An Ark In The Midst Of A Watery Hell

Text: Mark 6:45-56

To Him who loves us and has washed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.

It seems that everyone knows who He is.

At His baptism, a voice from Heaven spoke, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”  God the Father announces Jesus’ identity and knows who He is. 

In the city of Capernaum, even a demon knows who He is, for when encountering Christ the demon cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

Leprosy and diseases know who Jesus is, for when Jesus encounters these illnesses and speaks to them; they listen and submit to His authority. 

Death even knows Jesus, for Christ speaks to death—death which had seized the daughter of Jairus—and death itself bows out in defeat. 

There is no doubt about it that in the Gospel of Mark that demons trembled, death scurried away, and sickness bowed out when Christ came near.  They knew who they were dealing with.

“Little girl get up!”  Death let go.

“Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  Demons trembled and dashed away. 

“Be made clean!”  The leprosy vanished. 

“Stand up and take your mat and walk!”  The paralysis released.

Indeed, all of creation knew exactly who Jesus was and responded appropriately. 

In today’s Gospel reading, it is more of the same.  We hear that the disciples are in the midst of a troublesome storm on the sea.  They were straining their oars against the harsh wind and the brutal rolling waves.  It was a watery hell.  Jesus on the other hand, came walking on the water.  Now, He wasn’t bouncing up and down at the mercy of the waves, but with full authority the waves bowed their might to the Son of God becoming smooth as glass. 

It is a rather stark contrast.  The disciples are giving all they can, paddling against the fierce storm, and the fierce storm relinquishes it violence becoming docile at the sight of Jesus.

Truly, Jesus’ walking on water shows that He is the all-powerful God who is master of His own creation.  The water, waves, wind, and rain all knew who Christ was and bowed to His supreme authority, as He walked with them under His feet.  Then, getting into the boat, the wind ceased and all became calm. 

Now, you would think that the disciples would be super encouraged in seeing exactly who Jesus was and is.  Otherwise stated, one could conclude that demons, diseases, death, wind, waves, and the like all recognize Jesus for who He is, thus the disciples should recognize Him as well.  However, do you know what we hear from today’s Gospel reading?  All of creation knows exactly who Jesus is; the major exception though is the human race.  That’s right!  The disciples, who witnessed all of creation bowing to the Son of God, did not understand Jesus.  This Jesus—who cast out demons, walked on water, raised the dead—terrified them.  They freaked out when they saw Him walking on water thinking that He was a ghost.  Then after seeing that it was Jesus and after He got into the boat, the disciples failed to grasp that Jesus is God in the flesh who came to make things right.  The reason why this is so, is that the disciple’s hearts were hard.  They were a stiff necked people. They did not connect the dots.  They were incapable of understanding who they were in the presence of. 

Keep in mind though that even though their hearts were hard towards the reality of Jesus, they were not Jesus’ enemies.  Even though they were fearful of Christ and had hard hearts, they did not plot against Him, but rather followed Him.  They did not understand, but they still brought Jesus the sick.  They did not comprehend, but they still hung upon His words. 

It is easy to single out the disciples from our text and berate them, to snub our noses at them.  However, we must confess that these hard hearts are not unique to the disciples.  The disciples do not corner the market on crusty and callous hearts.  The fact of the matter is that the disciples were really no different than all the other hard-hearted people in the scriptures.  For example: a simple paging through the Old and New Testament shows us a hard-hearted Pharaoh, hard-hearted Israelites, hard-hearted Pharisees, and so forth.  Somethings never change.

Even today we find this same hard heart in the Lord’s Church, as we baptized saints confess with the Apostle Paul, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  Admittedly, our sinful nature is stubborn, inflexible, rigid, and unwilling.  Even though we are baptized into Christ, we must confess that our sinful natures can only do one thing: sinfully rebel. 

Considering all of this, what does God need to do?  When will our hearts be ultimately softened?  Well, you know the answer to this!  Our hearts will seize to be hard, stubborn, and rebellious when we see the Lord face to face.  That is to say, we will be rid of this sinful obstinate flesh that doesn’t believe, can’t believe, and won’t believe, when the sin that plagues us and the evil one that seeks to destroy us are no more.  We will be rid of this stubborn, headstrong, pigheaded, rebellious sinful nature when we breathe our last and are delivered from this veil of tears into the arms of Jesus. 

In the meantime, while we live within this veil of tears and while we do life together under the sun, we do so knowing that Jesus does not shy away from mankind.  He did not torpedo the disciples’ boat sinking them into the abyss.  He did not grab them in their unbelief and drag them down to the depths of the sea.  He also did not run away from the disciples, but entered into the boat with them.  He drew near to them.  He came to those who did not understand and those who were terrified and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 

The account of Jesus walking on the water and coming to the disciples gives us one more example that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.  In spite of creation bowing to Jesus, we human beings just don’t understand.  Jesus must come to us, and He does.  He comes and climbs into our boats.  He joins Himself to our dilemma and then gives us forgiveness, and where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation. Yes, in spite of your circumstances of hardened hearts, in spite of the stormy sea raging all around you, He comes to you and says, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; I forgive you of all your sins; take and eat, take and drink, I am with you always even to the very end of the age."  The waves of chaos are stilled and sins are forgiven in Christ.  The screaming of the watery hell, the accusations of the evil one, and the condemning voice of sin are silenced once and for all when Christ draws near.

Dear friends, listen yet again. Christ comes to you for He is the Savior who draws near towards terrified and hardhearted sinners with forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The reason why?  “He is the One who endured the bloody sweat of Gethsemane and the bloody mud of Golgotha.  In the agony and shame of His beatings and crucifixion, He has ground out a salvation that is for all people [—that is for you and for me.]  Just as Jesus came on the water to His disciples, so He comes on the waters of Holy Baptism to you.”[1]  He brings you the peace of eternal life.

Just as Jesus got into the boat and everything became peaceful, take heart and do not be afraid, for you have peace as well.  This peace is not because Christ is an extra person to help you row through the storms of life.  This peace is not because you have an extra person to help you scoop water out of your sinking boats.  No, being with Christ means that you have been baptized; forgiven of your hard hearts; given life and given salvation.  It means that you are taken from your water leaking decrepit paddle boat and placed into the Holy Ark, the Christian Church, where you are safe and sound.

From within the boat, the Holy Christian Church, you and I will live within this veil of tears as we are continually gifted Law and Gospel—taught the truth—and administered the sacraments.  Thus, you are kept, preserved, and forgiven within the Holy Christian Church—the ship that sails in the forgiveness of Christ crucified. 

From within the Holy Ark of the Christian Church—where Christ preserves you—you need not worry about the raging sea “for Jesus already sunk to the very depths of darkness and death and despair, enduring God's wrath and being completely forsaken by His own heavenly Father, all so that we could have the perpetual flat-calm of peace that is known only in Him and His love and grace.”[2]

Take heart; do not be afraid; Christ is with you and for you.  You are forgiven and are in the Holy Ark, the Christian Church, where Christ is with you.

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

[1] James Batchelor, “Ninth Sunday After Pentecost,” (accessed July 23, 2015).

[2]  Jason Zirbel,“Keep In Christ,” LCMS Sermons, July 23, 2015).

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