The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 27, 2017
Step Out of the Boat!
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. 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.” “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 worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
One of the things I have learned— first as a father and then again as a grandfather— is how much little children trust the people in their lives, especially people such as their parents and grandparents. When my children or grandchildren were much younger than they are now, I could pick them up in my arms, toss them into the air and guess what they did? They giggled and laughed! Why? Because they trusted that I would catch them and not let them fall. When our children were young, if they got hurt they would run right past me and cry out for Brenda. Why? Because they trusted that Mom would take them in her arms and make the pain go away.
Various events from the lives of my children and grandchildren kept clicking through my mind as I was studying our text. While there are a number of truths that we could legitimately focus on this morning, I would like to place this portion of Scripture before you in a way that assures you of how much you can trust your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. With that in mind let’s study our text under the theme: Step Out of the Boat! There are two points that we want to see today. First of all, let’s see that stepping out of the boat means stepping from fear to faith. Second, let’s see that stepping out of the boat means stepping from doubt to worship.
The opening verses of this text set the tone for the events which follow by very clearly emphasizing that Jesus is always in control. Matthew writes, “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 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. 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.”
Did you catch how Matthew said that Jesus “made” His disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him? Very literally the Greek here says that Jesus “compelled” or “forced” His disciples to get into the boat and go. Why? Matthew doesn’t tell us, but in John’s account of this very same event he gives us a clue. The events recorded here in our text take place immediately after Jesus fed more than 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. John tells us that after the people had seen and experienced Jesus’ miraculous power to provide for their needs “they intended to come and make him king by force” (John 6:15). Jesus simply could not allow this to happen— nor could He allow this mindset to infect or influence His disciples in any way. So, what did Jesus do? He took control of the situation. He “compelled” His disciples to get into the boat and leave. He dismissed the crowd before they could do what they intended to do. Then He spent some time by Himself talking to His heavenly Father in prayer.
Did Jesus’ disciples perhaps spend their time in the boat discussing amongst themselves what had just happened? No. Why? Because they were too busy being buffeted by the waves! Was that a “coincidence” my friends? I don’t think so! Once again Matthew very clearly emphasizes that Jesus was in control of the situation. During the fourth watch of the night (which means somewhere between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning) Jesus went out to His disciples by walking on the water. How did Jesus’ disciples react? In fear they cried out, “It’s a ghost.” When we stop to remember that the disciples were out in a boat in the middle of the lake in the middle of the night being buffeted by the wind and waves, it’s not difficult for us to understand why they were afraid when they saw someone coming towards them “walking on the lake”!
How did Jesus respond to His frightened disciples? Once again Jesus shows that He is in control of the situation. He said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Even though the disciples had spent hours in a very fearful and potentially dangerous situation there was no reason for them to be afraid. Jesus, the same Jesus who had just fed over 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, same Jesus who is the LORD, the great “I AM,” the God who has the power to walk on water— this very same Jesus was now right there with them.
Like the “gentle whisper” which raised Elijah out of the ashes of depression and empowered him to carry out the Lord’s work (I Kings 19:9-18), so also Jesus’ gentle words chased away the disciples’ fears and filled them with faith. How do we know this to be true? Look at verses 28 & 29 of our text. Matthew writes, “’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.”
Take a moment to try to picture in your mind what took place here. After asking for and receiving permission from Jesus Peter literally stepped out of the boat! First one foot touches the water and then the other. Then Peter let go of the boat and he actually walked on the water toward Jesus! If that is not a powerful picture of someone stepping from fear to faith I don’t know what is!
Sadly, Peter quickly lost his focus, didn’t he. Instead of staying focused on Jesus Peter began to look around at the wind and the waves. Suddenly, a tidal wave of fear came rushing back into Peter’s heart and he began to sink. Like a little child who falls and in tears reaches out for his Mom, Peter cries out, “Lord, save me!” Now Jesus could have simply given a command and Peter would have been saved— but He didn’t, did He. Instead, Jesus “reached out his hand and caught him.” Again, imagine what it must have been like for Peter when he felt Jesus’ hand reach out to take hold of him and save him. Once again focused on Jesus’ power and Jesus’ love Peter hopefully took to heart Jesus’ gentle yet pointed words, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Matthew then closes our text for today by focusing our attention on two more miraculous events. Look at verses 32 & 33, “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” I see in these verses a beautiful example of God’s children stepping from doubt to worship. After once again seeing Jesus’ power and after once again experiencing Jesus’ love the disciples knew that there was only one proper acceptable response: Worship Jesus, the Son of God.
