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Sermon for Pentecost 8

Note: I have been asked to contribute sermons to the archive at  Göttinger Predigten, a sermon depository originally conceived by Professor Ulrich Nembach who teaches homiletics at the University of Göttingen, Germany.  I was asked by the editors to become a member of the community of authors for an additional year.  An earlier version of this sermon exists in that forum.

Matthew 14:22-33

Click here for mp3 audio 47 Sermon for Pent 8

 

Matthew 14:22-33 [ESV, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

Grace and  peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading for today, Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on the water.  Last week, of course, Jesus fed the five thousand and this miracle follows fast on the heels of that one.  We learned last week that Jesus who heals and feeds multitudes in the Galilean wilderness is the God of Israel who fed and cared for Israel in wilderness of Sinai.  This week there is a further revealing of Jesus’ identity in power and yet he also shows his compassion in his desire to rescue the doubting and the foolish.  Jesus is truly the Son of God.

I want to spend just a minute connecting our reading this morning with last Sunday’s reading.  The very first word here, “Immediately,” helps us do that.  Jesus heard that his cousin John the Baptist had been executed by Herod, perhaps he had even heard the whole story about Salome dancing and Herod promising her anything and Herod’s wife coaching her to ask for the head of John on a platter.  Jesus is deeply moved by the death of his cousin.  He had attempted to get away for a bit and pray but the crowds had followed him.  And when he saw them, he had compassion on them and healed them.  After Jesus fed the multitudes, he “made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.”

There are really two things I want to note here.  The first is this: I definitely see this tendency among Christians today for a sort of “Don’t worry, be happy,” kind of attitude.  And that’s not always bad but it can be bad when it’s imposed on others who are hurting.  Look at how Jesus reacted to the news of his cousin’s execution.  It was not a speech about the greatness of God and how the Father will work all things to his glory.  No, Jesus withdrew to be by himself and pray.  Jesus was grieving.  I think we can learn something from this example of our Lord.  Being hurt is terrible.  Watching others, others we love hurting, can be harder.  When people we love have lost a job or a relationship, or lost a loved one, it’s okay to be encouraging.  What is not okay is be so encouraging as to dismiss their pain and their grief.  Our favorite psalm is Psalm 23.  “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death, Thou art with me.”  God doesn’t pull us up out of the valley.  He doesn’t tell us the equivalent of “Don’t worry be happy.”  He remains with us; he walks with us.  To be with and remain with a friend or a family member in their grief is doing God’s work.  Being empathetic is hard and it can expose our greatest fears and take us far outside our comfort zone.  But as I said it’s a godly thing to be there for that person.  Grief simply takes time.  Grief is a process not a program.  The task of the Christian is to be faithful not necessarily “happy” all the time.

The second note I want to make is far more subtle.  Dr. Jeff Gibbs in his Matthew commentary is the one who brought this to my attention and I thought it so profound I should bring it to yours but I also thought so subtle it could be easily overlooked.  After supper, where is Jesus and where are the disciples?  The disciples are far off shore, even though they’re rowing into the wind and Jesus is far away from them and separated from them by a few miles of water.  At the beginning of this story, Jesus is far away and the disciples are laboring under their own power.  By the end of the story, God has come near and they worship him.  God comes near.

“When evening came, [Jesus] was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.”  What is the disciples’ reaction to seeing this figure walking toward them on the lake?  Amazing!  ‘Tis good Lord that you are here.  Nothing can stop us now!  No, none of that.  Look at the text, verse 26.  “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.”   Professor Gibbs points out their three-part reaction.  It was pure terror, they had a sort of anti-confession, “It’s a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.  Whatever’s going on this is bad news.  But then look at Jesus 3-part response to the disciples.  “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  Jesus immediately matches their reaction perfectly.  Because they are terrified, Jesus calms them down with, “Take heart.”  Because of their anti-confession, “It is a ghost,” he says, “it is I.”  Because of their fear, he says, “Stop being afraid.”  Jesus matched their need perfectly and immediately, and he has come near to them to do it.  This is nothing other than Good News.

I want to spend a couple minutes on the miracle itself.  And maybe we should have done this last week too.  We just don’t have time to do everything in one sermon.  But I know that there are some people who even identify themselves as Christians who have a hard time with the miracles and whether they really happened just as the Evangelists record them.  If you find yourself struggling with whether Jesus really performed these miracles, I think your problem is less to do with the miracles and more to do with Jesus.  That is I think your problem is whether you accept that Jesus is who he is claiming to be.  Last week Jesus fed multitudes in the wilderness just as Yahweh fed the Israelites in the wilderness.  This week Jesus walks on water just as Job (9:8) and the prophet Habakkuk (3:15) tell us that Yahweh trampled the sea and just as God led the Israelites through the Red Sea on dry land.  All the powers of the God of the Old Testament have become incarnate in God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.  Granted, if you think Jesus is just a nice wandering preacher who ran afoul of the Jewish and Roman rulers of his day and was executed for his efforts, then it makes perfect sense that you have problems with the miracle accounts.  Of course, you’re also not a Christian because to be a Christian is to believe in the one whom God the Father sent, his Son, Jesus.  The Gospel writers and Matthew in particular take great pains to show us precisely who Jesus is but telling us who Jesus says he is.  Not only has God now come near to be with his people as he did at the time of the Exodus, even Jesus’s own words harken us back to it.  “It is I,” sounds quite a bit like Yahweh’s words to Moses from the burning bush, “I am who I am.”  Jesus’ ability to walk on the water is truly divine.  The natural conclusion is, Jesus is the Son of God.  And that should be all that we need.

This should be all that we need but often it isn’t.  See how Peter reacts?  Not in faith, but in doubt and with a test for God.  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.”  What will it take for Peter to believe in Jesus?  Apparently it will take walking on the water out to meet him.  Peter’s failure was a double failure.  He doubted not once but twice, first in the boat and then while out on the water.  He doubted whether it was really Jesus and then doubted whether Jesus could do what he said he would do for him.  Was there ever a man less deserving of rescue than Peter?  Peter should have taken Jesus at his word the first time and he should have believed Jesus the second time as well.  But Peter is not the example for us, rather our focus should be on Jesus.

What there ever a Master more patient and gracious than Jesus?  Immediately he comes to meet the needs of his disciples.  Immediately he reaches out and rescues Peter.  Jesus even reaches out in power to all who call upon him in their need—even those who have created the fatal situation of their need!  Jesus is not only the awesome Son of God Most High.  Jesus is not only all powerful and Master of the created universe.  Jesus divine purpose is to come near to those who were far off and rescue those who call out to him in their need.  The disciples are not our heroes, Peter certainly isn’t.  Jesus is.

True faith in God is seeing who he is, seeing that he has come near, and seeing how he has rescued you, seeing no reason to ever have doubted that Jesus would act on your behalf.  If the disciples are to be an example of anything for us this morning it is only after Jesus and Peter have climbed into the boat with them.  “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  True faith in Jesus is worshipping him for all that he has done.

The purpose of faith in Jesus is not learning to be happy in all circumstances.  It is rather learning to cry out to Jesus in our need.  It is not learning to fend for ourselves or to step out in faith but rather learning to see that Jesus has come near to us.  The purpose of a life in Christ is to look to Jesus in the midst of our problems and doubts and know that he has come near and provides for our needs.  What Jesus says to the disciples this morning, he says to you, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  He is reaching out to rescue you and steady you.  Amen.

Lord, Jesus my Rescuer, when the storms of life threaten to drown me, assure me of Your loving presence and protecting care.  Amen.

 

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