"Man's extremity is God's opportunity." This is a very familiar saying. No doubt we fully believe it, but when we find ourselves brought to our extremity, we are often very little prepared to count on God's opportunity. It is one thing to speak out a truth and another thing to realize the power of that truth. It is one thing, when sailing over a calm sea, to speak of God's ability to keep us during the storm, and it is another thing altogether to prove that ability when the storm is actually raging around us.
Yet God is ever the same. In the storm and in the calm, in sickness and in health, in pressure and in ease, in poverty and in abundance, He is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" -- the same grand reality for faith to lean upon, cling to, and draw upon, at all times and under all circumstances.
Our Unbelieving Hearts
But we are unbelieving! Here lies the source of weakness and failure. We are perplexed and agitated when we ought to be calm and confiding. We are looking about when we ought to be counting on God. We are calling for help when we ought to be looking to Jesus. Because of this we fail greatly and dishonour the Lord in our ways.
Without a doubt, there are few things for which we have to be more deeply humbled than our tendency to distrust the Lord when difficulties and trials present themselves. Surely we grieve the heart of Jesus by distrusting Him, for distrust will always wound a loving heart. So it was with the disciples on the occasion we are now considering. Let us meditate a little on the passage:
Mark 4:35-39 And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Here we have an interesting and instructive scene. The poor disciples are brought to their extremity. They are at their wits' end: a violent storm -- the ship full of water -- the Master asleep. This was a trying moment indeed. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we will not be surprised at the fear and agitation of the disciples. It is unlikely that we would have done better if we had been there. Still, it is obvious to us where they failed, so we must learn from their experience.
There is nothing more absurd and irrational than unbelief when we come to look at it calmly. In the scene before us, this absurdity is very apparent. What could be more absurd than to think that the boat could possibly sink with the Son of God on board? Yet this was what they feared.
Faith Sees God Behind The Circumstances
It can be said that they did not think of the Son of God at that moment. They thought of the storm, the waves, the rising water, and judging according to nature, it seemed a hopeless case. This is how the unbelieving heart always reasons. It looks only at the circumstances and leaves God out. Faith, on the other hand, looks only at God and leaves the circumstances out.
What a difference! Faith delights in man's extremity, simply because it is God's opportunity. It delights in being totally dependent on God -- where human ability has been completely removed from the situation so that God may display His glory. He loves bringing many empty jars so that God can fill them (1 Kings 17:14-16). Such is faith.
If the disciples had possessed this faith, they would have been able to sleep beside their Master in the midst of the storm. However, unbelief made them uneasy; they could not rest themselves, and they actually stirred the blessed Lord out of His sleep by their unbelieving fears. Jesus was weary from the constant labour. He knew what fatigue was; He had come down into all our circumstances.
He was found as a man in every respect, and as such, He slept on a cushion, rocked by the waves of the storm. The storm and the winds beat against the boat, even though the Creator was on board in the form of that weary, sleeping Workman.
Profound mystery! The One who made the sea and could hold the winds in His almighty grasp lay sleeping in the stern of the boat and allowed the sea and wind to treat Him as unceremoniously as though He were an ordinary man. Such was the reality of the human nature of our blessed Lord. He was weary, so He slept being tossed on the waves of the sea that His hands had made. Oh reader, pause and meditate on this wondrous sight. Words seem inadequate; we can only stop and worship.
Doubting The All-Powerful Love Of Christ
Master, carest thou not that we perish? However, as we have said, unbelief roused the Blessed Lord out of His sleep. The disciples woke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" (4:38). What a question! "Don't you care?" How it must have wounded the sensitive heart of the Lord! How could they ever think that He was indifferent to their trouble and danger? How completely must they have lost sight of His love -- to say nothing of His power -- when they could bring themselves to say, "Don't you care?"
Yet, dear friends, is this story not a mirror in which we see ourselves reflected? Certainly it is. How often in moments of pressure and trial do our hearts think, even if our lips do not utter, the question: "Don't you care?" It may be that we are on a bed of sickness and pain, and we know that one word from the God of all power and might could chase away the disease and raise us up. Yet the word is withheld. Or perhaps we are in need of material supplies, and we know that the silver and gold and the cattle on a thousand hills all belong to God -- the treasures of the universe are in His hand -- yet day after day passes by, and our need is not supplied.
