Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Eleventh-Hour Savior Part II

"Away despair; my gracious Lord doth hear.
Though winds and waves assault my keel,
He doth preserve it: he doth steer,
Ev'n when the boat seems most to reel.
Storms are the triumph of his art:
Well may he close his eyes, but not his heart."
~George Herbert

Storms may be the "triumph of his [Jesus'] art" but they sure do wreak havoc on mere mortals. Even for the rugged adventurist, a storm is a challenge, forcing him to relinquish his grip on the controls. A storm, like the "great tempest" experienced by Christ's disciples (described in Matthew 8 and Mark 4), reduces even the seasoned and worldly-wise sailors to helplessness, causing them to cry out in desperation, "Lord, save us!" 

Mark's account adds a little reproach along with their plaintive plea for help: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

Why is Jesus so maddeningly slow to act? Why is it He waits until the eleventh-hour to arise to their aid?

This question is especially perplexing in light of the fact that the disciples found themselves in this extremity precisely BECAUSE they were following Jesus. In Matthew's account, Jesus had issued the challenge to "Follow me," and the disciples took up that challenge by doing just that: "Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him." Surely their obedience should have merited a safe, smooth passage across the lake?

Instead, their obedience earned them a fight for their life. A great tempest arose and their vessel was swamped. They were sinking fast, while Jesus slept peacefully on a pillow in the hinder part of the ship, the picture of perfect tranquility and apparently oblivious to their epic struggle. 

I can picture the disciples straining at the oars, feverishly bailing the water out of their vessel. They didn't want to awaken Jesus and at first they *thought* they could handle it. They were experienced fishermen, after all! They would prove themselves worthy, prove themselves competent to shuttle Jesus to the other side. Perhaps there was a little pride involved, perhaps they thought, "We can handle this one ourselves, no need to wake the Master." 

At last, having spent every ounce of their strength and exhausting every inner resource, they knew they were licked. Time to admit defeat and awaken Jesus. How could he sleep through such turmoil??

"Lord, save us, we perish!" followed by, "Don't You care that we perish?"

One can feel the desperation in those words, along with a tinge of reproach.

Jesus immediately rises to the need, rebuking the wind and waves and achieving perfect calm at His Word. Then He turns to rebuke the disciples, not for waking Him, but for their fearfulness and lack of faith.

It is an impossibility for a soul to be full of fear and faith at the same time. When one enters, the other must leave. Jesus' rebuke revealed the expectation He held for His disciples: that they would keep hold of their faith even in a tempest. How was this possible for them? How is it possible for me, a disciple of another generation, to maintain faith in the midst of a tempest?

The fact that Jesus expects faith reveals that it MUST be possible to achieve. A careful look at the text gives some clues that help the seeker find the key to success. First, the command of Christ in Mark 5:35 was, "Let us pass over unto the other side." As already noted, the disciples followed that command in obedience. The fact that Jesus used the pronoun "us" indicates that it was clearly His will for the entire crew to pass to the other side. Can anything thwart His will? Can any storm prevent Him from His stated purpose? Of course not, but the disciples had apparently forgotten this Word in the noise of the storm. 

The storm not only caused them to forget His stated purpose, but it also revealed a bit of insecurity, a doubt within their hearts. Did Jesus really care about them? If so, why had He abandoned them to this squall? Their inability to believe that He truly cared for them was a greater breach of faith than their inability to believe He could calm the storm.

And so it is I find myself identifying with the weaknesses of the disciples. Often I have embarked upon a mission, fully knowing that it was a God-ordained assignment. Sure enough, I've encountered tempestuous circumstances in opposition to my work, causing me to focus on the storm and to momentarily forget that my work was commissioned by the Master. Emotions falter, negative thoughts flood into my soul as fast as the water was flooding the disciples' vessel. 

"Jesus, where are You? Why aren't You helping me? Have you left me alone to be destroyed by these adverse circumstances?"

It is said that even steel can withstand only so much pressure, and will break if tempered too long. Disciples are tempered by their experiences, and Jesus knows exactly when we've had enough, exactly how much pressure is too much to bear. At that moment, and not one moment too late, He steps in and calms the storm and stills the tumult. 

The disciples had the advantage of the bodily presence of Jesus, visible to their sight and providing a certain measure of security. I don't have that, but I have something even better. "It is to your advantage that I go away," Jesus tells His disciples, "for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you, but if I depart, I will send Him to you." John 16:7

In the midst of the storm, the Helper bears witness with my spirit that I belong to God (Romans 8:16). He calls to my remembrance examples from scripture, like the above story of the calming of the storm, to remind me of His character. By these enablings I can cast out fear--not only the fear of the storm, but the fear of abandonment, of feeling that I am unworthy of His intervention.

Disciples usually don't have any problem believing that God is BIG enough to calm storms, the difficulty lies in believing He wants to do this FOR ME. This is a blatant lack of faith and displays an under-confidence in His love, and it is the thing that warrants a rebuke from Jesus. May God help me to lay hold of this truth: that because I believe in Him I shall not perish in the storm, but He shall delight to rescue me because by His blood I am accepted in the Beloved. 

Rescued, loved, thriving ever after. . . I love happy endings, don't you?

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