This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Matthew 14:22-33
Purpose: to comfort listeners with the reality of Christ's intercession and challenge them to find Christ reaching out his hand in the storms of life.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Harry Frielink, Exeter, Ontario
Dear Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
There are two storms we all must face in life.
The disciples in the night we see them in our text were literally churning waters. They had been out on the waters and had gotten to the middle of the lake. But out of nowhere a notorious squall blew in against them. They had to pull down the sails and for hours had been rowing to keep their boat from being swamped. Perhaps they were fearing for their lives. Certainly they would have felt depressed in their futile efforts to get across the lake.
And as Matthew records this event for the early church in Northern Judea, I'm sure there were many times those early Jewish Christians felt just like those disciples that night. Sometimes persecuted, often toiling away at the work of Christ's Church, but feeling alone. Feeling like those disciples on the oars: "We're getting nowhere."
Maybe you're a kid facing problems at school, like getting picked on. Or maybe you're an adult and your work is frustrating. Or maybe you lost your job and felt you could manage; now after months you're overwhelmed and depressed. I'm sure you've been in such a storm. If not right now, certainly we'll all face family problems, death and grief, an accident or illness. Such storms can blow in as unannounced visitors at any moment. The daily struggles are the first set of storms.
But the second set of storms we face on the sea of life are the storms of doubt! We're tempted to think God doesn't care. He must be unaware. If He does know about my storms, He's distant and cold, and not here! In the storms of doubt we often just accept the drudgery and despair. And we fail to look up!
But picture what Matthew recorded. There is a solitary figure 1200 feet up above the storms. He's kneeling their on the hills of Sea of Galilee. And just like God's eye is even on the smallest sparrow, so too Jesus the Saviour of the world has his watchful eye on that storm tossed boat. That doesn't come as much comfort, yet when we realize that it was Jesus that sent them out into the storm in the first place, does that help?
Our text begins with Jesus dismissing huge a crowd of at least 15,000 people. He had been teaching them all day, right up until the end of the day. Now they're hungry. The disciples say, "Send them away!" But Jesus says, "I'll show them that I am the Saviour of the world, the living God, who fed the children of Israel manna, bread from heaven, in the desert in Old Testament."
So Jesus did it! He broke the bread, and we know it was a miracle. It is just good to feed poor hungry people! That is a wonderful part of what Christ's kingdom is about in this hungry world. We all ought to have a part in that action.
But there is more here! Jesus was making a sign, a blinking neon light to the Jews: Hello, this is what God did in the Old Testament and Jesus is doing it here again!! Even more, Jesus is saying for the whole world, "I am the bread that comes down from heaven. The same way you need daily bread as the staple you live on, so I am the spiritual bread every person needs for life with God. All you need for life, protection, for love, for purpose you will find it all in me – I am God, I am your Bread of Life! (John 6)But the people don't care about that. They see the miracle and think this guy could make us rich. This guy could drive out the Romans. Look, he has got us men seated in groups of fifties like an army. He'll make life easy for us. Let's make him king and march into Jerusalem!
And that is where our story begins. Jesus says, "That's not what I've come to do! It's not what my kingdom is all about. You crowds, go away! You disciples, go over to the other side of the sea and I'll meet you there to teach you more. Yes, the Saviour of the world commands his disciples to go out on Lake Galilee that evening. He has a plan that the disciples know nothing about! But pretty soon they will likely be wondering, "Why did he send us out onto this lake with such wind?"
But Jesus sees the wind too. After a few hours, say 9 pm, they've made it about half way across the lake. Hours of straining on the oars and now they point the boat into the waves to avoid death! And Jesus, who could have come to their rescue, right away doesn't come! In fact, it's not until 3am that Jesus miraculously comes over the waves to save them! Why didn't He come sooner?
Don't you feel that way in your life too? In the hardest times of our lives, in the greatest struggles, it often seems we're all alone! We feel God has abandoned us. We're tempted to give in to despair in our personal lives. And we give in to drudgery in our church life. Giving up on God, we're tempted just to live for small pleasures, without God at our side! We give up on God's purposes. Our tank is empty of any love to accomplish God's work.
Sometimes, we can even feel that if there is any supernatural involvement in what we're going through, it must be a hostile power. Like those wearied disciples we're unsure of the spiritual realm. They thought Christ coming to them was a ghost, some powers of darkness. And we may feel that God's work in the storms of our lives is only as an angry God getting back at us!
But Matthew wants the early Christians for whom he wrote this gospel to picture the disciples coming to the end of their rope. And where is Jesus? More importantly, what is he doing? He's above the storm praying for them with all wisdom and all powerful love!
Do you ever think of that great work of Jesus praying for you in your life? Have you ever had a vision of Jesus as your Great Intercessor?
