PEOPLE DO THE STRANGEST THINGS WHEN THEIR BACKS ARE UP AGAINST THE WALL……. Consider for instance the story of the fellow who fell off a cliff but who managed to catch hold of a tree protruding from the walls of the canyon and save himself (at least temporarily) from the fatal fall to the rocks below. As he hung there helplessly, he called out, “IS THERE ANYONE UP THERE WHO CAN HELP ME?”
A voice came out of the heavens saying, “LET GO, AND I’LL CATCH YOU.” The distraught fellow thought for a few seconds and again called out, “IS THERE ANYONE ELSE UP THERE WHO CAN SAVE ME?” (Kysar, The Scandal of Lent, p. 37)
Isn’t it a bit strange what ELIJAH and PETER do in today’s stories when their backs are up against the wall? ELIJAH has just come off some very great victories given through him by the POWER OF ALMIGHTY GOD on whom he solely relies. He has managed to save a WIDOW AND HER SON from death by hunger through miraculously sustaining the widow’s jar of meal and cruse of oil; and then he saves the very same widow’s son by resuscitating him and restoring him from death to life.
And after that he hosts a mighty SHOWDOWN WITH BAAL and 450 of his prophets on Mount Carmel because through him God’s ALMIGHTY POWER PREVAILS!
Unfortunately, such demonstrable actions only inflame the evil Queen Jezebel who puts a price on Elijah’s head and sends him fleeing 130 miles into the wilderness where he ends up sitting and brooding under the shade of a BROOM TREE. Then he spends 40 days traveling through the wilderness simply in order to find a cave in which to HIDE. The super victories he had been God’s vessel to bring about seem to be all but forgotten.
WHAT A STRANGE THING TO DO after so much victory and favor from ALMIGHTY GOD!
And PETER DOES A STRANGE THING TOO!……. With the rest of the Disciples he has just come from a MIRACULOUS FEEDING OF 5,000 MEN besides woman and children! But then, out on the boat, in the midst of a raging storm, he and the other disciples mistake the Lord for a GHOST! Jesus’ assurance, “TAKE HEART, IT IS I; DO NOT BE AFRAID” is not enough to convince Peter that it is the Lord calmly walking on the sea. And so, Peter requests of the Lord the ability to also WALK ON THE WATER.
[This seems to be a two-pronged test to determine first, if this really is Jesus coming towards them ON TOP OF THE WATER, and second, if so, to determine if this Jesus can even do wondrous things through his Disciples.]
Picture this BIG muscular fisherman TAKING THAT FIRST STEP ONTO THE WATER as the Lord beckons him to “COME.” But apparently, he is too eager to respond to the invitation to DO LIKE JESUS and so, at the first sign of trouble he panics, DOUBTS and begins to sink.
So YES, ELIJAH and PETER do STRANGE THINGS WHEN THEIR BACKS ARE AGAINST THE WALL. Elijah’s back is against the wall of BAALISM and Peter’s is against the wall of OCEANIC CHAOS and a conflicted faith.
But is this really any different from the STRANGE THINGS THAT YOU AND I DO when our backs are against the wall and our TOTAL FAITH IS CALLED UPON??? — How have you responded to recent news that you or a loved one has cancer? — And, how are you responding to the unrelenting strain of economic news plaguing our homes, banks and families? — Or, how are you responding to the increasing appeals within our congregation for YOU to step up in your participation and in your giving, even up to a TITHE (10%) of your income?
When YOUR back is against the wall in matters such as these perhaps you too respond in strange ways, such as playing HIDE AND SEEK, or, as in the case of ELIJAH and PETER, HIDE AND SINK!
However, it is times like these WHEN YOUR BACK IS AGAINST THE WALL that a TRUE HEARING OF FAITH can occur for you and for me! Consider this…….
I hate water! Not tap water or the water that rains down from my shower or from a summer storm. But I hate pool water, lake water, and definitely the roaring water of the ocean. Learning to swim was a real ordeal for me. From the lessons I took at our local swim club to swimming lessons in scouts, and worst of all, being required to take swimming class at my high school with the one teacher who was more a merciless drill sergeant than a caring teacher who wanted to alleviate my fears of the water.
