THE STORMS OF LIFE
Our world is full of storms. There are snowstorms, hailstorms, and rainstorms. Just a month or two ago, Europe suffered a severe rainstorm that took lives and destroyed many properties. Some parts of Texas have suffered damage because of rainstorm. About five or six years ago, there was a severe hailstorm that damaged houses, cars, and even lives here in Texas. One person was killed in Downtown Fort Worth. In fact, our car suffered some damage. The offices of insurance companies were filled with reports of damage to properties. When such storms occur they affect not only unbelievers but also believers alike. Why is it then that some Christians think that they would be spared from the storms of life?
Storms of life are inevitable. Every person whether a Christian or non-Christian goes through some kind of storm in life. Even as I am speaking somebody is coming out of a storm. Some of you are in the middle of a storm. There are some who are about to go into a storm. The fact that you are a Christian does not exempt you from a storm. As a matter of fact, the Bible says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched” (Isaiah 43:2). God did not say if you pass through the waters, I would be with you. God knows that there will be storms in life. Why is it then that when there is a storm of life some Christians want a quick fix? They run up and down to this prophet or that prophetess looking for a quick fix? I would like to share with you on the subject: “The Storms of Life.”
I. THE NEED FOR SOLITUDE VV. 22-23
By this time news has reached Jesus that John the Baptist, His forerunner and cousin has been brutally murdered at the instruction of Herod Antipas. Jesus has fed the multitude but they have a distorted view of who He is. They think He is magician or a miracle worker who has come to alleviate their physical problems and their hunger pangs. Jesus seeks solitude to sort all these out and sends the disciples ahead of Him. By the way, it is good that you and I occasionally seek solitude with the heavenly Father. Jesus goes to the mountain to pray because now John is dead and all eyes are going to be upon Him. The eyes of affection and the eyes of hatred are going to be fastened on Him. He needs instructions, direction, strength, and encouragement from His Father. Behind Jesus is the chilly reminder that His forerunner has been beheaded. Before Him is an ominous gathering of Pharisees and Sadducees on the horizon. On that lonely hilltop, Jesus braces Himself to face that storm of hatred, confrontation, and testing to produce some authenticating sign from heaven. That is why He sends the disciples to the other side of the sea. He needs time by Himself to mourn, and to pray. He asks for strength to face the torrential gale that is gathering forces against Him.
II. DANGER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEA VV. 24-26
As Jesus prays on the windswept hill, the disciples paddle their way across the shivering bronze of the late afternoon sea. With the sun about to set the sea has grown colder and the wind more severe. For ten futile hours they row, all the while moving only discouraging three-and-a-half-miles. Now it is a couple of hours before dawn. Spears of lightning impale themselves on the mountains, and thunder rolls dramatically in the ensuing darkness. Untamed bodies of water heave their bulks to batter the boat's hull. Ragged waves fray into the night and lash their contempt on the backs of the beleaguered crew. The sting from pellets of water blurs their vision, but in the intermittent flashes of light they see a form making its way over the convulsing sea. Are they beginning to hallucinate from fatigue? They ease off the oars and rub their eyes. Is it a ghost, some spirit sent to hasten their death? All their superstitions about the sea come rushing back to them, and they scream out in terror. Their cries mingle with the moan of the wind when suddenly the ghost speaks. In times of life's storm fear of the unknown can blur your vision of the nearness and presence of Jesus Christ.
Before you call these disciples a bunch of sissies let me remind you that at least four of them were fishermen before Jesus called them to follow Him. They were professional fishermen. They had been on the sea many times. They had experienced several storms at sea. The last time they encountered a similar massive storm Jesus was inside the boat. He spoke to the sea and the wind and both became silent. In this storm the last person they expected to see was Jesus. What could have been a pleasant trip became a white-knuckled ride through a sea of fear. Their question is, “What hope do we have of surviving a stormy night?" Perhaps you have asked your own question: “Where is God when my world is stormy?” Doubt storms begin to flood your heart: turbulent days when the enemy is too big, and the task too great, the future too bleak, and the answers are too few. What do you do in the eye of the storm when a phantom is also closing in on you?
