Come

A week or so ago, I wrote a post in the “Tangible Truths from a Radical Jesus” series about Jesus calming to storm. Today, I’m going to write about another radical thing that Jesus said in the midst of another storm, and dig into the truth that we can take from it.

If you are counting at home, this makes 2 stormy boat trips for the disciples that are mentioned in the Bible. Let’s look at this second one.

Jesus had had a long day of teaching on the heels of news that John the Baptist had been killed. He sends out the disciples ahead of him. Evening comes and the disciples’ boat is “a long way from the land” (Matthew 14.24). A storm has risen. There are experienced fishermen on board so the storm was significant enough that again, they struggled.

Jesus goes to join them, walking on the water. Growing up as a regular church attendee, I admit that it has become easy to read those words, as plainly as they appear in the text and miss out on the shock that they should convey. Jesus was WALKING ON THE WATER! In the middle of the stormy night and blowing wind and crashing waves, there is this figure floating across the water toward the disciples. Verse 26 tells us that they thought it was a ghost. That is likely because the idea that it was Jesus out for a stroll on the stormy swells made less sense than a ghost walking towards them. Maybe I am overstating the point a little but I don’t want the shock of what they were witnessing to get lost. This man was walking on top of the waves that were sinking their boats. They already were in a state of panic, and this ghostly conclusion seemed the most plausible to them. You know why? Because human beings cannot walk on water! Yet there was Jesus -fully human and fully God, doing the impossible yet again.

Jesus senses their panic, and tells them “Don’t be afraid”.  That didn’t work. They were already terrified.  Now Peter, who has a reputation of speaking and acting before really thinking things through says “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus answers “Come”. Now if I am Peter, I hear that and immediately think to myself, “Ummm, OK, just checking! I’ll wait until you get to the boat”.  But Peter does it. He steps out of the boat and “came to Jesus” (vs 29). Verse 30 tells us that he saw the wind and began to sink. He calls out to Jesus and Jesus saves him. And they get back in the boat. The storm stops and the disciples, recognizing Jesus as the Son of God,  worship Him.

There is a lot to unpack here. Here are my takeaways.

1- A Change of Heart – If you remember the last time when Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples were even more afraid than before. This time, when Jesus miraculously saves the day, they are not more afraid, they are instead moved to worship Him and recognize who Jesus is. So what changed? We will dig into that a little more next time, but for now, let’s rest on the truth that they have spent more time with Him and learned more about their purpose. The challenge for us is to do the same. As we spend more time with God and recognize the amazing things that He does over and over again, we will understand more that He is the Son of God and worthy of our worship and devotion.

2- With God, We can do impossible things – Jesus, Son of God, miracle worker, walked on the water and calmed the storm. That is amazing and miraculous on its own, but let’s not miss the other miracle in the story. Peter – fully human, and fully not-God also walked on the water – for a moment at least. He left the safer danger of the sinking boat to the extreme danger of walking on water – which people cannot physically do and experienced God doing the impossible in him. I am challenged with this part of the story to check my level of faith in God’s ability to do impossible things in my life. Peter got out of the boat. He left the safety and comfort of the known for a moment of connection with God in the unknown and impossible. And Jesus referred to Peter’s faith as small. What does that say about the others in the boat? What does it say about my faith? Would I have climbed over the gunwale and stepped out onto the rocky sea? As mentioned above, likely not. What do we miss when we play it safe? What can God do with us if we trust Him and step out in faith?

3- Impossible – Peter began to sink. He remembered that what he was doing was not possible, and he allowed doubt to creep in. We can be guilty of the same. In the midst of seeing God do amazing things in our life, working things out in His perfect timing we can still allow doubt to creep in. The enemy is there, telling us that God is not to be trusted and that we will fail. But like Peter, even if we start to fall, God’s hand is there to catch us. And He is faithful to grow our faith as we take these steps. He will show us incredible things when we believe in His power to do impossible and this power will silence the enemy. Let’s step out of the boat!

Storm

Recently, I wrote a two-post series on the woman who touched Jesus’ robe and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. This time around, it will be a three-post series on another set of amazing stories from the life of Jesus. In each one, there is a moment when Jesus says something radical and impossible, and yet, as we will see, what He spoke was truthful, and what we can learn from it is profound.

