Sunday, September 25, 2016

TheStorm : He Came to Them

And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.

In my Bible I have a note next to the fourth watch of the night that reads ‘between 3-6am’. The term '...watch of the night' was often used in New Testament times to communicate at what time of day it was. But let’s step back and look at this experience a little closer.

I’m going to guess that the experience of feeding the 5000 (just previous in the chapter) was done in daylight. It’s a little difficult to feed so many in the dark – but they didn't have a whole lot of daylight left (note, the disciples had said earlier that the day was coming to a close; see Matt. 14:15, so I imagine the sun is starting to get pretty close to the horizon). This was probably a really pretty picture – all these people sitting on the grass, the disciples having a great ol’ time passing out the bread and fish and then picking up their basket-fulls after everyone was satisfied. It isn't clear how long it took for them to pass out the bread and fish and then to pick up the leftovers again, but if you've ever been in a large church during the serving of communion, you understand it takes a bit of time to pass something out to a large crowd, to say the least. Yet the picture that Matthew paints for us here is quite beautiful. But just like life, the sun continues to set and it begins to get dark.

Jesus sends the crowd away, makes the disciples get into a boat and goes up on a mountain. I’m going to suggest this is probably about 5 or 6pm (perhaps a bit earlier or later, give or take an hour or so). I’m also going to suggest to you that the wind-storm makes it even darker. When the night is clear, the moon tends to make the evening not so dark – the stars are just beautiful and we could gaze at them for hours. But this is not the picture that Matthew paints for us. We don’t read that there was an actual rainstorm in this text (not to be confused with other times on the water with Jesus and the disciples), we just read it was windy – really windy. We read in verse 24 that the boat was battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. On the sea, when there’s wind there’s waves. And when there’s waves, it’s wet. Really wet. It may not have been raining from the sky, but it sure was raining from the waves.

Yet there’s a few fishermen in the boat – namely Peter and Andrew. Fishing was their trade and they knew it well. They most likely had dealt with these kinds of waves before, maybe even on this body of water, many times over. It gives a bit more meaning to Jesus making the disciples into the boat. Maybe Peter or Andrew (or both) complained to Jesus and said they saw a storm coming and didn't think it was a good idea to go out on the water, but Jesus made them. They clearly didn't have a choice. They had to get into the boat. Sound familiar?

Sitting at the bedside of a loved-one who is close to death, you have no choice but face the bitter truth that they are dying. It was hard for my family to see my Pop die so quickly from Brain Cancer. We all knew it. Very few of us ever really spoke about it but we knew - we didn't have a choice. Jesus was making us go through this. The storm was there. Our boat was being battered by the waves. And we had no choice but to just try and survive.

So Jesus comes out to meet the disciples once again, in the fourth watch of the night – 3-6am. The disciples most likely were made to get into the boat around 7pm, let’s say. They have now, once Jesus comes to greet them on the waves, been in the boat for at least 8 hours. Have you ever been in a boat for that long when it's stormy? Unless you are a fisherman, like some of these disciples were, it is not a pleasant experience. Even if you are a fisherman, it isn't a pleasant experience. But here they are. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if some of them had done the dirty-deed of giving an internal-stomach gift to the sea (to put it politely; maybe a couple times). This just simply wasn't a great experience. Emotions are high. Fear is imminent.  And it’s just downright uncomfortable. I’m sure many were asking how they were ever going to get out of this mess. It just wasn't a good experience. It was uncomfortable. They were wet. Tired. Exhausted from the emotions of the day and they just wanted to rest. But they were forced into this circumstance by Jesus. Oh, were they ever going have a conversation with Him next time they see Him – if they ever did again. Sound familiar?

For goodness sakes, that’s just ridiculous. There is Jesus, on the mountain. On dry land. Not being tossed by the sea. He’s happy. He’s content. He’s peaceful. Here’s all the disciples. Every bit of wet. Tossed by the sea. Unhappy, un-content, un-peaceful, just downright resentful of the circumstance they’re in. Let me step back a bit and remind you of another experience the disciples had on the waves. But this time it was with Jesus in the boat.

When [Jesus] got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
(Matt. 8:23-27; cf. Mark 4:35-41)

Here we have a distinctly different scene. Jesus is with the disciples in the boat. Note, too, that this experience, according to Matthew’s letter, occurs before the text we have been looking at in this book. You and I can be pretty quick to judge the disciples because, for goodness sakes guys, it was only 6 chapters earlier that you had this experience – don’t you think it’s time to learn the lesson?!

Careful.

So when you and I experience a tragedy, or maybe not even a tragedy but just something that doesn't go my way, I always respond just the way we’re supposed to, right? Like, we learned the lesson the first time so Jesus doesn't need to bring other situations in our lives to teach us the same lesson, right? Wrong. The disciples are just like us. That’s why Jesus chose them. That’s why He chooses us. He sees potential in us that we don’t see. And sometimes it takes us being forced (or made to go) into a storm for us to get it. And, yes, maybe He’ll need to send us out on the waves a few more times before we get it, but He knows what He’s doing even if we believe He doesn't, or worse, has withdrawn altogether up on a mountain peak and doesn't care a hill of beans about us.

