When Faith Is Tested

Text: Mark 4:35-41

Proposition: Fear is a direct result of being blocked in our understanding of the loving care of God towards us, for perfect love casts out fear.                

Introduction: We live in a world that has to a great degree become driven by fear. Just a couple of days ago people celebrated Halloween with images that are normally considered repulsive and horrific, from blood spattered limbs to images of death. It is almost as if Halloween is a time when we try to make fun of fear, where we try to master it for just a brief while before it again masters us. Fear has become a prevalent influence, financially, militarily and personally. No matter how stoic we might be in this regard, we all have fears either latent or real. What ought to be our response to fear?  I heard a quote from Dr. E. Stanley Jones that said,   “I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath—these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely—these are my native air.”                                                                     

The balance between fear and faith is what we are going to run into this morning as we continue in our walk through the book of Mark. Something is going to happen that pits faith against fear. Turn with me to Mark 4:35-41.                                                  

I.  Faith Is Tested When You Least Expect It.                                                            As we pick up the account of Jesus directing the disciples to head out over the Sea of Galilee, it comes after a very good day. Thousands of people had been listening to Jesus teach, people were being healed and things were really going well. Jesus is tired and so they were likely a little surprised when He wanted them to leave in the evening and sail in the dark the 6 miles across the lake to its eastern shores. But that was okay too, because they were fishermen, this was in their skill level, this was something they could do for Jesus. Verse 36 puts it rather interestingly, “Now when they had left the multitude they took Him along in the boat as He was.” The exhaustion and fatigue of Jesus reveal His humanity to us, and His humanity became for the disciples something they needed to safeguard. In retrospect it’s hard to imagine anyone taking God under their care and taking the helm to guide Him through dark waters, yet humanly speaking this is exactly what occurred. It must have been as if they were the flag ship for there was a small flotilla accompanying them, perhaps once more an affirmation that things were well under control. We don’t know how far from shore they were nor do we know how dark it had become, but quite suddenly a great windstorm hit the lake and they were very quickly on the edge of disaster. Faith, it seems, is often tested when you least expect it. It occurs when things are in your control, when the eyes of others are upon you, when you are doing something good for God. Why were they in the midst of the lake in a storm in the dark… it was because Jesus had directed them to leave what was safe and go to where He wanted them to be. Was there any doubt that Jesus wanted them to do this… none at all. But somehow that thought gets left behind as the water begins to fill the boat. The waves seem endless and human strength is no match for the battle they are now in the midst of. Perhaps for us we too experience tests of faith when we least expect them. Maybe it’s like this, the test is not a pass or fail kind of test but rather more like a laboratory test that seeks to prove the chemical makeup of something, like testing to see how much sugar there is, how much essential mineral and vitamin are present. The test is perhaps more for our benefit than it is for the Tester, it reveals to us what is there and what needs to be there. So the tests of faith that come unexpectedly are meant to help us see what is really inside, not just when others are looking on. To this end, perhaps the flotilla of accompanying boats was sent away by God through this storm, there’s no evidence of them when they reach the shore in the next chapter. Faith that is tested when you least expect it is there to show you what God already sees and wants to strengthen.                               

II. When Faith is Tested, the Obvious is Obscured by the Immediate.                       What I mean by this is that we often don’t even realize that we are in the midst of a test. The immediate becomes so pressing that we miss the obvious as faith is put to the test. What was immediate here? The waves were coming in, the storm wasn’t about to quit, they were about to die! The immediate caused them to assess their situation as hopeless and the response was to accuse Jesus of carelessness. If that was the immediate, what was it that was so obvious they should have seen it? Jesus is in the boat with them. In the midst of all the shouting and howling wind and splashing water, Jesus is asleep. In the midst of apparent ruin, Jesus, it would seem,  still expects to reach the other shore. In the very presence of great fear, Jesus is calm. When I think of this account I wonder how much Jesus was aware of when they left the shore. It’s my belief that the Father directed Jesus to set out in the evening for the Gadarenes, that was it, leave the shore. That being done the next thing that was needed was rest, so He fell asleep, trusting that the Father’s purposes would unfold to Him as He needed to know them. Perhaps this explains for us the response of Jesus to the anxious cries of the disciples. I mean, if you were in a boat and is was being swamped by waves and the howling wind was about to finish you off, wouldn’t you have shaken Jesus and hollered at Him, “What’s up, don’t you even care?”  Maybe you’ve actually done that already, maybe the response of Jesus to you was as puzzling as it was to the disciples. Instead of Jesus apologizing for having over slept, instead of Jesus jumping up and grabbing an oar and frantically paddling, Jesus asks the disciples why they are so fearful. What now becomes obvious is that fear and faith are being put head to head and faith is tested thereby. How much faith is present is what is being tested for, particularly the faith that reveals the truth of Who God is.                                  

III. The Tests of Faith Are Meant To Move Us Closer To the Love of God.      This story certainly reveals the power of Jesus over nature. Before, the disciples  had seen the power of Jesus over the demonic, over disease and physical infirmity.  This was a new revelation of the power of Jesus and there was a new awareness of Jesus, “Who can this be that even the wind and waves obey Him?” But let me ask you, what was that the main reason for why this happened, was it just the revelation of the greater power of Jesus? Look for a moment at the accusation of the disciples towards Jesus in verse 38, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”  Jesus’ response is don’t be fearful, have faith. Literally He says, “How is it that you still have no faith?”  Here’s the connection, they question the care or love of Jesus for them, Jesus questions their faith because of the presence of great fear. Remember for a moment the words of 1 John 4:17,18, “Love has been perfected in us in this, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment because as He is, so are we in the world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”  When the disciples grab hold of the truth that the love of God for them is not only real but deep and magnificent then there is a great dispelling of the fear that had tormented them. Instead they became men and women of faith that rested on the love of God for them. Perhaps the disciples were amazed by the way Jesus stopped the wind, perhaps they were even more amazed by the way that He even made the waves to immediately stop. Perhaps they were awed by His calm presence in the midst of the storm that was now as calm as He. In the dark, with yet a nights journey ahead of them in order to reach the destined shore, they likely rowed all night because of this great calm, they wondered about Who this Jesus is that had just saved their lives. Little did they know that one day Jesus would show them an even greater expression of His love for them. Their question, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” , was answered not by a calmed storm but ultimately by a wooden cross. The wrath of God against sin would need one Who perfectly trusted the Father, Who was the obedient Man, the sinless sacrifice that would forever speak peace into the souls of men and women, dispelling fear with the great love of the Father who gave His only Son for the forgiveness of their sin.      A preacher once said, “A wise bird knows that a scarecrow is simply an advertisement. It announces that some very juicy and delicious fruit is to be had for the picking. Every giant in the way which makes me feel like a grasshopper is only a scarecrow beckoning me to God’s richest blessings.”                                           He concluded, “Faith is a bird which loves to perch on scarecrows.”

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