The Sea of Separation

If you read the Gospels, you’ll likely notice that much of Jesus ministry takes place near or even on the sea. You can take it at face value or you can look deeper into what the sea represents. Of course that’s what I did.

According to a study by Mark Ballenger (applygodsword.com), bodies of water are often a barrier to blessings. God had to split the Red Sea to set the Israelites free from slavery. God had to stop the flow of the Jordan during flood stages so his people could enter the promise land. In other parts of the Bible, bodies of water are symbols for evil, death, and chaos…

Some might question then, why Jesus spent so much time near such a representation. I ask, why wouldn’t He? Didn’t Jesus come to defeat evil, death, and chaos? Ballenger goes on to write, if bodies of water symbolize death, evil, chaos, and all the other things which are not natural to God’s original creation, then for Jesus to walk on the stormy waters seems to symbolically reveal the reality that Jesus conquers death, evil, and brings the order creation groans for.

So why is this important? My most recent studies have been in the Gospel of Mark and it took me two months to study my way through the fourth chapter. It opens with Jesus teaching by the sea.

He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.

Mark 4:1 (NASB 1995)

This is usually a fly over verse in that it describes Jesus, where He is, and what He’s doing, but doesn’t seem to reveal anything significant. On to the next flannelgraph.

But wait, there’s more. Jesus got into a boat on the sea while the crowd remained on land. There’s a separation happening here. And if we apply what the sea represents, this verse suddenly becomes much more significant. Jesus is in a boat over the representation of death, evil, and chaos. That very thing separates Him from the people on the shore. Jesus, the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah is separated from the crowds of people by death, evil, and chaos. This is the reason He came—to remove that separation. But it hadn’t happened yet.

Jump ahead to verse 35. Jesus now instructs His disciples to go to the other side. Notice that He didn’t give them a choice. They were already in the boat, and Jesus said, “Let’s go.”

A post from St. Stephen Presbyterian says it better than I can:

“Let us cross over to the other side,” Jesus says in our Gospel today. When Jesus says those simple words to his disciples, they probably about had a heart attack. Jesus had been preaching on the western bank of the Sea of Galilee, which meant, basically, that he was preaching to people like himself and his disciples—his fellow Galileans, mostly poor fishermen and their families, mostly Jewish, with a strong regional identity. And suddenly Jesus is saying, Let’s go to the other side, by which he means, let’s cross the Sea of Galilee, at its widest point, from west to east, and go to other side, which in modern times we’d call the Nation of Jordan, and which back in those days was a land filled with people completely different from Galileans. This was Gentile territory, an area called the Decapolis, or the Ten Cities, populated by Arabs and by people from every part of the Roman Empire, sophisticated types, people who were proud Romans. Even the Jews who lived on the other side were completely different from Galileans. Jews who lived in the Decapolis were comfortable with compromises most Jews wouldn’t have made. They were willing to live among and work among people that Jews considered unclean, maybe even engage in unclean practices like eating pork. There were key Roman units garrisoned there. These people didn’t like Galilean Jews and Galilean Jews didn’t like them; and here’s Jesus saying, let’s cross over to the other side and hang out with them! The other side isn’t just any other side, it’s the dark side, and it’s like Jesus saying to them, “Come to the dark side, Luke!”

St. Stephen Presbyterian

It was bad enough that Jesus didn’t give His disciples the option of whether or not they wanted to spend the evening on the sea travelling to a heathen land, but then a storm kicks up. What I find amusing here is that no less than four of the disciples were professional fishermen. They knew this sea better than most and had surely encountered storms before. Either their commission to fish for men had turned them into pansies or this was one heck of a storm.

Jesus was not bothered by the storm. The disciples had to wake Him up to tell Him they were all going to die.

Most preachers use this account to let us know that Jesus is in the boat with us! No matter what storm we encounter, He’s there ready to calm it! But what if that’s not what this is about at all?

Maybe the boat is simply a boat. Maybe the point is that Jesus is just trying to get us to the other side.

Because left to our own devices, we’d rather stay where we are. That’s human nature. But it also seems to be the nature of faith. We can’t seem to hear Jesus’ invitation — “Let us go across to the other side.” How easy it is to stay in our comfort zones; to default to our pet theologies; to remain in what is known, even though that which is known has become unbearable. We would rather ignore the desperate need for change than make the change happen. So we sit. And we wait. For what? The right time? For someone else to make the first move? Maybe this is why Jesus doesn’t give the disciples any time to think about the trip — “On that day … ” We would think about it forever. “Thinking about it” is always one of our best excuses.

