Fear or faith

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Mark 4:35-5:20

1. Fear

Today I want us to think a little about fear and the place that it has in our lives. I’m not raising this because of the current crisis that the world is facing with COVID-19 although what we learn from the passage will have relevance to this. I am raising it because fear is one of the common threads that links the two stories in Mark’s gospel that we are going to look at today.

  • Fear isn’t necessarily good or bad.

Of course, fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing or a good thing. It’s a natural response that we all have to some sort of perceived threat or danger. What is important is what you do with your fears and how you respond to them and whether it is your fears that end up controlling you or whether you end up controlling them and move on beyond them.

  • Fear can sometimes be appropriate

Fear can sometimes be the appropriate response. It prevents us from putting ourselves in harm’s way and from taking unnecessary risks when we don’t have to. A right amount of fear can lead to us to make some good choices in life.

  • Fear can sometimes be inappropriate

However, sometimes fear can be inappropriate and unfounded. We can fear things that we shouldn’t fear and our fear can sometimes get in the way of doing the very thing that we know that we should be doing. We see this in the two stories that we are looking at today.

These two stories are part of a larger group (or unit) of 4 stories that Mark has recorded in chapter 4 and 5 to reveal more about Jesus and his power over those things that we have no control of and might be tempted to fear:

  • The forces of nature (4:35-41)
  • The forces of evil (5:1-20)
  • Sickness and disease (5:21-34)
  • and lastly death (5:35-43).

 

2. Don’t live in fear…

Today we are going to look at the first two of these stories and see that with Jesus around we do not need to live in fear. We don’t need to fear of the forces of nature or the demonic because Jesus is bringing these things under his control. In these stories we see him demonstrate this fact.

2.1 Don’t live in fear of the forces of nature

There are forces in nature that we have no control of as human beings. We do whatever we can do to protect ourselves from things like storms and bushfires and earthquakes and mudslides and tsunamis, but we don’t have the power to stop these things and bring them under our control. But Jesus has and what he does in the first of these stories is to show us that one day nature will submit to him and his rule. We get glimpse of this when a squall came up on the Sea of Galilee while Jesus and his disciple were crossing it.

  • A squall is a sudden but intense burst of wind

A squall is a sudden but intense burst of wind normally accompanied by weather such as thunder, hail and rain or even snow in colder climates. When you’re on the water it whips up the waves and sometimes makes it a dangerous place to be.

  • The sea of Galilee is a large freshwater lake

The sea of Galilee is a large freshwater lake and to give you some idea of the size let me compare it with some bodies of waters that you might know. The sea of Galilee is approximately 167 square kilometres at its fullest. Lake Macquarie which is just up the coast is Australia’s largest saltwater lake and it is 110 square kilometres and Lake Macquarie itself is twice as big as Sydney harbour which is 55 square kilometres. Depending on the breeze it would  normally take about 2 or so hours to sail across the sea of Galilee.

A lot of fishing was done at night and so being out on the water at night wasn’t unusual. However, you really didn’t want to be out there at night when a storm hit the lake because the funnelling effect of the surrounding mountains intensified the wind whipped up the water.

  • The disciples were terrified

Mark has reported that it was a furious squall and that the waves were breaking over the boat threatening to swamp it. Among the disciples were some fisherman and these men would have been seasoned sailors but even they became afraid and so they woke Jesus who had gone to sleep in the stern (which is the back of the boat). They said to him….

Mark 4:38

“Teacher don’t you care if we drown?”.

The disciples were clearly afraid that they might have drowned and almost accused Jesus of not really caring if they did.

  • Jesus took command

On waking Jesus, they might have expected Jesus to pray and for God to hear his prayer, and do something about the storm, but instead Jesus did something they weren’t expecting. He took command himself of the situation in a way that only God could have done and got up and rebuked the wind and told the waves to be still and the wind died down and the sea become completely calm.

  • Jesus rebuked the disciples

The next thing that Jesus did was to rebuke the disciples for the lack of faith. As I said at the start sometimes fears can be inappropriate or unfounded or over inflated. This seems to have been be the case for the disciples in the boat. Have a look at verse 40.

