Fear or Faith?
A sermon on Mark 4:35-5:20 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 9/26/99
What do you fear? What might cause you to tremble, or worry?
In August 1982, Beth and I were living in Nairobi, Kenya; we woke up early on a Sunday morning to the sound of what we eventually figured out were gunshots. We turned on the radio just in time to hear an announcement by the coup leader that the government had been overthrown by a "very powerful military force;" even today I can hear the exact intonation the speaker used when saying those words. By the end of the day, government forces had retaken the radio station, and a very shaken President, speaking without his usual confidence, had told all the rebels to turn in their weapons by noon the following day, or to face "very serious repercussions." This announcement didn't give me much comfort; it told me that many desperate men with guns were loose in the city.
We were afraid. What did we fear? We feared anarchy; the breakdown of civil society, a situation in which men with guns would do whatever they could get away with; we feared an economic collapse, in which we wouldn't be able to secure food, electricity, and water. Most of all, we feared the loss of the Kenya that we knew and loved.
That type of situation -- fearing the breakdown of society -- is unusual for Americans, although common for Christians in many other countries today, and around the world in the past. Yet most of us have faced severely frightening circumstances at some point in our lives. How do you react?
Again and again and again in the Bible God calls out to His people, saying "Fear not! Do not be terrified! You are mine, and I am with you!" Indeed, I count 89 verses throughout Scripture where God or one of His prophets commands us not to fear. For example, Isaiah 43:1 reads:
thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!
Furthermore, the idea behind these commands is common to many more verses: God is sovereign; he controls all circumstances that we face. God made us, and made all that is around us; he chose His people for Himself, and He will take even what men intend for evil and use it to accomplish His purposes. We need not fear.
In our journey through the gospel of Mark, we have made our way to a section that focuses on this very theme. Recall that in the last two chapters, Jesus has had a difficult time dealing with crowds pressing around him, to the point that he can hardly preach. So Jesus in his preaching and teaching begins to distinguish between those who are merely seeking thrills, excitement, and physical healing from those who are really coming to listen and obey. Those who are really listening will be like the seed in the parable of the sower that falls on good soil, yielding even 100-fold; they will become part of his intimate family, as close to him as his own mother and brothers. But those who are only following him for the excitement will be like the seed falling on rocky soil, springing up but not lasting long enough to bear fruit.
In our last message in this series we saw Jesus focusing on our need to hear: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" Jesus says, "The mysteries hidden for ages are revealed to you. So listen, pay attention! See what you hear! Turn it over in your brain, focus on it, for these are the truths of life!"
Now in 4:35-6:6, Mark focuses on the question of fear. There are five stories in thus section; we'll look at the first two this morning -- Jesus calming the storm on the sea of Galilee, and the healing of the Gerasene demoniac -- and the last three in our next sermon in this series.
In today's passage, we will distinguish between four types of fear. Two come out in this first story; see if you can pick them out while we read:
And on that day, when evening had come, He *said to them, "Let us go over to the other side." 36 And leaving the multitude, they *took Him along with them, just as He was, in the boat; and other boats were with Him. 37 And there *arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. 38 And He Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they *awoke Him and *said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" 39 And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Hush, be still." And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. 40 And He said to them, "Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?" 41 And they became very much afraid and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" (Mark 4:35-41 NASB)
Recall that Jesus had been sitting in a boat, so that he could keep the multitude on the shore from pressing on him while he is preaching and teaching. Evidently, he never goes to shore this evening, but after finishing suggests to his disciples that they travel to the other side of the lake. Note that they take him "just as he was." Also note that several boats attempt to cross the lake; whatever happened later probably was seen by the men in these boats.
The Sea of Galilee is subject to sudden squalls, but this must have been the mother of all storms. The disciples were experienced fishermen, and this was their home lake; they thought they could handle any storm that might rise up. But verse 37 indicates that they were in great danger, despite their skill and experience. Waves are breaking over the sides of the boat; the wind is fierce and blustery; the boat fills with water, despite all their attempts to bail. Everyone is working hard at trying to stay alive, knowing that drowning is a distinct possibility. But where is Jesus? Where is he when they most need him? In the stern of the boat, sleeping with his head on a cushion!