Karoline Lewis

Have you kept in mind what the sea represents? Death, evil, chaos.

Do you know what the wind represents? In a positive light, the wind often represents the Holy Spirit, but in a negative light, wind is often used as a picture of futility… Wind also negatively signifies doubtfulness or uncertainty (jesusway4you.com).

Jesus wasn’t concerned about death, evil, or chaos, nor did He have any doubt or uncertainty. He wasn’t bothered by the storm at all. But the disciples, on the other hand, weren’t so confident. They accused Jesus of being uncaring while the storm threatened to overtake them, filling the boat with water.

Now what’s the real threat here? The water isn’t. Think about it. Water on its own does nothing without outside interference. It’s there. It sits. It has no power unless acted on by an outside force. The sea on its own is powerless. Death, evil, chaos are powerless.

But enter the wind. The wind is what causes the waves to rise up. That doubt and uncertainty makes the death, evil, and chaos seem like more than they really are.

Take a look at what Jesus does when He’s so abruptly awoken.

And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.

Mark 4:39 (NASB 1995)

It was the wind that caused the storm and Jesus rebuked that, but what we have recorded are His words to the sea. Jesus spoke to the chaos, not the doubt and uncertainty. At least not the representation of it.

He addressed the doubt in His disciples.

And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 

Mark 4:40 (NASB 1995)

There are a lot of questions we can ask ourselves as we consider these passages in a new light:

  • Am I looking for more options when Jesus gives me a direct instruction?
  • Do I fear the death, evil, and chaos even though they are powerless?
  • Does my doubt feed the chaos around me?
  • Do I expect Jesus to rebuke every storm for me?
  • Can I overcome my doubt and uncertainty to avoid the storms?

If you think this is a lot, just wait until the boys land on the shore. If you think there’s peace after the storm, read on into Mark 5.

Tongues of fire

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Luke 3:16-17 (NIV)

Water cleans.

John’s baptism was and still is symbolic of a spiritual cleansing, but it could never be anything more. We use water baptism as an outward symbol of an inner change. Our minds and our souls (mind, will, and emotions) must be engaged when we make the choice to be baptised in water. It is a sign of commitment to Christ.

Fire purifies.

It is only the baptism of the Holy Spirit that brings about true purification. All three parts of our being—body, soul, and spirit—must be engaged to receive this baptism. It is a sign of reliance on Christ.

Anyone can be baptised in water. Some experience great change and profess to feel something more than wet when they resurface. To some, it is merely a public declaration of their commitment to Jesus.

Anyone can be baptised in the Holy Spirit, but not everyone will display the evidence of it—tongues.

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 2:3-4 (NIV)

Holy Spirit baptism connects us to the Father in a way that nothing else can. The fire of the Spirit, the one John spoke of in the Gospel of Luke, cleanses us from within. If we allow it, it will burn away the impurities from our lives. But the key is submission and complete reliance. So long as we fight for control, we will never allow the Spirit to work in us.

There are those who would seek to tame and control the power of the Holy Spirit, but it is not ours to control. Rather, we must give ourselves over to His control. As contradictory as it may seem, there is no greater freedom to be found than when we give over control of our lives to the Spirit of God. It is only then that we have an even greater bond with the Father and an ability to pray His perfect will.

Neither water baptism nor baptism in the Holy Spirit are required of us to gain entrance into Heaven. But if God has provided for us a way to be even closer to Him, why would we not jump at the opportunity?

Read: Joshua 9-10, Luke 3

One thing at a time

Read: Numbers 7, Mark 4:21-41

It’s winter where I live. Usually, living on the southwest coast of Canada, we don’t get much for winter but buckets of rain. Today, the temperature is below freezing and there is a thin layer of crunchy snow on the ground. Though some bulbs have managed to push their shoots through the cold ground, no seeds will be planted for months yet.

Many of us Christians, myself included, act as though we are in a perpetual spiritual winter. We withhold the seed in our hands claiming the soil isn’t ready. Or maybe it is, but we either don’t know how or just plain refuse to scatter it.

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.”

Mark 4:26 (NIV)

Who is the man in this story? I am. You are. What is the seed? The Word of God. What are we supposed to do with the seed? Scatter it. Then what?

Mark 4-27.jpg

Too many of us hold on to our seeds unsure of what we’re supposed to do once we scatter. Sometimes it’s nothing at all. But what if it doesn’t grow? What if it does?

