“Stormy Seas” (Full Service)
The Sermon starts at 29:20, with an introduction from Pastor Duncan Cameron.
Sermon : Stormy Seas (the first in a series of three stories of Jesus from Galilee)
Matthew 14: 22-33
Welcome to the Sea of Galilee! I’d like to tell you about a day in the life of Jesus…as recorded by Matthew, the tax collector and one of Jesus’ disciples…
Jesus’ day begins with him hearing the terrible news that his beloved cousin John had been decapitated at the order of Herod, the ruler of Galilee! This Herod was the son of the Herod that ordered the killing of the innocents in Bethlehem after Jesus was born. How does the expression go…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Having flown under Herod’s radar up until then, Jesus was now front and centre in Herod’s crosshairs.
After John was beheaded, his disciples buried his body, and then went to find Jesus.
Hearing this devastating news about John, in the midst of his grief, Jesus got into a boat and withdrew…to a deserted place… where he could be alone.
For some of us, when we get this sort of bad news, we go into over-drive…for there are people to notify, decisions to be made, things to be done. But in this case, we note that Jesus did the opposite…he withdrew… …he wanted to be away from people…he wanted to be alone with God. As we know, expressions of grief take different forms for different people.
By this time in his ministry, Jesus was well-known as a miracle worker and a healer…and so as Jesus rowed off in the boat to find a quiet secluded place, he was spotted! Word spread, and the crowds from all the surrounding towns saw him and started following him around the shoreline.
Seeing the crowds, he put his own grief aside. He had such compassion on the people that followed him that he began to heal their sick. During on the course of the day over 5,000 men had gathered along with their wives and children…easily over 10,000 people…so even if only 1% of the people gathered were sick, Jesus might well have healed over 100 people that day!
Towards the evening, the disciples asked Jesus to tell the people to go into the towns and buy food for their evening meal…and Jesus said, “no” …YOU can provide food for them here. If you give me the food that you DO you have, I can multiply what you do have to meet the needs of all these people, and YOU will serve them. And that is what the disciples did. This story gives us a picture of life as a disciple of Jesus…as we tangibly show our love for God by loving our neighbour in small ways with what we have, Jesus will use what we offer for the good of others. And we will experience the joy of being actively engaged in Kingdom work!
After such a long day of ministry, Jesus was done…physically, emotionally, and spiritually! Jesus tagged out! Yes, you heard that correctly! Jesus tagged out! He needed to be alone, so he dismissed the crowds. And he ordered the disciples to get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side. Did Jesus know that the storm clouds over Galilee were already brewing? Having sent the disciples away in the only boat they had, Jesus had no other option but to walk to where his disciples would land their boat. Have you ever wondered if Jesus had thought about that?
So, Jesus went up onto the mountain to commune with God the Father. At the same time, the disciples were fighting the strong winds on the lake. hour after hour they rowed but they were making virtually no progress at all, and they were exhausted.
Have you ever wondered what you would have thought had you been in the middle of the sea of Galilee in that raging storm? Would you have wondered, “where are you when we need you, Jesus? Didn’t you know that this storm was coming? Don’t you know we are exhausted? Are you going to let us drown?”
It was the fourth watch of the night, somewhere between 3 and 6 AM. As the disciples looked out and saw what seemed to be an apparition walking toward them on the sea, they wondered if their eyes were deceiving them. It was a common superstition that those who drowned in the sea would remain there, haunting the waters. It was still dark, and they were terrified. They cried out…”It’s a ghost.” And immediately, Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
“It is I”…three little words in English…translated in Hebrew “I am who I am”. Jesus uses the personal name of God for himself…the one that was first used in Exodus 3: 14, when God spoke to Moses in the burning bush. When Jesus says “it is I”…in other translations we read “I am who I am.” …In other words, Jesus is declaring his identity as the Son of God, also known as Yahweh, Jehovah, Adonai… pre-existent, infinite…and sovereign over life itself (John 8:58).
And who is quick off the mark? Of course, it’s Peter! Random thought! Does Peter know how to swim? If so, he had at least a human back-up plan! But I digress. Peter recognizes Jesus’ voice, he sees his power, and he thinks to himself “if Jesus can do that, then I can do it too”…well maybe! Peter gets up while all the other disciples stay seated in the boat. “Come”, Jesus said, and Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water.
As long as Peter focussed on Jesus who was walking on the water towards him, Peter kept walking on the water.
