Christ in the Storm!
"Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid." Mark 6:50
Blessed Jesus, if You are with us — what shall we fear? All we dread is Your removal. Only assure us of Your presence — and let the rains descend, and the waves beat vehemently — none of these things shall move us.
There is something in the situation of the disciples on that dismal night, so correspondent with the experience of most Christians. And there is something so interesting and engaging in their certain, though long delayed deliverance — that a few moments spent in particular consideration of them, may, I hope, be useful.
"And he immediately constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side, unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people." We may easily imagine how unwilling His disciples were to leave Him, and might have expected to find them expressing their reluctance. But we hear no such language. Like the good Centurion, He said to them, "Go! — and they go!" He sent them from Him, but it was only to make His presence more desirable and welcome. God's commands may sometimes seem grievous, and such a path may be marked out for us, as in our apprehensions threatens greatly to interrupt our communications with Him. But if we have patience to wait and see His design — we shall find that in reality His commandments are merciful and gracious, and that He has taken the best means for the accomplishment of our wishes, and the comfort and salvation of our souls.
"And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray." How strangely did the blessed Jesus condescend to human infirmities! He hungered and thirsted, He wept and prayed. That we, sinful and necessitous creatures, who abound with wants and miseries, should retire to pray, is no wonder. You find, Christian, that you cannot live without prayer, or enjoy yourself in a crowd. You cannot go on from day to day, in a constant hurry of business and pleasure, without retiring to commune with your God.
That helpless, dependent, sinful creatures, should need to pray often and long, is not at all strange. But what, blessed Jesus, should induce You so often to attend to this duty? Alas! in this, as well as in every other instance, we see that Your thoughts are not as ours. Intercession for others, which makes so small a part of our prayers — was the chief subject of Yours. The weather-beaten disciples we may be certain were not forgotten.
O afflicted, tempest-tossed, and uncomforted ones — as distant and unregarded as you may apprehend yourself to be — He is near those who are of a broken heart. While you are struggling with the most formidable and threatening troubles, and all His waves and billows are passing over you — remember that Jesus is in the mountain praying for you!
"When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them." Everything seemed to conspire to heighten their misery and aggravate their distress. The night was dark; the winds were high and contrary; the sea was boisterous; and, what was worst of all, their Master was absent! Had He been with them, however the elements had raged — they might have thought themselves safe. But the providence of God many times calls His servants, His most beloved disciples, to walk in darkness, where they can see no light. He cuts them off from all prospects and possibilities of comfort from any other hand but His own, to teach them to wait upon Him, and to convince them that from Him alone come their help and salvation.
He could easily prevent our sufferings, but He wisely permits them, that He may magnify His mercy in our deliverance, and confirm our faith by the removal of our distress. But though the wind was against them, we find not that they returned to Jesus. Their Master had ordered them to go to the other side, and therefore, in spite of wind and weather, they press forward.
Mark this, O my soul. He sent out His servants to sea, though He foresaw the storm, and perhaps purposely too — that they might be tossed by the tempest. Why are you, therefore, cast down — why are you disquieted within me? Depend upon His grace, follow His directions — and the end will fully equal your wishes.
"About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake." All that long and tempestuous night must the disciples wear out in terror and distress. In the evening there was no appearance of Jesus. But when they had been all night long tossed at the mercy of the waves, and quite spent with toils and fears, in the fourth watch, which was near the morning, Jesus comes to them. This was done that He might exercise their faith and patience, and that their devotion may be more animated, and deliverance more welcome — in consequence of the trying delay.
We own, O Lord, that we are often unable to explain the reasons of Your conduct. What You do — we cannot fathom; but we depend on Your promise, and we rejoice in the thought that we shall know it hereafter.
Christian friend, like these poor disciples, you may be now in the midst of a sea of trouble. The winds roar; the billows glance, and foam, and howl; the night is very dark — and your Savior's absence heightens your distress. But the time to favor you is now fully come. Perhaps it is now midnight with you; but if you hold out until the fourth watch, He will certainly appear for your deliverance.
He came to them walking on the lake. He, who among the mountains was a man — reassumed the imperial royalties of the Godhead. The waves play round the feet of their Master. The tempest that rocks their vessel will not ruffle His robe or lift His hair.
"And he would have passed them by." Surely His absence could not be more grievous than this. But we must not always determine the Lord's designs from appearances. He sometimes appears to turn from us — when He is most attentive to our distresses. If He passes us by, or rather seems as if He would, when we are struggling in the storm — we know that it is not for lack of kindness or affection. He will not — He cannot neglect us! Oh, let us therefore never distrust Him.
"But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified!" What object would have been so pleasant to the disciples as their Master? And yet His presence greatly alarmed them. Has not our ignorance, too, of Jesus, and the way that He takes — led us often to suspect, yes, to run away from our safety, to be afraid of our means of comfort, and to mistake our compassionate and heavenly Friend?
"Immediately he spoke to them and said: Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid." This was indeed very seasonable; for, in consequence of their alarm from the apprehension of seeing an apparition, and from the increasing violence of the tempest — they were almost overwhelmed. Until they were thus afraid, He would not speak — but then He could be no longer silent.
If His presence was frightful, His words were comfortable. "Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid." He was present before, but they mistook Him, and feared — for it is His word alone which can make His presence known. "Take courage!" It is remarkable how frequently exhortations of this kind are used by Christ and His apostles. He is pleased to see His servants cheerful; therefore He has said, "Be anxious for nothing." "Cast all your care upon Him — for He cares for you." "Cast your burden upon the Lord." "Delight yourself in the Lord." "Rejoice in the Lord always — and again I say rejoice."
A thousand passages of this kind might be enumerated to show us how abundantly light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. Take courage! O dejected believer, dry up your tears, and cast off the gloom of your countenance, which is so unfitting your character, and so displeasing to your Savior. For the credit of your religion, for the honor of your Master, for the encouragement of your fellow-disciples — be cheerful, and let all the world see that wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness.
"It is I!" He does not say who — nor was it necessary. His sheep hear His voice; and we are not of His flock if we do not know Him by His voice, among a thousand. "It is I, the sovereign Lord of Heaven and earth. It is I, who command the winds and waves, and they obey me. It is I, your Lord and Savior, and Friend, whom you lost last night in the mountain, praying for you."
What a seasonable and comprehensive word was that, and how did it calm the tumult of their passions! Blessed Jesus, only say, "It is I!" and in spite of winds and waves and storms, and men and devils, we are safe!
"O You who quiets the storm, and lays to rest the war of elements — bear me in safety across the dark and troubled sea of life. Ever be present with me in your watchful love, and in all the might and mercy of your power. Never leave me — never forsake me. In darkness, be my light. In sorrow, be my joy. In death, be my life. And after death, bring me to that cloudless world, where not a wave of trouble shall ever come; where the din of earth shall be hushed into everlasting quiet, and the sighs of time shall give place to the songs of immortality!"
"Your shoes shall be iron and bronze! As your days, so shall your strength be. There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, Who rides the heavens to help you, and in His excellency on the clouds. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms!" Deuteronomy 33:25-27
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day!" Psalm 91:1-5
"When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." Proverbs 3:24
"Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation." Isaiah 12:2
"In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" Psalm 56:11