When you go out and plant seeds in the soil, aside from a bit of water, there is very little you can do to ensure your plant comes up. You can’t dig down and check on it. You have to wait and trust that the seed you planted was a good seed and that it will sprout at the right time.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (NIV)

You have a seed to plant. We all have seeds that can be planted. And we all have water to help those seeds to grow. And still, we all have the tools to harvest those plants once they’re mature. It is rare that one person will plant, water, and harvest the same seed.

The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:8-9 (NIV)

Instead of worrying about a whole field, focus on one thing at a time. Plant the seed that’s in your hand right now. Share the Word of God. Keep planting. You may find you encounter someone who’s already received a seed. Water it. Keep sharing the Word of God. Keep watering. You may come across a person who’s received a seed and had it watered. That’s your harvest. Keep harvesting.

This is not just the job of pastors and teachers and church leaders. It’s your job. Ephesians 4:12 says that all of those people were given to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith. We are all to do works of service.

One person doing their work may be able to change their circle of influence. But if we all do our work—just one thing at a time, we will change the world.

You of little faith

Read: Genesis 46-48, Matthew 14:22-36

Most of us know or have at least heard the account of Jesus walking on the water. He’d had a busy day. Lost his cousin to beheading. Healed a bunch of people. Fed a bunch of people. He needed some time alone. So he sent his disciples ahead of him across the lake in a boat. By evening, the boat was way ahead of him and a storm had blown in. So he does what any sensible person would do and walks to the boat. On the water. Eventually the men in the boat see him and, after deciding that he isn’t a ghost, Peter calls out to Jesus over the sound of the wind and waves.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “Tell me to come to you on the water.”

Matthew 14:28 (NIV)

Jesus does and Peter does. Of the twelve, only one decides it’s worth it to get out of the boat. He does okay for a while, but soon realises where he is, takes into account the storm around him, and begins to sink.

Matthew 14:31

We can have one of two responses to this story:

  1. Discouragement. Peter did exactly what Jesus told him to do—step out of the boat and on to the water—yet he still began to sink. This point of view would likely prevent any one or all of us from ever pursuing the miraculous. If all we’re going to do is fail, why bother, right?
  2. Encouragement. Peter did exactly what Jesus told him to do—step out of the boat and on to the water—and he did! I don’t know if Peter was brave or stupid, but whatever he was, we could use more of that in our Christian circles.

What I find most encouraging about this account is that Jesus told Peter that he had little faith. Most of us would see that as an insult, but I would take it as a compliment. If a little faith is all it took to get out of the boat to stand on the waves, I’ll start with that. Oh, that we would all have the little bit of faith Peter had. His only mistake was to take his eyes off of Jesus.

Jesus hasn’t told me to do anything like that. Oh, but he has!

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 14:12-14 (NIV)

Every miracle Jesus performed while he walked the earth is an example for us. Through our faith in him, we should be doing what what he did and even greater. Even if your faith is only enough to get you out of the boat, it’s a start. And once you start, don’t take your eyes off of the One who called out.

It’s okay to be of little faith—to begin with. Don’t let one failure stop you from getting out of the boat again and again. Keep your eyes on Jesus and soon, you’ll be living on the water.

The Amen

Christians say amen a lot. So much so that we probably don’t even realise we do it and, if we do, its meaning has long since been forgotten.

AMEN: As a verb, it signifies to confirm, establish, verify; to trust, or give confidence, as a noun, truth, firmness, trust, confidence.

At the end of our prayers, amen is meant to say let it be so. But Revelation gives us a different revelation of the word.

This is the message from the one who is Amen—the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

Revelation 3:14b (NLT)

The one who is Amen. Jesus. Read the definition of amen again, but with Jesus in mind rather than a simple word we use to close our prayers. Jesus is truth. Jesus is firmness. He is trust. He is confidence. He doesn’t just inspire these things, he embodies them.

As the Amen, he is the one in whom the revelation of God finds its perfect response and fulfillment.

International Bible Commentary

This is how Jesus introduces himself to the church at Laodicea—a church that had grown lukewarm in their faith. While they still believed, they had grown so confident in their own accomplishments that they failed to recognise Jesus as the Amen—the perfect response and fulfillment of the revelation of God.

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one of the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth!

Revelation 3:15-16 (NLT)

The church was being likened to their city’s water source. Laodicea had water piped in from a hot spring five miles away. By the time the water reached the city, it was tepid, not longer hot yet not cold like the water spring in Colossae. The further from the source the water, the less like the source it is.

