Why Are You Afraid?

February 14, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 4:35-41

Let's Cross To The Opposite Shore

1. "Let's cross to the opposite shore!" Jesus said that. Where is this "opposite shore" that he mentioned? At the beginning of chapter five the text says, "The group arrived in the region of the Gerasenes on the opposite shore of the lake," (5:1). "Let's cross to the opposite shore!" When Jesus said that he was pointing to the land where a number of Gentiles were living. When you look at chapter five, you see that the people of that area raised pigs. Jews don't eat pigs because pigs are considered unclean. In short, as seen from the sensibilities of the Jews in general, "the opposite shore" to which Jesus was pointing was an unclean land in which unclean people lived each day doing unclean things.

2. I wonder why [he felt like] he had to cross over to such a place. To begin with, that evening the signs in the sky looked foreboding. Later the text will say, "Severe blasts of wind arose." Some among the disciples were fisherman. They were professionals on the Sea of Galilee. They surely should have known whether or not it was an evening fit for taking out a boat. It goes without saying that they had best stay put in a safe spot and not set out in some boat heading out to the other side of the lake. Furthermore, on the side they were on Jesus' name was already widely known. When he began to teach on the bank of the lake, a great crowd gathered nearby [to hear him]. In a certain sense, [his] preaching work was going on quite well. It looked like he should keep on doing things the same way without changing anything. Why, at such a time [did he feel like] he must go to the region of the Gerasenes where a people were living who didn't even want to meet him?

3. Any way you look at this, the disciples must have been reluctant about going. But Jesus says, "Let's cross to the opposite shore!" Even though the disciples wanted to stay put, Jesus points to the other shore and says, "Let's cross to the opposite shore!" When I read this text, I get the feeling each time, "Uh oh, I don't feel so sure about what he's saying." Personally I want to stay put. I want to be right here. Things are fine just as they are right now. But Jesus says, "Let's cross to the opposite shore!"

4. Around the time this gospel was written, the church had a lot of Gentile Christians. But it wasn't that way in the beginning. Jesus was a Jew. The twelve disciples were also Jews. Paul was also a Jew. At first there were only Jews in the church. The reason Gentiles will come to join it is that the mission to the Gentiles will have begun after a certain date, which goes without saying. Had it not, then there would not have been any Japanese Christians, or any kind of Gentile Christians. Thus, an evangelistic mission to the Gentiles did begin at a certain time, which was actually [at the time of] Jesus' [having said,] "Let's cross to the opposite shore!"

5. Please consider it with me. Originally the Jews did not take a meal with Gentiles. When the Gentiles joined, the completely hitherto unknown factor of "a meal with Gentiles" had entered [the picture]. And as a matter of course, totally unfamiliar customs and ways of thinking about things had entered [the picture] as well. Their ways of feeling were also different. They are supposed to be with people like that! Over the course of time, even the church's atmosphere was being changed. If the Jews want a church that is comfortable to them, then they should absolutely not evangelize the Gentiles. But Jesus said, "Let's cross to the opposite shore!" And the church obeyed Jesus. As a result, we Gentiles too have been able to come into contact with the gospel.

6. The Lord says to us too, "Let's cross to the opposite shore!" We want to stay put in a safe place all the time. We want to stay put in the places we're familiar with, in the way things are, which we have been familiar with all this time. We don't like stepping forward [into the unknown]. We don't want to set out on the ship. We don't want to have anything to do with the Gerasenes. We don't want to have anything to do with things that are different from the way we know them. But, Jesus is ready to go into the future and to the other [side of] the shore. Not by himself, but with us. And so, he says to us, "Let's cross to the opposite shore!"

You Still Don't Believe?

7. Well, when we step out of our safe zones, as a matter of course, the possibility arises that we will face difficulties. It is precisely because we take out the boat that we run into storms. We don't run into storms when we stay put on shore. The disciples were told, "Let's cross to the opposite shore!," and they took the boat out just as they were told to do. They set out to sea with Jesus. But then what happened? Severe blasts of wind arose. The boat was going against the waves, it says, so much so that it began to sink with water. [Ordained by God], they were engulfed by the storm and were exposed to the crisis of their lives.

8. When I am reading this narrative, I am reminded of one of the characters found in the Old Testament. It is Moses. When eighty years old he heard God calling out to him. He was shepherding sheep in Midian. He was quite content and peaceful just the way things were. He had a comfortable and familiar day to day life there, and he was safe [as long as] he was there. But God made a demand upon him that was unbelievable and preposterous. You might say that God showed Moses "the opposite shore" that he was supposed to cross, which was, that he was to go back to Egypt and take the Israelites out of Egypt.

