You Can't Walk On Water, You've Got To Stay In The Boat

Text:  Matthew 14:22-33

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Fear is an unpleasant emotion.  It is caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous.  Fear is caused from the anticipation that something will cause pain to an individual and potentially put an end to the individual. 

More specifically, there are indeed a lot of things that can cause fear to you and me.  Terrorist attacks, spiders, death, being a failure, war, criminal violence, nuclear war, being alone, the future, flying, heights, clowns, snakes, public speaking, hospitals, and funerals are several examples that most certainly create fear in our lives. 

When fear happens though, our breathing rate is accelerated, our heart rate increases, our muscles constrict, goose bumps may form; there is also an increase in alertness thus leading to sleep disturbance and possibly butterflies in the stomach.  And don’t forget that fear can bring about screaming, that is, loud shrieking cries. 

This fear may then visibly manifest itself by you and me adapting to fearful things or running away from fearful things.  We may also have anxiety attacks or we can pretend that the danger does not exist.  We can also use drug treatments to eliminate fear or go to psychologists for cognitive behavioral therapy in order to process fear. 

Regardless of the tactics one uses to respond to fearful things and the emotion of fear itself, the fact remains that there are things in life that are dangerous and bring about calamity in our lives.  No matter how much therapy, no matter how much avoidance, and no matter how much adaptation we implement, there are things in our lives that indeed threaten us and will most certainly destroy us.  For example, it has been said that there are only two things that are certain in this life, that is, ‘death and taxes.’  It is true that there is no escaping taxes that attack your wallets and purses, and there is also no escaping death.  However, while taxes may only impede your financial goals, there is finality to death.  Last time I checked, no one has found a medical cure for death; death that is a result of this world tainted and perverted by sin; death that is birthed from your sin and my sin.  Yes, when it all comes down to it, beneath the fear of terrorist attacks, spiders, nuclear war, flying, snakes, and possibly clowns is the sting of death and the finality of life as we know it.  Yes, death, which is birthed from sin, drives us to fear because it is a grave threat that is out of our control. 

The disciples in our Gospel reading from today are no strangers to fear.  Let me explain.  The disciples in our narrative were in a boat while a storm raged on in the Sea of Galilee.  There is no doubt about it that they were battling the wind, the waves, and the rain; however, it was not primarily these things that incited great fear among the disciples.  You see, the disciples thought for sure that they had seen a ghost.  Yes, off in the distance was someone coming towards them!  Were they actually seeing someone walking on water?  Was this even possible?  How could they make sense of this?

“It is a ghost!” they stated with terror!

As you and I know, it was not a ghost at all, but the Lord Jesus Christ coming towards them. 

As Jesus came closer to them though, the disciples were deeply troubled.  As it has just been stated, they spoke a weird mystical response, “It is a ghost!”  They also cried out in fear.  They assumed that whatever being was appearing before them in such close proximity could not bring good news for them.  They realized that they were in the presence of something beyond their understanding, and they were afraid of such power and mystery.  They did not know who it was.[1]

Although today’s Gospel reading is certainly not a parable, but a real historical event, we can still identify with the disciple’s fear.  In other words, it is worth noting in today’s Gospel reading that it was Jesus walking on water who was responsible for inciting fear in the disciples.  Sure they were battling the wind, waves, and rain, but it was Jesus that drove them to utter fear as He walked towards them on the water.  Therefore, what do we do when it is the Lord that brings about fear in us?  Sure death, the devil, the world, and sin all have a way of inciting fear in us, but what happens when the Lord insights fear in us? 

My friends, because we are simultaneously sinners and saints, our sinful nature is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; truly, it cannot.  In fact, when we encounter God’s perfect Holiness, we confess like Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”[2]  Because we are sinners, the presence of God is a terrifying thing.  In other words, according to our sinful nature, when we encounter the Lord in His Word, we come to realize that we are not the Lord who walks on the water, we come to realize that we are not the Lord who is in control, and we come to realize that we are not the Lord who is authoritative.  We operate in a completely different paradigm than the Lord?  Surely, as we encounter the Lord of the Holy Scriptures we quickly come to learn that He does not operate according to our rules of nature and according to the way we believe things need to be.  Yes, when things do not happen according to our strategies and when things happen out of our control, it can most certainly incite fear in us, especially when we have set certain expectations on the Lord.  In a word, when our expectations of the Lord are not met and when it appears that the Lord does not function according to our agendas, according to our rules, and according to our ideas, it can actually inflame terror in us. 