What the disciples think is a ghost; a phantom turns out to be their only hope of rescue. The light came for the disciples. A figure came to them walking on the water. It wasn't what they expected. Perhaps they were looking for angels to descend or heaven to open. Maybe they were listening for a divine proclamation to still the storm. We don't know what they were looking for. But one thing is sure; they were not looking for Jesus to come walking on the water. It is a ghost, they said, and cried out in fear. To their amazement what they have taken to be a ghost begins to speak to them. Take courage. It is I; do not be afraid. They rub their eyes again and squint into the erratic darkness. They can't believe what they see. Jesus. And He is walking toward them. The closer He comes, the faster Peter's heart pounds. Suddenly, the tide of emotion changes from fear to longing. Lord, if it is you tell me to come to you on the water. Jesus extends the invitation to Peter's outstretched faith, Come. With his eyes fixed on the Savior, Peter begins to walk. And to the breathless amazement of the others in the boat, the water holds him up, holds him up on a sea that is still wild with rage. This is incredible.
They have seen Jesus do many unbelievable things, but now, now they see an ordinary man, one of their own doing the miraculous, mirroring what they thought only Jesus could do. But a windblown slap from the jealous sea turns Peter's head and brings him to his knees. In desperation he shouts. Lord, save me. And in that moment of faith, however sinking, Jesus grips Peter's forearm and pulls him to safety. Let me ask you a question, when you are about to drawn in the middle of a storm do you know where to turn for help? Some of you turn to witchdoctors. Some of you turn to psychics. Some of you turn to self-acclaimed prophets or prophetesses. But others who know their God turn to Jesus. Am I speaking to somebody today? Once Jesus boards the boat, the storm subsides. The lesson is over. And what did the disciples learn?
Through Peter they gained a visual definition of faith, for what more is faith than stepping out in obedience to Jesus and looking to Him to sustain your steps, even when the path of obedience takes you over uncertain and untamed waters. Through Peter they also learned the difference between walking by faith and walking by sight. When Peter fixed His eyes on the Savior, he walked on water. When he turned his eyes to the wind, he sank. This is also a lesson for you and me. In the midst of life's storm we are not to be anxious about our circumstances, but instead fix our eyes on Jesus the Pioneer and Finisher of our faith. Ladies and gentlemen, the storm of the sea was a lesson to the disciples to prepare them for the spiritual storm of mounting opposition when Jesus would no longer be with them physically. Like the actual storm, their encounter with the Pharisees and Sadducees, the enemies of Jesus was equally sudden, equally threatening, equally demanding in faith to keep their heads above water.
The disciples experienced two physical storms in their three-and-a-half-year residence with the Savior. In the first storm Jesus was present, only asleep. But in the next one He withdrew to a distant hill. And although He could see them, a blindfold of night prevented them from seeing Him. Why did Jesus withdraw from the disciples? To wean the disciples from sight to faith; to force them to rely less on their physical eyes and more on their spiritual sight. If they were ever to walk by faith, Jesus had to withdraw from their sight. There are some of you who are following Jesus but you are walking by sight and not by faith. Jesus allows a storm now and then to deepen the roots of your faith. Like a tree, the disciples' trunks must grow stout and our branches must grow firm. Otherwise, they would not be strong enough to stand alone, which one day they must do. This storm was a hard chapter in the textbook of faith. But the lessons the disciples learned that night they would never forget.
In closing let me make two or three applications. First, no follower of Jesus Christ is exempt from life's storm but the fact of the matter is what do you do with the storms when they come? Since Jesus came in a way the disciples did not expect, they almost missed seeing the answer to their prayers. And unless you look and listen closely, you too risk making the same mistake. God's lights in your dark nights are as numerous as the stars, if only you will look for them. Second, when some Christians go through storms of life and they see a gentle light on the horizon, they think they are seeing a ghost. They dismiss occasional kindness as apparitions, accidents, or anomalies. Anything but God. The disciples might have thought when Jesus comes He will split the sky. The sea will be calm. The clouds will disappear. You also say to yourself when God comes all pain will flee. Life will be tranquil. No question will remain. And because you look for the bonfire, you miss the candle. Because you listen for the shout, you miss the whisper. But it is in burnished candles that God comes, and through whispered promises He speaks: “When you doubt, look around; I am closer than you think.” Brother or sister in Christ, you should not be moved by the storms of life, because that is our lot as Christians. This cuts across the thinking of many Christians today, for they think the special favor of God is shown by their exemption from life's storms. Sometimes God calms the storm but at times He allows the storm to calm His child.