And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away…. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear….
Men of faith crying out for fear. How can that be?
And yet it happened.
And it still happens, does it not?
Life is full of storms, winds that blow contrary, the deep blue sea of life boisterous and tumultuous. And often it seems that this Jesus is absent just when one needs Him most. In the gospel account, He is conveniently back on dry land, or, as the case may be, in heaven today, safely out of harm’s way while we are being overwhelmed and ready to be swamped. Thus one may judge. So it seemed to the disciples. And so it seems to us.
The year of our Lord 2022 dawns. The church of Christ waits her Lord’s coming and return. He tarries long. And while we wait, life deals us many blows— tests and trials, griefs and sorrows, scorn and loss. Has He, in the safety of His abode, forgotten us while we are beset with troubles on every side? So one might conclude in the midst of life’s storms.
The disciples were out on the deep blue sea, storm driven.
When Christ comes walking to them, the disciples were at the point of being overwhelmed. They had been rowing vigorously, getting nowhere. Who even knew what direction the shore? Their boat was ready to be swamped and they to perish in the depths. Where was Jesus when they needed Him? That was the question.
The disciples had been in storm-tossed seas before. They, after all, were fishermen. Seas were not always calm. But they had always been close enough to shore to make a dash for safety as the storm arrived. Not this time.
On a previous occasion the twelve had been caught out on a tempestuous sea, but Jesus had been with them asleep, recovering from His exhausting and demanding ministry. Once they awoke Him, alerting Him to what threatened them, He had but spoken a few words, “Winds, cease! Sea, be calm!” And so it was. And all was well with their souls, their lives spared.
But not this time. They were alone on the stormtossed sea.
Where was Jesus when they needed Him most? Did He not know they were in danger? Did He not care?
In times of crisis, the question arises. If He really does care, if our lives and well-being are really as important to Him as He claims, why allow this to happen, this evil, this threat to peace, safety, and unity, this threat to life itself? Why allow this suffering, this racking pain of body to ourselves or a loved one, or this loss upon loss, this loneliness and pain of heart?
The disciples were full of fear and, at the same time, undoubtedly aggravated with Christ. Do not forget, they were not out on the deep blue sea by their own choice. They were out there because Christ had sent them out upon the sea. As verse 22 states, “Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship.” The word constrained has to do with force and authority. It carries the idea of Christ laying hands on some of them, pushing them in the direction of the boat, and then pushing the boat off the shore onto the lake to head for yonder shore.
Their Lord wanted them out on the lake. That is why they were out there.
And then, He had sent the storm. This was not by chance or happenstance.
He would not only have known the storm was brewing, but He has gathered it according to His sovereign will.
As the disciples had exclaimed in astonishment at an earlier occasion, “Lo, the winds and waves obey him!” Their Lord had the power not only to calm the wind and waves, but to call them to gather themselves together, to become boisterous and rage and dash against that frail craft, threatening their very lives. Jesus may Himself have been apart from them on shore, but surely He was not unaware of the fury of this storm and in what jeopardy their lives were. And yet, for all His declared love for them, He does not calm the waves and silence the storm; He lets it rage.
The question surely arose, “Why did He not come with us, knowing this evil was to occur? Has He abandoned us now?” How aggravating. “Where is this Jesus when we need Him? Faced with what would overwhelm us, will He now leave us to our own devices, expecting us to survive and overcome these evils on our own?”
As the storms of life arise and batter us on every side, the cry goes up, “Why Lord, why?” And more can be expected this coming year, maybe some of even greater intensity in the lives of some, working loss and sorrow of one sort or the other.
And Jesus’ promised coming? When? When it’s too late? So it seems.
And yet, for all what it seemed, Christ had a purpose in sending the twelve out on the deep blue sea while He remained behind, and then loosing upon them this raging storm, leaving them, seemingly, all alone in the midst of its fury.
In the first place, Christ was teaching them the nature of His kingdom, the kingdom for which they were to serve as its heralds and messengers. And it was not to be of an earthly sort.
The incident of the disciples at the ‘mercy’ of the raging sea cannot be understood apart from what had just preceded it, namely, the wonderful multiplication of the loaves and fishes and the feeding of the 5,000. The disciples had done their best to stir up the crowd to nominate Jesus on the spot to be their King. “A loaf of bread for every cupboard, and ‘fishes’ [!] for every pot.” To be provided by Jesus upon request without any labor to be expended. The King of bread and affluence. What more could a nation want! Remove Herod. This is your Christ, the Messiah. Caesar himself will be powerless against Him. Our Jesus has angels enough to destroy any Roman army that might challenge Him, as well as being able to fill your bellies with bread and grant earthly peace and Jewish dominance once again.
