WHEN DOUBT ARISES

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Mark 4: 35-41

BRIEF INTRO: After so long a period of teaching, confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees, and the multitude’s relentless desire to be near Him, Jesus, say’s to the disciples, “Let us go over to the other side,” most likely the east side of the Sea of Galilee. At this time, a “fierce gale of wind arose” (v. 37), which brought with it a challenge to the disciples and an opportunity for Jesus! Jesus, presumably exhausted, falls asleep in the stern (very back) of the boat. 

35 On that day, when evening came, He *said to them, “Let’s go over to the other side.” 36 After dismissing the crowd, they *took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. 37 And a fierce gale of wind *developed, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling with water. 38 And yet Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they *woke Him and *said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

FOCUS ONE: The circumstances

After expressing to the disciples that He desired to cross over the sea, Mark tells us that the disciples began sending away the multitude listening to His teaching, “they took Him along with them, just as He was, in the boat” (v. 36). In other words, there didn’t have to be any lengthy preparation for the trip. Jesus was already sitting in the boat, and that is how it appears He remained as they set out. 

Mark also tells us that “other boats were with Him” (vs. 36). So, some people had their boats here as well, and rather than leave Jesus as the vast majority of people had to do, they wanted to remain with Him and so followed them in their boats.

A severe storm arises, and the waves overtake the boat; it is “filling up” (v 37). This storm was sudden and dangerous. It shouldn’t be hard for us to understand the disciple’s fear and panic amid such circumstances. Most of us have faced less prevailing circumstances and “freaked out” over them! Like us, these men were human and struggled with fear over the uncertain and ever-changing events of their day. Also, we can add another element to their fear of the waves and subsequent doubt with Jesus’ concern for them. That element would be their (lack of understanding) of exactly who Jesus is.

These men had already witnessed many miracles that the Lord had accomplished. They had listened to and had explained to them many of His teachings (vv.10,34). They should have had a strong faith in Him by now. Worrying shouldn’t be a part of their thinking anymore, considering all they heard and saw. BUT they still feared. Why? 

Simply put: “it’s in our blood.” It’s human nature to fear what we can’t control. But thankfully, for those who are “in Christ,” we don’t have to live any longer as slaves of fear. Even though our un-redeemed flesh is corrupted and seeks to hold us in fear, we have an advocate and Helper, The Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Ephesians 1:13).

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

38 And yet Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they *woke Him and *said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

FOCUS TWO: The challenge

They doubt he cares for them as the waves rise higher and the boat rocks steeper. They were in a perilous situation, and the only One that could help them was sleeping! Jesus must have been exhausted if the rocking and reeling of the boat did not awaken Him. The “cushion” that He would have been laying on is said to be a sailor’s leather rowing cushion which would have been used to give some comfort to the sailor as he rowed across the sea. 

It seems to be a bit ironic that they would express belief in Him as the One who could save them, but at the same time doubt His concern for them (v. 38)! I guess we’re all like that at times. But that does pose an interesting question for us to muse over: If Jesus is powerful enough to save us from our worst of fears (condemnation and separation from Him forever), why would we doubt His constant love and concern for us from that day forward?

Thankfully, like then, like now, Jesus is in control, and He demonstrates His power over nature by “rebuking the the wind,” AND IT OBEYS! “The wind died down,” and the sea became perfectly calm! Nature is under His control and is instantly placed in subjection to His will. 

40 And He said to them, “Why are you [a]afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who, then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

FOCUS THREE: The rebuke

Jesus “ordered” or commanded the wind to “hush and be still,” But He rebukes them for little faith, “How is it that you have no faith” (v. 40)? He asks, “why are you so timid?” He first points out their fearfulness during the crisis and then questions their lack of faith in Him. “It still has not dawned on them that God’s authority and power were present in Jesus.”

They are afraid when His sovereignty and deity are exercised over the events of the storm, showing not only his care for them but His power to protect them. “In stilling, the storm Jesus assumed the authority exercised only by God in the Old Testament” (Ps. 89:8-9; 104:5-9; 106; 8-9). The “who is this” statement in verse 41 indicates that they still did not fully understand its significance.”

