If you were to explore the more than 400 inhabited islands of Japan, upon hillsides along the ocean you will find stone markers, hundreds of them, some of them over six hundred years old. On these monuments, each of them, you will find the Japanese word for ‘harbor wave,’ which is…tsunami.
In the village of Aneyoshi, a stone marker was set up after devastation following a tsunami in the late 1800s that left only two villagers alive, followed by another in 1933 where just four villagers survived, with the village again destroyed.
The inscription on the tsunami Aneyoshi marker reads as follows, “High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants. Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.”
They not only erected that marker. They moved their village. After the 1933 tsunami, the remaining villagers moved their homes permanently uphill—and were completely spared when the 2011 tsunami rushed ashore, killing people in several countries. In fact, the 2011 tsunami stopped less than 300 feet below this warning stone.
The problem was not just the tsunami itself. The problem was that as Japan progressed into modern times, they disregarded the warnings. They began building homes and workplaces right next to the ocean. They figured their intelligence, their technology, their sea walls, and early warning systems would protect them. Sadly, they did not. They were incredibly humbled by the power of the ocean to rush in and swept everything away.
That tsunami then—and the pandemic now—shocks us awake to the reality that this is marked by chaos. You do not know when comfort and predictability are going to be shaken—whether by a tsunami or tornado, whether by a racist murder or getting laid off or the added stresses from this virus threat. At some point—like this point—you realize and feel how chaotic and unpredictable this world is, and how susceptible we are to all kinds of things we didn’t choose and don’t want.
Where Can You Find Hope?
So here’s the question that surfaces for us: Given the way the world is, where can you find hope? Is there a solid rock to stand on when the waves rush at you? That’s what we’re going to go after this week as we take in a panorama sweep from Genesis to Revelation. I’m drawing strongly today from Skye Jethani’s work on these Bible passages. He’s a writer I highly recommend: he’s smart, and he loves Jesus and people.
My wife and enjoyed the trip of a lifetime several years ago that included time almost 10,000 feet up in the Swiss Alps.
It was so beautiful that we both felt like it seemed fake. It was that gorgeous. And all of a sudden, thanks to planes, trains, and automobiles, we found ourselves taking in a view we had only heard about and read about. Now, we were experiencing it. I still go back from time to time. 6 hours time difference, so early, early morning I’ll pull up the Schilthorn webcam and take it in and remember, and breathe a bit more deeply.
What that trip did for us, God wants to do for you today—to expand your vision beyond the immediate and urgent and stressful, to the big picture of what He’s up to. From it, you’re going to experience where rock-solid hope is found. Sound good? Let’s jump in where the Bible begins, Genesis.
The View From Above
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the sea or ocean is almost always depicted in negative terms. Ancient Israelites, like the ancient Japanese experience with tsunamis, viewed the ocean or the sea as a realm of chaos and disorder.
Here in Indiana, we think of the ocean in terms of vacationing in Florida and swimming in the clear Gulf Waters. Ancient Israelites didn’t see the ocean that way. The Phoenicians loved the seas and took to boars. The Israelites were landlubbers. As they looked West to the Mediterranean and its storms and shipwrecks and lost lives, all they saw was chaos and disorder and destruction.
That negative view is hinted at as the Bible opens. You don’t have to believe me yet. Watch where this goes. The entire Bible begins with this opening scene, picture this:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.” Genesis 1:1-2
So the whole message God wants to communicate to humanity begins with nothing in shape, nothing yet full, a bottomless emptiness, an inky darkness. The very next verse adds that the Spirit of God was hovering over or brooding over those waters.
You know what happens next. God speaks and where there was chaos and disorder, there comes complex beauty and order. At the end of each day, six times, God himself comments that what he’s accomplishing is good. Then at the very end of the creation account God establishes a garden where he places man and woman, uniquely created in His image and likeness and whom he calls very good. So the whole scene changes completely from how it was, chaotic and empty and dark, into a place that’s livable and enjoyable and abundant—it’s all good.
That’s scene one. Scene two introduces the plot twist. Chaos returns complements of man and woman’s selfish choices. The tsunamis of sin bite them and us in a thousand ways, and all through history we continue to bite and devour one another over money, sex, and power. Same old story, today’s headlines. In the language of the Hebrew Scriptures, we’re pursuing the first two verses of Genesis, chaos instead of order.
God Alone Brings Order From Chaos
So the first hint at hope in the Bible is that God alone can bring order out of chaos. God alone has power over the dark waters, if you will. God is the only rock-solid source of hope.
