The word “faith” is often used as a noun to describe a set of beliefs. The word is also a noun that describes the motivation behind ones actions. Does God value one definition of “faith” over another?
The person that gave us chapter divisions in the Bible provided some head scratchers. Mark 4 is one of these. Mark 4:1-34 contains a series of parables, while verse 35 launches a collection of four miracles that end with the ending of chapter 5. While it seems more logical to place the chapter division between verses 34 and 35 of chapter 4, we can also gain some valuable insight from the continuity of the traditional division.
In the parables Jesus lays out his vision for the kingdom of God. He gives the disciples he just called in 3:13-19 a primer on his mission and ministry. He begins with individual receptivity to the Gospel message, and closes describing his vision for the growth of the kingdom.
Then at the close of this section we’re given this summary,
With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
The disciples received the blessing of sitting at Jesus feet during his master class – Interpreting Parables & God’s Vision for His Kingdom 101.
Presumably they were sponges soaking in every word.
Taking detailed notes.
Asking questions of clarification.
They were building a strong faith.
What Jesus said made sense and they accepted it as truth.
They felt justified for leaving their homes, their families, their jobs, and their security to follow this teacher around the countryside.
As the disciples get in the boat with Jesus in v36 they probably felt pretty privileged and possibly even a little smug at all the learning they’d just received. The crowds didn’t understand it all, but Jesus had explained everything to them!
Jesus then takes them on a trip to the wild side. They find themselves sitting in boat, in darkness, in the middle of severe storm. Fearing the boat is about to sink they wake Jesus in a panic. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” While their fear seems very natural, the question seems to irritate Jesus.
After commanding the storm to cease, Jesus confronts the Twelve, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?“
The disciples’ question accused Jesus, the one whose call they had accepted, of not caring about them. It questioned the core of their relationship with him. All those basic questions about Jesus’ identity the purpose of his mission, God’s motivation in sending him… All those notes they’d taken and teachings they’d heard… The faith they’d been so proud of when Jesus handed out the quiz scores from their earlier class… It all went by the wayside as they questioned the heart of Jesus, “Don’t you care…?“
If Jesus’ humanity was anything like mine (and I presume it was) then he was quietly thrilled as he interacted with his disciples in the Master Class of v34. He rejoiced as their understanding and enthusiasm expanded. He celebrated their thirst for knowledge and the questions they asked.
But then, like preachers and teachers today, he wondered if it would really make a difference in their lives. Would these students exhibit lives of faith? Would they integrate the lessons learned into their daily routine? Would the words he spoke return to their thoughts when they encounter challenges? Will God’s truth lead to personal transformation?
I’m hardly breaking new ground by pointing out that faith is a two-sided coin. Scripture often contains the pattern of teaching followed by action. The lesson from Mark 4 demonstrates the importance of implementing head knowledge (faith) into our lives so that we live a life of faith.
I closed my sermon this week with the suggestion that we take some time to consider this question, “After all the Bible classes and sermons you’ve heard, what part of your life requires faith? What part of your life expresses your faith?“