READINGS: Psalm 107:23-30; Mark 4:35-41
On 3 December 1976 I was with a group of school friends in a cottage on the coast for a weekend celebrating the end of school. It was a lovely summer’s evening, and we went to bed safe and sound that night. At some time that evening looking over the calm ocean I felt led to pray for someone out at sea.
The next morning the paper was delivered, and we read the shocking headlines that a huge storm further down the coast – in an area appropriately termed the wild coast – had caused the sinking of a number of yachts. A friend from school was lost that night. The night I was let to pray. My friend Marc and the Captain of the vessel, Cloud Nine, drowned.
Some 15 years later in 1991, my wife and young son together with a friend went to see a vessel set sail called the Oceanos at our local harbour. A friend’s family had been on the vessel, and we remarked that it would be good to go on some kind of cruise. On the 3rd of August that year the Oceanos set sail from East London up the wild coast towards Durban. The ship headed into a 40-knot wind and 30-foot swells. The storm got worse so that waiters could not carry food without dropping it and things began to slide off tables. A series of freak waves it the ship and a plating of a pipe burst open and began filling a compartment with water. At 9.30pm an explosion was heard, and the ship lost power. It began to list badly.
Passengers went to the bridge and the crew were nowhere to be seen. The ships entertainer called Moss Hills used the radio phone to broadcast a mayday call and another ship responded. Sixteen helicopters were dispatched, and all the passengers taken off the ship, assisted by lifeboats from another vessel. The captain had abandoned ship and left the passengers to sort themselves out.
Mar 4:36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. Mar 4:37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Mar 4:38 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?”
We’ve been through some pretty big storms in our lifetimes.
Not just physical storms, but also emotional, political, international and personal storms.
- The yacht Cloud Nine went down with her captain.
- The Oceanos’ captain got off the vessel before most of the crew and passengers.
- Jesus in this storm is asleep in the stern of the boat – on a cushion. The detail is intriguing.
I love Jesus’ response in this account in Mark 4:
Mar 4:39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
- The disciples didn’t cope well with the storm.
- They didn’t cope well with the sleeping Jesus either.
Jesus deals with the storm, then he deals with the disciples equally firmly:
- Mar 4:39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”
- Mar 4:40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
I wonder what he would say to us in our storms?
- I know this for certain.
- He’s not asleep.
People have two favourite Psalms. Psalm 23 and Psalm 121. Psalm 121 helps us here:
Psa 121:1 A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? Psa 121:2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psa 121:3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; Psa 121:4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
God is not asleep on the job.
- And God doesn’t abandoned ship. Psalm 23 helps us here too:
Psa 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Fear not – God says to his people in scripture. The Lord will be with you. So too Jesus – I will be with you always.
- We need to trust him too. He still says: “don’t be afraid!”
Year’s back we used to teach our children a song about storms that went like this: When its stormy…. I am weak but God is strong, he rows my boat when things go wrong….
We do need to trust God completely.
But there is a deeper question here.
- It’s all about context.
- There were fishermen on those boats. They knew storms.
- This was no ordinary storm.
The passage ends in verse 41:
Mar 4:41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!
They were still working things out. (We know who Jesus was and is.)
The context is the rest of Mark’s gospel.
Jesus says to them
- (4:40):“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
- Mar 4:41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!
Literally – “they feared a great fear”. About what? The storm? Yes, but probably also about the fact that this teacher rebuked a storm in the same way as he rebuked demons – like the very first act of power in Mark 1.
Unfortunately the NIV is too fuzzy here. The ESV captures it better:
Mar 1:23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, Mar 1:24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Mar 1:25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”
Mar 4:39 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.
Mar 4:41 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?”
In Mark 1 the response of people to the exorcism is this:
Mar 1:27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
When he exorcises the storm, look at the response:
Mar 4:41 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?”
The context of Mark means that all of this is a revelation – even if it is a slow realization – of Jesus as something else altogether.
Go back to Mark 3 – remember last week the different groups:
- His family- he’s out of his mind.
- The scribes – he’s demon possessed and he’s doing this by the power of Satan – that he was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. The prince of demons.
- The people – the great crowd following them – he tells them that they would be his mother and brothers – if they did the will of God – which means listen to his words and act on them
The context of Mark has to include this verse:
Mar 3:27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
Who is this? That rebukes demons and storms?
This is Jesus – the only one who can bind the strong man and plunder his house. Who can restrain his works and set the captives free.
1 John 3:8 supports this where John says: For this purpose Christ/the son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the evil one/devil.”
The storm – like the evil spirits he castes out – are powers which are agents of death and destruction. They work against human flourishing and wholeness. They destroy life.
Just look ahead to the next chapter – to Mark 5. This time it’s a man in the country of the Gerasenes with an evil spirit – and where does he live? In the tombs. In a cemetery. He’s brought back to life too.
