They should have known better, almost half of them were fishermen, for heaven’s sake. They should have been able to glance at the sky and realize that it was not going to be safe, especially since it was going to be dark soon. When the winds began to pick up it was like everyone had never seen a storm, everyone was yelling out instructions, most had a white knuckle grip on the sides of the boat, it was terrifying. The waves were pounding the side of the boat, rain was hitting the disciples’ faces for the entire night.
In their defense, it is possible that the weather could have radically changed after they pushed the boat out into the deeper waters. I asked our resident weather and climate expert this week if it was possible for a storm to come out of no where, a storm that even seasoned fishermen would not be anticipating. Renee told me about the KAT-a-bat-ic winds that come down off the colder high mountains to the smaller mountains where the temperatures are warming and then to the shallow waters of the Sea of Galilee – stirring up the waves and wind with great veracity.
So the scared men were mad and frustrated with each other and then at the same time ashamed of themselves. Truth was, they were mostly aggravated that they had jumped into the boat in the first place. A carpenter telling a group of grown men, many who were at home on the water, a carpenter telling this group to jump in the boat, at dusk, and go on ahead. The entire situation was ludicrous!
Some would say this storm was all part of God’s plan to bring the men to a fuller recognition of who Jesus is; an orchestrated weather disaster. However, bad stuff happens –
– when people have a free choice that impacts other people and the creation –
– bad stuff is going to happen. Stuff, that often in the end, we can see how we have grown, and possibly even benefitted from the reality of bad stuff.
That is not our reality though. Ten years ago this month we sat in a hospital room for 11 nights with our daughter Grace who had a potentially fatal reaction to a common antibiotic, even in bringing her home we knew we weren’t out of the woods. A couple of years later, we sat in the surgery waiting rooms four times, and then in doctor’s offices for over six procedures until the professionals were able to figure out the medical solution to a medical issue our son Isaiah had.
We lose spouses, we watch loved ones slip away, relationships unravel, automobile accidents happen and auto parts break, brother and sister human beings are abused and oppressed, pandemics leave us living in limbo, and plumbing problems cause kitchen sinks to overflow.
I say that because that was my struggle this week – not that it is in anyway is in the same level as the struggles mentioned before, but it is on the level of most of our struggles. Our plumber was booked for four days. I tried again to work the few plumbing miracles I had up my sleeve. That is when I met Kris Reece. Kris has a 13 minute Youtube tutorial on how to fix plumbing problems that cause sinks to overflow. Kris’s plumbing problem was a result of putting cooked pasta in the garbage disposal, I realized that I had put cooked pasta in my garbage disposal. – it was like Kris and I were brothers. Later, I was reprimanded by my daughter Hannah who reminded me that Duffy Musgrove had told us the dangers of pasta and disposals. So, I watched Kris, for 13 minutes unclog his disposal, making sure that I would not get half way and realize this was out of my league. It wasn’t, I unclogged the sink, well, with Kris’s help. Now, I know how to unclog the kitchen sink, and I know that you don’t put cooked pasta in the disposal. Two lessons from one problem. I was pretty proud of myself the rest of the day, consider getting a tool belt. Plus, I learned how to use the plumber’s snake my plumber’s had insisted I purchase years before – Kris taught me how to use that as well.
Good came out of bad.
I’m not sure Paul was thinking about plumbing problems when he said,
‘We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’Romans 8:28
…but it is the same dynamic.
So the disciples had strong winds, a shallow sea, scary waves, pelting wind, and were consumed with fear – it was a rough night. Interestingly, the experience prior to the storm had been positively amazing, the kind of day you talk about for the rest of your life. They had just fed around 10,000 hurting and hungry people, with almost nothing to work with. One moment the men thought it was time to send the crowd home and the next moment they were collecting baskets of leftovers!
Jesus was exhausted, and still helping the people that delayed leaving, the disciples were on an adrenaline rush, so hopping into a boat was not as outlandish as it sounds. But still, everyone was disappointed in themselves and each other.
