Jesus Frees Us to Live Fearless Lives
“Jesus was…sleeping.” (Mark 4:38).
Now there’s a scene. Jesus was sleeping in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples scream, Jesus dreams. Thunder roars, Jesus snores. He doesn’t doze, catnap, or rest. He slumbers. Who could sleep at a time like this? Could you? Could you snooze during a roller coaster loop-de-loop? In a wind tunnel?
At a kettle drum concert? Jesus slept through all three, at once!
Mark’s gospel adds two curious details. “[Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on a pillow” (Mk. 4:38). In a stern, on a pillow. Why the first? From whence came the second?
First-century fishermen used large, heavy seine nets for their work. They stored the net in a nook that was built into the stern for this purpose. Sleeping upon the stern deck was impractical. It provided no space or protection. The small compartment beneath the stern, however, provided both. It was the most enclosed and only protected part of the boat. So Christ, a bit dozy from the day’s activities, crawled beneath the deck to get some sleep.
He rested his head, not on a fluffy feather pillow, but on a leather sandbag. A ballast bag. Mediterranean fishermen still use them. They weigh about a hundred pounds and are used to ballast, or stabilize, the boat. Did Jesus take the pillow to the stern so he could sleep, or sleep so soundly someone rustled him up the pillow? We don’t know. But this much we do. This is a premeditated slumber. He didn’t accidentally nod off. In full knowledge of the coming storm, Jesus decided it was siesta time, so he crawled into the corner, put his head on the pillow, and drifted into dreamland.
His snooze troubled the disciples. Matthew and Mark record their response as three staccato Greek commands and one question.
The commands: “Lord! Save! Dying!” (Mt. 8:25).
The question: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mk. 4:39).
They do not ask about Jesus’ strength: “Can you still the storm?” His knowledge: “Are you aware of the storm?” Or his know-how: “Do you have any experience with storms?” But rather, they raise doubts about Jesus’ character. “Do you not care…?”
Fear does this. Fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness. We begin to wonder if love lives in heaven. If God can sleep in my storms, if his eyes stay shut when my eyes grow wide, if he permits storms after I get on his boat, does he care? Fear unleashes a swarm of doubts, anger-stirring doubts.
And it turns us into control freaks. “Do something about the storm!” is the implicit demand of the question. “Fix it, or…or…or, else!” Fear, at its center, is a perceived loss of control. When life spins wildly, we grab for a component of life we can manage: our diet, the tidiness of a house, the armrest of a plane, or, in many cases, people. The more insecure we feel, the meaner we become. We growl and bare our fangs. Why? Because we are bad? In part. But also because we feel cornered.
Shouldn’t someone mention Jesus’ track record or review his resume? Do they remember the accomplishments of Christ? They may not. Fear creates a form of spiritual amnesia. It dulls our miracle memory. It makes us forget what Jesus has done and how good God is.
When fear shapes our lives, safety becomes our god. When safety becomes our god, we worship the risk-free life. Can the safety lover do anything great? Can the risk-averse accomplish noble deeds? For God? For others? No. The fear-filled cannot love deeply; love is risky. They cannot give to the poor. Benevolence has no guarantee of return. The fear-filled cannot dream wildly. What if their dreams sputter and fall from the sky? The worship of safety emasculates greatness. No wonder Jesus wages such a war against fear.
Christ’s most common command emerges from the “fear not” genre. The gospels list some 125 Christ-issued imperatives. Of these, twenty-one urge us to “not be afraid” or to “not fear” or to “have courage,” “take heart,” or “be of good cheer.” The second most common command appears on eight occasions. If quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our fears seriously. The one statement he said more than any other was this: Don’t be afraid.
“It’s all right. I am here! Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27 NCV)
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
“Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me…. I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1-3 NLT)
Fearless, Max Lucado, upwords.com.