Let me ask you this! Was there anything that Peter encountered in his brief walk on the Sea that he hadn’t already considered? When he stepped out of the boat, he knew that he was in a violent storm, and he knew Jesus was walking on the water towards him. But Peter, who was still learning to trust Jesus completely, momentarily let his fear displace his faith. When he turned and saw the winds and the waves, he began to have doubts…Taking his eyes off Jesus was Peter’s fearful response. And he felt himself sinking! Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience too.
But all was not lost, for as he started to sink, he cried out in faith to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” and Jesus stretched out his hand to save him. And when Jesus and Peter got into the boat, the wind ceased…the sea was calm…and the disciples seeing his power over the winds and the waves, worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Let’s take a closer look at Peter’s faith for a moment. Should we give Peter grief or credit for his faith? What did Jesus mean when he said to Peter, “you of little faith, why did you doubt?” It’s hard to tell when we don’t know Jesus’ tone. Personally, I can’t see Jesus rebuking Peter as he stretched out his arm to save him, can you?
Was Jesus trying to encourage Peter’s faith to grow …to be placed decisively and only in Jesus? In the safety and security of the boat, floating on the calm sea, Peter had a few moments to reflect on what Jesus had said. Perhaps Jesus was reminding Peter, “Peter, remember I’m the one who healed the sick and fed the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish in your presence, yesterday! Were you fearful about the wind and the waves when you boldly stepped out in faith and miraculously walked towards me on the water? Your initial show of faith in me was incredible Peter…you just keep on having faith in me!” You’ve heard the expression, “Do not doubt in the dark what I’ve shown you in the light!” (V. Raymond Edman) “Do not doubt my power! Remember to keep on keeping on, trusting in me fully! This is what I am calling you to do when I invite you to come to me!”
And what about us…would we be like Peter…the first one out of the boat? No??? well then, would we be like the other disciples, sitting in the boat, watching? If we are like the other disciples, my guess is that we tend to judge ourselves as having weaker faith than Peter because Peter was at least doing something.
But rather than focus on how strong we think our faith is, or on the storms that we find ourselves in, or on our own human failures, rather let’s focus on the object of our faith! Our Lord Jesus! He is the object of our faith! Our self-image needs to be deeply rooted in who we are in Christ… children of God: loved, accepted, forgiven, and redeemed. When all we can see is the wind, and the waves, and the seeming hopelessness of a situation, God is still sovereign over our storms, whatever they may be. It is Jesus’ himself whom we need in the storm. For he is the source of everything else that he has promised to us…his strength, hope, peace, comfort, courage, and wisdom.
Consider this…the storms of life will come to all of us. As David Platt says, “when you signed up to follow Jesus, you signed up for storms.” When the disciples obeyed Jesus and got into their boat without him, Jesus compelled them to go out into a challenging storm that lasted for hours. Yes, it’s true, that Jesus was not physically present with the disciples when they were dealing with the storm. But just because he wasn’t physically present doesn’t mean that Jesus was out of touch with them. And the same holds true for us today.
For Jesus had gone alone to the mountain top to pray. We know that the Jews would have recognized the mountain top as the place to encounter God. After a day of intense ministry, and in deep emotional turmoil because of the death of John, it is possible that Jesus spent his whole night in prayer without any sleep and began his trek on the water before the sun was even up. Prayer was a #1 priority for Jesus, and we can be confident that Jesus was praying for his disciples in the midst of their storm, just as he does for us in the storms of our lives.
Although I don’t know the specifics of the storms you are facing, God knows exactly what you are going through. In order for our faith in God to grow, we must put our trust in God alone. Even while the storms rage around us, we will experience peace in the presence of Jesus, if we keep our eyes focused on him. Remember that authentic faith is not perfect, flawless faith, but it’s trusting faith. Remember that even when our faith is very small, or our faith falters, that Jesus always responds to our calls for help. Growing in our faith is a process and requires stepping out of the boat in faith, just like Peter did. Remember that the wind and the waves that cause us to fear are under Jesus’ feet. When Peter’s faith faltered, he called out to Jesus, the one who could save him, and Jesus was faithful! Like the hymn says, Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild restless sea; day by day, his voice still calls us saying “Christian, follow me.”
Let us continue in joyful and humble worship, just like the disciples did on that fishing boat so long ago, recognizing with them that Jesus is the Son of God, and acknowledging his sovereignty over all of life, including our stormy seas. And to him be the glory. AMEN