Monday, October 3, 2011
What Storms Bring Out (Matthew 8:18–27)
Last Tuesday, Typhoon Pedring hit our country, bringing death and destruction in its wake. And the question comes up the most is, "why does a loving God allow such storms to come upon people?" Do storms have some sort of redeeming value?
What Jesus does to crowds (Matthew 8:18–22)
Here, Jesus sees the crowds following Him. Instead of staying with them and ministering to them, Jesus "gave orders to go over to the other side." Now, this "other side" is "the country of the Gadarenes" (8:28) which is part of the Decapolis — Gentile country. This may have unnerved some of those following Him. But because of His growing popularity, many still followed. A scribe even came up and said that he will follow Jesus wherever He goes. But Jesus challenged him in his statement, saying that He does not have a permanent place to stay in, a place to call home. Presumably, the scribe was discouraged, for we no longer hear about him. Another asked for permission to first bury his father before following Him. Jesus saw the weakness of the man's commitment, for family ties still hold him. The man's request to "bury my father" is a euphemism for waiting until the father is dead before following Jesus. So Jesus challenged him in this, calling him to follow Him and leave such matters to others.
Why does Jesus do this? Does He not appreciate the fact that many follow Him? Of course. What Jesus wants is for all people to follow Him. But Jesus is not interested in half-baked commitment. Much as He wanted all to follow Him, He is not one to hide the cost of such discipleship. Jesus goes to places where we might not even dare go to. Jesus would forego comforts and security to fulfill what He set out to do. Would the crowds still follow Him? Would we?
The Storm (Matthew 8:23–27)
Notice here that when Jesus got on the boat "his disciples followed him" (8:23). Where now is the crowd? Where is the scribe? Only His disciples followed Him to cross over into Gentile lands.
As they were crossing the Sea of Galilee, a storm came up and tossed their boat. The storm was so fierce that "the boat was being swamped by the waves" (8:24). And all this time, Jesus is asleep. This is what it means to follow Jesus: it means going through troubles and, throughout it all, He is asleep!
Let us go back to our original question, "Why does a loving God allow such storms to happen to people?" From this instance, we see that storms bring out our true selves: what we really think, what we really feel, what we really believe. In the middle of a storm, there rarely are any pretentions. We don't have the time to think about what we should say or do, or what we are expected to say or do. We only have time enough to say and do according to what we really are. And what the disciples did was wake Jesus, begging Him to save them from dying. From their reaction, we can see that they believed that they were about to die from the storm, and that Jesus can save them.
When Jesus woke, He asked them as to why they were afraid, and said that they had little faith. Little faith? They believed that Jesus could save them, right? Isn't that enough? Apparently not, for Jesus stood up and rebuked the winds and the waves and they became calm. To this, the disciples "marveled, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?'" (8:27). Had they remembered Psalm 18:15, they would have been able to answer their own question. The disciples' faith was little because, while they knew what Jesus could do, they do not really know who He is. So here we see other things that storms reveal: They show us who Jesus is to us and, if we are discerning, who Jesus really is.
Challenge: What Pedring showed us
As the Typhoon Pedring hit, the hearts of many are revealed: people who would rather risk getting killed by the floods than let their unoccupied houses be plundered; leaders who were unprepared for the disasters; leaders who were prepared for the disasters and were quick to react; people who tried to contact loved ones who were far; people who prayed; people who saw the funny instances in the news; people who volunteered to help; people who lived their lives as if nothing happened. What about us? How did we react? Can we see the face of God in this calamity? Did He even come to mind amidst the troubles that unfolded?
In the midst of Pedring, did we see who God is to us? Did we see God in the midst of the storm? Are we, like the disciples, of little faith? Let us reflect on these questions and seek to know God more. For this knowledge of God is what will make us face storms like Pedring, as well as our own individual storms of life, with hope. Let us see Jesus as the Son of God who is our comfort, our shelter, our shield. Let us follow Him for He is our Lord, even into places where we don't want to go, where we will not be comfortable, and amidst it all put Him above all our loves and face every adversity with hope, even when He seems to be asleep.
This message was intended to be preached last 2 October 2011, at Jesus Christ our Hope and Redeemer Church in San Mateo, Rizal. But I had a bad attack of hypertension. I may still preach this when the time comes. Maybe not.