Sunday, March 19, 2017

"I AM is Here"

What’s the worst storm you’ve ever experienced? For me, that would be the tornado that ripped through Amelia, Virginia, in May of 2003. I remember driving down the road and remarking how the sky was turning green. (You always know you’re in trouble when the sky turns green.) Then, when the hailstones started falling, I did what anybody who loves their car would do—I found cover beneath a gas pump shelter. Yes, I felt badly because the cars that came in behind me couldn’t fit underneath. Toddler Lydia was told, “Cover your head!” as the hailstones continued to fall, some of them still pelting our vehicle. Thinking she was doing something productive, she put a scarf over her head. At the same time, unbeknownst to me, two of my elementary school children were on a school bus that got rerouted to the high school because of the storm. They just got safely inside when the tornado tore through, pulling bricks off the front of the building where they were hunkered down. It ripped roofs off other buildings, sending steeples into the courthouse square, and strewing stained glass on the sidewalks so that the town looked like a war zone when it was all done.

When you’re in the middle of a storm like that, you may wonder whether you are going to survive. And after the storm you look around, not knowing where to begin in the cleanup. Your personal storm may not look like a physical tornado, but you might feel just as threatened or devastated by its onslaught. Jesus’ disciples felt this way a couple of times. Once, when the Lord was asleep in the bottom of the boat they found themselves in a storm and he spoke to the wind and the waves, which calmed immediately (Matthew 8; Mark 4; Luke 8). In Matthew 14, Mark 6, and John 6, the disciples had a different experience of Jesus calming a storm. Only this time, not only did they experience fear in the face of the storm, but they found themselves afraid of Jesus Himself. John’s account is shortest:
That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, but he called out to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination! (vv. 16-21)[i]

Jesus’ friends were afraid of the physical danger the storm brought them. They were also fearful because they had to face this threat alone. Mark 6:48 says, “He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them.” It’s interesting to me that Jesus saw that they were in trouble so He came to them, but when he saw how they were rowing he decided to keep going. In other words, Jesus could look at them and say, “Yeah, they’ve got this.” Maybe you’re struggling right now, and you’re fearful because you feel like you’re going through it alone. But all the while, even though don’t know it, Jesus can see you. Rather than stepping in, Jesus is watching and saying, “She’s got this,” or “He knows what he’s doing,” or “They’re learning.” In Mark’s account, Jesus wasn’t even going to get involved until the disciples noticed him and thought He was a ghost. Then, he reassured them, climbed into the boat, and calmed the storm.

Matthew’s version also has Christ’s followers mistaking Him for a ghost, and Jesus comforting them, getting back into the boat, and calming the storm. But Matthew also includes Peter asking the “ghost” that if it really is Jesus, He should prove it by letting Peter come to him on the water. Peter does so, sees the wind and the waves, starts to sink, and cries out to Jesus. Jesus reaches out and lifts him up, lamenting Peter’s lack of faith and asking why he doubted. Sometimes when we’re in the midst of our storms, we just need Jesus to give us a sign that He really is there. And sometimes, He obliges. But the key is keeping your eye on Him, not getting caught up in the storm, and letting Him hold you up.

In all three Gospels, the way that Jesus reassures the disciples is by saying, “I am here!” In the original Greek, you might read this a different way: “I AM is here!” Back in the Old Testament, God revealed the divine name as I AM. Throughout his Gospel, John has Jesus echoing the words “I am,” as in “I am the way,” “I am the bread of life,” or “I am the living water.” Here, Jesus says, “I am here—or, really, I AM is here!” This is the reassurance we need in the storms of life. God is with us. Sometimes He says “You’ve got this.” Other times, He proves His presence and reassures. But always, God is there. When hurricanes howl, when tornadoes threaten, when tragedy turns your faith to fear, remember, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid…Take courage, I AM is here (Matthew 14:27)!”

[i] Scripture quotations taken from the NLT.

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