Application:

We learn various things about Jesus and the disciples by studying these verses. We learn that:

1. Jesus is patient.

2. In His humanness, He suffered from physical exhaustion and needed rest.

3. Even though it appears that Jesus is not concerned for our well-being, He most certainly is!

4. He is God and exercises divine power and authority.

5. He expects His children to trust in Him always!

6. He expects us cast all our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6).

The disciples:

1. The disciples were slow learners

2. Fearful

3. Lacked consistent faith

4. Doubted the care and concern of Jesus for them

Mark leaves us with the pressing question these men were forced to ask: “who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him” (v. 41).

We are more like these men than we care to admit. Let us resolve this day to walk by faith and not by sight, to take God at His word, ALWAYS remembering that He has authority over all things, all circumstances, and is a “friend that sticks closer than a brother!

THE PHARISEES QUESTION WHY

Mark 2; 13-28

BRIEF RECAP: In our previous study, we read about Jesus healing a paralytic man who was brought to Him when He was in His hometown and most likely at Peter’s house. We witnessed great faith by these men and its results: the paralytic not only being healed but his sins being forgiven as well!

In those beginning verses of our chapter, Mark brings to light the very first why question for his readers. One of many that he sheds light upon in this chapter, in his account of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum. In this study, I want to break down the remaining verses of the chapter based on those questions. Let’s get to it! Ready?

14 As He passed by, He saw [b]Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax office, and He *said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

15 And it *happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and [c]sinners were [d]dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the [e]sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating with tax collectors and [f]sinners?” 17 And hearing this, Jesus *said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

FOCUS ONE: Why is he eating with tax collectors and sinners?

Here again, we witness Jesus walking by a man He calls to follow Him. He did this same thing with Simon and Andrew as they were casting nets into the sea (1:16-17) and with James and John mending their fishing nets (1: 19-20). And now, in the same manner, he says to Levi (Matthew ) as He passed by the tax office, “follow me.” 

Luke adds, “he left everything behind, got up and began to follow Him (Luke 5:28). Even though the other accounts mentioned above do not have those words, the implications are there! Following Christ requires commitment, a willingness to forsake all else for Him.

It appears that Levi wanted to throw a “going away” party for his friends that he would be leaving behind. Levi certainly knew that the people despised his profession. He witnessed and practiced all sorts of theft and deception, to say the least, in his work each day exacting taxes and his share for the Romans from his people. Levi wants them to meet Jesus! So, he has a party at his home, and Jesus is the guest of honor!

While Levi (Matthew) obediently follows the Lord and commits all to Him, his co-workers are not so disposed but are curious to see this man who would NOT ONLY have contact with them but would enjoy fellowship with them as well. So much so that Mark records that many were present.

Once again, we find the “scribes of the Pharisees,” questioning what Jesus does or says. They ask why He eats with these people and enjoys such close fellowship with them. According to their philosophy, these people were ignorant of the Law and did not follow the strict pharisaic standards. Sinners (v.16) denotes people who refuse to follow the Mosaic Law as they interpreted it. Jesus’ answer to their question is very profound and instructive. “And hearing this, Jesus *said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'”

  • Healthy people don’t need a physician; sick people do
  • I came to call sinners, not the self-righteous (to eternal life)

“*Jesus’ call is to salvation; and in order to share in it, there must be a recognition of need. A self-righteous man is incapable of recognizing that need, but a sinner can.”

The Pharisees would see no need for themselves to repent (healthy people, at least in their own eyes), but sinners (sick people) can and would be able to acknowledge their guilt and need for forgiveness.

Which type of person are you? 

18 John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they *came and *said to Him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “While the groom is with them, [a]the attendants of the groom cannot fast, can they? As long as they have the groom with them, they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come when the groom is taken away from them, and then they will fast, on that day.

21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise, [b]the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

FOCUS TWO: Why don’t your disciples fast?

Directly on the heels of the last question and Jesus’ response to it, we read of another issue that concerned the Pharisees and John’s disciples. The problems were that of “fasting” and why Christ’s disciples were not practicing the twice-a-week fast that the Pharisees decreed should be adhered to (Luke 18:9-14).

Twice a week fasting is more than required by any biblical standard. 

“*Jesus did fast on at least one occasion (Matthew 4:2)- but privately, in accordance with His own teaching (Matthew 6:16-18). The Law also prescribed a fast on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31), but all other fasts were supposed to be voluntary, for specific reasons… The fact that these Pharisees raised this question shows that they thought of fasting as a public exercise to display ones own spirituality.”