Mark 4:40

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”[1]

  • We can forget who is in the boat with us

Sometimes we let fear take the place that faith should have in our lives. We worry about things when we ought to be trusting the one who we know is in control and is bringing everything under his control. In the case of the disciples they had forgotten who they had in the boat with them and instead they’d let their fears run away with them. By this time, they should have known what Jesus was like and what he could do and they should have known that with him in the boat with them, that they were going to be OK no matter what happened that night.

While fear is a natural response, we have to a choice whether it will control us or whether our faith in Jesus will control our fears. Sometimes our fears and anxieties can stem from a lack of faith or perhaps a lack of understanding of who is in the boat with us. When Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and waves, Jesus showed his disciples that he was greater than the storm. He was the one that they needed to learn to trust. He was more than just a man. After Jesus quietened the storm, they were afraid and asked the question “Who is this?” However, by now they should have known that Jesus is God with us and we must learn to trust him.

  • We must learn to trust him

When we see Jesus for who he really is we don’t need to be afraid of the situations that we will find ourselves in. When things look like they are out of our control it really is just another opportunity that we are being given for us to learn to trust the one who is in control and not let our fears rule. Jesus will deliver his people. The apostle Paul knew this and wrote…

2 Timothy 4:18

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To God be the glory forever and ever.

We don’t have a short-term view of things. It’s the long game that we are in for and if Jesus doesn’t deliver us now, we know that he us will deliver in the end and bring safely into this heavenly kingdom. We glimpse what that will look like in these stories and it’s this hope that sustains us through times of trouble. Don’t just fix your eyes on the trouble, fix them on him who will one day fix everything.

2.2 Don’t fear the forces of evil.

In the second story, Mark shows us that Jesus not only has the power to command the forces of nature but also to subdue the forces of evil.

  • The eastern side of the lake was largely a Gentile area.

In chapter 5 Jesus and his disciple land on the eastern side of the lake. The eastern side was largely a Gentile area known as the Decapolis which in Greek meant 10 cities. Hence, we have a herd of pigs on this side of the lake which you probably wouldn’t have seen on the western side of the lake which was the more Jewish side. We are told that they landed somewhere in the region or district of the Gerasenes the location of which we really can’t be sure of today.

  • Jesus is immediately confronted by the forces of evil

But what we do know is that as soon as Jesus stepped ashore the man with the impure spirit met him. Mark then provides his readers with a bit of this man’s backstory.

Mark 5:3-5

This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

  • The man was in a wretched state

The man who the evil spirit had taken captive was in a wretched state. He had been driven out to live in the hills where the tombs were. Luke’s gospel tells us that he wore no clothes and had no home (see Luke 8:26-39 for details). Mark tells us that no one could help him. He couldn’t be restrained or bound for he would break his bonds even if they were iron chains and his arms and feet had been shackled. He lived among the tombs crying out day night cutting himself with stones. He was truly in a wretched condition.

  • Jesus was there to reclaim this man

But Jesus was there to reclaim this man from the enemy. The Spirit within the man immediately saw Jesus as a threat and was afraid of what Jesus would do with him.

Mark 5:7-8

He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

  • It was a legion confronting Jesus.

In Mark’s gospel we have already seen Jesus confronting and driving out evil spirits[2], but this time it is slightly different for Jesus wasn’t just confronting a single demon, but a whole legion of them. When Jesus asked the spirit, who was speaking through the man, he said that his name was Legion for there were many of them[3].

Jesus would have to take them all on if this man was to be set free. In this story Mark’s wants us to understand that even a legion of Satan’s cohorts is no match for the Son of the Most High God.

When Jesus told them to leave, all of them had to vacate their victim, it was just a matter where they were to go. They begged Jesus to not send them out of the area but into a nearby heard of pigs. What we see is that they had to ask for his permission to do even this. We are not told why Jesus gave it to them just that when he did the whole herd of about 2000 pigs ended up drowning in the lake. It was this that brought all the town folk out to see what had happened.