It must be said though, the men were a little frustrated with Jesus – although no one was going to say that. One moment he is conquering hunger and disease, oppression and misery, the next minute he abandoned the disciples sending them to their death in the middle of the sea.
Then, in the punishing storm, just as the fear, anger and frustration were about to hit a boiling point, the disciples were distracted by something even more startling than the storm. Between the flashes of lightening and the crushing waves, something, or someone, could be seen in the distance – on the water. Every time the waves would crash the unidentified object or person was visible. So, as the scared men continued to hold on to the tattered sails and the sides of the water logged boat, screaming in fear, they heard the voice.
Peter was audacious and, most often, annoyingly eager, however, he was the only one thought about walking out to Jesus. The storm was so loud you could only faintly hear Jesus’ response,
We all heard that word, ‘Come’, everyone looked at Peter, he swallowed hard and stepped out of the boat. From the rocking boat the men watched as Peter navigated the waves. He was knocked down a couple of times, but he would just get up. After about three knock downs, he began to look out over the never ending waves often blocking his view of Jesus – his determination and confidence was visibly waning. He was looking back at the boat and ahead at Jesus trying to decide which would be the most rational direction to go. No way could he swim in this turbulence. Jesus picked up his pace to get to Peter, pulling him up out to the water. Jesus grabbed Peter’s hand and pulled him up just as Peter’s head was going under. As the two men made it to the boat, the waves and wind remained unforgiving – the disciples struggled to pull them in.
Jesus and Peter crashed onto the floor of the boat, Peter looking wet, scared, and humiliated. Jesus looked wet and strangely peaceful. A few seconds later, the rain stopped, the wind calmed, and the waves disappeared. It was quiet, eerily silent. The men all looked at each other, they looked at Peter, then all eyes turned to Jesus. No one said anything – there was really nothing to say, but you could tell that everyone was thinking the same thing, you could see it in their eyes. Everyone released their grip and fell to their knees. No one spoke because there were no words to describe this moment. In the silence, they all began to understand that this was not an ordinary human; it didn’t make sense but Jesus was holy. They were in the presence of God.
That was how the men knew that the boat had become a holy place, God was there, God was present. How odd that it came in silence. Everywhere Jesus went there had been thousands of loud voices screaming for his attention and now, in the boat, on the calm seas and the peaceful sky, there was silence – that is where the disciples saw God. In the middle of the chaos and fear, in the middle of dire circumstances, there was Jesus, first walking on the deadly waves in the brutal wind, then, in the boat, in the silence, there was peace. God was there.
No one expected silence to be the place where they would see God but this silence had pierced the deafening waves and the unforgiving wind.
It is interesting – the different places that people see God. For Jacob it was in a multiple overtimes wrestling match, for Moses it was in a burning bush, for Isaiah it was at a funeral, for John, the Baptizer, it happened while he was still in the womb, for the centurion it was at the feet of the bloody cross, for Stephen it was as he was looking up, while being brutally stoned, for Paul it was in blindness on a public highway, for the disciples it was in a boat…and, for the prophet Elijah it was on the side of a mountain just outside the cave where he was scared and in hiding.
Nine hundred years earlier, Elijah was walking on eggshells rather than water, he, too, had seen a miracle in an awe inspiring act of proving God to be God, but now, he had a Jezebel problem. A Jezebel problem was pretty much the worst problem you could face. It was the seal of death to anyone that angered Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. Jezebel’s anger had no mercy, her power had no boundaries, the fear of Jezebel was the one shared fear in the hearts and minds of everyone, including her husband, the King.
Elijah received the threatening message from Jezebel and could imagine the veins popping out on her face, he only needed to hear her name to know that she was livid. Elijah had humiliated her false prophets, he had negated the power of her false gods, and to make matters worse, he had the audacity to do it in such a public way, – it was humiliating, Jezebel didn’t do humility or fear, instead, she was the source of everyone’s fear and humility.
Elijah had run away, he was now hiding in the back of a dark damp cave.
