Our Father’s Classroom (Mark 4:35-41)

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (June 20, 2021)

Regular school might be out for the summer but this coming week we will see our classrooms here at Trinity filled and learning in full swing as over 90 children gather for Vacation Bible School.  The theme of the week will be “Rainforest Explorers.”  In a tropical like atmosphere, the children will be discovering and learning the truth about how God treasures them and the treasures He has laid up for them in Christ Jesus. You could say  then that God’s school will be in session.

Speaking of teaching, this is also an appropriate subject for this Father’s Day.  After all, teaching children is at the very heart of God’s admonition to fathers. Through His holy apostle, the Lord God says, “Fathers, “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6::4). The father by very definition is a teacher of the way of God in the family. 

Nowhere do we see this defined more exactly than in God the Father Himself.  He is the Teacher par excellence! Life in this world is His classroom and His class is always in session! 

In our Gospel text we find the frightened disciples in a boat with Jesus.  They most appropriately address Him as “Teacher.”  Indeed, as we read and study the accounts recorded for us in the Gospels, we quickly learn that Jesus was the consummate teacher.  With every word He spoke, He was instructing.  With every action He took, He was giving His disciples a lesson concerning the Kingdom of God.  Nothing Jesus said or did was without instructive purpose.  The Son of God did not become incarnate and dwell among us for His good health… or on lark.  He became man to give us the wisdom that leads to salvation.  He became one of us to reveal God and His saving arm to us (John 1:17,18).

Every teacher has a classroom, right!  In what sort of classroom did Jesus teach?  Yes, there were times He taught people in the synagogues and in the courts of the Great Temple in Jerusalem.  And, yes, in the Gospel accounts we find Him teaching great crowds of people wherever He traveled; along the roads, the byways, and the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  But our text this morning recounts Jesus’ conducting class in a wind and waved tossed boat in the middle of a perilous storm. 

What sort of classroom could this possibly be? It might be hard to accept, but the storm is God’s best classroom for our learning! 

Martin Luther once wrote in his teaching concerning Psalm 119, that there are three rules for studying theology, or for making a theologian.  They are oratio (Prayer), meditatio (meditation), and, finally and most crucially, tentatio (trial). 

“First,” Luther states, “you should know that Holy Scripture is a book which turns the wisdom of all other books into folly, because no book teaches of eternal life except this one alone. Therefore you should completely despair of your own sense and reason, for by these you will not attain the goal; rather by the presumption of their use you will hurl yourself and others with you from heaven into the abyss of hell, as happened to Lucifer.  Rather kneel down in your private little room and with sincere humility and earnestness pray God through His Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide you and give you understanding.” 

“Second,” Luther continues, “you should meditate.  This means that not only in your heart but also externally you should constantly handle and compare, read and reread the Word as preached and the very words written in Scripture, diligently noting and meditating on what the Holy Spirit means…”

Finally, Luther says, “…there is the tentatio, testing (Anfechtung).  This is the touchstone.  It teaches you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is: it is wisdom supreme.”  (­What Luther Says- A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian; Ewald M. Plass, 1959, CPH, pp. 1359,1360) 

There’s nothing like a storm to test whether or not you and I truly get it!  It’s where the tire meets the road.  Reading, hearing and studying the truths of God as contained in Holy Scriptures are just an academic exercise if those truths are never actually applied in real life situations.  I can say all day long, “I know Jesus.  I believe in Jesus as my Savior.  I love Him above all things,” but it is only when that knowledge, that faith, that love are tested in the crucible of tentatio (Anfechtung) (trial and trouble) that they are proven genuine and sincere.

In the midst of a tumultuous sea in a little tiny sail boat, being rocked from side to side by hurricane like winds to the point that the boat is about to capsize, with the billowing waves crashing over and into the boat rapidly filling it up with water, that’s tentatio!    That will test your mettle!  Do you believe the One who created the wind and the waves can and will save you?  Do you believe in fact that He is in the boat with you?  Do you panic or remain calm?  Do you scream with fright like a little girl or do you “man up,” as they say, keeping your wits about you and simply handle what you can like a real man of faith?

Just as we see the LORD speak to teach Job out of whirlwind, and that after He had allowed the devil to afflict Job with unimaginable losses, so Jesus, The Teacher, uses this storm as His classroom to instruct His disciples.  But what is it that He is teaching them and through their experience, us?  He is teaching us all to truly believe… truly trust…, in fact, to truly fear Him as the true God and Creator and our true Savior in all things.  Such faith, or confident trust, such godly fear, casts out all other fear. 

It is quite evident from what transpires that such faith was clearly not residing in these disciples’ hearts.  In their fright of what might become of them, they frantically woke Jesus, who was fast asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat. Rhetorically they questioned Him, “You care, don’t You, that we are perishing?”

Why is it that so often in the storms of life, we like the disciples, find ourselves questioning God’s love and care for us?  Jesus went to the cross to give His life as a ransom for us.  Do we really ever have to question the sincerity of His love and His level of commitment to us? 

Jesus replied to His disciples by saying, “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?” 

Contrary to all the talk among us these days about strong faith verses weak faith, Jesus just cuts to the chase.   One either has faith or he doesn’t have faith.  We either walk and live in faith or we live in doubt.  Oh, yes, one can convince himself that he believes in Jesus Christ as his LORD and Savior and he can be quite bold in such faith when everything is going along relatively well in his life; that is, the way he likes it, without any struggle or pain. But, boy, oh boy, when his boat capsizes or seems in danger of sinking… when the bottom falls out of his financial condition… when disease threatens to ravage his body…  when the pain gets unbearable… when loneliness, grief or despair overwhelms him…  when danger to his very life looms in front of him… then what becomes of his confidence in the Lord’s ability to save him… his trust in God’s promises?  We are beyond being weak or strong.  We either panic from having no faith or we remain calm in faith.

