Reading Time: 3 mins

Gospel: Mark 4:35-41 (Pentecost 5: Series B)

Reading Time: 3 mins

Sometimes a little disturbance can help God’s people to find renewed comfort in His promises and a revitalized vigor for a life of faithful obedience to the One who rules the wind and waves.

Mark does not tell us how the rest of the trip went. Chapter four ends in the middle of the lake in the middle of the night. The storm had ended, the sea was glass, and the disciples were filled with questions and fear. Then the narrative jumps to the next morning. Chapter five begins with everyone getting out of the boat on the other side of the lake. But that leaves some questions. How did the rest of the ride go? What did the disciples do next? What did they think? What did they say?

It is hard to believe they dozed off. Adrenaline does not dissipate so quickly. Not only were they soaked from the storm, but now they had the additional rush of sitting next to someone whose authority was otherworldly. That he had spoken to the wind and the sea was not anything particularly remarkable. Anyone can do that. But the winds and the waves did what He said. That gave the disciples the shivers, and rightly so. We are still early in Mark’s gospel, but the disciples have already seen glimpses of Jesus’ authority through miraculous healings. There was the man with an unclean spirit and the mother-in-law with a fever. There was the leper, the paralytic, and the man with a withered hand. These were all impressive, but the scale was much smaller, more manageable. This was something different. The wind and the waves followed His directions like a class of well-behaved preschoolers. I do not know about you, but if I were sitting next to someone who had just exercised that kind of authority, I would be on edge.

As I noted, Mark does not tell us how the rest of the trip went. But the lectionary committee’s choice of Psalm 124 hints toward a possibility. Psalm 124 is one of the “Psalms of Ascent” that faithful Israelites would have recited back and forth on their way to Jerusalem. It was short and regular enough in the liturgical life of faithful Israelites for the disciples to have known it by heart. In addition, it calls to mind God’s mighty acts of deliverance. Going all the way back to David (perhaps in reference to Israel’s victory over the Philistines), it praises God for using His authority to save His people. If that were not enough, Psalm 124 also uses the kind of watery language which would have easily come to mind in their waterlogged boat. But it is the first line of the Psalm, which David repeated for effect, that is most suggestive for what the disciples might have been thinking. “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side.” It is a conditional thought. It is what you say when you understand how bad things could have been. The LORD was in their boat, but not in judgment. He was with them to save. I can imagine the familiar words of Psalm 124 coming out of their lips without even thinking about them. “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side...”

The LORD was in their boat, but not in judgment. He was with them to save.

Your sermon this Sunday might tie together the Gospel account of Jesus calming the storm with the ancient song of praise to the God who delivers His people in Psalm 124. You could do this to open your congregation’s eyes to the mighty acts of deliverance God has performed for them. So, you might invite your hearers during the sermon to complete this sentence for themselves. “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side...”

What would they say? How might your congregation look back at what life would have been like if God had not acted mercifully in Jesus?

Paul gives a hint in the epistle reading about what they might have been like for him. In 2 Corinthians 6:4-10, he speaks of afflictions, hardships, calamities, and beatings. He mentions imprisonment, riots, sleepless nights, and hunger. He mentions dishonor, slander, sorrow, poverty, and death. Some of your hearers have experienced similar struggles, but Paul was delivered, and his life of thankful service was the result.

If your hearers have trouble imagining their plight without God’s grace, you could offer a few possibilities about how they might finish the sentence:

  • Perhaps they would speak about despair. Without the promise of resurrection in Christ, they would be hopeless in the face of death; their own, or the death of a loved one.
  • Perhaps they would mention a life of guilt. They know the sins of their youth. They may not be as familiar with their collective sin as a congregation, so you might need to help them confess it. Without the forgiveness of Christ, they would be lost (see also 1 Corinthians 15:14-19).
  • Perhaps they would talk about the isolation so many Americans report today. Without the family of believers into which God has brought them through baptism in Christ, they would have no lasting community to share their joys and sorrows.
  • Perhaps they would name the meaninglessness of life. Without the redeeming work of Christ, nothing would matter after they are dead and gone, which makes it hard to see how anything matters here and now.

It might be a disturbing thought to consider what it would be like if the Lord were not on our side, but maybe that is not such a terrible thing. Sometimes a little disturbance can help God’s people to find renewed comfort in His promises and a revitalized vigor for a life of faithful obedience to the One who rules the wind and waves.

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Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on Mark 4:35-41.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 4:35-41.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 4:35-41.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!