In his book, Love Does, Bob Goff writes, “I get paid as a lawyer to collect information and memorize facts, and I’ve gotten really good at it. What I realized about my faith is that I was doing just that, collecting information and memorizing things about God. I collected pictures and gathered artifacts and bumper stickers about Christianity, and I talked about knowing Jesus like we were best friends, when actually, we hardly knew each other at all. At some point I had to confess that I was stalking Jesus. I was actually creeping myself out a little and I realized I was probably creeping God out too. So I decided I’d stop. The first thing I did was quit going to what Christians call Bible Study. Sounds wholesome. But at the ones I went to, I (just) learned a bunch of facts and information about Jesus…So, I started getting together with the same guys each weeks for a ‘Bible doing.’ We read what God has to say and then focus all of our attention on what we are going to do about it. Just agreeing isn’t enough. I can’t think of a single time when Jesus asked His friends to just agree with Him.”
I believe Philip must have been a part of a group like that in the first century. When the story opened in Acts 8, he was in Samaria. He’d been preaching Jesus to the Samaritans, with great success. Many had been baptized and there was much joy there. Then God told Philip to leave the city, where many were hearing the Gospel and being saved, and go to a desert place. To the middle of nowhere. On the face of it, it just didn’t make sense. But God’s ways are higher than our ways. God, who cared about the many in Samaria, cared also about the one in the desert.
The command that came to Philip was simple: “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” The road that ran south out of Gaza ran all the way into Egypt, and the continent of Africa. It wasn’t Gaza that God was after that day. It was Africa. Starting with one Ethiopian, whom Philip was about to meet. But the command was simple: rise and go.
May I suggest to you that God’s greatest works start with a simple command? Abraham, rise up and go: leave this place and go to the place that I will show you. Moses, rise up and go: tell Pharaoh to let My people go. Peter, rise up and go: feed My sheep. I believe the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ, who is the cornerstone, and the men and women who have responded to God’s simple commands. Where would the church be if Peter had not obeyed? Or if Paul had refused to take the Gospel to the Gentiles? Which brings up an all-important question, especially for the fathers. God has given you a simple command as well. Fathers, rise up and go: disciple your children. To do that properly, you have to make sure that you are a disciple yourself, and that you are not just a stalker, always looking at the church or the Bible or even Jesus Himself from a distance, not daring to get too close.
I love the way the story ends. God gave a simple command. Philip chose a simple response: “… he rose and went.” Philip wasn’t just interested in Bible Study. He was also into Bible doing.
How about you?
It was an amazing thing. From atop the mountain, Jesus saw his disciples in the boat, struggling against their oars in the fierce wind, getting nowhere on the Sea of Galilee. He left his place of prayer, went down the mountain, stepped onto the sea, and walked on the water to them. Why do we have that expression in our vernacular, “Oh, that guy thinks he walks on water”? Because somebody, namely Jesus, did!
It is also interesting that Mark’s gospel included that Jesus “meant to pass them by.” What? He meant to walk past them on the water and not stop?
We cannot say for certain what is going on here. But we can say for sure that Jesus was not playing games. He didn’t see the 12 disciples struggling, tormented by the wind for hours, hands blistered and bloody, and say to himself, “That’s a shame, and bless their hearts; I hope they make it!” No. This story could not end any other way than the Lord coming to rescue his own and at the same time reveal to them a greater rescue operation that they still would not understand.
Many believe that Mark used the phrase “pass them by” as a fulfillment of what the Old Testament saints could only see in shadow. Remember when Moses told God he wanted to see his glory, and God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock, and then God “passed by” Moses? Moses could see the back of God but not his face. Then God did the same with Elijah when the prophet was afraid that he was all alone. “The Lord passed by,” and though Elijah could not see God, he could hear his still, small voice. But there is an even clearer foreshadowing of this scene in the book of Job. Job says of God that he “stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea.” Then he says, “Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him.”
Here in Mark’s gospel the God of all creation appeared to be passing by but then stopped to help his disciples. Jesus walked on the water and came to his own, revealing the glory that he alone shares with the Father, extending the compassion that his followers need. James Edwards says Jesus was answering the disciples’ earlier question when they said to each other, “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?” Edwards writes, “The one who calmed the storm is the one who now appears in the storm, the I AM of God.”
When Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee and approached the disciples, they were terrified, thinking he was a ghost. He said to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” This “It is I” is the same as God’s self-disclosure to Moses, when Moses was afraid to go to the Pharaoh. “Whom shall I say sent me?” Moses asked. God replied, “I AM WHO I AM.” God could have said, “Tell them ‘It is I’ sent you.”
“It is I,” the Lord says to his terrified disciples, and to you and me. Jesus not only walks on the water as Job says, but he takes God’s name. Who is Jesus? He is the great “I Am.” He is Jehovah Adonai, the Lord our Sovereign. He is Jehovah Elohim, the Lord our Creator. He is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord our Provider. He is Jehovah Rophe, the Lord our Healer. He is Jehovah-Nissi, the Lord our Banner. He is Jehovah Shammah, the Lord who is Present. He is Jehovah Rohi, the Lord our Shepherd.
The Son of God, the great I AM, got into the boat, and the wind ceased. Only then. Jesus’ presence overcomes storms in our lives, as well, even when the storms may continue to rage around us. No matter the storm, no matter the virus, no matter the disease, no matter the political upheaval, no matter the suffering, no matter what. Jesus, the great I AM, is with his people. That’s an anchor in any storm.