Column – Tell me to come to you

Published 8:01 pm Friday, August 18, 2023

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Have you ever lifted an emergency prayer to God, and in doing so make God an offer? I’ll bet most of us have at some point or another. 

Sometimes a Faustian bargain, a deal with the devil, isn’t the only kind of bargain we might want to think twice about. Sometimes, we make deals with God and aren’t prepared for the fact that God might take us up on what we said we would do!

So the story goes, a young fellow spent a great deal of time trying to decide what to do with his life. After his preparatory education, the young man attended University and received an advanced degree in the year 1505.

At that time, he was preparing for a respected and prosperous legal career that his father wanted him to pursue. But on the way for one of his visits home, a violent thunderstorm started up. When a bolt of lightning knocked him to the ground, he cried out to his father’s favorite saint, “St. Anne, help! If you will get me home safely and alive, I’ll become a monk.” 

Two weeks later, in obedience to the vow he had made, Martin Luther enrolled at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. Thus began the illustrious career of the Church’s greatest reformer. He experienced this life-changing transformation in the midst of a storm.

In our text from Matthew 14: 22-33, we read of another life-changing transformation that came in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee was positioned at the north end of the Jordan River valley in a depressed area surrounded by hills.

Whenever the cool currents rush down off the mountains and collide with the heated air above the water basin, the air explodes over the surface of the water, churning the waves and wreaking havoc, on whatever craft is on the water at that time.

That’s what happened to the disciples as they moved from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other. Jesus has just fed the five thousand. That’s a big deal, and it lays down the context for today’s action. On the heels of that, Jesus sends the people away and sends the disciples away onto the water, too. 

Now, why would he do that? The text tells us that Jesus needed some time alone with God the Father in prayer. He knew what was ahead, and he needed to prepare His heart and mind for it.

Whatever the reason, the calm solitude of Jesus stands in sharp contrast with what’s happening at the same time that night with His disciples. They rowed a yard forward, and the wind and current pushed them two yards back. All night. 

You’ve been there somehow in your life, haven’t you? If someone you love is a hundred miles away, when night comes it seems a thousand. If you think you won’t meet your deadline, it’s twice as bad in the middle of the night as you think about it.

Jesus was their leader. The weather had gotten dicey. They were alone and overwhelmed.

In the Bible, water was a source of vitality and nourishment. But raging waters and storming seas represented all the worst that might threaten us. They were the symbols of our worst fears and captured the notion that life is flat out dangerous sometimes. 

Gifted preacher and scholar, Fred Craddock, contends that Jesus walking on top of the threatening water is not to be viewed as a miracle. That would be too simplistic. Our fascination with it as a miracle would distract us from the truth the gospels were trying to give to us.

Most of our Bibles say here, “It is I.” Or, “I am he” that Jesus answered as the Disciples called out in horror. Sometimes when you let the Grammar police run the world, you rob all the power from written words.

In my office as I studied this text, tears almost came to my eyes. In the Greek, what Jesus simply says as He walks toward His terrified followers is, “I am!” Now, we recall God’s preferred name when Moses asked under whose authority his actions should be made. Now we recall how the voice from within the burning bush self-identified. I am.

This story shows God reaching toward humanity. This is not a miracle. This is a sign. God is coming to them, and still to us today, through the storms in the person of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.