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Uses of Adversity

Mark 4:35 -- 41

You will be kind enough to pardon me for beginning with a war story. Many years ago, when I was a young boy, I lived in paradise. When your father is a soldier, living on a proving ground is paradise. Airplanes, tanks, artillery, helicopters were an everyday sight to me.

The government obtained Jefferson Proving Ground by buying a large chunk of Southern Indiana, fencing it off, and firing artillery into it. The farms and such were left as they were, and many things grew wild there. Including blackberries.

My uncle and his family came down from Ohio to visit us. My father instructed them all on the dangers of artillery rounds not yet exploded – the base was very strict about this, these things are dangerous – but his instruction was met with a pleasant smile. No one was concerned.

We went out to pick blackberries. Have you ever been in a blackberry bramble? Then you know that it doesn’t move very quickly. But this day it parted – like the Red Sea for Moses. My uncle let out a yell and began running back down the road.

We ran with him. One of the things you learn on a proving ground is to run when the other guy does – you can always ask questions later. But when we were out of breath, all we could get out of him was, “I think we’ve picked enough today.”

That’s a perfectly natural reaction for a man who has just kicked a sixteen inch (diameter), 2700 pound artillery shell. I suspect he would have had a great deal of understanding for the disciples in our Scripture for the day:

The Holy Bible, New International Version

35That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the
other side.” 36Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in
the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37A furious squall came up, and
the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38Jesus was in the
stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher,
don’t you care if we drown?”

39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then
the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no

41They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and
the waves obey him!”

Why is this incident given? I suggest three reasons that the disciples were put through this experience:

  • That they might see Christ’s power
  • That their faith might increase
  • That they might have peace

That you might see his power

What Christ expected them to understand

Let’s begin with some clarity. Christ expected these people to understand who he is – namely, God in the flesh. Which implies the following:

  • He is the creator of all things. Far above all the power we can imagine, he is the one through whom all things were made, from nothing.
  • He is the sustainer of the universe. It operates by fixed laws because his character is eternal.
  • He is, therefore, Lord of all things.

He expected them to know that – and act upon that belief.

The superiority of Christ

Of course, we see that they did not act upon that belief. I suspect they thought him one of the great prophets. But see how he displays his superiority over all those of the Old Testament:

  • Moses parted the Red Sea – with the staff empowered by God.
  • Joshua parted the Jordan – with the Ark of the Covenant.
  • Elisha parted the Jordan – with the cloak fallen from Elijah.

Jesus calmed the sea – with a word of command. All these others showed that they relied on the power of God, given by some token. Jesus alone does it by himself.

He does it in his characteristic style: by word. It is written that by the word of God the worlds came into being. There is a play on words in that; for Christ is the Word. So in this instance he shows them the power of the Word.

Calm confidence

I am reminded of Slowpoke Rodriguez, the cousin of Speedy Gonzalez. He was the “slowest mouse in Old Mexico.” Sylvester the Cat, hearing this, went straight for him. Unfortunately, as Sylvester found out about one heartbeat too late, “Slowpoke Rodriguez – he pack a gun.”

Is there anything that betokens power like calm confidence? The one without power is nervous; the one who is confident of power is calm and confident. Can there be any greater evidence of the calm confidence than sleeping through this storm? As the old hymn put it, “No water can swallow the ship where lies the master of ocean and earth and sky.”

That your faith might increase

How we reproach God in time of trouble

It is amazing how confident we are that we need not trouble with God when things are going well – after all, we have everything under control, right? But when things go astray, we are quick to let him know that he’s been falling down on the job. The disciples did that here.

Jesus was asleep at the stern of the boat. The disciples, like us, judged by appearances. They thought they had the solution – let’s get all hands on deck here and start bailing the boat!

This is a sure sign that peace is not in us. Can you not picture the fretful anxiety of the disciples? They’re fishermen. They know how to handle a small boat. Things are getting out of control (their control) and they point the finger of blame. So often, we do the same.

Why does God permit such danger

Our usual question (they just wanted help with the boat) is this: why did God let me get into this situation? Isn’t he supposed to protect me from things like this? God might make reply to that along these lines:

  • Just where is it written that you will have no trouble in this life? He promised you no such thing.
  • Besides, what are the difficulties of this life compared to life eternal? If he needs you to go through troubles so that your faith will increase, isn’t that a trivial price to pay?
  • Further, were you listening to him when times were good? Probably not. You had everything under control; why would you? So he permitted things to get out of your control – so you could see his.
Sometimes alone

Did you notice that only the disciples saw this? There were other ships nearby; they saw the effect, but only the disciples saw the cause. This was a private lesson.

Sometimes we go through the crisis in our lives alone. The church is commanded to come along side; our brothers in Christ are commanded to help, but some things we go through alone. Why?

  • One reason is so that we might learn about ourselves – our weakness, in particular.
  • Another reason is this: we need to learn to rely upon Jesus, and him alone.
  • Why that? Will you face death in a crowd, or alone?

Want an example? I had my angioplasty in a town far from home. The clerk at the hotel, the ambulance attendants, the doctors and nurses all were kind and caring – but I was alone. Even my coworkers had no idea where I was. That first day and night I had no one to rely upon but Jesus. I needed no one else.

That you might experience peace

The world’s way

Have you ever noticed that worry is contagious? Worry is the world’s way of handling problems which are beyond your strength.

  • First, you have to worry about all possible outcomes – at once. It could be cancer, heart disease, bubonic plague – but not all at once. But you have to worry about all of them.
  • Next, we act as if worry itself could do anything. It’s Satan’s counterfeit. We should take such action as we can; but having done what we can, we should leave the rest to God.
  • Often, worry prevents good work. By the act of worrying, we omit doing what we can. It is a great weapon for Satan.
God’s way

God would have you take a different series of steps:

  • First, do the good you know to do. If there are steps within your power, take them – and commit the rest of the work to God.
  • Consider well: do you really need to know what’s going to happen? So often it is true that the end result would make no difference to our actions. So do what’s right and leave the result to God.
  • And, as one dear friend put it, “You might as well give your troubles to the Lord. He’s going to be up all night anyway.”
The Master’s calm

See how the Master provides this peace for us:

  • It is by his voice. We are told that his sheep will know his voice. If we are listening to him – in prayer, in study, in worship – we can hear him. It’s a matter of listening. Some of us are so busy telling him how to handle things we don’t have time to listen.
  • The peace comes “at once.” It comes with the realization that God has the matter in his hands. Things that are over our heads are under his feet.
  • As always, this is the result of faith. If you have faith in Him, his peace will surely be yours.

The wind and the waves obey the Man; will you?

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