Sink, Swim or Salsa

Well, another election is over and once again God won. I know that a lot of you (like 49-percent) don’t like that I just wrote that but… tough. (love ya!) When you have a divine being sitting on the throne of heaven with his feet resting on earth like a terrestrial ottoman, everything else seems minor. Why? Because that divine being has power over all happenings on earth, power to change, to influence, to create.. to destroy. And he raises up leaders and takes them down. But many of my friends voted for the loser and, today, they are mad, distraught, and scared for the future. “There go all our freedoms!” one commenter on Facebook raved.

There’s nothing like an election to sidetrack the Church of Jesus from its witnessing, disciple-making, loving one another mission. Emotion gets twisted in a knot and powerfully comes out through our mouths and our fingertips.

Matthew documents a great moment in the life of Jesus in which we can learn a lot about our lives, emotions and why we feel distressed when our attention focuses on the madness around us. It can be found in Matthew 14:22-33. Let’s work our way through it. The apostle starts,

“Immediately Jesus a made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dispersed the crowds. And after he sent the crowds away, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone”

I can imagine the disciples were getting antsy. Night was falling and everyone was in the boat waiting to sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Well, everyone but Jesus. He had read the weather forecast and knew that there was a gale watch in effect for the sea. “Good luck, fellas!” he shouted as he walked away… Well, maybe not. But that’s what I would’ve done. No, Jesus had some unfinished business. He dispersed the crowd (without the disciples’ help) and then went away by himself to pray. During his time on earth, Jesus modeled the importance of solitude. He got away from the disciples first, then the crowd. That’s like leaving family, then leaving the city. With the weather forecast in hand.

 

“Meanwhile the boat, already far from land, was taking a beating from the waves because the wind was against it.

See what I mean about the weather report? Ahem, let’s continue…

As the night was ending, Jesus came to them walking on the sea. (St. Mark adds, “He saw them straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. As the night was ending, he came to them walking on the sea, for he wanted to pass by them.) When the disciples saw him walking on the water they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” and cried out with fear. But immediately Jesus a spoke to them: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”

I once thought I saw a UFO. It was on a youth group trip to the woods of East Texas and several of us in a van saw a bright streak of light outside the right windows. We yucked about it at first, as teenagers do, then dismissed it as swamp gas, a weather balloon, or top secret military aircraft. Or as a passing car. Anyway, I digress. Because the Sea of Galilee is in a depression, the sides all around are much higher than the water. It’s relatively small size also meant that someone on a surrounding hilltop could easily see what was happening on the water below. When that first gust of wind hit Jesus in the face as he was praying, he knew that his friends were going to be in trouble. Of course, I believe he knew that well in advance but once the wind hit him, he knew the time was right.

Yet Mark adds a very interesting subplot to this story. So, being without a boat, he did the next best thing. He swam. NO. He rented a kayak. NO. He… walked around the lake. NO. He set out on top of the water, intending to pass the disciples. Slow pokes! Yes, the Creator has power over his creation. He can twist nature and manipulate it and cause the laws of physics to pause. He is God. But in the process of walking past his struggling crew, the disciples spotted him. Kinda. It was more like a shadowy figure, or a glowing figure, or a UWO (unidentified walking object). Being superstitious and religious, they thought they were seeing a ghost. I suppose part of them thought their lives were about to end in those choppy waters, so ghosts from Davy Jones’ Locker were popping up to welcome them to the underworld. Or so I imagine.

But then they heard a voice. It had to be loud, for the winds and waves were fierce. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” They knew the voice of Jesus by this point. I’m not sure off-hand how long they had been doing life with Jesus but after a few weeks, I’m sure his voice was ingrained in their consciousness. But this was at night. In a storm. And the figure was on top of the waves and not under them. We continue…

Peter said to him, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.” So he said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus.

Peter’s got guts. Plain and simple. Foolish but brave. Courageous but afraid. I love this story about Jesus and Peter, together walking on water. Gingerly, on Peter’s part, no doubt. Jesus is standing on a tossy-turvy sea and Peter joins him on the water. Such faith! Would you get out of a boat if you saw a ghostly figure on the water at night? I wish I had that faith. Peter was looking at Jesus and a miracle was happening.

But when he saw the strong wind he became afraid. And starting to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they went up into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

One of the most heartbreaking things for me to witness as a teacher/minister/bible scholar/brother in Jesus is when a child of God starts sinking in the midst of a life storm. It’s not the sinking itself that troubles me most but the reason for the downfall. Whenever we lose sight of the Savior in the midst of a storm, trouble happens. We lose control of our emotions, our head fills with all kinds of rash thoughts, and we start trying to save ourselves. Trouble is… we’re in the middle of the ocean! There is no salvation here without help — without a constant being intervening in our chaos to lift us up out of the waves and into the boat he just happened to bring with him.

Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, saw the storm around him, and immediately started to sink. Miracle over. For Peter, at least! Jesus had more work left to do. Like Sly Stallone or Bruce Willis, Jesus reached out his hand and grabbed the damsel in distress…err, disciple, before he went over the edge. Or sank. Whatever. Anyway, Jesus reaches out and, as the music reaches a crescendo, he grabs Peter and lifts him up. But not without first giving the brave but wishy-washy Peter a lesson, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

You see, my friends, whenever we lose sight of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Creator of all life, the author and perfecter of our faith, doubt takes over and we grow scared. The waves seem to rise all around us and we think the end is near. Panic sets in. We’ve lost sight of our constant. While we were following His lead all was well. We were walking on water and doing great. Maybe even salsa dancing on top of the waves, we were so confident! Our faith was grounded in Jesus Christ and we knew that he was present and encouraging us as we walked towards him. But all it takes is one distraction and the worries of our life situations — like an election — sweep us away. We grow worried and fearful, thinking all hope is lost and… we’re doomed. Or so we think.

But the author of all life is still standing on top of the water. He’s still there. And the waves don’t shake him. If we look up to Him, call out his name, he’ll grab our emotional and spiritual arms and stop our descent into madness. We may get chided for our doubt, but always in love and with our best interest in mind. He doesn’t save us to mock us. He saves us so that we can follow Him in a new and better life.

Here’s a caution I want to share with you for your blessing. If someone you know and trust — whom you know loves you — thinks you have lost your focus on the Savior, please listen to them. Instead of getting defensive, please examine yourself and pray to your heavenly Father, sitting on His sovereign throne. Spend some time in God’s word. And then filter life through it. Are the waves really that high? Is Jesus sinking? Are you still walking towards him? Or have you stopped and looked at the madness around you?

Fix your eyes on the eternal Jesus. All else pales in comparison to the joy and peace of knowing and following him.

— John