Christ and Trials in the Christian Life
"Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” These words of the disciples in Mark 4:35 are hauntingly familiar. I think of Job and his questions in response to a life filled with so much pain and trial. I think of David in the Psalms and his being surrounded by enemies and crying out, “How long O Lord.” But mostly, I think about the question that is often upon our lips when bad things happen, "Does God really care?" When we are in the midst of trials this tends to be an all-too-human response. In Mark 4 we find the disciples asking the same question in the midst of their personal trial, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” This passage gives a clear answer to that question—an answer that provides much comfort for the trial-tested Christian.
The Context Of The Trial
Jesus had been preaching parables to the crowds throughout the day. The evening had come and so Jesus said to the disciples, “Let's go across to the other side” of the Sea of Galilee. This crossing of the sea would have been a very ordinary journey for many of the disciples. Remember, at least four of them were fishermen who labored upon this sea every day. But the Sea of Galilee was known for sudden and violent storms. And this night there arose one of those violent storms. It was so terrific that these seasoned sailors were afraid for their very lives. And gripped by fear, an accusatory question was upon their lips.
Spiritual Weakness In The Trial
The disciples had allowed their circumstances to dictate their response. If we are honest, we too somtimes find ourselves in a similar place when faced with dire circumstances. Their afternoon had been filled with sitting upon the grass, enjoying the warm rays of the sun, and listening to Jesus preach. Their faith in Him was solid as they stood on solid ground. But now, their circumstances have changed. They are on the sea and their blissful restful afternoon has disappeared. Solid ground has become tenuous waves. The sun's warm rays have been exchanged for wind and stinging rain. Their lives were in jeopardy; and worse than the boat sinking--their faith was sinking. Circumstances are controlling them. Like many of us, their faith was fleeting when trials came. How often we allow ourselves to think that the Lord has abandoned us or is blind to what is happening, because of mere circumstances. And then that nagging thought arises, "Maybe He just doesn't care."
The Purpose Of God In The Trial
How do we understand what's happening to the disciples? First, notice that Christ led them into this trial. Don't you think He knew that this storm would arise? Before He stepped into that boat on the Sea of Galilee--and before He laid His head on that pillow--didn't He know that the storm would come? Of course He knew; nevertheless, He told the disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” He could have chosen to wait a few hours for the storm to pass. He could have refrained from falling asleep. At the very least, He could have warned them that a storm was coming; He could have reassured them that they would be fine before he laid down to take a nap! But He didn’t do any of those things. Jesus simply told them to cross the sea.
Doesn't He care? One of the most important things for us to learn is that Christ often leads us into these trials and storms, precisely because He does care. Jesus is not primarily concerned with our comfort or tranquility in this life--that is too superficial and too small. He gives comfort and tranquility, but He is even more concerned with our eternal comfort and tranquility. He is concerned with our holiness, our faith and life in Him. And if He must take His people through deep waters to mature them in holiness and faith, He does so without any regret—because it is an act of monumental love. In one small crossing of the Sea of Galilee, their faith and their hearts are laid bare. These disciples were shown in a moment that they are weak, frail, and utterly dependent upon Christ. And they were going to need to know this in the months and year ahead as each of these disciples would face circumstances much worse than a sinking boat. Each will die a martyr's death (John being the only exception). Jesus showed love to these disciples by leading them into the storm.
An Answer In The Trial
However, this isn't the greatest answer to their question. That comes in the picture that Mark paints in this passage. It is fascinating to observe that Jesus does not answer their accusatory question verbally, but He does answer it clearly. In this boat, we find Jesus asleep. He is tired and weary from a long day of preaching. His humanity is on full display as He lays down for a nap; however, at the same time, He holds all things together (Colossians 1:17) and shows forth His Deity. He awakens in a moment and does what only God can do—He commands the winds and sea to stop raging (Psalm 107). As the seasoned sailors in the book of Jonah are moved from fear of the sea to the fear of God, so these disciples, also seasoned sailors, move from fear of the sea to fear of Christ (v.41). Mark is declaring in large letters, "Here is the God-Man." He is emphasizing this reality with the hanging question at the end, "Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?" (v.41). We are reminded of the disciples' question, "Do You not care that we are perishing?"--and Mark is declaring in bold narrative form, "He cares more than we could ever fully know. He is the God-Man. He cares so much that He, the Son of God, became man for us." Though they wondered whether He cared that they were perishing, the truth is that He cared to such a degree that the He, the God-Man, would perish for them. Christ need not answer with words, because He would answer with His life. As Sinclair Ferguson so helpfully put it, “The question they have asked Him is, 'Don't you care?' I think that is the harshest question in the whole of the New Testament to Jesus, who is in this world and on this boat and is destined to be on that cross for one reason, and one reason only--because He cares.”1
Like the disciples, at times we too allow our circumstances to shake our faith. When that begins to happen we must not doubt whether God cares for us. We may not always know the particular reason(s) for this or that trial in our life, but behind it all we can trust that there is a sovereign God who truly cares for us. We have an eternal answer to our unbelieving and accusatory questions--that is, God became man for us. The incarnation speaks of God’s everlasting care for His people. When we turn to the purpose of the incarnation we finally realize that He was born to die--and to die for us who were truly perishing in our sin. No matter what our trial may be, let us always remember that the Scriptures boldly declares that our God cares enough to become man and die for us to bring us through the storms of life and to His eternal peace and glory.
1. An excerpt from Sinclair Ferguson's sermon on Mark 4:35-42, "When What You've Always Dreaded Actually Happens."
Dan McCartney Why Does It Have to Hurt?: The Meaning of Christian Suffering (P&R Publishing, 1998)
RC Sproul Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009)
Jerry Bridges Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts (NavPress, 2008)
John Piper Don't Waste Your Cancer (Crossway, 2011)
Nancy Guthrie Holding Onto Hope: A Pathway to Suffering Through the Heart of God (Tyndale House, 2006)
Adolphe Monod Living in the Hope of Glory (P & R, 2002)
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