It Is Jesus
Sermon 1710 Matthew 14.22-33 August 23, 2020
The magic is gone. Oh, it’s not that I’ve lost my touch with my youngest grandson, Gunnar. He still perks up when he hears me singing over the phone. “Put your hands up, hooray! Put your hands up and say! Put your hands up it’s gonna be a great day with Gunnar and Bergen and Mommy and Daddy and Baaaaarrrrleeeeeeeeey (as my voice drops two octaves).” I can’t play peek-a-boo with him anymore. He’s grown out of it. At seven months he knows things don’t just cease to existe when you can’t see them. They call that object permanence. Yes, for this we pay scientists good money.
Now, if a seven month old knows things don’t cease to exist simply because you can’t see them, how is it that we don’t know God doesn’t cease to exist simply because we can’t see him? Take a look at Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on the water to see what I mean.
It Is Jesus
Jesus sends us (22-24).
Jesus comes to us (25-27).
Jesus rescues us (28-33).
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it (22-42).”
Jesus had finished feeding the 5000. Matthew doesn’t tell us things were starting to get ugly. He just tells us Jesus loaded him and the other disciples on the boat and sent them off—pronto. But like everything that day, things started to unravel here, too. The calm which had settled on the lake all day now turned. A wind came up from the west—a strong wind—blowing in their faces. With a single sail, they had no chance. They take the sail down and start rowing, but making little headway, they are stuck in the middle of the lake, straining at the oars to try to have some forward motion so the waves hit them straight on instead of turning the boat and capsizing it. Wet and tired (they sailed across the lake that morning and by now it getting close to dawn), why had they listened to Jesus at all? And where was he? On the mountain by himself, praying.
When we talk about being sent by Jesus, we instantly put a churchy touch to it. We are sent into the Lord’s mission field. We are sent to spread the Word. We are sent to teach God’s people (in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School). Our missionaries are sent to a foreign country or to start a new church somewhere in the United States. Oh, the glory and grandeur of it all! What a great adventure!
But Jesus sends each one of us every day into this world. He sends us into our children’s bedroom to wake them up and get them into something presentable so they don’t look like they were raised by wolves when it is time for the online class to start. Jesus sends us to work, even though we know we are putting our health at risk. Jesus sends us into our marriages where we have to eat crow and say we are sorry for the mean things we said once or twice to our spouse, OK, by once or twice we mean a couple of hundred times. It sure doesn’t seem like Jesus has sent us. It is not grand and glorious. It is a grind, a chore. We feel like we are all alone, forgotten and overlooked.
That is a fertile field for the devil. “Where is your Lord now?” he says to us. “How could God let you go through this day after day after day?” “Does he even exist?” And we sort of play into the devil’s hand by acting as if God didn’t exist in the non-churchy things. It’s not big enough a deal to pray over. We think we made the choices that got us where we are, so it is up to us to live with it. An insightful (if not particularly theologically sound) movie once pictured hell as a place where everybody was resigned to everything falling apart, so they never did anything about it. They were just victimized more and more every passing day. Don’t make your life a hell. Things can change. Things weren’t meant to be this way. Jesus had a good purpose in sending us into this world and that good purpose still stands. It is Jesus. Jesus sends us.
It is Jesus. Jesus comes to us.
“During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid (25-27).’”
God is a great boss. A terrible boss sends you out poorly trained and poorly equipped to do a job. And then, when things go wrong, that bad boss is nowhere to be found. God is a great boss. He trains us. He equips us. But the best thing about God is that he comes to us. I could stop thinking and simply spend the rest of this sermon reading you passages that point to God’s abiding presence with his people. Think of Jesus’ last words in Matthew’s Gospel. “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Or his promise to Joshua, “Never will I leave you, never forsake you.” Or King David’s psalm, “I saw the Lord always before me, therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices.”
Ah, but those are just words. We can’t see it. Fair enough. Evidently object permanence doesn’t apply when it comes to God. (I hope you note the sarcasm in my voice.) God comes to us in ways that we can see, in fact, in ways that we can touch and feel, even taste! He comes to us in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Through the words of Jesus, through the eating, through the drinking, Jesus gives us his true body and blood. In Baptism Jesus comes to us as he pours out his Spirit through the water and the word. That’s the whole point of the sacraments—God comes to us with his gift of forgiveness through earthly elements which we can see, according to his Word.