Mark 4. One evening, Jesus tells the disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee to the other side. A few boats set out, and Jesus, seemingly tired from a long day with the large crowd that had assembled, falls asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat.  As He sleeps, a storm comes – not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee, but this storm is fierce enough that the disciples, some of whom were experienced fishermen that have likely been through their share of storms, start to panic. Their boats are taking on water, they are afraid and in verse 38 they wake Jesus up (keep this tidbit in mind for later).  “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” they ask. Then Jesus does something quite unexpected. In verse 39: “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

I live in Minnesota, and I don’t like to shovel snow. Around this time of year, it turns very cold and we have the snow starts falling – everything from flurries to snow-namis. I have Jesus’ approach many times myself, stepping out onto my step, casting my eyes towards the falling flakes and saying “STOP!” And it has NEVER WORKED! My neighbors look at me like I’ve lost it. But the snow keeps falling, undeterred. Imagine, if you will, that you are on the boat, in the midst of a storm unlike any that you have ever seen before. You wake Jesus because, well, you don’t know what else to do. He gets up off his cushion, rubs his eyes for a minute, takes in a deep breath, faces the winds and rain and says “Be still!” Your initial reaction is likely similar to my neighbors when I call for the snowflakes to reverse their course.  But here is the thing.  IT WORKED! When Jesus spoke to the storm – it listened. And in a “careful-what-you-wish-for” moment, the disciples consider what they have just seen and instead of being comforted by the end of the storm, the Bible tells us that they remain afraid. Verse 41 says “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (emphasis mine)

This sets the stage for another boating adventure that would occur later. That will be the topic of my next post. But for now, here are my points to ponder about this story.

1- Human – Earlier I had you take note that the disciples had to wake Jesus up in the midst of this tremendous storm. That tells me that Jesus was really tired. Tired enough that the rocking of the boat, the down pouring rain, and the harsh wind were not enough to wake him. Why is this significant? Here, Jesus shows us that He was human. He was affected by fatigue, He grew tired and needed rest. Jesus truly “became flesh” as John 1 tells us. Jesus life was filled with the same hard things that we all feel – fatigue, weariness, heartache, sorrow, temptation and more. Yet He remained perfect, sinless, and therefore able to take our place and pay our debt. This is an important piece of the story. But so is the next.

2- Divine – He also had the ability to control the weather just by speaking. It would have been amazing to witness this, but it makes sense. He was present at the beginning when God’s spoken word created everything. With His voice, He created the Sea of Galilee, the mountains, the wind currents, all the systems that affect and create the weather patterns there. They were formed at His word, it makes sense that they still obey Him. And while that kind of power inspired awe and fear among His disciples, the reality that they experienced is that He was with them in the storm and made a way out. I think this is an important consideration as well. He is with us in our storms, literal and figurative. And He is bigger, and more powerful than all of them. He called them on their fear and invited them to have faith. I think those words are intended for us as well. He is faithful and trustworthy. He can overcome all that we face. Faith in Him is worth it!

Hope

Last time out, I shared some thought about one of my favorite bible stories. The woman who was healed by touching the edge of Jesus robe in the midst of a crowd. He gives her space to share her story and reveals that her faith has healed her.

All in all, it is an amazing story, however, not everyone in the crowd was happy for this to go down the way that it did. One man was likely preoccupied with a growing anxious tension in the midst of this miracle.  In Mark 5.22, we meet Jairus – one of the synagogue rulers. He comes to Jesus and asks that He come and help his ailing daughter. Jesus starts on his way when the woman touches his garment and things grind to a stop. Now as discussed last time, the story of the woman is compelling and miraculous, deserving of the time and attention it gets.

But put yourself in Jairus’ shoes. The clock is ticking. You daughter’s health is getting worse. It is taking a long time for Jesus to make his way through this large crowd, and then everything grinds to a halt for this woman’s story to be heard. There is a lot of excitement as the crowd has witnessed this miracle and “the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” (vs. 33).

Then, while she is still speaking, Jairus’ worst fears are realized. Someone arrives from his house, saying that his daughter has died and he needn’t trouble Jesus with this anymore. (vs.35).  Imagine  the grief that comes in waves over Jairus in that first moment. Grief is a funny thing. It catches you off-guard, and you don’t quite know which emotion to give its place first – anger, blame (of self or others), questioning, emptiness, despair. They all battle for a spot and leave your mind swirling. Jairus was likely processing these words and starting to feel some of these different emotions when Jesus, having heard what was said to Jairus, says something unexpected.  In verse 36, Jesus tells Jairus “Do not fear, only believe”.

It is hard to tell, not being the one in the situation, if this would be comforting or confusing. You’ve just heard that your daughter is dead, and the hope you placed in Jesus is fading at the news. Then He tells you to hold on to that hope, that all is not lost. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I expect in the same situation, I would have been mostly grief-stricken, and maybe a little confused.