Lap after exhausting lap I kept thinking, “I am going to drown right here and right now before I amount to anything in life.” (And I didn’t even consider the loss to me if I had never lived long enough to be your Pastor!) But then I kept hearing the words of my sisters and my brother, all of whom were good swimmers. “Sam,” (that was my family nickname), you are not going to drown. I’m right here to catch you. Everything will be ALL RIGHT. Come on, jump in!”
In a very real sense this is very similar to the situation of ELIJAH and PETER. God comes to the aid of ELIJAH’S SNIVELLING and Jesus is right there to CATCH PETER when he sinks. EVERYTHING IS ALL RIGHT WITH GOD PRESENT! How could it not be?
Now I admit God is a bit tough on Elijah as he chastens him with the words, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE beneath the Broom Tree, and WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE hiding in a cave? But the Lord coaxes Elijah out from under the Broom Tree. And God coaxes Elijah out of the cave in order to watch God pass by, not with a mighty DESTRUCTIVE WIND, not with the deadly power of an EARTHQUAKE, and not with the heated torment of a RAGING FIRE. No, the One Almighty God comes to Elijah through a GENTLE SILENCE, or as some translations state it, “STILL SMALL VOICE.” It is as if to say, “YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DROWN. EVERYTHING WILL BE ALL RIGHT. LISTEN TO ME.”
Then there is good old, double-daring, steppin’-out-on-the-sea-without-thinking, PETER! He takes a couple of steps of faith upon the water and then quickly begins to sink as he realizes the BOLD STEPS OF FAITH he has just begun to take. “LORD, SAVE ME!” he cries. Boy, does that remind me of the cry I uttered when floundering in the water in those early days of leaning how to swim.
But the Lord responds to Peter in much the same way as my siblings responded to me, “Come on, Sam, it will be ok.” “It’s ok, Peter, take my hand.”
Times like these, when we have NOWHERE ELSE TO TURN, are the very times when we are most likely to start listening to God and TRUSTING GOD’S WORD. As Isaiah declared,
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered
the earth, making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater
so shall be my word which goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty.
But it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Just as my siblings were right there to catch me if I would have floundered in the water, so is God right there for Elijah to assure him that he can face the wicked Jezebel and all her empty threats because even with a WHISPER God’s Word can overcome all wickedness and evil. And, just as I never drowned from learning how to swim because a strong hand was always there to catch me when necessary, so the hand of Christ stretched out and brought Peter safely back into the boat. “LORD, SAVE ME!” And indeed he did!
A CHICKEN AND A PIG were walking down the street together one day when they passed a church door upon which a sign read, “HAM AND EGG BREAKFAST – ALL WELCOME!” The Chicken quickly said to the Pig, “COME ON, LET’S GO IN!” But the Pig was very hesitant as he replied, “THAT’S EASY FOR YOU TO SAY. IF WE GO IN YOU WILL ONLY HAVE TO GIVE A LITTLE OF YOURSELF. I WILL HAVE TO COMMIT EVERYTHING!”
How much will you COMMIT TO TRUSTING IN JESUS’ CALL TO YOU? Will you run and HIDE? Will you show off and be the first one to TAKE THE FIRST STEP and then in fear, SINK? Will you commit just a little, OR, will you COMMIT EVERYTHING!?
—When the phone call comes from a family member overwhelmed with the fearful burden of a troubling diagnosis, how tightly will you CLING TO YOUR FAITH IN CHRIST and share it? — As the economy continues to tighten the financial rope around many of our necks, how much will you be able to loosen your grip on the love of worldly treasures and tighten that grip on the TRUE TREASURE we have in Christ? — And despite the economy and each of our own personal financial struggles, how bold might you be in joining your fellow believers in stepping out of the boat of fear and inhibition and TITHING to God’s Luxury Liner of mission and ministry to proclaim to ALL who need to hear God’s POWERFUL, LIFE-CHANGING WORD!? This ship is full of so many hungering for a Word of LIFE and HOPE – the very Word that is in your heart and even in your pockets!
When God says to us, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” Be prepared to get out from under the shade of the tree and be determined to leave the cave behind. When Jesus says to you, “TAKE HEART, IT IS I; DO NOT BE AFRAID.” Reach out and GRAB HIS HAND! For these are the times for us to declare, “GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS” and “PERFECT ASSURANCE!” With such assurance we realize that ours is a BIG GOD who calls upon us “merely” to take the small steps as we sing, , “HERE I AM , LORD!” HERE, I AM! ! !
©2008 thomas m lang