And if he comes to us through the sacraments, we know he also comes to us from his words and promises not attached to earthly elements. So we confidently sing, “Keep me, keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me, hide me, in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 17.8).” It is a matter of faith, not sight.
The reaction of the disciples shows us why God does not come to us visibly with his unveiled glory. They see Jesus walking to them on the water and they think it is a ghost out to destroy them. It is understandable. They have been up almost twenty four hours. They have worked hard and been on an emotional roller coaster ride. When you think God has left you high and dry that’s where your instincts take you. A ghost! We’re goners!
God hides himself from us to protect us, just as a welder dons that helmet with the smoked glass to protect his eyes from the glare of the torch. Just because we can’t see him doesn’t mean he isn’t there. “It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Don’t be afraid of what today or tomorrow holds. Jesus comes to us. Don’t be afraid of the health scare that surrounds us and embitters so much of our daily lives. Jesus is comes to us.
It is Jesus. Jesus rescues us.
“‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying ‘Truly you are the Son of God (28-33).’”
Peter is a lot like us. He’s still not sold, but he’s willing to be convinced. It would be nice if all this were true, but how can I be certain?
Peter is gutsy. He proposes a test. “Tell me to come to you on the water.” Fair enough. “Come.” All goes well. Peter is walking on water, too! Miracles aren’t just for Jesus. But then Peter thinks how crazy this all is. The wind and the waves are all around him. This can’t be real. He sinks like a stone and cries out, “Lord, save me!”
Now we can see the grace of God. If it were you or I, we would have walked away in disgust. How much more do we have to do to prove to these people this is real? Peter would have drowned. Good thing we aren’t God.
Jesus immediately reaches out. There’s no hesitation, no agonizing wait. He pulls Peter up out of the water and they get into the boat. Now a miracle takes place for all the other disciples, too. The wind immediately dies down. The sea is calm. They are saved. It is Jesus. Jesus rescued them. They know it. They have seen it. They worship him. He is the Son of God.
Experience is a hard teacher. Lot’s of grief. Lot’s of anxiety. Lot’s of sleepless nights. Maybe you are going through that right now, especially with school (in whatever shape it is taking) about to start. Will the children be safe if they are going to school? Will they be safe at home? Will they learn? How will you be able to juggle everything? It was hard enough when life was normal, but now, what are the rules when nothing is normal? The stress is making us snap. At times we are on edge. At other times it feels like we are sinking beneath the load with less and less strength and resiliency to cope with the same problems yet another day.
“Lord, save me!” Peter didn’t think about it. It just came out. Peter didn’t make a big list of pros and cons. His faith leapt into action. He went to the only one who could help, the only one who could rescue him.
You know how the sports pros practice and practice and practice? They do that to develop, what do they call it?—muscle memory! It comes without thinking. Thinking only goofs it up, that golf swing, that baseball swing, that follow-through on the free throw line. Faith develops that spiritual muscle memory in us. Faith drives us to our Lord and Savior time and time again. There is no other help. There is nothing I can do. But there is help. There is someone who can do something about it. “Lord, save me!” And Jesus does. He always does.
If we would look back over our life with an open Bible in our hand, we could see countless times the Lord rescued us. He rescued us from the consequences of bad choices we made. He rescued us from ourselves. He rescued us from those around us who wanted to crush us and rejoice over our fall. He rescued us from illnesses. He brought us through accidents. He brought us through operations. He brought us through days that turned out to be not nearly as happy as we thought they would be. Jesus rescued us.
And he has brought us to this place, to this time. He has done it so we can trust in his saving power even more, so we can see him always at our right hand. He has done this so we will not be led astray or believe, somehow, that we already are living in heaven, so why look for another one? He has brought us to this point so that he can continue to work good to us and through us to others. It is not a game of peek-a-boo he is playing with us. We have outgrown that. It is his plan to strengthen us and cause us to stand upheld by his omnipotent hand.
It Is Jesus
Jesus sends us (22-24).
Jesus comes to us (25-27).
Jesus rescues us (28-33).
Do not be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and the crafty cunning of deceitful scheming. Instead grow up into Christ, the Head of the Church of which we are all his body. Go where he sends us. Receive him who comes to us. Rejoice in his daily and eternal rescues.