebuked the wind and told the waves, “Hush! Muzzle it!” Immediately, it became perfectly calm on the lake.

Then Jesus rebuked His disciples, as well: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  That was a good question: If Jesus is master over creation – able to heal the sick and cast out demons – does He stop being master when He’s asleep?  We say that we know the way to the Bellaire Kroger so well “we can do it with our eyes closed.”  Certainly, Jesus could handle a storm with His eyes closed.

But the disciples’ fear got the best of them.  Their faith was too new, too undeveloped.  Pastor Marcus Roskamp wrote several years ago in Reformed Worship magazine, “The big storm that was right in front of their faces overtook their minds, and they forgot who was in the boat with them.”  They forgot who was behind them – who had their backs. 

But we shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples, because we often forget that Jesus is in the same boat as we are.  When we get disheartening news from the doctor, or see gut-wrenching news of a school shooting; when our children aren’t walking with Jesus, or our spouse can’t walk unassisted; when there’s no money left but still plenty of month left; when our neighborhood is changing – and not for the better – we fear.  It’s a perfectly normal response.  The problem is that we get so caught up in our circumstances that we can’t see anything else.

So when their circumstances took this really bad turn, the disciples’ fear rose and their faith faltered.  Even after Jesus calmed the storm, they found another reason to fear.  The final verse of our passage today tells us,

“They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’” 

A.T. Robertson points out that the disciples were growing in both their comprehension of Jesus and their apprehension of Him.  In other words, knowing that Jesus could calm a violent storm scared them – because they still did not know enough about Him. 

Perhaps the reason why they continued to fear was that – in their hearts – they wondered whether He really cared: “Master, don’t you care that we are dying?” Apparently they had forgotten what David wrote in Psalm 9:

He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.

The bad circumstances made them question Jesus’ care for them.  And we question God’s care in bad circumstances.  How many people have asked, “Where was God when Nikolas Cruz went through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School?  Why didn’t God stop him?”  Which is a way of asking whether God cares.

The answer is that God does care; that’s why Jesus is in the boat with us.  We don’t see Him there, but we should know that He is there because He has promised to be with us always, never to fail us or forsake us.  He takes every wild ride with us.  And while He does not promise to calm every storm for us, He will never jump ship or lose us.  As Jesus prayed in His High Priestly Prayer the night before His crucifixion, “”I have not lost one of those You gave me.”

Billy Graham – who entered the Church Triumphant this past week – was not spared difficult circumstances.  Some of his children struggled with bad marriages or substance abuse.  He lost his treasured wife Ruth in 2007, so he lived without her for more than ten years.  Yet, he was able to say, “The will of God will not take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us.”

So – whether Jesus rescues us from the circumstances that make us afraid, or comforts us in those circumstances with His never-ending presence, or takes us by the hand and leads us from this fear-filled life to the fear-free life of eternity – we have nothing to fear but fear itself, because it makes us needlessly question God’s care for us. 

The One who knew us before we were born and who gave His life to save us for eternity, is sitting beside us in the storms.  So when they hit us – often without warning – instead of asking whether Jesus cares, we should be asking Jesus to help us to see Him in the boat with us.    

Amen.