What is the worst storm you have ever experienced? Perhaps you have lived through and seen the devastation of a major hurricane or tornado. To be in a storm of any real consequence is terribly frightening. Hearing the winds tearing at the shelter you are in and the rain as it is driven with terrible force against the windows is bound to be terrifying. Unfortunately for our world, major storms are an all too frequent event, seemingly occurring more and more often.
The most recent was Hurricane Sandy which wrought devastation in the Caribbean before hitting the Mid-Atlantic coast leaving behind numerous deaths and a trail of property damage amounting to an estimated $20,000,000. The power of the storm left floods, fires and a record snowfall in parts of the eastern US as well as millions of homes and businesses without electricity.
Going through a major storm is something to cause the hearts of all but the most foolhardy to fear. To know that one’s death from the uncontrollable power of nature could come at any moment is enough to inspire fear. This must have been something of what the disciples of Jesus felt when they were caught in a small boat on the Sea of Galilee in the story that is told in Mark 4:35-41.
Jesus had suggested that they get in their boat and cross over to the other side of the sea. He had gone to the stern and fallen asleep when a “great windstorm” arose and began kicking up waves, threatening to swamp the boat. The disciples woke him, asking, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). At least some of these men were seasoned fishermen who, no doubt, had seen their share of storms on the sea. This must have been an extraordinary storm to have made them as afraid as they obviously were.
At this point Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” He, the one who holds all creation together, (Colossians 1:17 ESV), was the one who had been asleep in the boat. He has complete power over the forces of nature. At his word, the wind became calm and the water smooth – and the disciples became fearful! This time their fear was not of the storm; it was fear of Jesus that now held them in its grip.
Who was this who could calm a raging storm? He was no ordinary man! No one they had ever known could do what they had just seen him do. They had seen him heal numerous people including Peter’s mother-in-law. They had seen him cast out demons, heal a leper and a paralyzed man. They had heard him teach crowds of people, using parables to convey to them the precious truths of the kingdom of God. But nothing had brought the level of awe to their hearts as this incident of calming the stormy sea. They knew they were in the presence of one who was greater than they. They knew that only God could do the things they had seen him do.
Jesus’ disciples were gradually learning to look at him in a way that would lead them to the conclusion that he was worthy of their praise and devotion. That is what fear does. Not terror as of the storm. Only the pagans attribute divine power to nature and offer gifts to whatever aspect of nature they worship. Jesus has power over nature and is due the reverential fear that brings human beings to bow down before him in worship. This fear causes man to tremble because of the greatness of the one whom they fear, but it also draws one to him in worshipful admiration instead of cowering or fleeing.
This reverential fear is the essence of worship. Fear recognizes God as God. We don’t approach God in the same way we would a man. We are not his equals. We are infinitely inferior and unsuited because of sin to approach him in his purity and holiness. He stands in awesome separateness. It is only by his grace that we are enabled by his forgiveness to approach him with the gift of worship – a worship that comes from an understanding of our dependence on him and thankfulness for what he has done for us.
God’s people are not to fear man – even those who threaten to do us harm. What can man do to us? He may be able to kill the body, but he cannot touch the soul.
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).
Man cannot separate us from the love of God. He cannot sever our relationship with him. God said to his servant, Israel, when they were being threatened by a powerful foreign nation…
“…fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10).
We are to fear God because the fear of God is a good thing.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10).
Ultimately, fearing God to the point one will do whatever he commands is all that really matters in life. That is the answer to the age-old question of “What is my purpose on this earth?” That is what Solomon said…
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).