  • The enemy was routed, and their captive released

What happened to the pigs and the man who had been demon-possessed were all part of the evidence that something truly amazing had happened that day. The man was sitting there, dressed and in his right mind. An entire legion of enemy troops had been routed and their victim released from the power of Satan. Jesus had subdued all of them by just giving the command.

3. Faith or fear?

But, this wasn’t just a victory it had also been a revelation that needed to be responded to. The rest of the chapter contrasts the two sorts of responses that people make when they are confronted with the power and authority of Jesus. For some it is good news and they will put their faith in Jesus and want to get into the boat with him and go with him, but for others their fear will get the better of them and they will want nothing to do with Jesus. We will either chose to fear him and reject him out fear or live by faith in him and follow him.

  • The townsfolk

The townsfolk chose fear. They come out and see everything that had happened. They hear the eyewitness account of what happened to the man and the pigs. The evidence was there before them. You would have noticed two thousand pigs in the water or at least the absence of them on the shore. The man who had been demon possessed was there sitting down in front of Jesus, dressed and his right mind. But how did they react? We are told that they were afraid. But it was a fear that didn’t lead to faith but to rejection.

Mark 5:17

“Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region”.

Their fear closed them off to faith.  We not sure exactly what they were afraid of. Obviously, someone who could rout a legion of demons was someone that needed to be feared. But this doesn’t explain why they wanted to get rid of him. I think that looking at the man before them that it might have perhaps made one thing clear to them. Having Jesus around would radically change life for all of them. Maybe they didn’t want anything else to change. We don’t know this for sure. But this is a reason why a lot of people don’t follow Jesus. They are afraid of what it might mean for them to be a follower of Jesus especially when he calls disciples to take up their cross and deny themselves and followed him. They don’t want to give up whatever control of their life that they think they have.

  • The man who had been demon-possessed

But there is no reason to fear trusting in Jesus. That day only one man knew that he had nothing to be afraid of and that was the man who had been demon-possessed. In contrast to the townsfolk he knew firsthand that the freedom that Jesus offered was so much better than what he left behind. This man chose to put his faith in Jesus.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man begged Jesus to go with him, but Jesus wouldn’t let him. Instead he gave him a job to do and that job was to go and tell others what God had done for him and how he’d had mercy on him.

Mark 5:19-20

19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis x how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

The man chose to put his faith in Jesus. Even when Jesus didn’t let him to get into the boat with Jesus he kept trusting Jesus. He went to his own people (presumably Gentiles) and told them how much Jesus had done for him. The man gets it. He understands that where you see Jesus at work, you see God at work. To trust in Jesus is to trust in God and to receive mercy of God.

The man might not have physically got in the boat, but he was on board with Jesus. Back home he was following Jesus. Wherever he went he told others about what Jesus had done for him. I think this what all followers are called to do.

  • Us

Faith or fear is a choice that we all will make. It’s faith that gets us into the boat with Jesus in the first place. Maybe up until now you have been to be too afraid to take that step and get in. But life is better with Jesus no matter who you are because he is God with us. He will deliver his people and as we will see next week even death will be overcome.

Faith also keeps us in the boat when things are rough. We live by faith. We don’t focus on what is going on around us we focus on the one who is in the boat with us. We remind ourselves of who it is that we have at our side. It is the one who commands the wind and the waves. It is the one who subdued a legion of demons and ultimately will defeat Satan by dying on the cross. He has promised to deliver us. We aren’t to let our fears rule us. But you and I are to entrust ourselves to the one who is in the boat with us for Jesus is God with us.

 

 

 

[1] Unless otherwise indicate all Scripture citations are taken from The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] See Mark 1:21-28, 34,39

[3] A Roman legion was a pretty large military unit. At this time in history it could involve five or even perhaps six thousand highly disciplined foot solder. Now I don’t think that the evil spirit was necessarily trying to quantify exactly how many of them had wreaking havoc with this man’s life, just that there were many of them and that they were a force to be reckoned with.