Sermon Proper 12 2018
July 29, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The lesson for our meditation this morning is the portion of the Gospel reading of Jesus walking on the water, which was previously read.
As I was reading the story of Jesus walking on water again this week, something struck me. This isn’t just about Jesus. Now don’t get me wrong, of course it is about Jesus. It’s always about Jesus. This is about Jesus walking on the water and showing that He’s God in the very flesh of man, who has control of the elements. But what I mean is that especially as we read this in Matthew and Mark, it’s about the disciples. We’re supposed to take note of them.
Look at the details of what we see. It says that Jesus “made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side.” Now, we can’t say for sure, but there’s an element that could appear as though the disciples don’t want to go but Jesus makes them. Then we hear that they were “making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.” Then what do we see? Jesus comes and they think He’s some kind of ghost. And how do they respond? Understandably, they’re “terrified.” Now what I’ve said so far we see in both Matthew and Mark, but Mark makes it even more interesting. He says that when Jesus comes, He means to pass by them. Imagine the anguish, imagine how their hearts sank. They look out on the water and there’s their salvation and He means to pass by them. They already had more than they could handle and the Lord put one more thing on their shoulders.
As I say this, something I mentioned a fair amount when I preached on Mark three years ago was the fact that many scholars think that Mark was written to a congregation undergoing persecution. When you see little details like this, you can see why. Persecution, I can imagine would feel like that. I can imagine it would feel like the Lord has already put you into a position you don’t necessarily want to be in, like He did with the disciples being in the boat. Then He makes it that much harder for you. Life’s already hard, then you’re persecuted? I can imagine it would feel like Jesus is meaning to pass you by.
In fact, as I say that, I think you all know this sensation without persecution. You know that trial. You know that tribulation. You know that feeling of having the world on your shoulders only to have to have the moon placed on top too. And it’s hard. You want to cry out to God and say, “What are you doing?!’
In times like that, I love to point people to the Psalms. The Psalms are beautiful in that you see in God’s own word these emotions reflected. Have you ever noticed that? The Psalms ask those questions. “Why God? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? How long O God? When will this end O Lord? Why do my enemies revel over me?” It’s really beautiful to see how God gives us words to wrestle with Him—just like we saw Jacob literally wrestle with Him in Genesis. Of course to match that there is the beauty of the words in the psalms which give praise to God, words which enable us to praise Him in our renewed nature even when our old nature is kicking and prodding against Him because we don’t like what’s happening. The psalms really are such a gift for this.
But coming back to Mark, we see that he says something else that Matthew doesn’t. When he concludes that story, he says, “they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” In other words, he says there’s this whole trial, there is the beating they are taking. He says there is this whole thing with Jesus passing right by them, and in the end, they’re astounded. Why? Because their hearts are hard and they don’t trust God.
This is still us isn’t it? We still don’t trust God, do we? We still think that He doesn’t really want what’s best for us. We still think that we deserve something better than what we’ve got. Especially, when we’re enduring suffering of some kind. We look at God and think He’s given us the short end of the stick. In other words in the hardness of our hearts, we don’t get it. Sure, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean, but we don’t think about what that really means. Yes, we put our amen to prayers like we did last week that speak of us not deserving God’s goodness, and yet we get upset when He gives us so much good, but there is bad mixed in with it. Think about that for yourself. When you’re the one who’s in the boat that you didn’t want to be in, when you’re in that boat and the waves are beating on you, do you think that you really deserve it? Do you think that when you’re in those moments and Jesus looks like He’s wanting to pass you by, do you think in those moments that this is exactly how it should be, in reality, that it should be worse?
In fact, as I speak in these terms, I’ve mentioned this not too long ago, but what we see from Scripture when it comes to suffering isn’t satisfying. This dissatisfaction is in part because we are spoiled in our day to think that we don’t deserve any of this. It’s also because this just doesn’t seem fair. In particular what I mean is to look at this in relation to the case of Job. Talk about hard. Do you remember that? Job endures the loss of his ten children, all of his livelihood, and his health. And at the end of this awful suffering, what does God come and say? Does He say, “Oh Job, I’m really sorry I did this to you?” No. That’s what’s hard. He comes to Job and says, “Are you God? Do you have my wisdom?” Job, “were you there when I created the world. Do you have understanding?” And the point is no. We don’t, do we? We don’t know why God does what He does, and it seems like it’s not fair.