Jesus steps out of the crowd, allowing only Peter, James and John to come with him to Jairus’ house. When he arrived, there were people wailing and weeping (vs 38). Jesus utters another seemingly crazy statement – telling them that she is not dead, but simply asleep. They laugh at him, but he sent them out of the house, and with the three he brought with him, Jairus and the girl’s mother, He takes her by the hand and the daughter gets up. Mom and Dad were amazed and, no doubt, grateful.

Here are my takeaways from this story:

1- The limits of possible – Jairus was in a bad place throughout this story. His daughter is really sick. The text doesn’t let us know if she has been sick for a while or if it is a pretty new situation, but it is clear that Jairus is desperate for help – ready to do everything possible, everything in his power to make his daughter well again. And it appears that it doesn’t work – that it will fall short. The limits of the possible have been reached. But thankfully, our God is not restrained by our limits of possible. The Angel Gabriel tells Zechariah as much in Luke 1 when he reveals that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth is going to be pregnant despite her advanced age. God is in the business of miracles and that allows us to…

2- Hold on to Hope –  Hope can feel fleeting. Maybe the diagnosis or the prognosis is not good. Maybe a prodigal child is running further away. Maybe something that you have been hoping for and moving towards doesn’t seem to be working out. Maybe the loss that you have suffered and the grief that accompanies it is stifling and becomes the only point of focus you can see.  “Just believe” – Those words can seem empty. But all hope is not lost. The only hope left is to draw closer to the Creator. He knows! He understands when we feel like giving up under the weight of the world. Jesus himself said in John 16.33 that this world “will bring trouble but take heart, I (Jesus) have overcome the world.”  How do we hold on to hope? We draw close to Him, we pray, read our Bible, and allow the Creator of the universe to show us His love, comfort and plan to turn whatever we are going through into something that can be used for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). There is not a magical way that removes the pain and hardship in this life, but there is a place where hope can be found, even in the smallest glimmers, in the midst of the challenges. Hold on to that and see Him show His love and faithfulness to help you see that He is there, inviting us to trust Him like He did with Jairus. Do not fear, only believe!

Touch

This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I’ll do 2 posts from this story.

In Mark 5 we read a story of a woman who has been suffering with an issue of blood. Verse 26 tells us that she “had suffered under many physicians and spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse”. Not a lot of detail, but that’s pretty grim. She had spent to the point of poverty, but still was sick. She would have been “unclean” and likely living among the other “unclean” on the edge of town. And, this was her life for MORE THAN A DECADE! 12 Years, she suffered with this issue, and the isolation and stigma that it brought. There is no mention of her relationship with her family, but it is fair to say that she was at least limited in her interactions with them and may have been estranged from them.  But she knew the stories of healing that were Jesus’ reputation. She decides to try to get close. This is not an easy decision, because as one of the unclean, she would not have been welcome to wander through the crowd. She’d be greeted by name-calling or worse. Going through the crowd would take some resolve.

But she had the resolve to make the attempt. One of my favorite Christian bands of all time – Everybody Duck – wrote their song “Close” about this story. The lyrics say “The crowd around her last hope so thick she could not get through… The largeness of the crowd prevented her from getting through, but she pressed on where most of us would have not.”  And that is the key. She pressed on and touched the edge of His cloak. Unexpectedly, Jesus then stops and asks “Who touched me”. His disciples scoff at his silly question. “You see this crowd pressing around you and yet you say `who touched me'” (vs 31).  The woman knows that He is talking about her and she falls at His feet and tells her story. He then tells her that her faith has healed her. But with this statement comes the second surprising thing Jesus says. After years of carrying the stigma of being unclean, alone and destitute, Jesus looks her in the eye and calls her “daughter”. That is powerful!

Here are my takeaways from this story:

1- Close – I will give credit again to Everybody Duck for this first point – it chokes me up every time I listen to the song. There were others that were pressed in against Jesus but not all of them had a life changing experience. Everybody Duck sums their song up by saying “the difference in touch simply that hers was made in faith“. Gut check time. I have attended church my whole life. In fact, I am on staff at a church right now. I am “close” to Jesus all the time, but do I take that closeness for granted? Do I still see that He is always making life-changing connections with those who desperately need it? Do I still recognize my own need? Or am I too quick to point out the unclean nature of others that are seeking Him? I pray that God will help us see the needs that surround us and see His miraculous work. May we never take God for granted.

