"Lord, save me!" I have prayed this week the same words that Peter prayed after he got out of the boat and was upon the water. "When he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!'" And it seemed like as the events of the week unfolded, especially as I received news of Fred Miller's death, my heart cried out more and more, "Lord, save me!"- to the point that this is my prayer even now as I proclaim God's saving Word to you in all its truth and purity.
Sometimes we are quite aware of what makes us feel threatened. Real and imagined dangers spark the fears that lurk deep inside of us. Those fears include struggling through hard times, being told you are wrong, having your life or health in jeopardy - or even the chance you might lose faith in Jesus, and therefore lose your salvation through your disobedience to God's commandments. You have your list of thoughts that have kept you awake at night and I have mine.
I would be a bit worried - to say the least - if I was out on the Sea of Galilee with those disciples that night. Normally the trip should take them three hours. But for over eight hours they had rowed against the wind and the waves - and they had not even gone 4 miles, the distance from here to [Ruma church/ the Kaskaskia]. They are only in the middle. All of the 12 were likely tired, some of them probably were bothered, and a few might have been a little anxious. But many of the disciples were experienced fishermen, and this was not even the worst storm that they had seen. They do not seem to be afraid of the weather - but sometime after 3 am, they become terrified. Jesus comes walking on the lake, and they are convinced, "It's a ghost." These big strong men shriek like frightened little girls. Rather than rejoice that Jesus is coming, they fail to recognize the Lord's hand to rescue them and wish He would go away. Like so many of us, they mistake God's method of help to be something that will hurt and destroy them.
But Jesus immediately saves them from their runaway imaginations. "Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid." Their faith in the Lord is restored to them as they hear the Word of Christ. And for a time, at Christ's invitation, Simon Peter walks by faith, not by sight, upon the water. But when he sees the wind, pious Peter becomes sinking Simon in danger of drowning by his doubt. But immediately the holy arm of the Lord works salvation for him again. And so it goes that we know about many dangers to our lives, real and imagined, and we also know how God has rescued us from them.
However, God also protects us from dangers that we are unaware of. Psalm 19:12 teaches us to ask God to "forgive my hidden faults" because we can never detect all our sins. In our text today, the disciples are in danger of losing that forgiveness - though they do not realize it. The most serious threat against their survival was not the wind or the waves. Why were they out there in the boat in the first place? Because Jesus compelled them to go out there. Immediately after feeding the 5000, Jesus forced them to go on ahead of Him in the boat while He prayed in the mountain - even as He is today at the right hand of God making intercessions for your survival.
Why? St. Mark and St. John give us those answers. St. Mark says, "they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened" (6:52). They did not get it yet. Even though 5000 had been fed by His divine power, they do not yet understand that Jesus is the Old Testament God in the flesh until He walks to them on the rough water.
St. John tells us about another danger - that those in the crowd of 5000 wanted to use force to make Jesus their earthly king. Were the disciples in danger from this false belief? Without the strengthening of their faith, would they turn back and no longer follow Jesus? Most certainly. So the Lord makes them go out into the storm. He did not want them to suffer in grief or terror, but better that than that they stray off the Lord's path, and lose their souls. Better for us to be exhausted from the waves and winds than that we forget our dependence upon the eternal Son of God who is Jesus Christ, and find no rest in Hell.
You may not have been aware of it, but that very real threat against your faith exists today. Pastor Koen and I were talking this week about some commentaries on the book of Matthew written by unbelievers - although they claim to be Christian. These say that Jesus really did not walk on the water. (Yes, you heard me right.) And there are those wolves in sheep's clothing with the title "Pastor" who have believed those lies and fed this garbage to God's people. They say that no person could ever do something miraculous like walk on water, so Jesus could not have either. Some explain it by saying that the disciples were tired and they hallucinated the whole thing. Others say that Jesus found a sandbar to walk on, or that Jesus was still on the shore but the disciples were so confused by the darkness and the wind and waves that they thought he was walking on the water. Others teach that "walking ON the lake" should really be translated "walking IN the lake." And finally others insist that the early Christians simply made this whole story up to get people to believe that Jesus was powerful.
