View Sermon @min. 20:40 (Watch)
Ps. 34; Job 38:3-14; Rom. 10:5-17; Matt. 14:22-33
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth… Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” (Ps. 34)
Today’s Gospel account of Jesus walking on the water is one that I bet you know well. But, you may not know it as well as you think you do. Let’s look at it.
First, the background. It’s late in the day, a busy day of ministering to 1,000’s of people that ends with Jesus miraculously feeding them with only five loaves of bread and two fish. As the disciples fill 12 baskets with the remains of the feast, some of the people begin saying, “Moses told us that one day a prophet like him would come to us. [Deut. 18:15-18] Look: Jesus has made food appear in abundance, just as Moses did with manna. He’s the prophet! Let’s make him our king!” As this idea begins spreading, Jesus makes His 12 disciples get into a boat and sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They’ll be too easily influenced by the crowd, and He doesn’t want that. After all, He hadn’t come to rule Israel but to serve everyone. His disciples don’t understand this yet. In fact, He hasn’t yet told them that he will be crucified. So, Jesus sends them away. He spares them the temptation of power and glory.
But, He sends them into another test, one that will make clear what kind of a Savior He came to be. This one happens as they are far out into the sea. It’s not been an easy voyage. The boat was “beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them,” Matthew tells us. But, the disciples are not in danger. They’re doing ok and are making good progress. Suddenly, out of the darkness comes a man, walking toward them on the water. Jesus comes as the powerful Lord who, as it says in Job 38:16, “[enters] the springs of the sea and walks in the recesses of the deep.” “It’s a ghost!” His disciples cry out. They don’t recognize Jesus. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid,” He says to them. Will they believe and not be afraid – even when He holds back His power and allows them to suffer, as He did with Job? Will they learn to not be afraid to serve like their Master and endure suffering? Or, will they think that, since they are His closest disciples, they should have honored and exalted lives? That’s the test they would have faced back on shore.
You see, Jesus wasn’t testing whether they believed that He was God, among them in human form. After all, God had revealed Himself in human form before.
- He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3).
- He appeared to Joshua as a warrior holding a sword (Josh. 5:13-15).
- Isaiah saw God as a man sitting upon a throne (Is. 6).
Israel’s teachers in Jesus’ day also knew this. But, they taught that this great God saved only those Jews who were unwavering in faith and in obedience to His commandments. God responded to and rewarded greatness: that had become Israel’s teaching.
So, here comes Jesus, walking on the water to His disciples, unfazed by the wind and the waves. He was obviously great. Had He chosen them because He saw greatness in them; greatness that He would reward?
Peter cries out: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He has such a strong faith, doesn’t he? So it might seem. But, isn’t he actually doubting Jesus? If it is you? Why doesn’t he just believe? Instead, he foolishly puts Jesus to the test… and the Lord takes him up on his offer: “Come.” And Peter comes. He walks on the water to Jesus… but then, he takes his eyes off of Him… looks at the wind and the waves… says to himself, “What am I doing?”… and begins to sink. His faith is not sufficient! His foolish challenge will be the death of him! “Lord, save me!” he cries in desperation, and Jesus grabs his hand and pulls him up.
Jesus saves those who cry out to Him, even when their faith is very small and weak. It is, simply, faith – looking to Jesus and crying out to Him – to which Jesus responds, even if that faith’s voice is weak and faltering because of fears or superstitions (like the disciples’ belief in ghosts). Peter needed to learn this. So did the other disciples. They argued among themselves several times about which of them was the greatest. They thought their faith and works made them great, and deserving of great blessings. They needed to get their focus off of themselves and onto Jesus alone. They needed to know their weakness and so trust in Him alone, and not their own strength. They needed to learn that faith alone receives His help. Our promises and actions, no matter how bold and grand, do not cause God to favor and help us.
What about you? We focus on many things and are tested in various ways in this life. This is God’s will. He will work to break your trust in other people and things, and even in yourself – especially in yourself – and draw you to Jesus alone. “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed,” Ps. 34, our Introit, says. Notice: it doesn’t say that they will have no troubles. David, the author of the psalm, had many troubles in his life. “They shall never be ashamed,” is the promise. Our trials and temptations will not have their way, will not be the last word. God will use them to turn us away from ourselves and to Christ.
- I think here of my daughter Catie’s good friend from college: Maureen. Like Catie, she had a baby boy a couple of months ago. He was born premature and was in the Neonatal ICU. Last weekend he took a turn for the worse, and he died on Sunday. How Catie cried when she told us! I can only imagine the pain for Maureen and her husband. But, they had had their son baptized in the hospital. This means that death has not won! In baptism their baby was joined to Christ in His death and resurrection. And so, he now lives with Jesus! “The Lord saved him out of all his troubles… he shall never be ashamed.” (Ps. 34)
Trust in the promises of your Lord. Trust in your Savior, who showed His love for you and His faithfulness to you by bearing your sins, enduring their judgment, and dying for you. Trust Him who then rose from the dead and triumphed over every evil! He did so to share His triumph with you. He is your strength and your assurance of victory; and He is yours by simple faith alone. Victory will not come because of your own strength.
Trust your Jesus… but don’t, like Peter, foolishly put Him to the test by your trust. So many things tempt us in this life: wealth… possessions… enjoyment… sexual desire… I am sure you could add to the list. The favor of others, which is in the background of today’s Gospel, is a particularly difficult temptation. Don’t be impressed by powerful people… or, spiritually, by big churches with impressive pastors and lots of people. It is those who look to Jesus – even infants; even those whose faith in Him seems weak and who are sinking under troubles – who are radiant. They may be poor in the eyes of others, and even their own; but the Lord hears and rescues them.
Ps. 34 says: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessèd is the man” – or woman… or infant… or elderly person afflicted with dementia – “who takes refuge in him!” In the name and to the praise of Jesus, our mighty Lord and Savior! Amen.