Sermon: Funeral Sermon for a Sudden, Unexpected Death - Mark 4

This sermon is useful when speaking at a memorial service for an unexpected passing.

This sermon is Chapter 8 of A Minister's Treasury of Funeral and Memorial Messages by Jim Henry, former pastor of First Baptist Church Orlando, Fla.

This sermon is Chapter 8 of A Minister's Treasury of Funeral and Memorial Messages by Jim Henry, former pastor of First Baptist Church Orlando, Florida


Scriptures: Mark 4:35-41

Introduction

The Sea of Galilee is a sparkling jewel in the northern part of Israel. It is not large. It's more like a lake than what we think of as a sea. Only thirteen miles in length, seven and one-half miles at its widest point, surrounded by hills, including the Golan Heights, it was the chief source of revenue for its fishermen, of pleasure, and of beauty for those who lived around its shores. Jesus made his headquarters here. Many of his miracles and much of his ministry took place here. He called the early band of brothers, his disciples, from this area.

Seeking a break from the demand of the excited crowds that had begun to follow him, Jesus took a boat, and with some of his disciples, drifted off for some rest and relaxation. But suddenly their leisure day was disrupted by a violent storm. This was not unusual. The sea is 680 feet below sea level, surrounded by hills that send the cool air from the heights of Mt. Hermon hurtling through their ravines that serve as giant wind tunnels to collide with the warm, moist air flowing east from the Mediterranean Sea. The result can produce a very dramatic storm. In that sudden storm, Jesus did an astounding thing. And in that we learn some things that counsel us in the light of the devastating experience that we seek to navigate through in these days.

I. No guarantee against the sudden

First of all, we are reminded that although the Sovereign of the universe is on the boat, it is no guarantee against the sudden—in this case, a sudden storm (v. 37). It has been the mistaken notion of many that if a person is a faithful follower of Jesus, he or she is protected from the troubles of life. Their children will be successful, sickness will never come their way, their financial ventures will always succeed, and disappointment will never knock at their door.

A quick look at some of the men and women who knew and served God in the Scripture will reveal the falsehood of this belief. Joseph went to prison. Job lost everything but his life. Jeremiah was put in prison. Paul had an affliction that plagued him all his life. All of the original disciples were martyred for their faith in Jesus, except one. And he was an exiled prisoner. Jesus never promised a "rose garden" tour of life. However, he did promise, "I am with you" (Matt. 28:20). It may be tough to be in a storm with Jesus, but imagine being in one without him.

II. It may appear God isn't doing anything

Second, it may appear that in these sudden experiences of life that grieve us and threaten our sense of God's nearness and care that God isn't doing anything (v. 38). These experienced, veteran fishermen were thoroughly frightened. Their lives were on the line, yet Jesus appeared to be sleeping through the situation.

In life, things come at us that we cannot control. Some things come through the actions of other people, and some things in life are never explained. God seems to be silent when we long for a word. One theologian, in facing this dilemma, said that "sometimes the silence of God is God's highest thought." (Helmut Thielick, source unknown) 

Like these hardy fishermen, we protest the seeming inaction of Jesus when he seems to be asleep at the wheel of our lives.

III. Fear can replace faith

Third, we can respond like Jesus' disciples. Fear can replace faith. Jesus did hear their cries for help. He sprang into action. He spoke, and the winds ceased and the waves curled up around his feet like submissive tigers under the voice of their trainer. He then asked a penetrating question, "Why are you so afraid?" There are three words for fear in the language of the New Testament. Here Jesus used the one that is always used in a bad sense.

The men were deeply terrified. When fear comes, faith is removed. We live in a world with much to cause fear: the fear of terrorists, of illness, of losing our jobs, of being victimized by brutal criminals or white-collar fraud. Fear can immobilize us as it did Jesus' companions. When fear knocks, we must send faith to answer the door. "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7 KJV).

When the sudden comes in our lives, the Sovereign Savior is looking for us to look at him. They had seen Jesus do mighty things in recent days. They knew he had the power to heal the sick and cast out demons, but their faith trembled at this unexpected turn of events. In the light of his power and faithfulness in the past, Jesus asked, "Do you still have no faith?" (v. 40). Jesus challenges us to look deep within us and remember some things that can turn our pain, our grief, our questions, and our uncertainties into the beginning of healing in the face of this unanticipated event.

