The Point of the Power
The Point of the Power
I want to talk about the whole point of power here in Mark 4. What does Jesus’ power over the world, which comes from the fact that he created the world, accomplish? By extension, how should we use our own power?
We might not be God in the flesh, but each of us has power. We have gifts, skills, and resources at our command. You might not be able to control the ocean, but maybe you’re handy around the house. Maybe you have a naturally caring heart. Perhaps God has given you financial resources or deep and life-giving friendships. No matter what sort of gifts we have, we all have some sort of power. Jesus might have capital-P power, but we all have some little-P power. And if we’re going to be faithful disciples, we need to know how to use and steward our power faithfully.
Thankfully, Mark gives us two hints about how God wants us to use our power by showing us how Jesus uses his. We should use our power for the deepest benefit of the outsider. And even when our power doesn’t seem to be working, God can still be working through his power.
What’s the Point?
Jesus has just done this amazing miracle and proven that he holds the authority that only God holds. We’ve answered the question of what, but we haven’t yet answered the question of why. Why is Jesus taking his disciples on this crazy trip through the storm? What’s his thought process for making his followers spend a night completely unprotected and at the utter mercy of the elements on one of the most dangerous and least predictable bodies of water in the known world?
Maybe he’s thinking, Huh, if there just so happens to be a storm, I can calm it, and that’ll give me a sick chance to make a divinity claim that they’ll write about later. Or maybe he’s thinking, If there just so happens to be a storm, I can calm it, and show them how much I love them and care for them. Or maybe he’s thinking, If there just so happens to be a storm, it’ll be like a test for my disciples to see what they really think of me.
Jesus is doing those things. He’s making a claim to be God, and he’s showing the disciples that he loves them and cares for them. And we’re going to talk later about how Jesus is testing the disciples.
But there’s more going on here than just the storm. We don’t only need to know why Jesus calms the storm, we need to know why he was on the sea in the first place.
When I was in college, I had a scholarship through our local Elks club, and they invited me every summer to join them in one of their biggest service projects of the year. We would all meet at the clubhouse for breakfast, and then carpool together to the event. I get to the clubhouse in my car, but there’s a problem, there was not a single parking space anywhere. It felt like every street within a quarter mile of the lodge was lined end-to-end with other people’s cars. There was no way I was going to fit.
By this point, of course, I’m absolutely panicking. I had already missed out on breakfast because I drove at first to the to the wrong Elks clubhouse. I was sure that everyone was just waiting for me, this upstart college kid who’s getting a scholarship but still can’t show up an hour late! I’m freaking out here. And then, on my second lap of the block, I see it: the perfect parking space, right in front of the clubhouse! Thank you, Jesus! So I parallel parked, hopped out and ran off as fast as I could.
I came back a few hours later, after the event, tired but content and ready to go home and rest. But as soon as I snap my seatbelt, I see it: a bright orange seventy-five dollar parking ticket flapping happily in the wind under my wiper. I had parked in front of a fire hydrant. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. Why did I park in front of a fire hydrant? Well, I certainly didn’t do it for the fun of it, or just to make sure the parking officer was on duty that day. I didn’t park in front of the fire hydrant because I thought the city needed more money from me. I parked in front of a fire hydrant because I was late and stressed out and needed to meet up with the Elks club for a service project. There was a reason I was on the road. I was going somewhere.
And it’s the same way with Jesus here. He doesn’t have the disciples out on the sea for the fun of it. There’s a reason they’re on the road. They’re actually going somewhere. And we know exactly where they’re going. They’re going across the sea into Gentile territory.
That should make us start to ask some questions. What’s Jesus doing going to the Gentiles? After all, he’s the Jewish Messiah. In the very beginning of the Gospel, Mark identifies Jesus by quoting Isaiah, not any of the pagan prophets. When Jesus teaches in the synagogues, he uses the Jewish scriptures, not the Gentile ones. He tells people to obey the Old Testament Law and even claims to have authority over it – and that’s only in the first two chapters of Mark! Jesus is through and through the Jewish Messiah.
Jesus Is Embarking on Gentile Mission
What’s he doing going to the Gentiles? After all, ancient Jews had a passionate dislike for the Gentiles. The Gentiles were outsiders. They weren’t the people of God like the Jews were. If you’re the insiders already, why waste time with the outsiders? Ancient Jews turned their special status before God as a chosen people into a middle school popularity contest. If you weren’t an insider, they wanted nothing to do with you.
But Jesus is operating under an entirely new paradigm here. To Jesus, being chosen by God doesn’t mean that you group up with all the other chosen people and talk about how cool it is to be chosen. To Jesus, being chosen by God means that you get up and go to the outsider and bring them in. Jesus isn’t about middle school popularity contests where we all try to see who can be the most beloved by the most important people. Jesus is about mission. Going and sitting with the people who aren’t beloved by important people and bringing them in to our lives.
