Almighty Power Covered in Weakness
Fifth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| July 8, 2012| St. Mark 4:35-41
On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” St. Mark 4:35-41
They talk as if he doesn’t care. But why did God send his Son into this world to assume our own flesh and blood? So that he could watch us perish? Just the opposite! God sent his Son into the world so that the world might not perish. We are all familiar with the words of our Lord recorded in John 3, 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” They didn’t really mean it when they said, “Do you not care?” They knew he cared. It’s just that they were afraid. They thought they were going to die. Their fear drove their faith. Their faith was so very small.
We are afraid of what’s out there that we cannot control. A human being who threatens you might be reasoned with. An angry animal you might be able to frighten away or find a way of escape. But when you’re in the boat and the wind is blowing hard and the waves are getting bigger and bigger and crashing over the top of the boat so that it is filling with water there is nothing you can do. You can’t reason with the wind. You cannot frighten the waves away. You can’t walk away, run away, swim away, or fly away. There is nowhere to hide. You are surrounded by an implacable force of nature that neither thinks nor knows anything at all. It knows nothing of you or of your needs nor does it care.
Call it nature. Call it fate. Call it life. Call it whatever you please. We are in danger and there is not a thing we can do about it. It appears that we are under an impersonal and uncaring power. It appears so. But it is not so. This is what the Holy Spirit would teach us in this precious portion of God’s word. As the hymnist writes:
Though you deem he hears you not
Still your woes are ne’er forgot
Cry to him when storms assail you
Let your courage never fail you.
Faith is defined by God, not by us. Faith is determined by God’s word, not by our desires. Faith is not faith that God won’t let us die. Faith is confidence that we don’t need to be afraid of dying. That’s because death cannot hurt us. How can death hurt you if you have already died? Nothing can kill you when you’re already dead.
We have already drowned. And we have already been raised out of the water that drowned us and have been raised up to heaven where we live. That’s the life we live here on earth. It’s the life of those who believe and are baptized. They are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. They are joined by Holy Baptism to the death and resurrection of Christ. He died. They died with him. He rose. They rose with him. Their home is heaven. The God who loved us and gave himself for us and by whose authority we have been baptized is the God who is in charge of the wind, the waves, the economy, the job, the family, the bills, the children, and everything else about which we fret and worry.
We are not under the power of impersonal forces. We are under the power of almighty God. He is not some graceless, Masonic, one size fits all Great Architect of the Universe. He is not some goody-two-shoes Mormon Adam-god who worked his way from manhood to godhood by doing religious things of no benefit to anyone but himself. He is not some transcendent Muslim god who is so far above us that he won’t even bind himself to promises on which we can rely. He is our brother. He’s a man.
Praise to thee and adoration,
Blessed Jesus Son of God
Who, to serve thine own creation
Didst partake of flesh and blood.
He rests in the stern of the boat because he’s tired from a long, hard day’s work. Preaching and teaching is work. He needs rest like any other man. Yet he is our God. He in whom we find true and eternal rest is resting. He’s sleeping because he is tired.
He whom the sea and wind obey
Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God’s own Son, with us art one,
Dost join us and our children in our weakness.
The almighty God became our brother. On the day that he fell asleep on the cushion in the back of the boat he had told his disciples parables about the power of God’s word. The eternal Word made flesh told stories about the power of the written and spoken word of God. Then he slept on it. He entrusted himself to God’s word implicitly. The incarnate Word demonstrates the power of the same word that we read and hear. He teaches us to rely on it. He fulfills all that it teaches.
It appears to be absurd that Jesus can be the almighty God who neither slumbers nor sleeps and a man who, worn out by long hours of hard work sleeps through a storm in a boat on a lake. So it is rejected. It is rejected by religious people who believe that we insult God by saying that he became a man. How undignified, they say. They seek to defend God’s dignity by denying that Jesus is God. God doesn’t need their defense. They need God’s defense.
