Pastoral ministry is filled with pitfalls and dangers. One of the most subtle and yet destructive dangers is fear. This takes all shapes and forms: the fear of failure, fear of man, fear of taking risks…etc. The truth is that the more clearly you preach the gospel and the more aggressively you press for the kingdom’s advance, the more opportunities for fear will arise. So, what are we to do with our fears? Mark’s Gospel gives us the answer.
From the end of Mark 4 through Mark 5, Jesus takes us on a collision course with our fears. It all begins when Jesus asks the disciples to take him across the Sea of Galilee at night (Mk. 4:35). We read his request and it doesn’t strike us as it would have in the first century when the untamable nature of the sea was viewed as the embodiment of chaos and judgment. The sea is unpredictable and uncontrollable. It is dangerous. Especially at night. At some point during their voyage across the sea, Jesus and the disciples are hit with a horrific storm. The exact kind of unpredictable force that seasoned fisherman, like the disciples, would have feared. The disciples become panicked. It seems as if the storm is spiraling out of control, but it isn't. The storm was never truly out of control; the disciples were simply aware of the fact that they were not in control without at the same time resting in the fact that Jesus is only-ever-always in control. Pastor, facing your fears is grace for you. It is a reminder that you are small and Jesus is big. You have no control and Jesus has total control. In your fear, there is relief to be found in admitting your lack of control while at the same time resting in Christ’s sovereign control.
Convinced they were dead men, the disciples beg Jesus to do something (Mk. 4:38). Jesus wakes up from an evidently deep sleep (the boat is breaking apart and he’s still asleep – Jesus is a heavy sleeper), Jesus then walks out onto the deck of the ship and tells the sea and the wind to stop; they do. The response from the disciples is shocking: they go from being afraid of the storm to being terrified of Jesus (Mk. 4:41). Their entire hierarchy of fears has just been rearranged. Now they see Jesus for what he is: terror on two feet. The most powerful force in the universe is a carpenter from Nazareth. When we see Jesus clearly, we recognize him for what he is, terror on two feet, and rightly acknowledge that Jesus is our greatest fear. Nevertheless, for the believer, we know that Jesus is terror on two feet, but we also know him as grace with a face.
As Mark’s narrative continues, after a long night on the sea, the disciples reach the shore and are immediately greeted by a living, breathing, horror movie (Mk. 5:2). A demoniac has been terrorizing the countryside. Living in the tombs, he has exhibited supernatural strength as he runs around screaming, naked, and regularly covered in blood (Mk. 5:3-5). Everyone fears this man and understandably so. The villagers are afraid. The disciples are afraid. Jesus is not afraid. In fact, when the demoniac sees Jesus he runs over to him and collapses on the ground begging Jesus not to hurt him (Mk. 5:7). The man that everyone fears is afraid of Jesus.
Pastor, the things we all fear most (chaos, works of the enemy, even death itself), all fear Jesus. Recently, I told our congregation that it may sound cheesy but it is, in fact, true: If you personified all the things you lay awake at night afraid of, know that they all lay awake afraid of Jesus.
As the story continues, Jesus frees the demoniac from the control of a legion of demons (and in the process, there is an incredible amount of bacon wasted) and the villagers in turn go from fearing this monster of a man to being afraid of the Son of Man (Mk. 5:9-17). When you see Jesus correctly, the right response is fear. Anyone who can command storms and back down an army of demons is surely far more horrifying than anything else you and I could possibly fear. Still, this same Jesus is the very one who willingly lays down his life for his friends.
Here is what this brief account shows us about our fears:
First, Jesus ought to be your greatest fear. The scariest thing to ever enter this universe is the Son of God.
Second, recognize that whatever you are afraid of is ultimately afraid of Jesus.
Third, rest in the fact that, because of grace, the one who holds your soul is the being that all your fears, fear.
The cure to your fear problem isn’t by envisioning yourself as bigger, stronger, and more in control than you really are. Instead, confidence comes from the recognition that you are small and Jesus is big (Prov. 14:26). That you are weak and Jesus is strong. That all your greatest fears, all fear Jesus.