I remember a conversation with a fellow Bible School student a while back and it’s stuck with me all these years. He was explaining how he came to faith. The conversation began with me asking him how he came to faith and he responded with the strange response, ‘While clicking the remote!’ Obviously intrigued I pried. He then proceeds to tell me that for most of his life, before coming to faith in Jesus, he was a ‘professional channel changer’ – meaning, he watched TV. A lot. But one evening, while flipping through the channels, he just barely passed by an evangelist who was speaking about being a Christian. For some reason, he was intrigued and stayed on the channel long enough to hear the message the LORD needed him to hear. The man on the TV was talking about how our lives are filled with struggles – but if we would be willing to trust the LORD in them, we would really benefit from His loving, disciplined Hand. The speaker then shared an analogy that stuck with my friend. He described God as a Holy Pizza Maker. He has made us, and specifically put ‘toppings’ on us to glorify him. But as everyone knows, you can’t eat pizza raw (or at least you shouldn't). The beauty of pizza is the bubbling, cheesy goodness. The ripe tomatoes that are cooked just right. The ground beef that is just the right kind of crispy. The chicken…well, you get the idea. The point is, in order for a pizza to be done, it needs to go in the oven. The oven is already hot, and the pizza gets slid in and once the bell goes, the Holy Pizza Maker brings us out and pronounces us done. My friend was so caught by this analogy that right then and there, on his couch, with remote in hand, he confessed his need for Christ and gave his life into His hands. Why? Because he knew that he had been screaming while the LORD had him in the oven. He had asked to be taken out over and over again, and he discovered right then and there that he was truly missing out on the greatest story – his story – that the LORD had in store for him if he could only trust Him when the heat gets a little too uncomfortable in the oven of life. 

Though it may be a bit of a far-fetched analogy, can you see the merit and the truth behind the preacher’s words? If only we just trusted the LORD when life gets too hot; if we could see that because these experiences have passed through His hands first, there must be some reason for them – if nothing else to convince us of our need for Him – we should be willing to go through them. If the disciples just saw this as an opportunity to stick close to Jesus while in the boat on the waves, they could have had a really peaceful slumber party. Jesus clearly wasn't worried about the storm, so why should they be? And why should we? Easy to say, hard to live out, I know, but let me share with you something else that I've come to understand.

I have heard many people, in my walk through this life so far, that react when tragedy strikes. They, as many often do, make statements that really don’t make a lot of sense, but their hearts are in the right place. But there’s this one statement that just keeps surfacing in my mind that people say that I think needs to be, frankly, re-worded, or never spoken again. It’s this phrase: God didn't cause this but He allowed it.

I get why people say this, because if God did cause it than we could make the claim that He isn't good and He definitely is good (as we've already been discussing). But to then say that He only allowed it, I believe, somehow separates Him, somehow, from the responsibility. What if I told you we should re-word this statement entirely to say something like God caused this for our good? Jesus caused the disciples to get into a boat. He didn't just allow it, He caused it, by intentionally making the disciples get into the boat. As GodMan He caused the waves and the wind and the turmoil that they were under, for their good. Now, all of a sudden, it becomes a point-the-finger sort of blame, doesn't it directly at Jesus? But also, rather than saying ‘God’s to blame’ in a negative way, we can take His Name, with all the goodness, and righteousness, and peacefulness attached to truthfully say, ‘God is to blame [for my good]. Though I don't understand it, I'll trust him in it!'

I realize this may come across as an unfathomable statement. And trust me, with the circumstances that I have had to this point in my life, bringing this statement into my real-life circumstances just doesn't make sense. Even if I try with these experiences that I related to you, they just don’t seem to make sense: God is to blame for my dear Pop who crumbled before our very eyes with the awful decease of Brain Cancer, for my good?! God is to blame for the circumstances I find myself in, today, for my good?! Anything less than these sentences somehow takes God out of the equation. Anything less than these conclusions starts us down the very dangerous belief-system that He is outside of these circumstances and truly doesn't care one lick about what we’re facing. As if to say He’s off on a Holy MountainTrek somewhere, enjoying the view of our pain and just basking, once again, that we’re failing, struggling, and in need of an escape from yet again another experience of loss.

I hope you see by now that these belief-systems are false. God has never, ever left us alone. He actually promised He would always be with us. Even in the hardships we face of losing a loved-one. Even as the 'pizza-oven of life' heats up and makes it pretty uncomfortable for us. The question is, are we willing to see that these experiences just might be the thing that helps us learn more about Him, for our good, because He wants us to learn an eternal perspective, rather than a momentary, temporary one. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthian Church states it this way,

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,  while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Straining to stay alive on the waves, the disciples, in the fourth watch of the night, look up and see Jesus coming towards them on the waves. There is something very unique about this. Jesus could have calmed the storm way before He started walking towards them – we know that He could have because He calms the storm later on. But He didn't. He chose not to calm the storm. But the majesty of all of this is that He came – on the waves, in the storm, to the disciples – because He's God. We can’t speculate too much as to why He chose then to come out to greet them, but all we know is that He did. And I really want to underline this next point to us today. Please note - Jesus came to them. It’s that simple. He came to them when they least expected it. He came to them, on the waves, towards them, and desired to be with them. He came. And He comes to us. 

In our weakest state. In our most feeble time of our lives. Maybe not the time that we would expect Him to, but He still comes on the waves. He really has not abandoned us. He really has not left us in a lurch. He actually has been there the whole time. And He breathes His presence into our lives and gives us hope in the midst of despair.

When God doesn't break His own silence when we’re out in our boat in the storms of life, we need to know that He is eager to meet this us, in our storm, and bring peace on the waves. For our good. So the next time you're 'fighting at the oars' of life, look up. You just might see your Saviour coming to greet you.

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