Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
August 10, 2014, Pentecost IX
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22; Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33
From the Book of Genesis:
Then Midianite traders passed by; and they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver; and they took Joseph to Egypt.
From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt? And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Those of you who are Charlie Brown fans, I have a story for you. Charlie Brown is at the beach and he builds a beautiful sandcastle. He works on it for hours. Finally he stands back, looks at it. It’s wonderful! Just as he is admiring it, a storm comes up and blows over his beautiful sandcastle. Now, he’s standing where his beautiful masterpiece was, on level sand, saying to himself: “I know there’s a lesson in this, but I’m not sure what it is.”
Every one of us has our sandcastles blown away. Every once in awhile we take a step back and say: “Why am I being hit with this storm of life?” Now, sometimes these storms are caused by Satan, sometimes by other people, and sometimes by us. Sometimes they’re allowed by the Lord. They all come from different sources, but they do have a purpose in our life.
In our Gospel reading this morning, the Apostle John recorded the reason why Jesus was in such a hurry to dismiss the crowd and send the disciples back in the boat: The crowd wanted to make Jesus King (John 6:14-15). The Lord knew that their motives were not spiritual and that their purposes were out of God’s Will. If the disciples had stayed, they would certainly have fallen in with the plans of the crowd; for as yet, the disciples did not fully understand Christ’s plans. They were guilty of arguing over “who was the greatest,” and a popular uprising would have suited them perfectly.
This experience of the disciples in the storm can be an encouragement to us when we go through the storms of life. When we find ourselves in the storm, we can rest on several assurances.
There’s one thing that all of us need to realize, and that’s everyone has storms. One or more of you this morning, the clouds may have already gathered. Perhaps it might be the worst storm of your life, but what I want you to realize is everyone has them. In fact, Jesus said in Matthew 5, “He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And He sends rain for the ones who do right and the ones who do wrong.” So you can see storms, problems, difficulties, trials come to all of us. There’s no exclusion. Just because you’re a believer, doesn’t mean you’re going to be excluded from the storms of life.
This storm that came upon the disciples, came because they were in the will of God and not (like Jonah) out of the will of God. Did Jesus know that the storm was coming? Of course He did! Did He deliberately direct them into the storm? Yes! They were safer in the storm in God’s will than on land with the crowds out of God’s will. We must never judge our security on the basis of circumstances alone.
As we read our Bibles, we discover that there are two kinds of storms: storms of correction, when God disciplines us; and storms of perfection, when God helps us to grow. Jonah was in a storm because he disobeyed God and had to be corrected. The disciples were in a storm because they obeyed Christ and had to be perfected. Jesus had tested them in a storm before, when He was in the boat with them (Matt. 8:23-27). But now He tested them by being out of the boat.
Many Christians have the mistaken idea that obedience of God’s will produces “smooth sailing.” But this is not true. Jesus promised: “In the world you shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). When we find ourselves in the storm because we have obeyed the Lord, we must remember that He brought us here and he will care for us.
This entire scene is a dramatic picture of the church and the Lord today. God’s people are on the sea, in the midst of a storm. Yet Jesus Christ is in heaven “making intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). He saw the disciples and knew their plight (Mark 6:48), just as He sees us and knows our needs. He feels the burdens that we feel and knows what we are going through (Heb. 4:14-16). Jesus went up the mountain by himself to pray. Jesus was praying for His disciples, that their faith would not fail.
If you knew that Jesus Christ was in the next room, praying for you, would it not give you new courage to endure the storm and do His will? Of course it would. However, He is not in the next room, but He is in heaven interceding for you. He sees your need, He knows your fears, and He is in control of the situation.
Often we feel like Jesus has deserted us when we are going through the hard times of life. In the Psalms, David complained that God seemed far away and unconcerned. Yet he knew that God would ultimately rescue him. Even the great Apostle Paul had gone through a shipwreck and was beaten. We see Paul who even dies a martyr’s death. But he’s a man of God, one of the great men in the history of the Christian church. He’s in the center of God’s will. He showed that it is possible to be obeying God, walking in all the light that you possibly could, be right in the center of God’s will and yet at the same time encounter a terrific storm. You can never look at a person and see what they’re going through. Just because one person seems to be enjoying a good life and another person is suffering hard times, does not mean one person is blessed and another person is cursed. It doesn’t work that way.
