Storms will always come, but our anxieties will disappear when we fully trust in Jesus and experience his presence.
The Gospel today is about faith and about focus. It teaches that, though storms and struggles inevitably arise, we have a choice whether to focus on them, or on Jesus. The admonition of this Gospel is clear, “Keep your eyes on the Prize – Hold on!”
Let’s look at this Gospel in Four stages: Perceived Distance, Produced Distress, Point of Decision, and Process of Development.
I. PERCEIVED DISTANCE– The text tells us that Jesus drew back from the disciples and sent them to make the crossing of the lake on their own, intending to rejoin them later. During their crossing they encountered a storm: After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.
In this brief text we encounter the mystery of God apparently hiding his face. Jesus, in drawing back from his disciples, exhibits the mysterious truth that God sometimes seems to hide his face. Scripture speaks elsewhere and elegantly of this human experience:
- Ps 13:1 How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
- Ps 30:7 By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; then you hid your face, and I was dismayed.
- Ps 44:24 Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our body cleaves to the ground. Rise up, come to our help! Deliver us for the sake of your steadfast love!
- Psalm 22: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.
And thus Scripture attests to the human experience that God hides his face.
But does He actually do so?There is no doubt that, to us, he seems to hide his face. But has he actually done so in such a way that he is forgetful of us?
It will be noted in this text that Jesus is not away on vacation. Neither is he on the golf course. Rather, he is praying. As such he is in communion with his Father, but surely also with his disciples. And while the storm grows, he makes his way in stages toward them.
At first they cannot see him. Be he surely sees and knows them. Later, even when they do see him, they cannot understand, at first, that it is him. They even mistake him for a ghost, for someone or something that means them harm.
And so it is with us. For it often happens too that we conclude that God has hidden his face; that he is not mindful of the troubles we face. It seems to us he is distant, perhaps unconcerned, and surely not visible to us.
But it is not always that God has simply hid his face. It is often that we simply cannot see him for any number of reasons. Sometimes it is simply that our minds are weak and easily distracted. Sometimes it is our flesh which demands to see everything in a natural, fleshly manner, and refuses to accept the reality of spiritual seeing. Sometimes it is our prejudice that demands to see and understand only in ways acceptable and pleasing to us, as if God could not possibly speak through our enemy, or through a child, or through a painful circumstance. God is there, he is not likely hiding, but we struggle to see him for these and other reasons.
So if God is hiding, it is usually in plain sight. For in the end where can we run from God? Where could we go that he is not already there? Scripture says:
- Psalm 139: O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar….You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths of hell, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, and settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
- Jeremiah 23:24 Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.