This is too much. The disciples wake him, crying out, "Don't you care? You care more about your sleep than you do about our lives! The least you could do is to help bail out the boat!"
Have you said something similar to God in tough circumstances: "God! Can't you see what I'm going through? Don't you see the mess I am in? And I've prayed and prayed and nothing has happened! You either can't do anything about it, or you don't really care!"
That is all very natural. But do you see what you are telling God? Those words imply that God is either not almighty, or He is not all-loving. You are denying the express revelation of God about Himself.
Fear of Circumstances Beyond our Control
This is the first type of fear we encounter this morning: a fear of circumstances beyond our control. The disciples discover the limits of their own abilities; they couldn't handle this storm, and in their fright they lash out at Jesus, accusing him of a failure to care for them.
This fear is always wrong. The circumstances that lead to fear can serve the purpose of breaking our illusion that we are in control, but the fear itself is wrong, for it ignores the spiritual reality that God is in control.
Note how Jesus speaks to the disciples after calming the storm:
Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?"
The Greek word translated in the NAS "timid" is different from the normal word for fear. This relatively rare word is always used in a negative sense, most interestingly in Revelation 21, where Jesus is speaking:
6 "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 "He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 "But for the cowardly[here is the word] and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
"But for the cowardly"! This is the same word Jesus uses in Mark 4. He says to his disciples, in effect, "You cowards! You have no faith!"
Have you ever considered that cowardice is a sin on a par with murder, sorcery, idolatry, and sexual immorality? That is what Jesus says in the Revelation passage. Anyone who thirsts may come to drink -- but it is he who overcomes, he who faces the danger and persecution and temptations and depends on God to defeat them -- he is the one who will be God's son. Not the one who shrinks back, not the one who fears.
So in Mark 4 Jesus is saying to his disciples, "Take care! This reaction is akin to the seed sown on rocky ground -- it springs up but when trouble and persecution come it dries up and dies. Listen! Hear my words! Have faith in what you have heard!"
Why was it a sin for the disciples to react to the storm this way? Why is it sinful for us to worry, to feel sorry for ourselves, to feel like we are at the mercy either of random chance or some malevolent force?
Because God does care, and He is all-powerful.
The disciples ask Jesus, "Don't you care?" In 1 Peter 5:7 we read:
cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.
The word used is the same. He cares! Of course he cares! Jesus has just been teaching these very disciples that they can be part of his intimate family, saying "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."
So when we let fear dwell in us, we are calling God a liar. We are saying either that He doesn't care, or that he's not in control. So cowardice is a sin, because it implies a lack of faith. The true believer will not respond to circumstances in fear.
The Proper Fear of God's Power and Majesty
Now look again at verse 41. Did you catch the second type of fear?
And they became very much afraid and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?"
The Greek is even stronger than the English: literally the passage reads, "They feared a great fear."
What are they afraid of now? They have witnessed an incredible display of Jesus' power and might. A response of being overwhelmed is right and proper.
Recall that Isaiah and Ezekiel respond similarly when they receive visions of God in all His glory, falling on their faces before Him. In Revelation 1, John does the same, falling down like a dead man upon seeing the exalted Christ. All these men were overwhelmed, not because they had any fear that God would use his overwhelming might malevolently, but simply because of God's power and majesty.
So in these verses we see the disciples display two types of fear. The first, a fear of circumstances, is always a sin for Christians. The second, a fear of God's majesty, a sense of being overwhelmed by His power and might, is right and proper for each of us.
Mark brings out two more types of fear in the story of the Gerasene demoniac:
1 ¶ And they came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when He had come out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 And constantly night and day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out and gashing himself with stones.
This man with demons is a fitting picture of the effects of sin on our lives.
The disciples on the boat feared an external evil; this man was dominated by an internal evil, an evil from within himself.
