“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith’… And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’
– Mark 4:40-41
At the end of chapter 4 we discover that the disciples, those who are supposed to see Jesus, the ones who are supposed to get it (life in the Kingdom of God) right, fall short. They fail to recognize Jesus for who He is.
And it says, “they were filled with fear” in the midst of the storm, a fear that persists well into the silence that eventually follows.
The antidote to this fear is described as faith, and in chapter 5 we are given 3 examples of individuals who demonstrate the kind of faith that is able to conquer fear in the midst of the storm, the kind of faith that the disciples appear to be lacking:
- 3 individuals who face a storm in their own life.
- 3 individuals who see and find Jesus in the storm
- 3 individuals who respond to Jesus by moving forward out of the storm
Facing the Storm
In the first story, we find a man said to be possessed by demons, a man with an “unclean spirit”. This sort of language might sound a bit jarring to our modern Western ears, but for the ancients, speaking of the spirit and spiritual forces was commonplace.
What is significant in this story, and perhaps more readily relatable, is the degree this man feels imprisoned by his oppression. Even unbound by the chains and shackles we find him crying out and cutting himself with stones. This is a picture of a man who carries deep hurt and pain, a picture of a man who remains nameless, who has lost touch with who he is. He is known only as legion, an identity that has rendered him synonymous with the mental oppression (demons) that continues to haunt him.
The second story introduces us to a woman who “had suffered much”. Doctors could not help her, and her condition (which represents another example of someone being unclean according to societal law) continues to get worse (persisting for twelve years).
In this final story we are brought back to one of the rulers of the synagogue (Jarius), whom we first find seeking Jesus in 5:21-24 in an effort to ask Him to attend to his ailing daughter. Only now she has died.
Three stories, three impossible situations: relenting mental oppression, a persisting, debilitating chronic illness, and death.
Seeing Jesus in the Storm
The oppressed man “saw Jesus from afar” and ran to him.
The ill woman “heard” of Jesus and seeks Him out.
The ruler in the synagogue “sees” Jesus.
In the midst of their personal storms, each of these stories share a similar trajectory. As they see Jesus they run after Him, they move in his direction. This of course, should bring us back to chapter one and the call of John to repent (or turn) in the direction of Jesus, to pursue forgiveness (the forgiven and forgiving way of life).
Faith that can conquer fear begins with seeing and then asks us turn in Jesus’ direction.
Finding Jesus in the Storm
The second thing we find they all share in common is their reaction when they turn and encounter Jesus- they all “fall down before him”, with one crying out, the other feeling inclined to tell Him “the whole truth”, and the last one imploring him “earnestly”.
If faith that can conquer fear begins with seeing, it also means coming to Him in expectation.
It is important to recognize that this expectation does not mean the absence of fear and questions. Faith is something we must wrestle with. The woman comes to Jesus in fear and trembling. The oppressed man comes to Jesus crying out and even blames him for not immediately attending to his condition (do not torment me he cries). When his daughter ends up dying, the response of those in her life is, “don’t bother”, nothing can be done. “Do no fear, only believe.”
Jesus’ response- “Do no fear, only believe.”
Responding to Jesus in the Storm
At some point we are called to take a step forward, out of the fear and into the water. At some point we must choose to touch His garment and expect that He will meet us in the storm.
At some point faith must stand taller than our fear.
Here is the truth of the kind of faith these 3 characters embody. The call of faith is not to simply have our problems disappear. Rather, it begins with being willing to show up at Jesus feet and to expect the unexpected. And then it calls us to trust Jesus enough to move forward, even if storm seems to persist.
In the sequence of these three stories we find ourselves moving in the familiar pattern from the Country back to the synagogue, and subsequently from the unclean back to the religious rulers. What is interesting is that as we arrive back at the synagogue, at the final story of the healing of the daughter, it is the disciples that reenter the picture.
“And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John.”
The fact that the disciples are the only ones (along with the father and mother who are instructed to tell no one) who witness the healing of the daughter leads me to believe that the three stories were intended to teach them something about the faith they lacked in the boat at the end of chapter 4.
“Why are you so afraid. Have you still no faith?”
While in the end of chapter 4 the disciples are filled with great fear, at the end of chapter 5 they are “immediately overcome with amazement.
Now here’s the thing. I don’t think the initial failure of the disciples was found in their fear or their question (teacher, why do you not care). We find this same question being uttered by the oppressed man after all, and this same fear being expressed by the woman. Their failure, in my eyes, was their inability to move forward out of their fear and into the faith Jesus is calling them towards. They remained stuck in the boat, holding onto Jesus for dear life instead of trusting in the strength He gave them to move out into the world.
Jesus’ work begins with healing. But the command to the oppressed man following his healing was to “go” (vs. 19). Jesus’ command to the woman was likewise to “go”.
As we learn to see Jesus, as we turn to “run” in His direction, His healing work, his restorative work is intended to move us outward not further inwards. This is what faith is, trusting that God has declared us able from the places that we find ourselves, and willing to trust this truth enough to actually take a step forward out of our questions and our fears that often isolate ourselves from the work He calls us to do.
This is the forgiven and forgiving life we have been hearing about all along. It should come as no surprise then that where we are headed in chapter 6 is to the sending of the disciples. These healing stories, these demonstrations of the work of Jesus in the lives of others was to remind the disciples of the work He did in their life, and to prepare them for the call to move out into the world. It also stands as a reminder to us that if we choose to see and move towards Jesus, He promises us a Faith that can stand taller than our storms, a faith that can allow us to take a step forward, no matter where we find ourselves, if we simply choose to trust in who Jesus says He is and what he came to do- to heal, to restore and to give us strength to face all things.