Friday, June 7, 2019 -
As I enter my second 6 month period in federal prison, I recall what a horribly frightening experience it was for me to enter this facility, a first-time experience for me, even as a visitor! It was a fearful experience of the unknown, and I’d heard the tales of men being beaten, raped, and mistreated, sometimes even killed, in prison.
Jesus’ disciples were also experiencing similar fear as described in Matthew 8:24-25. The disciples were being obedient in following Christ when He got into the boat. Yet their obedience doesn’t mean they were exempt from trouble. Following Christ doesn’t mean we won’t encounter trials and tribulation or be faced with fearful situations. The word translated “storm” in verse 24 is actually more than just a storm. It is the Greek word “seismos,” from where the English words “seismic” and “seismology” comes from. It is used throughout the New Testament (Matt. 24:7; 27:54; 28:2; Acts 16:26; Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13; Heb. 12:26; Rev. 11:19) to describe great upheavals. In Matthew 24:7 Jesus predicted earthquakes would increase in diverse places.
Throughout the New Testament, we who follow Christ are promised suffering. The apostle Paul said this: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). Yet, he also said of himself, “I am well-contented with weaknesses, with insults, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Cor. 12:10). How can this be? Christ said, “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:38).
For the disciples, in this instance, it seems this was no ordinary storm. They were following Christ obediently, yet an apparent earthquake beneath the surface of the sea created an unprecedented storm for these sea-worthy men to believe that without Jesus’ interference, their lives would perish! Scripture says, “the boat was covered with waves” (Matt. 8:24).
Jesus knowingly will lead us into storms of many kinds which undoubtedly, in our humanness, create fear within us – just as when I entered these prison doors. The noun Jesus called the disciples was the Greek word “deilós,” which means a coward. The only other place this word is used in the New Testament is in revelation 21:8, when the cowardly and unbelieving are cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, along with the abominable and murderers and immoral persons and drug addicts (sorcerers) and idolaters and all liars.
Yet Jesus had a great lesson for the disciples to learn. He wants us to be in the position, where we recognize we are utterly helpless without Christ’s intervention. We cannot survive or go on without Him. Only He has the ability to calm the seas immediately in the midst of a great natural storm. Just as only God in His mercy caused every man in my prison unit to treat me with the utmost respect and in most cases, dignity, only Christ can turn the worst, most threatening situation into an opportunity to grow and increase one’s faith. God uses difficult situations to bring us into a dependence and reliance on His sovereignty alone, because there is nothing in us, in our weaknesses, to overcome the trials and tribulation we face.
God indeed wants us to marvel, just as the disciples marveled after Jesus calmed the storm when they wondered what kind of “being” this was. He wants to strengthen our resolve and build up our faith, for we know not the plans He has for us down the road. Our storms and trials are for one purpose – to prepare us for the future. May we be able to say as Paul said, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).