Fear of God's Judgment
We now encounter the third type of fear:
6 And seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; 7 and crying out with a loud voice, he *said, "What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!"
The man with the demon knows he is evil. He knows he has nothing in common with God, and has no claim on God's Son, whom he recognizes. Indeed, he acknowledges Jesus' authority over him. But the evil spirit has blinded him to the possiblility of healing. All he sees is the frightful prospect of judgment for his sin.
Hebrews chapter 10 puts it this way:
26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, . . .
31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (NASB)
This man had a terrifying expectation of judgment.
For those who are not in God's intimate family, this is right. They should feel this way. This is the beginning of the gospel message: "You are dead in your trespasses and sins." Every one of us deserves judgment, apart from the grace of God through Jesus Christ. As Jesus himself says,
"And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 10:28 NASB
So don't fear circumstances; don't fear men. But if you are not part of God's family, if you have never received Jesus as Lord and Savior, you should, like this demoniac, fear God's judgment. He is the one who can destroy soul and body in hell.
8 For He had been saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" 9 And He was asking him, "What is your name?" And he *said to Him, "My name is Legion; for we are many." 10 And he began to entreat Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there was a big herd of swine feeding there on the mountain. 12 And the demons entreated Him, saying, "Send us into the swine so that we may enter them." 13 And He gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea. (Mark 5:8-13 NASB)
Why does Jesus comply with the request of the demons to go into the pigs? Note that Jesus' compliance doesn't achieve their purpose; they are still destroyed. Perhaps Jesus here is giving the man who had these demons a beautiful, visual picture of his freedom -- a picture not unlike the one given the Israelites on the Day of Atonement, when the scapegoat would wander away into the desert, separating the people from their sins as far as the east is from the west. Just so, this man saw these pigs carry the demons to their destruction -- and he was freed from their mastery forever!
Fear of God's Sovereign Work
14 And their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and out in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they *came to Jesus and *observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the "legion"; and they became frightened. 16 And those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. 17 And they began to entreat Him to depart from their region.
Verse 15 indicates that the people from the region became frightened. What are they afraid of?
Surely the economic loss was a factor. They had lost a significant portion of their wealth, and perhaps that wealth meant more to them than the healing of this one man. But I think that was not their main problem.
They had seen a power at work that was beyond their control. Perhaps they were living comfortable lives, and were happy. They see in Jesus someone who will change all this, someone who will make them uncomfortable, who will challenge the status quo. They see His power, and they can't control him -- so they ask him to leave.
In C.S. Lewis' Narnian Chronicles, Aslan the lion is the picture of Jesus. In several places, Narnians quote the proverb, "Aslan is not a tame lion." I think that is the idea here. The Gerasenes are afraid of Jesus, because he is not tame. He is not like a genie from a bottle who will grant your three wishes. He is out of control
Note that this fear is akin to the disciples' proper fear of God's majesty and power. Both types of fear begin with a recognition that a power beyond our control and comprehension is among us. But the first responds with worship, while the second responds, "Leave me alone!"
18 And as He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was entreating Him that he might accompany Him. 19 And He did not let him, but He *said to him, "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you." 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone marveled. (NASB)
I love Jesus' command to this man: "Report to them what great things the Lord has done for you."
Note that this man could have only a rudimentary understanding of Christian theology. But Jesus doesn't send him to seminary or to a course in witness training. Instead He instructs him to tell others what God has done -- for HIM.
This reminds me of the story of the man born blind, as told in John 9. Jesus heals him, but then disappears; the man only knows Jesus' name. The Pharisees are upset, and call the man before them, saying
"Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner." 25 He therefore answered, "Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." (John 9:24-25 NASB)
"I was blind; now I see."
All of us need to grow in our knowledge of God, who he is and what he has done for us -- and then we can give even more glory to God. But your central witness is your story: "I was blind; but now I see; I was mad, destroying my life, isolating myself from those I most loved -- but now I think clearly; I was afraid of the world around me, the forces I couldn't control -- but now I am confident in the God of heaven." This is your most effective witness, the impact of God on your life. Share it!