9. Just as the Lord's disciples had, Moses had more than enough reasons to reject God's demands upon him. So, Moses says, "Who am I? Why do I have to go to the pharaoh? And worse than that, why do I have to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?" However, at the end of the long dispute between Moses and God, he did obey God. He went with Aaron to the pharaoh and made the following announcement. "The God of Israel, the Lord, has thus said, 'Let my people depart and let them hold a feast for me in the wilderness!'," (Exodus 5:1).

10. Moses obeyed God. He began rowing to the place he was supposed to row out to. Well then, what was the result? The Egyptian king was enraged and made the labor of the Israelites much worse. The foremen who shouldered the responsibility for the work of Israel "realized that they were put in a predicament," says the scripture, (Exodus 5:19). It resulted in the opposite effect, in that they were criticized by the Israelites, whom Moses was attempting to help. The foremen say to Moses and Aaron, "May the Lord please appear to you and judge you! Thanks to you both, we are despised by the pharaoh and his ministers. It is like you have handed over into their hands the sword to kill us," (Exodus 5:21).

11. The storm was waiting ahead for them, right where they were rowing out to. At that time Moses appeals to God like this, "My Lord, why are you giving this people catastrophe? Why in the world have you sent me!? Ever since I went to the pharaoh to speak in your name, he has caused this people to suffer more and more. Despite all that, you have not been willing to rescue your people at all," (Exodus 5:22-23).

12. Well, these [are] the words of Moses. Don't they sound similar to the words let out by the disciples in the storm? The disciples, too, cried out to Jesus as he was sleeping as follows. "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"

13. Whether the words of Moses or the cries that the disciples let out to Jesus, they both [sound like] statements with which we are deeply familiar. "Don't you care if we go down?" We too cry out quite often like this. There are times it seems to us, as seen from our own eyes, that Jesus has no concern whatsoever for our situations. There are times, like the Christ in this narrative, that he seems to be all alone asleep. "Don't you care if we drown?"

14. Yet actually, when it has looked like God was "not willing at all to rescue his own people," it was in fact not how it was. That time when Moses was murmuring, that time when it looked like God was not doing anything, God was steadily progressing in his preparations for deliverance. Likewise, when Jesus was sleeping, when it looked like he "didn't care if they drowned," it was hugely paradoxical, exactly the opposite from how it seemed, the figure of Christ, the way he was, was demonstrating to them how the heavenly father was actually alive and at work [among them]. It is precisely because the heavenly father is in control and is at work that Jesus the Son of God could be at ease and asleep. This very figure of his was a sign of the masterful rule of God. He was saying by it, that God is alive and at work with overwhelming power.

15. As seen from a results-oriented perspective, the story turned out to be that of Jesus performing a miracle and saving the disciples. "Jesus got up, rebuked the storm, and said to the sea, 'Be quiet! Be still!' Whereupon, the storm stopped and became completely calm," (verse thirty-nine). However, we must not pay attention to only the results themselves of their being rescued by a miracle from Jesus. If it was the case that that was the most important thing, then Jesus would have said afterwards, "You have been saved from the storm. You are safe now. Don't you worry." But that's not what the Lord says. The Lord said this to the disciples, "Why are you afraid? Do you still not believe?"

16. In his saying "Why are you afraid?" he meant, "You truly had no reason to be afraid!" But it was not because the storm stopped and it became calm that they did not need to be afraid, rather he meant that they did not have any need to be afraid even when the storm winds were still blowing with full force, and even when the water was pouring into the boat and it looked like it was about to sink. -- Because when they took the boat out in obedience to the word of the Lord when he told them, "Let's cross to the opposite shore!," regardless of running into the storm or how much water the waves brought into [the ship], they were with the son of God who could even make the winds and the sea waters obey him. Regardless of the storms blowing down or the waves surging in, they will arrive with the Lord on the opposite shore. God will make it happen. Therefore the Lord said, "Do you still not believe?" The Lord sought for faith from his disciples. He was looking for them to believe not because it became calm, but to believe even before it became calm. [To believe] in Jesus who is with them, and in the heavenly father to whom the Lord was pointing them. What the disciples really needed was not just to have Jesus rescue them out of the storm. That's not what they really needed, rather they needed to become persons who still believe the Lord even though they are in the middle of a storm.