The Jesus You Didn’t See Coming
Today, we see in Mark 6:45-56 a word of confidence and faith that comes not when the sick find healing and the belly fed, not just when the storm is finally passed, but a word of faith when you’re in the very heart of trouble. “The Jesus You Didn’t See Coming.” August 5, 2018.
Do you ever wish you could play the devil’s advocate at church? All the rich promises and reminders of blessings come here to wrap themselves around you like a warm recovery blanket for the cold and starving, but before they can warm you up you have some questions that need answers. Sometimes life can leave such a bad taste in the mouth, that cup of hot chocolate can’t get rid of it.
While the church and its people sit around the fire and sing with this relentless optimism, it just doesn’t seem honest yet if it doesn’t account for all of it, all we see, all live brings, all the evils we see and the unending troubles of the world? What about when they died young? Or the food - that comes from the God who provides - ran out and they starved? What about the disease that isn’t cured?
If today we ask, “how does God provide for us?” and the answer doesn’t meet every circumstance square in the face, then I still feel left with a bitter cup with a bitter taste and often makes for a bitter soul.
I get it. In fact, I once played devil’s advocate in my mind. A Christian man told me how he exercised regularly at the Pettit Ice Center running around their track. One time when he was there, a person was injured badly, and he noticed that it took a long time before an ambulance was there to help. Later, another day, he was running there again when he felt pain in his chest and fearing a possible heart attack, he knew he needed help right away, so instead of telling someone and waiting for an ambulance he got in his car and drove to the hospital and they later told him that his quick arrival likely saved his life. Then he said, “I didn’t believe before then. But I do now.” But the devil’s advocate in me was thinking, “What if you didn’t make it to the hospital? What if your attack got worse and you lost control of your car and struck another vehicle and killed somebody else too?”
Are we bandwagon believers, Christians only as long as life works out? Want to know a precious truth about playing the devil’s advocate like that? God did it first. Not advocating for the devil, of course, but God advocates that there is no trouble without his loving presence.
Would you believe it’s actually a Bible passage that first says, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind…” But it’s that same book that can also say without apology, “God makes everything beautiful in its time” (see Ecclesiastes). So just like last week we celebrated the many ways that God does provide for us every day. Now today, we see in every reading something else - a word of confidence and faith that comes not when the sick find healing and the belly fed, not just when the storm is finally passed, but a word of faith when you’re in the very heart of trouble. When Elisha’s servant is shaking with fear surrounded by an army of Arameans, it’s before the hour of deliverance when Elisha says, “Don’t be afraid. There are more with us than are with them.” And long before the apostle Paul finally left a world of evil for the gates of heaven, he nevertheless declared, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.”
I can tell you a story where Jesus does this himself? There was a version of Jesus even Jesus didn’t like. The people had just seen him and loved it. He was the Jesus who took five small loaves and just two fish, lifted his head to heaven and fed five thousand men along with any wives and children who were there. And they were satisfied, supremely happy with him and overflowing with optimism. They wanted this Jesus they saw to come again. You could imagine someone asking tomorrow, “hey Jesus, I found a crumb on the floor, could you, would you, make it into a seven-course meal for a table for two?”
But Jesus broke up the feeding frenzy. It seems odd after such a happy outcome and lovely evening, Jesus would shoo his disciples into their boat and shove them off away from that crowd. Not that he wanted the people all to himself, but to leave the people and be alone in prayer on a mountainside. Is this the Jesus you saw coming? The Jesus whose only affection is for prosperous moments and nothing of the hard knocks of life?
It’s Jesus himself who is saying there was something not right in their joy for Jesus. Something not right that they would see him and immediately line the streets with the sick and injured - Jesus, we’re ready - come do your thing!” “If you can just touch his garment, that’s all you need and then we’ll go home.” Jesus was not just the bringer of happy outcomes. They were programming Jesus, saying to God, Now this good stuff is yours - we know where you are working and want more of it.”
