Introduction to the Reading
In between the memories of yesterday’s glory and the promises of tomorrow’s dreams lay storms. In yesterday’s memories are crowds gathering, lingering with family and friends on green grass, with the miracle of multiplied blessings. In tomorrow’s dreams: who knows. Maybe a new day is coming where the yoke of oppression is finally thrown off. Perhaps a new time when life will finally get to where we’ve always wanted it to go. The empty-nester has the miracle of parenting behind them with all of the memories of miracles in childrearing and the dream of what life will be like for their child, and what adventure life may hold for them. The young person about to go off to college is there. Summers came and summers went and childhood turned into adulthood and now, as Neil Young sang in his song, “My Boy,” “it’s almost time to live your dreams, my boy.” The young man, freshly graduated from college, with a starched white oxford shirt and a new briefcase, on his first day at work, is there. Yesterday’s miracles of getting into college, of passing tests, of marching up to get that degree, of going through the interview, of landing the sales job now seem sweet. And the dream of climbing the career ladder seems like a fantastic challenge. The new retiree is there. The miracle of moving through all of the stages of childrearing, of building a career, has left you with baskets of joy and even pride. But now, travel and pursuit of what you have always really wanted to do with life is before you.
But always between yesterday’s miracles and tomorrow’s dreams lay the unpredictable sea and the inevitable storm.
Today for a while, God’s Word calls us to see the storm. Maybe the Holy Spirit will name the storm that you are in. But my prayer is that we will see Jesus as the One who was there in yesterday’s miracles, who is in tomorrow’s dreams, is walking on the water of the storm. He is Lord of the Storm.
Introduction to the Message
Some people actually like storms.
In her book, “A Man Called Peter,” Catherine Marshall wrote about one of the idiosyncrasies of her Scottish Presbyterian preacher husband:
“To step into the living room of our home was like entering marine museum. Seascapes were everywhere¾Peter had seen to that. A huge reproduction of Winslow Homer’s ‘Nor-Easter’ hung over the fireplace.”
He had them in the living room on every wall, in the dining room, in the bedrooms. He allowed no landscape, no still lifes, only seascapes. He would say,
“When you stand before Homer’s Nor-easter,’ do you not thrill to that rolling, majestic, angry sea, so that you can almost feel the cold spray on your face and lick the brine from your lips?”
One of my favorite songs is a song by Dan Fogelberg called, “The Reach.” He writes about life in a New England fishing village. The rhythm of the music, and the power of his writing makes one feel like you are there with the Main lobstermen going out into the “reach.” The salty-icy-sea-spray seems to drench you as you hear the music:
The wind brings a chill
There’s a frost on the sill in the morning
It creeps through the door
At the edge of the shore
Ice is forming
Soon the northers will bluster and blow
And the woods will be whitened
And the Reach will lie frozen
For the lost and unchosen to row—
And the morning will
As the waves crash and fall
And the Reach like a siren sings
As she beckons and calls
As the coastline recedes from view
And the seas swell and roll
I will take from the Reach
All that she has to teach
To the depths of my soul
The early Church also loved to depict the Christian life as disciples being in a boat, only their heads showing above the boat, with waves crashing against the side. It was for them a picture of the Christian life. They were taking from the reach all that she had to teach to the depth of their souls.
No. They were taking the truth of Scripture and applying it to their lives. In between the miracle of saving faith and the promise of heaven lies the reach, the stretch of sea, filled so often with storms, and rowing against the wind in a boat, seemed to tell the story of their lives.
Today, we follow Jesus and the disciples from the banks of Galilee, with crowds amassing over the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. And we will see how the disciples began to see that ministry does not standstill. There is Plan, not fully discernable by the disciples, but Jesus knows. And beneath the miraculous story of Jesus and His power is a depth that will take a lifetime to come to know. And with the disciples, we come to see this: We are on our way…somewhere. And this Savior is not like we thought. There is no earthly kingdom being built. There is a Plan. And to get to the plan, we must go to the other side. And to get to the other side, we are going to have to go through a storm.
Today, as we read Mark 6.45-52, be sure that the Holy Spirit is speaking to you today and assuring you that Jesus is Lord of the Storm.
And when we say “storm” we do mean what the disciples were going through, we do mean that place in between the miracles of yesterday and the promises of tomorrow, those seasons of trial and even doubt that come to all of us at one time or another.
Maybe you or on the bank launching out and wondering what is out there. Or, perhaps, you have gone through such a storm and are in need of reflection and understanding. I pray Jesus is Lord of your storms today as He speaks to you.
Several truths about His Lordship in storms become evident in this passage.
- The Lord of the Storm sends us into the storm to go to the other side (verse 45).
“Immediately He made his disciples get in the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida.”
Matthew puts it even bolder,
“He gave orders to go over to the other side” (Matt. 8.18).
