WHERE IS GOD, WHEN THE STORM SURGES?

This past week, the number of residents in Florida diagnosed with the Covid 19 Corona Virus increased to nearly five thousand, and with that number to increase exponentially over the next three weeks, Governor DeSantis signed the statewide “stay at home” order. As a nation it is anticipated that millions of Americans will become infected, and others well die of this dread respiratory disease. One wonders, yes, even as a Christian, many of us wonder, where is God, when the storm surges? There is a wonderful account in the Gospel of Mark that just might help us address that question.

Mark chapter 6 verses 45 – 56.

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

This familiar story of Jesus, is found in three Gospels: Matthew, Mark and John. John’s Gospel alone tells the story of Peter, who on this same occasion stepped out of the boat and walked on the water to meet Jesus. Why it is omitted in Matthew and Mark? Perhaps it was because Mark’s account reflects the story as told by Peter himself. I suppose that Peter was not interested in glorifying himself by mention of his part in the story. But whatever the reason, Mark clearly wants us focus on Christ without distraction and to clearly hear what this event tells us about Christ.

Matthew, John and Mark tell us that this event occurred immediately following the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. That is significant, because it is the immediate reason why Jesus sent His disciples off into lake called the Sea of Galilee, and why He stayed behind alone. John’s Gospel tells us that the crowd, realizing the ability of Jesus to feed them and perhaps a nation, wanted to make Him their king and Messiah, and to do so by force. That probably would have fomented a rebellion against Rome and Herod. But establishing His Kingdom by human force was not why Jesus came into the world.

Israel needed to repent of her sinfulness and to experience spiritual regeneration and renewal. That would mean embracing Jesus as more than just as a political figure, a rabbi, or even a prophet, but as the Messiah of God, Son of Man, and Son of God. You will recall that this was the very essence of the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus in John chapter 3. The spiritual rebirth of God’s people was essential to the establishing of Messiah’s kingdom in the world. Remember the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, “…Jesus declared, I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again
[John 3:3].”

Before God would establish Messiah’s Kingdom over Israel, Isaiah’s prophecy of the “suffering servant” had to be fulfilled. Specifically, Christ the Messiah would have to be rejected, and die for the sins of the nation before He could be installed as Israel’s king and establish His Kingdom. This was also prophesied by Daniel, and Zechariah, and in the Psalms. Jesus did not want His disciples to be caught up in the excitement of the crowd, which misunderstood His mission, so He sent them off in a boat. Then to be alone in prayer with His Father, He dismissed the crowd.

Jesus according to Matthew, finds a spot on a mountainside to pray. There He spent several hours, from twilight until the wee hours of the morning in fervent prayer. As he prayed that night, winds began to swirl over the lake, growing in intensity because of mountainous terrain surrounding it, which transformed it into a cyclonic bowl. Our text tells us that as dawn approached Jesus could see the little boat, perhaps two miles out in the lake, and His disciples struggling helplessly against the forces of nature. They strained at the oars unable to do more than drift where they did not wish to go. In fact, the place they finally ended up was a bit further west and south of where they were originally headed. It had been a rough night.

But as dawn approaches and conditions deteriorate from bad to worse, we find Jesus walking toward them. And, as He comes close by, they cry out in fear. Are they are being visited by an evil force, some kind of apparition, a demon or ghost? Then Jesus reassures them, responding to their cries. They recognize His voice, and He joins them in the boat. Suddenly, the winds and the waves are still and quieted. Soon they land without further incident in Gennesaret. Crowds who know and recognize Jesus, and they bring the sick to Him, and everyone who calls out to Him or touches the edge of His cloak is healed, everyone.

So what are we to make of this story? What is it saying to us? I have three suggestions. First, … God May Place Us into Circumstances That Make No Sense to Us.

Jesus had a reason for sending His disciples out into the lake on what became a stormy night. We know that! Initially, the disciples probably assumed that like the chicken who crossed the road, it was just to reach the other side, but one thing troubled them, I’m sure. Though our text is silent, they had to have wondered, why wasn’t Jesus going along with them? I’m sure they wondered about that. How would Jesus meet them? It was hardly likely Jesus would swim out to them. Was there another boat, and if so, who would bring Jesus across? But I’m inclined to believe as our text suggests, they really didn’t have a clue what Jesus was up to, or what was in store for them. All they knew was that their master sent them out to cross the lake, and they obeyed.

