Do Not Be Afraid
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." So He said, "Come." And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!" And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, "Truly You are the Son of God."
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Fear is a very real but unfortunate part of life. It is perhaps one of the clearest signs that we live in a sinful and fallen world. We can pursue happiness and well-being. We can try to protect ourselves and prevent all sorts of bad things from happening. But we can never guarantee for ourselves a life free from trouble and fear. Trouble always finds a way.
Into this scared and frightened world, God sent His only Son. He came to take away this fear that is the natural outgrowth of our deeply imbedded sin and our broken relationship with God. Throughout the Bible God tells us that there is only one way out of fear and that is to repent of our sins and to know that God is with us and for us: "And the LORD, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed" (1). "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me" (2). "The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (3). "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (4).
Follow me as we are guided by God’s word to Jesus, who comes to us in the midst of all the terrible and frightening trials of life.
I. Jesus Prays
Immediately following the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus sends the disciples away in a boat while He seeks solitude for prayer. Why? Why does Jesus need to pray? Often this skeptical question is used to show that Jesus isn’t true God. But the question itself is posed from a sinful human point of view. In this case the questioner assumes that Jesus only prays out of need. Perhaps Jesus wants to pray! In fact this is truly the case. And this is one of the reasons Jesus could overcome all the fears and threats of this world. He lived in such close communion to His Father that He constantly remained at peace despite the many temptations and troubles around Him.
II. The Storm
Jesus sent the disciples ahead… ahead into trouble. This is the second storm on the Sea of Galilee that they disciples have faced. In the first storm Jesus was with them asleep in the boat (5). At that time the disciples also feared for their lives. They awoke Jesus, and He calmed the sea. Now they are further challenged in their faith. Jesus is not physically with them. By degrees Jesus is raising the bar.
When I was a young boy my father often drove older cars that needed repairs. Sometimes our vacations were interrupted for these repairs. After one particularly bad experience, I grew to fear car breakdowns. Later in life I tried hard to have more reliable vehicles. But breakdowns and bad experiences are not always avoidable, and they are not always bad for us. Sometimes God allows us to go ahead into trouble. Troubles test our faith. Difficulties give us the opportunity to live by what we believe in our hearts. If there were never any uncertainties in life, if all things were perfectly in our control, we would never know what it is like to trust in God. In Bible school we are taught what faith is. It is trusting in God’s salvation. In life we are called to live that faith.
Elijah was a great prophet for the Lord. He knew the difference between good and evil. He spoke against the evil, idolatrous worship practices that Queen Jezebel was introducing to Israel. She wanted them to tolerate the worship of Baal. Like many people today she had nothing against the true worship of the Lord, but she thought people could worship Baal along with the Lord. When Elijah stood in her way she took aim for his life. Suddenly Elijah wasn’t just talking about faith, he was being called to live by faith- to live in the hope that God’s plan would prevail against all the odds and seemingly unstoppable advances of the prophets of Baal. God showed Elijah with a quiet, gentle breeze that He had not forsaken His promises. Now Jesus shows His disciples the very same thing (6).
III. Jesus Walks on the Water
Early the next morning or in the fourth watch of the night Jesus comes to their rescue. He does so in a most unusual way. He comes to them walking on the water. Now if you have watched television specials about the life of Jesus, or if you have read articles about Him in popular magazines, you were probably told that this was just a story. Some might try to explain that Jesus was walking on a sand bar or on the shore. But this is not just a story. We just finished working through the parables of the kingdom in Matthew chapter thirteen. There we heard over and over Jesus saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like…" When Jesus wants to tell a story, He is quite capable of doing so. But here we have a real sea, a real boat, real disciples, and yes… the real Jesus walking on the water. Those who claim that this is just a story are often experts in ancient languages and documents. But expert as they may be they lack one thing: faith. They bring with them the presupposition that God does not perform miracles in this world. They assume that since they haven’t personally experienced a miracle, then miracles can’t occur.
The fact that this is real and not an apparition is backed up by the response of the disciples. They suppose in their fear that they are seeing a ghost. The word Matthew uses in Greek is phantasma, from which we derive the English word phantom. This miracle only added to their fright and frustration. Peter sets out to test the situation. "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." Again Jesus allows His disciple to be tested. He could have said, "No, Peter, that is not necessary." But instead Jesus uses the situation to teach and to demonstrate His power and glory. As Peter begins to walk on the water he looks to the Lord. But when his attention is drawn away by the wind and the waves he sinks. "Lord, save me," is his cry! This is the ultimate cry of faith. This is the essence of faith. Jesus used this situation to show us that there is nothing in us that can deliver us from the destruction of this sin-filled world. Immediately Jesus reaches out to save His disciple.
Too often it appears to us that wickedness, injustice, dishonesty, hatred and deception seem to run away with things and control all the important posts of life. We Christians often feel as though we were fighting a losing battle with sin and error and unbelief. Even we like Peter are tempted to cry out, "Lord, if it is You, do something about this mess…" How does Jesus reach out to us? How does He show us that He remains our Savior? The saving hand of Jesus is extended to us through His living word. In that word He shows us again and again that He is the Son of God. He shows us that He has come to calm the sea driven by the fury of evil.
Today that word still says to us "Be of good cheer! It is I; Do not be afraid." These are basically the same words that Jesus spoke at His resurrection. There the ultimate storm of sin that would readily sink us and separate us from God was calmed by His sacrifice on the cross. Looking ahead John, in his Revelation, saw the calm that Christ has won for us. In his visions he saw a glassy sea. There was not a ripple of strife or discord—only the calm and peace of righteousness.
Today we will go home. Yes, we will continue to make sure there are good batteries in our smoke detectors. We will continue to check our brakes and perform all the other duties required for good safety. But I hope that you see wherein lies our most important security. It is in Jesus, who comes to us through His word and sacrament. No matter what trouble finds its way into our life, we can be sure that with Christ we will prevail. Amen.
(1) Deuteronomy 31.8 (2) Psalm 23.4 (3) Psalm 118.6 (4) Hebrews 2.14-15 (5) Mark 4.38 (6) 1 Kings 19.9-18
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
August 11, 2002
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2002
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