Today’s guest post comes from Ryan Freeman. Ryan is husband to Janis, father to Wesley, Jaedyn, & Tobias, and a lifelong Blue Jays fan. He serves as a Deacon at Grace Fellowship Church of West Toronto. (I’ll forgive that Blue Jays thing because the Royals at least took two of the four from them this past weekend).
The storm is an apt metaphor for struggles in the Christian life, those times when we feel helplessly attacked, driven, or opposed by forces stronger than ourselves. This can be true personally, professionally, relationally, even spiritually – but often in a combination of these. My hope is to offer some quick points of encouragement as we look at Christ interacting with His disciples in the midst of two truly frightening storms.
Obedience Is The Best Refuge
Both accounts (Matt 8:23-27, Matt 14:22-33) take place after physically and emotionally exhausting days. Matthew 8 tells us Jesus was in Capernaum and had spent the day teaching and healing, and dealing with the crowds. It was to escape these crowds that Jesus ordered the disciples into the boat and across the sea. He himself was so physically exhausted that He slept through the trip even into the storm. In the second account our Lord has again withdrawn to be alone with His disciples, but again is tracked down by the crowds. After teaching and healing for a day He feeds a crowd estimated to be 15-25,000 people. The disciples waited on the crowds, both distributing food and collecting the leftovers, before getting their own dinner. Following the free meal the crowd tried to force Jesus to become their earthly King (you can just imagine the disciples saying: “Finally, it’s about to happen!”), but Jesus sent them away – no doubt an emotional and confusing turn of events for those who followed Him.
Now, after the latest busy day in a series of exhausting days the disciples are out on the water, facing a terrible storm, and getting nowhere. Matthew 8:16 records that the healing of the crowds started in the evening, before Jesus gave the instruction to board the boat, and Matthew 14:25 tells us they were in the fourth watch of the night, probably between 3-6 AM, and still a long way from shore battling the storm. Conventional wisdom might say that when the wind and waves are so strong against you that you can’t cross a lake four miles wide you should just turn around and ride the waves back to shore. But, to their credit, the disciples would not veer off the course given by their master, even to the point of fearing their own death.
At the end of their own physical strength these men, many of whom were lifelong fishermen, were also at the end of their personal and professional competence. Their obedience to Christ brought them to the end of anything they had to offer, and they saw the futility of their efforts. Personally, as a member of a church plant, and a church planting church, in a city where most churches have fled for the suburbs and real estate prices make churching nearly impossible, this struck a chord! When all our efforts fail, and our strength is not enough, we can either reason with ourselves that wisdom dictates a change of course … or we can hold fast to the instruction of our Lord and trust in Him to provide resources beyond ourselves!
And Jesus did just that for these disciples. In the first case when they cried out to Him, He spoke a simple command and all was well. In the second, all He had to do was enter the boat and the storm was not only still, but their mission was accomplished and the boat had arrived at its destination. Jesus will do this for us as well! When we obey in faith, no matter the circumstances, He has power to deliver in ways we can’t imagine.
Peter learned this lesson well in Matthew 14:28, opting to leave behind the failing security of his boat, companions, and lifetime of training seeking the only true safety. He knew Jesus Christ walking on the water was more secure than a boat full of career mariners, and he risked his life to get to the only real refuge.
Jesus Is Always There
In Matthew 8 the disciples, realizing they were at the end of their strength and skill, cried out to their master who was visibly present just a few feet away sleeping in the boat. No doubt they wished for Him to be sleeping nearby again in the second storm! Not only was Jesus not in the boat in Matthew 14, but they were in the only boat. By every earthly estimation the one who was powerful enough to save from the storm was nowhere nearby, had no way to get to them, and had no way of even knowing where on that storm-tossed sea they were.
And yet, beyond anything they could have imagined, Jesus came to them at their time of need. Note, though, that Mark 6:48 says Jesus “meant to pass them by.” He made Himself available to them, but wanted to elicit their cry of faith. When we are feeling overwhelmed by life’s storms and trials we don’t have the option of curling up in the fetal position and waiting for God to “do something”. He wants our cry, our faith, our confession of need – and then His answer is simply “Come”. Obey in faith, come to Christ in faith, and He will protect and supply what is needed. We are never lost to our Lord’s sight, even in the seasons when we do not feel Him nearby. Christian, trust that your saviour is watching over you – even as Jesus was no doubt praying for His men while they were on the sea (Matthew 8:23).
Jesus Builds Weak Faith
It would be easy to finish the story in Matthew 14 at verse 29, with Peter walking on the water to his Lord. What amazing power! What faith! Come, let’s all find a pond and practice! But stopping there robs us of an important lesson. Lest we become discouraged with our own faith after reading of obedient disciples rowing against the storm, and a man being so drawn by love for his Lord that he defied physics and walked on water, we have the account in verses 30-33. Peter’s faith falters, he begins to sink, and again must cry “Lord, save me!”. Jesus could have let him drown for his weak faith, or perhaps left him under for a few seconds to really teach him a lesson. Instead, Jesus took hold of His sinking friend, pulled him up, and walked along side of him to the boat.
Our saviour, the one who will not break the bruised reed, or quench the smoldering wick, builds up and strengthens our weak and faltering faith. He supplies the power to accomplish what He instructs us to do, and He uses trials and storms to strengthen our faith – not destroy us. Some, like Peter, will cling to Him and grow in strength. Some, like John Mark will fall away (Acts 15) for a time when the struggle becomes hard, yet will be restored (2 Timothy). And some will be exposed as apostate seeds in rocky soil when the trials of Christian life become too much for them.
Those of us who love our Lord and witness His faithfulness in trials have only one possible reaction: “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?” “Truly, you are the Son of God!”