Sunday, September 23, 2007

In the Midst of the Storm

“Traditions of men” are customs, guidelines, principles or beliefs viewed as a consistent standard of practice. Such precepts, doctrines and traditions are usually passed along orally and/or by practice influencing the present; and may vary somewhat from one generation to the next. Even such traditions passed down with written instructions are subjected to each generation’s interpretation and scrutiny and will vary somewhat because of their understanding.

If there were ever any foundational truths in such traditionalism it is lost in the evolving process. Following the tradition of men, or even “traditional thinking,” is described biblically as a state of “hard heartedness. ”In modern day language we might would say that a person has become “set in his ways” or that he is “hard headed. ”Such a condition causes a person not to see, hear, understand, believe or even effectively remember the things of God {Mark 8:15-21}.

Quite often the word of God is “neglected” or “set aside” {Mark 7:8-9} or made of “no effect” {Mark 8:13} in ones life by the insistence upon following the “tradition of men. ”Sometimes it takes a storm in our life to shake us loose from traditionalism that we may experience the truths of God. To effectively learn the things of God we must be freed from the tradition of men and turn to our Heavenly Father for Him to open our minds to His ways and teachings.

We begin with an account of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Immediately after Jesus had fed the five thousand men, plus the women and children {Matthew 14:15-21}, He commanded the disciples to get into the boat. The Scripture reads as follows,

“And immediately He made the disciples get into the boat, and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away” (Matthew 14:22 NAS).

Another account tells us that He commanded them to “go to the other side to Bethsaida” (Mark 6:45).

Note that the NAS bible says, “He made them.” The KJV bible says, “He constrained them. ”The word “constrain” means to demand, compel or to make. Now our question is, why was it necessary for Jesus to demand, compel or have to make the disciples get into the boat and go to the other side to Bethsaida? Scripture does not tell us in print why; but the Scripture does tell us of the frequent storms on the Sea of Galilee. It also tells us that all of the disciples, except Judas Iscariot, were born and reared around the Sea of Galilee. Most were fishermen who spent a lot of time on the sea earning their living. They knew that the sea, at certain times, could become a treacherous and deadly place to be because of the sudden violent storms. Traditional wisdom of men taught that a person just did not go out on the dangerous Sea of Galilee with night approaching and risk their lives to go to a unrepentant “cursed city” (Matthew 11:20-21). Therefore, the Holy Spirit is indicating that they were leaning to their own traditional wisdom and knowledge (Mark 7:8).

As a result of their traditional thinking they apparently resisted or opposed Jesus, the Word of God, and made it necessary for Him to compel them. They had been amazed and astonished at the miracle of the five loves and two fishes. But it meant little more than a magic show for they did not really comprehend in depth His love, mercy and grace and the power and authority that belonged to Him. Pre-conditioned or traditional thinking, biblically known as “hardness of heart,” had caused them to attempt to “set aside” the words of the Lord Jesus. They must be shaken loose from their traditionalism and learn to lean upon and trust in Him. By now they should have known that if they obeyed His command to “get into the boat and go to the other side” that absolutely nothing could stop them from completing their journey.

“And after He had sent the multitudes away, He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already many stadia away from the land (in the midst of the sea), battered (or tormented) by the waves; for the wind was contrary (opposing them). And in the fourth watch (between 3 and 6 AM) of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were frightened, saying, ‘It is a ghost! ’ And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid’. ” (Matthew 14:23-27 NAS)

Quiet often, after a day of ministering, Jesus would go to be alone to pray and fellowship with His Father. While the disciples were in the boat without Him their worst fears came upon them; the dreaded storm began raging against the boat in the midst of the sea while Jesus was on the mountain praying. Traditional wisdom of men would tell them that they were doomed! !

This brings us to our next question. Why would Jesus send the disciples out to sea knowing they were going to encounter a violent and potentially deadly storm?

