Local News: Mississippi Presbyterian Cursillo #8 is scheduled for the weekend of October 27-30 at Camp Wesley Pines in Gallman, MS (about 45 minutes south of Jackson). Staff who will be working the weekend are required to attend training, which will take place on September 9-10. To learn more about this ministry, sponsored by the Presbytery of Mississippi (PCUSA), visit the MPC web site.
Today we’re exploring one of Jesus’ miracles that is recorded in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 14, verses 22 through 23. This story takes place right after the death of John the Baptist and the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. We’ll draw several insights from a sermon preached by Rev. Lane Townsend of Toomsuba Presbyterian Church (Presbytery of Mississippi).
1. Jesus Sent the Disciples into the Storm
“Jesus was both God and man,” Townsend said. “He was tired and needed refreshment, a time to recharge emotionally and spiritually. After Jesus fed the multitude, he sent them away.” In order to have some time alone to pray, Jesus had the disciples go in the boat ahead of him. In the Greek, Townsend said, the word is “constrained”, which literally means Jesus forced the disciples to go away.
Commenting on this story, Alfred Edershine, a Jewish Christian historian said it’s common for sudden storms to pop up on the Sea of Galilea without warning. This is precisely what happens to the disciples as they’re trying to get to the other side.
“As the storm rages, think of what the disciples must have been feeling,” Townsend said. “There were no radio reports or radars back then. They had no way of knowing the storm was coming. They couldn’t radio coast guard. The text says they spent hours fighting the storm, but to no avail.”
The text says they were “many stadia” from shore, which Townsend believes likely meant three to four miles. “They couldn’t just hop in the water and swim to shore if the boat were to sink,” he said. “They weren’t a stone’s throw from shore.”
It’s easy to gloss over the terror that the disciples must’ve been feeling at this time, not knowing, as we do, the ultimate outcome of the story. “Imagine the darkness out there on the ocean,” Townsend said. “Remember how dark it was after Hurricane Katrina and electricity was out for so long? As the storm is raging, there are probably no stars out and there is no moon shining. With the storm raging, they probably couldn’t keep a lantern lit either.”
The most important thing to keep in mind, Townsend said, is the fact that as the disciples were in the middle of the storm, they were in the center of God’s will:
“Remember Jesus had forced them, ‘constrained’ them to get in the boat and go ahead of him, although he knew the storm would happen,” he said. “Sometimes we think that if we’re in the will of God, we’ll be healthy, have money, be able to pay our bills, have no family problems, etc … But sometimes being in God’s will is a fearful, dark and lonely place. The disciples were in the storm because Jesus put them there. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you won’t have problems, pain, grief and disappointment. As a Christian, you’re often in storms by God’s own appointment.”
2. Jesus Saw and Sought the Disciples in the Storm
The text says Jesus saw the disciples struggling in the storm. Given his distance from them, Townsend said this may not have been humanly possible, and might have been supernatural.
“This is a wonderful picture of what Jesus does for us today,” he said. “As the disciples struggled, Jesus was interceding for them on that mountain. God looks down from Heaven and sees you in the middle of that trial that’s overwhelming you. This is a picture of God’s care for us today.”
It’s important to note, Townsend said, that Jesus didn’t come to the disciples when they wanted him—chances are they’d wanted him to arrive much sooner. “We often want God to fix our problems immediately, but sometimes God doesn’t do that,” he said. “God leaves us in our storms for a time so that we can learn from it. The disciples suffered a while, but they learned from this trial. You never know what kind of faith you have until it’s tested.”
Not only was Jesus’ timing unexpected, but the way in which he came was also unexpected—they don’t expect him to come walking on water, and so their first assumption is that they had seen a ghost. “Sometimes when Jesus is coming to deliver us, we don’t recognize him,” Townsend said. “To us, things are just getting worse, but it is Jesus coming and we don’t recognize it. When things look the most bleak, maybe that’s when God is going to turn things around.”
Is there any theological significance to Jesus’ walking on water? Townsend believes there is:
“He could’ve made the storm stop on the bank. He could’ve done a lot of things besides walking on water. Remember that the waves were what was about to kill the disciples. By walking on the water, Jesus is showing his power over what was about to destroy them. He walks on top of the waves. Whatever it is that has us down, Jesus is on top of it. It’s under him.”
3. Jesus Shares the Storm with his Disciples and Saved them from it
“We often use the phrase, ‘You’re in the same boat I’m in,’ or ‘I’m in the same boat as you,’ meaning that we’re going through the same problem,” Townsend said. “Jesus entered into what they were experiencing.”
In the end, this miracle reassured the disciples that Jesus is God—the text says they worshipped him. “Does Jesus do miracles to satisfy curiosity or to entertain?” Townsend asked. “No, the miracles were to attest to who he is: God in human flesh. Just as the disciples rightly responded by worshipping Jesus, our response to God’s miracles in our lives should be greater faith. When God delivers us, that should be an occasion for us to worship him.”