The moment we've all been waiting for is upon us. 2020 is coming to a close. All the people say, "HALLELUJAH and AMEN." If you're anything like me you've had daydreams that the minute the clock strikes midnight and 2021 dawns the world will be right again. COVID19 disappears overnight. All of my favorite places open up again. Everyone stops fighting about elections and masks and critical race theory. And for goodness sake all of my beloved celebrities stop dying. Sigh. That's what we're all hoping for on January 1st, right?
However, deep down we know that 2021 isn't going to bring any magical change. We're going to wake up in the same world on January 1st. I'm trying to be okay with that fact. As a little reminder to myself and to you (if you're anything like me) I'm finally posting something I wrote for a class I took last summer. I need the reminder that no matter what 2021 brings, Jesus is still King. And if you need it too, keep reading.
On the Playground
Have any of you noticed that in the midst of quarantining because of COVID you were especially grateful for certain things? For me, it's been a couple things. First, I was so grateful for any social interaction outside of my family. My husband told me that I frightened our DoorDash driver with my exuberant “HELLO!” and “THANK YOU!" I was so starved for social interaction that seeing anyone was the highlight of my day. The second really big thing was playgrounds. I had no idea how much I relied on playgrounds for entertainment for my kids until they were all covered in orange netting. So the day we went to a friends’ house for dinner and my boys got to play on their playground was a very exciting day in my house.
Now at my friends’ house I noticed something. She had a teeter totter. You know, it’s the piece of wood and you sit on either side and go up and down. Well, I’m looking at it and it got me thinking: these don’t exist on playgrounds anymore. How many of you grew up playing on a teeter totter at your schools’ playground? I certainly did! My sons are not growing up in a world where teeter totters exist. I don't think any public playground where we live has one. And maybe it's for the best. In my old age I seem to have forgotten how teeter totters work. See, I let my five year old son sit on one side and my two old sit on the other. If you understand physics, you can see where this is going. Thankfully, I wasn’t standing too far away and was able to catch my youngest before he was totally launched from his seat, but let’s just say he wasn’t too keen on trying the teeter totter again, even with me holding on to him.
As I watched the terror in my son’s eyes I got to thinking: this is what life feels like right now. I’m on a teeter totter. There’s a big fat bully on the other side and his name is 2020 and he’s tossing me around. I’m freaking out. I’m anxious. I lay awake at night, my mind won’t turn off. Intellectually, I know God’s holding on to me really tight a but my heart and my experiences tell me something different. Right now, life feels really hard and really out of control and frankly I’m not convinced God is strong enough or that he cares enough to keep me from flying off the seat.
Maybe you feel this way too. Maybe this past school year did not look like you wanted it to. Or maybe you’re still mourning cancelled plans. Maybe the social isolation is making you feel depressed and alone. Maybe you're afraid of what the virus might do to your elderly family members or... your bank account. Maybe the fear you feel has nothing to do with COVID but you still find yourself wondering if God cares or sees you in your difficult circumstances. Whatever it may be, when life gets hard or out of control we are plagued by fear and we doubt Jesus’ love and power. Not just in 2020. We do this anytime life feels unstable.
So what do we do? Are we destined to live a life of fear and anxiety? Are we stuck on the teeter totter white knuckled for the rest of our days?
Jesus Calms the Sea
Let’s look at a passage where 12 men are faced with some pretty intense fear. They are literally being tossed to and fro. We're going to be looking at Mark 4:35-41. In this passage we’re going to read, Jesus and his disciples just got done with a long day of ministry. Jesus has spent all day teaching crowds in parables which are short, illustrative stories that are meant to teach a lesson. Now, sometimes these can be a bit cryptic because Mark makes mention that Jesus explained the parables to his disciples, but not to the crowds. This gives us a little peek into the intimate relationship that Jesus had with his disciples. Now the parables that Jesus told the crowds right before our passage all had to do with the kingdom of God and how it doesn’t look like what people expect it to look like.
Let’s get into the story:
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.
