This is such a familiar passage, but so rich in both lessons and reassurance for a fearful time. Here are a few things I’d like us to notice about and learn from in these familiar stories:
1. We need to look at others with “God goggles,” especially in a time of great fear, Jesus has just learned that John the Baptist has been killed. He wanted to grieve for his relative and friend in private, so he climbed into a boat and went off by himself to a quiet place. But the word got out about where Jesus was, and people came from the nearby towns to see him. By the time he came back to shore, a large crowd had gathered.
You and I might have been annoyed or frustrated that our “me time” was interrupted. But not Jesus; “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” The lost all around us are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36) pretty much all the time, but especially in times of fear and uncertainty. Instead of criticizing and rolling our eyes, we should be looking at them with eyes of compassion. Pray for them. Look for ways to help them. Point them toward Christ as the reason for the hope and confidence that we have.
2. Jesus never takes his eye off of us. At the end of a long day spent healing and feeding close to 10,000 people, Jesus puts the disciples in a boat and sends them off. Then he goes up on the mountainside to pray. Hours later, the disciples and their boat are in trouble, buffeted by wind and waves. But they are not alone. The parallel account of this story in Mark 6 says that Jesus “saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.” Unlike us, God never sleeps or lets his guard down. He is aware of our struggles and fears, always.
Do you feel like the winds of life are against you sometimes? Is your boat being tossed around by the waves? The Coronavirus, cancer, or some other disease. Losing someone you love. Suddenly being out of work. A car accident. A broken relationship. Whatever storm is rocking your boat, whatever ghosts you imagine in the dark, know that Jesus has his eye on you. He is aware of the fears and frustrations you feel. Notice that Jesus does not appear to walk out to the boat right away. He sees the disciples struggling “later that night” (v. 23) but doesn’t go to them until “just before dawn” (v. 25). God sometimes allows our boat to be tossed around so that our faith in Him will grow deeper, and our dependence on Him will be more complete. Even in the midst of the storm, Jesus asks us to get out of the boat and move toward him, and He is there even if our faith wavers and we take our eyes off of Him.
3. If you want peace, Jesus needs to be in the boat with you. “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.” The moment Jesus got into the boat, the winds subsided. When Jesus is in the boat with us, we have an entirely different perspective on our fear and uncertainty. More than that, God will reveal Himself to us in new ways when we seek Him during the storms of our lives. “Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
Is Jesus in the boat with you?
Prayer: Father, I am grateful that you never take your eyes off of me. You are always aware of what I’m going through. Come into the boat with me, and bring peace to my heart.
Here’s a game you can play with your family or small group. Cut slips of paper into 2” squares and write the word “BOSS” on one piece. Fold them in half and put them in a bag. Gather everyone in a circle so you can see each other. Each person picks a slip of paper; don’t let anyone see it! The one who is the boss must “fire” the other players by discreetly winking at them—one at a time. Once a player has been “fired,” he or she should wait a second or two and then throw his slip of paper in the middle and say, “I’m fired.” The other players try to guess who is the “boss.” If they guess wrong, they’re out of the game. If they guess right, they win. If no one guesses and everyone has been fired, the boss wins. Collect the slips and play another round.
What does a boss do? A boss is in charge of a company or group of people. The boss has the authority to hire and fire an employee. Employees must follow the boss’ instructions.
How is God like a good boss? He is in charge of us. He helps us. He gives us instructions to obey. His way is always best for us. We need to patiently trust that our sovereign God will always do what is best.