Judging by the expressions on your faces, this is the first time that many of you have heard those false teachings. And that is a very good thing! That is a sign that the Lord is preserving and shielding your faith from those attacks. He has provided you with faithful pastors who take the Scriptures seriously, as the divinely inspired Word of God which contains no errors.
Those who would explain this text so that it is not miraculous are trying to do one thing - plant doubt in your heart. Their desire is to cut you off from believing that Christ is the only begotten Son of God.
However, that true belief is Matthew's main point in telling us what happened on that dark and stormy night. Matthew wants us to know how the lightbulb finally went off in the minds of the 12 disciples. Up to this point in Matthew's Gospel, God the Father, angels, demons and the Devil have all recognized Jesus to be the Son of God. Now, 14 chapters into this book, 2 years into Jesus' ministry, the disciples remember Old Testament passages about the LORD God and for the first time realize that Jesus is doing what only God can do. Job 9:8 says God alone "tramples down the waves of the sea." Psalm 77:19 says, "Your way was through the sea; Your path through the great waters, though your footprints were not seen." Isaiah 43:16 has a similar message.
This saving event joined to the Word of God made them know for the first time that this man Jesus deserved their worship as the Son of God. And more than that, Matthew wants us to know and trust it and fall down at the feet of Christ in praise.
It is by God's grace alone that you do this, despite all the doubts the keep appearing inside you. Even if you have never questioned Jesus' identity as true God and true man, you still have your doubts about what He is doing. Doubts that make you scared that something terrible is about to happen. Doubts that keep you from trusting the Lord with your whole heart when He says, "Do not be afraid." Doubts that keep you from singing the Lord's praises and rejoicing in His salvation. Doubts that get planted by the satanic question, "Did God really say this or that was a sin that would destroy your faith and your life?"
In contrast to our doubts, weaknesses, and guilt, the peace of Christ and His power and His perfect obedience shine like a beacon blazing in the dark night. The Lord knows the true dangers our doubts pose to us, so He confronts them. When Jesus says to Peter, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" only the most sin-hardened person would not hear that rebuke applied to their own heart. It makes us realize our true condition. Our faith in Christ is little.
The disciples do not go off to the corner of the boat and pout over their scolding. Instead, their faith is strengthened and in the end they are brought closer to God in the flesh. They consider Christ's rebuke to be a kindness to them (Psalm 141:5). Even though their faith is little, still the saving faith in the Savior is there. They know where to look for their help. Even little faith is able to pray what Peter said, "Lord, save me!"
By the grace of God, you know that the same hand that caught Peter and lifted him up - that same hand on the night when Jesus was betrayed would hold the bread, and give it to His disciples saying, "Take, eat; this is My body which is given for you." That same hand would take the cup and give it to them saying, "This is My blood shed for you for the remission of sins." And soon after that same hand that rescued Peter would be nailed to the Cross for your sake.
Apart from the faith of Christ, as you look at the Crucifix, either here or in your mind's eye, there is nothing good for you to see. It is a just plain terrible death. But when that Son of Mary hanging upon the tree is included in God's command to Him and combined with God's Word, you are able to say, "Truly this is the Son of God. He trusted in God, and God delivered Him from the grave on the Third Day. Therefore I shall also live with Him after I die." He works out the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this. And these benefits are given to you, dear baptized ones, for you have been in the water with Christ Jesus.
This receiving is the highest worship of God. "It is by faith that God wants to be worshiped, namely, that we receive from Him what He promises and offers" (Apology, IV:49). The great response of thanksgiving is to add your own "I believe" to the faith once delivered to the Saints, so that, along with the angels and archangels and along with those like Fred who already rest from their labors in heaven, we join with the Apostles in the boat who "worshiped Him, saying, 'Truly You are the Son of God.'" For "the Lord will rescue [you] from every evil attack [those dangers you know about and those dangers you are unaware of. He] will bring [you] safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (2 Tim 4:18).
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