Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. – Matthew 14:22-24
Lately, parts of our nation and our world have been deluged by storms, in some cases so utterly destructive as to wipe away the homes and businesses of entire communities. The Bible is full of lessons about storms. From the sixth to the eighth chapters of Genesis, where the enormous deluge in the days of Noah occurred, there’s a lesson about judgment. Sin can only go so far, but eventually it brings deep water over its own head. There’s the story of Jonah and the storm that he got caught in. God uses storms to get people adjusted in their viewpoints, straightened out, and retargeted on what their life is about.
There is the storm Jesus talked about in a picture-lesson He gave when He finished the sermon on the Mount. He said, “If you listen to these things and do them” (and He underscored not just hearing them, but also doing them), “then you’ll be like a person who built their house on the Rock, and when the storms of life come, your house will stand because of the wisdom of what I’m giving you.”
But it doesn’t work if you just hear. Those who hear but don’t do are like those who built on the sand, and when the storm came, the house collapsed, even though it looked just like the other house.
This particular case in Matthew 14 is one of two episodes in the Gospels in the life of Jesus in which Jesus is on the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. In one, He’s in the boat and a tempest comes. It’s a torrential kind of thing. In that situation, Jesus stills the storm. In this story, He isn’t with them when they start. The difference in this one is that it’s a picture of life and the lessons we face. Storms are symbolic of life’s circumstances. Sometimes a storm brings a blessing in the form of much-needed rain. You don’t necessarily enjoy getting wet, but in the long-term, it’s a good thing.
Now, hurricanes and tornadoes—that’s another story, like the story of Job, in which the Bible says a tornado came through and completely destroyed the house where his children were and killed them. We’re told that tornado was spawned by Satan himself. I’m not attributing every tornado to the Devil, but the Bible says that one was. Along with storms that can be a blessing, there are also storms that are satanic in origin and destructive.
Storms are like problems in two ways: They are different shapes and sizes, and unpredictable in their timing. You may see them coming, but things usually materialize in different ways than anyone could have pinpointed.
The contrary winds at the end of verse 24 represent a kind of storm, but not so much a destructive one. This is not something that brings them to ruin. This isn’t the same as the other time when they said, “Master, we’re perishing!” This time they’re just laboring against the wind.
This story is recorded in three of the Gospels—Matthew (chapter 14), Mark (chapter 6) and John (chapter 6). The nice thing about getting the report from more than one writer is that we can kind of get different viewpoints. They each basically say the same thing, but we get a bit of a different angle on it that helps fill in parts we would not otherwise see.
The common denominator was “the winds were contrary.” The word, enantios, that occurs here in the original language is just simply the word for opposite. The winds were opposite them. And that’s the kind of thing that often gets our lives stuck. There’s a goal we have, and everything seems to be against it. It can be the circumstances are against it, people are against it, our resources (or lack of them) are against it. The winds are opposite. This concept of the opposing winds is used elsewhere to convey the idea of antagonism or hostility because there are times that the opposition we face is human.
When you look closely into this passage of Scripture, there begins to distill a number of things. These guys were familiar with Galilee; this was not strange waters to them. The winds that came up were not uncommon. I’ve been on Galilee in boats close to twenty times, and I’ve been there when winds like this came up; when you start off reasonably still and before long the winds come. Galilee is seated at 600 feet below sea level. It’s almost exactly the shape and size, by measurement, as Lake Tahoe. The difference is that Lake Tahoe is at 6,000 feet elevation, while Galilee is 600 feet below sea level. There’s a narrow valley to the north. It’s not exactly a gorge, but it’s probably not more than eight or ten miles across at the most, and the winds come from the north and whip up the waves. They aren’t breakers; just rolling waves, and you’ll get three- or four-foot swells coming across there.
Something like that was happening. And the direction they were going was directly opposite from the way they wanted to go. Synthesizing what we read in each of the Gospels, we’re given a picture of the whole incident in terms of time, so we can get a strong feel of how this was and how far they had gone. It says here that it was in the evening that they started out. Let’s even take it to late in the day. Late day when the sun went down; summer time or late spring or early fall. Maybe it’s 8:00 in the evening by our time measure. And we know that it was in the fourth watch of the night that they are still out there, and from the Gospel of John, chapter six, it tells us they had only gone three or four miles. The fourth watch of the night is between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning. That means they had been going for eight hours and had only gone three or four miles, and they were experienced seamen on that lake. That tells you the nature of the headwind.