Jesus responds to their question with a question! His question “sets up a comparison and a veiled analogy to Himself.” It would be very inappropriate for the guests at a wedding and the bridegrooms’ attendants to fast (a sign of mourning) while the bridegroom is with them and the event is joyful. This situation will one day change (Acts 1:9-10), and then fasting (mourning) would be a proper response.

This allusion by Jesus of His death is the first hint of the cross in Mark’s gospel.

It is interesting, and I think we need to be made aware that John’s disciples are following the Pharisaic rendering of the Law as well! Not only the Pharisees. These disciples of John would appear to be those that DID NOT transfer their allegiance or faith to Christ (Acts 19:1-9). 

So, what does the “parable” of the cloth’s and wineskins have to do with fasting?

One thing that we should keep in the forefront of our minds as we study the gospels is their “transitional nature.” They are the bridge from the Old Testament (Law) to the New Testament (Grace). From laws being written in stone, to God’s Law being written on our hearts! From the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

Jesus is making a critical point that they need to understand moving forward, and that is: “*Any attempt to bind the newness of the gospel to the old religion of Judaism is as futile as trying to patch an old garment with a new unstrung piece of cloth. Equally disastrous to pour new wine into old wine skins… Salvation, available through Jesus, was not to be mixed with the old Judaistic system.”

23 And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain24 The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And He *said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; 26 how he entered the house of God in the [a]time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the [b]consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath [c]was made [d]for man, and not man [e]for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.

FOCUS THREE: Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?

Yet again, the Pharisees are upset with what Jesus does or doesn’t do, allows, or does not allow. This time their question is regarding the sabbath observance. How much time transpired between Levi’s house and this incident is unknown other than what is stated in our text: it happened on the Sabbath. 

And that is the problem that the Pharisees have with Jesus’ disciples picking the heads of the grain. Not so much that they did it, but they did it on the Sabbath! What the disciples did was not in violation of any known law (Deuteronomy 23:25). “What the Pharisees objected to was doing this (what they regarded as reaping) on the sabbath.” They added many rules to the laws given by Moses and made it so unbearable to comply with the Law faithfully.

So, again, Jesus answers the question with a question that comes from an account in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, where David and his companions were hungry and ate the consecrated bread. “Although the actions of David were contrary to the law, he was NOT condemned for it.” Jesus does not claim that the sabbath law was not broken but that such violations under certain circumstances are warranted. In other words: “Human need is a higher law than religious ritualistic.”

 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath [c]was made [d]for man, and not man [e]for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.

In this statement, “Jesus claimed He was greater than the Sabbath, and thus was God. Based on that authority, Jesus could in fact reject the Pharisaic regulations concerning the Sabbath and restore God’s originalintention for sabbath observance to be a blessing not a burden” (MacArthur Study Bible).

This should challenge us. Has our observance of the means of grace, sacraments of the church, etc., become more of a burden than a blessing to us? We need to examine ourselves and humbly confess such things to our Heavenly Father. What God meant for our good, let us not make it a burden.

*The Expositors Bible Commentary 8, pg. 635

* MacArthur Study Bible notes

*The bible knowledge Commentary, pg. 114

GOD OF OPPOSITES

As I sit in my warm home on this cold, snowy day, I have been reflecting, remembering so many things that I have asked God for in prayer. I dare say that I did not receive many of those things, at least in the manner I expected. By reading my title, you may be thinking that I am a bit sarcastic or negative regarding my expectations of my Heavenly Father; I assure you that I am not being so minded.

I often tell people, well, at least those close to me, that in my experience, God has proven to be a “God of opposites.” When I say that to them, I only mean to express how He answered my prayers, most often opposite of what I thought would be best for me! Have you experienced this at all in your prayer life? 

I pray for one direction, and He leads in another. I ask for healing, and He allows me more time in my immobility. I pray for more godly men to rise in the church and serve Him, and He works in such a way that some leave the church. I ask for this or that, and He sees fit to give me something else or nothing at all.

Years ago, this troubled me. I struggled with praying at times because it seemed futile. I often thought and even joked with others that perhaps I should pray for the opposite of what they ask me to pray for on their behalf. Maybe then they will have a better chance at receiving their petitions!

I have learned over the years that God does answer my prayers in far better ways than I could have dreamed of. He knows my frame, my thoughts, my needs, my heart, and with such divine knowledge, He works all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

He knows when my motives are impure. He knows when what I am asking for is not truly what I need at the time. He knows what purpose He has created me for and is actively working to equip and strengthen me for the road ahead. 

