American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
I can easily recall the image of a poster that my wife bought for me many years ago, one that I never framed, but I kept tacked to the wall of my university faculty office for many years. The image was of a dim sun rising over rough seas, taken from the vantage point of a safe harbor. The clouds that hid the brightness of the sun and the colors that filled the sky implied the possibility an impending storm. On the horizon was a sailboat, apparently heading further away from shore. The quote across the bottom of the image was simple and descriptive of the scene: ďA ship in harbor is safe Ė but that is not what ships were built for. That poster served as a reminder to me that life is not to be lived in the safety of the harbor, but out on the seas where we have been created to serve. I now use that image as the background of my workplace desktop computer.
Many of us go through life without taking risks, satisfied to keep a hardened, defensive wall of our own construction close around us, a wall that protects us from change, protects us from outside involvement, protects us from exposure, and protects us from the possibility of being hurt. It is easy to imagine being in a small boat, well out to sea and out of sight of land when the darkening skies, increasing winds and rising waves portend the imminence of a coming storm. It is quite reasonable to become very alarmed in such a situation. A small boat that is subject to high seas would be a place of significant danger.
When we look at the waves of life that rise and fall around us it is natural for us to respond to them with some amount of anxiety or fear when we consider our own weaknesses and our own limitations. It is easier for us to say, ďI cannotĒ enough times that we simply replace the phrase with ďI will not.Ē The fortifications that we build around us may keep us safe from some of the risks of life, but by keeping us protected, it also serves as a barrier to the realization of our full potential. This wall of fear keeps us from experiencing events in our lives that God would use to bless us and to bless others. The wall that we build around ourselves serves as a safe harbor that tightly embraces the ship, preventing it from all of the risks of the open ocean. However, ships were not designed to be kept in the marina, but were designed to fulfill their purpose on the open seas where they can be productive as they are subject to the control of a captain who will guide them safely through the waves.
One who is without saving faith in God is like a ship that is adrift on the seas without a captain and navigator, subject to the raging winds and waves that would thwart its purpose and threaten its destruction. However, when one comes to the LORD in faith and trust, everything changes. God created man for a purpose, and that purpose involves Him in every part of our lives. God has promised His blessing and His protection upon those who would place their faith and trust in Him. God has also commissioned the faithful to serve as His hands, His feet, and His voice as they spread the good news of Godís offer of grace to a world that is adrift. God has promised to lead us through the waves and storms of this life, actually using them to prepare us and grow us in strength and humility. We may be reminded of the testimony of the apostle Paul who had seemingly great courage when continually faced with dramatic risks as He remained faithful to Godís calling, and wrote,
Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Paul is stating that, as he experiences the events of this life, his relationship with the LORD gives him the wisdom, strength, and confidence to endure and overcome them.
Why do we sometimes live our lives in fear of its storms and waves when we know that we have a LORD 9who has both commissioned us to engage them and promises us to guide us through? We find encouraging examples of Jesusí power to protect us as we look into the Holy Scriptures. One such example is found in the 14th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew.
Matthew 14:22-33. 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. 23And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
This had been a very difficult and eventful day for Jesus. The chapter starts with a narrative that describes the events surrounding the execution of John the Baptist by Herod the tetrarch of Galilee, son of Herod the Great. When Jesusí disciples brought the news of the execution, He withdrew by boat, only to be followed along the shoreline by a growing crowd of people. Upon landing at the shore, Jesus had compassion upon them and ministered to them. It was here that Jesus fed the group of about 5,000 men, plus women and children using five loaves of bread and two small fish. It was immediately following this event that Jesus desired to spend time alone in prayer.
JESUS IS CALLING US.
In order to obtain solitude, Jesus sent the multitudes away, and sent the Apostles on a journey across the Sea of Galilee, a distance of about five miles where He would join them the next day. The time of their separation was in the evening. The trip across the Sea of Galilee is only about five to eight miles, depending upon their point of departure and heading. One would expect that they would arrive at the other shore following a couple of hours of sailing and rowing.
Matthew 14:24. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
The weather on the lake was not conducive to eastbound travel, and they made slow and difficult progress against the wind and waves. By evening they had only made it partially across the width of the lake and were not making progress against the headwinds. The Apostles had a choice of continuing to struggle against the wind, or allow the wind to push them back to their point of origin. Since Jesus commanded them to cross the lake, they continued to press into the wind.
Why would Jesus have commanded them to cross the lake against a headwind while He was not with them? We may recall that the last narrative of a lake crossing in a storm culminated with Jesusí calming the storm, revealing His power over nature. The Apostles found themselves in a similar situation, but this time Jesus was not with them. This set of circumstances would be yet another opportunity for Jesus to teach them of His sovereignty and of His promise of protection over them.
Why does God send us through the storms of life? God sends us into the storms in much the same way that Jesus sent the Apostles. The Apostles knew that God had a purpose for them, and they had no real reason to fear. Yet, they now found themselves again stranded in a storm and were becoming alarmed.
