Chaos + Jesus = ?? Jesus walking on water gives us a clue...

Chaos.

Many of us today claim that we live in the midst of it.  Some of us say that we thrive on it and others of us are petrified by it.

But in reality we’re all scared by chaos.  Why?  Because a chaotic situation can’t be defined easily and certainly can’t be predicted.

So in the face of chaos we might not be able to make informed decisions.  We might fall flat on our proverbial faces.

And no one wants that.

Others of us still face real chaos in our lives.  Our living situations are complicated, messy, and even dangerous.  Our ability to provide for ourselves and our loved ones is equally unpredictable.

So, for those of us who follow Jesus, how can we respond to chaos?  Better yet, how does Jesus respond to our chaos?

John 6 and Chaos

I think we begin to get an answer to how to deal with chaos (or how Jesus deals with it) in John 6.16-21.  Here it is:

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

In order to understand the full force of this passage we need to know something about ancient views on large bodies of water.  Unlike most boat-going occasions today, in the ancient world one’s life was put in literal danger by entering a boat and setting off.  Why?  Because many, many people died in the ocean, in rivers, and on lakes.

Boats were not nearly what they are today and safety measures (like life preservers) were not invented and commonly used yet.  Thus, the weather turning bad and the waves getting big were truly life threatening!

Thus, for many ancient people large bodies of water represented chaos and they feared them greatly.  We can see this in the descriptions of heaven in the book of Revelation.  In the heavenly visions the sea is described as “crystal,” meaning that it was calm.  In other words, in heaven God causes all the chaos to subside.

With all of this in mind, this story from John 6 feels a bit more dire than at first glance.  The disciples are alone and they are on the Sea of Tiberias (aka the Sea of Galilee).  Already we know that they may be feeling the pressures of the moment (though maybe not for the fishermen among them).

But the weather turns bad, turning up the chaos meter to 10!  I can only imagine what they all must be thinking — Jesus left us after feeding all those people and now we’re going to die out here on this God-forsaken lake!

But they didn’t die that day.  The chaos didn’t win.

Jesus came to their aid by walking on the water!  Before they could respond to this crazy feat, Jesus identifies himself by saying “It is I” or, as translated as in Exodus 3.14, “I am.”  I’ve written about Jesus’ words here before, but it almost goes without saying that Jesus is making a bold claim about his deity here, both with his words (“I am”) and his actions (walking on water).

But I don’t want to hurry past what it meant for Jesus to walk on water.  By doing so Jesus was indicating that chaos had no control over him.  He could literally put it under his feet and walk all over it!  This must have spoken volumes to his disciples!

Then he continues his demonstration of mastery of chaos by speeding along their efforts to cross the lake.  John makes it sound like Jesus has performed another miracle by saying the “immediately the boat reached the shore,” as if walking on the water wasn’t miracle enough!

In other words, the disciples where facing extreme chaos in this life-threatening boating adventure but when Jesus showed up, everything was taken care of in short order.

Does Jesus Help Us with Our Chaos Today?

That’s all well and good that Jesus walked on water and helped out his disciples.  But can he do similar sorts of things for us when we face chaos today?

The short answer is this — Yes!  The longer answer is — Yes but in his way and with our participation.

Here are a few principles from this passage to consider:

  1. The chaos the disciples faced came as they were on mission with Jesus.  Don’t get me wrong…Jesus can and does help us when we’ve caused our own problems.  But there is a pretty consistent picture painted in the Gospels of Jesus extending help to his disciples when they were obeying him.  In this case the disciples had been on a preaching and healing tour with Jesus and were returning to their base of operations in Capernaum.  This chaos was not of their own making; it happened upon them as they were seeking to follow Jesus.  Where does our chaos originate from?  Does it come because we’ve carved our own paths or because we’re on mission with Jesus too?
  2. The chaos the disciples faced didn’t cause them to freeze up or panic.  Seeing that many of the pictures we have of the disciples in the Gospels are of them bumbling their way through life, this story is a bit different.  There’s a scary storm that is causing large waves.  And the disciples could have just stopped rowing and started whining and complaining.  But they didn’t do that.  They continued rowing.  Friends, chaos will come into our lives.  And many of us are tempted to sit on our hands when this happens, fearful to do anything.  But we have standing orders.  We are to love God, love others, and make disciples no matter what — chaos or otherwise.  Will we be willing to continue to do what we know we ought to, even when chaos seems to be reigning supreme in our lives?
  3. The chaos gave the disciples a unique opportunity to welcome Jesus.  There’s a small line that’s easy to miss in the story of Jesus walking on water.  Here it is: “…they were willing to take him into the boat…”  After Jesus identified himself (both as Jesus and as divine), the disciples made the smart choice of letting him board their boat!  And once he did, he helped them through their chaotic situation.  Will we accept Jesus as he comes walking on our chaos?  Or will we be too upset, distracted, and disheartened even to see him, much less welcome him?