2- Determined – On the other side of the story is the woman who is so beaten down by life – labelled, impoverished and out of options. Yet, somewhere, buried beneath the hard experiences, hurt and loneliness, there is a measure of faith and hope that propels her forward. Despite the names she may have been called along the way, the difficulty of the task, and the history of being let down before, she continues to press forward – all the way to Jesus. And her faith is rewarded with healing. But more than that. It is met with belonging. Jesus shows the love and value that she has to Him. “Daughter, go in peace”. In this touching moment, we are reminded again, that Jesus is able to heal us and meet our needs. But more than that, He offers relationship. He offers love, and a place for us.  We may think we know what we need from God, but when we seek Him with determination, He goes beyond what we think we need to meet our deeper needs.

3- Hope Amidst Hopelessness – In the talk-show world, this would be called a tease. You see, while Jesus heals this woman and gives her the place for her story to be shared, there is more going on. This episode occurs in the midst of another tense situation – that will be the topic of the next post at Living up to My Name. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Least

Have you ever had the same bible story or passage come up repeatedly in different settings over a short period of time? Like hearing a story on an add on Christian Radio, then having a rabbit trail at Bible study bring the same story to light again, and then having the pastor at church talking about the same passage a week later in church. It is noticeable when it happens and leads me to do some self-searching to figure out why? What lesson is God trying to bring to my attention? What do I need to learn from the passage? How can I apply it to my life?

Lately, it has been the passage found in Matthew 25.31-46. Jesus is talking about when He takes his place on the throne and He separates the masses in front of Him into two groups. He invites those on His right to come to their reward and similarly sends the group on His left to their eternal punishment. Both groups are a little confused by the criteria that the King has used to separate them. He had said in verse 35-36 to those whom he welcomed “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” And said the opposite for the group that he sent to punishment. Both groups asked “when did we see these things” and the King replies (vs 40 and 45) “Truly, I say to you, as you did it (or didn’t) to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it (or didn’t) to me.”

Now I have heard this story many times before – I thought I has a good grasp on the point – notice those around you, help those in need and shine Jesus light on the weak, poor and marginalized. It could look very valiant – serving in a soup kitchen, giving out money or food to those holding signs at exit ramps, gutting houses that flooded, volunteering at Feed My Starving Children, or many other noble causes. But then I listened to a song I’ve listened to many times before. This time one particular line hit me hard. The song is “This World” written by “Caedmon’s Call”.

Did you hear the lyric neatly tucked away in the bridge of this song? At about the 2:06 mark is the line “… the least of these look like criminals to me So I leave Christ on the street“. That thought shakes me up a bit. We tend to default to the adage “God helps those who help themselves”. So we are ready and willing to help those who in all humility are asking for some help from those of us that “have it together”. That’s when we act. But first of all, we don’t really have it all together. We are all fallen and flawed people trying to navigate life through our own issues. To think differently is to lie to ourselves.

And the heart of the Matthew passage, I believe is resonated in the above lyric. We are to show God’s love, compassion and helpfulness to everyone from the greatest to the least. And the least may very well be people that are not asking for help, and may even look to hurt us or take advantage of us if given the chance. I ask you, who is the one with the greatest need to encounter a forgiving savior? A humble, broken person looking for any help they can get, or an unrepentant convicted rapist or murderer? The answer is they both have the same great need to encounter the Jesus of the Bible. And their need matches our need for Him too. As believers, we are His chosen representatives in our world tasked to “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19) So what do we do with that?

It is so easy for us to pass judgment on others and determine for ourselves who is worthy of our help and attention. But the verse in Matthew 25 makes no such distinction. Instead, it identifies those in need as the “least of these” which suggests those at the bottom of our “worthy” list.  What does that mean? Well, allow me to draw your attention to another lyric from a different song –  “Leaving Jesus” by Send the Beggar.

at 2:23 they sing

“I won’t treat my witness like some kind of sickness, I won’t make the beggars think You think they’re lepers.  I’ll leave Your life near them (repeat)

And they don’t call me Jesus but I leave your name everywhere I go. I prove that You’re here by being here, like tracks in the snow

And they don’t call me Jesus, but I leave your name like bleeding fingerprints. but the blood that I leave says more than these, these words upon my lips.”

The message is clear, our actions speak louder than our words. We pour ourselves out for others to know Him.  This is the task that we have been given. We share the truth of the Gospel, even if it falls on the ears of mockers. We don’t judge who is worthy to know Christ, but we remember that we, ourselves, are not worthy of the gift of His grace. And we ask for His eyes to see His beloved creation so we can be blinded to our prejudice and self-importance. In doing so, we extend God’s loving, forgiving arms of grace to the lost that He loved enough that He died for. May we have a true perspective of our own need for a Savior as we offer ourselves to serve those He came to save. Doing so leads to eternal reward, failing to do so leads to eternal punishment. It seems like He takes this pretty seriously, I guess we should too.