So we have seen four fears:
Let's close by looking in more detail at one of the Narnian Chronicles. As is so often the case, C.S. Lewis provides us with a wonderful illustration of many of these different types of fear. In The Horse and His Boy, Shasta is an orphan, found on the seashore as an infant by an old man, who raises him as a slave. Shasta escapes with the help of a talking horse, Bree, who is also running from slavery, back to his homeland in the north. Along the way, they are chased by lions and forced to join up with another talking horse, Hwin, and her mistress, Aravis, a wealthy girl running away from a forced marriage. As they prepare to cross the desert that separates them from freedom and the North, they discover plans for an invasion of those northern countries; so their task broadens from escape to warning. They appear to be too late to issue the warning -- until lions chase them once again. Although Aravis is wounded by a lion, in their fright the horses run faster than they think possible, and their warning is given in time.
But Shasta gets separated from the others, and is lost on a high mountain pass. This is where we join him. Listen and see if you can pick out three of the types of fear we have discussed.
I do think, said Shasta, that I must be the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world. Everything goes right for everyone except me. . . .
And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.
What put a stop to all this was a sudden fright. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark, and he could see nothing. And the THING (or person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.
It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries. He bit his lip in terror. But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.
The Thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it. But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him. That couldn't be imagination! Anyway, he had felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand. . . .
At last he could bear it no longer.
"Who are you?" he said, scarcely above a whisper.
"One who has waited long for you to speak," said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.
"Are you -- a giant?" asked Shasta.
"You might call me a giant," said the Large Voice. "But I am not like the creatures you call giants."
"I can't see you at all," said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, "You're not -- not something dead, are you? Oh, please -- please do go away. What harm have I ever done to you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world."
Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. "There," it said, "that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows."
Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the Tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.
"I do not call you unfortunate," said the Large Voice.
"Don't you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?" said Shasta.
"There was only one lion," said the Voice.
"What on earth do you mean? I've just told you there were at least two the first night, and --"
"There was only one lion, but he was swift of foot."
"How do you know?"
"I was the lion." And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued, " I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you. . . ."
Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too.
Did you pick out the different fears here?
Like the disciples in the boat, Shasta sees himself as the plaything of chance; because of bad luck he is poor, hungry, alone, in danger, with a huge, mysterious creature walking beside him. This is the first fear. He then gets a glimpse of the power and might of this creature -- and asks it to go away, like the Gadarenes asking Jesus to leave. Finally, at the end, as he sees a bit of what has been going on behind the scenes, as he sees how Aslan the lion has organized the tapestry of his life so that all the evil intentions of all the people in his life have worked together for a good purpose -- he trembles. Yet this last is a joyful fear.
God works all things together for the good of those who love him. He uses our external problems and our inner torments; he uses our failures and our successes, our trials and our temptations to achieve His purposes for our lives. If we are his children -- and any one among us can become His child even this morning, by accepting His offer to drink freely from the water of life -- if we are His children, we are held by him in a love that will never let us go, that will secure our entry into His kingdom with great joy. We need never fear the circumstances around us; we need never fear God's judgment.
Beth and I can look back at our experience of the 1982 coup attempt, and be thankful that we were there. That was one more impetus for us to depend on God in prayer, to learn again our need for continual dependence on him. God was there; and at least in our personal lives, he used what men meant for evil for good.
So where have you been this week? Have you committed the sin of cowardice? Are you worrying? Your father cares, your father is all powerful -- whatever your circumstances, God is in control; he will bring you safely to His heavenly kingdom.
So consider God's faithfulness. What has he done for you? What evidence do you have of God's working together things for good from the mess that you have made of your life? Who have you shared those memories with lately?
Share them with yourself, for your own encouragement. Share them with other Christians, for our encouragement. And share them with those who do not know the Lord, so that they too might come to know this God who loves us, who cares for us, who knows us, and who watches over us.
"Report what great things the Lord has done for you."
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 9/26/99.
Copyright © 1999, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
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