“It is time to make Israel great again.”
Sound familiar? From various evangelical pulpits this is the so-called ‘gospel’ of the day.
Does this sound like the Christ mankind needs, whom we need, as we face the future? It did to the disciples at that point in their apostolic preparation.
It is these fishermen being prepared to be “fishers of men” whom Christ compels to enter the boat and shoves out to sea. And He then gathers and sends upon them the raging storm.
According to verse 26, they were filled with fear (literally, with terror!) when they saw a figure walking on the water. They thought it to be a spirit, a ghost from the dead, come to take them to the abyss and filling them with dread.
After all, their bellies are filled with bread. Materially, they had more than heart could wish. A few hours earlier all had been well with their bodies. Health and wealth, their Lord Jesus popular with the nation as never before, and peace and dominance looming on the horizon. Is that not what life and the promised kingdom are all about?
Then came the storm, and they were looking death in the face. And now the question was, Bellies full of bread or not, what about their souls? When one stares the abyss of death in the face, a belly full of bread (or a bank account with a sizable surplus) is not of all that much use and comfort, is it?
That reality dawned on the disciples out on the deep blue sea, storm driven.
The Jesus, the Messiah, they so sorely needed had to be more than an earthly king, more than one that provided bread in abundance and earthly prosperity, ending national strife.
Peace of soul, assurance of God’s favor, and victory over evil requires more than an abundance of bread and of fishes in the midst of this life’s raging powers and threatening evils. That to the disciples was made plain.
What they needed was Jesus as Savior, but not from poverty and ill health. They needed a Messiah to save them from the guilt and power of sin, one to give them confidence they were right with God with no need to fear some superstitious spirits of the dead coming to take them to the abyss. Not bread for the belly, but atoning blood for their sins; and not fish and beef roast in abundance to sustain earthly life, but the life of Christ Himself and His Spirit providing a spiritual life that death could not touch.
This was the gospel they themselves needed in the midst of life on the deep blue sea with all its uncertainties and threatening evils. And this was the gospel they were to bring to all the nations of the world.
Such is the lesson Jesus is driving home.
This Jesus, this Jehovah salvation, comes walking to them across the water with the words, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”
Another lesson. He was not personally with them in the boat, therefore (to their thinking), “He has forgotten us or does not know in what danger we are, what evils are threatening us. He must not really care. And even if he does, what can he now do about it?”
Was that true?
“Oh, ye of little faith.”
Having sent them out onto the Sea of Galilee, He went apart into the hillside to pray. About what and for whom? About the work that was laid upon Him by His Father, who, let us remember, was also the Father of those beloved but sometimes exasperating disciples given to Christ. He, in fact they, Father and Son, had them and their salvation in mind the whole time, and He, which is to say they, knew exactly the disciples’ predicament and fears.
And having strengthened Himself for His future work through prayer (a reminder to ourselves as we face the uncertain future of this coming year), Jesus proceeds to go to His disciples in a wonderful and awesome way. He comes walking across the water. With slow and measured steps, unimpeded by the raging sea, He proceeds, His eye upon them the whole way.
And drawing nigh, He calms their fears. “Be of good cheer, it is I,” not some ghost come to haunt you in your fears. Implying, of course, “Whether you knew it or not, I have been with you the whole time. I am reminding you once again, I am the Son of God (cf. v. 33). And you belong to me body and soul. You have nothing to fear. You are as secure as if on dry land, and already on yonder shore.”
Do we hear His voice through the raging storms? Do we?
In the year of our Lord 2022, we will face what Jehovah God is pleased to send us. He pushes our frail barks out onto the deep blue sea of life. Who knows what storms we will face, winds that are contrary (to our desires) and fearsome evils. Maybe death itself or pain and suffering with who knows what loss of health and mobility.
But in the midst the storms of life as one may cry from the depths, let us be assured of this, our Jesus knows us and hears us in His abode. And as we cry out, He will come walking across the waters with the word of the gospel, “Be not afraid; be of good cheer; it is I. I am here, close by, and all the powers of darkness and of death cannot separate you from my love nor from the salvation I have worked for you and begun in you.”
I say again, hear His voice, “Be not afraid. Held by my hand, all is well with your soul.”