IV. Jesus hears our cries

We are to remember that although Jesus did not hear the howling storm, he heard his disciples' cries. Much as a mother hears the cries of her baby and a shepherd hears the bleat of the sheep, so does Jesus hear our cries. "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear" (Isa. 59:1).

V. Sudden storms serve to turn us to Jesus

Sudden storms also serve to turn us to Jesus (v. 38). We can be so caught up in everything else in life that God is moved into the edges of our existence. It doesn't happen quickly. But gradually the joy of knowing and serving him evaporates from our lives. Then the sudden storm hits. Before the storm we had forgotten what God looks like and now, in the storm, we turn to see him again.

VI. Storms don't last forever

This story tells another helpful truth: storms don't last forever. In certain localities in this country and the world, as on the Sea of Galilee, a storm can brew within a matter of minutes and hurl its fury in torrents of rain, lightning flashes, and thunder. Then it's over. One minister said his favorite text was, "It shall come to pass" (Acts 2:17 KJV). So, too, will the turbulence through which we presently walk. The pain will linger, but its power will be softened.

VII. God will assist others

The Sovereign of the Sudden does something else in our storms. He will assist others—who see us coming through our assault—to be blessed in the storms they are facing. When Jesus' boat started across the lake, "there were also other boats with him" (v. 36). They became survivors, too, because Jesus worked in the one and the overflow of protection encircled the others. People watch how we deal with our crises. Is God real in our lives? Is the faith we have practiced, sung about, and shared with others robust enough to take this blow?

A couple had prayed for a baby boy for years. God answered them after several childless years with a girl. A few years later, a boy arrived. But in his preschool years, he became violently ill one afternoon. He was immediately rushed to the hospital. The trauma team did their best. After a couple of hours, a doctor approached the mother with the news that the child's condition was critical. He would either die, or be physically disabled for life if, by slim chance, he survived. He turned to walk away while family and friends stood in stunned silence.

Suddenly, the mother called the doctor to come back. She said, "Doctor, thank you for what you've done. This child belongs to God. We prayed for him. God gave him to us. We gave him back to God. If God takes him, he's okay. If he leaves him, that's okay. If he chooses to take him, we're okay." And they were. And "other boats" were heartened by their experience.

VIII. The sovereign of the sudden is in control

Finally, storms remind us that the Sovereign of the Sudden is in control (v. 41). The disciples were overwhelmed by what they had seen. They had a new fear: a reverential fear. They had seen Jesus, with a word, rebuke wind and waves. They were reminded that the Sovereign of the Sudden is in control when everything else seems to be totally out of control. That boat could not sink because God's plan for the world was on it. Someone has said, "No water can swallow the ship where lies, the master of heaven, and earth, and skies." (Mary A. Baker, "Peace Be Still," 1941)

God's plan and purpose for our loved one and for our lives are not subject to whims, accidents, circumstances, illnesses, and evil. God works through these to bring about his will. We stand on the assurance, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior" (Isa. 43:1–3).

David Watson was the dynamic pastor of the St. Michael's Church in York, England. Large crowds filled the sanctuary week after week to hear him call them to faith and fellowship with Jesus. In the prime of his life, Watson was diagnosed with cancer. The people prayed, and he fought it. But, in the end, it ravaged his body and he went home to the Chief Bishop of his soul.

The following Sunday, a cherished friend was asked to lead in the worship and the communion service. When he stood to speak, emotion overcame him as he thought of the absence of his recently deceased friend. He wept, as did the grief-stricken congregation. Then someone thought about a phrase that David often used. Sometimes, even in the middle of a message, Watson would shout, "Our Lord reigns!" Quietly, but strong enough to be heard, he said, "Our Lord reigns." Another picked it up. Then another joined them. Soon the packed sanctuary was filled with hundreds of voices, chanting together on their feet, "Our Lord reigns!" For minutes, it rocked the cavernous worship hall. Applause and cheering broke out.

Depression gave way to celebration. The Sovereign of the Sudden was, is, and always will be in charge. In our pain and sorrow, we stand on the everlasting truth, "Our Lord reigns!"