May 24, 2015 – manuscript

Matthew 8:23-27 – And when he (Jesus) got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he (Jesus) was asleep. And they went and woke him (Jesus), saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he (Jesus) rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

On this day, Jesus and his disciples were out doing what they normally did.  Hanging out with people.  Caring for people.  Healing people of physical and spiritual ailments.  In the middle of all those normal things, Jesus decided the thirteen of them were going to get into a boat.  NOT A BIG DEAL!  The disciples were fisherman.  They were trained to operate boats.  One of their fathers probably owned the boat they stepped on.  They were doing normal life — until factors entered normal life that they could not control.

You can see by this picture that the Sea of Galilee is surrounded with terrain, which meant that normal life could be very calm one moment and a great storm reveals itself without any warning.  Matthew 8:24 is one of those instances.  There was such a great storm that the boat was being swamped by waves.  In other words, the waves were going over the boat.  In 2006, a friend  (Bob) called me on a Wednesday afternoon.  He said, I need another guy to race the sailboat tonight.  I’m on my way to pick you up, be there in 15 minutes.  This friend is high-energy, especially when he is racing his sailboat.  I remember making a turn and the boat was sideways and Bob screamed, STAY IN THE BOAT…  The goal of every boater is to stay in the boat and preferably stay dry.

The disciples were professional, trained fishermen, but clearly they were not in control of the situation because they were getting wet.  These guys were supposed to know what to do, yet they were in danger of the boat being overturned and sinking.  Let’s not jump ahead too quickly with the storm.  Matthew 8:26 records the disciples woke up Jesus because they were going to die.

Let’s stop there for a minute…

Who stepped into the boat first?  Who knew the storm was coming but stepped into the boat anyway?  Matthew 8:24 says that Jesus was asleep.  Do you ever feel like Jesus is asleep when a storm pops up in your life?  Do you ever feel like Jesus is asleep or not paying attention when your church goes in a direction you don’t like because it resembles a past storm? If you answer yes, those moments can become very lonely.  Even though Jesus stepped on the boat first and the disciples could see Jesus on the boat, they perceived that Jesus was not intimately involved in the storm.  They woke Jesus because they thought they were going to die.  Jesus stood up, told the disciples to trust him and then told the winds and the sea to get a grip and calm down and possibly laid back down to finish his nap.

What the disciples thought was a life and death storm, Jesus considered a small issue because it was under his control.  Jesus’ fingerprint was on the situation even though the disciples could not feel Jesus’ fingerprint.  Jesus saw the big picture while the twelve disciples were stuck in the urgency of the storm.

We are not unlike the twelve disciples.  The history of our storms shape how intimately involved we perceive Jesus to be, even in the smallest situations of life.  Often, situations that leave negative history result in individuals taking control of one’s own life and leaving Jesus asleep in the boat.  At times, we pull back from engaging in similar situations because Jesus didn’t come through how we thought or expected.  We must understand that we will never change the past storms and we need to move on the best we are able.  However, sometimes we carry that storm into future sunsets and it shapes future perceptions without us even knowing it.  Ironically, the sunset becomes tainted by the storm.  The beauty of the sunset is not longer beautiful because of a past storm.  We have neighbors, co-workers, friends and family that live like this.  Maybe you live like this.  We hope and pray these individuals will understand that all of us followed Jesus into the boat and Jesus knew the storm was coming.  However, past storms often create large barriers and hesitancy to step back into the boat.  All of us think our storms are the worst.

Each of us know people who have left churches, emotionally or physically, for a variety of reasons.  If you have any sort of church background, you know well that churches are not perfect.  You understand that decisions may not have taken your personal opinion into consideration.  You understand that feelings get hurt.  You understand that church-going people are not always nice and loving to other church-going people.  You understand there are church-going people that think you should dress a certain way.  You understand there are church-going people that think donation amounts influence decision-making.  You understand that church-going people have “their seat” and you can’t sit there.  You understand there are unwritten expectations about church that chase individuals away and prevents them from ever stepping back into the boat.  You may understand that a church can be the coldest place that an individual walks into on any given weekend.  You don’t like it.  I don’t like it.  Yet, the problems remain.  The problem remains because many church-going people say they’re in the boat without ever actually stepping into the boat.  The bigger problem in all of that history is that Jesus gets blamed for the actions of people.  When history didn’t go as it should have, individuals either stop their financial partnership, stop attending churches or disengage from ministry because he/she did not feel the fingerprint of Jesus in the midst of storm.