And this crushes us doesn’t it? And it should. It should crush us. Your hard heart needs just that. Your unbelief needs to be crushed under the hammer of this Law that God speaks. Your sinful old Adam needs to be drowned and die. And that’s exactly what God does with this. However, as I say that, I was reading my previous sermons on this and I was reminded of an amazing quote that Luther spoke in his commentary on Zechariah. Luther’s words are so apt, “When God begins to comfort, he always makes things seem terrible.” When we’re on the verge of throwing in the towel, and the Lord seems to driving us to that—which to be clear sometimes He does because it forces us to have to trust in Him. But when we’re at that point, it’s precisely then that He begins to comfort.
Look at the lesson. Jesus does come and comfort. He comes and He says to the disciples, these beaten and bruised, these exhausted and terrified disciples, He comes to them and says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” He says, “You’re so worried, but it’s OK. Here I am, don’t be afraid.” In fact, I think that this has even a bit more depth to it.
Now to be fair, “It is I,” is not a wrong translation. The words are certainly correctly translated that way. But I don’t think that’s right in this context. You see in the Greek, Jesus says here, “EGO EIMI.” Literally, He says, “I AM.” Now as I say that, do you remember the name that God revealed to Moses on the mountain when He was sending Moses to rescue His people from Egypt? He tells Moses it’s going to be his job to go before Pharaoh and to bring the Israel out of their bondage. And Moses isn’t really willing, but says he’ll do it. But he says, “Who should I tell the people has sent me?” And what does the Lord say? He says, “I AM who I AM. Tell them I AM sent you.” So when Jesus comes to the disciples, He’s saying, “Look, I AM. I AM the LORD. I am here to save you. I am here to rescue you. I am here to care for you and protect you.”
In fact, as we’re looking at words in the context of the Old Testament, we should look at something else in that light too: Jesus passing by. On the surface it sounds like He’s trying to get by without being seen. But I don’t think so. I think He’s showing His glory. I say that because to come back to Moses, you might remember how right after the people made the golden calf and Moses destroyed the tablets of the commandments, He went up on the mountain, and the Lord said He would write on new tablets for Moses. Then Moses asks the Lord to show him His glory, to which the Lord responds that He will put Moses in a cleft in the rock and make His glory, “pass by.”
That’s the passing by Jesus is doing. He’s not hiding, He’s showing His glory. And where is that glory the clearest? It’s clearest on the cross. It’s clearest where His love shines through for you. Yes we deserve the trials and the beatings of the waves. We deserve for Jesus to walk on by us. We deserve all of this and nothing good because of our sin. But Christians, Jesus willingly took up that sin upon Himself, willingly gave up the comforts, the glories, the joys, the beauty of heaven to bear your sin upon Himself on the cross. He bore your sin that you would be freed from suffering eternally in His Kingdom through His resurrection. In fact, properly speaking, we have no concept of suffering compared to the suffering our Lord endured when He was forsaken by the Father. We have no concept of loss like our Heavenly Father does in relation to the loss of His Son.
Does it still hurt us? Of course, but Jesus comes and says, take heart it is I. I love you. Believe it or not, I love you. I have loved you when you pushed and kicked against me. I have loved you when you denied what I have done for you. I have loved you when you were my enemy, and I took all of your sin upon my shoulders, and bore them on the cross that you would know that you live in my resurrection. That you would know that just like Job lost in his suffering, yet was made whole twofold in the restoration the Lord gave, you will be made whole and infinitely more my Kingdom. Take heart of Christian. Let not your heart be hardened and your neck be stiffened. For I am with you unto the end of the age. I promise you that this tempest won’t beat you forever, that I won’t always send you where you don’t want to go, that it won’t always look like I am against you. No, I have baptized you into my death, that you would rise in my resurrection. My word has spoken you righteous even though you didn’t deserve it. My holy meal has fed you in the desert of the wilderness of sin. And through that I have carried you and will carry you to the place where you will be with me and I will come to you and wipe away your every tear. I the One who suffered in your place, will comfort you from the experience of your suffering in this life. And there it will be gone. Gone because I love you so much I don’t want you to have to experience it eternally. So Christian, why is your heart hard? Why are you so afraid? Take heart. It is I. Take heart, I AM. Amen.