This week, Vacation Bible School has all been about one theme: Catching the Wave of God’s Amazing Love. What is fascinating about this statement is the idea of the wave. Because depending on your perspective, and honestly your location, the wave can have either a positive or a negative connotation. It is good when you are on top of the wave, riding that wave to the shore, but when the waves are out of control, crashing all around you, there is a fear of what the waves might do to you.
We find a story like this in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Matthew, we find a story of Jesus and his disciples and one frightening night where the disciples wondered if they would even be able to survive the waves crashing all around them. We find this story in Matthew 8.
It had been a long day for Jesus and his disciples. He had been speaking to the crowds, teaching them about the coming kingdom, challenging them about what it meant to really follow him, and healing those who came to him. Jesus was exhausted. Always thinking about the next step, Jesus lead his disciples to a boat.
They followed him and they set off to cross the Sea of Galilea overnight so that Jesus could begin the next day speaking, teaching, and healing those he came in contact with on the other side. Jesus took his place in the bottom of the ship and quickly fell asleep. The disciples began the journey across the lake.
Typically a boat like this required five men to handle the boat: four to row and one to control the rudder. This was a journey these men were familiar with. This wasn’t their first time to cross the sea at night. But tonight would be one they would never forget.
At once, all of a sudden, a storm appeared, catching them by surprise. The disciples began feverishly trying to keep the boat afloat, to weather the storm with no loss of life or property. But very quickly they began to see that they were no match for this storm. The location of the Sea of Galilea, surrounded by mountain ranges that often had an east wind blowing over, resulted in sudden violent downdrafts and storms that could produce waves seven feet high or more.
And the waves of this storm were already crashing over the sides of the boat. The men were panicked, fearing for their lives. They’d done everything they knew to do. They knew Jesus was on board, but what could Jesus do? They’d already seen him do some pretty amazing things. They’d witnessed the miraculous. As a last resort, they woke him up and with panicked voices they told him, “Save us! We are going to die!”
Jesus looked at the men and asked, “Why are you so afraid? You don’t seem to have much faith.” And with those words, Jesus got up, left the stern of the boat and came to the top side. With the winds blowing, the waves crashing against the boat, the sea spray hitting him in the face, and the boat being tossed from one side to the other, Jesus opened his mouth and spoke, “Peace! Be Still!” And all at once, as suddenly and unexpected as the storm had begun, it stopped.
Mouths wide open, the disciples were astonished. It wasn’t that this was the first miracle they had seen Jesus do. On the contrary, Jesus had amazed them several times. But this time it was different. Yes, he had healed people, he had taught in a way they had never seen or heard. But now he had power of nature. And they asked an all-important question, a question I think that we need to think about today: “What kind of man is this?”
Focusing on the Wave
I’m originally from Arkansas, not a state known for it’s surfing. And I’ve only been in California long enough to catch a flight. I know absolutely nothing about surfing and how to catch the right waves. What I do know is that waves can be beautiful to look at from the shore, but they can be extremely powerful as well.
A few years ago, Kerri and I took a vacation . . . a cruise in the Caribbean. I love to cruise, mainly because you can eat yourself stupid. Anyway, the last night of the cruise, the ship hit some turbulent water. The winds and waves picked up a lot and the waves started actually started moving this massive 80,000 ton ship.
Even as we would walk down a hallway, we would have to lean or catch ourselves from falling. It wasn’t a severe storm but it was enough to make you a bit more cautious when you walked.
Whether we are on riding high on the wave hanging ten or whether the waves are crashing in around us, there are a couple of fundamental problems I think we are all faced with in life. And the first problem is that we have a tendency to focus on the wave.
The disciples had seen Jesus do some amazing things. He was right there with them in the boat. And yet when things got difficult, what did they think about? How powerful Jesus was? No. His teaching about peace and times of trouble? Not at all. Their focus was strictly on the seven foot waves crashing over the boat. And it scared them to death. Their focus was in the wrong place.
But I think this happens even when we are riding high. Things are going well. Our business is profitable. Our kids are doing well. The cars are all running, the bills are all getting paid, and life seems to be pretty good. Our natural inclination is to think about the stuff and not anything else. And I am probably the most guilty of this, especially when it comes to church: when the budget numbers look good, when attendance is up, I think, “Wow, look at those numbers.” I think, “This is natural.” But focusing on the waves, whether good or bad, leads to the second problem.
Focusing on Self
The second problem is that we make it all about ourselves. When life is good and we are riding high, we start focusing on the results, the tangibles around us and then we start to think about how great WE are. “Wow. Look at what I have done. I am pretty great.”
Or when the waves are crashing in around us, we go the other direction. “Woe is me. My life is horrible.” Everything in life becomes about us. Life is bad. Nothing is right. We think no one cares, not even God. And again, we stop focusing on the waves and put ourselves in the center of the universe.
It’s Not About You
This is actually one of the stories we taught the kids this week. And this story from Matthew has a few points you could pull form it. One being, if you are in the storms of life, Jesus can calm your storms. This is a great point that can be made, but it’s not what I want us to focus on today, because I think there is a greater point to be made from this story, a point that supersedes that one.
This story really addresses the two fundamental issues we face when dealing with the storms in life. Yes, we want to focus on the waves. Yes, we want to make it all about ourselves. But the real point of the story is: How do you answer the question? It is the same question the disciples asked after seeing Jesus miraculously calm the storm. It is the question, “What kind of man is this?”
I firmly believe that one of the greatest questions of life we will ever answer is this one. Because what we believe about Jesus can have incredible implications both here and now, today, and for eternity.
Some look at Jesus and dismiss him as a good, moral man, a man who fought back against the religious institution, a man who taught good things, and that’s where they leave it. But is that all there is to Jesus?
Yes, he taught some pretty radical things for then and for now. He was compassionate. He showed mercy and love to people, but he also made some pretty outrageous claims. Like, that he wasn’t just human, but that he was God in the flesh, and that he was the only way to life. This is not exactly a popular sentiment in our culture. But in the broken relationship between man and God, he said he was the only way for it to be reconciled.
And not only did he make some pretty outrageous statements, he did some pretty amazing things. The ultimate action being offering his life on the cross, willingly laying down his life as a sacrifice so that you and I might find forgiveness, so that the penalty of our sin would be paid in full and his righteousness could be put upon us, and so that we could have life. Romans 5:8 tells us
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
How do you answer that question this morning? What kind of man is this? Do you see Jesus as a good guy, a good teacher and nothing more? Or do you know him as the way, the truth and the life?
Don’t let whatever is happening in your life keep you from focusing on the right thing. Are you so focused on the waves, the events of your life, or on yourself that you are missing the bigger question that demands an answer? What kind of man is this? Take time today or this week and really consider Jesus? Talk about it with your spouse, or kids, or a friend.
Maybe you have already been thinking about this question and you feel God calling you to step out in faith today and take that first step toward Jesus right now. If so, find me, find Pastors Ryan or Amy and let us share more with you about a life lived not afraid of the waves or focused on self, but lived in the incredible wave of God’s amazing love.