Matthew 8:23-27 – Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up

To Tell the Truth

Then he [Jesus] got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (NIV)

When I was a kid, every evening after supper and the news, I watched a show called To Tell the Truth.  The show featured a panel of four celebrities attempting to correctly identify a described contestant who has an unusual occupation or experience. This central character was accompanied by two impostors who pretended to be the central character. The celebrity panelists questioned the three contestants; and, the impostors could lie but the central character was sworn “to tell the truth.” After questioning, the panel then attempted to identify which of the three challengers was telling the truth. The host would conclude the show by saying the famous line, “Will the real ______ please stand up!”  The four panelists on the show often missed the real person, mainly because they had certain expectations of what the real person’s occupation or experience would be like.  And their expectations did not match the real thing.

People in the first century had expectations of what the Messiah would be like.  Their assumptions centered mostly in a manly Savior who would enter history and beat up the Romans, establishing the kingdom of God on earth with strong leadership over everyone.  And that was why they missed the Messiah because their expectations did not fit the real Jesus.

It is imperative we do not miss Jesus because we have certain expectations of who he is, and what he should do, based on our own experience, or on what we want, rather than what God is doing.

God is at work bringing all things under Christ’s authority. The kingdom of God expands and develops when people follow Jesus through genuine humility, confession of sin, and reception of grace. Satan and his demons are quite displeased when this happens because they do not want Jesus on the scene to bring deliverance.

The devil had his own aspiration to do away with Jesus so that Christ could not accomplish the mission of redeeming the world back to God. Wiley old Satan wanted the violent storm to kill Jesus. However, Christ’s authority and power overwhelmed the “natural” act.

Jesus calms the storm

The real Jesus is, in truth, beyond our expectations. The emphasis in the story of deliverance from the storm is on the person of Christ. The people were surprised that even the wind and the waves obey him!  They were afraid because of the furious storm. But Jesus was sleeping, not the least bit fearful. The disciples woke him, and the original text of the story has just three short staccato-breathed words expressing their abject fear: “Lord! Save! Dying!” Jesus seemed to lazily awake and chided them for little faith, for their inability to recognize who he really was. The disciples’ expectations of Jesus were way too low!

Many people believe that God hears and answers prayer. Yet, sometimes our faith can be so small that, when God answers those prayers in ways far superior to our expectations, we are slack-jawed astonished by it.  Matthew’s Gospel records several instances of people being surprised by the real Jesus:

When Jesus had thrown out the demon, the man who couldn’t speak began to talk. The crowds were amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” (Matthew 9:33, CEB)

Everyone was amazed at what they saw and heard. People who had never spoken could now speak. The lame were healed, the crippled could walk, and the blind were able to see. (Matthew 15:31, CEV)

When the followers saw this [Jesus withering a fig tree] they were very surprised. They asked, “How did the fig tree dry up and die so quickly?” (Matthew 21:20, ERV)

They were surprised to hear this [how insightful Jesus is to the human condition]. Then they left him alone and went away. (Matthew 22:22, GW)

But Jesus said nothing in answer to Pilate, and Pilate was very surprised at this. (Matthew 27:14, NCV)

The real Jesus is more marvelous, wonderful, powerful, and awesome than we know. Jesus will take care of us; he will not let his people be destroyed.  When we truly grasp the real Jesus, and how much he loves us, there is no room for fear, only faith.

Even though the disciples’ faith was small, Jesus still responded to it with grace because even small faith is faith. Grace is undeserved help. Our Lord helps anyone who approaches him, whether with little faith or big. Our small faith is no obstacle for Jesus in delivering us from the storms of life.

I am wondering if you are presently experiencing a violent storm in your life. Please know that Jesus can bring peace.

Perhaps you have a besetting sin that dogs you every day. Jesus can deliver you.

It could be that depression follows you like a lost kitten wherever you go.  Jesus can bring new life and fresh joy to your life.

Maybe there is a relationship you have lost hope over. Jesus can restore it.

