Mark Part XXI - Stilling the Storms (4:35-5:20)
One of the things we have to understand as we approach the Bible is that it often uses phenomenological language – language that reflects the way the world appears to be to the naked eye. It is not a scientific text, it is a life text, describing the world as your average person looking about him might describe it. We continue to do this ourselves in many respects. We continue, for instance, as does the Bible, to speak of sunrises and sunsets even though we believe, according to current scientific theory, that the sun neither rises nor sets but that rather the earth is moving to give the appearance of this.
So it is with the Scripture’s description of the universe. If we lived, as did our fathers the Jews, on the edge of a sea that stretched on out to an ocean, we might describe the universe as a triple-decker universe. At the bottom of this triple-decker universe is the sea, the ocean – spreading throughout the world and surrounding all the portions of land, large or small, so that the land appears to be islands in the midst of a great sea. In the middle of this triple-decker universe is the land where we dwell. And at the top of this triple-decker universe is the sky or heaven. This is in fact the way that Scripture often speaks of the universe.
Because the Word of God describes the world in this triple-decker fashion, different sections of the world become metaphors for or pictures of other realities. Consider, for instance, the way in which Scripture uses the sky-heavens as a reminder of the Highest Heaven, where God dwells. Likewise, the Sea – which is sometimes called the “deep” or the “abyss” – “points beyond itself to The Abyss, the place where the devil and the wicked will spend eternity."
But the use of this triple-decker universe to describe the people of God and the wicked, the nations who set themselves against God and His people, is the use I want to draw your attention to briefly this morning. Throughout the psalms and the prophets, the Gentile nations are often portrayed as the raging seas, beating against the land of God and the people of God, while God Himself watches from the heavens.
Note well, then, that one of the vivid associations that the readers of the Old Testament had with the Seas was the ungodly nations of the world, the Gentiles. The Gentiles are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest. They have no order, they lack the law of God, they are bereft of His Wisdom and His grace; they are constantly dashing themselves against the shore, raging against the righteous.
It is the knowledge of this association of the tumultuous seas with the Gentiles that enables us to understand what is happening in the Gospel of Mark today. We have to remember who Jesus is and what God is doing through Him. Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Servant of God, who according to Isaiah was to be the light of God not only to the Jews but to the Gentiles as well – it is too small a thing that you should be my Servant to restore the fortunes of Jacob; I will give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles – to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house. God was sending Jesus to be that which Israel and the Temple system was supposed to be – a light to the world, a house of prayer for all nations – but had failed to be. In our text today, Jesus sets out into Gentile territory to begin this conquest. And as he does so, God gives the disciples a vivid image so that they can understand the true power of His Anointed. This one shall indeed bring the nations under Him.
Stuart Bryan is the pastor of Trinity Church. He and his wife, Paige, have seven children, four homegrown, two adopted from the lovely land of Guatemala, and one adopted from Ukraine. Stuart earned his B.A. in Religion from Whitworth College and his M.A. in Theological and Historical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.