A Lesson On Tranquility
A sermon preached by Pastor Alan Redpath on Sunday, August 3, 1958.
It had been a busy day in the life of our Lord. He had been preaching, healing, and teaching, and at the end of the day, He and His disciples took a ship to sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, together with other little ships that joined them—a sort of convoy with the Master Himself as captain. Mark tells us He was soon asleep, exhausted after the day’s ministry. His pillow was only a fishing net, I imagine, and all He could lie down upon were the hard boards of that little ship.
I think that is a very significant little phrase in Mark 4:36: “They took Him even as He was,” weary and exhausted. It seems He did not have the energy to send the multitudes away, for they did it. Elsewhere in the Gospels you read that He sent the multitudes away, but the disciples did it this time. Very reverently, and with a sense of awe, we picture this scene and seek to bring it to our mind and imagination as we think of the Lord Jesus utterly worn out, immediately asleep as the boat started to go across to the other side of the sea.
How peaceful it was as that little fleet sailed! All of a sudden, however, the calm was ended and the storm broke through the mountains that surrounded the lake, and the ship was soon in great peril and jeopardy until it was about to sink. “The waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.” It could stand no more! The lovely evening calm only preceded a hurricane that was overwhelming, and this is typical of life. I find that very seldom we are left long in life without a storm somewhere. “Boast not thyself of tomorrow” (Proverbs 27:1). Changes will come, and over a cloudless sky without any warning whatsoever, unexpectedly the storm breaks. At one moment the course of life seems absolutely set, calm, and the next moment it is utter darkness. The ship of our life is suddenly full, and we can take no more, and our immediate reaction is very similar to that of the disciples: “Master, do not you care that we are perishing?”
That question was asked, no doubt, in a spirit of complaint. “If you love us, Lord, then rescue us.” How soon they began to doubt Him! How soon they were ready to rebel, even though they called Him Master! How quick they were to think Him at fault, perhaps even cruel to them! I do not know what your profession of faith may be, but I am sure this question has often been upon your mind and on your lips, “Does God care? If He does, why doesn’t He rescue me? The waves are beating upon the ship of my life and it is full, and He knows I cannot take much more of this. Master, carest Thou not that we are perishing?”
With that background in mind, notice in the first place:
The Apparent Indifference of Jesus to the Fate of His People.
Now that word “apparent” needs to be underlined heavily. Sometimes we complain against God, because He just allows the ordinary laws of nature to proceed in their course, even though in allowing them, those who trust Him are going to be crushed and apparently destroyed by what happens. Some may say that because true Christian people do not seem to escape any of the trials that you go through, why, therefore, should you accept their faith? If you were to become a Christian, you know instinctively that to do so would mean that you have to give up some things that you rather like doing because they are not right. But, you argue, if you give them up and become a Christian you seem to be no better off; and as you still do not escape trouble, then why should you bother? You have often heard prayers offered from a pulpit, and from other places, on behalf of the safety of Christian people, perhaps going on a journey, but news comes later that they have been killed. You hear prayers offered for people who need healing, but the disease has taken its course and they have died. You have seen some Christian people suffer intense pain, and apparently the Lord paid no attention to their entreaty or the prayers of their family. It does not seem as if God has altered the physical laws of His universe simply to suit the convenience of His people. Disease is disease; poison is poison; sickness is sickness, whether you are a Christian or not.
Maybe you have never realized that there is no such thing as a law of nature that operates on its own. Behind every law that operates is the power of God, and when we speak about the law of nature we are describing the way in which God works. Man dies of sickness, illness or disease, and one day—except it be by accident or the coming again of the Lord—we will all die like that. This is so, not because some law of nature has got out of hand, but because God is permitting to continue to operate within the sphere of the human body the ordinary laws of destruction. He creates light, says the Scripture, and He creates darkness. He is behind every law that He ever made. That is why you will find that many a Christian who has gone through times of untold suffering and trouble has suddenly changed this question, “Master, carest Thou not that I perish?” and has been enabled to say, “This is the Lord’s doing; let Him do that which is good in His sight.” For they have come to see that God does not permit the overwhelming of the storm to touch one of His children except He has purpose in it.
