This Sermon was preached on Sunday 9 August. You can watch the full service HERE
Last Sunday we witnessed the magnificent miracle of Jesus feeding a massive crowd with 5 loaves and 2 small fish. Then today’s passage begins with the word: “Immediately”.
No sooner was one miracle over than the next one began to unfold.
The passage starts by saying that Jesus “made” the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side. The word is very strong. In fact it can be translated, “Jesus compelled them”.
Why would He have to compel them? Firstly, they would not normally have wanted to leave Jesus. After all, it was their calling to be with Him.
But more than that they would have been loathe to leave Jesus and go across to the other side because there was only one boat – the one Jesus came in. They would have been leaving Jesus on the far side of the lake with no boat.
But, despite their probable resistance to the idea, Jesus compelled them to leave Him … alone.
Then Jesus “dismissed” the crowd. That’s also quite a strong word. Jesus sent them away.
What was Jesus up to?
Well, remember … Jesus was in mourning for His cousin John the Baptist who had been beheaded. That same morning He had come to this side of the Lake to get away and be alone with God the Father … to process His loss. But He’d not been given that opportunity. The disciples and the crowd had followed him on foot.
Jesus needed time ALONE with God … and this time there was not going to be any negotiating. This was it.
And that is exactly what Jesus did next. Matthew stresses that Jesus was alone by saying: “He climbed up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Later that night He was there alone.”
This is the whole point of the opening scene of this narrative: Jesus went to the place of deep, personal encounter with Abba Father. And I must pass this moment quickly to get to the main point of today’s message … but not before stressing again the opening point of last week’s sermon: Make it a priority to withdraw into the “wilderness” with God. Jesus needed that … and SO DO WE.
But then in verses 23-24 Matthew sets the scene. First he shows us Jesus on the mountainside in deep, personal communion with Abba Father … then the “camera” pans away across the Lake … where we see, as Matthew puts it, “the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.”
Like last week, let’s try to take a life-application look at this miracle. Let’s read it while asking what this narrative had to teach us about living as disciples and imitators of Jesus in 2020.
1. Storms happen … even to obedient disciples
The disciples were obeying Jesus.
Jesus compelled them to go … and they went in obedience.
He told them where to go. And that is exactly where they were going.
And still they sailed slap bang into the heart of a crazy wind-storm on Lake Galilee. The storm hit them just as hard as it hit any other fishermen out on the Lake that night.
It did not hit them as a judgment from God!
It did not come upon them because they had somehow sinned and messed up!
They were right in the will of God … and still they were not immune from the storm.
- Covid-19 is a massive storm that has broken over our world!
- The crazy explosion of Gender-Based Violence is a massive storm that has broken over our nation!
- The wave of corruption and the fire-storm of a destroyed economy … unemployment and dehumanising poverty … are wild and fearsome storms.
Followers of Jesus are not immune.
You can be following Jesus perfectly and still get hit by the storm.
And if you doubt that this is true … Just look at the cross.
We are following the One who lived a perfect life of obedience to the will of God … yet ended that life in an unjust execution.
Storms come upon us all … even the most obedient of disciples.
So do not believe the lie that your own mind tells you … or your well-intentioned neighbour tells you … or, quite frankly the lie the devil himself whispers to you … that if bad things are happening to you … it must somehow be your own fault … you must somehow have missed the mark … or not be good enough … NO! Not true.
Look at these disciples. Look at Jesus on the Cross. And understand that … NUMBER ONE … in this fallen and broken world … storms happen. Even to the best of disciples.
2. When storms come … keep going … and keep rowing
Matthew narrates the story magnificently. He says that the wind was contrary; and the waves were buffeting.
The Disciples’ Literal Translation accurately and literally translates verse 24: “And the boat was … being tormented by the waves. For the wind was contrary.” The storm was torturing the boat.
Jesus had said: “Row over there”. And somehow, as the weather system would have it … there was exactly the direction from whence the wind came that night. Head on. Pushing them back from whence they had come.
As the wind blew more fiercely … so the waves on this vast Lake grew larger.
Both the wind and the waves were violently opposing them … tormenting them in fact as they tried their level best to get where Jesus had sent them.
Lake Galilee is about 13km wide. The disciples had left as night fell. By the last watch of the night, 3am-6am somewhere … they still had not gotten to the far side. They were far out … far from Jesus and far from their destination.
But you have to admire their tenacity. At some point they must have dropped the sails and started to row because of the craziness of the wind and the impossibility of tacking against it. And as the storm raged … and as the waves beat the boat backwards … they kept going … they kept rowing.
