The events in today's Gospel take place right after Jesus fed the 5,000 men plus additional women and children. Jesus used a few dinner rolls and sardines from a boy's lunch basket to feed all those people. You would think that after this sign, the people would begin to understand who this man was. But they didn't. Not yet.
The Apostle John tells us: [John 6:14-15] When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!" Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. Instead of seeing the Messiah who came to take away the sins of the world, they saw a potential king who could give them a free lunch. They saw an earthly king of power instead of a heavenly savior from sin.
Jesus had to act quickly in order to defuse this situation. The text tells us: Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat. The words immediately and made mean that Jesus really hustled the disciples in to the boat. Then He acted quickly to dismiss the crowds. He not only dismissed the crowds, but He also left the scene so that no one could find Him. He went up into the mountain to pray.
What a contrast we see then at the end of today's Gospel. Those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." There is no doubt that as the calm descended on the boat, everyone in the boat understood that Jesus is God and worshipped Him as such. The Holy Spirit used the events of the night especially the words and works of Jesus to change their understanding.
When Jesus hustled the disciples into the boat, He sent them on a voyage that should have lasted only a few hours. Instead, while Jesus prayed on the mountain, the disciples struggled for their lives on the Sea of Galilee. It seemed as if the wind and the sea had come to life and were determined to torment them. If they tried for the shore, they would probably break apart on the rocks and die. As far as they were concerned, their only hope was to battle the wind and the waves and hope they survived until the storm blew over.
The only problem is that the storm lasted all night. The reading tells us that Jesus came to the disciples during the fourth watch - the watch that ended at dawn. The disciples must have been exhausted and operating on pure adrenalin.
Perhaps the eastern sky was just beginning to turn gray with the promise of the dawn when the disciples looked out over the waves and saw a figure out for a stroll on the water. In their exhausted state, they thought Jesus was a ghost who came to escort them to a watery grave. Is it any wonder that they shrieked in the purest terror?
The disciples remind me so much of our natural state as we are born into this world. Most people believe in some sort of god, but the general concept of god goes something like this: "If I do the best that I can to obey god's will, he will make up the difference and get me into heaven. As long as I do my best, god will do the rest. If I do my best, god will bless me. If I am not receiving any blessings, then I must not be doing my best and I need to try harder."
Things seem to roll along pretty well with this home-brewed concept of god until we encounter a crisis that causes us to rethink our lives. For the disciples, it was a life threatening storm, but the crisis can take many other forms. Maybe it is the doctor saying, "I don't like the look of that spot. I'd like to take a biopsy and send it into the lab." Maybe it's a late night voice on the phone that says, "Daddy, I'm in jail." Whatever it is, we begin to think back over our lives and realize that we have not lived a God pleasing life.
As the crisis causes us to review our lives we realize that we have loved our own pleasure more than we love God. We have placed our agenda above God's agenda. The honesty and clarity of a crisis forces us to look back over our lives and realize that we deserve to drown in the sea of our own sin and then suffer forever in the fires of hell. If God judges us under our own natural understanding, then he can only find us guilty and sentence us to our eternal doom.
But the true God is not the god we expect. He comes to us with the Gospel. How comforting it must have been to the disciples to hear those words come across the water, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." It was not death, but life that walked toward them on the water. It was their beloved master - their salvation.
Our Gospel emphasizes the fact that Jesus came to them. The words walking on the sea are merely added as a descriptive note that informs us how Jesus came. The important thing in this narrative is not that Jesus walked on the water, but that He came to rescue His disciples.
Jesus did a lot more than walk on water to save His people. The ultimate expression of His desire to save us comes in the cross. For it is on the cross that Jesus became the greatest sinner of all time - not with His own sin, but with your sin, my sin, and the sin of the entire world. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write: [2 Corinthians 5:21] "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Jesus carried that sin to the cross and sacrificed Himself in order to remove that sin from the world. When Jesus died, that sin died with Him. When Jesus rose, He left that sin in the grave where it can have no power over us.
Now Jesus comes to each and every one of us and brings salvation to us. He does not come on the water of the sea, but in the water of Baptism. When God's water is joined with God's Word according to God's command, the Old natural man who enslaved us to sin is drowned. He dies with all sins and evil desires. In His place a new holy man arises who lives before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Of course, no life has only one crisis. We see that in today's Gospel as Peter tried to walk on the water. The Bible doesn't really tell us why Peter asked to walk on the water. After all, He's Peter and Peter doesn't always have a reason for what he does. Never the less, there is Peter asking, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." It must have been God's will because [Jesus] said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. As Peter began to realize what he was doing, he got distracted by the wind and began to sink. In an instant, Peter had gone from an example of God's power at work in him to an example of human doubt and failure.
All Christians go through this struggle in some way. Paul described this struggle very well in these words: [Romans 7:18-19] I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
Every day we face the terror of our own sin. We face its desire to take back control of our lives. Fortunately baptism is not a one-time thing. We live continually in our baptism as we daily join Peter and cry out to God in prayer, "Lord, save me!" As Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism:
Baptizing with water indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
In today's Gospel, Jesus responded to Peter's prayer immediately. He put out His hand and with a touch brought Peter back to the surface and the two of them got into the boat. Peter was safe with his Lord once again.
Jesus also promised to be with us until the end of the age. When we sin He rescues us. His almighty power is always with us to keep us safe with Him forever. He left His throne on high and died on the cross to save us. He is not going to let us get away from Him again. Amen
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