Is that you?  Could that be you?  What would it take for any of us to step out of the boat permanently?  I simply want to challenge each of us to understand how easily we can blame Jesus and step out of the boat when we are disappointed that history didn’t go as we planned.  Matthew 8 records the twelve disciples had completely written off the reality that Jesus could easily resolve a situation they were personal trained and equipped to handle themselves.  I think Jesus orchestrates storms for the sole purpose of discovering who is truly in control of our lives.

Matthew 14:22-27 – “Immediately he (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he (Jesus) dismissed the crowds. And after he (Jesus) had dismissed the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening (6pm) came, he (Jesus) was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night (just before dawn) he (Jesus) came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Notice the difference between the beginning of Matthew 8 and Matthew 14.  Matthew 8 reads that Jesus stepped into the boat and the disciples followed.  Matthew 14 reads that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat.  Maybe Jesus had to make them get into the boat because the last time didn’t go so well.  The last time was on the way to really bad ending.  In Matthew 8, there is a storm and the disciples thought they were going to die.  If getting into the boat gave me flashbacks of negative history, I would probably have anxiety and fear about doing the same thing over again.  You would too.  The anxiety and fear associated with a past storm is one of the reasons people disengage from church or a ministry team and never re-engage.

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and pushed them off shore and instructed them go to the other side.  There are two important factors we need to fully understand this portion of Scripture.  First, fishermen never crossed the Sea of Galilee, they went around the Sea staying relatively close to shore.  Second, fishermen believed the middle of the Sea of Galilee was haunted.  Jesus instructs them to cross the Sea of Galilee, something they probably had never done before and in the same boat they almost drowned in the last time they were in it.  There is some fierce negative history looking into their eyes.  Jesus pushed them off the shore and into the fierce negative history, because Jesus wants you and me to live in the boat and not in the fierce negative history of our lives.

The disciples are pushed off shore sometime in the afternoon, while Jesus dismisses the crowds and heads off to pray.  When they got to the middle of the sea, they were beaten by waves and the wind was against them.  I imagine the fear and anxiety from their last boat trip overtook the disciples in that moment.  I think they were reminded very quickly of the great storm in Matthew 8.  This time, they were facing the storm head on.  If this storm had eyes, they were making eye contact.  They had to work harder to make it through this storm.  They worked harder and harder and harder.  It seemed they made no progress.  It seems like the storm was going to beat them again.  The wind and the waves were so strong that Matthew 14:25 says they were still on the Sea of Galilee at dawn.  In twelve or thirteen hours, they had only traveled four or five miles.  Did their fear prohibit their travels?  Did the emotional strain of their anxiety use unnecessary energy?  Were they freaking out about the past storms while in the current storm?  Whether some of these are true or all of these are true, Jesus pushed them on a journey and they struggled to make it across.

Matthew 14 continues with the disciples in the middle of the Sea of Galilee when Jesus approached them by walking on the water.  In the middle of a journey the disciples are clearly struggling with, Jesus says to them, “Take heart, it is I.  Do not be afraid.”  The Contemporary English Version reads, “Don’t worry! I am Jesus. Don’t be afraid.”

We do life in one of two categories.  We are in the boat or we are out of the boat.  Here is a measuring tool.

  • Some of us have never followed Jesus into the boat as Matthew 8 reveals.

A recent report shows that 82% of self-identified Christians never read their Bible outside of a worship service.  Your immediate thoughts may be about every other church who isn’t reading their Bibles.  Stop!  Don’t go there, because that’s us. We aren’t reading our Bibles.  We aren’t praying.  We are guilty.  First Baptist Church collaboratively is guilty of not following Jesus into the boat.  If we use our rough average attendance of 340 with assuming everybody in the building had surrendered his/her life to Jesus Christ, the result is that just 61 of us read our Bibles outside this Sunday morning block of time.  That leaves 279 of us that are not following Jesus into the boat.  We cannot follow Jesus if we do not know take the time to know what we are supposed to follow.

  • Some of us were once in the boat, but use past storms to justify our refusal to get into the boat again.

Matthew 14 reveals that Jesus made his disciples get back into the boat.  The boat is the place where intimacy with Jesus happens.  The boat is the place where the fingerprint of Jesus is felt.  The boat is where the voice of Jesus is heard, “Don’t worry! I am Jesus. Don’t be afraid.  I have this covered.”  The boat is where oneness with Jesus is at its best.  The boat is where the body of Christ reaches its potential.  Why wouldn’t we want that?  Why would we let past storms get in the way of all those things?

A few questions for each of us today…

  1. Is a past storm preventing you from stepping back into the boat? Are you willing to allow Jesus to change that in you?
  1. Are you a religious, church-going person that rarely involves Jesus in the rest of your week?
  1. Are you a person who wants to step into the boat to follow Jesus better, but you admit you don’t know what to do next?  
  1. Are you willing to commit to reading your Bible daily for the next 30 days?