Perchance you think your neighbor, co-worker, or family member is too far from God to ever know Jesus. By now you know the response. Our expectations of Jesus are much too small!  We can pray big prayers because we serve a big and powerful God who has the authority to command even the wind and the waves!

When the real Jesus confronts the world, he confronts injustice and the darkness within human hearts.  Some people are crushed by their awareness of sin, disobedience, and guilt. Therefore, they respond by hungering and thirsting after true righteousness. Others respond by trying to domesticate Jesus in serving their own ends.

The Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus as both a powerful and compassionate God. Christ has authority over all things, and uses that authority to bestow grace, even in the face of the smallest of faith in his followers. Jesus cares about people and seeks to deliver them from the dominion of evil.

So, may we participate with Jesus in his agenda for this world.  May we submit to his rule and authority. May we exhibit the same care, compassion, and concern for people as Jesus does. May we identify the real Jesus to stand up.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, I believe all things are possible through you; help my unbelief! Take my small and seemingly insignificant faith and use it to calm the storms in my life and demonstrate your authority even over the wind and the waves. Amen.

Walking on Water?

The Sinking of the Apostle Peter by Julia Stankova
The Sinking of the Apostle Peter by Julia Stankova, 2006

The New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John allow us to see Jesus for who he really is: The Son of God, the true King of the universe who seeks to reconcile people to God through his life, miracles, and teaching.  The Gospels also allow us to see the disciples of Jesus for who they really are: A rag-tag bunch who express both belief and doubt, and experience both faith and failure.

The reality of the Christian life is that it is often a herky-jerky three-steps-forward and two-steps-backward kind of experience. An expectation that we will “succeed” and have everything go well every time we try something by stepping out in faith is way out of step with how things work in both this world and in the kingdom of God. It would be a bit like a basketball player expecting to make every free throw attempt – and if they cannot do it, they refuse to even try.

Doubt and failure are important experiences for the believer in Jesus Christ.  Without failure, there is no Christian life. Never failing means we have not tried – we are still in the boat, having never left the safety of established routines and responded to God’s command to come, leave your comfort zone, and enter the scary world of kingdom living.

Our failures may sometimes, like the disciple Peter, be colossal belly-flops. Yet, the story of Peter getting out of the boat and walking on the water and becoming overcome with the waves is just as much or more about Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33).  Christ extended grace to Peter and helped him, even in his failure of faith.  Therefore, our failures do not need to define us.  Jesus is Lord over the water, the storms, and of everything – including our own hardship and trouble.

Yes, there are a lot of scary things in life.  Learning to ride a bike is scary.  Driving for the first time on an icy road is scary.  Getting married and having kids is scary.  Admitting an addiction or unethical behavior is scary.  Sharing the innermost thoughts with a friend is scary.  It is scary just to be in this world.  It can even be scary to be at church!  It is all scary because we might fail, and the failure, we reason and worry about, might crush us.

However, the fear of failure need not control our lives because grace overcomes everything.  We all find ourselves, at times, caught midway between faith and doubt. Yet, to know this situation is to experience grace.  If the worst scenario you worry about in your head would actually come to pass, it will still never change the reality that God loves you!  And it will not stop Jesus from extending his hand to you in a life-saving grip of grace.

Jesus Saving Peter by Bertram Poole
Jesus Saving Peter by Bertram Poole, 2012

Fear only melts away when we keep our eyes on Jesus. Christ is the polestar whom we must center our lives, instead of focusing on the waves around us. The truth sets us free, so, take note of the following truths about Jesus that will help us overcome the fear of failure and embrace a life of faith.

Jesus is a person of prayer (Matthew 14:22-24).

Jesus, the Son of God, was deeply dependent on his heavenly Father.  His life exhibited the necessities of simple prayer and obedience.  If Jesus found the need for solitude and prayer in his life and ministry, how much more to we need it!?

