Christian marriage: a voyage with Jesus on board (Mark 4:35-41)

The story

[35] ‘Later that day, after it grew dark, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” [36] After they had sent the crowd away, they shoved off from shore with him. as he had been teaching from the boat, and there were other boats that sailed with them. [37] Suddenly, as they were crossing the lake, a ferocious tempest arose, with violent winds and waves that were crashing into the boat until it was all but swamped. [38] But Jesus was calmly sleeping in the stern, resting on a cushion. [39] So they shook him awake, saying, “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are all about to die!” Fully awake, he rebuked the storm and shouted to the sea, “Hush! Calm down!” All at once the wind stopped howling and the wated became perfectly calm.’

[40] ‘Then he turned to his disciples and said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Haven’t you learned to trust yet?” [41] But they were overwhelmed with fear nad awe and said to one another, “Who is this man who has such authority that even the wind and waves obey him?”‘ (Mark 4:35-41 – all New Testament quotations from The Passion Translation).

[] When the voyage began

A modern wedding day can be a blur of ‘hectivity’ for bride and groom. And even the start of their honeymoon can involve a tiring drive or a lengthy wait in an airport. For us, sixty years ago, it included a train journey from the west of England to London with our aging officiating minister – a bachelor until only a few years earlier! – returning to his home in East Anglia, followed by an overnight rail ride in bunk beds from London to Edinburgh. I know! It was tempting Providence, wasn’t it just?

No wonder, after his very busy day in Galilee’s fresh air that Jesus fell asleep with the gentle sway of a calm sea. ‘That day’, according to Mark’s exclusive account was, with its full programme, not unlike a modern wedding with hairdresser, church service, photo shoot, meal and speeches. So when evening came and the excitement had ended, Jesus announced the start of a new journey with his disciples.

[] How the voyage should be conducted

We can find four practical clues to a successful Christian marriage in the next six verses. Jesus crashes out in a deep refreshing sleep. Mark presently tells us of a safe arrival immediately after a brief violent storm: ‘They arrived at the other side of the lake’ (5:1). And no sooner had he stepped ashore than another storm – a ‘screaming’ spiritual threat – shattered the peace of the dawn of a new day. That sleep on a cushion in the fishing vessel on a raging sea was how Jesus had been preparing during one demonic tempest at sea in readiness to face another satanic tempest with a demonised man (see Mark 5:1-20).

Now for four simple, practical keys to a successful Christian marriage.

  1. Keep your distance: ‘after they sent the crowds away’ (verse 16).

‘Social distancing’ became an international rule during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. Our Lord himself endorsed the Bible’s first rule of marriage:

‘. . . a man will leave his father and mother and live with his wife. And the two will become one flesh’ (Matthew 19:5). Thus he endorsed Genesis 2:24 (New Living Translation): ‘. . . a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’

Years ago I was invited to conduct the wedding of two young Christians in Poland. Living conditions could be tough there in those days. Some young couples had to share living accomodation with relatives or friends, so it was important that the newly-weds understood that God planned marriage as an exclusive relationship betweeen two partners, so that all those involved in their living arrangements understood this rule: Keep your distance.

  1. Include the Lord: ‘they took him along . . . in the boat’ (verse 16 margin).

A Christian bride and groom would each have previously taken Jesus into their personal life but, by their wedding vows they now invited him into this new boat of theirs, ‘S.S.Marriage’. From this day forward they both need to recognise the Lord’s invisible presence as a vital crew member.

  1. Express acceptance: ‘just as he was’ (verse 16 margin).

When a furious squall rose up, the disciples wanted Jesus to change his behaviour – especially his extreme inaction! He was in the stern of the boat asleep on a cushion.

Now, since both husband and wife each has expectations of the other, many a surprise and disappointment will cause a threat to their journey together, and the temptation will be to try to change the other partner.

I have said at several weddings: ‘Six persons got married today!’ One is the husband as he sees himself; another is the husband as she sees him; and there’s the man God knows him to be. Similarly, the wife as she sees herself is one person; another is the wife as he sees her; there’s also the wife God knows her to be.

Trust’ is so important. Each must work diligently at being trustworthy And it is essential that we realise that Jesus will always remain true to his word, namely: ‘Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake’ – even when the situation feels hopeless and we start to wonder if he had meant, ‘Let’s go down to the bottom of the lake’ – even if he seems to be doing nothing to rescue us from impending disaster. ‘Don’t you care?’ is a very natural query of desperation – but it is an honest heart cry in prayer. Both husband and wife must each adapt as the voyage progresses. The aim should not be to change each other. Each instead must learn to change themselves where necessary.

  1. Welcome support: ‘other boats were with them’, (verse 16).

There needs to be a support team on hand – but in other boats – all on the same voyage, to follow his call and purpose. We do not travel in an ocean-going liner nor in a battleship going off to war. Each crew has its own responsibilities. We are part of a convoy.

Note: The Greek text does not actually say ‘other boats were with them‘, but ‘other boats were with him‘.  Stay close to those who stay close to Jesus. This is what will contribute to marital success (compare 5:1, ‘They arrived at the other side of the lake’).

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