The Boat We Call Church
Today’s Gospel lesson tells us that Jesus went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Biblical scholars tell us that Jesus often prayed during times of severe temptation. Remember that Jesus in His state of humiliation or during His earthly ministry didn’t use His divine power to help Himself. That means contrary to popular opinion it wasn’t any easier for Jesus to resist temptation because He is God then it is for those who are in Christ.
As we read in Hebrews 4:15 We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. So, Scriptures teach that every temptation Jesus endured caused Him the same anguish … the same tension … the same struggle that temptation produces in us. One difference of course is that Jesus resisted all those temptations and we don’t.
So, what’s the temptation that Jesus was dealing with in today’s Gospel reading? Today’s reading follows last week’s reading of the Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus had just finished converting a couple of fish and five loaves into a banquet for 5,000 men and their families. This feeding was so significant that all four Gospels record it for us. It’s St. John who records the crowds’ reaction to the free food. [6:15] 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. There satan again tempts Jesus to avoid the cross for an earthly kingdom.
When we understand this temptation, we understand the reason that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side. Jesus has taught us to pray, Lead us not into temptation, in today’s reading Jesus is answering that prayer for the disciples. He was delivering them from temptation by commanding them to get into the boat and head for the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus then sent the crowds away and went into the nearby mountains to spent the night alone in prayer. By the time Jesus finished Matthew tells us that Jesus had spent the entire night praying. When Jesus got up and looked out across the Sea of Galilee, He could see that the disciples were still out on the water because they also had been up all night fighting head winds and were still a long way from the land ….
So, they’d been up for about twenty-four hours and were in the process of making their second trip across the Sea of Galilee, this time during a storm. I don’t know about you, but my mind starts to get a little foggy after being awake well before twenty-four hours. And then, just to top off the day, they find themselves in the middle of the lake fighting the wind and waves. They had to have been totally exhausted.
Now, while Jesus never used His divine power to help Himself, He did on occasion use it to help others, and at that moment His disciples needed His help. So, Jesus walked down from the mountain across the beach, and just kept walking right out on the water until He reached His disciples who were in a boat in a storm in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.
And what was the first reaction of the disciples when they saw that help was on the way? Were they relieved? Did they rejoice when they saw Jesus? Well … not so much! When the disciples saw Jesus they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. They were terrified. Why! Truth is because they didn’t know it was Jesus.
It seems to me that before we know who He is, everyone responds to Jesus that way. St. Paul writes to the church in Rome. Romans 8:7 The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. The prophet Isaiah described his encounter with the Lord this way. Isaiah 6:5 “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” You see because we are conceived in sin and so sinners by nature and so the presence of our Holy God is a terrifying thing.
But then Jesus identifies Himself. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” That is because they were terrified, Jesus encouraged them to, “Take heart.” Because they didn’t know who He was, Jesus said, “It is I.” Because they were afraid, He speaks to their fear saying, “Do not be afraid.”
You see for those who don’t know Him seeing Jesus coming to you was and will be a terrifying thing. So Jesus went to them, right where they were, and with His reassuring Words He gives them all they need.
That should have been enough but obviously for Peter it wasn’t and replies: Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” It would seem that Peter wanted more proof than the simple Word of God. Peter wanted a personal sign.
Now it’s not uncommon in Scriptures that when God’s people ask for something we’ll say “odd” God gives it to them to give them as a reality check if you will. Jesus said, “Come.” And Peter got out of the boat and walked to Jesus on the water. But instead of just standing next to Jesus, Peter began to look around. The wind and waves, the danger was real and it was very close. Peter begin to sink, his terror returns and he cries out, “Lord, save me.”
Now this was a lesson Peter would never forget and from which we also can learn. As Christians, we talk a lot about faith, but it’s important to remember there is more than one way to understand faith and so our talk about must accurately reflect what Scriptures teach. It is not enough to have a sincere and heart felt faith if it’s in the wrong thing. You can have a faith that fills the world, but if that faith has the wrong object then it is not saving faith.
The world says, “Believe in yourself.” Really! Look at your life in the light of the Ten Commandments. Do you really want to put your faith in you for salvation? Peter had faith in his faith but when tested he didn’t believe that Jesus was able to protect him from the storm. Thankfully for Peter, and for us, Jesus is patient, gracious, and merciful and He took hold of Peter and brought him back to the boat and the wind ceased.
Now while not a parable still we can use todays lesson to remind ourselves for example how Christ’s mercy and grace fills our lives. We can see why since the days of Noah the boat has been a symbol of Christ’s church. We can see His disciples at times not being satisfied with the Words alone that Jesus gives to us in His boat or church.
We know how inside our own hearts, like Peter, we want a personnel experience with Jesus. And so like Peter we often put our faith in our thoughts instead of God’s promises. And yet no matter how often we find ourselves sinking in a situation that we ourselves have created, Jesus is always ready to rescue us and bring us back to the place where He restores us with His gifts that is His church.
To be sure, Jesus did a lot more than walk on water to save His people. The payment itself of course was offered on the cross where Jesus became the greatest sinner of all time by taking the sin of the world upon Himself, and offering the blessings of that cross to us in His Word and Sacraments. As Paul writes: For our sake God made His Son who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
You see when Jesus died, yours sins died with Him. When Jesus rose you and all who are connected to Him by the waters of our baptism rose with Him and are even now freely justified by grace through faith in Him alone. Fear not because you do know Christ and are in Christ and in Him you and all who believe have been saved.
In His Name, Amen.