The crowds that were there to hear Jesus were so large Jesus had to get into a boat to teach them. And by the end of the day he’s exhausted and so he tells his disciples “Hey, let’s go to the other side. Get away for a bit. Rest.” Now the body of water they’re on is the Sea of Galilee and the way that that lake is situated geographically big, violent storms break out. Jesus and the disciples find themselves smack dab in the middle of one of these storms.
Check out verse 37:
37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.
This is not good news, especially because of the type of boat they were in. Now, I don’t know what you’re picturing but don’t picture a cruise ship or the Titanic. This boat is small. It only holds about 15 people. So if they’re in a violent storm, they’re in trouble because this boat isn’t going to protect them from the elements. So, what would you do in this situation? I’d start grabbing a bucket and bailing water out as fast as I possibly could. I imagine that’s what the disciples were doing. And Jesus was right there with them with a bucket right? Wrong! Where is Jesus? The disciples start doing a head count and realize they’re missing somebody. Did he fall in? What’s going on here?
38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He’s asleep in the back of the boat. What in the world? This is a crazy expression of Jesus’ humanity. He’s fully God AND fully man. And he was tuckered out and needed a nap. As someone who loves to nap, I personally am so thrilled this detail made it into the Bible. But I think there’s something more going on here. Let’s compare and contrast Jesus' reaction to the disciples’ reaction. Jesus was confident enough in the Father’s protection that he could take a nap because he deeply trusted his Father. Now the disciples on the other hand were freaking out. They’re frantically bailing out water and when that’s not working what do they do? They angrily wake Jesus up and ask him, “do you not care about us?” This wasn’t “sigh.. Do you care about me?” No. This was, “DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT ME?” This is the way frustrated and desperate people talk.
And what are they really asking here? Remember they left everything to follow Jesus. They sacrificed and walked away from their lives and devoted themselves to him. And I bet a nagging question was in the back of their mind. “What if he is just a man?” If you look back in Mark 3 there are two instances where people dismiss Jesus completely. His family calls him crazy and the religious leaders think he’s demon possessed. And I wonder in that moment as the rain is beating down on the disciples and the waves are pummeling them and the wind is tossing them around the boat if they think, “oh my gosh, what if they were right? Am I on a boat with a con artist about to drown in the middle of a lake?” The fear for their lives was great, absolutely. But the fear of a life wasted following some nobody was potentially even greater. So what happens?
39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Jesus does not leave them in their doubt and their unbelief. He could have hopped right out of the boat and headed to shore. He could have said, “forget these guys with their tiny faith and their fear.” But he doesn’t do that. He speaks to the sea as if it was a person and it obeys him! Does anyone obey you? I have kids. They don’t obey me. My hair certainly does not obey me. Any pet owners? I bet you have complete authority over them huh? No. But Jesus talks to a storm and just like that it stops. There was a great calm.
In this moment Jesus is emphatically answering the question: “who is this guy?” Ancient Jewish people knew that only God had control over nature. They would not expect something like that from a mere man. In that moment Jesus is also emphatically answering the question “do you care?” Yes, he cares. Cares enough stay put even when the disciples completely doubt him. And the disciples are taking out their notepad:
Heals people with demons
Heals the sick
Cleanses a leper
Heals a paralytic
Heals a man with a withered hand
Oh… and calms a storm
The evidence for Jesus being more than a man is growing. The disciples are safe and once again Jesus’ divine authority is on display. The disciples have their whole notepad filled with evidence but sadly they don’t quite get it yet. Let’s look at the end of this passage.
40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
This act produced fear in the disciples’ hearts. Bible commentator James Edwards says, “Jesus is still a stranger to his own followers, for they are better able to handle the possibility of their own death than the possibility of the presence of God among them.” Now the crazy thing is that Jesus explained the parables to them. He told the disciples, “Hey, the kingdom of God doesn’t look like you think it should. It’s unexpected. It shows up as a tiny baby, not a military leader. But I’m here. And I’m showing you who I am. Look at your notebook. All the evidence is right there. I am the son of God.” Just like John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” They just didn’t quite see it yet.