This question remains still a great problem to Christian people as well as unbelievers: “Lord, we said we love Thee and will spend our lives in Thy service, and yet we perish. We could understand it if You allowed a boatload of unbelieving sinners to go down to the bottom of the sea, but why us?” And when some Job’s comforter comes along and tells us we are only getting what we deserve because of our sin, we know it just is not true. The Bible does not say “as many as I hate I chasten.” Far from it. It says “The wicked flourish like a green bay tree, but their end is near.” And God says, “Whom I love I chasten.” It does not say that the branch which brings forth no fruit shall be pruned, but “Every branch that beareth fruit He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2).
If the healing of the body was included in the atonement of the blood of Calvary, those verses would not be in the Bible. Do you understand that? The healing of the body is not in the atonement, but of course, God is able to work a miracle! He has power when every human hope has gone. He has power to raise up that body in complete strength because He is Master of the laws that He made. But when God does that it is the sovereign exception of His grace rather than the rule. Gold is put into a furnace because it is gold and has to be refined; you do not put rubbish into that kind of furnace. Corn is threshed because it is corn, but you do not bother to do that with weeds. A diamond of exceptional beauty and quality is going to undergo far more cutting than any other stone because the owner desires more of its beauty.
So many cry, “Why doesn’t God work a miracle for my deliverance?” You read of extraordinary providences, remarkable cures, great deliverances, but none of these seem to come your way. You seem to be getting weaker and more desperate. Have you understood that God sometimes works a greater miracle when He sustains His people through trouble than when He brings them out of it? God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush which, though it was aflame, was not consumed. To let that bush burn on, and yet not to be consumed, was a far greater thing than putting out the flame and saving the bush. Those of us who are going through [a] trial that seems overwhelming need to realize that, and He would enable us to say, “Lord, if this is for Thy glory, heap on the load! If this is to accomplish something that will make me more usable for Thee, then pile on the burden! If this is something Thy hand seeks to do in order to make me like Thy lovely self then, Lord, I will take everything because, even though I am crushed under it, I am going to trust Thee for strength every day. My weakness shall glorify Thy power.” “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
In the second place we see:
The Active Interest of our Lord for His own.
His indifference was, in fact, only apparent. Those disciples had to learn something that we have to learn every day, what it means to trust a silent God. Can we trust Him further than we can see of Him with our eyes? Can we believe in a God Who does not break through the clouds and speak with a voice of thunder? Just think a moment about the facts that are known to us about Him. He has loved us with an everlasting love. If He had meant to cast us off, He would have had plenty of opportunity to do that long ago—and plenty of reason as well. But no sin which we are capable of committing has ever taken God by surprise, for He knew we were just like that. He could easily have delivered us to the devil long ago, and we would have then been dealt with in justice. Do you imagine that the Lord Jesus could come from heaven to save you and me, and be indifferent to the plight that some of us are in today? Did He go to Gethsemane and Calvary, and bear all the wrath of God for the judgment of my sin, then rise from the tomb to ascend into heaven and give to me the gift of resurrection life to live within this mortal body, only to let me perish? When you think of what He has done for you personally today, can you ever say “does He really care?” Once you were His enemy, now you are His friend. Once you were dead in sin, now you are alive in a relationship that is eternal. When you called on Him as a sinner He saved you on the ground of the blood that was shed for you. Do you imagine He is going to allow His child to be cast away? It is only deliberate, willful sin that has not been confessed and forgiven that makes us feel that God has forsaken us, for that sin causes Him to hide His face from us. If we are knowingly walking outside His revealed will for us, then we have no claim upon His promises or His grace.
If, however, there is no known sin or disobedience between you and the Lord, and as you think afresh of the blood of the everlasting covenant, remember that the Lord Jesus, because of that blood, cannot let one of His children go. “The outward man may perish, but the inward man is renewed day by day.” Or, as J.B. Phillips puts it in his graphic paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 4:16: “This is the reason why we never collapse: the body suffers wear and tear, but we receive fresh daily strength inwardly, till we meet Him face to face.”
Christ’s indifference is only apparent, but if you look closer in this story, you see that the Lord Jesus showed a real care for those disciples in the midst of His apparent indifference. He was asleep but—and mark this—He was on the ship with them. He was tossed about in that trial as much as they were. He was thrown around as much as those disciples, and He went through it all with them. Whatever happened to them was bound to happen to Him. They were linked together inseparably for they were all in the same ship, in the same storm, and their fate was His fate, His fate was their fate. And as the Lord Jesus lay sleeping, He preached the most eloquent sermon He ever preached without uttering a word. For sound asleep in the stern of that little ship, as they watched Him lying there amidst that howling gale, He was saying, “Let not your heart be troubled. In the world you shall have tribulation, but in Me you shall have peace. Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid. In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.” In that storm, as He lay asleep, He showed those disciples what unbelievers they were. Oh yes, they were disciples, they had forsaken all to follow Him, but when it came to the overwhelming storm that nearly pitched them into the lake, basically they were unbelievers. And so He allowed it to blow until they were shown that.
