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Soul Tsumani: Changing Fear Into Faith

Mark 4:35-41

Tsunami.

That word is now indelibly carved into all of our minds and hearts by the tragic events of recent days. On December the 26th, a massive earthquake, registering 9.0 on the Richter scale, occurred more than six miles beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean off the coast of Indonesia. In an instant, one of the most beautiful parts of the world became one of the most deadly, as successive mountains of water radiated from the epicenter of the quake, and then traveling at speeds of 500 miles per hour smashed into some of the world’s most densely populated areas, bringing sudden death and destruction on a vast, almost unimaginable scale, leaving many in our world gripped by an overwhelming sense of fear.

Now you may not be aware that we are told about a tsunami on the pages of the Bible, specifically Mark chapter 4. Let me set the stage. One day Jesus had been preaching and teaching virtually non-stop since just after dawn. He was tired, spent, worn out, exhausted. He thought it would be a good idea to take his band of disciples across the Sea of Galilee away from the press of crowds to spend a quiet evening resting and sleeping. The disciples were agreeable. So they all climbed into a boat and set sail across the Sea of Galilee toward the eastern shore. No sooner had they boarded the boat than Jesus grabbed a cushion for His head, stretched out in the stem of the vessel, and fell fast asleep. Shortly thereafter both a tsunami and a miracle occurred. It’s quite a story…

Here is how the miracle happened.

The water on the Sea of Galilee at that point is about 5 mjles wide. Midway in the journey across the Sea, the boat suddenly encountered a fierce storm. Now that in and of itself was not so unusual. The setting of the Sea of Galilee is conducive to producing such swiftly developing storms. Those disciples would have experienced such storms many times before, and had this been a usual storm, they would have sailed through it with relative ease. However this particular storm was anything but usual. In fact the original Greek words used in this story in Mark 4 make it quite plain that this storm was overwhelming in its power and fury. For example, the storm is referred to by the Greek word “seismos” which means “earthquake.” The implication is that this storm was not just an ordinary thunderstorm. It was instead an earthquake-at-sea, and as all of us are now aware, an earthquake-at-sea produces a tsunami. I think it is safe to say that these disciples in the boat encountered a tsunami. The proof, I think, is found in another interesting Greek word which is used in this story. It is the word “kaluptesthai,” which means “completely hidden.” The waves were so high that when the boat was in the trough of the waves, the story tells us that the boat was “completely hidden.” The waves towered high above the decks of the vessel and that is as fearsome a sight as any sailor can ever see.

Get the picture, please. Out on the open waters of the Sea of Galilee this boat encountered a tsunami. The wind was roaring; the rain was lashing; the sails of the boat were being ripped; the waves were in danger of capsizing the vessel. Suddenly stark, paralyzing fear gripped those disciples. They cried out to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that we’re about to die here?” You see, Jesus was still asleep. Now I want to let that wash over you for just a moment. Here in the midst of a raging tsunami, Jesus was sleeping—so calm, so confident, so trusting, so filled with faith, so absolutely at ease in the arms of God that He was able to sleep in the middle of the storm! But those disciples had no such confidence. So they rudely awakened Him, and Jesus wound up rebuking them. Now please understand something here. Jesus did not rebuke them for turning to Him in their time of need. It is never wrong to turn to Jesus in life, particularly in the threatening times of life. Jesus is always ready to receive us even when we are panic-stricken with fear. No, Jesus didn’t rebuke them for coming to Him—He rebuked them for what they said to Him. They said, “Lord, don’t You care about us?”—a terrible thing to say to Jesus. I mean after all they had been with Him. They had experienced His protective Grace again and again. He loved them and cared for them with His life. And yet here, in the grip of fear, they doubted His love. Note this down: never, never doubt that Jesus loves and cares for you—after all He went to the cross to prove it!