Now if you’re like me, you might be having a hard time empathizing with the disciples. I mean the disciples walked and talked with Jesus. So many times I’ve thought if Jesus was just here in the flesh it would be so much easier to have faith. Which isn’t true by the way because we have the Holy Spirit and Jesus assures us in John 16:7 that that is better.
The other thing that’s hard for us is that we don’t quite understand the terror of being on a boat in the middle of the storm. In general trusting God doesn’t feel as “life or death” as it did for the disciples in this story. However, we too fail to trust God.
We Can Trust Him
This is certainly true for me. As some of you know we moved back to the states in 2018 after living overseas for two years. Now there is something called the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory. It gives certain life events a score based on how stressful they are. The events can be good: new baby, new job, getting married, or they can be bad: death of a loved one, divorce, losing a job. So good or bad but basically each one adds stress to your life. They breakdown your final score like this:
150 points or less | a relatively low amount of life change and a low susceptibility to stress-induced health breakdown
150 to 300 points | 50% chance of health breakdown in the next 2 years
300 points or more | 80% chance of health breakdown in the next 2 years, according to their statistical prediction model
About 3 months after we got back I decided it would be a great idea to take the test and just see where I was at. My score was 336. I wasn’t in a storm but it certainly felt like I was in a storm. I know you get what I’m saying. There are just times in life that are really difficult to trust God. You want to but man the waves are hitting you left and right. You can’t see clearly because of the rain. The wind is tossing you around. You are experiencing what the disciples experienced just in a metaphorical way. And just as they failed to trust Jesus, we do too.
This is not a new development. We were created to trust God but from the very beginning in the Garden of Eden but humanity has shown time and time again that we fail to trust GOd. I’ll quickly give you some examples:
In the Garden in Genesis 3 the snake said to Adam and Eve: “Did God really say….” (Gen 3:1) “You will not certainly die.” (Gen 3:4). The snake was telling them don’t trust God.
What about Abraham with Sarah in Egypt? In his fear he fails to trust God and puts the promise in danger by pretending that Sarah is his sister.
How about Moses? He was afraid of public speaking and doubts that God will give him the ability to do what he asked him to do.
Or Peter? He denies that he knows Jesus when it appears that Jesus was defeated by the Roman government.
This is the human condition. We were created to fully trust God but we fail to do it, especially when life gets hard. But I have good news. You are not destined to a life of fear and anxiety. If you’ve surrendered your life to Jesus, the Bible tells us in 2 Peter 1:3 that “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Jesus is inviting you to trust him just as he did the disciples. He’s looking at you in your boat and he’s asking you “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” He’s not asking this question with a frown on his face and condemnation in his voice. Ray Ortland in his book Gentle and Lowly says Jesus is “not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms.” Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?
Jesus is inviting you to trust him and he’s given us 3 really good reasons why we can and should trust him.
We can trust Jesus because he loves us.
We can trust Jesus because he is present.
We can trust Jesus because he is powerful.
Let’s unpack these a bit. First, we can trust Jesus because he loves us. Jesus doesn’t give up on the disciples because of their lack of faith. He lovingly continues to show them his authority. Notice the words used when Jesus speaks. In verse 39 he rebukes the sea. But in verse 40 when he is speaking to the disciples it says that “he said” to them. He’s patient with them because of his great love for them. And he loves you too. Romans 8:38-39 says that nothing in all creation can separate us from his love. And Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He paid the ultimate price for you because he loves you.
Second, we can trust Jesus because he is present. But you say, “um he was asleep.” Ok, but he didn’t bail on the disciples and could have. Sleeping wasn’t a lack of his presence. It was a demonstration of the trust he had in the Father that the disciples should have had in him. Jesus didn’t walk away from their fear and he certainly didn’t walk away when they hurled their angry, accusatory questions at him. Hebrews 7 says that he is the perfect high priest forever and “he always lives to make intercession for you.” He’s present with you because he’s seeking the Father on your behalf. And he sent you a helper. Remember John 16:7, when Jesus said it was better that he go away so he could send the Holy Spirit? Well he did that and every believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit. God’s presence living in us, always, no matter what. Woah!
