People say only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. But there are other certainties. Like the daily rising and setting of the sun. And like the fact that life itself has its risings and settings as well.
We all have times when the sun of hope rises. We are swimming in light. Our wedding day. The birth of our children. When we land a dream job. Things go well for a while. We make sweet memories that, years later, still make us laugh like they were yesterday. Those are days of sunshine, with blue skies smiling down.
But life also has times when the sun of hope sets. Instead of swimming in light, we drown in darkness. The day we look down into the casket that cradles the love of our life. The day we drive away from the house that the bank foreclosed on. When the tumor is malignant.
During such times, nothing seems to go right. The domino effect of one loss tips over to that loss. This grief gives way to that grief. We wonder if we’re ever going to catch a break. And worst of all, we begin to wonder where God is. He’s left us alone to suffer through this. We're like men caught in a storm on the sea, tossed here and there by the waves, rowing like mad but getting nowhere fast.
During those times, we’re in the same boat as the disciples. One night they were alone on the Sea of Galilee, miles from land, waves battering their vessel. Winds howled like ravenous wolves. They struggled to stay afloat on their own sea of suffering.
The day before everything was as fine as fine could be. Jesus made a meal for thousands out of a little bread and fish. They all ate to their heart’s content. Then, a few hours later, this: oppressed by darkness, attacked by wind and waves, and Jesus nowhere to be seen.
Just when they think it can’t get any worse, it does. Chills ripple through their flesh as they spy a ghost walking on the dark waters to overtake them.
Isn’t that how it goes? The "ghost" was Jesus. He was trampling down the waves as he walked toward them. But, note well: their eyes were so full of fear that everything they saw was fearful, including the very one who came to save them.
Jesus is not a life coach, a personal trainer, or a cheerleader on the sidelines of life.
Where there was God, they saw a ghost.
Where there was approaching light, they beheld deeper darkness.
The one who came to bring them relief, caused more terror.
That's us in bad times. We're like the Israelites at the Red Sea shore: all we see are the chariots of Egypt, bearing down upon us, and the watery grave that will soon liquidate our life.
We're like the sailors with Jonah, their hopes dwindling as the waves around them grow more furious by the moment.
We're of little faith. Or rather, we have big faith, but it’s in something else. Our faith is in our ability to control situations, manipulate them to our advantage. Our faith is in the castle-like world we've built around us. When we lose that control, when our self-constructed world implodes, these false gods in whom we had such great faith leave us fat with fear and skinny with hope.
But here comes Jesus. His feet are flattening out the sea like it’s a wet sidewalk. He doesn’t stand on the shore and shout instructions to us, “Row a little harder! Put some muscle into it! Get your act together! Think positive! You can do it!” No, thank God, no.
Jesus is not a life coach, a personal trainer, or a cheerleader on the sidelines of life. He is the Lord of the storms of life. He rules the winds and the waves. He comes to us in the midst of our fear and hopelessness to say, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
“Take courage, it is I who rescued the frightened Israelites when they were trapped between the chariots of Egypt and the Red Sea. I peeled back those waters to let my people pass through. Then I transformed the sea into the watery grave of their enemy. So I will do for you. So I have already done for you on the day I baptized you. I washed you into my body, drowned your sins and doubts in my blood-Red Sea of forgiveness. Do not be afraid. I am with you always.”
He says, “Take courage, it is I who calmed the sea for the sailors when they cast Jonah into the waves. I was cast into the sea of suffering for you. Atop the cross the waves of the world’s iniquities washed over me. Like Jonah, I spent three days in the belly of death for you. And like Jonah, I came forth from that tomb alive again, to bring you my own life. Do not be afraid. I am with you always.”
The one who walks on water to save us, to be with us in the storms of life, is not a ghost. He is the flesh-and-blood God of our salvation. He doesn’t tread upon the waves to wow us but to rescue us, to forgive us, to be our light when all about is darkness.
Take courage, for more certain than death is the life of Christ. More certain than taxes is that Jesus has paid all our debts. More certain than anything else in all creation, is that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.