The past two Sundays I preached at two different congregations. Each one is facing their own challenges. They are both stepping into an unknown future. One is uncertain but hopeful. The other has walked a long road. Their eyes show the weariness they are afraid to speak. Before picking passages for either one, I asked the Lord what he would have me teach them; Romans 8 and Mark 4:35-5:20. On their face, these are two completely different texts. Except that they both speak to the same people: weary travelers feeling lost on the road, abandoned by God.
Faith looks a lot like foolishness and feels like fear. It’s why Jesus constantly asked the disciples, “why are you so afraid? Have you no faith?” Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. We resist living our lives in real faith because we are terrified of fear. We equate God’s goodness with safety. But, in the immortal words of Mr. Beaver from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, “He’s not safe, but he is good.” We resist the real Jesus because he puts us in circumstances that constantly strip away all pretense and requires us to forsake comfort. The real Jesus is terrifying to us because he doesn’t value safety like we do. And we struggle to comprehend goodness without safety.
After an easy day of teaching, Jesus gets the disciples in the boat and heads out on the Sea of Galilee. A storm large enough to reduce professional fisherman to tears rises up while Jesus sleeps. He is sleeping because, though he is fully God, he also took on full humanity. Every preacher can attest to the unique sort of exhaustion that comes over you after a full day of teaching - even extrovert pastors look forward to their Sunday afternoon nap!
He is also napping as a living exposition. In those days the image of a God in full control of every situation; who was undaunted by the challenges he is faced or the opposition against him; who was at complete peace and ease; was a God asleep. The Twelve interpret his sleep as apathy - “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). They didn’t get the picture.
A groggy Jesus mumbles a command and the storm is reminded of its place. For these men - and all the Jewish people - the sea represents the forces of evil and chaos. It’s constant motion; our inability to control it; it’s unpredictability; the fact that foreign enemies can appear on the horizon without any warning; the sea represents all the characteristics of the nature of evil. This is why John, in Revelation 13, tells of a beast rising up out of the sea. This otherworldly creature embodies all that threatens God’s people. If the Joker was a place on a map, he would be the sea.
Like a well-trained guard dog, the sea is menacing to those he doesn’t know but whimpering and obedient at his master’s voice.
The life of faith requires us to follow Jesus into the places we are sure will mean our certain doom. And those are the precise places that Jesus is seen in fresh, new, powerful ways. His full power is only shown to those who are willing to walk with him. The trailhead of that desert road is foreboding. Only a fool would willingly walk that way. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” Paul tells us, “but to those who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). There is nothing wise - from a human perspective - about following Jesus. There is nothing safe; there are no guardrails on the desert road to the eternal city. But we do follow one at whose word the Beast from the Sea bends the knee; and who makes the powers of darkness cower, begging for mercy.
There is nothing safe about following Jesus. But we have made safety the chief virtue of our churches. Safe requires no faith. Safe demands no prayer. Safe asks nothing of us but to resist the call of the real Jesus. “Safe” is the name of our modern day golden calf. Safe gives us the things we want most: money and comfort.
But safe is also boring. Because it demands nothing of us, we have nothing greater to be a part of. In the words of Simon Sinek - a globally influential business consultant - “profit is not a purpose”. Our souls beg for more than money, comfort, and respectability.
Why else would every TV network on the planet have travel shows (even the Food Network)?
Why else would a generation of young people become infamous for their fear of missing out, hence their constant moving and traveling?
Why else would the 21st century see an exponential rise in businesses whose entire model is based on addressing every conceivable need in the third world?
Why else do husbands and wives of 20, 30, 40 years break apart because of adultery?
Why else do young people climb to the highest points in their cities without harnesses or safety nets of any kind?
Because, one way or another, we will find adventure, even if it destroys everything precious to us.
The safe road is the road that leads to death.
The desert road leads to life.
Reject the false god of safety.
The real Jesus waits at the desert road.