When my late wife Eileen died, I knew God was calling me back into ministry, but at the time I had no idea where He was sending me or how I would get there. I can remember telling my parents that, and realizing how dumb that must have sounded. Such was the case with Abraham and Sarah of old. God called them to leave Haran, they had no idea where God was leading them. I think of Joseph too, who for perhaps 8 to 10 years was imprisoned in Egypt, and I’m sure he did not know why.

Know this child of God, living in America in the midst of a veritable plague, where God sends us, and what He sends us to endure, may be a mystery to us. The answers are with God alone, and we may not ever know in this life the reasons. But life will go a lot better for us if we understand that God has a purpose and reason, even if we do not get it, and we don’t really have too. We simply need to be obedient to His will and go and do what He asks of us. Listen, mark it down! The disciples got into the boat and faced the storm because God wanted them to. Difficulty is not necessarily a sign that one is out of God’s will. I’m glad the disciples obeyed, because had they not, they would never have experienced one of the most amazing miracles in all of the Bible, and more importantly, they would have never developed the kind of trust in Jesus that would allow them to face persecution and death for His sake. What we are facing may not make sense to us. But that’s OK. We do not have to know the reasons why. Trust in Him and His good character and purpose.

What else are we to make of this story? There is a second suggestion…God May Appear to Have Abandoned Us When in Fact He Has Not.

They got into the boat and sailed off. Jesus was left behind. What did He know of their struggles all night in that awful storm? He was on shore, safe on the mountainside, right? But, that’s where we’re wrong.

To be sure, the prayer of Jesus focused on His fulfillment of God’s purpose, which did not allow Him to become a political leader in Israel, a usurper of Herod. It meant the cross. But the cross was the gateway to a better Kingdom, one which would last forever. That kingdom required messengers and leaders who would follow after and succeed Jesus after His earthly ministry was done. And, Jesus had chosen twelve of them. So, I take it He prayed not just for His own strength to endure the cross and for the establishing of His Kingdom, but for the twelve disciples who would labor in the world in His place. Read John chapter 17 and see how Jesus prayed for the keeping and preserving of His disciples. His body may have been two miles and a storm from the disciples in the boat, but His Spirit and His conscious thought was with them the entire night. Did He pray for their safety and perseverance in the storm? Absolutely. I’m convinced He prayed passionately for them and their safety.

Think about this now. The disciples are at their most extreme point of desperation. They are in danger of giving in to the turbulent water and drowning. But Jesus not only is with them in prayer, but He treads the waves and defies the winds, and walks out to the disciples. And as they cry out, He is not only visible to them, a manifestation of God Himself, but He speaks to them and says, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The Greek text can be translated, “I AM, Stop being afraid.” I am of the opinion that the alternative is the correct translation. Jesus passing by, is declaring His deity, His identity as the Son of God.

You see, Jesus passing by the disciples is not the same thing as Jesus bypassing His disciples. It is like YHWH of old passing by Moses and manifesting His glory before Him because Moses wanted to see God [Exodus 33:19, 22]. It is like YHWH of old passing by Elijah on Mount Horeb [1 Kings 19:11]. Elijah was discouraged and needed to be lifted out of his hopeless depression and so God passed by. And so, on the sea that dim stormy morning, Jesus, the Son of God passed by to encourage and lift up the spirits of His disciples, and to assure them of His presence. How can I be so sure?

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that when Jesus entered the boat, “Those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” Matthew 14:33

O.K. so here’s the point. Everything around us may scream “God is not here!” Medical experts are saying, even if we do everything right, many more thousands of Americans will die of the Covid 19 Corona Virus. But, Christian, be sure of this! We can be absolutely sure that even in the midst of the worst of it, Jesus is near!

When we pray it may seem that the heavens are like brass. It seems like no one is there to listen, but Jesus is right beside us. In point of fact, the adversity we face will get worse over the next two weeks, but you can be sure of this, when you feel like you cannot bear anymore, you will find your eyes opened and you will see the Lord.

