He Meant to Pass By Them: What is Our Hope in Suffering?
While some people these days wonder why our nation has not returned back to normal yet, and some wonder why people would even entertain the thought of coming out of a lockdown so soon, most everyone continues to have a hard time believing this pandemic has happened in our country and around the world. COVID-19 has left us in shock that we are living in such a time as this. Who would have ever thought there would be such a threat to our way of life that it would cause schools to close, businesses to fall, millions of people to fall dangerously ill, and the global society at large to have to remain inside their homes for a long period of time? COVID-19 has not just been an interruption for some, it has been actual death for many people and their families.
Times like these leave many wondering, “Why would God allow this to happen?” For some, a question like this is common and convenient in a season of ease. Questions on suffering are best discussed over a cup of coffee at our favorite coffee shop with twenty other people packed in, enjoying just another Saturday morning in the land of the free and home of the brave.
However, when suffering hits a family, a nation, hits us, it is a dagger to the soul, and leaves us staggering over the questions, why, God? Why me? And why now? On top of this, how does the youth pastor help people during these difficult times?
When truly hard suffering really hits us, we tend to lose our Biblical bearings. This is common for the most mature believer, but especially in these times, we need to hold on to the encouraging principles that God gives us throughout scripture, especially in texts like the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 6:45-52, we see a group of disciples who are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually done. The disciples, along with Christ, have had a big and likely exhausting day in ministry. They just finished feeding the five thousand, a miracle accomplished by Jesus but an event that came after a whole day of the disciples also ministering to a large crowd. If this was not enough, they had just learned about the death of their friend John the Baptist. This was a difficult time for the disciples and for the LORD.
Then, at the end of the day, Jesus asks His disciples to get into a boat and go before Him to Bethsaida. After He spends some time alone with the Father (1st Biblical principle), the text tells us that Jesus sees the disciples “making headway painfully” on the sea. The disciples are rowing for all of their worth somewhere between 3a.m. and 6a.m. They are exhausted and their souls are depleted. The wind is in their faces and it seems as if all of their strength is accomplishing nothing. This could not come at a worse time. Imagine losing a loved one, finishing a long day of hard work, and now you are at sea, fighting through a storm at 3 in the morning with no sleep. Could it get any worse? But what happens next is the entire point of the text.
Mark 6:48 tells us that Jesus meant to pass by them, walking on the water, and then he got into the boat. That’s it? No sermon, no small lesson, no food, no time out, no hugs for all? Why does the text leave us at, “He meant to pass by them?” What was so special about this that the disciples were in awe and in fear? The phrase “passed by” is borrowing off the image of Moses and Elijah who both experienced the glory and awe of God in the most difficult seasons of their lives and ministries. In Exodus 33 and in 1 Kings 19 we see two men who are, like the disciples, done. They have both experienced difficult days and have difficult seasons before them. However, both experience the goodness of God by way of the actual glory of God. That he meant to pass by them does not mean that he meant to skip over them, or leave them; it means that he meant to walk before their eyes, to cross their path, so they might clearly witness his power and might.
Jesus could have just told the wind to cease from the mountain where He was praying to the Father, or he could have told the wind to be calm before the disciples ever got into the boat in the first place. Why did Christ allow the wind at such a difficult time? And what does this story have to do with us, during the Coronavirus pandemic? Jesus meant to pass by the disciples to show them that He sees them, but he also wants them to see Him in His true and awesome glory and power.
Mark goes out of his way to tell us in verse 48 that Jesus saw them. From the place where Jesus was dwelling and praying, Christ was very aware of what was happening to his friends all the way down on the sea. During seasons of suffering where we are prone to forget truth because the wind of pain is so severe, do not forget that God is watching. Our loving Lord is not unaware and is not blind, He sees the situation and He sees you.
2. Jesus Shows
Mark also tells us that Jesus doesn’t just tells the wind to cut it out. Jesus allows the wind to remain present while the real person who is in control walks on it. The disciples had no choice but to have a front row seat to the majesty and glory of God in the midst of their trouble. What causes us to regain our sanity in times of severe suffering? Switching fears. Jesus takes the fear and awe of a dangerous moment and shows them that He Himself is bigger and better than the storm. No, God is not asking us to live in a trance where we do not feel suffering, which is impossible. He is asking us to be in awe of His glory and power which will give us confidence through any storm.
God does not just make a point, He steps into the situation to save. Christ is both great and good. The disciples are not left to themselves to row through a storm in the middle of the night. Jesus does eventually calm the storm and get into the boat. Seasons of suffering do not last forever, but the things that we can learn from them will.
God is trying to teach us all something right now during this crisis. May we pay attention to his awesome displays of power and strength and mercy. What did the disciples gain from this horrific moment? They gained God Himself. You may feel the intensity of the storm, and you may have to walk with people who are experiencing the pain, but God gives us the privilege to see and experience more of Him in the process, and that is something to gain.