15th Sunday After Pentecost September 25, 2011
1 Kings 19:9b-18
Romans 9:1-8, 30-33
24, 435, 425, 52
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”
In a famous fable a shepherd boy is out in the field tending his flock. In order to tease the villagers he pretends that a wolf is attacking his flock. When men rush to his aid the shepherd has a good laugh. He does this several more times until nobody believes his word anymore. When the wolf does actually come, the call for help is ignored because nobody trusts it.
Sometimes it’s hard to know when we can trust what someone else says. At times people intentionally try to deceive us. At other times people may not be trying to hurt us, but their words just aren’t correct or things just don’t turn out the way they say they will. In the end, because we are fallen sinners, no human word is ever completely trustworthy. Jesus teaches His disciples one stormy night that His word can always be trusted. It’s a good lesson for us to keep in mind too. I. Jesus calls upon us to trust His Word and II. Jesus shows that His Word can be trusted
Right after Jesus fed the large crowd of 5,000 men plus women and children with only five loaves of bread and two fish, He sent His disciples across the Sea of Galilee while He spent a private evening in prayer. As the evening wore on, a storm erupted on the lake and His prayers were interrupted by the needs of His friends.
The disciples’ boat was a considerable distance from land and the wind was against it. The experienced boatmen were being buffeted by the waves and unable to make any headway. So the Lord went out to them during the night. The heavy storm was no trouble for Him. The fact that He did not have a boat was no trouble for Him either. Suddenly, miraculously, He was near to the struggling craft, walking on the water toward it where all could see Him.
At first they did not trust what their eyes were seeing. Such little faith they had in Jesus’ ability to help them that His appearance near their boat was to them completely unexpected. Never did they think that Christ would be there with them when they needed Him. In fact, they thought at first that what they were seeing was a ghost, assuming that seeing such a rescuer could be nothing more than a bit of wishful thinking on their part.
Then Jesus’ powerful word came to them across the water, heard even above the whistling of the wind. “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” [v.27] That word convinced Peter that something special was happening. Then Jesus called upon Peter to trust His Word completely, to put aside any doubts, and to put His confidence entirely in His Savior. Jesus said to Peter: “Come.” [v.29]
So there it was. Peter had been invited by Jesus Himself to walk out on the water in the middle of a raging storm. Or, to put it another way, Jesus had called upon Peter to trust His Word.
It is nothing unusual for Jesus to challenge His people to trust His Word. At the wedding in Cana when the supply of wine had been exhausted He had said to the attendants, “Fill the waterpots with water…draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast” (John 2:7,8), calling upon them to trust what He said. When ten men with leprosy pleaded to Him for mercy He answered, “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14). They needed to trust what Jesus said. When He entered the home of Jairus, the synagogue ruler whose daughter had died, He announced, “Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping” (Luke 8:52) Would they trust His Word?
Would Peter trust Jesus’ Word and step out of the boat? We are told that He did. Even though the waves were high, even though the wind was blowing, when Christ said, “Come,” Peter took Him at His Word—at least at first.
Jesus calls on us too to take Him at His Word. He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NIV). Often He calls to us, as He did with Peter, when we are in the middle of a storm, when things are difficult for us. Sometimes we are reluctant to come to Him even though He invites us to do so. We are reluctant to cast our burdens on Him because we are just a little doubtful that He will actually be able to carry the load. He calls to us to come to Him, but we hesitate because in the back of our minds we are not quite content to leave all our troubles to Him. Instead of coming to Him and saying, “As you have promised, Lord, you will take care of me, I will be at peace whatever comes,” we continue to fret and tremble. There are times when we trust Jesus’ Word about as much as we trust a car salesman who is claiming to give us a great deal.
The Lord calls on us to take Him at His Word in many situations of life, not the least of which is when He speaks to us the same Word that He spoke to the paralyzed man: “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). At the heart of all our troubles lies our sin. We make situations hard for ourselves by our wicked behavior—by the words with which we argue with one another, by our unloving thoughts toward one another, by the ways in which we fail to treat our neighbors the way we would want to be treated. Every hardship is the result of living in a world where we feel keenly the effects of mankind’s disobedience against God. But Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” What peace and comfort it is to know that the cause of this mess that we live in has been done away with! At the cross our Savior has suffered for the sins of the whole world. He has taken our guilt upon Himself so that He can say to you, “Your sin is forgiven,” and you can take Him at His Word. He invites you to trust that Word, to place your whole confidence in it.
Jesus calls upon us to take Him at His Word even when our eyes would seek to deceive us. The disciples in the boat thought they were seeing some sort of ghost, but Peter took Christ at His Word anyway and walked out onto the water.
What we see with our eyes cannot always be trusted either. We might look around us, see nobody to help, and assume we are alone while Jesus says, “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
We might look into the grave of a loved one and find our senses telling us that we will never see that person alive again—that death is final. But Christ says, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). So in situations like these and in many others, the Lord calls upon you to trust His Word, to believe and count on what He says, even if your eyes and ears tell you something different.
In what happened after Peter began to walk toward Jesus, the Savior shows us that His Word can be trusted. In the first place, Peter did not sink, did he? He was actually walking on the water! The Lord told Peter to come, he did, and a way was made for him to walk. When Christ makes a promise as He did for Peter, He stands ready to back up that promise, to fulfill it. Even though at first glance it would seem as though there could be no way for Peter to step out in the storm, yet Jesus didn’t give the command in order to let him sink beneath the sea.
It was Peter, not Jesus, who gave up when he saw the height of the waves and the rushing wind. All of a sudden, when he was in the middle of it all, Peter lost sight of the fact that Jesus had called upon him to trust His Word. He was not following the word of a mere man, but of the Son of God.
Yet even when Peter doubted and began to sink, the Lord showed that His Word could still be trusted. The Bible says “Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him.” Without wasting any time Jesus moved to keep Peter’s head above water. Peter did not even have a chance to complain, “Jesus, you told me I could come to you but then …” No, the Lord backed up His Word with His actions. He showed that His Word could be trusted.
When we count on Jesus’ words of direction or His words of promise, we can be sure that He will deliver. If He says something, He will carry through. If He promises something, He will not forget.
We need to be reminded of this from time to time because we have our own Peter-like moments. We step off the boat, firmly trusting that Jesus will take care of us, following the direction He gives to us in His Word, but then as soon as the way begins to get a little bumpy, we start to doubt.
If Jesus says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough trouble of its own” (cf. Matthew 6:34), He means it. He doesn’t mean for us to sit idly and not use our physical and mental gifts and abilities, but He does want us to remember that whatever we do, it’s not all up to us. He has us in His hands too. He is working in our lives for our good too. He is the Good Shepherd and we are the people of His pasture and He promises to take care of tomorrow and the next day and the next…and He backs up His promise with His almighty strength.
When Jesus says, “You are forgiven,” He backs it up with the cross—by going into and through death itself to erase the stain of our guilt from the book of judgment. When He says, “My Word will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35), He sees to it that it doesn’t. It will stand until the earth is no more.
Jesus’ Word can be trusted. He calls upon us to trust it and He shows us that it can be trusted. May that trustworthy Word continue to strengthen our hearts and move us to count on Jesus for all things needful in every circumstance. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.