Experience is a great teacher! One does not quickly forget the things he has experienced under extreme circumstances. Their experience with the storm would test and build their faith. Jesus knew He would soon suffer and die on the cross leaving them in the midst of another violent storm. Traditionalism would be a hindrance in the cross experience; it would take a strong faith in God to see them through. Like a coach conditioning his players for the competition that lies ahead Jesus is preparing His disciples for the struggle that they unwittingly face.

They had been struggling against the storm for some time when Jesus came to them walking on the sea. When they first saw Him they did not recognize Him. They thought Him to be a ghost, considering the fact He was walking on the sea, and they became even more frighten. Jesus greeted them saying, “be of good cheer” (KJV) or “take courage” (NAS); “it is I; do not be afraid. ”The lesson He is teaching, to them and to us, is the storms will come because of the enemy; but we are to resist the storm and take courage or be of good cheer (stand fast in faith) knowing that if we are where He has commanded us to be--He will not abandon us---He, the Master of the sea, will come to us in the midst of the storm

As we continue the account of the storm we find Peter calling out to the Lord saying, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water. ’And He said, "Come! " And Peter made his way down out of the boat and began to walk toward Jesus as the storm continued to rage. But Peter, taking His eyes off of Jesus, looked upon the storm and fear and doubt overcame him; immediately he began to sink. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me! ”And Jesus, being filled with love, mercy and grace stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him,

“O you of little faith, why did you doubt? ” (Matthew 14:28-31)

It took faith, trust and courage for Peter to leave the boat to walk on stormy water toward Jesus. If he had continued in faith he would have made it to Jesus walking on the sea in the midst of the storm. We all, like Peter, have our moments of faith and trust; to continue in faith and trust we must not look upon our adverse circumstances but continue to look upon (Hebrews 12:2f) the One who has beckoned us to “come” to Him.

As Jesus lifted Peter from the water they walked to the boat as the storm continued. When Jesus and Peter were both in the boat the sea became calm. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying,

“You are certainly God’s Son! ” (Matthew 14:32-33).

Their personal experience with Christ in the midst of a storm made them realize that He is the Son of God. His miracles were no longer just something that amazes them but they were now seen as loving acts of God bringing about His will in caring for His people.

In the presence of Christ there is an atmosphere of serenity. The sea became calm and peaceful and the disciples began to worship and praise Him as the Son of God. Something else of interest followed. Remember that Jesus had commanded them to cross over to the cursed city of Bethsaida? The events of the storm had changed their course and they were being taken toward Gennesaret, the place known as “the land of miracles;” there they would be gladly received.

“And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent into all that surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick; and they began to entreat Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured” (Matthew 14:34-36 NAS).

The people of Gennesaret recognized the great love, mercy and grace that the Son of God has for His people and they came bringing their sick expecting life saving miracles.

All of God’s people face trials and troubles, or what we are calling storms in this lesson. Storms come in many different forms; sickness, financial difficulties, losses of different types, religious persecutions and etc. Temptations to do evil are not storms! ! God allows storms to come upon us but He never tempts anyone with evil. If we respond correctly to storms we will have a personal relationship with Christ like we never had before. In the midst of the storm He teaches us that we can trust, lean or depend on and draw nearer to Him. We learn how and desire to talk to Him more. In other words, our prayer life greatly improves. Our love for our Savior grows and our love and respect for others is greatly increased. We learn who we are in Him and how to exercise the authority that He gives us in His name (Matthew 16:19).

The Apostle James writes,

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4 NAS).

The testing of faith produces endurance and the perfect results of endurance is fortitude, determination, strength, courage and staying power; a state of perfection and completeness in Christ lacking in nothing. The purpose of such conditioning is for standing firm against the powers of the devil when we are tempted with his evil (Ephesians 6:10-19).

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NAS)

The following words were written by the apostle Paul who laid aside the traditions of men (Philippians 3:8-12) and weathered the storms, following the example of his Savior, and now he has gained the prize he so faithfully sought (Ephesians 2:6).

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 NAS).

James C Sanford

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