When Jesus said that he is ruler of God’s creation, the word ruler can also be translated as source. The cold water at Colossae was cold and refreshing. The source spring from where Laodicea got their water was hot with healing properties. But, like the lukewarm water in the city, the church there was good for very little.

So let us get back to the Amen. Let us get as close to the source of God’s creation as we possibly can. Let us be cold and refreshing or hot and healing, but not lukewarm and useless. If we begin with the Amen, let us also end with the Amen.

Daily Bible reading: Hosea 12-14, Revelation 3

Plant or water

David had begun to make plans to build a great temple to house the presence of the Lord. He wanted to honour God and give Him a permanent residence just like God had given Israel a permanent residence in their own land. But David would not be the one to make his plans a reality. The prophet Nathan reported to the king that it was not his job to build the temple, but that task belonged to one of his sons.

David had a couple of ways he could have responded here. He could have thrown a tantrum and built the temple anyway. He was the man after God’s own heart, after all. Why shouldn’t he be the one to build it? David was the one who’d made all the plans. It was his temple.

Another option—the one he chose—was humility. Rather than be disappointed that he wouldn’t be the one to build this grand structure honour his God, David rejoiced that God had chosen his lineage to be established forever.

Then King David went and sat before the Lord and prayed, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And now, O God, in addition to everything else, you speak of giving me a lasting dynasty! You speak as you I were someone very great, O Lord God!”

1 Chronicles 17:16-17 (NLT)

David understood that there was far greater glory in what God would provide than anything he could accomplish on his own. He understood that the plans were as important as the building. He understood that there is a much importance in the planting as there is in the watering and harvesting.

The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.

1 Corinthians 3:8 (NLT)

While David would not build the temple, he left his son, Solomon, with everything he would need to complete the task. Both David’s obedience and Solomon’s diligence were rewarded.

God may have given you some grand plans, but not the go-ahead to accomplish them. Don’t let that get you down! There is honour and reward to be had every step of the way. While you may be the one to plant the seeds, another may be called to water and yet another to harvest. Your job is to be obedient in what God has called you to do no matter what step He’s called you to.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Chronicles 17-19, John 10:1-21

 

Flow

What comes to mind when you think of the word flow? Rivers? Running water? Traffic? To go with it?

No matter what came to mind first, I bet movement was involved. The word itself implies perpetual motion.

FLOW: to proceed, to issue; to abound, to have in abundance; to issue, as rays or beams of light; free expression or communication of generous feelings and sentiments.

Did you know that the Holy Spirit flows? The Spirit wasn’t given to Christians to hoard and hold on to. The Spirit was given to fill us and to flow out of us.

“If you are thirsty, come to me! If you believe in me, come and drink! For scripture declares that rivers of living water will flow out from within.” (When he said “living water”, he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)

John 7:37b-39 (NLT)

What the Spirit pours into us is meant to flow out of us. When it flows out of us, we are then refilled with fresh water. The process is supposed to be continual—this isn’t like filling a pitcher, pouring it out and filling it again. It’s like a river. Always moving. New and water always being added from the source. Nothing stagnant. Forever fresh and refreshing.

When God puts something into you, don’t hold on to it, pour it out. Share it. By sharing it, you are pouring the Spirit into others, increasing your flow as well as theirs—another wonderful product of the saints gathering together on a regular basis with purpose. We can all contribute to the flow of the Holy Spirit in our own lives as well as the lives of those around us.

Don’t hold back! Let it flow!

Daily Bible reading: 1 Chronicles 1-2, John 7:32-53

Evaporate

I know of only one way that can take pure water from soil—evaporation. You can try to strain it, but without an elaborate filtration system, the effort would be futile.

All of us die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. That is why God tries to bring us back when we have been separated from him. He does not sweep away the lives of those he cares about—and neither should you!

2 Samuel 14:14 (NLT)

If you’re chilling outside with a large glass of water sitting on the ground next to you and someone comes and kicks it over, you’re not going to try to salvage that water from the ground. You’re going to go refill your glass from the tap or a bottle. Once that water has been separated from the glass and become one with the earth, you have no use for it. It’s done for. You may even move your chair to cover the spot so you don’t soil your feet by stepping in it. It’s a mess.

At some point we all were (or maybe still are) a mess. We are that water spilled on the ground—impossible to put back where it came from. Only God can draw us out of the muck. We can try to scoop it all into a container. Maybe the dirt will settle and clear water will sit on top, but a little agitation will make it murky again. We can try to filter it through a strainer, but the fine bits of dirt and dust follow the water through and nothing will make that water clear again.