1. To strengthen. Since God has a purpose for those who are faithful to Him, He works in their lives to facilitate spiritual growth and maturity. James reminds us to be joyful when we experience difficulties, knowing that they produce patience and endurance. Every experience that causes us to stress our resources in exercise, whether it is physical or spiritual, produces a greater strength. Each experience that God brings us through gives us more confidence when approaching another similar experience. That added strength no only aids us in the next storm, but also serves to encourage others who experience a similar storm but have less experience in enduring it.
2. To teach. Often we approach and encounter difficulties and the consequences of change with fear. The Holy Spirit is not the author of fear, and such fears are simply a natural response to the unknown probability of possible consequences of approaching difficulties and stress. To approach danger without some amount of fear is not natural. Yet, as we experience difficulties, God teaches us through them.
We learn a lot when we go through difficult times and rely on Him to get us through.
3. To experience God. If we went through life without encountering headwinds, our natural self-centeredness would lead us away from our dependence upon God. We need to experience circumstances in our lives that promote our dependence upon God. It is through the experiences of that dependence that we come to see God working in our lives. When we sense God working, our faith is strengthened, and our confidence in Him grows.
4. To submit to God. Where was Jesus during this crisis? Jesus had separated Himself from the Apostles and retreated to a mountainside to pray. We can probably correctly assume that Jesusí prayers included the subject of the Apostleís immediate situation. If Jesus could calm the storm, He could also bring one. This can serve as a reminder of Godís sovereignty, and Jesusí true authority to be the LORD of our lives. We do not need to face the headwinds on our own. When we submit ourselves to God, He faces them with us and can carry us through in His power, rather than leaving us to face the issues on our own.
JESUS WILL PROTECT US.
Matthew 14:25-27. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. 26And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 27But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
The significance of the struggle that the Apostles faced is revealed in Verse 25. A night watch is three hours, placing the time of the fourth watch around 3:00 A.M. to 6:00 A.M., six to nine hours after sundown. Since the Apostles started out in the early evening, it is apparent that they had been struggling for at least that amount of time, far longer than it would usually take to cross the lake. It is also evident that they were experiencing no little fear. Did they think that, since Jesus was not with them, they were in danger of drowning? Did they not feel the power of Jesusí prayers? Of course, it is probably not very reasonable for us to be critical since there are few of us who would not be quite fearful in this situation.
Yet, even their location in the middle of the lake did not prevent Jesus from coming to them. Though the headwinds were still raging, Jesus came to them in the midst of their crisis.
We might also note that it was difficult for the Apostles to first recognize that it was Jesus who was approaching them. With the storm raging around them they were likely focused on their survival, maintaining the bow of the ship in the direction of the coming waves and had little opportunity to do much else. Also, it was dark, and as Jesus approached, He would not be clearly seen. Of course, the Apostles would not be expecting someone to be walking up to their ship, so the only conclusion they could come up with, one that was consistent with their fear, was that they were seeing some form of a Ghost.
Likewise, when we are in the middle of one of lifeís storms, it may be quite difficult to recognize the presence of the LORD as He is with us to bring us through. Instead of looking for Him, we like the Apostles, are focused on managing the boat.
When we face the winds and waves of life we can be reminded that we are not facing them alone. Jesus is always with us every step of the way, and if we depend upon Him, He will always lead us through. There are at least three ways we can trust Jesus to lead us through.
1. Trust in Jesusí prayers. Jesus continually prayed for the Apostles and for the church during the years of His ministry. His compassion for His disciples, and for all who have trusted in Him, certainly has not changed. We can always know that Jesusí concern for us is real and we can trust Him to be with us every moment of every day, ďyokedĒ with us in every experience.
2. Trust in Jesusí power. We often feel unable to overcome the winds and waves that buffet us in this life, and it may help to be reminded that it is God who is ultimately in control, not us. We can trust in Godís sovereignty over all things, and be reminded that God uses all of His discipleís experiences for His purpose of bringing them closer to Him. By walking over the water to the boat, Jesus demonstrated His power over all of the winds and waves of our lives. We can trust that Jesus can and will come to us through any circumstance that we would ever face.
3. Trust in Jesusí presence. Even though the Apostles thought that they were alone in the boat, it is quite evident that Jesus was always with them, whether in His knowledge of their situation (which He prayed for) or in His physical presence. One can imagine the Apostles saying, ďIf Jesus were here, we would be safe.Ē Jesus demonstrated His presence to them in a miraculous way.
We might argue that if the Apostles trusted Jesus completely, it would not have been necessary for Him to come to them on the water. We are in a similar situation today. Jesus has the ability to walk across the gap between earth and eternity and present Himself to us at any time and place that He chooses. He has promised to do this one day in a way that will be seen by all people. Knowing that He could come to us as easily as He came to the Apostles should encourage us to be aware of His continued presence in our lives as He can lead us through our experiences by His presence in our hearts.
JESUS WILL LEAD US THROUGH .