To be clear, following Jesus is not a “get out of trouble free” card.  No.  Instead it’s a “walk with Jesus through the chaos” kind of thing!

Are we willing to turn to Jesus in the midst of our chaos?

 

What do you think?  How does Jesus help us in our chaotic moments?  Let me know in the comments below!

I Am – Jesus’ Bold Claim Jesus identifies who he really is

When Jesus said the words “I am” in John 6.20, nostalgia must have been triggered for his disciples.

And nostalgia is a strong force.  It can cause us to relive memories of times gone by.  However, the danger of nostalgia is that it can cause us to miss what is right in front of us.

On the flipside, it may well be that one of the great powers of nostalgia is to cause us to live more presently and to long more fervently for God’s promised future.

Here’s how Russell Moore, the president of the Baptist group called the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, puts it: “Our warm memories, of times we have known or of times we wish we’d known, point us to a deep longing within us for a world made right” [SOURCE].

Getting back to John 6 for a second, I’m convinced that Jesus saying “I am” served as a nostalgic moment for the disciples.  They could either bristle at Jesus for pulling a much-loved phrase from a bygone era into the present.  They could dwell wholeheartedly on the past meaning of what Jesus said.  Or they could allow this moment to propel them into being active participants in bringing about God’s will in the world, his will to make everything right.

Jesus Says “I Am”

To understand what Jesus was saying in this passage, we need to unpack a few things.

First, these words are embedded in the “walking on water” incident in John 6, which we will talk more about soon.  But suffice it to say here that Jesus said “I am” while he was literally walking on water.

Second, Jesus said these words between two significant episodes in his life, the feeding of the 5000+ (John 6.1-14) and his teaching on the “bread of life” which caused many of his followers to desert him (John 6.25-71).  In other words, these words are surrounded by bread and knowing this might inform how we understand Jesus’ words.

Third, in Greek Jesus said ego eimi, which is the exact same way that the Hebrew that God spoke to Moses in Exodus 3.14 is translated in the ancient translation called the Septuagint, which we very popular in Jesus’ day.

And fourth, he paired the words “I am” with “don’t be afraid.”  The latter set of words is most commonly associated with angels in the Bible.  Whenever they appear in a situation in the Bible, they almost always say “don’t be afraid.”

So what might all of this have meant for the disciples in the boat?  I think that the words “I am” would have served as a hyperlink to the story of God telling Moses his name in Exodus 3.14.  Furthermore, when paired with “don’t be afraid,” they would have understood that Jesus must be more than a mere man since those words are almost always reserved for extra-human beings in the Bible.  Furthermore, Jesus was actively demonstrating that he was more than just a man since he was walking on water as he spoke!

And how might the original audience have made sense of all of this?  If they were Jewish, and some surely were, then they too would have been made to feel nostalgic about Moses and God in Exodus 3.14 and they would have also understood the words “do not be afraid” in the same way.  They too would have caught onto the miraculous nature of Jesus walking on the water.

In addition, the original audience would be able to interpret this story in light of the one coming before it and the one after it, both of which are, at least in part, about bread.  And it seems to me that bread in both cases points to God’s provision, hearkening back to the provision of manna (divine bread) during the wilderness wanderings of the ancient Israelites after they were set free from Egypt.

In other words, the fact that this “I am” saying is sandwiched between two stories about bread (both of which point to divine provision) shows that John (the author of this Gospel) was also trying to communicate that Jesus was extra-human through this literary technique.

So, to recap, by saying the words “I am” in this context (both in the original scene and in the Gospel of John), it seems clear that Jesus is identifying himself with God.  This story points with a great deal of clarity at Jesus being divine!

Jesus Said “I Am” — Now What?

What does it matter that Jesus claimed to be divine?  Who cares?  What kind of impact might it have on us?

First, I find the reaction of the disciples in the boat interesting.  After seeing Jesus walk on water and hearing him claim a divine title as his own, “then they were willing to take him into the boat…” (John 6.21a).

Jesus didn’t say “I am” to rub his divinity in anyone’s face.  And he didn’t say it just for the sake of revealing himself.

He said it so that the disciple would further welcome him in.  He said it to build intimacy with them.

He said it so that he could have a greater impact in the present so that he could train his disciples up for their future work.

Friends, Jesus still makes the same claim — he’s still the great “I am”!  And we have the same set of choices to make as the disciples did.

We can deny that Jesus was telling the truth when he identified with God by saying “I am,” bristling at the very notion.

We can love that Jesus claimed to be divine, but only let thinking about it make us feel fondly about this story in the Bible and the times we thought about it in the past.

Or we can invite Jesus in our “boats” like the disciples did, giving Jesus the proximity needed to change us into the people we need to be to fulfill his mission for us in this world.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t reveal himself in the Bible to be divine just for the heck of it.  No!  Instead he desires for us to be changed by who he is so that we can best serve him in his mission to make all things right.

 

What do you think?  What did Jesus mean when he said “I am”?  And how should it impact us today?  Let me know in the comments below.