Wild but true story: In 1815, James Riley was captain of as one of the largest and most advanced and strongest commercial ships in the American fleet. Riley was an experienced sea captain. He’d been at sea since he was fifteen years old. He knew the world’s oceans well. But one night the unthinkable happened. After personally staying up watching till 3 in the morning, he felt it was safe to rest for a bit, even as he ordered diligence to watch for safety. An hour later he was jarred awake by the sound of the ship beginning to ground. Turns out that in that night’s fog, they had drifted too close to Africa’s north coast. They shipwrecked and barely managed to get a few supplies and the crew to shore without loss of life. Barely.
Almost immediately, the locals rushed the beach and began stealing what few items the men had, threatened the captain with knives all around him, and ultimately speared a crewman to death. Riley and his men fled in a damaged lifeboat, bailing constantly in heavy waves as they struggled to get back to the grounded and broken ship.
Riley realized their only option was, in that leaking lifeboat, to head out back to sea. The problem was there were huge sea breakers about twenty feet high all along the cape. Riley knew there was no way they were going to be able to make it through those breakers. But that was their only possible choice at a chance to live.
Riley and his crew members got in the boat, and they started rowing toward the breakers. Riley was not a religious man. But as they got closer and closer to those breakers, he told the men in the boat to take off their hats. And then Riley offered up this prayer:
Great Creator and Preserver of the universe, who now sees our distress, we pray Thee to spare our lives and permit us to pass through this overwhelming surf to the open sea. But if we are doomed to perish, Thy will be done. We commit our souls to the mercy of Thee, our God, who gave them.
And then Riley recorded that as he finished his prayer, as if by divine command, the winds stopped and a twenty-yard gap emerged in the breakers where they were able to row right through as the sea continued to roar on either side of them about twenty feet high. They soon looked back and the gap was closed.
Sometime later Riley wrote a book about his adventures at sea, and he included this story. His publisher pleaded with him not to include this story because it sounds made up. And Captain Riley basically agreed with his publisher. He knew the story didn’t make sense. But he insisted on including it. Here’s what he wrote:
I cannot suppress or deny what so clearly appeared to me and to my companions as the immediate and merciful act of the Almighty, listening to our prayers and granting our petition at the awful moment when dismay, despair, and death were pressing close upon us. My heart still glows with holy gratitude for his mercy, and I will never be ashamed nor afraid to acknowledge and make known to the world the infinite goodness of my divine Creator and preserver.
James Riley experienced what Genesis chapter one reveals—that God alone brings order out of chaos. God alone is the rock-solid source of hope. The same God who brought order to the brooding waters before creation, brought order to the sea that so threatened those men.
Let’s head back to the Scriptures. Soon after God brings order to chaotic waters in Genesis chapter one, we see chaotic waters in Noah’s day. Noah and his family are saved just as surely as Riley and his men were saved through chaotic waters.
Jump to the second book of the Bible, Exodus, and what do we see? An evil king who decrees that all the Hebrew babies be thrown into the waters of the Nile and killed. But one of them is preserved—Moses in a little basket is preserved through the waters. It’s like Noah but on a micro scale. God protects one little child through the waters.
Then Moses then grows up and rescues God’s people from Egypt. How does that happen? Through a chaotic sea, through chaotic waters. The sea—that thing that terrifies Israelites—separates. And through it they go. When their pursuers rush into the sea to attack them, chaos returns and evil is destroyed by the sea.
Fast-forward with me to the most-quoted, most-treasured of all the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah. The Holy Spirit speaking through Isaiah brings us back to the theme of God being with His people through the stormy times, in the midst of the sea. Here’s a great verse for a chaotic time, Isaiah 43:1-2:
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.” Isaiah 43:1-2
So follow along with me: reading the Bible progressively, from Genesis on, the story dawns on us kind of like the old Polaroid photos that people had to hold and watch as slowly, progressively, the picture came into view. Well, what picture do we begin to see from the dark waters as Genesis opens, to Noah being saved through the chaotic waters of his time, to Moses and all of God’s people being brought through deadly waters in Egypt, to the Lord’s promise here from Isaiah
Here’s what I think we begin to see: sometimes we cry out to God and he immediately delivers us from chaos. And just as clearly, sometimes when he doesn’t answer immediately, rock-solid hope comes from remembering not only that God can bring order where things are chaotic, but also that He is with us as pass through the sea, while the storm rages. “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.”
Now take the leap with me from Old to New Testament. Mark chapter 4, we see Jesus and his followers at the end of a long and people-packed day, get into a boat to sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is wiped out, so he lays his head on a cushion and it out like a light. With no notice—and this still happens today because of the topography of the region—a furious squall kicks up. Waves are crashing into the boat. It’s filling up with water and at danger of being swamped. With an average depth of 84 feet in a storm in the black of night, you do not want to end up in the water. So they’re justifiably terrified. Mark writes…
The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:38-41
They’re like, “We know Jesus! But we don’t know Jesus! What is this? Who is this?!”