In a word, we are passing through deep waters in some way or another. The storm rages; wave after wave rolls over our tiny boat. We are brought to our extremity; we come to our wits' end, and our hearts often feel ready to ask the terrible question: "Don't you care?" The thought of this is deeply humbling. To think of our grieving the loving heart of Jesus by our unbelief and suspicion should fill us with the deepest remorse and sorrow.
The Weakness Of Our Faith
But consider the absurdity of unbelief! How can that One who gave His life for us -- who left His glory and came down to this world of strife and misery and died a shameful death to deliver us from eternal wrath -- how can such a One ever fail to care for us? Yet we are ready to doubt, or we grow impatient under the trial of our faith. We quickly forget that the very trial from which we hide and under which we struggle is far more precious than gold. The result of our trial is an imperishable reality, but gold will eventually fade away.
The more that genuine faith is tried, the brighter it will shine. Therefore, the trial, however severe, is sure to result in praise and honour and glory to Him who not only supplies the faith but also takes that faith through the furnace and caringly watches over it.
But the poor disciples failed in their moment of trial. Their confidence gave way; they stirred their Master from His sleep with that most unworthy question: "Don't you care if we drown?" What creatures we are! We are ready to forget 10,000 mercies in the face of a single difficulty.
David could say, "I will one day die at the hand of Saul." And how did it turn out? Saul fell on Mount Gilboa, and David was established on the throne of Israel. Elijah ran for his life when Jezebel threatened him, but what was the result? Jezebel was dashed to pieces on the pavement, and Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire.
In the same way, the disciples thought they were going to be lost -- with the Son of God on board. But what was the result? The storm was hushed into silence, and the sea became like glass when it was spoken to by that Voice which called the world into existence. "He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Peace, Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm (4:39).
The Loving Care Of The Lord
What a combination of grace and majesty is here! Instead of rebuking the disciples for interrupting His sleep, He rebukes the elements that had frightened them. This was the way He replied to their question, "Don't you care?" Blessed Master! Who would not trust You? Who would not adore You for Your patient grace and uncondemning love?
There is something perfectly beautiful in the way in which our blessed Lord rises, without an effort, from the rest of perfect humanity into the activity of essential deity. As man, weary from His work, He slept on a cushion; as God, He rises and with His almighty voice hushes the storm and calms the sea.
Such was Jesus -- very God and very man -- and such He is now. He is always ready to meet His people's need, to quiet their anxieties and remove their fears. Oh that we trusted Him more simply! We have no idea of how much we lose by not leaning more on the arm of Jesus day by day. We are so easily terrified. Every breath of wind, every wave, every cloud agitates and depresses us. Instead of calmly lying down and resting beside our Lord, we are full of terror and perplexity. Instead of using the storm as an occasion for trusting Him, we make it an occasion for doubting Him. No sooner does some minor problem arise than we think we are going to perish, even though He assures us that He has numbered the very hairs of our head.
He could easily say to us as He said to His disciples, "Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?" (4:40). It would indeed seem at times as though we had no faith. But oh, His tender love! He is ever near to shield and to shelter us, even though our unbelieving hearts are so ready to doubt His Word. He does not deal with us according to our poor thoughts of Him but according to His own perfect love toward us. This is the solace and rest for our souls as we pass across life's stormy sea homeward to our eternal rest.
Christ is in the boat! Let that always be enough. Let us calmly rely on Him. May there always be, at the very centre of our hearts, that deep rest which springs from a real trust in Jesus! Then, though the storms rage and the seas run high, we will not need to say, "Don't you care if we drown?" Is it possible that we could die with the Master on board? Can we ever think so if Christ is in our hearts?
May the Holy Spirit teach us to make a fuller, freer, bolder use of Christ! It must be Christ Himself who is laid hold of and enjoyed in the heart by faith. Then all will be to His glory and our abiding peace and joy!
In conclusion, we should notice how the disciples were affected by the scene before us. Instead of the calm worship of those whose faith had been answered, they manifested the amazement of those whose fears had been rebuked. "And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (4:41). Surely they ought to have known Him better. Yes, dear reader, and so should we.