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go out on the lake.  As Lord of the elements, he knew very well they were about to face a storm.  Sure enough, the storm clouds gathered, and the boat got thrown around by the waves.  Even though the disciples were doing God’s will by going out on the lake, they were not spared from the adversity.  In fact, Jesus wanted them to experience the storm because it is through the storm that we really learn faith.

Faith is a muscle which requires continual use. Through stressful and vigorous exercise, there is a breaking down of muscle tissue and tearing of muscle fibers which leaves the body in need of rest and recuperation. It is through this process of healing that the muscles grow and are strengthened. Muscles which do not experience this type of stress become useless and eventually atrophy.  Show me a person of great faith, and I’ll show you a person who has gone through a boat load of adversity and hurt, having allowed Jesus to grace them with healing.

There is no shame in either being hurt and/or admitting failure. Where there is shame, our instinct is to run away much like our ancestors Adam and Eve. We can try and hide from the shame, but we will end up hiding ourselves from the grace that could be ours through the Body of Christ.  Grace is free, not cheap – it is accessed by the humility of confession.

Jesus is present with us, bringing an end to fear (Matthew 14:25-27).

Although on the middle of a lake during a storm, Jesus was still present with the disciples. Adverse weather was no problem for Jesus – he just walked on the water to be with them.  Even though the disciples had just seen and participated in the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand, they were not looking for another miracle. Maybe that is why they did not recognize Jesus and were afraid when they saw him.

The disciples’ expectations of Jesus were far too low! Sometimes when we are afraid, we fail to see Jesus, even when he is right in front of our faces. We just do not expect him to be there. When the disciples cried out in fear, Jesus responded. I used to work at a factory where I trained people in their jobs. When the training was finished, I had the trainees evaluate our time together. The top response I received from most of them is that it was my presence that helped them to learn their job – the ability to fail time and time again. And having me there to rescue them when things got overwhelming eventually built faith that they could do it on their own.

Jesus wants those who follow him to imitate him (Matthew 14:28-31).

Jesus walked on water.  Jesus invited Peter to walk on water.  We are to do what Jesus did.  Notice that Peter is not chided by Jesus for getting out of the boat but for doubting that he could continue in the miracle that was happening.  Jesus wants more than a regurgitation or parroting of his teaching; he wants us to exercise that learning through actual deeds of faith.  Once the command of Jesus was given to “come” then walking on water became nothing more than a matter of trust. Christianity is more than a set of doctrines to believe; it is a powerful reality to be live into.

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” –G.K. Chesterton

We understandably get nervous when a crazy Jesus and an unpredictable Holy Spirit call us to get out of the friendly confines of the boat.  After all, we might fail.  However, it is in such times we bank on the Word of God and the promises of God.

The Apostle James said that if we find ourselves lacking wisdom to deal with the unpredictable and unknowable that we are to ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault and will be given to them (James 1:5).

Peter responded to his sinking situation by crying out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus immediately reached out and saved Peter from his own doubt and lack of faith.  Jesus called Peter a “little-faith.” Many people have lived too long with the notion that God is some stern angry deity who is constantly displeased with his sinful people, and that only through perfection will he ever be happy with us.  The truth is that Jesus wants us to imitate him; and, when we fail, he is there to pick us up.

Jesus has the authority to settle the storm when he is good and ready to do it (Matthew 14:32).

Jesus is the King of the universe and the Sovereign of the world.  He will bring the crisis to an end according to his own good pleasure and in his own good timing.  Rather than spending all our emotional capital by worrying or conniving to get out of a situation, we need to trust God and keep our eyes on Jesus. Our job is trust; God’s job is everything else.

Jesus’ power led the disciples to acknowledge who he is (Matthew 14:33).

Worship happens when we see Jesus as he really is, the Son of God.  Flat, dull, boring worship comes from flat, dull, boring Christians who are unable to see the power of Jesus in their lives. And the way we know the power of God is when we are in a situation which requires God’s strength to deliver us. Grasping Jesus as the Son of God is more than a verbal confession of faith; it is being able to trust him, like getting out of a boat in the middle of a lake.