This is intended give us a picture of life’s circumstances that we all face. They’re not about to ruin us completely, but they do two things: First, they weary us—you find strength is draining; and second, the goals you hoped to arrive at are blocked—you can’t seem to get there.
I want to set before you, on the basis of this text, three things to remember when you’re stuck in a storm.
1. Decide to accept the fact that God’s hand is in this. “God put me here to settle my soul, not to sink my ship.”
In verse 22 it says, “immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat.” I want to talk about the verb “made them” because it’s a very strong word in the original language. We could just breeze by that, but also we might ask, “Why did He make them do it?” Well, there are any number of reasons. They had just been in a very strenuous time of ministry and they may have said, “We’re not going to go without You.” Or it may have been that they were concerned about the situation because after Jesus had fed the multitude, the people were ready to make Him a king. They may have been afraid somebody would take Him by force. Anagkazo, the verb that occurs here, means to force the situation. Jesus compelled them to get in the boat.
Now, let’s settle it up front that He is not ignorant about what is going to take place out there. It’s no surprise to Jesus that the winds came up. There was a plan in it. Jesus made them get in the boat, and as He did, there comes a picture of circumstances that you and I face where we don’t have any choice. We’re in a contrary situation and we didn’t have anything to do with how we got there. How many of us face situations where we say, “I really don’t want to do this but I have to.” You’re not compromising yourself; you just face the situation and plow on through. There are things like that. And there are situations where you are going through something you had no way of controlling. I want you to see Jesus making them get in the boat. There are things we get into and head out toward, and God has not designed the problem, but He has assigned our involvement in the circumstance.
There’s a lot of difference between that and blaming God for the way things get. Jesus didn’t go up the hill and cause the storm. Jesus went up there to pray, and then the winds came. And the Lord has put us in our circumstances, knowing full well what we would face, but it’s not because He designed the adversity. He is wanting to settle something in our soul, and He knows the ship isn’t going to be sunk.
There’s another thing involved here. When you look at the bookend events in the text—the feeding of the multitude, and then after they get to the other side, there is a tremendous flow of miracle healings that take place—it says that every person who touched Jesus was made whole. So when you read the entire chapter, you’ll find it’s bracketed by miracles with this struggle in the middle.
I’m not sure whether this is what Jesus had in mind, though I’m inclined to suspect He did. He’s showing us that life with Him isn’t just a grand continuation of miracles without times of struggle in between. There are people who mistakenly believe if you’re a “real” person of faith, any problem you face will just go away with a wave of your hand.
Imagine, if you will, what had happened with the disciples. When they were commissioned by Jesus and the crowd gathered, they asked, “What will we feed them?” Jesus said, “You give them to eat.” They said, “We don’t have enough.” “What have you got?” the Lord asked. And we know the story—five loaves and two fish that a little boy had. Jesus prays over the little boy’s lunch, and the miracle multiplication of the fish and loaves begins to take place. It’s an awesome miracle that demonstrates the creative power of the Creator. The disciples were amazed that that as they began to distribute the fish and the loaves, it just kept multiplying. They experienced the presence of the miraculous, and once that happens in your life, it’s tempting thing to assume, “Well, my problems are solved. The rest of my life all I have to do is open my hands and there it is!” But the Lord tells them, “Get in the boat!”
Now they’re out there rowing, and their ship isn’t going to be sunk, but something is going to be settled in their souls. They’re going to make discoveries, and among them, that life isn’t just a magic-wand walk of miracle grace wherever you go.
2. You may be stressed by the struggle, but you’re not outside the scope of God’s vision or interest.
When we read the combination of narratives in Matthew, Mark and John, the Bible depicts Jesus on the mountain where He had gone to pray. Why He was doing what He was doing is in itself a subject for discussion. His objective was not so much to pray for them as it was for the replenishing and refurbishing of Himself in the presence of the Father.