Or we can let God draw us out. He can gently lift us from the dirt like water evaporating in the warm air. We are pulled to Him in our purest form. All the dirt is left behind and we become clean again.

Let the clouds serve as a reminder of God’s grace and ability to draw you to Him. When He brings you out of the muck, all the dirt is left behind and you’ve been made pure.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Samuel 13-14, Luke 20:1-26

Living Water

As you may have read the other day, Jesus said a lot of things that we may now take for granted having heard them spoken in church for years, but if you put them in the context of the time and culture and you realise that Jesus said some pretty crazy things!

On the last and most important day of the feat Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. If anyone believes in me, rivers of living water will flow out from that person’s heart, as the Scripture says.”

John 7:37-38 (NCV)

I don’t know about you, but if I were to take that literally, I’m not sure I’d take Jesus up on his offer. What would rivers of living water flowing from my heart look like? Would the water spew from my mouth or would it just burst from my chest? How would I stay alive either way?

In addition to this being an odd thing to say, Jesus was actually taking advantage of tradition to show that he was going to make changes. It is important that the end of the feast is mentioned. At the end of the seven day Feast of Tabernacles, it was tradition to tack on an eighth day to the festivities for a closing assembly. This assembly included a procession from the temple to the Pool of Siloam (which is another story in itself). Once at the pool, a priest would draw water to be poured out as an offering on the altar back at the temple. What could possibly be the most important part of this entire tradition is the scripture recitation that accompanied it.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

Isaiah 12:3 (ESV)

No wonder the religious leaders were incensed! Jesus stood up and loudly proclaimed to be able to replace and improve upon a very important part of the Jewish tradition – and the Jews loved their tradition like Thor loves his hammer.

So what does this mean for us? Aside from the incredible gift of salvation that Jesus offers, it gives us a glimpse of what Jesus came to do. He didn’t come only to save the world, but he came to change the world. At every turn, Jesus took the opportunity to turn Jewish tradition on end. Not because it was necessarily bad, but because he had a better replacement.

What do you think Jesus wants to replace in your life? You are free to keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, but what if Jesus wants to take those things and change them into something better? What if he wants to take your stale old traditions and allow something life-giving and refreshing to flow from them? Instead of joining the procession to the pool for salvation, you can be the source of it.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Chronicles 1-2; John 7:32-53

Dig

Do you like to work? I mean really work. Physical work. Ditch-digging work. No? Didn’t think so.

Do you like the idea of miracles? Something coming from nothing. Dead made to live. Sun-standing-still miracles. Yes? Thought so.

We all want to see the miraculous, but precious few are interested in doing the work required to bring it about.

Go through your Bible. Find accounts of miracles and tell me how many required no work at all.

  • Moses and the Red Sea ( Exodus 14) – as long as his staff was up, the seabed remained dry. His brother, Aaron had to hold his arms up just so Israel could cross.
  • Bitter water made sweet (Exodus 15) – Moses had to throw a log, not a stick, a log into the water to make it drinkable
  • A new covenant (Exodus 34) – after the original commandments were destroyed, Moses actually had to cut new tablets for God to write the new covenant on.
  • Taking the Promised Land (Joshua 3) – just because God had promised them a new and good land, didn’t mean they weren’t going to have to fight for it.
  • The defeat of Jericho (Joshua 6) – Israel had to walk for a week!

The list goes on an on.

Jump ahead to today’s reading in 2 Kings 3.

(As a side note, as a worship leader, I’m a fan of Elisha – before he prophesies, he calls for a musician. It wasn’t until after the music started that the Spirit of God came upon Elisha.)

So here we are in 2 Kings and a group of kings has decided to take on Moab. They claim that their battle is God-ordained. Elisha begged to differ, but God still worked. Now, they went to battle in the middle of a drought. (Way to go, kings.) Their armies were thirsty. Their animals were thirsty. They’d never be able to win a battle dehydrated. And what did Elisha say?

 

“Now bring me someone who plays the harp.” While the harp was being played, the Lord gave Elisha power. Then Elisha said, “The Lord says to dig holes in the valley.”

2 Kings 3:15-16 (NCV)

Dig. Hey all you thirsty guys, we’re going to need you to go dig us some ditches. I know you’re thirsty, but if you want to drink, you’re going to have to work first.

The miracle required effort on the part of the kings and their armies. God came through and water filled the ditches, but only after they had been dug.

If you’re praying for a miracle, stop and listen. Maybe God requires some work on your part before you see the miracle come to pass.

 

Daily Bible reading: 2 Kings 1-3; John 3:22-36