We are to live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20). It does not require much faith to pray that Aunt Mable’s bunions will feel better. It only requires a little faith to give a dollar when you have ten dollars. It takes no faith to discuss the weather and steer clear of hard conversations.

However, it does require faith to pray for a miraculous healing every day without giving up for a little boy who is racked by epilepsy, and trust God to spare his life. It does require faith to write a check for $100 to someone in need when you have exactly $100 in your checking account, and you must trust God to provide for you own necessities.  It does require faith to deviate from the routine schedule to have a difficult discussion about race. It does require faith to act on Christ’s teachings.  It does require faith to live as though the mission of God in this world is the most important thing we could ever do.

It would be nice for me say that if you live by faith in the Son of God that you will never fail, but that would be lying.  The only way of not failing is not living life, and not exercising faith.  It would be great if we could pray and act without ever doubting, yet the only way to avoid doubt is to not believe.

So, may we embrace the life that is truly life by stepping out of the boat.  May Jesus define our lives instead of letting failure define us.  May we accept the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Psalm 29 – The Power of Words

thunderstorm church

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace! (NRSV)

I have always felt comforted during thunderstorms. Having grown up in the Midwest of America, strong thunderstorms are a given every summer. When my daughters were small children and frightened by the loud clap of thunder, I would say to them, “That’s just God letting us know he is powerful and watching over us.” Indeed, he is.

God spoke and stirred up a storm… So, they cried out to the Lord in their distress, and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances. God quieted the storm to a whisper; the sea’s waves were hushed. (Psalm 107:25, 29-30, CEB)

Yet, there is even more going on in today’s psalm than a reminder of God’s glory and power over all creation. God’s very voice is the source of all the power. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth – with words. The Lord Almighty spoke the entire world into existence. God’s words are generative, that is, the speech of God creates and gives life. When God’s voice goes forth, things happen.

God said, “Let the waters under the sky come together into one place so that the dry land can appear.” And that’s what happened. (Genesis 1:9, CEB)

The way God gives is through speech. Yes, the mechanism of God’s provision for us is words. This means language is vitally important. The Lord creates, gives, sustains, and blesses his creatures through language. Out of all creation, humans are the only creatures formed in the image and likeness of God.

God said, “Now we will make humans, and they will be like us. (Genesis 1:26, CEV)

People, then, are capable of speech. What is more, we as people with the ability of language have the capacity to form generative words. We have the God-given means to give life with our speech.

“Life and death lie in the power of language” –Helen Keller

I believe we all intuitively know this is true. As we reminisce the history of our lives, we can observe events where another’s words impacted us so significantly that it was as if they gave us the gift of life. We never forget those words. We also have had times when another’s words cut us emotionally and it felt as if a part of us died. We tend to remember those as well, and they hold us back in our own life-giving speech to ourselves and others.

“The godless destroy their neighbors by their words, but the righteous are saved by their knowledge.” (Proverbs 11:9, CEB)

So, it is quite necessary for us to listen to the voice of the Lord. God’s speech does not disappoint or destroy. God’s Word is eternal life. The better we listen to God, the better we can have the generative power of words to provide life for others. It only takes a cursory look at Holy Scripture to realize that words are powerful and are to be used with great care. We are all to continually develop the craft of “wordsmithing” so that we might ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name as well as bless the world.

“As a tree gives fruit, healing words give life, but dishonest words crush the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4, NCV)

The language we use—spoken and written words, sign language, facial expressions, bodily gestures, singing—helps us understand ourselves and lets us create relationships with others. Our words give us the power to describe our past, define our present, and dream of our future.

“Words from wise people are like water bubbling up from a deep well—the well of wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:4, ERV)

We adults may balk at the notion that words are anything more than a creative expression. Yet, as I believe is typical with most things, children are closer to the kingdom of God. They effortlessly make connections between words and reality whereas us older folks barely have an idea this even occurs. My grandson once remarked when I was talking to him about being cautious at the playground, “How am I supposed to meet new people if I can’t talk to strangers?”

