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Our great guarantee

We must be careful not to offer guarantees that the text does not yield. 

Photo: [link]Kelly Sikkema,[/link], Unsplash CC0.

We have to be careful when we make guarantees from the Bible.  Sometimes it is better to speak of general principles because people may experience exceptions to an apparent scriptural guarantee that has been misunderstood. 

For example, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). That is wise advice, but it is not a guarantee. 

However, there is a guarantee at the end of Mark 4. Jesus was coaching his disciples. His process of discipleship involved both taught content and practical experience. 

When I was a child, my dad explained how to ride a bicycle without training wheels (keep looking ahead and pedalling, etc.).  But then he also ran behind me, holding me steady as I pedalled. 

Then when I spoke to him and got no reply, I realized he had let go, and I started to panic but remembered his words and kept looking forward and pedalling. They did not ride bicycles, but Jesus was a master teacher.

One evening, Jesus invited his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee in a boat.  They set out.  Others did too.  It must have seemed like a good evening for sailing.  But then, a violent windstorm arose, and the boat began filling with water. 

It was a desperate situation.  So the disciples woke Jesus, who was sleeping in the stern.  They rebuked him for not caring about their impending doom.  And then Jesus turned a storm into a famous story.

He rebuked the wind and the waves precisely as he had previously rebuked demons speaking out of turn.  (Some think the storm was a demonic attack on the boat.)  Immediately, calm was restored. 

Then Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith, and they feared even more. (Mark 4:35-41)

We must be careful not to offer guarantees that the text does not yield.  For instance, the common idea is that if Jesus is in the boat of your life, you can smile at the storm.  Why?  Because whatever storm you are facing, Jesus’ presence guarantees a good outcome. 

In an ultimate sense, this may be true.  But we must be careful with this line of thought.  Doctors do diagnose fatal diseases that end the lives of Christians.  Wars do take a terrifying toll on entire populations, including faithful followers of Jesus.

Actual storms hit land and devastate the homes of believers and unbelievers.  We must not give believers a false guarantee of safety because life has a habit of showing up our errors.

Recently, I preached this passage in a young church reaching out to marginalized people in an Albanian town. 

With poverty, corruption, child kidnappings, and many more troubles swirling around, they would love to know that Jesus’ presence guarantees safe passage through life. 

In an ultimate sense, of course, it does.  But they needed to know there are no temporal guarantees of happy outcomes. However, they also needed to see the guarantee in the passage.

Remember that Jesus gave both taught content and practical experience.  The experience of the stilling of the storm occurred “on that day” (see Mark 4:35).  Which day?  The day when Jesus was teaching Mark 4:1-34.  There was classroom content before the school trip!

What had Jesus been teaching that day?  He had taught about the nature of the kingdom of God.  He used farming illustrations to make the point that the kingdom starts small and grows. 

For instance, it is just like a farmer who scatters seed and has confidence that it will grow (Mark 4:26-29). Or like a mustard seed that starts so tiny but grows into a great plant, like the tree representing a great kingdom in Daniel 4 (Mark 4:30-32). 

Jesus taught using many of these parables and explained everything to his disciples in private.  It was on that day that they then got into a boat to cross to the other side.

What was it the disciples had been learning?  The kingdom of God will start very small, but its growth is guaranteed.  Where was the kingdom of God at that point in time?  It was asleep in the boat, with the disciples all present. 

Then the storm came.  Why should the disciples have had more faith than they showed in their panic? 

Not because they were somehow supposed to stop the storm themselves.  Nor because it was no big deal (the experienced fishermen were in a panic too!). 

They needed to learn the lesson that Jesus was teaching them. God’s plan for the kingdom in this world is a plan of growth, and it is a plan that the enemy cannot thwart.  Even if the pit of hell throws everything against it, it will keep growing.

The enemy has done everything for two thousand years to stop the spread of the Gospel and the church’s growth.  

People have burned Bibles, imprisoned pastors, banned religion, martyred believers, and tried to corrupt the Christian message.  And yet, the Gospel keeps on marching forwards. 

Whether we are marginalized young believers in Albania or faithful followers of Jesus elsewhere, we need to know the guarantee of this passage. 

The advance of major religions across the globe at the point of a sword, the secularization of society under the sharp edges of sophisticated educators, the totalitarian persecution of faith under communism – all of these threats never have, and never will, thwart the spread of the Gospel.  Mark 4 guarantees it.

I may go the way of every other Christian for two thousand years – dying by disease, accident, or foul play.  I must entrust my life and eternity to God’s care and trust him with whatever he allows. 

But I can be confident that the enemy will never stop the advance of the kingdom of God in this world.  No matter what happens, Jesus will build his church, and the gates of hell will not be able to stop it. 

It was true in that vulnerable little boat and is still true today.

Jesus will build his church, a fact guaranteed in Mark 4:35-41.  In light of that guarantee, perhaps we can all be more “steadfast, immovable, always abounding the work of the Lord, knowing [it is guaranteed!] that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.”

Peter Mead is mentor at Cor Deo and author of several books. He blogs at Biblical Preaching



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