Dear people, in the first place, our text teaches us to find Jesus above your storms - praying for you!
It's wonderful to know you have a friend praying for you when you go through a hard time. But imagine if every time you face a storm, you could know Jesus, the Saviour of the world, is praying for you in that storm. Imagine he's working things out with God the Father for you to get through the troubles! It'd be like you're in legal trouble with some town officials. You find, out of the blue, that one of your neighbours, an expert lawyer, has voluntarily gone to work fixing the bind you're in with the authorities! That's what Christians believe Jesus role in the universe is. He is the only Mediator between God and man! Matthew is saying that you may be in the storm but, rest assured, Jesus is the Mediator of world. Know he is working out all of our troubles and tests, in prayer with the heavenly Father!
See, just like in the miracle of bread from heaven in the feeding of the 5000, so too here Jesus is making an Old Testament picture to show to us that He is God working in our lives! Do you remember in Exodus, after God's people are freed from Egypt, how they had to travel through the desert? Remember in that time of testing in the desert, the Amalekites attack them? A battle breaks out. Moses the Old Testament leader and mediator must go on the hilltop. While he is praying with arms uplifted, the Israelites were winning the battle. When his arms drooped, they were losing. Jesus is saying, "I am the one who is praying for you on the mountain but, unlike Moses, my arms never get tired! My prayers will always be answered for you!"
That's the great work of Jesus after the cross, after dying for your sins, and rising again, He went into heaven, presented the perfect sacrifice that makes you right with God. If you've trusted in His work, then now you can know that He ever lives to make intercession for you! Hebrews 7 reminds us, "Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." Hebrews 7:25
Intercessory prayer is Jesus' job in this stormy time of our world's life. He's comes to the Father on your behalf and mine and says, "Look at these guys in the storm-tossed boat. I made them right with you and now they're struggling and I know their struggles inside out. Now, I pray Father, make it good for them, give them strength to get through the way you want them to. Turn the evil to good for them. Save them completely!" That's the position Jesus is in as the God-man who came to earth to know our struggles completely and then returned to heaven as our intercessor. Yes, now Jesus is our middle-man in heaven!
It's kind of like during the NHL hockey strike. The owners wouldn't budge and the players wouldn't budge. The players said, "Fine! None of us get paid. Stop the whole works. We'll just live in the storm forever." But then they pick some mediators. Who were they? Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Why? Because as former players, these two understand players' concerns and struggles; and as part owners of NHL franchises, they understand the owners' concerns. So they intercede, mediate.*
Our Lord Jesus perfectly understands your struggle and cares deeply for you in your storm. But He also perfectly understands God's will – praying for that to be activated in your storm! Don't you love Jesus for this? He understands you completely and is praying that God will achieve His purpose for the trials and deliver you through them. Listen to Jesus pray for the Apostle Peter in a later stormy trial he'd face! "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32).He prays in John 17 for all his disciples: "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name," which is a way of saying, "keep them safe in this world of trouble, but protect them from the evil one. Transform them by your truth. Give them your glory!" And if you're wondering whether Jesus prays for you still today, he does. Listen to another verse from Jesus' own prayer in John 17: "My prayer is not for them (the disciples) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message (that includes us), that all of them may be one." (John 17:20-21)
So the disciples are at the end of their rope, straining at the oars, in the middle of the darkness. Jesus often lets us get to that point so we'll turn and look up to him in faith and trust! Are you praying to him in the storms of your life? The disciples couldn't look above the gloom of their situation. We, however, know Jesus rose from the dead and is seated above all our storms. We know he has been given all power and authority to work salvation in your life and mine. So we can and we need to look up to him in our storms!
The heart of the gospel is even better than this truth that Jesus is now interceding for us. The disciples didn't look to Jesus. They failed the test. But still Jesus comes down to them. It's like a little child running to her mother's room in a thunder storm. She says, "Sure, mom, I know God is with me. But, Mom, I want a God-with-skin-on!" And that's what Jesus is. He says, "I won't leave you orphans, I'll come to you!"
So, in the second place, our text teaches us to find Jesus in the storms of doubt: speaking God's Words of promise.
The disciples weren't sure yet that Jesus was the Son of God, ready and willing to work in their lives! In fact, in the gospel of Mark we read after they got in the boat and the winds died down, "they were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened." (Mark 6:51-52). Ever feel like that? You just don't get God. You put him on hold in your life, and harden your heart to him. We think to ourselves, "Jesus, alive, sending His Spirit and Word to lead and guide and empower me today? Nah, I'd rather just go through the motions, I'll keep my head down in the sorrow, I'll walk alone!"