Above all He made the gale that night a wonderful opportunity to display His power. I wonder if there is a more amazing picture anywhere in the Word of God than that of the weary Master as He heard the cry of His disciples—the unbelieving, complaining, terrified cry, “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?”—and He arose to His feet, not speaking to them until He spoke first to the storm two mighty words: “Be still!” (the word really is “be muzzled”), and in a moment there was a great calm. Only the Lord, the Creator, can do a thing like that! There was a great calm; everything was hushed and silent, the sea became as glass, and the howling tempest died down in a moment because the winds and the waves obeyed His voice. He was the Master and He cared.
Even as He slept, He showed them He cared, and this God Who is silent to some of you today cares. He is speaking to you in the silence, “It is I, do not be afraid.” He is proving you, testing you, sifting you, showing you yourself, and you will come out of it either here or in glory, and you will never be the same again. “When He hath tried me,”” said Job, “I shall come forth as gold.”
The Lord showed a real care for these disciples in the midst of apparent indifference, but in due time, in His own time every one of us here will know that He cares. What words these are in our story! I will put them together without comment: “There arose a great storm,” Mark 4:37; “He arose, and there was a great calm” verse 39. God guarantees smooth sailing for every one of His children one day, for He has promised to minister to us abundantly so that we have a joyful, a rejoicing entrance into His everlasting kingdom (2 Peter 1:11).
You may be troubled and tossed about today, and the battle may go against you for a while, while your slender, feeble strength becomes absolute weakness until you touch rock-bottom in despair. Indeed, it may be that the battle, physically, will be lost, even as it must be lost one day for all of us, in God’s time. But you can learn the lesson in the storm that, in losing the physical, you are winning the spiritual. Should you be losing in the realm of the physical, let me say that there is nothing that can ever touch your relationship to the Lord Jesus—that is absolutely secure forever. For within the heart of every child of God is His resurrection life that has already tasted of death, has been into the grave, triumphed over it, and been implanted again into the new creature which is God’s child, and nothing can ever sever that relationship. The Lord Jesus says, “Lo, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me” (Revelation 22:12). In Oswald Chambers’ lovely little book, “My Utmost for His Highest,” the reading for one day is headed, “Behold He cometh with clouds,” and in the course of a precious paragraph he says, “I come to know God in reality, really to know Him, when I look full into the face of the blackest cloud, and do not complain or defame the character of God.” “He cometh with clouds.” It may be for someone reading this that to look into the darkness of life, and to know that through it all you may see His face, and not to complain but gladly to rest in His promise, is truly to know the Lord. God has to take us in the clouds in order that we might know Him like that.
I want a closing word with some people who are not Christians—at least, you make no profession of faith in the Lord Jesus as your Saviour, and some of you are very skeptical and unbelieving. Look at the ship and the storm again. Yes, the little boat is full, for the waves have beaten against it. You maybe have escaped trouble, but it has not, and in fact it has been in far worse trouble than you have ever known. As you stand metaphorically on the shore, you think you are safe. As you watch that ship you may be saying in your heart, “That’s what happens when they become Christians—serves them right! I am far safer on my little sand castle on the shore by the sea, and I have made such a nice little sheltered haven of my own!”
Let me say to you with all the earnestness I can, it is time you got on board that ship. For whatever happens to the crew happens to Jesus; whatever happens to the Saviour happens to the men who are on board. What can be more wonderful than to know that whatever the future may hold, your life is absolutely inseparably linked up with the Lord Jesus Christ? I know that today beyond any shadow of a doubt. Do you? It is far better to be in the storm with Jesus than stand on the shore in some shelter you have made for yourself, because one day it is going to crash with a far greater fall than any storm when God comes to judge the world on the basis of our acceptance of rejection of His beloved Son.
If you are not a Christian, and with no Saviour to Whom you can turn, no place to which you can go, I ask you not to jump out of the storm, but to jump by faith on board the ship, and put your life in the Saviour’s hands, and to know that from this moment onwards, all through your future experience, whatever happens in your life will happen to God, because God in Christ has come to live in you.