But the devil’s advocate scratching their head on the sideline can be doing the same thing to God - pigeon-holing him by saying, “I know where you aren’t, and I want to know why.” Either way, whether pleased with God because of blessings or displeased in the midst of what feels like a curse, God remains only a God we can see coming, one we can recognize - whether you say I see you in this blessing, or whether you say, “I know you’re missing. You’re not here.”
As he deliberately shows his disciples a Jesus they didn’t see coming, one they didn’t know was there for them.
What do you see Jesus doing while the disciples labor for hours at their oars? Jesus prays. Jesus sees them straining away at a weary and impossible wind. And then he comes walking on the water, as neither wind nor wave is anything at all in his presence. And so far was Jesus from such a walking in their minds, so little did they recognize it was him or even could be him, that they think it’s a ghost and are terrified. As they sweat at the oars, one after another begins to wince and squint and then shriek at...what is that up on the water, a ghost?”
Why wasn’t their first guess of a supernatural being walking on the water, Jesus? Mark pauses to report - the disciples were astonished that this was Jesus, because they didn’t understand about the loaves. Their hearts were hard.” The disciples were slow to believe that Jesus was God. Hear and share Mark’s deeper reflection on faith. Jesus doesn’t want to just be that guy you only connect with good times. He wants you to know he’s the God you connect to everything.
So, he gave them a fresh look with the backdrop of an impossible wind and a life situation with no progress at all. It was their futile moment now side-by-side with his easy breezy walk. And they were astonished - you can do that? As Jesus lets the words simmer before coming close - “take courage, it is I. Don’t be afraid.” The words of one they were to see again like seeing him in a new way, possessing in himself a power and glory they had not yet thought he had.
He was walking...this is nothing to me. I do what I want because I am subject to no one and nothing. And that’s just why he has come...just for such a purpose...God has come to become king in a special way - to rule what rules you and it’s not insatiable hunger, endless need for purchasing power.
Teaching them what it’s like for him to be God our Savior. For us to be in the midst of any trouble but not owned by it or ending in it. The psalmist didn’t say the mountains and nations wouldn’t fall - they sure will! But he did say believers wouldn’t - God is within her...she will not fall. Look at it fresh!
And see the full end he brings. Remember how the blood of Abel cried out to him from the ground - all evil and its pains, every great torture of soul to the smallest sigh...all are found carried upon his heart with their full end in him and his good will for us. Yes, Jesus was the end to hungry stomachs, and he brought an end to many illnesses and diseases. No doubt he does care about it all and knows how to bring an ultimate end to all evil. You never see Jesus powerless to heal or save. And for this title, for such a rule over the world, for such victory upon victory, he has come - God has come to overcome the world.
There is no other way that the story ends but the way he wants it to, as every part of our poisonous disease and eternal death was poured into one cup for one mouth to drink and one life to die - and it was no coincidence that at just the right time it was God in Christ to drink it and to give his life to death, so that we never even taste the end of evil, will never know the full consequence of what it is to be crushed by my own guilt or fall out of God’s care into the hands of the devil or the will of the wicked.
What is it for us to row the boat on the lake even while our faith is in the one who walks upon it. To wear a hospital gown and just to touch his garment is to be healed? What is it like to struggle with temptation and fall into sin even while our faith is in the one who was tempted in every way yet was without stain? What is it like to live in the world of trouble with the one who has overcome the world? What is it like? Start describing this for yourself. These are the daring questions and bold answers you take with you into prayer!
This whole account from the disciples’ view with Jesus as their centerpiece. Where the most powerful impulse you had was to think of him, and not just what you wanted to think of him, but to think of him as he was, in essence to apply fully the incredible reality of “God for us” to every moment of the story. Let God be creative - let him figure the world out. It’s ok if some mystery remains as to exactly how and when God will provide or rescue and in what way...what has he left to chance? What’s still at risk? My salvation comes from him, and it is in no way in doubt.
This wind is his just as much as we are. Let’s keep rowing... because he told us to. So, we strain at the oars, perhaps all night - but it’s ok. He knows where we are and we’ll see him coming eventually. Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on August 5, 2018