Of Grave-Clothes, Sinking Boats, & Unexpected Answers

We get a glimpse of Jesus’ childhood in the second chapter of Luke. In this scene described by Luke in just 10 verses – an event that, in reality, must have felt like forever to his worried mother – the twelve-years-old Jesus is missing. His family has just made their annual visit to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.

On their way home, after traveling a day, Mary and Joseph can’t find their son among their company of relatives and friends. Of course they are frantic. They immediately begin searching for him, turning around and racing back to Jerusalem. For three days they search for Him in the crowded city. Finally they find Him in the temple courts. His parents are astonished. After all of their worry, all of their grief, after what must have been three of the longest days of their lives – Jesus is not hurt, He is not afraid, He is not even a bit anxious…He is perfectly fine, deep in conversation with the teachers.

Mary says, as any mother would – “Why have You treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You!” (Luke 2:48) Jesus’ response is straightforward – He is calm and matter-of-fact. He seems surprised to see His parents in such a state of panic. “Why were you searching for Me?” He asked. “Didn’t you know I must be about My Father’s business?”

This little dialogue has been on repeat in my head for a day or two…and it has reminded me of a few other moments in Jesus’ life. This was definitely not the last time that Jesus wouldn’t be where someone expected Him to be…in fact, He’d often be exactly where they wouldn’t expect to find Him.

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I think of Mary and Martha sending for Him when Lazarus was so sick, expecting Him to come to their brother’s rescue. But He didn’t rush over to heal His dear friend. He stayed where He was for two more days.

By the time He decided to head to Bethany, Lazarus was already dead. “If you had been here,” He heard from both Martha and Mary, “my brother would not have died.”

Deeply moved, weeping in sorrow, Jesus came to the tomb. “Take away the stone,” He said. Martha protested. His words made no sense to her. “But, Lord,” she said, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there for four days.”

Jesus knew Mary and Martha already believed He had the power to heal. He knew they believed in His power. They’d expected Him to work within the limits they’d – most likely unconsciously – placed on Him.

“Did I not tell you that if you believe,” He said, “you will see the glory of God?”

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I think of the disciples, wild with fear while a storm wreaked havoc with the sea. Their boat was filling up with water and when they looked around for Jesus – He was not scooping water out of the vessel or even hanging on for dear life like they were. No, Jesus was in the stern – asleep.

The disciples wasted no time in waking Him up, baffled and indignant – “Teacher,” they cried out, “don’t You care if we drown?” It seems to me, considering the end of this story, that the disciples simply wanted Jesus to pitch in. Maybe they thought He would help get the water out of the boat. Maybe they thought He would be able to steer them to safety.

But that’s not what He did. Mark tells us that “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’” And with His words, the wind and the waves become completely calm. He turned to His disciples. I imagine that they were standing there, still breathing heavy, jaws dropped.

Jesus knew they had seen Him work miracle after miracle. He knew they had seen Him do the impossible. And yet – they thought the storm would be the end of them. “Why are you so afraid?” He asked. “Do you still have no faith?” These men looked at each other, terrified at the power they had just witnessed. “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”

This was the Teacher they knew but did not yet fully understand. Their fear had driven them to imagine they would be consumed by the sea, while He was Master of it all along.

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Thinking about all of this challenges me. How often do I wonder where He is in the circumstances of this world? How often do I wonder what God’s plan-of-action is and when He will begin changing things around to what makes sense to me? And on the flip side of that – how many times has He completely caught me off guard, His presence and His handiwork a total delight? How many times has He surprised me with His Word? How many times He has blessed me with answers that were out-of-my-reach-better than I could have even dreamed of for myself?

In the temple-courts, He told Mary and Joseph that He had to be about His Father’s business. His life on this earth was to show us the Father…and even though His actions so often made no sense to the people around Him, He was always – always – acting in obedience to God. And those unexpected moments – moments that broke the barriers of what was thought possible – brought glory to the Father. Even when it seemed like He was unconcerned about whatever was at hand – like the sickness of a friend or water pouring into a boat – He knew, every moment along the way, that things were unfolding for the good of those called according to God’s purpose.

“This sickness,” He had said when hearing about Lazarus’ illness, “will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Mary and Martha, of course, didn’t know that there was a greater purpose – a fuller healing than they could even imagine – at hand while they mourned for their brother and wrapped him in grave-clothes. But when Jesus stood at the door of that tomb and cried out – “Lazarus, come forth!” – they suddenly saw the God who can bring life from death. No limits, no boundaries, no ‘too lates’ for the Son of God. And this, friends, is the One who lavishly loves us.

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The life of Christ began in the most unexpected of ways – He lived and kept everyone on their toes, never knowing what would happen next – and He died in a way His followers never saw coming. But, of course, even His death was an unprecedented experience. No one but Jesus has been resurrected by their own power. No one but the Son of God has all power and authority over death, hell, and the grave.

So where does this leave us? I think this propensity towards the unexpected leaves us with incredible hope. I’m reminded that He is incomprehensibly bigger than we are. I’m reminded of His eternal perspective and His incredible power.

So when we are afraid, when it feels like we can’t find our Savior, I pray that we will remember – even while the waves are threatening to destroy us – that He is always in control. He is Master of every sea. He has authority and power over everything in this world. When our hearts are broken and we don’t understand why things turned out the way they have, I pray that we will remember He knows every tear. It may feel that He is far away, but He never is. He is always with us, always caring for us. I pray we will remember that He is the One who turns our weeping into joy, our night into morning.

There is a Someday that will restore us. There is eternal life and gladness at hand, even while we can only see grave-clothes in our hands. We can’t always know why things happen the way they do. We can’t always understand how He is working. But we can trust the One who does know.

He asked the disciples – why were you afraid?

When Martha was worried about bad odors and proper protocol, He asked – didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?

He asked His parents – didn’t you know I’d be about My Father’s business?

Could it be that He is reminding us that fear has no place when He is in control of our lives and our futures? Could it be that His timeline and solutions will bring us to a greater move of God in our lives? Could it be that He wants us to remember that He is working in our lives in obedience to the Father’s sovereign plan? Can we hold onto our faith – even if it is mustard-sized at the moment – and expect that His unexpected ways are for our good and God’s glory?

Can we remember this assurance? “ And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” His purpose for you stands. His love for you is steadfast. “For I know the plans I have for you,” He says. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)

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No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.

-2 Cor. 2:9

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.

 “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater,  So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

 “For you shall go out with joy, And be led out with peace; The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; And it shall be to the Lord for a name, For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

  • From Isaiah 55
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