John doesn’t tell us anything about the order Christ gave, but John does tell us what is omitted here, and that is the reason. John 6.14 reads:
“When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’”
The feeding of the five thousand brought Messianic fever. Many wanted the kingdom to come by force (verse 15).
“Jesus refused to be the warrior-Messiah of popular expectations.”
This led to Jesus’ order and His retreat to prayer.
Just when things seem to be going well, our Lord sends us off to the other side, for this is not all there is.
The other night my family and I watched the great old Andy Griffith classic movie, “No Time for Sergeants” (We watch it about three times per year, I think). At the very beginning of the movie, we come to meet this very delicate creature named Sergeant King, who wants only to rest and be quiet and then go off into retirement. He wants no problems, no waves. In fact, Sergeant King tells the recruits that they may have heard that the service life was like this (and he makes a motion of waves). But he says, “No. The service is like this: (and he makes a motion with hands as if to show smooth water). Of course, he will soon find that his life is anything but tranquil.
Sometimes Christians get like that sergeant. We just want a nice, smooth, tranquil life. Now you can have that. You can avoid waves if you avoid people, avoid following God across to the other side, and avoid being a disciple of Christ. But to follow Jesus in this age is to cross the sea of life in obedience, and to do that means you will, sometimes, get into some storms.
We relish the seasons of life, but we cannot possess them any more than those disciples could hold Jesus down. His love was on the move, and His heart, in obedience to His Father, was leading Him to another place. To be a disciple is to obediently follow Jesus from shore to shore.
Now the hopeful part of this journey is given to us in the following passages.
- The Lord of the Storm is above the storm and sees us as He is praying (verse 46-48).
The beauty of this passage is many-fold:
2. Jesus at prayer shows His heart for resisting the Father’s will and guarantees His road to Calvary. Mark establishes a pattern in the prayer retreats of Christ. Jesus withdrew to a solitary place for prayer after the healing activity in Capernaum (Mark 1.35-39). Jesus withdrew from the excited crowds in this passage, after the miracle of the loaves. And then following the Last Supper, when He went into the Garden of Gethsemane. He is to do His father’s will and go to the cross and die for our sins, to rise again, to ascend to heaven to be our High Priest. He will not be stopped by popular calls to be an earthly king.
3. Jesus’ prayer, as the disciples are at sea, shows how our Savior is our High Priest who ever makes intercession for us as we are in the storms of life. It is nearing Passover in this text. Matthew Henry wrote:
“It is a comfort to Christ’s disciples in a storm, that their Master is in the heavenly mount, interceding for them.”
4. Jesus’ watchfulness over us, even as we are in the storm, shows His constant care for us. This the Savior who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
5. Jesus’ timing for our salvation is mysterious but effective. Please note that he notices them in the late evening in 47, but doesn’t act until after prayer in the fourth watch. That is three A.M. in the morning! Why did He allow them to row against the wind for so long? Why allow them to go off course in the storm? Mystery. Why was it that when Mary and Martha dispatched couriers to get Jesus to come and help their brother, Lazarus, who was dying, that we read:
“Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (John 11.6).
When Jesus got to the scene, as you know, Lazarus was dead. And so we read in John 11:
“’Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11.31,32).
Christ allowed the death of His friend so that He would raise Him from the dead and show His power and show all of us what He is going to do with all of those who trust in Him. And in the scene in our passage today, though we are not told this, it is apparent that Christ is glorified in the disciples getting in the storm because, in His perfect time, He saves them and calms them and leads them to their destination.
He is like C.S. Lewis’ Aslan, the “Lion/Christ figure in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, who appears from over the sea without warning but exactly when he is needed:
“Aslan was among them,” Lewis writes, “Though no one had seen him coming.”
I remember when our son was just a toddler, watching him at a fellowship time in our church back in Overland Park, and scooting across the room away from us. He played and seemed to enjoy the freedom, but there would come a time, when he would look up and make sure he had us in view. Of course, the truth was: I never lost sight of him. I had my purposes in allowing him to toddle off from me, and to be “lost” from me for a while. I wanted him to look for me. I had a plan that I knew, but he didn’t know. In time, he would see my smile. He would feel my embrace. I would reach down and pick him up and hold him.
Always remember, Your Savior sees you, my beloved. He sees you in Your storms: He is watching you, Sir, as you are going through that new job which is challenging you to the hilt; Christ is watching you, Madam, as you are going through that operation; He is on the mount, looking into your storm, my dear friend, as you take that test; the fatherly eye of Jesus is on you, beloved, as you make struggle with that decision on your heart. And though He comes to you in His own time, according to the secret purposes of His own heart, He is there on ascended to the Promised Land, praying for you. And you will get home.
III. The Lord of the Storm walks on the storm, passing by us, coming to us, commanding our safe passage through the storm (verses 48B-50).
Oh, I love this passage. If you look in the last part of verse 48 in your Bibles, you see it says, “He meant to pass them by.” Now, this is written by one who was there, Peter, relaying this to Mark. For Peter, Jesus was there, the image of God passing by their presence, showing His love, His concern. But they didn’t understand the image. They screamed, thinking He was some sort of water spirit. But He says to them, “It is I” or “I am He.” Does this scene sound familiar?
