One Storm, Two Kinds of Fear

On that day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was. And other boats were with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 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? 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. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 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?”

Mark 4:35-41

Squalls & Storms!

This morning, as we find ourselves in the grip of a growing global health crisis,’ I believe this is such a word in season.

We know the story well. The disciples and Jesus are sailing across the Sea of Galilee, when all of a sudden, a great wind-storm arises. In the book of Matthew, the word ‘squall’ is used, which means a sudden violent wind, or localised storm, especially one bringing rain, snow or sleet.

Isn’t it strange how suddenly trouble can arise? One minute it’s Happy New Year, and the next…we’re lurching from one crisis to the next. Wildfires. Climate change. Plagues of locusts. Deadly viruses. Storms, both literal and metaphoric, are by nature, sudden, violent and unpredictable. And they seem to be increasing in these days.

Don’t You Care?

The waves were ‘breaking into the boat’, and the boat was ‘already’ filling with water. This was not just a risky situ, this was imminent, life-threatening danger. And where was Jesus? Asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat!

The disciples on the other hand, were quite understandably, panicking!

They wake Jesus up, seemingly bemused, as to why He isn’t doing anything!

“Don’t you care that we are perishing?” they say.

Now, perhaps Jesus was in such a deep sleep that He genuinely didn’t realise there was a full-scale hullabaloo going on! But the interesting point is, when He wakes up, He doesn’t immediately start trying to bail out the water and join in the panic. Neither does He apologise for being asleep. At no point does Jesus become subject to the storm.

In the Grip of Fear

Have you noticed how quickly fear can spread? Believe me, it can escalate much faster than any virus! When you witness people fighting and screaming over toilet-roll in the supermarket, you begin to understand just how noxious fear can be.

But have you ever noticed there are two types of fear in this passage?

First we witness the fear of the storm. Highly understandable in many ways. The boat was taking a pounding, it was filling up with water. If things didn’t change very quickly, it was only going one way….Down into the depths.

Jesus rebukes the wind and speaks to the sea: “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceases and there is a great calm.

There are no words to describe how awesome this must have been.

And then Jesus addresses the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

It’s incredible, isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t immediately comfort these traumatised disciples, He challenges them! “Why are you so afraid?” Haven’t you seen enough of My power, of My great love and compassion – are you still not yet convinced?

A Different Kind of Fear

And then the scripture tells us that they are filled with GREAT FEAR, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that even the winds and waves obey Him?”

Suddenly they are gripped with the right kind of fear. It’s called the Fear of the Lord. It’s a reverential, awestruck submission. It’s the kind of fear that realises that God is infinitely Higher, and greater and Holier than I could ever imagine -that everything He says and everything He does is always just and right and true. It’s the kind of fear that caused the apostle John to fall down like a dead man at the sight of the Resurrected Jesus, and Isaiah to cry out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!”

Right in this jaw-dropping moment, when all of a sudden the raging sea with it’s high and lofty billows becomes as calm as a millpond, the disciples suddenly SEE. They realise who the real King is.

Sunset over Lake Garda, Italy, August 2018

They see that all along they have been in the boat with someone so powerful, so glorious, so incomprehensible, that they are absolutely undone. All of a sudden, they are filled with the right kind of fear. Internally, they fall to their knees, as they now perceive that the One who stands before them is utterly powerful, absolutely in control, and ultimately worthy of all worship, honour, and glory. Suddenly they are no longer afraid of the storm, because they’ve just locked eyes with the storm-stopper!

So in the midst of this very real crisis, let’s ask God to help us not to give in to fear and panic. Despite the rising water level, despite the numbers of confirmed cases increasing by the hour, despite the chaos we can see all around us & the media overplaying, (or politicians underplaying) things, and despite the ensuing panic and disruption that may well come, let’s press on, rebuking the storm and trusting in the storm-stopper!

In these stormy times, in the face of this sudden squall, I pray we will be governed by the right kind of fear, the fear of the Lord, which so wondrously displaces any other.

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