“When I asked my son (5 years old) how his day was, he said it was awesome. I asked him what made it so awesome – his response was ‘because I wanted it to be.’” – Tanya Niedzwiecki (Huffington Post, November 2015)

The voice of Lord exhibits a mighty God who has the power to create and recreate with but a word. As people in God’s likeness, our words are powerful tools to be used with wisdom and care. Our speech allows us to praise God and encourage one another. Even more, the use of language enables us to speak into existence new realities for ourselves and others. May those words bring forth hope and blessing to a world in need of healing.

Mighty God, King all powerful, I am overwhelmed before such awesome majesty, and my response to your voice is reverent worship through Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 93 – The Lord Reigns

861ca-thelord

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
Your throne was established long ago;
you are from all eternity.

The seas have lifted up, Lord,
the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea—
the Lord on high is mighty.

Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
holiness adorns your house
for endless days. (NIV)

The Lord is King. From a Christian perspective, this psalm finds its ultimate fulfillment in the ascension of Jesus Christ. When we talk about kings, there are a few things a king needs: a realm, or a kingdom; and, the ruled, or the subjects of the kingdom. In reflecting on Christ’s ascension, the three elements which make up a rule are: King Jesus as Ruler; God’s people as the ruled; and, the entire world as the realm of Christ’s kingship.

Now, as soon as I state that all the world is Christ’s realm, it is quite understandable to at least be curious about this, as well as perhaps be outright doubtful of it. After all, this old fallen world is filled with all kinds of catastrophes like pandemics and natural disasters; myriad human vices; and, potent spiritual foes. Sometimes it appears that, if Jesus were King, he is either sleeping on the job or just indifferent to our plight.

Allow me to re-frame this by putting it in military terms. The battle and the war has been won – there are, however, some clean up operations still taking place. Pockets of resistance to God’s rule and reign still very much exist. And they unfortunately lead to casualties.

On this Memorial Day weekend in the USA, Americans remember and pay homage to our fallen men and women in uniform. Many of those soldiers were lost from mopping up resistance after a battle achieved and a war won. For example, the Battle for Okinawa in the Pacific theatre toward the end of World War II resulted in an American victory. However, in securing the island after the Japanese defeat, small groups of Japanese soldiers still mounted resistance resulting in hundreds of American deaths. In a 1944 article from the Stars and Stripes, one patrol leader from the battle had this to say: “It is a tough, methodical grind, this mop-up operation. Here, the Japanese have gotten together, organized, and are carrying out a planned guerilla warfare, even though the battle is won…. I wish a mop-up was as easy as people think it is.”

We live between the two advents of Christ, his ascension to heaven and his coming again. That means we live in the already/not yet kingdom. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell has been achieved – yet will not be here in its complete fulfillment until Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead. Meanwhile, we as Christians continue to pray that God’s kingdom spreads and is realized in the hearts of humanity – the true place where war begins and ends.

There is no power in heaven or on earth which can circumvent or overcome the plans and purposes of an almighty God. As much strength as ocean waves have, they are no match for the might of God. Though some human governments, systems, and institutions carry a lot weight and exude a great deal of influence, they cannot hold a candle to the overwhelming fire of God. The Most High God is firmly in control, even when it seems otherwise. The Christian tradition is consistent in proclaiming that the throne of Jesus Christ has been established forever. It shall not be moved. Love has won and will have the eternal day.

God, you reign over all! Robed in majesty and armed with strength, you hold our world and our lives securely. Your throne has been established. From everlasting to everlasting, you are God. Even when waves of grief, disease, and hardship rise-up—when surging seas threaten to overwhelm me, and a pounding storm crashes around me—I know that You are mightier and more powerful than any threat. Wash over me with your own cleansing flood. Grace me with your mighty presence. Refresh me with the water of life, for I know, Holy God, that your decrees are firm and secure; they shall last forever. Amen.