There are one or two places that are logical where they would have left to go the direction of the approximate number of miles mentioned and still not be there. It tells us they were headed for Bethsaida. Bethsaida is at the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee. So you can either go across the north shore a few miles, which would be the traditional site of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes, or you could go to the other place, which would be south and on the east side. But in either case, almost immediately near the shore line, you can go one hundred yards and there’s a place where you can go up a steep incline and can get up many hundreds of feet very quickly.
From there you can look out on a view of the whole lake. Remember, this is a wind. It’s not a storm in the case of clouds and rain. It’s just the wind. It’s probably a moonlit night, and it says that He could see them out there. When Mark describes it, he uses an interesting phrase. Mark 6:48 says, “He saw them straining..” He was sensitive to the struggle they were facing. And observing that struggle, He goes to see them.
As I was preparing this message, I felt inclined to check the background of that word translated “straining” in Mark’s report of the episode. I was impressed with the discovery I made. What I discovered was the way that that word “straining” (basanizo is the Greek word there) was used in the culture of the times. (That is verified by excerpts of documents and letters written at the time of the Scriptures.).
There were at least four things that impressed me in different ways that scholars have found in the ancient papyri of the use of the word basanizo. One was the way it was used to describe the tortuous struggle people go through when they are involved in judicial examination. When legal situations are just pressing all over you, and it brings enormous strain. Many of us have experienced that, and some are going through those winds of adversity right now. It is a long-term absence of something being settled, and it’s having a wearying effect of that on you.
Another way the word is used is the distress of a severe affliction. It could be a medical disease. You’d like to get over the disease, but you can’t seem to shake the thing off. Sometimes, if the ordeal is terminal and you know the Lord, you’d like to just get it over with and get on to Glory. But it doesn’t seem to go away. There are mental struggles that are not necessarily mental disease but torment the mind. There are things that happen emotionally, and they are wearying like straining against the wind.
The third way that this word occurs is the vexing of surrounding pressure of circumstance. This is the same word that is used in one of Peter’s epistles where it says that Lot vexed his righteous soul living there in Sodom. It’s describing a man who is living in an environment that was the opposite of what he wanted for his children. Everything about it was filled with perversity; it was a tough place to live and raise a family. Lot was vexed by the surrounding circumstance.
There’s a whole crowd of us here right now and it’s nice to be together and to worship the Lord and praise Him on Sunday morning, but tomorrow you’ll head into the office where you may be surrounded by profanity and blasphemy. Where the lewd and crude is made light of when you get to the coffee break. You don’t want to act like some kind of square-headed prude who is faulting everyone around you and pointing your bony finger of self righteousness at people. But it’s still eating you on the inside, and it’s frustrating. It’s vexing. We face those kinds of adverse winds.
The final one of these four things is the torment that comes from satanic assault. It’s interesting that they found a papyri that was a description given in ancient Greek literature of torment that resulted when demon spirits were invoked on people by a sorcerer. I’m not here to argue the case of voodoo and how valid that is. There are such things; I don’t discount that. But that’s not the issue today. I’m here to talk about the Adversary, about whom the Bible says, “Satan has come down with great wrath because he knows he has a short time” (Rev. 12:12). You don’t need a sorcerer or a witch against your case. Satan is already your worst enemy, and he’s commissioning the forces of hell in any way he can to break your will—to weary you, to obstruct the pathway into some aspect of your future with adversity. Just as surely as the winds that came upon Job, there are winds that the Adversary conjures up and these are works of hell.
These four things—judicial situations, physical difficulty, pressure of surrounding circumstance, or the pressure of demonic assault—are very real. They create a blockage to getting through.
So what shall we do?
When we’re stuck in that kind of storm, we need to recognize that while we may be stressed by the struggle, we’re not outside the scope of the Lord’s vision or interest. And that’s significant because He’s seeing you and He cares. You need to know that you’re not there without any attention on Heaven’s side of things.
One of the most tender stories in the Bible is in Genesis 16. Hagar, a handmaiden to Sarah, is asked by Abraham and Sarah to become a surrogate mother because they don’t believe they are capable of conceiving a child. In the culture of the times, it was not considered a sexual escapade if the mistress gave her handmaiden to her husband to provide a means by which they may have a child.