My family and I have always loved the water. A number of years ago—we were living in Columbia, SC at the time—we purchased a sailboat. Now our son, John David, was three years old at that time—and it was apparent that if we were going to enjoy sailing that he would need to know how to swim. So Trisha enrolled him in swimming lessons—the kind where they throw you in and you learn how to swim because you have to! At first, he was afraid but then he looked up at his mother and said, “Are you going to be here when I swim back?” That’s another way of saying, “Do you love me enough not to leave me?” When Trisha said, “Of course I will!” that was all John David needed to hear. His fear was gone, and in three days he was swimming like a fish!

That points to a very basic truth in overcoming fear. How does the Bible put it? “Perfect love casts out fear.” True. If those disciples had thought at all about the tremendous love they knew Christ had for them, they never would have approached Him as they did. But they didn’t so Jesus rebuked them. Then, almost as if to underscore the foolishness of what they had done and to deliver to them a message which they would never forget, Jesus immediately got up, stood in the midst of that rocking boat, and addressed the terrifying wind and waves as if they were nothing more than a puppy dog barking at the mailman. Our English translation has Jesus say, “Peace, be still.” That’s quite poetic and majestic but when you literally translate His words, they come out something like this, “Hush! Settle down! Cut it out!” Immediately, the Bible says, “It was completely calm.” The wind died, the waves flattened, and the storm in the hearts of the trembling twelve disappeared as well. Perfect love for Jesus does cast out fear.

Now here is why the miracle happened.

Jesus performed every miracle for a purpose. He didn’t work miracles for fun or entertainment or even to exercise His supernatural power. Just as every parable He ever told had a point, so every miracle He ever worked had a message. The message Jesus wanted to deliver to His disciples and to us is this: the miracle He wanted to show them was not the miracle of calming the storm but the miracle of calming them in the midst of the storm! I find it interesting to note that the Biblical writers saw the sea as the symbol for evil. It floods. It rages. It destroys. There is even a hint that God had to overcome the dark primeval waters in order to create the world in the first place. And I find it even more interesting to note that in the final book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, where our ultimate hope is found, we are told that in the life which awaits us in Heaven there will be no more sea. Here’s the point: Jesus wants His followers to have the joy of knowing that no matter how fierce the cataclysms we face, no matter how many crises crash upon us in our journey through life, nothing of ultimate harm—nothing of ultimate harm—can happen to us as long as we are in the boat with Jesus. With Jesus in our lives and at our side, there is nothing to fear. In other words, in the tough, turbulent times in life, He may not calm every storm but He will calm us in every storm.

I’ve had some Galilees to sail in my life. There have been times when the storms have broken upon me with terrifying suddenness. There have been times when tsunamis have threatened to destroy my soul. There have been times when, like the disciples, I have run choking in fear to Jesus. And always—always He has looked at me and said, “It’s alright. I love you. I am with you.” Always, He has been there. That has happened to me enough times now so that I truly believe it. Dear friends, I want you to know what I know. As we become more and more conscious of His perfect love for us, there seems to be less and less reason to be afraid of anything in life. In fact we come to be like that sailor whose mother was so afraid that his ship was going to be sunk in the war and his life would be lost. The sailor wrote to her. “Mom, even if my ship goes down with me on it, it will only be down into the arms of Jesus.” And let me tell you, dear friends, when you catch hold of that truth in your life, then fear is finished because fear is changed into faith.

So…

Back in 1735, as John Wesley was making his way from England to Georgia on board the merchant ship “Simmonds,” the ship was caught in a terrible storm at sea out on the Atlantic. The mast splintered. The sails were shredded. The ship was tossed about like a leaf in the wind. All of those on board were paralyzed with fear—that is all but a small group of Moravian Christians. Throughout the entire ordeal, they sang hymns of faith. When, at last, the raging storm was over, John Wesley asked why they had shown no evidence of fear. They replied, “God was with us. We had no reason to be afraid.” Those Moravians had learned the secret of overcoming fear through faith in Jesus Christ. My guess is that they learned that secret from this story in the Gospel of Mark, the story of the time Jesus and His disciples were caught in a tsunami on the Sea of Galilee. It is my hope and prayer that you and I can learn that same secret from that same story… today!

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