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Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 805:1,2,3 “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”
- Hymn CW 621:1-3 “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven”
- Hymn CW 847:1,2,4 “Be Still, My Soul”
- Hymn CW 832 “Immovable Our Hope Remains”
- Hymn CW 931:2,4 “Savior Again, to Thy Dear Name We Raise”
Pentecost 11 (8/13/23)
Matthew 14:22-33 (Pastor Ryan Wolfe)
This summer we’ve been looking at the Christian life and realizing the qualities that are core to who we are as believers. I don’t expect anyone to remember too many of the qualities, but some of them have been: loving God above all things, finding rest in Jesus, living as wheat among weeds, trusting God to provide. The underlying theme to all of it is that a Christian has hope. Certain hope for this life and certain hope for eternity. It defines us and sets us apart from everyone else.
We have that hope because the one we put our hope in has promised to save us. In fact, the name Jesus literally means, “He saves.” In the account from Matthew we have in front of us we see that plainly. In three specific ways, each marked with the word “immediately” in this text, we see this greatest Christian quality. Jesus saves us from temptation. He saves us from doubt and fear. He saves us with powerful action.
Jesus saves us from temptation
This first “immediately” connects us to the history we heard last week. Jesus had spent the day in a remote place with a crowd of thousands teaching and healing them. Then, when the hour grew late and the people grew hungry, Jesus miraculously fed the crowd with just five loaves of bread and two fish. We call it “the Feeding of the 5000”.
But we stopped last week before the miracle got ruined. When the people saw that Jesus could feed them, their attention turned from his spiritual teaching to their full bellies. These people were used to scratching out an existence, not enjoying an all-you-can-eat bread buffet. The Gospel of John records that the people liked it so much that they hunted Jesus down the next day on the opposite shore of the lake once again to get more food. When Jesus rejects their plan, most of the people reject him. After Jesus’ great miracle of earthly providing, they were tempted to only want Jesus for that.
Perhaps you recall the number of times the disciples fell into that trap too. They argued about who was greatest. They hoped for Jesus to restore Israel’s prosperity and power. It was a constant temptation for them to focus on the earthly and miss the spiritual. Even after Jesus’ death and resurrection the disciples still asked him, “Now are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel?”
And since Jesus knew about their weakness to that temptation, and the crowd that would only amplify that, he sent them away from it. Our text starts with the very next verse after the miraculous feeding. “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.” Jesus knew their weakness and he saved them from it. He sent them away so that they wouldn’t be tempted to join in the chorus of greedy cries from the crowd. And then when he had the chance, he prayed. Probably for them, and for himself.
We maybe don’t think of it this way, but Jesus does the same for us. Sometimes he saves us from temptation by keeping us away from it. Not many of us are rich or powerful or famous. Not many of us have Hollywood looks or physiques. But think of the temptations that God keeps away from us by not giving us those worldly blessings. Watch the evening news almost any night and you’ll see the temptations that caught up professional athletes, politicians, and billionaires. Our lives might be ordinary by comparison, but so are our temptations. The part of us that wants worldly things wants to be in their shoes, but the Christian knows that God puts us where we are for our blessing. If your life seems ordinary, praise God that he is blessing you by the blessings that he hasn’t given. Jesus saves us from temptation.
Jesus saves us from doubt and fear (vv. 25-27)
It was after supper, early evening, when Jesus sent the disciples away. As he was praying and the disciples were rowing, a storm came up on the Sea of Galilee. By the fourth watch, “just before dawn” as the NIV translates, the disciples had traveled…3.5 miles. In a minimum of nine hours. They were only halfway across the Sea, buffed by winds and waves, growing more weary by the minute.
So there they are, in the darkest part of the night, worn out from hours of physical labor, anxious at the sound of the waves crashing against the boat. Discouraged from the pounding of the rain against them. And then they look out of the boat and see… what? Someone. Something walking on the water. In the middle of the storm. In the middle of the lake. And in fear, their imaginations take over. It can’t be a man, so it must be a ghost. A spirit of some kind. Something out to get them, at least. Maybe they had heard one too many ghost stories the way I saw one too many movies about scary clowns when I was a kid. Maybe we shouldn’t joke.
They cry out in fear and that’s when we find Jesus doing something immediately again. Matthew says, “Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.’” Jesus knows their doubts and fears and calms them. Interestingly, the words “It is I” could be translated “I AM.” I AM is the name God gave for himself to Moses. Maybe later they would reflect on this night and realize Jesus wasn’t only telling them who he is, he was telling them why it matters. Their comfort wasn’t just in knowing Jesus was with them, but in knowing that Jesus, as true God, had the power to save them.
If only we wouldn’t be so sinfully forgetful about Jesus ourselves. In the hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus we sing, “Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” I think Satan has used the last three years as a special time to attack Christians with doubt about this. Covid. War. Weather. Government. Crime. Lovelessness. Division. So many things to fill us with doubt. To paralyze us with fear. But the Christian knows that Godkeeps us safe. Too many people, even Christians, forget that God is more powerful than a virus, an armed thug, a powerful enemy. Look at Jesus here. Really, Look at your Savior. He’s walking on water! He is the “I AM.” And he comes to us in the storm when we are tired and weak and worried and he says, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” Brothers and sisters, trust in Jesus and know that he is more powerful than your biggest fear. He is closer to you than your greatest doubt. Jesus saves.
Jesus saves us with powerful action (vv. 28-33)
In the middle of the Sea, Peter showed himself once again to be the patron saint of speaking without thinking. He asks Jesus to let him walk on the water. When Jesus tells him to come, Peter does. Imagine what that must have been like. Only the pale light of a lantern or two. Foaming, cresting waves whipping in the howling wind. The boat rocking back and forth, lurching from side to side and up and down. Leaving the boat would mean almost certain death. Yet Peter isn’t thinking about any of that. He hears his Savior’s invitation and obeys. And wonder of wonders, Peter stands on the water as if he were walking on solid rock!
At least he does as long as he is focused on Jesus. Once he’s out of the boat, the reality of the situation hits him. He turns his eyes from Jesus and looks at the storm around him. Peter doesn’t just begin to sink – he begins to drown. He’s in over his head, literally. Straining for air, bobbing up and down with the waves, he calls out to the one person he knows can save him, “Lord, Save Me!”
And once more Jesus immediately acts. “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith…why did you doubt?’” Jesus pulls him up. The two of them get in the boat and the wind and waves immediately stop. Jesus didn’t wait to save Peter. And he didn’t just save him from the immediate problem of drowning either; he silenced the storm too. John’s account tells us Jesus miraculously brought the boat and the disciples at once to the opposite shore. Peter, he of little faith, was saved not by his own power, but by the one he called out to. That’s the defining Christian quality – trusting that Jesus will save us when we can’t save ourselves.
He saves us sometimes by keeping temptations away. Sometimes by calming our doubts and fears in the middle of the storm. Sometimes by extending his hand and pulling us up to safety, through miracle or medicine or fellow man. And more than that, we know Jesus saves us in the most important way. Not only from wind and wave and doubt and fear, but from death and hell itself. The Son of God, the I AM, giving his life to take our death. Stretching his arms out, not into the water but apart on the cross. And all we can do is marvel at this extraordinary Savior and say with the disciples, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
This is what it means to be a Christian. It means to be saved, in every way we can be saved. So Christian, rejoice in who you are as a child of God. And praise the name that saves us. Glory to Jesus. Amen.