Jesus is a missionary. He’s not only there to save the disciples from the storm. What’s the worst that the storm could do? Drown them, right? That’s not so bad. Jesus says in Matthew “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” No, Jesus is here to save the disciples from something far worse than the storm, from the wrath of God because of their sin. And that saving action doesn’t stop with the disciples, and it doesn’t stop with the insider Jews – Jesus is taking it to the Gentiles. To the outsiders.
And if we flip to the very next chapter, the very next thing that happens, Jesus is going to meet one: the Gerasene demoniac.
Now, it’s one thing for Jesus to go to a country full of Gentiles and outsiders. But Jesus raises the stakes even further because the person he sees there is the most unclean outsider you can imagine, and he’s in a graveyard, which is the most unclean and outsider-y place that exists. But Jesus doesn’t care that this man is an outsider of outsiders. He heals him, and purifies him, and sends him out. Jesus invites him into what he is doing in the world. Jesus makes the man an insider, and then sends him out to other outsiders.
And if the Jews knew their Old Testament better, it wouldn’t be that surprising to them. The Old Testament is packed with promises that Gentiles are going to have a spot with God’s people. It starts with God’s promise to Abraham to make him a spiritual father of many nations – not just of the Israelites, but of many nations. It gets picked up all the time in the Prophets. Isaiah talks about all the nations of the world streaming to the mountain of the Lord. Zephaniah prophesies that the unclean Gentiles are going to be given a “pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.” Gentile inclusion is all over the Old Testament.
In fact, there’s one more Prophet that I want to talk about: Jonah. Jonah is chosen as a prophet to the Gentile city of Nineveh. But instead of following that call, he gets on a ship headed the exact opposite direction. It would be like God calling one of us to Quebec, and we go to Miami instead. God sees Jonah’s attempt to run away, and he sends a great storm on the boat. The storm only stops when Jonah is thrown overboard.
That sounds like what we have here in Mark 4. We have a boat, a storm, an act of God, some sailors, a prophet – only Jonah’s story is the exact opposite of Jesus’ story. Mark intentionally framed his story like this so that we see Jesus as an anti-Jonah. Jonah was a faithless prophet who didn’t want to speak God’s message. Jesus is the faithful Son of God who comes to give us that message himself. Jonah was racist against anyone who wasn’t an insider Israelite. Jesus turns around and gives Gentiles a seat at his table. Jonah uses what little power he has to run from God. Jesus uses the greatest power we have ever seen on earth to obey him.
Jonah eventually has some success with the Ninevites. They repent, and God doesn’t destroy them. But Jonah’s success is only temporary. A hundred and fifty years later, things are so bad in Nineveh that God destroys the city. Look at the Book of Nahum, which is all prophecies against Nineveh. But Jesus’ ministry has gone on for two thousand years and counting. Jesus isn’t only the anti-Jonah, he is the greater-than-Jonah. In fact, the Gentile mission that Jesus kicks off sets the ball in motion for those promises of God to Abraham and Isaiah and Zephaniah to finally be fulfilled. Jonah is a C-minus prophet, but Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy.
How does Jesus use his power? Why does he cast out Legion? Why does he still the storm? Why is he even on the sea in the first place? Jesus uses his power to reach the outsider.
Jesus’ Power Doesn’t Look Like What We Expect
If Jesus is using the power of God to fulfill prophecy, shouldn’t Mark 5 end a little bit different than it does? I mean, it seems a little bit lackluster. The power of God to calm a storm, the power of God to cast out a Legion of demons, and Jesus turns around and leaves after only talking to one person. I would have expected Jesus to have a whole church plant up and running in a week. If he’s got the power of God at his disposal, why not?
If we’re going to measure success and power according to the standards of twenty-first century America, Jesus’ success and Jesus’ power are going to seem lackluster. One convert? Those are rookie numbers, Jesus. We need to work on that bottom line. This isn’t even a high-profile conversion. You didn’t get a banker, lawyer, or even a Jew. This is some homeless Gentile who lives in a graveyard. He doesn’t even matter. Wow, good job, Jesus. Peter got three thousand good Jews on Pentecost – maybe Jesus should take an evangelism seminar with Peter. By our standards, Jesus doesn’t achieve much here.
Even more than that, the Bible tells us over and over again that the very essence of Jesus’ power actually lies in his willingness to lay aside power – to lay aside his rights and privileges as a creative God to come and go to the outcasts in order to bring them in. But that’s not how we measure power. We think someone is powerful who can force someone else to do their dirty work. If someone is doing other people’s dirty work to their benefit, that’s not power to us.