And that is the point of the miracle of Jesus walking on the water. Sure, there's an awesome, gravity-defying miracle that proves Jesus is God. Sure, there's fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy; God says, "I AM he who treads on waves." But what's the big deal in this miracle? Jesus doesn't stop the storm! No, he does not stop the storm. But he comes to be with his disciples in the middle of it! He walks on the storm and says to us in the middle of it all: "Take courage. It is I. Don't be afraid!" That "It is I" is literally Ego eimi, in the Greek, which is I AM, the covenant name of God, Jehovah or Jahweh. Jesus is saying: "I am the presence of the living God with you, so take courage for life; don't be afraid! - Cheer Up!"Of course, he's not saying that in a flippant way, but cheer up because I am the living God coming to you personally! (cf. Ps 91)
This is the gospel. Jesus came into the middle of our mess to proclaim that He's with us. Jesus comes in the middle of our storms of sin, suffering, brokenness, depression, darkness and says, "Load it on me. I'll take it to the cross. Your sins are forgiven. I've secured God's favour for you. I'll rise again and you with me! Come and by my Spirit I'll give you the power to walk over these storms!"
And it's interesting that just the form of Jesus, his physical presence, couldn't deliver them. But when they hear his voice, that's the aha moment that brings deliverance! Jesus only becomes the Deliverer, when he speaks his Word, and the disciples recognize him! If you have religion, but don't yet have Christ, you need this aha moment: Jesus speaking words of promise into your life, your storms, your drudgery!You who are new to this God-stuff, maybe open to spirituality, you need this aha moment – a flash of recognition that, by his promises to you, Jesus has come to you in the power of his Spirit. You who are new Christians and you who have been Christians from as early as you can remember, we all need this aha moment in Jesus' words of promise. We need to hear in his promises that God is saying: "It's Me. I am in your life, I'll save!"
What about you today? Which promise do you need to hear? Are you in trouble? Do you need peace? Are you facing death or depressed? Do you need to know your sin is forgiven? Need to know your tears register and that they'll be turned to laughter? Dig up the promises of God. They are all fulfilled in Jesus! Isaiah said it so beautifully: "For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.'" (Isaiah 41:13)
We need to be like Peter saying, "Yes, Lord Jesus, I'll join you, I'll walk through the storm on the waves, through the trials with you, Jesus! I'll go through the valley of the shadow of death, believing you'll show up. I'll do as you command. I'll keep serving in your kingdom and strain on the oars in this your church. I will walk with you, Jesus my Saviour, through and over all this! Your promises ring true in my storms, my darkness, and the drudgery of my life."
Sure we, like Peter, see the waves. I think we can excuse his wavering, and the sinking. But Peter does the right thing in that storm of doubt. He cries out: "Lord, save me." And look at Jesus' response. Even our little faltering faith is enough: "Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him." (Matthew 14:31).
This story isn't a moral like "Be bold like Peter" or "Don't be rash like Peter." It's about Jesus and his way with all who will recognize him as Saviour. All who will take hold of his promises!
Are you turning to him, trusting him when the chips are down? This Jesus is too wise to make a mistake in the trials and tests he brings us through. He's ordained them to draw us to him, to purify our faith! And he's too loving to ever withdraw his hand from any who come to him in faith!
So Jesus says, "You of little faith…" And if we're honest, we know that's all of us! But then he puts his finger on the only question that remains: "why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:31). Jesus' rebuke isn't about Peter sinking in the waves. We'll all do that from time to time. Jesus knows our feeble frame and He is a compassionate Saviour. He's not expecting perfect faith from us! No. Jesus is rebuking the disciples for what Peter voiced when he first came: "Lord, if it's you…"
Right now from heaven, Jesus is here by the Holy Spirit in your life, in your storms, and he is speaking his gospel promises to you with outstretched hand. He's saying, "Don't doubt me as One who is praying for you! Look up to me and claim my words of promise, and you will experience me as God who meets you in the storms of life!" And full of faith we'll do as the disciples did: "Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'" (Matthew 14:33)
*Doriani, Daniel M., Matthew v.2, Reformed Expository Commentary, P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, 2008.
Order of Worship
WE APPROACH THE GOD OF GRACE
Words of Welcome & Announcements
Call to Worship: Psalm 27:1,4-5,13-14
Opening Song: "It is Good to Sing Your Praises" PsH #171
(alt. "Come, Now is the Time to Worship"
WE SEEK GRACE IN REPENTANCE
Prayer of Confession
Song of Assurance: "To God Be the Glory" PsH #473
God's Will for Our Lives: Matthew 22:37-40
GOD'S GRACE PROCLAIMED
Prayer of Illumination
Scripture: Matthew 14:22-23
RESPONDING TO GOD'S GRACE
Prayer of Application
Hymn of Response: "How Firm a Foundation" PsH #500
God's Parting Blessing
Parting Song: "My Friends May You Grow in Grace"
(alt. "Now Blessed Be the Lord our God" PsH #630