Stay in the Boat

Sermon based on Mt. 14:22-33 for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear disciples in the boat: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Don’t do what Peter did. Don’t get out of the boat. Stay in the boat.

Some preachers might exhort you to get out of the boat and have your “walking on water moment” like Peter had. Don’t do it. Stay in the boat.

Matthew tells us that Jesus made the disciples get in the boat. He actually uses quite strong language to say this. Perhaps it would be better to say that Jesus compelled them to get into the boat, as He sent them to the other side of the sea.

This follows immediately after the feeding of the 5,000 which we heard about last week. Jesus dismisses the crowds after feeding them, and then goes up on a mountain to pray by Himself. We don’t know exactly how long the disciples were fighting with the wind and the waves that were beating against them, rowing as hard as they could, but it was from sometime in the evening when Jesus compelled them to go, up until the fourth watch, that is, somewhere between 3 and 6 in the morning. So seemingly it had been a good 6 to 8 hours of fighting with the wind and the waves.

Jesus knew what He was doing. He knew there was going to be a storm. He knew the disciples would be fighting with the wind and the waves. Yet He still compelled them to get into the boat and go.

Now if Jesus compels you to do something, you can rest assured that it is for your good. But what’s the good here? Jesus sends the disciples to fight against the wind and the waves in a storm for 6 to 8 hours while He goes onto a mountain to pray. And then, in the wee hours of the morning, He walks out to them on the sea.

I don’t know about you, but if I had spent 8 hours exhausting myself rowing against the wind, with rain beating down on me and waves trying to turn the boat around, and I saw a figure walking calmly on the water out there on the sea, I’d freak out like the disciples did! I’d be terrified and scream out with fear, too!

But Jesus immediately addresses every concern the disciples had. The disciples are troubled – Jesus says, “Take heart.” The disciples say He is a ghost – Jesus identifies Himself by saying, “It is I.” The disciples fear – Jesus tells them, “Stop being afraid.” Jesus knew what was going on in their hearts and minds, and He comforts them with His Word.

But why would Jesus send the disciples into a storm, and then come and terrify them? Well, what was going on with the disciples even after Jesus’ words of comfort? Peter is often ready to speak his mind, so we can learn from what he says. He answers Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He is still questioning who is really walking on the water: if it is you, and if what you say is true, then prove it by telling me to walk on the water.

Jesus responds with one word, “Come.” And Peter does. Peter walks on the water to Jesus. He is looking to Jesus as he walks on the water to Him. But once He’s there, he starts to look at the wind and the waves instead of Jesus. He sees the storm whipping around him – terrifying storm clouds, huge waves, lighting, and thunder. And he knows he should not be able to walk on water. He realizes he doesn’t have the faith to walk on water. So Peter sinks and cries out, “Lord, save me!”

As soon as Peter looks away from Jesus and at the storm, then he sinks. As soon as he looks at himself, he realizes he doesn’t have the faith to walk on water. So he sinks.

This is the same for us. As soon as we start to look at ourselves and our faith, then we begin to sink. If we look to see how strong our faith is, we will see that it is weak. That’s why we don’t look at our faith, we look at Jesus. We don’t look out at the storms in our life, we look at Jesus. We know the storm is there, we cannot ignore it, but we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Jesus sent the disciples into the storm and then terrifies them. He terrifies them out of trusting in themselves, or even trusting in their own faith. Jesus knew that Peter’s faith would not keep him above water, yet He invites Peter to come to Him on the water. It wasn’t until Peter begins to sink that he finally calls out in faith, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately grabs hold of him and saves him.

Instead of testing Jesus or asking Him to prove who He is when you are facing life’s storms, just stay in the boat. If He put you in the boat, He is with you in the boat, even if seeing Him near terrifies you. So stay in the boat.

The Church has oftentimes been spoken of as the boat that carries us through the storms of life. It is in the boat where the other disciples are. It is the boat that receives Jesus. It is the boat where Jesus brings Peter after he is saved from drowning. It is in the boat the disciples worship Jesus as the Son of God. It is in the boat that Jesus compels us to be. Don’t test God by leaving the Church only to sink.

Instead of looking at life’s storms and seeing how weak we are, we should look to Jesus in the midst of our storms. The storms of our life move aside all our fake gods to which we’d like to cling – they all show their powerlessness to save us. Jesus compels us into situations that leave us nothing else to which we can cling.

The fact that Jesus compels us into a storm; that God Himself sends us into a storm, is not a bad thing. It means that our suffering is not just bad luck or by chance. If it is merely by chance that we are in the storm, it must be merely by chance that we make it through the storm. However, if God sends us into a storm, we know He does it for a reason. If God sends us into a storm, He will also save us from that storm. So stay in the boat.

But what if I find myself doubting? Will Jesus answer? How will He respond? What if I have failed to believe His promises before? Will Jesus renounce me and abandon me? Will He let me sink? What if, in my weakness of faith, I test Him because I do not believe His Word? What if I leave the boat?

Sometimes, in our weakness of faith we do not trust Him during the storms of our life, and we leave the boat. In our weakness of faith we begin to sink. Out there, in the midst of the sea, out of the boat, there is nothing else to grab hold of. There’s nothing else to stand on. We must cry out with Peter, “Lord, save me!” Even though our faith may be little like Peter’s, we can call on the name of the Lord to save us. Then, we don’t even see the wind and the waves. Sinking under water we look up only at Jesus. And note that it is not Peter who grabs Jesus – it is Jesus who grabs Peter. It’s not us clinging to Jesus, it is Jesus clinging to us.

His death on the cross has given you forgiveness of sins. Through your Baptism, Jesus has brought you into His boat, the Church. Through the Lord’s Supper He strengthens you to stay in the boat. So even in the midst of storms – especially in the midst of storms – stay in the boat. Jesus knows what’s going on in your heart and mind and comforts you with His Word. Let Jesus’ Word be enough for you in the midst of the storm: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Amen.

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


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