A few days ago, I was driving to meet a recently graduated student for a lunch appointment. It was a bright sunny day in downtown Joplin, but that quickly changed.
In a matter of a very few minutes, a furious squall swept into the downtown area. The wind blew very hard, to the point where it rocked my little Nissan. I was fairly confident that we were not in a tornadic situation, so I waited it out. Within 15 minutes, I dashed for the restaurant where we were meeting and was well-soaked as a reward for my efforts.
It came from nowhere.
Maybe somewhat like the storm that overtook the little boat where Jesus lay sleeping.
Yes, sleeping. It is a puzzling activity.
When Carol and I were first married, I discovered that her sleep patterns were different than mine. I sometimes found myself saying, a little bit like the disciples, “how canst thou lie asleep?”
I quickly came to realize that was not a helpful comment. In fact, it was somnolently insensitive (to say nothing of it being a dumb thing to say to your wife.)
As I look at Jesus sleeping, two ironies seem readily apparent: 1) Jesus is asleep and 2) Jesus is asleep in the midst of a storm.
The first one comes from my own tendency to believe that sleep is a poor use of time. The second irony is that Jesus appears to be unavailable when he is desperately needed.
Both understandings are false. Hence the irony.
This story works strongly against one of our highest cultural values – the efficient use of time. Time management is a good thing, one that we must steward well, yet like every other good value, when driven beyond its intended limits, things get out of balance. When good things get way out of balance the results can be cancerous.
Some say, “yes this is a problem in the west!” That is true, but I have seen it in many other cultures as well, particularly in eastern Asia where exhausted businessmen fall asleep on the trains that rocket them to their next destination.
It is a cultural issue, but it is not a mono-cultural issue. It is a human issue. And it misses the whole point of sleep itself.
And so I look at Jesus lying asleep.
Our North African friend, Augustine, said it like this: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”
Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)
“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’
They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”
Many Biblical scholars believe that Peter provided Mark with much of his eye-witness accounting of the life of our Lord, with the oversight of the Holy Spirit of course. If this was the case, then I cannot help but wonder how that interview went? Peter knew that lake. Peter knew fishing. And Peter was terrified. So, what do Peter and the rest of them do? They look at Jesus – and wake him up – and say something along the lines of “Lord, what’s the matter with you! Don’t you even care that we are all going to die?” Jesus rouses from His slumber – stands up – looks around – and “rebukes” the wind and the waves. Did he then turn slowly to the disciples? I am sure that their eyes were bulging at this point. He answers them something like, “What do you mean, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Are you suffering from that amnesia thing again?”
One reason that this whole scene is vivid to me is because it is a childhood memory! No, I don’t mean that I am really that old – I mean my childhood at Carterville Christian Church. It is much different now, but then it was a little white church in a very small town. My dad was the preacher then (besides teaching at the Bible College) and often on Sunday nights we would sing quite a lot of hymns – and sing all of the verses.
This scene of Jesus asleep in the storm is embedded in my mind due in large part to a song we would sing. It was a Sunday Night favorite! “Master, the Tempest is Raging! That song was two pages long! And we definitely sang all the verses, but more than that, the song moves, and it does so with dramatic style and panache. Master, the tempest is raging! The billows are tossing high!
The sky is overshadowed with blackness,
No shelter or help is nigh:
“Carest Thou not that we perish?”
How canst Thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threat
A grave in the angry deep? [that is trauma!]
The winds and the waves shall obey Thy will.
Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
[And here is where it really gets going!] Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea, Or demons, or men, or whatever it be,
No water can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean and earth and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will! Peace! Peace! be still!
I loved that! At the time, I did not fully understand why, but it moved me!
As a little 8 year-old boy with plastic glasses sitting on a hard pew in the old Carterville Christian Church, man I could visualize it all! I could for sure hear it all!
Some of the older sisters (who were probably younger than me now!) were warbling the soprano part. The basses were booming. Donna Rand the organist was working with both hands and feet!
The tenors were straining and everyone was singing at full voice!
It moved us all. I could see it on their faces. I could hear it in their voices.
Jesus said, and He still says, “Peace, be still.”
The closer I get to Jesus – the closer I get to a deep – deep peace. And here Jesus is doing what He told His disciples to do.
He put it this way, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid!” (John 14:27, NIV)
Peace be still!