So that was done. And when the child was born, Hagar does not behave herself wisely because she gets a little snooty about the fact she had a baby and her mistress couldn’t. As a result of that, she is cast out of the house with the child. She’s wandering out in the desert, and she’s sure that it’s all over. The heat is oppressive, and she fears that she and the child will perish. She puts her son under a bush because she doesn’t want watch him die. But then her eyes are opened to a well. When she approaches the well to get water for the two of them, the voice of the Lord speaks to her and makes two things known. First, that He has brought her to the place of refreshing; she is not there by accident. Secondly, the Lord tells her how to shape her future so that she won’t have a problem.
It’s then that Hagar, drinking from the well and nurturing her child, eventually returns to Abraham and Sarah and names the well Beer Lahai Roi. In the Hebrew that means, “This is the well where God saw me.” There’s something so poignant about that. She’d been out there feeling alone, forsaken, and it looked like everything was over. She may well have thought, “God, I didn’t know I was important enough. I’m just a servant girl. I’ve gotten myself in trouble by my behavior, and yet, You see me. You not only see me, but You have come to me and supplied for me and made a way. I will call this well Beer Lahai Roi—You are the God who sees me.”
When Jesus looks out over the lake, sees the disciples, and comes to them, there is the message that whatever struggle you or I endure, the Lord has not put you there to sink your ship but to settle your soul, and He sees and knows the right time to come. He’ll be there. Turn to somebody and say to them, “Whatever you’re going through, the Lord knows. He sees you and He’s on His way right now.”
3. It’s always the darkest when Jesus shows up.
This event takes place between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning, the darkest hours just before dawn. The guys had been giving everything they had for eight hours but had covered very little territory. This had to have been a wearying proposition.
They think they have problems fighting the storm when all of a sudden…here they are rowing and one guy is looking out on the horizon… “Oh, no.” It says Jesus came to them, walking on the water, and they cried out. They were scared, and it’s was very understandable. We’ve all been there: just about the time you figure you’ve been bombarded by everything you can take, something else happens, and it becomes frightening. What they saw, of course, was the entry of the living Lord.
There are two facts here. The Lord is on the way to help, and when we seem desperately uncertain of what will happen, He shows up. And when He arrives, it changes everything. And He will arrive. I love that the Lord says, “Oh you of little faith.” I love it because of what it means and what it doesn’t mean. I have heard that used so many times as kind of an in-your-face statement. But I want you to notice that He didn’t say, “Oh you of NO faith.” He’s just saying, “Oh, why did you doubt?” Jesus is saying, “I want you to grow in faith.”
Today, loved one, I want to ask you to join me in recognizing that when you’re stuck in a storm, the presence of the Lord is solution. It is the Presence that comes in your heart when you recognize and rest in the knowledge that He has a plan in the midst of whatever you’re dealing with. It doesn’t mean He prepared the problem; but He can prepare you to deal with it.
Secondly, however great the struggle, you’re not outside His field of vision or the scope of His interest. Thirdly, when He comes and meets you there, you’re going to find that while it looked dark and then it got darker, He shows up. It says that when He came into the boat, they were immediately at the other side. There does come an end, and when it finally comes, it comes quickly. But it’s the getting there that tries our souls.
That’s some practical stuff when you’re stuck in a storm.
Let’s pray about this…
There’s no doubt that the Lord today is defining circumstances as you face them and describing these things to say to you, “This is for you today. I’m not distant. I haven’t forgotten you. I’ll show up in time. Your ship isn’t going to sink. The legal struggle may be real. The physical ordeal doesn’t seem to go away. Circumstances are opposing, antagonistic, hostile. Whether you got into it by some failure on your own part or it was just thrown in your face and hell is coming down the road, high speed, right at you, your ship is not going under. I’m with you. I’m bringing you through to show you the way of My presence and power.”
Lord, I pray for each person who, right now, simply and open-heartedly is saying, “Jesus, Jesus. You, God, see me and I thank you.” Let hearts be comforted and guided by the truth, in Jesus’ Name.
And as you appropriate this, say, “Lord, I take this for me,” and target it with regard to whatever storm you are stuck in.
Copyright © 2015 Jack W. Hayford