It has been a few weeks since I posted a message...so, it was high time to get back in the saddle, or in this case perhaps, back in the boat with Jesus. :-)
There are two major bodies of water in the land where Jesus walked. One is the Sea of Galilee, a beautiful lake 13 miles long and 7 miles wide filled with fish and surrounded by lush foliage. The other body of water is the Dead Sea, 50 miles long and 11 miles wide, the shoreline of which is 1300 feet below sea level. Seven million tons of water evaporate from the Dead Sea every day. The saline or salt content of the water of the Dead Sea ranges from 26-35%, making it 10 times saltier than the oceans of the world. There is no seaweed or plants of any kind in or around the water. There are no fish or any kind of swimming, squirming creatures living in or near the water. Both the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are fed by the Jordan River. There is really only one difference between these two bodies of water, really only one thing that causes the Sea of Galilee to be beautiful and alive while the Dead Sea is barren and lifeless. The Sea of Galilee has an outlet; the Dead Sea does not! Water flows through the Sea of Galilee. Water flows into the Dead Sea but not out! Spiritual input but no spiritual output = stagnation. If you and I have Spiritual input but no spiritual output, we will become stagnant and lifeless. (From Johnny Creasong’s Sermon: You Are Free to Serve the Lord)
Jesus certainly understood this all too well, as it is why He would say things like, “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” (Matthew 20:28) There is a tremendous spiritual parallel in the story I share today, which involves the first body of water, the Sea of Galilee. Throughout His ministry, Jesus would always come to assist those whom He loved. He assisted His disciples…He assisted Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, young and old, rich and poor. He certainly set a good example for us. John shares about a unique situation here in the passage where the faith of the disciples is tested…and one of them in particular…but lessons abound for all of them!
When we read Matthew 14:22-33, we come to understand that the crowd wants to make Jesus king, so this presents something of a problem. This is why John says that Jesus is in such a hurry to dismiss the crowd and send the disciples back across the sea in a boat to the land of Gennesaret. The disciples are not completely aware of the situation nor do they understand Jesus’ plan, so if they had stayed, they probably would have fallen into the crowd’s plans. Out on the sea in the boat, a storm arises. We have to understand that the storm comes because the disciples are in the will of God, and not out of it…as Jonah was – Jesus understands this. Something that I like to say is that -- what is challenging for us humans to understand from our human perspective is that the disciples are safer in the storm in the will of God, than on the land with the crowd and out of God’s will. It teaches us that we must not judge security on the basis of circumstances alone.
Meanwhile, back in the boat, the disciples seem to feel deserted by Jesus when the storm comes. What is interesting is that Jesus actually waits for the boat to be far from land. This way any human element is gone and the opportunity for faith-building is at the maximum. Jesus walks out to the disciples on the water. Why? He wants to show them that the very thing that they fear…the sea…is only a sidewalk for Him to come to them! Another interesting question that has to be asked -- why do the disciples not recognize Him? They simply are not looking for Him. If the disciples were waiting by faith, they would know Him immediately…a good lesson to learn. Instead, they all jump to the conclusion – it is a ghost! Fear and faith are not able to live in the same heart, for fear always blinds people’s eyes to the presence of the Lord. Yet, in the presence of Jesus, fear can be dismissed – only He is able to calm them.
Peter, the most outspoken of the disciples, also is willing to step up to the plate with his faith. He asks to come out to Jesus on the water…and Jesus tells him to come. The other eleven disciples sit in the boat and watch. It requires genuine faith to leave the boat and step out onto the water. After taking a few steps, Peter begins to sink. Why? The wind comes up and his faith wavers, because he takes his eyes off of Jesus and looks at his circumstances. Peter needs to be single-minded and focused, but he becomes double-minded…showing that faith and fear cannot occupy the heart at the same time. We must give Peter credit for knowing that he is sinking and crying out to the Lord for help before he is in over his head. Before we criticize Peter for sinking in the water, he needs to be honored for his wondrous demonstration of faith! He dares to be bold and courageous – signs of a growing, healthy faith. Peter grows through his trial to have even greater faith. His experience turns out to be a blessing for the others, as well as himself. This miracle magnifies Jesus’ kingship. Peter and the others know that He is the ruler over all nature. All people and things, including the wind and the waves, must obey Him. Perhaps the most important understanding we can gain from this story is that, Jesus ends up in the boat with the disciples. When surrounded by adversity, safety and salvation are experienced in the church with Jesus in its midst. When the disciples see the power of Jesus in this situation, all they can do is fall down and worship Him as the Son of God!
Perhaps harkening to another story where Jesus is with His disciples in a boat on the sea, a young man applied for a job as a farmhand. When the farmer asked for his qualifications, he said, "I can sleep when the wind blows." This puzzled the farmer. But he liked the young man, and hired him. A few days later, the farmer and his wife were awakened in the night by a violent storm. They quickly began to check things out to see if all was secure. They found that the shutters of the farmhouse had been securely fastened. A good supply of logs had been set next to the fireplace. The young man slept soundly. The farmer and his wife then inspected their property. They found that the farm tools had been placed in the storage shed, safe from the elements. The tractor had been moved into the garage. The barn was properly locked. Even the animals were calm. All was well. The farmer then understood the meaning of the young man's words, "I can sleep when the wind blows." Because the farmhand did his work loyally and faithfully when the skies were clear, he was prepared for the storm.
As one of our favorite songs by Scott Krippayne reminds us -- sometimes Jesus is going to calm the storms in your life…other times, He is going to calm the storm in you, thought the circumstances of life continue to rage. What we can learn is that it is not so much whether we are successful in life that makes the difference, but whether we are faithful! We may not always be successful, rather like Peter, we can learn a lot from failure. Circumstances can test us, but how we deal with them can make a huge difference for us. Like the young man, we need to be ready for the storm. It is very easy to be comfortable and content to just stay in the boat, as did the other eleven disciples – we have got to be willing to be challenged…to do something different from our regularly scheduled programming, and so, we are here. Many never really get out on the water to see how the Lord can mightily use them. But with faith, nothing ventured, nothing gained! When we choose to live by faith…when we truly exercise trust in the Lord…single-minded and focused -- then Satan and fear have much less opportunity to get a foothold in our lives. We need to think outside of ourselves – we need to be willing to consider and actually find ways to get out of the boat -- and consider how the Lord can use us and help us to grow…and be a blessing to other people, so that they also can grow! When we do, then our lives become rich and full, and we find purpose for our Christian walk.
Yet, as I now read this, I believe a message that is just as important is -- are we living as if Jesus is in our midst? Is he present in our lives? The Lord comes to us in the storms of life. He may not always come at the times that we think He should…He knows when we need Him the most – He has our best faith interests at heart. But more importantly, are we allowing Him to dwell with and is us? We do not need to be so far from Him that He seems like an apparition to us. We need Him to be present with us. He wants to be close to you…in the boat with you. Welcome Him.