I always love to read the comics in the newspaper. One of my favorites is Charles Schultz’ “Peanuts” cartoon, the adventures of Charlie Brown and his gang. One of the main characters is Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog, who strives frequently to be an author. He always begins his writing, “It was a dark and stormy night . . .”
The storms of life are difficult to endure. Let’s talk together about storm survival.
Our family was on a vacation in the late 1980s at the Lake of the Woods in Minnesota, close to the northwest angle. We were out in our boat on the water and the children began to laugh pointing at my wife, Denise. Her hair had begun to stand straight up. There was so much electricity in the air that her hair was lifting. I looked to the west and sure enough, huge thunder heads were building up. Thunderbolts and lightning flashing to the ground. It was foreboding and we got off the water as fast as we could.
The disciples of Jesus were caught in a storm. Many of us experience storms of life in our journey. Perhaps it’s a loved one who is very sick, or we lose our job, or we’re in the midst of a difficult relationship that does not seem to change, or we struggle with addictions. How do we survive? How do we ride out the storm? How do we even breathe when we are paralyzed by our fear, and we think God, where are you?
The disciples of Jesus had heard Jesus call them and had left all to follow Him. Many times in the Gospel of Mark their response to what they experienced alongside Jesus are the questions, Who is this man? and What does it all mean? and What does it mean for me? They experienced Jesus as He exercised demons, healed the sick and lame, calmed the sea and fed the 5000 from a few loaves and a couple fish. Obviously they knew and believed that He was from God. Is He the Messiah, and if He is, what does it mean?
I’m struck by the truth that Jesus frequently went off by himself to pray. He spent time with His Father. In this particular story it says He sent His disciples ahead to the other side and He sent the crowd away. That would have been no small feat because after the feeding of the 5000, they wanted to make Him their King. Who wouldn’t want a King who could overthrow the enemies by His supernatural power, keep our bellies full, and guarantee our personal comfort? (Sometimes that’s how we approach God.) So Jesus sent them away because He was not going to be that kind of King.
Why does He pray? In His humanness, perhaps Jesus was weary and needed intimacy and encouragement with His Father. Or maybe it was to talk through the details of His mission. Perhaps the praying is not what He prayed about but for whom He prayed. He prayed for His disciples as the great High Priest, prayed that they might understand or that they would have courage for the days ahead, to endure the storms and follow Him all the way to the cross. He prayed for them as He prays for us, that in a revelation from God and in the Word of God faith would come alive and become strong.
The storm the disciples were trapped in was a tough one. It was the fourth watch of the night, which meant that it was about 5:00 a.m. They have been straining at the oars for over eight hours. Imagine their extreme fatigue. Their lower backs ached, their legs and arms were exhausted, their hands blistered as they pulled on the oars. They were way off course and the storm continued to howl mercilessly. It was dark, and the wind was contrary. The waves continued to hammer the hull of the little boat. Their boat was totally out of control in the storm. All of us can relate to their sense of panic, the sense of fear, the wondering if you would survive the night. They had witnessed Jesus calm the storm, but where was He now?
The truth is the story says Jesus saw them and came walking to them on the sea. It was a moment of supernatural intervention. The very source of their fear Ð the wind and waves of the storm Ð was the pathway Jesus used to come right to where they were.
Initially the disciples thought He was a ghost, a phantom. It was more than just a little fear. It says that they shrieked in their screams of absolute terror. But the voice of Jesus calmed them. “Take courage” He called. Eight times in the New Testament these words were spoken and each time by Jesus Himself. His voice says to us Ð wherever we are journeying, whatever the challenge Ð take courage. He also says, “It is I.” The literal words are “ego eimi,” which is translated, I am. It’s the same words that God gave as His name to Moses at the burning bush. “I am who I am.” I am all that you need me to be. Yahweh.” It makes me think of that passage in Romans 8:31-32, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not withhold his only Son, Jesus, but gave him for us all Ð will he not also, with him, freely give us all things?”
In the same way that Moses and the Israelites were afraid because Pharaoh’s army and chariots chased them from behind and the Red Sea blocked their path forward, just as Jesus walked the waves to find the pathway to the disciples, God used that which impeded them to bring victory over their fear. God used the Red Sea to give the as the very instrument for the Israelites’ victory over Pharoah.
Jesus said to the disciples, “Don’t be afraid.” God speaks to us through His angels, through Jesus, more than one hundred times telling us not to be afraid. I think of the power of the words in Psalm 23 where the Psalmist writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Someone once said to me, “Listen carefully to what Jesus whispers to you in the dark.” Sometimes it’s hardest to trust God when we need to trust Him most. Sometimes it’s hardest to hear the voice of Jesus when we need to hear His promise the most.
I am reminded of a favorite passage in the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Zephaniah, which describes God as the Lord is a mighty warrior Who fights for you. He holds you in His arms, He sings for joy over you, and He whispers to you in His love. The moment Jesus got into the boat, the wind subsided and the storm dissipated. But this rescue by Jesus from the storm was also a moment for the disciples to be schooled by the Master in the development of their faith. In many ways, this story shows us who Jesus is. In that storm are only three options of what Jesus would do.
He could lift them out of the circumstances altogether.
He could change the circumstances themselves.
He could strengthen them with faith and courage to ride out the storm.
I once heard a quote that said, “Sometimes Jesus calms the storm, but sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child.”
So in this story of Jesus walking on the water to where His disciples were trapped in their fear and in the circumstances of the storm, who do we discover Jesus to be? First, He is the High Priest praying for us, praying that God would give us comfort, that we would be encouraged by His presence, the revelation of His Word, and His promises so much that we still believe, even in midst of the storm.
Jesus is also the Son of God, the Omniscient One who sees and knows all about us. He understands our weakness and the circumstances of our moment. Yet He is compelled to act on our behalf in compassion.
Who is Jesus? He is the Lord of Creation, able to control the cosmos as He desires. Nothing can keep Jesus from coming to us. Nothing can hold Him back.
Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One who comes to rescue us.
And ultimately, this Messiah is crucified on the cross to rescue us from our sin and raised from the dead to give us life forever with Him. Jesus is the great “I am.” He is who we need Him to be. He is Immanuel, God forever with us.
The year was 1966. It was the fall, October. I was a boy in Belmond, Iowa when a terrible tornado flattened most of the homes in town. Six people died, many people were injured. It was a scene of chaos and disaster everywhere one looked. My father was a Lutheran pastor serving Trinity Lutheran in town, and he went around town checking in the rubble to see if people were okay. He came to a little white house where an elderly homebound couple who belonged to his church lived. She was blind, and he was in a wheelchair. When the storm began to rage, the husband encouraged his wife to go to the basement where she’d be safe, but she said, no. She was going to stay right there with him. So they huddled together in their kitchen and prayed.
The house literally lifted off its foundation in the midst of the storm, levitating like a scene from The Wizard of Oz. Then it came crashing down on the foundation again, cockeyed, crooked, and off. When my father went to find them, they were both safe but shaken. My father said he would never forget the words that the husband spoke to him, “Pastor in the midst of the storm, when we lifted off the foundation, I had a sense of Psalm 46, ÔGod is our refuge and strength. A present help in time of trouble. Therefore I will not fear, though the earth should change and the mountain slide into the depths of the sea. Be still and know that I am God.'”
When the storms rage, we can turn to God. We can call upon Jesus to come to where we are and help us. We can trust that our lives are in His hands. Trust Jesus at all times, even in the darkness of the storm, for He is our Savior, our God, our Lord, and our Friend.