Christ Jesus in our Gospel reading certainly shatters the expectations and worldview of the disciples by walking on water, but He quickly grants them comfort.  Jesus Christ is indeed ‘Lord’ and not some sissy savior.  He does bring about a Holy awe, as He should.  Yet, in our Gospel reading, He didn’t leave the disciples in their fear, but immediately spoke to them the sure and comforting words, “It is I; do not be afraid.”  Because they were troubled, Jesus calmed them with the words, “Take heart.”  Because they did not know who He was, Jesus responded with the words, “It is I.”  Because they were fearful, Jesus responded with the words, “Do not be afraid.”  In these reassuring words, He reveals Himself to them and then gives them all that they need. 

Is it any different for you and me today?  In the midst of our fears of: terrorist attacks, spiders, death, being a failure, war, criminal violence, the future, flying, snakes, hospitals, sin, death, the devil, the world, and the Holy-Righteous Lord Himself—the words of Christ are spoken into our ears, “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”  Yes, these words are true and bring us comfort, for Jesus Christ certainly came to mankind by being born into the crashing waves of this world.  He walked through the midst of the blowing winds of sin, temptation, and the devil towards the cross where all the calamity of life was conquered.  The Christ conquered death, sin, the devil and satisfied the wrath of God—for you.  Through His death on a wooden cross you were saved.  Furthermore, the Holy Spirit called you by the Gospel, sanctified you, and has placed you in a holy boat, the ark of the church.  Yes, you have been baptized into the name of Jesus and placed in the church where you are daily and richly forgiven of all your sins and kept in the true faith.  The church, this church, is a safe haven and a place of salvation and certainty in the midst of a world of chaos and uncertainty.  Here in the Lord’s holy church you are in the living presence of Christ where you are clothed, fed, sustained, and given the words, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 

These powerful words of Jesus should have been enough for the disciples; however, as is typical, they were not enough for the Apostle Peter.  The Apostle Peter, not being sure that it was Jesus walking on water said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Yes, Peter doubted if it really was Jesus on the water and then he made this silly request of wanting to walk on the water towards Jesus.  It was not enough for Peter to stay in the boat with the simple words of Jesus, but Peter required additional proof beyond Jesus’ comforting words. 

“This is where we see Jesus do something that is quite consistent with the actions of God throughout the Bible.  Sometimes, when God’s people ask for something stupid, God gives it to them in order to give them a learning experience.  Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter, being the [impulsive] guy he is, got out of the boat and walked to Jesus on the water.” [3]

“Now, instead of just standing there with Jesus, Peter began to look at his surroundings.  The wind was very threatening.  Peter sank into the water.  The terror returned.  Peter cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’”[4]

Thankfully though, Jesus ‘reached out’ His hand and took hold of Peter and brought him back to the boat. 

Baptized Saints, “Peter’s faith is not being held up as an example to emulate.  His weakness is being showcased, in order that, in direct contrast, Jesus’ identity and power and grace might be seen more fully.  There is nothing admirable in his example, nothing bold about his desire to get out of the boat.”[5]  In other words, like Peter we are prone to leave the boat, the church, and venture off.  The Lord indeed speaks words of comfort to us in the boat, that is, the church; however, like Peter we are often times not content with the simple word of God within the church and want some sort of personal sign and validation.  Tragically, we find ourselves wanting more than the clear and comforting Word of God within His church; we want bigger experiences, we want something spectacular, and we want to walk on water ourselves.  Like Peter, we are easily distracted by the waves, the winds, and the storms of life, thus becoming easily terrified resulting in us sinking below the water.  Frankly, we don’t belong outside of the boat, for we cannot endure the waves and winds, and we most certainly can’t walk on water. 

Thankfully though, the Lord is patient with us.  When we find ourselves sinking in these situations that we have created ourselves by leaving the boat, crying out in fear, “Lord save me!” the Lord indeed does save us by reaching out to us and dragging us back to the boat, the place where He graciously restores us and comforts us with His gifts. 

Today, you are here in this church and are in the boat.  Thus, in the midst of all the chaos, hear the words of Jesus for you, “Take heart, it is I.  Do not be afraid.”  Yes, in this world and in your own lives there will surely be plenty of waves, winds, and storms, but take courage dear flock for Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the devil and holds you in the church in the one true faith until the Last Day.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] Jeffrey A. Gibbs. Concordia Commentary: Matthew 11:2 – 20:34 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 761..

[2] See Isaiah 6.

[3] James T. Batchelor. “Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Sermon for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Hooperston, IL” (9 August 2014)

[4] James T. Batchelor. “Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Sermon for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Hooperston, IL”

[5] Gibbs. Concordia Commentary: Matthew 11:2- - 20:34, 763.

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