Jesus always comes to us in the storms of life. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isa. 43:2). He may not come at the time we think He should come (according our timetable), because He knows when we need Him the most. He waited until the boat carrying His disciples was as far away from land as possible, so that all human hope was gone. He was testing the disciples’ faith, and this meant removing every human lifeline.
When we go through a storm, we may ask, “Why me Lord?” We may say, “Okay, God, bail me out. Here I am. Find me. Rescue me.” But sometimes He doesn’t rescue me. Sometimes He doesn’t come. I have to have the assurance that He is the great silversmith and while I’m in the furnace, He focuses and watches. His job isn’t a quick rescue mission. His job is to purify me. So He waits until just the right moment and then He comes. He is never too early; never too late. Just on time.
Why did Jesus walk on the water? To show His disciples that the very thing they feared (the sea) was only a staircase for Him to come to them. Often we fear the difficult experiences of life (such as surgery, disease or bereavement), only to discover that these experiences bring Jesus Christ closer to us.
There’s a great passage of Scripture, Isaiah 43: “But now thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you go through the waters I will be with you; and through rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. [Why?] For I am the Lord, your God.’”
Why did the disciples not recognize Jesus? Perhaps it was because no human had ever walked on water before. Perhaps they were not looking for Him to come to them in this way. Had they been waiting for Him by faith, they would have known Him immediately.
Instead, they jumped to the false conclusion that the appearance was that of a ghost. Fear and faith cannot live in the same heart, for fear always blinds the eyes to the presence of the Lord.
The whole purpose of this storm was to help the disciples grow in their faith. After all, Jesus would one day leave them, and they would face many storms in their ministries. They had to learn to trust Him even though He was not present with them, and even though it looked as though He did not care.
Now our center of interest shifts to Peter. Before we criticize Peter for sinking because of fear, let’s honor him for his magnificent demonstration of faith. He dared to be different. Anybody can sit in a boat and watch. But it takes a courageous person of real faith to leave the boat and walk on water.
What caused Peter to sink? His faith began to waver because he took his eyes off the Lord and began to look at the circumstances around him. Jesus asked him, “Why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31) Peter started out with great faith but ended up with less faith.
We must give Peter credit for knowing that he was sinking and for crying out to the Lord for help. He cried out when he was “beginning to sink” and not when he was drowning. Perhaps this incident came to Peter’s mind years later when he wrote in his first epistle: “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). The Apostle Paul also reminds us of what the prophet Joel said, “for everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
This experience was difficult for Peter, but it helped him to grow in his knowledge of himself and of the Lord. Perhaps the other disciples learned something too. The storms of life are not easy, but they are necessary. They teach us to trust Jesus Christ alone and to obey His Word no matter what the circumstances may be. It has well been said, “Faith is not believing in spite of evidence, but obeying in spite of consequence.”
If Jesus says, “Come,” then that word is going to accomplish its intended purpose. Since He is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2), whatever He starts, He completes. We may fail along the way, but in the end, God will succeed. Jesus and Peter walked on the water together and went to the ship.
Peter’s experience turned out to be a blessing to the other disciples as well as to himself. When they saw the power of Jesus Christ, in conquering and calming the storm, they could only fall down and worship Him. When Jesus calmed the first storm (Matt. 8:23-27), the disciples said, “What sort of Man is this?” But now their clear testimony was, “Thou art the Son of God!”
The disciples had helped to feed 5,000 people, and then God permitted them to go through a storm. In the Book of Acts, they won 5,000 to Christ (Acts 4:4), and then the storm of persecution began. No doubt Peter and the disciples recalled their storm experience with the Lord and took courage.
This miracle magnifies the kingship of Jesus Christ. Peter knew that Jesus Christ was King over all nature, including the wind and the waves. His word is law and the elements must obey.
Their ship landed at Gennesaret, near Capernaum and Bethsaida; and there Jesus healed many people. Did these people know that He had come through a storm to meet their needs? Do we remember that He endured the storm of judgment to save our souls? (Ps. 42:7) He endured the storm on the cross for us that we might never face the judgment of God. We ought to imitate the disciples, bow at His feet, and acknowledge that He is King of kings and Lord of lords! Take His hand, and follow Him.
Let us pray:
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.