Does this portion of Scripture have any application to your life, my friends? Of course it does! Most of us here today can vividly recall a time or two in our life when we felt like we were out in a boat in the middle of a lake in the middle of the night buffeted by the wind and the waves. Our spouse dies and we suddenly feel lost and alone. Our parent dies or our child dies and our whole life changes in an instant. Our doctor looks at us and says those three dreaded words, “You have cancer.” You lose your job and are forced to start all over again. Unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of things in this world that have the ability to completely overwhelm us with fear.
Then something amazing happens to us. Jesus comes to us! Jesus comes to us through His holy Word or through His holy Sacrament and He says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Once we are focused on Jesus— His power and His love— then like Peter we too can step out of the boat! Now granted, we might step out of the boat a little gingerly— first one foot, then the other, and finally we let go with our hands— but by God’s grace and by God’s power we find out that He can enable us to do things and to get through things that we didn’t think were even possible— kind of like Peter walking on the water toward Jesus!
For example, when a loved one dies we step from fear to faith trusting that Jesus is in control, trusting that Jesus will be there to guide and strengthen us, trusting that everyone who dies believing in Jesus as their Savior immediately inherits the glory and perfection of heaven, trusting that we will see our loved one again in the beauty of our heavenly Father’s Home. When we get to the end of our own journey here on this earth if Satan buffets us with the winds of guilt and the waves of sins we have committed in the past Jesus comes to us through His holy Word or through His holy Sacrament and says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Focused on our Savior, focused on His cross (Pointing to the cross) we step from fear to faith trusting that Jesus’ victory over sin, death and hell is also our victory purely by the grace of our God. When we experience loss of any kind in our life Jesus both invites us and empowers us to step out of the boat of despair and depression, to step from fear to faith by trusting in His promise, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Does this mean that as the children of God we will never again experience doubt and fear? Does this mean that as the children of God we will never find ourselves in a situation where we feel as though we are “sinking”? No, it does not. There may indeed be times in our life when we lose our focus, when we take our eyes off of Jesus, when we turn away from His cross and we do begin to sink into the waters of guilt and despair. But as the children of God we know that when we turn to Jesus and cry out, “Lord, save me!”— He does! He reaches out, takes us by the hand and He saves us. A beautiful example of that truth is found in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. When we come to the altar of the living God are we not saying to Him, “Lord, save me!”? When He gives us His true body and His true blood in His holy Supper is He not saying to us, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid”?
This truth reminds us of an extremely important key to remember when it comes to overcoming doubt in our life. That key is found in the words, “Then those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” All too often when people are experiencing fears and doubts in their life what do they do? They distance themselves from God. They don’t attend church as often as they once did. When they are in church their thoughts may be somewhere else. Communion tends to lose its “specialness.” Bible study and prayer tend to fade into the background. My encouragement to you, my friends, is that whenever you find yourself battling doubts— step out of the boat! By God’s grace step from doubt to worship! Gather together here in the Lord’s house as often as you can. Receive His holy Supper on a regular basis. Listen as the God of heaven speaks to you through His holy Word. Open your heart to Him through prayer. Let the Lord God do what only the Lord your God has the ability to do: Reach out His hand and save you from your fears and doubts!
A long time ago I became convinced that there is an extremely good reason as to why the Bible refers to us as the “children of God.” Just as a little child trusts that their father will catch them and not let him fall and just as a little child trusts that their Mom will take them in her arms and hold them close until the pain goes away, so also we can step out of the boat and trust in our God. By His power and by His grace He enables us to step from fear to faith. By His power and by His grace He empowers us to step from doubt to worship.
May the Good Lord grant that no matter what storms you may encounter in your life in this world, no matter how badly you are being buffeted by the winds and waves of life, that you will indeed step out of the boat, stay focused on Jesus and trust in your God!
To God be the glory!