When All Seems Lost (Flannel Board Jesus)
Today’s scripture is one of my favorite stories in the bible. It brings back memories of Sunday School and bible lessons and one of the greatest teaching tools every invented…. The flannel board. Do some of you remember that?
The flannel board fisherman’s boat is put up on a fuzzy light blue background, then the disciples get tucked under the boat so it looks like they are inside of it. Next comes the waves but they don’t stick to the flannel very well because you also use the waves for Noah and the ark, Moses and all the Israelites crossing the red sea, and various New Testament stories where the disciples did something while in a boat and Jesus did something cool…. Like calm the storm or tell them to cast their nets on the other side… or… when he walked on water. So since it didn’t stick, tape was placed on the back of it so it would at least stay up there for more than 3 seconds. Last but not least, you had flannel board Jesus! He doesn’t stick at all anymore, so the teacher just holds him next to the flannel board scene of the disciples in the boat.
When taught this story in Sunday School, the lesson always had the concepts of doubt, faith, and trust attached to it. Peter trusted Jesus enough to get out of the boat, he saw the waves and wind, his faith was shaken, and he fell in the water and almost drowned… BUT he cried out to Jesus to save him and Jesus did. The end. That’s a nice story. That’s a great story.
….and it does deal with doubt, faith, and trust. But as adults we can now read this story in a deeper way.
Today I want you to do something a little bit different. Take the pew bibles in front of you… you might have to share. Turn to Matthew 14… it’s in the last half of the book, and it’s on page 16. I will wait for you… help those around you… make sure everyone is there.
Matthew 14: 22-33 is our scripture for the day, but we are going to be zooming out a little bit and looking at the context of this story. We will be looking at the entire chapter of Matthew 14.
Matthew 14 starts off by telling its readers that Herod heard about Jesus and thought he might be John the Baptist raised from the dead. Then it gives a little flashback story of how Herod killed John the Baptist.
(Overview of the story)
Vs 13 When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
Why? Why is John’s death such a big deal to Jesus?
We first hear of John the Baptist in Matthew 3
Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight
Baptized Jesus and a dove came down
Luke 1 – Mary visits Elizabeth
Some thought John was the Christ but he denied it saying, “I baptize you with water, but one more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”
Some of Jesus’ disciples were once John the Baptist’s disciples so John’s death impacted the disciples as well.
Jesus and John knew each other. They were relatives, maybe friends too. Maybe they grew up together while their moms taught them ancient stories of Abraham, Noah and Moses. Maybe they used flannel board… probably not.
Vs 13 When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
John’s death impacted Jesus. He wanted to be alone for a while.
Look what happens… vs 13b and 14: “When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick.”
So Jesus is trying to get some alone time… but he can’t! He has compassion on the crowd and begins healing.
Then…what story do we have… The feeding of the five thousand!
So Jesus is healing people and it becomes late in the day. The disciples are there and tell Jesus to dismiss the crowd so they can get something to eat before it gets too late. Jesus said, “You feed them”. They only had a few fish and several loaves of bread, but Jesus broke the bread and all 5000 people were fed! They even collected extra food at the end of the meal.
So now, the entire day was spent healing numerous people, feeding 5000 of them, and now it is late. The disciples are physically tired, mentally spent and some are grieving like Jesus is because of John the Baptist’s death. Here is a side note: A few of Jesus’ disciples (Andrew and John) were first John’s disciples who then started following Jesus.
It’s late in the day…
Jesus made the disciples get in a boat and head to the other side. Jesus finally got to his original agenda… he went up to a mountain to pray by himself. Jesus sent them home. This is where our scripture for today starts!
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
Jesus had a long day…. The disciples had a long day. Jesus told them to get in the boat, they got in the boat… now what happens?….they are stuck out in the sea and can’t get anywhere because the wind and waves won’t let them.
If I was a disciple I would be asking, “What is happening? Half of us are fishermen and we can’t even row a boat across the lake! Why would Jesus send us out here?
They were doing what Jesus told them to do… they are mentally exhausted, physically drained and emotionally grieving. And they are stuck in the sea.
They never covered this part on the flannel board!
When I read a story like this, I often ask myself questions. Today, I have 3 questions I want to explore.
And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Why did Jesus choose to walk on water?
Jesus came down from the mountain and found himself alone. He needed to get back somehow… what were his choices? He could walk around the sea like the crowd did, he could find a boat, he could build a boat (he was a carpenter after all)… or since he was God… he could snap his finger and just be across the sea… He chose none of those things…. He chose to walk straight out into the sea and meet up with his friends.
High winds were keeping the boat from moving across the sea and waves were smashing into the boat. Jesus was not going to leave them out there alone…. Not after the long day they had. He wanted to be with them and he chose to enter their situation, their drama, their pain.
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
I know what some of you are thinking… you think my next question is, “Why did Peter get out of the boat?” Right? Well, that is not my next question. I know why Peter got out… walking on water is cool! My question is….
Why did Jesus say yes to Peter and tell him to “come” out?
If I was Jesus, I would say, “No, just stay there, I will come to you… stay in the boat! Keep your hands and feet inside of the boat”. But Jesus didn’t do that! Jesus saw a glimmer of faith in Peter and he was willing to allow Peter to test that faith.
So Peter gets out of the boat, sees the wind and the waves… gets scared and goes down in the water. He yells for Jesus to save him… and Jesus grabs him up out of the water. My last question is….
Why didn’t Jesus stop the wind and waves when Peter was in the water?
Jesus never stopped the wind and waves to pull Peter out. Would it not be easier to save Peter if the sea was calm?
For Jesus, the wind and waves were not the problem. The problem was… Peter was drowning. Jesus took care of the real issue… drowning. The wind and waves were a secondary concern.
And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
They worshiped him as the Son of God
First time in Matthew they worship Jesus as God
What does this mean for us?
This story is a story of faith, doubt and trust, but is also a story of Jesus’s character.
- Jesus is willing to enter into our difficult situations. When we are tired, weary, grieving and hopeless… he want to enter in and is with us through it. Many of us don’t allow Jesus to do that. We keep him on the side of the flannel board and never let him enter our story. Are you ready to acknowledge and welcome Jesus into the difficulties in your life?
- Jesus is delighted by those who show a fearless faith. It may be hard to take that first step… scary even…. But he will always say “come” … come to the deeper end of faith…. I will be right by your side. Are you daring enough to take a chance on putting your faith in him?
- Jesus will rarely calm the wind and the waves in your life. Wind and waves are a part of life. Peter didn’t need to be saved from the sea, he needed to be saved from drowning. We don’t need to be saved from our life’s circumstances… we need to be saved from our hopelessness and our fear. When life is overwhelming and it feels like you are going under the waves, are you willing enough to cry out to him “save me”.
The character of Jesus is easy to see in this story. Even in his own pain, his compassion overrides his own feeling of wanting to be alone. His loyalty to not leave his friends in distress, his power to manipulate the water to hold his weight, his hope and encouragement when one takes a chance on faith and his strength to pull us to safety when we are downing.
Back in Sunday School I had a new teacher… she did not like the fact that Jesus did not stick to the flannel board. So… she took some Elmer’s glue, turned Jesus to the back, covered the entire back of Jesus with glue and stuck him to the middle of the flannel board.
From then on, every story she told had Jesus at the center of it. She built every story around Jesus! What a great metaphor for live!
Every story, every situation, every circumstance of our lives…. Jesus is at the center!
May we live our lives knowing Jesus is with us in the storms, may we live with fearless faith and allow Jesus to save us, not from our circumstances but from our hopelessness and fear.