Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Call before the Calm

We all know what it’s like to feel exhausted. But have we ever been so weary that we’re able to sleep through a storm while in an open boat with drenching waves sweeping over it?

That’s how tired Jesus was as he wearily climbed into a boat with his disciples and told them to sail to the other side of the lake. Though he had the power to heal, his body also felt fatigue. The Son of God fully experienced our frailty as a man. 

I can just see him crawling to the back of the boat where there was a ragged fishy-smelling cushion of sorts, and curling up with it in the space he could find amidst the folded nets and coiled ropes. He may have been asleep before the sails were even raised. 

We don’t know how long it was before the storm hit, but we know it was fierce. Mark tells us that “waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling” (Mk. 4:37). Matthew tells us that the boat was “being swamped by the waves” (Mt. 8:24). And Luke tells us that they “were in danger” (Lk. 8:23)!

As the winds began to roar, the waves would’ve grown until the boat was being tossed upon them and drenched under them. There would’ve been shouting from the disciples as they hurriedly lowered the sails, and started to bail. And through it all, Jesus slept. 

None of the commotion woke Jesus. I can just see the disciples scrambling and jostling to stay afloat, wiping the sea spray of the pounding waves from their faces, and occasionally stealing glances at Jesus, wondering how he could sleep through it all. Perhaps Peter shouted to Andrew or to John, “Should we wake him?”

As they shook him awake, they shouted above the tumult, “Master, don’t you care? We’re perishing here in this terrible storm!” Picture Jesus struggling to focus on their faces as he stirred from a deep sleep, his face wet with spray, and then looked around at the storm that was assaulting them, then back into their eyes with greater clarity in his gaze. 

Of the three accounts of this story, I like Matthew’s best due to one small way in which he specifies the sequence of events. In all three accounts, Jesus questions the disciples’ lack of faith, but it’s only in Matthew’s account that we’re told that Jesus asks them this amidst the tumult, before calming the storm (Mt. 8:26). 

I love imagining Jesus sitting there, shouting to be heard above such a fearsome storm — “Why are you so afraid? Where’s your faith?” — while waves crashed into the reeling vessel, and as some of the disciples still bailed with all their might. I can picture Jesus’ wet hair whipping in the wind, his eyes squinting in the lashing spray as he looked into the eyes of his disciples’ tired and fearful faces. Then he called on them to believe while the winds wailed.

Their fearful response was obvious, but Jesus didn’t respond to their fear by refusing to help them. As they tried to deal with the storm by their own desperate devices, he didn’t tell them that if they don’t have faith, they’ll see no miracles. Jesus is not a punitive Saviour. 

Matthew wrote, “Then he rose” (Mt. 8:26), and majestically turned from the doubtful disciples to the defiant winds and raging waves and said, “‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mk. 4:39). 

The bailing suddenly stopped as flabbergasted disciples stared out at the suddenly placid sea. There was no more shouting as the wind no longer roared in their ears. The winds had obeyed him. The undercurrents of the sea obeyed him. “Who is this?” the disciples asked one another in hushed tones. “Even winds and sea obey him!” (Mt. 8:27). 

Fast-forward to the boats of our lives today, and Jesus still calls his followers to trust him amidst the troubles of this world. And I’m so relieved that he doesn’t wait for us to be pure in faith before acting on our behalf. As winds lash at my face, I can be sure that Jesus is with me and has all authority to calm the storms in my life even as he calls me to believe him while I’m still in the midst of the storms.

© 2020 Ken Peters

Monday, July 20, 2020

We are in Good Hands

How would you want to hide from danger? What if I told you that you could be just as safe behind a delicate feather as inside a strong stone tower?

That’s the contrast King David provided when he wrote Psalm 61. He was crying out to God when he wrote, “You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy” (v.4). 

What great assurance that provides when we see how powerfully strong God is compared to any enemy who seeks to assail us. We can take refuge behind the strong stone walls of our God. 

But then David wrote, “Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings” (v.5). Wings? What will that protect me from?

Plenty, when you understand that God’s protection is personal. A strong tower may make us feel safe, but feathers across our cheek will ensure we feel loved. It’s vital that we see God’s protection as an expression of His affection for us. 

God wants us to remember that His protection in our lives is more than simply brute force — it’s also tender care. The tower that surrounds me is also the gentle wing that covers me. We are safe because we are loved.

© 2020 Ken Peters

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Comfort of His Presence

As the sun descended on that long-anticipated day, the room gradually dimmed as twelve men huddled close to Jesus, hanging on his every word. The trembling shadows in that candlelit upper room must have befitted the somber faces staring intently at their Master. What compassion Jesus must have felt as he caught their gazes, one by one, seeing their fear, their confusion, their sadness. 

He deeply understood the troubles they would soon face in this world. But he also knew that he would soon overcome this broken world that vainly sought to oppose him. And he also knew that they would have a Helper unlike any they had ever known. So as he spoke, he intentionally looked into their eyes with an expression of heartfelt comfort. 

“Let not your hearts be troubled,” he said. “You believe in God. Believe also in me” (John 14:1). He wanted them to believe that the One with whom they had walked so closely for those three brief miracle-filled, awe-infused, horizon-widening years would not abandon them now. And though he had to speak of leaving, he promised that “I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (14:3).

What a wonder. That the Son of God would receive the likes of them — or of us — despite all our flaws and fears, to himself. To hear him say, with unfeigned affection, I will “receive you,” means that he wants to embrace us, accept us, gather us up “that where I am, there you may be also” (14:3) — forever!

The disciples responded with confused questions, not understanding that Jesus had no intention of enforcing his will in an earthly kingdom that would usurp all who opposed him in the here and now. But with the advantages of my post-Pentecost perspective, Jesus’ promise of heavenly fellowship with him creates great expectations in me. Spending eternity with Jesus — I can’t imagine anything better. 

But Jesus wasn’t satisfied with merely pointing to future fellowship with him as he sought to comfort his disciples in this troubled world. Jesus anticipated his own burial, resurrection and ascension when he then said, “A little while longer and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (14:19-20).

So yes, Jesus wanted his disciples to be comforted by his promise that one day and forever, “where I am, there you may be also” (14:3). But he also reassuringly promised that he wanted to walk in close fellowship with them in this world — “you in me, and I in you” (14:20) — as he also spoke of a “Helper” (14:16), “he who dwells with you and will be in you” (14:17)!

So imagine Jesus at a table with us now, in 2020, looking intently at each of us, catching our gaze, seeing the fear, the confusion, the sadness, the frustration, the angst of living in a world wrestling with a pandemic. 

I can hear him saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me.” And he would want us to be comforted as he said, “Believe that I will not only one day joyfully receive you to be with me forever, but also believe that because I am now with my Father, I have sent my Spirit to abide with you and to help you, so that through him you can truly and continually be in me, and I in you — together in loving friendship — right now, today and every day.

© 2020 Ken Peters