What is Faith?
As Mark recounts the ministry of Jesus, He quickly moves from one story to the next in a rapid-fire sequence of events.
The man we know as John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus. John was sent by God in the spirit of the Old Testament prophet Elijah to tell people that God’s time had come. John announced the arrival of the promised anointed servant of God who was to save God’s people from their sins, oppression and troubles.
Soon after John baptized Jesus, Herod arrested John for saying things that were not politically acceptable. Following these events, Jesus began His public ministry.
Immediately, Jesus was extremely popular. Mark tells us: “One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.” (Mark 3:20-21, NLT)[i]
This kind of busyness characterized the ministry of Jesus. He attracted so much attention that His family thought He had lost His mind. He soon moved from ministering in the house to ministering out in the open, in order to accommodate the large crowds. It was in just such a situation that Mark chapter 3 tells us:
Jesus went out to the lake with his disciples, and a large crowd followed him. They came from all over Galilee, Judea, 8Jerusalem, Idumea, from east of the Jordan River, and even from as far north as Tyre and Sidon. The news about his miracles had spread far and wide, and vast numbers of people came to see him.
9Jesus instructed his disciples to have a boat ready so the crowd would not crush him. 10He had healed many people that day, so all the sick people eagerly pushed forward to touch him. (Mark 3:7-10, NLT)
This method of sitting in a boat to teach was an effective way to speak to the vast numbers of people that came to hear Him. Therefore, in chapter 4 of Mark, we find Jesus again teaching from a boat.
The parables Jesus uses are well known for their simplicity and depth of meaning. Mark 4 verses 33 and 34 tell us:
33Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. 34In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them. (NLT)
Mark 4:35 finds Jesus and His disciples finishing a day of teaching. They are sitting in a boat so that the crowd would not crush Jesus in their desire to get close. There were other boats around them, as those who had boats took advantage of getting as close to Jesus as possible.
Jesus says, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”
“So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed).” (Mark 4:36, NLT)
Jesus uses the convenience of already being in a boat to get away from the crowd and rest. There is a cushion in the boat. The New Living Translation says that He had His head on the cushion. However, the original says that He was on the cushion and He was sleeping. There He is as comfortable as possible in a small boat sound asleep.
While they were crossing the lake and Jesus was sleeping, a great storm came up. Huge waves threatened to swamp the little boat. In fact, water was quickly filling the boat. Soon, they would all find themselves under the waves.
They wake Jesus shouting this question, “Teacher, is it of no concern to you that we perish?” (Mark 4:38)
Let us pause here to ask a question. How many times have we asked God the same question?
Does the sin and evil in the world ever cause you to ask, “God do You not care?”
My son and I have been going through a history of World War II. The number of casualties is so large that it numbs the mind. As the historians talk of millions upon millions dead, I have no comprehension of how this can be. Actual films taken during the war bring some reality as we see piles of mutilated bodies covered with flies lying in fields, ditches and along roads. There are those that seeing such things not only ask, “God do you not care?” but also reject God altogether as either non-existent or uncaring.
When our lives are on the line, this question becomes urgent. It is one thing to see other people perish, but it is another thing when it is my life.
The disciples had seen Jesus heal every kind of sickness and cast out demons. Every day they watched all who came to Him walk away healed. They were His devoted followers and believed that He was the Messiah, the Son of God. They heard His parables and then had them explained to them. They were immersed in His teaching. They of all people had faith.
In the storm, their lives were on the line, testing their faith. In response to their fear and anxiety, Jesus asks them a pointed question, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40, NLT)
What is this faith He is talking about?
“When Jesus woke up, He rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Silence! Be still!’” (Mark 4:39, NLT) In response to this, verse 41 tells us that the disciples were terrified and were asking each other, “Who is this man?”
Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (NLT)
The disciples were overwhelmed, dumbfounded and terrified by the things they were seeing. While faith is the assurance of things we cannot see, what they saw and could not comprehend shows us where the disciples’ faith was still lacking.
It is one thing to confess with the mouth, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!” (Nathanael to Jesus, John 1:49, NLT) It is another thing to see demonstrated the meaning of this before one’s very eyes.
The test of faith comes when our life is on the line.
For example, salvation is about the forgiveness of sins and inheriting eternal life and heaven. Jesus says, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John3:16, NLT) Along with this, the Bible teaches that salvation is for everyone who believes. However, our tendency is to act as if we need to do something to inherit eternal life. We try to clean up our life. We try to be good enough. Our life is on the line and we want to be sure, so we work to earn as much favor with God as we can.
Faith worships, and gives thanks for a salvation freely given and freely received.
Faith can look at the evil that is in our world today, and realize that it is for this very reason that Jesus had to die. Faith is what allows believers to face death at the hands of their persecutors because they know that the One who calmed the wind and the waves holds them in His hands, and nothing can snatch them out of His hands.
Faith is not something we can create in ourselves. The disciples in the boat in the very presence of the Son of God demonstrated the human weakness that always falls short.
However, God gives faith. In the case of the disciples, Jesus was teaching them and building their reliance on Him. In our case, He does the same. He never tests us beyond what we are able to bear, and the Holy Spirit is our teacher. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV) Here it teaches that the faith that saves us is the gift of God. It is not our own doing.
This is important for us as believers because we live by faith. Our relationship with God is one that is by faith from start to finish. Without faith, it is impossible to please God.
Here is the confidence we have before Him: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, ESV)[ii]
This confidence tells us that no matter what storm assails our small boat, we will be okay as long as Jesus is in the boat with us.
Do you have this confidence today? Is Jesus in the boat with you? Have you seen His glory so that your confidence is unshakeable?
[i] Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Copyright 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.