I have huge admiration for that!
To be honest a lot of discipleship is like this. The lives of the majority of Christians are not like great shooting stars flashing across the sky … and they’re not meant to be. But if there’s one thing that all disciples are called to be good at … it’s keeping on keeping on.
Eugene Petersen referred to discipleship as a “Long Obedience in the Same Direction”.
That’s faithful discipleship. Showing up … day after day after day … to pursue the purpose for which Jesus has called us.
Faithful discipleship is two Christian parents both working from home with two little boys to care for … and showing up in love day after day … as the best parents they know how to be.
Faithful discipleship is the doctor who gets up day after day to haul her exhausted body back to the Wards … knowing that she is doing it in obedience to the call of God on her life.
Faithful discipleship is hating your face mask … but always wearing it in public for the good of others … because Jesus said to consider the needs of others before your own.
Faithful discipleship is not really having any words to say to your friend who faces off against the beast of depression every single day of his life … but phoning him every day anyway … to chat and pray with him.
I think a massively underrated virtue of the Christian disciple is a stubborn refusal to give up!
I love the measure of that on display in the Twelve in the Boat … they just kept going and they just kept rowing … pressing onwards in the direction Jesus had sent them in.
3. When storms come … Jesus comes
Jesus was up on the mountain beside Lake Galilee … probably up on the slopes towards what is today the Golan Heights. And in the Spirit … Jesus perceives that the disciples need Him. It’s probably not all that supernatural. A massive wind had come up. Wind on Galilee always meant a storm. The disciples were probably about 6-7km out on the Lake. Jesus had no boat.
But … no matter what it took … even if it was walking on water … Jesus came to the disciples.
Need I remind you that the angel had said that Jesus’ “other name” would be Immanuel, God with us?
Need I remind you that Jesus is the embodiment of the God who said in Isaiah 43:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”
Need I remind you that when Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego were in the fiery furnace … the LORD stood in there with them.
I don’t know about you … but in my experience … JESUS is never closer than in the heart of a storm … or a raging furnace in our lives.
It feels to me as though Jesus is magnetically attracted to our struggles and sufferings. You don’t get to go through pain and difficulty and hardship ALONE as a disciple. It simply never happens.
Jesu always comes to us. Even if it needs Him to walk-on-water.
Normally its not that. Normally He comes by the Holy Spirit … or He comes by a fellow-believer. But He always arrives!
4. Before the storm is calmed … Jesus invites us to have faith
It’s noticeable that the disciples … who are mostly fairly hardened boatsmen … are not said to have been frightened of the storm. They were battling it out and they were weary … and they were probably in a fair amount of danger.
But it is the miraculous sight of a man walking on water that filled them with terror. Which is why Jesus’ opening line is to tell them not to let fear get the better of them because it is HE.
What Jesus was asking them to believe was that in the middle of their storm, He, Jesus, had come to them to fill them with courage and strength and to see them safely to the other side.
Jesus’ words to them are words of life to us too: Do not be afraid. I am here. Take courage.
I’m not going to spend much time on Peter’s failed water-walk. But I do want to point out that when Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and the devil came to Him … temptation #1 was to prove His identity as the Son of God … and temptation #3 was to test God.
And PETER, God bless him, does not meet the water-walking Jesus with faith … instead he puts Him to the test.
IF it is you …!?
Friends that is what Jesus refers to at the end of the story when He says: ““How little faith you have! Why did you doubt?”
Jesus says, “It is I” … and Peter says: “Prove it”.
What can we learn practically from that?
We learn that when we are in a storm … and Jesus IS drawing near to us … we are invited and even expected to accept His presence by faith.
Our part is to believe with as much faith as we can muster … even if that is a tiny measure like a mustard seed:
- that Jesus is with me in this storm even when I am physically all alone …
- that this Christian friend or family member of mine who is standing with me faithfully is the embodiment of the presence of Jesus …
- and that Jesus will keep His word and do exactly what He promised … which is to give us the power to get through the storm!
What response has the crazy storm of 2020 triggered in you?:
In His grace, Jesus is walking across the water of cyberspace today … to come to you in your home and say: Take courage! It is I … To remind us that He is with us … and to invite us to TRUST Him.
And thank you Peter for pointing out by your actions that to trust Him means NOT to put Him to the test.
It means NOT to say: If that’s really you than end this pandemic NOW!
Instead to trust means to cry out to Him in our anger, fear or frustration … and to allow Him to get into the boat with us … to see us safely through this storm and get us to the other side. For, as v. 32 and 33 say:
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’