It took a divorce I didn’t want, and death I didn’t want to get me there, but in my spirit, I saw the Lord. And if you don’t think you are in a boat somewhere right now, you will surely find yourself in the middle of a storm someday. And, you may think Jesus is on the shore isolated on a mountainside miles away, separated by that storm. But, get ready, your eyes will soon see the reality of His presence. He has not abandoned you.

But one third and final suggestion. God Always Hears Those Who Call on Him in Faith.

Why are verses 53 to 56 a vital part of this story? We hear the cry of the disciples out in the lake. It is ironic isn’t it? They probably prayed “Lord, help us!” never realizing that the Lord was the figure that so terrified them. But He helped them, didn’t He? But He also hears the cries on the shore. So, the Messiah of Isaiah 53 who not only bears our sins but our infirmities, He steps out of the boat and responds to the begging, the pleading, the crying of the sick and those who carried them to Jesus. Jew or gentile, male or female, bond or free; those who call on the name of the Lord, knowing who He is and why He came, will be heard by the Lord. In the boat, in the storm, or on the land, He will hear the call of His own.

The Psalmist declares, “Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for Himself, the LORD will hear when I call to Him.” Psalm 4:3

“The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them”
Psalm 145:18-19

A few days ago, I learned my sister was diagnosed with the Corona Virus. And, she reports mention of old family friend who is likely to succumb to the dread disease. But in both cases, they know the Lord. One is on track for healing, and the other for ultimate healing in the resurrection. Why did they get sick while others are spared? Only God knows, but it is enough to know His best purpose for them will be fully accomplished. And, the joy in this is that Jesus is equally near to both of them, they are not alone, and God is giving them comfort. And, when they are anxious, as we ALL are prone to get in the eye of the storm, Jesus hears their call and delivers them from their fears.

Hey! How is it with you in the midst of the storm? Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Today, Palm Sunday begins “Holy Week,” and we remember how Jesus was nailed to a wooden cross, to die in your place and mine for our sins, and to reconcile us to God, to make our lives brand new, and so that we could live today, tomorrow and forever with Him. Will you call on the name of the Lord, and let Him into the boat of your life. Let Him be your Savior from sin and the Captain of your vessel. Do it today, and you will find peace in the midst of the storm!










Published by

hiddenarrows

Ed presently serves as the Lead Pastor of Leesburg Alliance Church, Leesburg, FL. He has had over 30 years of ministry experience, sixteen of them at Greenwoods Community Church in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. More recently he has fulfilled transitional interim assignments for the Alliance Southeast of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Englewood and Spring Hill, Florida. In addition, Ed has had nearly 13 years of experience in the field of geriatric healthcare. His wife, Lynn, is a true partner in ministry, having served Greenwoods Community Church as its Children's Ministry Coordinator for over ten years. She is a decorator, colorist, instructor in furniture painting, and an artist in her own right. For over 20 years she had her own business, Whimsical Brushes, teaching and traveling throughout the Northeast. Ed’s passion and heartfelt prayer remains for genuine revival and awakening in our nation. One of the keys to past workings of God especially in New England has been related to pastors mentoring pastors. God has given Ed a burden to be a mentor pastor, developing leaders for the church in the 21st Century. One way in which he is fulfilling that calling is through Rockbridge Seminary, where he serves as an adjunct professor of Spiritual Formation. Ed has earned degrees from Cairn University (B.S. 1971), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M. 1979), and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (D.Min. 2007). He has published several articles on the Spiritual Heritage of Litchfield County, Connecticut, and led several tours of sites associated with the Village Revivals that spawned the Second Great Awakening in New England. In his spare time, you are likely to find Ed at the piano or pecking out a blog on his blog page https://hiddenarrows.blog

3 thoughts on “WHERE IS GOD, WHEN THE STORM SURGES?”

  1. I will be praying for your sister and family friend. I watched the sermon online before finding it on Hidden Arrows. The minister at the church we are attending preached a similar sermon using the text with the disciples and Jesus in the boat on the stormy sea. I forwarded your link his way.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s