As Americans, we simply don’t have a category for the way the Jesus uses power and the ways Jesus succeeds. If we look at this episode with the demoniac as rookie numbers, we’re going to miss the very essence of God being at work in the story, because God’s work doesn’t stop as soon as Jesus leaves. Mark’s video camera leaves to follow Jesus, but we leave behind the man, the ex-demoniac.
As Jesus and the disciples are getting back in the boat, the man is turning to his countrymen and he’s talking about what just happened. He’s telling people, “Look at me, and look at everything Jesus did for me. This man Jesus is everything he said he is and so much more on top of that.” The ex-demoniac is preaching the gospel. The power of God is in the preaching of the gospel.
This homeless Gentile demoniac outsider who nobody thought would amount to anything becomes one of the first Christians in Mark, and the first missionary in Mark. He begins in his own way to wield the power of God as a missionary and now as an insider to the Jesus movement. Now the good news about Jesus can spread like leaven in the lump throughout the whole Decapolis. All because of this one outsider that nobody thought mattered. All this because Jesus looked at him and said, “You matter.”
If Jesus uses the power of God for Gentile mission, and if the results of the power of God doesn’t look like twenty-first-century Americans would expect them to look, there are serious implications for how we live our lives.
Whenever we see Jesus displaying his power, we should have two responses. The first one is to worship him for how amazing he is. Paul isn’t kidding when he says that Jesus can do more than we can ask or imagine, and John isn’t kidding when he says that Jesus did so many things that the world doesn’t have enough space to fit all the books you could write about it.
But for now, the second question that we need to ask ourselves whenever we see Jesus using his power is as much about Jesus as it is about us. Remember the question we started with? If this is how Jesus uses his capital-P power, how should we use our little-P power to worship him, please him, and be like him? After all, that’s part of being a Christian – doing what Jesus does because doing what Jesus does makes Jesus happy. It’s that simple.
The answer here is very simple. Just like Jesus, we should use whatever little-p power we have to reach out to outsiders. This is a world that is teeming with outsiders, isn’t it? Right here in Malden, we have people without homes, we have immigrants, we have people who are lonely, we have teenagers and young adults trying to find their way in a world they don’t know too well yet. If we want to find outsiders, we don’t have to look too far.
Once we’ve found outsiders the real work begins, all we have to do is what Jesus does with the demoniac. We use the power available to us meet their needs in the name of God. Our skills, our finances, our time – there’s someone out there who needs them. The greatest thing we have for people is the message of reconciliation with God through Christ. Everybody needs that. So, to be like Jesus is to go forward meeting the needs of the outsider and to invite them to be reconciled to God and experience the fullness of life in Christ.
I invite all of us here to make a list of the gifts and giftings that God has given you and who needs them. Maybe there is a way for you to plug in deeper here at Forestdale, or the Malden Warming Center, or the Teen Enrichment Center, or Bread of Life. These organizations have already done the hard work of finding the outsiders – we just need to go to them. There are other amazing Christian organizations that are doing great work and just need financial support – World Vision, the American Bible Society, Matthew 25 Ministries, Open Doors. That’s saying nothing about the missionaries that we support at Forestdale. Most of us have kitchen tables, and most of us have neighbors. Even if they don’t know you, people will usually show up if you offer them dinner. And people showing up is all we need to be like the Gerasene ex-demoniac and start telling people about what God did for us.
If we use all of our little-P power to reach out to outsiders and it doesn’t seem like anything is actually working, there’s no reason for despair. Even little things snowball into bigger things. Ripple effects are real. But even if little things never become big things by our standards, the fact that Jesus was more than happy with rookie numbers shows that there is always so much more going on than just numbers. We might never know what God is doing, and that’s okay by me.
I think we are at a crossroads. As we come out of Covid and get back to normal life, we need to decide who we are going to be in all of this. I see Christians all over the place who are not concerned with going to the outsider. Turn on the news. All you get is Christians complaining about the moral decline of the world. Christians trying to hide in their churches and board up the windows and keep the world out. Christians looking a lot like Jonah, the proud Jew who wants nothing to do with his pagan neighbors. Christians that look nothing like Jesus, who wants to be with this possessed guy in a graveyard that he’s willing to risk the lives of his entire retinue and put himself, twice, in a situation where he has to leverage the very power of God to get to him. We need to ask ourselves who we want to look like. Are we Christians who want to look like Christ? Or are we Jonahites who don’t mind looking like Jonah if it’s the easiest thing to do?
Christian Schmitt has served on the pastoral staff at Forestdale Community Church (Malden, MA).