However, there are still times when I pray for things near God’s heart, things He tells us to pray for in His holy Word. Things like unity within the body; souls being saved through the church’s ministry. And yet, these things do not seem to happen, and the months, perhaps years of praying, affect no difference. I may be sounding critical to you again, but honestly, that is not my purpose. I am not alone in this area of prayerfulness. I have talked with and counseled others struggling with the “why” questions. Why does God tell me to pray for this or that but does not seem to answer those prayers? Why wouldn’t He grant these requests? After all, He tells us to pray to Him for them? Why would He allow such adverse outcomes when so many pray for godly ones?

I am older now than I once was and have been graciously redeemed for the vast majority of my adult years, and I still do not have an answer to those questions. I do know that He is sovereign over all things. His character is goodness, faithfulness, wisdom, love, justice, holiness, forgiveness, and much more. And as such, He is unchangeable! That is where I draw my encouragement to keep on praying, asking, and petitioning. I am not God, and the Bible tells us that He is not like us; His thoughts are far above ours. Whatever He is doing OR not doing (from our perspective) ultimately results in “the praise of His glory.” 

He will receive glory in and through all things, and He is worthy of such praise. I have learned in my short life as a Christian what Charles Spurgeon stated so well:

“When we cannot trace God’s hand, we must trust His heart.”

WHEN WE DON’T UNDERSTAND 

Extended reading: John 1-44

Devotional verses: 21, 32 _ “ Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 32 So when Mary came to the place where Jesus was, she saw Him and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Many things in life happen that we don’t understand. The loss of a teenager in a car accident in the prime of their life. The loss of a father or mother with a growing family. A baby in the womb not able to make it full term. We are at a loss for understanding in these times. We grieve, we question, and we ask why?

Such is the situation that Mary and Martha find themselves in at the death of their beloved brother, Lazarus. Jesus was notified about Lazarus (11:3), but he stayed two days longer where he was (v.6). Jesus eventually travels to Bethany with the disciples. Lazarus has been dead now, four days!

Mary and Martha were grieved at Christ’s delay in coming. In these verses, both ladies question His timing. Not in an outright manner, but more subtle: “if you would have only been here, my brother would not have died.” If only, Lord. We feel the weight of their grief and, at times, experience it ourselves.

“We question God’s timing, God’s seeming lack of concern, His seeming refusal to answer. But Jesus is never late. Jesus is never unconcerned. Did you notice how gentle He is with them? How gracious He is in reminding them of His deity, sovereignty, and power! He then calls their brother out from from the grave (vv. 43-44), and just as He said: “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23), He came forth bound hand and foot in grave cloths, to live yet again on this earth for a time! Jesus never refuses to answer.”

Are you struggling with a lack of understanding? “Are you asking the why questions? Remember, Jesus is always exactly on time. We may not understand, but maybe that’s the point.We aren’t supposed to understand. Instead, we must have faith. Whatever happens has a reason that can reveal His glory if we let it” (v.40).

PRAYER: Father, we find it hard to understand your working among us at times. We struggle with so many questions that seem to go unanswered. Please help us to trust you more wholly. Aid us in our desire for your glory to be on display, especially in those times we are the most conflicted in our thoughts and emotions. Amen.

Some parts adapted from the Travelers devotional Bible

HOW MANY?

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Poem by: Connie Faust

How many soldiers did it take to hold our Savior down
as the nails were driven into His trembling flesh?
Did they hold fast His precious head to place the thorny crown,
Viciously assuring it would keep the bleeding fresh?


“How many?” asked the teacher, as she faced her little brood.
Each child tried to answer, as earnestly they stood.
“Four soldiers!” called Meg.
“Ten!” said Jon, mocking her with a shove.
Jimmy rose and cried, “You’re wrong!  He did it out of love!”

From lips of a child the answer, in startling truth, rings still:
Out of love for all mankind, He did His Father’s will.
“You’re wrong!” the answer echoes loud — He willingly obeyed;
If He had fought and struggled, the debt would not be paid.

How many soldiers did it take to hold the Savior still?
He did it all for you on that dark and lonely hill!
He did it out of love for you, to save you from your sin.
He’s offering forgiveness; Will you turn and follow Him?