The second to last day of our trip to the Holy Land all 1300 conference attendees went in buses up to the Sea of Galilee. Matt and I were profoundly moved to be in the place where Jesus walked, ate, taught, and spent time. That of all the places on earth that God would choose to live, he choose this place, this view. Our guide opened the Scriptures to us, unfolding the plan of salvation before our eyes.
Late morning the bus pulled up near the lake itself and we were sent down to waiting boats. I was delighted. They have literally thought of everything. What amazing conference organizers, how thoughtful and wise to bring us all here and push us into these boats and onto the Sea.
Youngish surfer Israeli dudes helped me into the boat. Matt and I were invited to sit up near the front so that the baby wouldn’t be overheated in the unrelenting sun. We arranged ourselves and gazed out over the water, mesmerized by the Incarnation, by God breaking in and showing us his face in Jesus, forgiving us of our sins, loving us first so that we might love him. Matt took some pictures. The boat eased away from the doc and drifted out over the water.
And then piercingly, the calm was shattered. The surfer dudes popped a tape into their little boom box, one with surprising sound capabilities, turned the volume up, pressed play. And what was the nature of the music they played? Was it music such as Jesus would have listened to, or music of the early church, or contemporary Jewish music? It was none of that. It was someone standing in front of a microphone shouting, ‘Come on all together let’s just praise Jesus now’ and then launching into something like Shine Jesus Shine. It couldn’t have been more out of context. The surfer dude stood in front of everyone clapping his hands over his head encouraging us all to “get up and dance”. The response of the our boatload was tepid. Some sang halfheartedly, out of obedience. Others, like me, gazed out on the water pretending there had been no instruction to ‘get up and dance’.
As we went further out over the water towards the other boats, I began to get angry.
I didn’t want to listen to this music in this place. I didn’t want this guy to spoil ‘my’ experience of God. I wanted to sit quietly and contemplate the grace and mercy
of our Lord. Why couldn’t somebody do something to make it stop?
Turn with me, if you have your Bibles, to Matthew chapter 14 beginning in verse 22,
“Immediately he” that’s Jesus, “made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds”. Let me just pause here and say
that these men knew a couple of things about this lake.
First of all, they had all been in a boat before. They knew how to make a boat go,
how to fix the boat when it broke, how to catch fish from a boat, how to stand and sit in the boat. And, therefore, They knew the Sea of Galilee itself. They knew how big it was, how long it should take to get across, when was a good time to get into a boat and go out on the lake and when was not. And they knew, for instance, that at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon the wind whips up and flies across the lake, making the waters choppy and difficult at that time nearly every day. They knew also that this wind could whip up unexpectedly at any moment and cause serious storms on this relatively small piece of water. So when Matthew says that Jesus “made the disciples get into the boat” it may be that they didn’t want to and he had to really shove them in and send them off. We know that Jesus told them to do something and that they were obedient and did it, but not all the conversation leading up to that obedience.
Consider, also, that the disciples, like Jesus, have put in a long day. As he taught, they helped manage the vast crowds. When everyone was hungry, they helped distribute food and settle everyone down. When people needed healing, they brought them to Jesus
and organized the line. But at the end of they day, when they were tired and small in their understanding of God Jesus makes them get into a boat.
Look with me at verses 23-25 and observe with me four points. First, the disciples were obedient. They did what Jesus said. They may have fussed about it, but they did it. I can’t emphasize this enough. IF, or rather When, God gives you and me a job,
or wants us to stop doing something, or wants us to reach out to someone, even when we do not understand why or do not see how to do whatever it is, We must Be Obedient.
We must Say yes to God And then Take steps to do whatever it is. We must Get in the boat. Why is obedience so important? I will say from experience, and I am backed up in this by Jonah, That, very simply, its less painful in the long run. The sooner you do what God wants With as little fuss as possible The richer and more joyful your Christian life will be. Not easier but more joyful.
Second, their obedience led them straight into a storm. After being obedient to Jesus, they did not have a happy party time. They were sorely pressed and feared for their own lives. If you have walked with Jesus for a long time, you could probably come up here and give a list of how often God does not work according to our own expectations, How often, having done a hard work, or endured a hard thing, the believer flies into the face of the next storm without rest and recovery. Why is this? Well, I think we find the answer in point number three.
Which is that the disciples did not look for Jesus in their distress. They had no expectation that he would save them. They did not remember the feeding of the five thousand. They did not remember all the healings. They did not remember the words of today’s psalm, about God being in Charge of the Weather. They did not seek Jesus
or cry out to him or trust that he would take care of them. They panicked. Did they need to panic? Of course not, God himself was on the hillside next to them praying.
He was enough in himself to feed the crowds. He was enough in himself to calm the storm. But they didn’t ask him. This is a question of habit, a matter of reflex,
of instinct. When things go very badly, when you are in a difficult space, what is your First Thought? To whom do you run first? Most of us, after panicking, consult a variety of unqualified and unhelpful people—relatives, a boss, the person at the meat counter, our favorite Blogs online, that’s my weakness. What does so and so do in this situation? Not, what is God doing. We don’t go to God first when the storm rages, we go to him as a last resort if at all. The disciples, here, don’t go to him at all.
Which brings us to Point Number Four. Jesus did not leap up immediately to calm the storm. Notice that he begins to pray in the evening, perhaps the first watch of the night, and he prays on through the night until the fourth watch, between 3 am and 6 am. Why didn’t he come immediately? Did he not know that there was a storm? Did he not care? Was he just mean? Of course not. No, Jesus, the Lord of Heaven and earth,
the face of God, the redeemer of the world, was more interested in the disciples learning to Trust him, learning to Obey him, learning to Cry out to him, learning to see Who he is, that he has mastery over the weather, that he is God, that he can Handle it, than he is interested in their being comfortable or getting enough rest.
If you find this is a hard lesson to face, do not despair, most all Christians don’t prefer this lesson. It is a matter of perspective, of habit, and ultimately of Gratitude over Panic. When you see clearly that God is in charge, when your habit is to call on God first in all things, then, whatever your situation, whatever your trouble, whatever your broken and wrecked expectation, you can say honestly to God,
I praise you, I thank you, your grace is enough for me in all things.
But if this morning, you are in a boat of trouble and you don’t feel Thankful, if you are unable to Rejoice in the face of adversity, then the next part of the story is for you.
In that terrifying deadly hour before light, Jesus came to them walking on the water.
They don’t even recognize him. So great is their panic, so small their memory and wisdom and understanding, they don’t even recognize him. But Jesus calls out to them, “Do not be afraid.” Do not let your heart be troubled. Take no account of the storm, which, you notice, is still raging, Jesus is here to save you. He can handle it. Trust him. In other words, even if you are not looking for God to help you, Even when he seems silent on the hillside, and you don’t think he is listening, He Is.
He knows your trouble. Do not be afraid, he is looking for you, even when you are not looking for him.
Whether your faith is small or barely alive, whether you understand what God is doing or not,whether you are in the middle of a raging storm, or struggling to walk in the path of obedience, Jesus has the power and grace to pick you up, to put you on the right course, to continue to teach you, to rescue you in the midst of trouble.
All this, because he loves you because he wants you.
But there’s a catch. Its not going to be on your terms. Its not going to be on your time table, on your agenda, on your plans, in your boat. With your sound track.
You have to let Jesus be in charge. You have to say Yes to him.