“It Is Well With My Soul” (Mark 4:35-41)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, especially to you Bea, and to all of you family and friends gathered here who loved Jim.
The portion of Holy Scripture I chose for our time together today is from the Gospel according to St. Mark, the fourth chapter. [READ TEXT]
That must have been quite a storm. At least four of the disciples on board the boat were experienced Galilean fishermen. They had ridden out many storms before this one. But this one really got to them. They were terrified. They thought for sure they were going to die. Waves were crashing over the bow. The boat was filling with water. This is it guys. Prepare to meet your maker. Next stop: Davy Jones’ locker.
The Galilean fishermen were panicking. The Nazarene carpenter was sound asleep. No storm was going to keep him from getting some much needed shuteye. He had found a comfortable niche in the stern where he continued to trust in his heavenly Father’s care. Moreover, this was no ordinary man. This was Jesus, the Incarnate God, God in the flesh, true God and true Man in the same person. But this had not yet been made clear to the disciples yet. They had seen his miracles. They had heard his authoritative teaching. Jesus authoritatively calms the wind and the sea with the words “Peace! Be still!” And the disciples ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God was still to come.
Jesus asked the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Looking at the storm, the disciples were afraid. But with Jesus on board, there was no need to be fearful. Because of the gracious presence of Jesus the disciples could say in the words of the hymn, “It is well with my soul.”
What about you? Is it well with your soul right now? If you’re honest, you might say, “No. Not a bit. Everything is NOT well with my soul right now. I miss Jim. There are other people whom I love who have died. And there are other problems in my life that are troubling me right now. Life is pretty stormy for me. And fear? Sure, I’m fearful. I’m no different than those disciples on that boat. I’m afraid of dying. I don’t know what will happen to me when I die.”
Jesus spoke words of calm to the storm out there on the Sea of Galilee. Hear these words of calm spoken to you before his death on the Cross of Calvary where he paid the price for the sins of the world with his holy, innocent blood: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” At that point, Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Through faith in Jesus you can be assured that your sins are forgiven. Through faith in Jesus, you can know that you have a place reserved for you in heaven. Through Jesus, you can be confident that all who are baptized into Christ and who trust in his saving work at the cross will rise to eternal life on the Last Day, even as Jesus conquered death and the grave on Easter morning. It is only through faith in Jesus that you can truly say, “It is well with my soul.” “He lives – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought; My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul.”
There’s a beautiful story behind that hymn. Horatio G. Spafford was a prominent Chicago lawyer and close friend of the famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody. In 1870 his four year old son died of scarlet fever. The next year, the Great Fire of Chicago reduced the city to ashes along with most of Spafford’s sizable investments. In November of 1873, Spafford decided to take his entire family to England for a vacation, knowing that his friend Moody was also scheduled to preach there. Urgent business concerns detained Spafford in Chicago, but he decided to send his family ahead on board the steamship Ville du Havre as scheduled. Midway through the trans-Atlantic voyage, the ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and sank in 12 minutes.[i] 226 people died, including Spafford's four daughters—Anna, eleven; Maggie, nine; Bessie, seven; and Tanetta, two. Mrs. Spafford was picked up unconscious, floating on a plank of wood, and once safely delivered to Wales, sent her husband the heartbreaking telegram: “Saved alone. What shall I do…”
Spafford immediately sailed for England to join his grief-stricken wife. As his ship passed the approximate location where his daughters had drowned, his deep sorrow mingled with his unwavering faith in God's goodness caused him to compose his well-known hymn.
The natural tendency of one confronted with such senseless tragedy would most likely be to question, to doubt, to blame, to accuse God. Yet this hymn reveals a person who had been graced by God to mourn without bitterness, to sorrow without anger, to trust without resentment, to rest in “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:6). The peace of Jesus enabled Spafford to believe, as God’s Word promises, that – even in one’s darkest hours – “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).[ii] [iii]
“It is well with my soul.” Before Jim died, he made it clear to me that he wanted Spafford’s hymn sung at his funeral. Jim had a vibrant, living faith in his Savior Jesus. He loved to be with his fellow believers in church and Bible Class. He hungered for the Lord’s Supper where he received the true body and blood of Jesus. He loved to talk about Jesus. He loved to engage others in conversation about Jesus. He knew how much he, himself, needed Jesus. There were some stormy times in Jim’s life, that’s for sure. But Jim knew that Jesus was on board for him. Jesus was his anchor. The Lord Jesus was the “everlasting rock” to which he clung when the waves were crashing all around him. Although cancer took Jim’s life, he knew that his eternal life was safe in Jesus. He knew that although his cancer ridden body would not be healed on this side of the veil, it would be healed once and for all at the resurrection when Jesus returns in glory. And so Jim was able to say, “It is well with my soul.”
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” His name is Jesus. The Crucified and Risen Savior. Baptized in his name, trusting in his finished work at the cross and the empty tomb, you too can say right along with Jim … with Horatio Spafford … with all your fellow believers in Christ, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way; When sorrows, like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”