Fear and unbelief while Jesus slept–and more fear when he woke!

Most of the fourth chapter of Mark is devoted to a sample of Jesus’ parables, along with his private explanation of one of them, the Parable of the Sower. The closing narrative amounts to an illustration of that one.

In demonstrating Jesus’ mastery over the natural world, this passage explicitly asserts his deity. Mark has already shown him as healer, as someone with authority over demons, and even recognized by them as the Holy One of God. (See, for example, Mark 1:32-34)

So when Jesus said, “Let’s go across the lake,” the disciples should have known enough to take it as the word of God. If Jesus, who had worked so many wonders in their presence, said they were going across the lake, nothing could prevent them from getting there.

Jesus, exhausted from a long day of ministry, fell asleep. In a way, that should have been a model for everyone else in the boat—not that they should have been asleep, but that they should have been confidently at rest as they went about their various tasks.

But the message of the Parable of the Sower had not registered. In teaching the parables, Jesus the sower sowed the word of God. Even with an explanation to his disciples, we can see that it fell on the path, and the devil came immediately to take it away. When the storm came up, they fell away, offended.

They woke Jesus up and rebuked him for not caring that they were about to sink and drown. He commanded the wind and waves to be calm, and they obeyed his voice. Then Jesus asked the disciples why they were afraid.

Probably no command in the Bible occurs more frequently than “fear not.” Fear of this kind cannot coexist with faith. The disciples thought they were perishing; Jesus didn’t. If Peter and the others had been at rest, displayed the same restful trust Jesus did, they would not have been offended at him.

They still feared when the sea became calm, but it was now a different fear. They were quite comfortable with a human Jesus. Who was this whom the forces of nature obeyed?

The church, too, seems much more comfortable with the baby Jesus, or the kind man who was nice to children, or the corpse taken down from the cross than with a supernatural Jesus who works wonders.

All the ancient creeds insist that Jesus is both fully human and fully God. We we must at least agree with the creeds in order to qualify as Christian.

It’s high time we start to really believe them as well. With Christ’s power at work in his church, we’ll do greater works than he did instead of looking nostalgically back at the Bible and wondering how much is literally true.


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