This is how he defends us. He appears weak. In this weakness he obeys. In this weakness he suffers. By obeying and by suffering he redeems us. He overcomes all evil. He does not do so in his deity alone. He does so in his deity joined to our humanity. Theologians refer to it as the personal union. It’s unique to Jesus. The person of Christ is one and indivisible. But the one and indivisible Jesus Christ has two natures: divine and human. He received his divine nature in eternity from God the Father. He is eternally begotten of the Father. There never was a time when he did not exist. He has always been the Son of the Father.
He received his human nature in time from his mother, the Virgin Mary. The personal union began when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary and was made man. It continues into eternity.
God did not reveal this holy mystery to us to provide us with a riddle to solve. It cannot be solved. Every attempt to solve it results in some kind of heresy or another. Its truth must be accepted by faith. We believe what God’s clear word reveals to us. We don’t demonstrate how it can be. God only knows how. We know that. And the “that” of it is what brought fear to the disciples who marveled, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
Jesus did what only God could do. The fear of doubt gave way to the fear of faith. They feared, but it wasn’t at all like the fear they felt when they thought they were perishing. They feared as those who knew they had seen God face to face. They knew they were in the presence of God. They knew that the man, who taught them, ate with them, and slept so soundly in the back of the boat during a severe storm that they had to awaken him, was none other than God himself.
And that is how to see God, brothers and sisters in Christ. See his almighty power in what appears so very weak. A man sleeping soundly in the back of the boat is the God whom the wind and the waves obey. A man suffering rejection and scorn on a cross is God paying the debt that sinners owe him. You see weakness. Underneath weakness is almighty love that fulfills the demands of justice by meeting those demands perfectly and suffering the punishment deserved by all sinners everywhere.
Go to the word of God for true faith. Don’t follow the popular piety of the crowd. It doesn’t necessarily deny the gospel outright – lip service is usually paid to Jesus’ death and resurrection – but the emphasis moves away from God where he meets us in our need and toward God as a consumer driven dispenser of religious goods. The God who reveals his power in Christ’s suffering and dying for us for the forgiveness of our sins is replaced by god as the means to the end you choose. Jesus is marketed as the one who can give you whatever you need to be successful in life. And of course you know what you need, don’t you? He can give it to you! You don’t need to live a defeated life! You can live a victorious life! Jesus has power and you can tap into it.
No, no, no! It doesn’t work that way. Jesus isn’t yours to use. Faith doesn’t use. Faith receives. Faith lives on every word that God speaks. Jesus chided his disciples for their lack of faith, not because they didn’t believe in the power of God above, but because they didn’t believe in the power of God below. Of course, God is above! He rules. He reigns. He has almighty power. But where are you? You’re here, not there. And it is here that you must seek him. It is he – not you – who decides where you will find him.
Jesus didn’t let them drown in the raging water. Instead, he used water to wash away their sins. There are two ways of washing away sin. The one way is the way of Noah’s flood. Wash away the sinners. That gets rid of the sin. Everyone died but the eight in the ark. Ah, but sin remained in them and that sin is here with us today. The sin that leads us to doubt God’s promises to us, to prefer our notions over his, to want what belongs to our neighbor, to lust after what is forbidden to us, to rebel against lawful authority over us, to curse those we should bless, to tell lies to make ourselves look better than others – and any other kind of sin there is – was the sin that was not washed away by the floodwaters. It was the sin in the ark. That is, it was the sin in the Church.
Holy Baptism is a greater washing than Noah’s flood. For the greatest threat to us Christians is not the godless and unbelieving world out there. It’s the sin deep down inside our hearts. And that’s the sin that baptism washes away every day. Every single day of our lives the baptism with which we were baptized washes us clean from all our sins and sets us before God as sinless, washed in the blood of the Lamb, wearing white robes, innocent of any wrongdoing, justified by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. That’s who we are. That’s who our baptism tells us we are.
The Church is the assembly of holy people made holy by the holy things of God. God has sanctified this Christian congregation through the baptism that washes away her sin and fills her with the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the cross that absolves her of all her sin and pronounces her to be righteous, through the very body and blood of Jesus given to her to eat and to drink for the remission of sins. These means of salvation don’t look as powerful as they are. But then, neither did Jesus, as he slept soundly in the back of the boat while upholding all things by the word of his power. Amen