In the tempest at sea, our Teacher, God the Father, instructs in two ways.  First, He teaches through His silence and, secondly, He teaches through His Word.

Let’s begin with the second as it has bearing on the first.  When the disciples woke Jesus up to the dangers they felt loomed before them, without saying a word to them, Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, literally, “Be silent!  Be muzzled!”  Immediately, the wind stopped and the sea became as calm and smooth like glass simply at His Word. 

The disciples couldn’t believe their eyes! The storm that had them so petrified in fear that they were going to drown, was instantly gone!  Now, a fear of a different sort filled their hearts. They exclaimed to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey Him?” 

Who indeed?  Only the Creator Himself, who created the wind and the waves simply by His Word could command them merely by His Word.  In the flesh of Jesus is Holy God!  The disciples had woken up God!  Yes, they called Him, Teacher, but now they were overwhelmed with the knowledge that He who had been teaching them and the crowds, who had called them to follow Him, Who had eaten with them, and Who had been sleeping so soundly in their boat, is their God and Creator Himself!  How had they missed it?  How could He have put up with their ignorance… their lack of faith all this time?

How foolish they must have suddenly felt!  “How could we have been so afraid of this little storm!  God, our Creator, the One who controls and sustains all of creation has been right here in the boat with us all along!  No wind or waves could have destroyed Him or us with Him!  Why didn’t we connect the dots?  We could have saved ourselves a lot of grief!  It is as the Psalmist proclaimed generations ago: ‘By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas  the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs” (Ps. 65:7-10).

Are we slow learners, too?  Why do we so often panic or question God’s sincerity and love for us during hard times?  Don’t we believe the Christmas angels who proclaimed at Jesus’ birth, “Born for you this day in the city of David is Savior Who is Christ the LORD?”  The Son of God has become incarnate… become one of us.  Omnipotent God is in our boat.  He is Emmanuel; God with us! 

Of what do we have to be afraid?  In the flesh of Jesus, God has already protected us from the greatest danger and evil.  He has already freed us from eternal punishment for our sins, even the sin of doubt.  Jesus’ bodily resurrection also proves that He has conquered all the consequences of sin for us, including death.  Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (John 11:25).  Our Incarnate God has brought that victory to us personally in Holy Baptism. So we hear the Apostle Paul proclaim, “…All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his… ” (Ro. 6:3-7).

God has not delivered us from afar.  He has come in our flesh, our very boat.  In our flesh He has experienced our suffering, our pain.  In our flesh He has endangered Himself.  In fact, He has borne the brunt of our burdens, our sorrows, our sin, that He might free us from them.  Of what do we have to be afraid?  Instead, we ought fear Him alone as God, our Creator, our Savior!

Now, we can further understand the other teaching methodology Jesus’ employed that day in the boat, as He does almost every day in our lives as well.  He taught the disciples to have confident faith by sleeping in the storm!

Doesn’t it seem odd that Jesus could sleep in that storm tossed boat?  Was He that exhausted?  Waves were crashing over the side of the boat, for crying out loud!  The boat was going everywhere but upside down!  Who could sleep through that?  Jesus did!  How? Why?

He’s the Teacher, remember!  By His sleep He was teaching.  He was teaching the disciples that they, like Him, had no reason to be afraid.  They had God in their boat!  Was God going to allow the wind and waves which He created and governs destroy Him? Not hardly! 

Even according to His human nature, Jesus could peacefully relax in the midst of the storm through faith in His Heavenly Father’s love for Him.  He approached His cross in that same confidence and peace.  Oh, sure, as man He did not want to face the suffering and death and so He fervently prayed, as you and I would, “Father, let this cup pass from me.”  But also as one who truly feared and trusted God, He remained confident in His Father’s love and powerful hands, to the extent that He prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done!”  He knew God would work it for the eternal good of the whole human race.

Jesus’ deep sleep in the storm tossed boat teaches all His disciples that even when it seems God is silent to our prayers (that He is sleeping), it is enough to know that He is in control of the wind and waves and thus has the power to save us from them.  Whether He chooses to exercise that power is His decision to make. The cross of His own Son teaches us, however, that sometimes in His love for us and His desire always to do what is eternally best for us, He will allow the storms to toss us about, or as in the case of some of our Lutheran forefathers in their trek across the Atlantic to America, even claim our lives in this world.  But for the believer in Christ, even the worst this world can do to us, will not separate us from God’s love for us in Christ (Ro. 8).  The death of our bodies can only bring us into the living and heavenly presence of our God.  And, that’s not so bad is it! 

Jesus teaches us, therefore, that we, too, can sleep through the storms of life.  Our omnipotent Heavenly Father and Creator is with us and has in the death of His only begotten Son and His subsequent resurrection conquered all things already for us.   We can in genuine fear and trust sleep fully assured that our Loving Father will bring us through every storm into the safe harbor of His deliverance!

On this Father’s Day, I have only one thing to say to all you fathers and grandfathers here today.  You can do no better for your children and grandchildren than to teach them this lesson!  In Jesus’ name and to His glory.  Amen.

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