Is this not the same God who passed by Moses and hid him in the cleft of the rock? He has called Himself, “I AM.”
“Is this not the same God who was the fourth image in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Do you remember that in Daniel chapter 3?
Daniel 3.23-25, “And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.” He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
And so the saving work of our Savior moved that pagan king to say:
“Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way” (Daniel 3.28-29).
Is this not also the God in Isaiah 43, who tells Israel:
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I AM the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43.2,3a).
Do you hear the cadence and the sequence? God’s people in trouble. God’s salvation on the way. God’s love brings Him to our peril. God’s identification of Himself: “I AM the Lord your God.” And so Jesus, who is this God of old, who is the Ancient of Days, is saying to them and to us: “Don’t fear! It is not a ghost! It is not a coincidence! This is not a fluke! It is “I AM,” here for you.”
This past week, I was working on this message, and I was studying Isaiah 43 when my good friend Dr. Bill Dudley, Senor Pastor of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church, came with his lovely wife Jakie to speak to our Women in the Church Valentine luncheon and they told of how they lost their son to an accident. And Bill related how that tragedy sent him into a storm of sorts: a crisis of faith, a crisis of understanding. But God led him to this very passage in Isaiah 43: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” Friends, I had been studying that morning in that passage in preparation for this message, and I know God led me there, and then led my dear Bill to us, to apply this point:
Friends, some of you are in storms. The Good News is: He is passing by. He is there. He will not leave you alone.
Now, this leads us to see this fourth truth:
6. The Lord of the Storm is the Lord of salvation and is in the boat; calming the storm, bring peace in the midst of the storm, guiding us to the other side (verses 51).
“And He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
Mark links this back to the feeding of the five thousand. They missed it! They saw a miracle but did not think that they were really dealing with the true Bread of Life Himself! They missed the reality of who He was!
My dear friend, Jesus, invites you to see who He is today. Now you know you want Him in your boat. You know you need Him in your stormy marriage. You know He can bring smooth sailing to your relationships. You know that Jesus in the boat will bring you the peace you need on the sea of life and that He alone can direct you to the place where He wants you to go. But do you really know who He is? Do you really know that Jesus is the Savior of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Savior of Paul? Do you really know that you are dealing with the living God here?
Today let the doubt turn to astonishment, and if God is pleasing, let that turn to faith-filled wonder. Christ got into the boat with them way back when He was born. Christ got into the boat with humankind way back before the foundation of the earth when, in the face of a fall, in the presence of a rebellion, the beloved Son of the Father said, “Father, not them, but on Me let your wrath fall.” He got into the boat with us all the way on a cross. He got into the boat all the way when He went to the grave. But He brought peace when He rose from the dead, when He ascended on High, when He took His place as our Mediator, and when He sent His Spirit into our hearts and adopted us as His sons and daughters.
And now, though, we go through storms of many kinds, He is there. And we are headed to the place, the good land, where He wants us to go.
Will you stop rowing your own boat? And let the Master take control? There will not be peace until you do.
I want to end with this thought. Jesus did not rescue them out of the sea. He calmed it so they could continue their voyage. He may not remove you from your sea but come to you to love you, to encourage you to make the journey with faith. He may not remove the thorn, Paul, but He in your weakness He is made strong. He may not stop the hand of the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but Jesus comes to you so that you begin to see the shore, even as they put the noose around your neck. He may not deliver you, my sister in Christ, from the miscarriage, but Jesus is with you, calming your troubled seas and assuring you, He has your baby in His arms. He may not stop the divorce, my brother, but He is with you, to calm your soul as He leads you home.
There is a new hymn that I came across, that tells this story well:
“Not our choice the wind’s direction,
Unforeseen the calm or gale,
The great ocean swells before us,
And our ship seems small and frail.
Fierce and gleaning is Thy mystery
Drawing us to shores unknown:
Plunge us on with hope and courage
‘Till Thy harbor is our home.”
Let us pray.
 Catherine Marshall, A Man Called Peter (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1951), 114.
 William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark in the “The New International Commentary on the New Testament” (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1974), 235.
 Matthew Henry, Commentaries, Accordance Bible Software 6.0.
 Quoting from David Garland, Mark in “The NIV Application Commentary” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 268.
 From “We, O God, Unite Our Voices” (Crescent Hill Hymn), by Grady Nutt and Paul Duke, as quoted in David Garland, Mark, page 269.
Dr. Milton is the Provost and James Ragsdale Chair of Missions and Evangelism at Erskine Theological Seminary where he also serves as the Director of Chaplain Ministries, and President of the D. James Kennedy Institute of Reformed Leadership.
Milton’s life verse is from Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” Or, as Milton puts it in the title of his autobiography, “What God starts, God Completes.”