Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Just When You Need Him Most

Life of Christ 75

         Jesus has just rejected the one thing He supposedly came to get, the throne of Israel. He then abandons the Twelve, storming off into the wilderness. The Apostles are left there, in the middle of nowhere, with twelve baskets of food, a puzzled and frustrated crowd, and night is drawing on apace. Their solution is to get back into the boat they just got out of that morning, and return to Capernaum where Jesus had said He would meet them later.
          In my opinion this night (Matthew 14.22-33) brings the Apostles to their lowest point, other than the crucifixion, of Jesus' entire ministry. In fact, I think they are nearly in despair. They have just returned from a preaching trip, and their private time with him has been ruined when the crowd showed up. They spend all day ministering to these people, and their emotions had whipsawed as He commands them to do the impossible, and then does it Himself. The reaction to Jesus' miraculous feeding of the five thousand was perhaps the pinnacle of His entire ministry, popularly speaking, at least in Galilee, and they excitedly watch as a delegation of leaders from the crowd approach Him, and seek to make Him king. In the Apostles' view this is the exact moment for which they have been working and praying - only to have Jesus snatch it away from them and then suddenly abandon them. Crushed, they get back into the boat and start rowing over to Capernaum, only to have a storm come up. These experienced fisherman row all night long, and have only gone the equivalent of 30 city blocks by three in the morning. They are emotionally spent and physically exhausted. Their dreams of glory and success have been smashed to smithereens. They are on their own, struggling mightily, and making zero progress. They couldn't go back and they couldn't go forward. It is the perfect storm of weather, circumstance, despair, loneliness, exhaustion, frustration, and abandonment.  
          Then, as if things weren't bad enough already, a ghost shows up. Well, what else could they possibly expect? It would never occur to them that it might be anything else. Until it turned out to be Jesus (Matthew 14.26-27).
          At this point Peter opens his mouth and says something that is both incredibly stupid and incredibly full of faith at the very same time. 'Lord, if it be thou, bid me come to thee on the water' (Matthew 14.28). Jesus does so bid, and thus it is that Peter becomes only the second person in all of human history to walk on unfrozen water.
          Some, hearing this, demand an explanation. I have none to offer other than that it wasn't ice that Jesus and Peter walked on. It was a rather violent storm so the water was moving around a great deal. It was late spring in a climate with typically mild winters so the weather was not conducive to an ice-encrusted lake. Not only that, but they had just rowed across the same water that morning, and I don't think they had an ice-breaker out in front of them while they did it. No, it was liquid water, mountainous waves of it, moving, in the middle of the night, accompanied by thunder, rain, and lightning. And Peter, of all people, walked on it toward Jesus.
          What did it feel like? I would imagine it was exhilarating. He had been a fisherman out on the sea all of his life. Had he ever imagined a moment like this? I don't know, but I can picture him whooping like a little kid as climbed the waves toward Jesus. Well, at least until he got his eyes off of Christ and onto the actual circumstances in which he was embroiled (Matthew 14.30). At that point whatever had been solidifying the water underneath his sandals ceased to work, and as fast as you can blink he began to sink.
          In sudden and complete desperation he looks back to Jesus and just has time to verbalize one phrase, 'Lord, save me' before the waters close over his head. 'And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him' (Matthew 14.31). Jesus then helps a shaking and soaked Peter back into the boat, climbs in Himself, and immediately the boat is at the docks of Capernaum (John 6.21). The reaction of the stunned Apostles is absolutely understandable, 'Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God' (Matthew 14.33).
          Beloved, Jesus comes just when you need Him most. This is His pattern all throughout the scriptures. For instance, consider Abraham, tasked with ritualistically sacrificing his only son, Isaac. He was stopped by the angel and found the substitionary ram only when the knife in his hand was poised in the air above Isaac's prone body. Consider Jacob, called to return home after an absence of 20 years. He finds Jesus suddenly physically present the very night before he is to face an angry Esau and 400 of his closest friends. Consider Moses, commissioned with leading a horde of millions into the hot blowing sands of the Sinai Peninsula. It is only as they are faced with terrible thirst that the Rock appears. This Rock would not only give them water and follow them around, but the New Testament clearly names It as literally being Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 10.14). Consider an uncertain Joshua, facing his first real test in front of Jericho. Moses is dead. The manna is stopped. The people are restive. It is fish or cut bait time. And then the Captain of the host of the Lord, who is none other than Jesus, appears. Consider the three Hebrew children unceremoniously thrown into the burning fiery furnace. When Nebuchadnezzar looked in he paused to rub his eyes and ask if they had thrown three men in or four. Three it was, yet four were there, 'and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God' (Daniel 3.25).
          This is how God works. He sends us into seemingly impossible situations, and then bails us out in a way that only He could. In the process we get the compassionate rescue and He gets the glory. We also get the lesson, and our faith is strengthened. Have you ever noticed that you can't buy strengthened faith in the store? You can only get it by going through the storm, and then watching Him show up just when you need Him most.
          Do you need Him today? Desperately? More than ever before? Good. He comes just when you need Him most.

If you would like to hear the audio version of this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 43, 'He Walked on the Water'.

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