Our new home state was recently hit by a natural disaster. It seemed as though an ocean had upended: rain poured, rivers overflowed and deluges ran down mountains. Flood waters rose in homes, eroded concrete streets, leaving behind destruction and hurting people.
It takes but a few days of a storm to decimate man-made things. It’s sobering to realize the things in which we often put our hope for safety and security can easily crumble if the sky opens up.
Though our home is safely above the flooding, the storm clouds still pressed over us: thunder shook our home, and lightning flashed bright enough to light up the darkness. In the midst of the tumultuous weather, a familiar story kept repeating in my head: when Jesus slept in his disciples’ boat in the midst of a great tempest. It didn’t take much to imagine; the storm was likely similar to what raged outside our windows, and the disciples were caught right in the midst of it, fully exposed, and fighting to keep their boat above the waters that churned angrily beneath the hull. If there was thunder it likely rumbled deep in their bellies, and each wave that crested over them must have felt like it would be their end, and all the while Jesus slept peacefully. The disciples anxiously awoke him, and he arose (I imagine bleary-eyed and yawning) and simply spoke. Instantly the wind and water stilled. They obeyed him.
This story always strikes deeply with me, particularly because of the disciples’ curious reaction. Jesus had calmed the storm that moments before had threatened their lives, yet they didn’t look at him with relief or gratitude, they looked at him with anxiety, possibly as much anxiety as they felt moments before in the storm that could have ended their lives. They asked with trepidation, “who is this that the wind and seas obey him?”
The disciples had underestimated Jesus: even while following him, listening to him, and seeing him work miracles they had not yet fully grasped who he was, and this glimpse of his divine power struck them. If you listen to the clap of thunder and watch the ominous sky in a storm, you can feel its power; the air becomes literally electric as lightning dances hazardously, and despite the power of a storm Jesus commands it easily. The most powerful forces of nature respond to his voice as the One who created them.
This image of Jesus being looked upon with a fearful awe is not one that we experience often. We often underestimate Jesus, too. We ease into following him passively, as though he’s our backup when things get scary: we know he’ll be there in the storm and we gladly sideline him until then. But Jesus is not only with us in the greatest of internal and external storms, he is more powerful than them. Jesus is our Safety, and he is also our holy and great God.
Jesus is, after all, the same God who parted the sea before the Israelites, offering salty walls on either side and dry ground beneath their feet so they might walk to freedom: he was their powerful Redeemer. He is also the same God who, once the Israelites were safely through, called the sea to crash atop the Egyptians who were in pursuit allowing them to drown under the weight of their own armor: he was their powerful Judge.
Jesus is not mild, he is the holy God, the Creator and Commander of the universe, and we ought not treat him as a secondary character in our lives. He is not safe but he is good and he is love. He is so fierce in his love that he left his seat of power for the sake of humanity to die on our behalf. This Jesus who commands the waters offered himself as Living Water, giving us life instead of death. This Jesus who could command the skies to open up with enough water to destroy the entire world (again) willingly allowed his side to be pierced by a spear where water and blood poured out for our healing instead of our destruction.
The greatness of Jesus’ hands pinned to splintered wood with nails is not just in his suffering on our behalf, it was his willing suffering. They weren’t just any hands, they were the hands of the God who had created everything, willingly scarred for us. The Jesus Storybook Bible has one of my favorite descriptions of Calvary,
“You say you came to rescue us!” people shouted. “But you can’t even rescue yourself!”
…But Jesus stayed.
You see they didn’t understand. It wasn’t the nails that kept Jesus there.
It was love.”
The great God of the universe willingly died for our sakes. That’s amazing. It is also not something we can passively believe and go on completely unchanged. You see, Jesus is our Comforter, but he is not comfortable. How can we possibly respond to that reality with indifference? If we recognize Jesus for who he is and we realize what he has done for us, then our lives cannot be comfortable, nor lukewarm in our devotion to him. Our whole being ought to be passionately serving him with a love that is born from thanksgiving.
True love is an ardent, and an active principle—a cold, a dormant, a phlegmatic gratitude, are contradictions in terms.
Faith in Jesus, and what he has done for us, creates this kind of true love, love that is ardent and active in service to the One who loved us first. It is the kind of faith that allows us to stand in the midst of the most chaotic and terrifying of circumstances and be at peace, and to gladly offer whatever we have to him trusting him to do with it whatever he wants. We can be at peace in all circumstances because of who Jesus is and because he’s given himself to us. When we see how truly magnificent Jesus is, how remarkable that he would offer us mercy, and how amazing is his grace, it ought to turn our whole lives into a living offering of thanks, where we gladly give him all of who we are: our possessions, time, money, talents, minds, body, and heart. Everything offered up to this God who truly is awesome—in the greatest meaning of the word.
So, may we cling to our great Comforter, even as we embrace that which is uncomfortable for his sake. May we offer up our lives to him gladly with the peace of knowing he is good no matter how the storm rages outside our windows or within our own hearts.
***It’s a huge task to rebuild after a flood, to salvage what can be saved, to sort through the chaos of garbage that were once dear possessions, to search for the stranded, and to bury the dead. The people affected by the flooding in West Virginia have a huge task ahead of them. May we show them this Jesus who is both powerful and loving in the greatest of storms, in the floods outwardly, and the tempest within the heart. If you would like to give in an effort to relieve the suffering of these people, consider Samaritan’s Purse, one organization (among many great ones) responding.