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah, in no uncertain terms, outlined his complaints to God. He was disappointed in the people, he was frustrated at the failures of his mission, he was alone and isolated, he was in danger, he was angry at God.
“Go stand outside the cave, I am going to come by.”
God said in a tone that expressed love for, and frustration with, his prophet Elijah.
Elijah was still standing with his arms crossed, and his brow squinted tight, his disappointment and aggravation were on full display. He stood up defiantly, like a child who is angrily and resentifully obeying his parents, positioned half way to the entrance of the cave and not a step closer, Elijah stood his ground.
A strong wind
began to blow outside of the cave, it even whipped around inside the cave, Elijah took a few small steps back as he began to hear and feel the force of the wind that was actually moving and cracking the mountain. God was not in the wind.
Then the ground began to shake,
the walls of the cave began to vibrate, the sound of the earth moving beneath his feet was deafening. Elijah didn’t know if he should retreat further into the cave or if it would be wiser to run outside. God was not in the earthquake.
Then, Elijah recognized a burning smell,
the heat began to be unbearable, the flames began to approach the entrance of the cave. God was not in the fire.
Here, on the mountain where God had appeared in a burning bush to Moses – God, on this day, was not in the fire, the earthquake, or even the wind. Now, however, there was a new phenomena, there was silence.
Not just silence but a ‘sheer silence.’
The kind of silence that demands your attention much like the still silence on the calmed waters of the sea, a silence that drowns out the sound of the water slapping against the sides of the boat, a silence that you actually hear.
There was God, in the silence, it was deafening.
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Again, Elijah outlined his complaints. He was disappointed in the people, he was frustrated at the failures of his mission, he was alone and isolated, he was in danger, he was angry at God.
God didn’t reprimand, he didn’t correct, he didn’t try to comfort or encourage, he didn’t walk away, he didn’t forget that he had been the one that called Elijah to be a prophet, he just remained there, in the sheer silence.
God was present, he was there.
Elijah went outside of the cave and stood in the silence, he stood before God. Elijah remembered God’s calling, he was reminded of God’s mission, he returned to God’s leading, he rested in God’s loud silent presence.
The silence was all that Elijah could hear. The silence cleared up Elijah’s vision and strengthened his hearing.
Then, God began to speak. In a very ‘matter of fact’ manner God returned to Elijah’s calling. God never wavered from the selection of Elijah, he never turned from his confidence in Elijah the prophet. As Elijah stood in God’s presence, he was ready to return to God’s mission.
As God began to speak, Elijah realized that his previous Jezebel problem was nothing compared to the Jezebel problem he was about to have. Even here, enveloped in God’s presence, he could see reality, and it was frightening.
Now, however, he remembered that he wasn’t alone, in fact God reminded him of those who had not turned from God, those he was to continue to encourage and lead.
Oh, bad stuff was bound to happen, Jezebel was going to be angry, she had no idea how audacious Elijah could be. God told Elijah to anoint new Kings and to begin training his own replacement. Elijah could already see the bulging veins popping on Jezebel’s face, she was going to be livid. There would be no silence in the palace.
Metaphorically, Elijah was now in the boat with Jesus. He, along with the disciples, would all face other frightening storms, there was sure to be other Jezebels, but now there was peace, there was calm, there was silence.
Are you gripping the sides of the boat holding on, sure that you will not survive, are you cowering at the thought of a livid Jezebel? Or, do you realize that Jesus is in the boat, God is outside your hiding place? What is your focus? How are you listening?
It is all about our vision – what are we looking at? It’s all about hearing – what are we listening for. Are you looking at the rocking boat and the crashing waves? Are you looking at a furious Jezebel? Or, are you listening for the reminders that Jesus sat in the boat earlier, when he calmed the waters? Are you focused on Jesus’ pulling you up out of the rough waters?
Our hope is an eternal hope – the ways it takes action in the midst of an unpredictable reality are not always what we image or expect. Hope is the catalyst of faith, it is the affirmation of assurance, it is our power in our struggles, it is the tie that binds, it is Jesus in the boat, it is God outside the cave.