And the woman with the issue of blood that bound her for 12 years is set free. All she has to do is touch is cloak. And what does Jesus say to her: Mar 5:34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
And then Jairus’ daughter is raised from the dead. It’s a great passage: They bring a message of death:
Mar 5:35 While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”
Look at Jesus’ response:
Mar 5:36 Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
- To Jairus: Don’t be afraid. Just believe!
- To the jittery nervous wreck (fearing a great fear )disciples in the storm from hell: Mar 4:40 “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
- To his little flock here. To you and me and our families and concerns. To us and our worries about this community and town and beyond:
Don’t be afraid. Just believe.
The strong man has been bound and his goods plundered.
When we eat this bread and drink this cup that’s what we area declaring!
- Death is defeated.
- Light has come to dispel the darkness.
- Life is ours.
That’s who this man is who calms the storm.
Readings: Luke 8:26-39
Luk 8:27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. Luk 8:28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”
I wonder how you would have felt doing some pastoral visiting at this man’s place.
It’s not exactly welcoming.
The average church pastoral team would rather call a medical emergency line. Or simply dial 111. Or 999, depending where you live.
It’s a cemetery for one thing.
My first church posting as a pastor alone was in a town where the church met in a national monument made of stone strategically placed between two cemeteries. There was no power – the organ ran on a petrol generator.
In time we moved out to a local school, and after I moved on they built a church building.
We never did have evening services between those two cemeteries.
This man –
• He lived amongst the dead
• He was in chains
• He was naked
And I’m sure people were comfortable that he stayed there – that he didn’t wander into town at night.
Trust Jesus to show up there. He’s had a nap on the boat ride over. Just by the way – the sea of Galilee is an inland lake 166 square kms (for kiwis, Taupo is 616 square kms.) It was a bumpy ride in a fierce storm.
He’s had his followers accusing him of not caring that they might drown.
He’s calmed the squall – we love that story because we’d all like our storms in life stilled – we all want peace.
And now he encounters this! With all its potential for violence and plenty of drama.
This was not Jewish territory. The pigs give that away.
The man was unwell by any standards – and there were no psychiatrists back in the day. In today’s medical terms he would probably be classified as mentally ill. And institutionalized because he was a risk to others and himself. Possibly Psychotic at the least. Not to speak of the terrible loneliness and isolation. And self-harm and ferocity.
The encounter with Jesus is also intriguing. Why is he so afraid of Jesus tormenting him? Okay perhaps it’s the demon voices speaking – if you are a strict literalist. On the other hand, it could also be symptomatic of a real desire of this sick man not to face reality. Perhaps it’s all too hard for him.
Someone has suggested that strangers would be kinder to us if we are seriously ill – because they would have no special concern for us and would try to make us feel good.
Those who love us, on the other hand, would ask the hard questions and want us to face real change.
I take the demonic in scripture very seriously – but not all the people Jesus healed were demonized. It’s more complex than that.
Whatever the cause of this man’s oppression, he would have been terrified of change. His home among the dead was at least predicable in some way. And he would hardly have been welcome in so called normal society. The prejudice is just as real today if we are off the spectrum in terms of our mental health.
The truth is that most of us are at best ambivalent about dealing with radical change in our lives.
Jesus addresses these demons – the Legion. They don’t want to go into the Abyss – a unique word in Luke it seems – the place of the dead perhaps, the deep (Psalm 107:26 cf. Romans 10:7) – or an equivalent of hell or hades (Luke 16:23). (cf. Rev 9:11 and Jude 1:6).
It’s a troubling thing for the locals that the demons ask for permission to go into the pigs.
2000 pigs according to Mark. At $50 each conservatively that’s $100 000 worth of disruption for the locals.
What a story to share with your neighbours. The grapevine would have been red hot.
WHAT ABOUT US?
• There are degrees of brokenness. But we are all broken.
• There are degrees of sickness.
• But we are all vulnerable.
No matter who we are – we are part of this broken world.
And there are plenty of people out there tormented by oppression, mental illnesses, addictions, loneliness and despair.
At a very basic level this story gives hope – and disturbs people all at once.
Luk 8:34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, Luk 8:35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.
The naked mad one is doing what we all need to do – sitting at Jesus’ feet. Doing the Mary thing (which Martha struggled with if you remember).
And he’s dressed.
And in his right mind.
And the people are afraid! And rightly so – if Jesus can do this – perhaps they thought – what then could he do in my life? Do I want that?
Do you want that? Radical transformation? or would you prefer respectable Christianity – tamed religion.
The locals didn’t want it. Look at verse 37: Luk 8:37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
But the story does end with such a positive statement:
Luk 8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Luk 8:39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Note the shift from God to Jesus.
When we meet with Jesus ourselves – we too can’t stay on a high as it were. On the mountain top – or in the boat after the storm.
We have to go home and tell others about it.
He does it: So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
We missed verse 36: Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.
There’s the key. The word cured also means healed and saved, liberated. We need that too. How much Jesus had done indeed.
Marvelous. Brilliant. Wonderful. Stunning. Fantastic. Miraculous.
Praise God for His grace. He still sets people free today.