Lastly, we can trust Jesus because he is powerful. The Gospels are full of stories of the things that Jesus did. Healings, exorcisms, feeding huge crowds with essentially nothing, calming the storm, raising people from the dead, and defeating death himself. Psalm 46 says, “he lifts up his voice and the earth melts.” Proverbs 8:29 says he marked the foundation of the earth.” Revelation 1:18 says he “holds the keys to death and Hades.” Revelation 21:5 says, “he is making all things new.” He’s powerful. He has authority. There is nothing outside of his control.
The Suffering Widow
Now I ended with Jesus is powerful because I realize that that may be the hardest one to internalize especially when you're in the middle of suffering. If he’s powerful enough, why won’t he do anything about what I’m going through? But I want to tell you a story.
There was a woman who had to leave her home country because the land was completely decimated. Her and her husband were farmers but the crops aren't growing. So they are forced to leave their home. Their sons also were farmers and so they left together in search of a better life. They are refugees. Her sons get married and they’re getting by.
Life seems better but then something terrible happens. Her husband dies. And one son dies. And then the other son dies. She’s from a culture where being a widow is a really vulnerable place to be. And she’s left all alone. She has no husband to take care of her. No sons to take care of her. No grandchildren to take care of her. She can’t provide for herself. She’s completely ruined. She goes to head back to her home country and one of her daughter in laws insists on coming with her. So the women set out, these desperate widows wondering how in the world they are going to survive.
If that’s not the definition of suffering, I don’t know what is. When they arrive back in their home country, something crazy happens. A rich man takes notice of her daughter in law, pathetic and destitute as she was. Now in her culture, there are some strange customs about marriage and land inheritances. And it’s complicated and messy but this old widow is just holding her breath. Is my daughter in law about to marry this rich guy? Are we saved from a life of poverty and affliction? And guess what? Her daughter in law does marry the rich guy. He saves them and even better her daughter in law has a baby! She’s a grandma. Her life completely turns upside down. Her weeping and anguish are exchanged for joy and rejoicing. Do you know who this woman is? Her name is Naomi. She is the great grandmother of King David. And we see in the Gospels that the genealogy of Jesus comes from the line of David.
The reason I tell you that story is because only God could do that. Only God could take suffering that intense and turn into something lovely. Not only for Naomi’s life but for the entire world. A savior given to us through the wild circumstances and suffering of a widow. That’s the God we serve. Powerful enough to calm the wind and the waves and powerful enough to take the suffering in your life and do something beautiful with it.
Not a Teeter Totter
I’ve begun to realize that life isn’t like a teeter totter. We’re not destined to violent ups and downs wondering if we’re holding on tight enough. Or if God’s holding on tight enough. It’s not a teeter totter. It’s like another outdated, dangerous piece of playground equipment: a merry go round. Where’s the safest place to be on a merry go round? The middle. Through his acts of love and divine authority Jesus is inviting us to sit down with him in the middle. Yes, life is still going to spin dangerously out of control. But when you’re sitting in the middle, you’re not going anywhere. He’s invited you in. You can sit down, rest, and enjoy the ride.
If Jesus solved my biggest problem which was that I am a sinner deserving of wrath then I can trust in my day to day. If he can defeat the power of sin and death there is nothing he cannot do. And the one who ransomed me from sin and death is the one who gets to decide what is good for me in this life. Resting and being content in my present circumstances means choosing to let Jesus be King of my life. It means that I believe he is who he says he is and that, “for those who love God all things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28) Even in the famine. Even in death. Even when the winds and waves. Even when life feels out of control. Even in the hard circumstances. Even when my life doesn’t look like I want to. Even when, even when, even when.
Because Jesus loves you, because he is present, because he’s powerful… you can trust him.