They don’t see it yet. They will, but not yet, come to understand and anchor themselves to the rock-solid reality that the One in the boat with them is the same One who brought order out of chaos in the beginning. He is the same One who saved Noah through the flood. He is the same One who spared Moses from the Nile. He is the same One who brought the Israelites through the Red Sea. He is the same One who promises to be with those who are His as we pass through the waters.
That’s who this is. Rock-solid hope has a name—Jesus! He is with us when we pass through the waters. So fear doesn’t get to have the final word.When James Riley and his crew made it through those breakers out into the open sea, they only had a few days worth of supplies. When they ran out of food, they ran out of hope. They eventually they had to pick a spot to row to shore. As soon as they did, one of the men was almost instantly murdered. The others were stripped naked, tied with ropes, driven into the desert, and eventually sold as slaves—white slaves.
Their experience was horrific and brutal. Riley’s weight vanished from about 240 pounds down to a skeletal 90. A year in, Riley thought, I’m never going to get home. I’ll never see my wife and children in Connecticut again. He knew he was going to die. But seemingly by chance, another man rebuked Riley for forgetting that God who had delivered him in the past was still with him even in their present hardships. That challenge re-anchored Riley to rock-solid hope in God, and he pressed on.
There’s one more place we want to look today for rock-solid hope, and that is the final book of the Bible, almost the last chapter in the whole Bible. Picture what Revelation chapter 21 opens with, here’s verse one:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.” Revelation 21:1
No. More. Sea.
Did you ever notice that? Why would you?
The old heaven and the old earth will one day be gone, and the sea will also be gone.
What does that mean? Put it alongside all the other ways Hebrews feared the sea and waters, and it starts to come into view: in the new creation when Jesus returns, there will be no more chaos. No more death. No more disease. No more racism. No more sin. Evil will be eradicated better than a virus can be eradicated with a vaccine.
In other words, everything that’s wrong in the world will one day be set right. To 1st-century followers of Jesus who were suffering persecution for their rock-solid faith in Jesus, they needed to hear that. To 21st-century people who find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, we need to hear this, the rock-solid hope that the day is coming when everything will be made right. You won’t be under threat anymore by anything chaotic. The sea—chaos—will be no more.
This is what the Bible actually reveals about the future of all who cling to Jesus.
In 1816 James Riley was redeemed from slavery. For $920 and two shotguns, a British man bought white slave James Riley’s freedom. Riley reunited with his wife and children, and wrote the book Sufferings in Africa, which you can find online for free. I scanned through it recently, it’s amazing.
For all the chaos that he went through, God was not only with Riley through it. God not only brought Riley out of slavery. God also brought something good from it.
James Riley dedicated the rest of his life to fighting for the liberation of slaves in America. Remember, this was 1815, just 39 years since America had become a nation. Our economy was booming on the backs of black slaves kidnapped to America. Riley had experienced what it was like to be a white slave in Africa.
Because of that experience he came back and realized he needed to help free African slaves in America. Riley wrote, “Adversity has taught me some noble lessons. I have now learned to look with compassion on my enslaved and oppressed fellow creatures, and I will exert all my remaining faculties and endeavors to redeem the enslaved and to break to pieces the rod of oppression.”
And that’s what he did. He worked the remaining years of his life to fight for the freedom of the American slaves. His book became a nationwide bestseller and began to open eyes. For the first time white Americans were given a glimpse of slavery through the eyes of one of their own, and it transformed many of the attitudes and opinions Americans had about slavery.
In fact, a young lawyer in Illinois picked up a copy of Riley’s book. That young lawyer’s name was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln said that James Riley’s book more than any other except the Bible, shaped and influenced his political ideology. And thus Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation amidst the Civil War came as the direct result of God carrying James Riley through the horrible experience of slavery. God brought rock-solid good…out of evil. Order out of chaos.
This is who the Lord is.
This is why we worship him.
This is why we trust him.
And this is why we invite others to trust the Lord Jesus, in whom anyone can find rock-solid hope. Why don’t we take a moment to voice our hope in the Lord? Let’s pray.
Lord God, thank you that you understand the tumult that we go through. You’ve seen so many generations face chaos in all its forms.
We thank and praise you that you are the rock-solid source of hope amidst the waves. You brought Noah and his family through. You brought Moses and the Israelites through. You promised to be with us when we pass through the waters. You demonstrated your authority over the wind and waves in that boat on Galilee, rebuking not just nature but the little faith of these men.We read with longing as the future day is described when all things will be made new, and the sea will be no more. Chaos will have had its day.
Until then, we commit ourselves to your able care. Bless us this week, and make us a blessing to someone else. Keep us anchored to the rock. Thank you, Lord Jesus, that in you, hope has a name! Amen!