Matthew 14:28-29. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. 29And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
God gives us opportunities to step out in faith and accomplish God-sized tasks if we will put aside our fears and our pride, and simply step forward, keeping our focus on Him when He calls. It is difficult for us to do this when we are so distracted by our own sin or our own lack of faith in God. We can see in the experience of Peter several of the issues involved when we do step out in faith as he responded to Jesusí call to come to Him.
1. Get out of the boat. We may note that the winds are still howling, and the waves are still churning as Peter is coming to Jesus. It is also the middle of the night, so the only light is coming from the moon, the stars, and the presence of Jesus. We see in Peter a sincere desire to submit himself to Jesusí power and protection, and a willingness to step out in faith, despite the dangers of doing so. It is one thing to step off of a boat on a clear and calm day, but quite another to do so in the midst of a night storm when one is immediately disoriented once being submerged. When Jesus leads us to step out of the boat, that call may not always happen during the times of peace and calm. It may be more likely that Jesus will call us to step out in faith at those times when some amount of risk is involved. Following Jesusí lead means we need to be willing to get out of the boat.
Our boat may be characterized by our comfort zone. When was the last time you really stepped out of your boat in order to minister to another?
2. Be willing to fail. Our self-centered pride can serve to keep us in the boat. We can come up with all manner of reasons why we would not choose to fail in front of others. Peter was not alone on the boat. We can see that his focus was not on the other disciples, but was placed on Jesus alone. He was leading Peter to take on the impossible. When Jesus calls us out of the boat, He can certainly be leading us into the unknown, into areas of risk where dependence upon Him is absolutely required. There is little question that Peter would not step out of that boat into the rolling waters of the lake without depending upon Him entirely. Sometimes we may face tasks of Godís choosing and think that we have no more power to accomplish the task than we have to walk on water. When we find ourselves at this point, we have found ourselves exactly where God wants us: in the palm of His protecting hand. Getting out of the boat gives us an opportunity to rely fully on God.
Matthew 14:30-31. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
3. Jesus will pick you up. We may be impressed by Peterís courage as he stood at the edge of the boat and stepped out. Yet, we identify well with Peter who, when having made that step, looked around himself and saw the danger that his impulsiveness may have overlooked. When Peter recognized the dangers of his circumstance he took his focus off of Jesus and began to regain that fear of being outside of the boat.
Likewise, we can expect that we may experience the same doubts and fears that Peter did when we step out in faith. However, when Jesus called Peter to Himself, He did not leave Peter alone. As Peter faltered, Jesus simply reached out and picked him up. We can face the unknown experiences that we may find outside of the protection of the boat knowing that when we do fail, Jesus will always be there to pick us up.
Matthew 14:32-33. And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. 33Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
4. Jesus will lead you all the way. There was a marked difference between Peterís walk to Jesus and Peterís walk back to the boat. We do not know how far Peter had walked when he faltered, but we do know that Jesus and Peter walked that distance back together without incident. When Peter was with Jesus, he was more readily able to keep his confidence in Him. With Peterís faith restored, Jesus led him all the way back to the boat.
Something special happened when Peter and Jesus returned to the boat. Something that they would never have experienced if Peterís fear had controlled him, keeping him in the boat. They had already seen many of Jesusí miracles. They witnessed the changing of the water to wine at Cana. They had witnessed healings from diseases and the casting out of demons. They had just seen thousands of people fed by the multiplying of a small lunch. Yet until now, it was Jesus who performed these miracles and so it was Jesus alone who had the power over nature. Now they witnessed Peter walking on the water with Jesus, illustrating a totally new concept. Now they understood that when they submit themselves to Jesusí lead, they too have the opportunity to share the same power. Their response to this new revelation caused them to worship Jesus Christ in a new and more meaningful way. Where some may have had doubts about Jesusí power and the nature of the relationship that He shared with them, all doubts were dispelled, as in verse 33, they declared their unabashed belief in the truth of what they had just witnessed, that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, the Messiah who was prophesied in the Old Testament, the One who would come to save Israel.
When we fully submit ourselves to God, allowing Jesus to take the lead, He can do anything through us that He chooses. Godís purpose is that we would continue to develop a closer relationship with Him so that He can bless us as we love Him and glorify Him. Godís purpose also includes our submission to His great commission to make disciples as we go through the experiences of life. As a royal priesthood, believers are called to share the love of God and share the clear message of the gospel to this lost and dying world. Doing so will often require that we step out of our comfort zone and place ourselves within the care and protection of God. Are we willing to get out of the boat and face the winds and waves that threaten us, knowing full well that God is calling us, He will protect us, and He will lead us through?
As we go through life, we are given opportunities to get out of the boat so that through these experiences we will experience God and draw closer to Him as we are strengthened, taught, and submit to Him more and more. When we do step out in faith and get out of the boat, we will find that we can trust Jesusí prayers, His power, and His presence. When we are called to get out of the boat we may fail, but Jesus will always pick us up and lead us all the way so that through that event we will experience God at work in our lives. Are you ready to get out of the boat?
 James, Chapter 1.
 2 Timothy 1:7.
 Matthew 11:29-30.
 1 Peter 2:9.