As we continue our bible study in Luke we concluded chapter 10. Here is the written copy if you’d like to follow along at home: The gospel of Luke: A Bible Study.
This is the sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost. The sermon text is: Matthew 14:22-33. The sermon theme is: Jesus Is The Only One Who Can Save Us. Here is the Written Sermon.
Jesus Is The Only One Who Can Save Us
The only one who can help is Jesus. One of the things I learned when I first became a pastor is that there are many, many times when the only one who can help is Jesus. People would tell me that their jobs were at risk or gone. And I couldn't help them. But Jesus could. People would come to me telling me about the tragedies happening in their own families. And I couldn't help. But I could point them to Jesus. And in your own lives you know that this is true. There are so many times and ways that Jesus is the only one who can help. This morning in Matthew's gospel the disciples learn that same lesson. In Matthew 14 we read these words: "22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone," (Matt 14:22-23 NIV)
There were crowds upon crowds. They were pressing on Jesus and his disciples. They were wearing them down. So Jesus forced his disciples to get into a boat and sail to the middle of the Sea of Galilee.1 And there, in the middle of that sea they learned what true terror was: "24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear." (Matt 14:24-26 NIV)
The disciples were terrified as darkness descended and they were alone. They were terrified as they could look out across the dark sea and see the wind and waves rise. They were terrified as the waves crashed against the boat, threatening to crush it. Matthew doesn't use the word, "crash" or "beat" here. No, instead, he uses the word, "torture."2 The waves were continually torturing the boat. And finally, they were terrified because of the time involved. Jesus didn't come in the first watch of the night. He came in the last watch. When they were most weary and worn down; when they were most afraid-that's when Jesus came.
And just what was it that they were so afraid of? They were afraid of what happened at death. They didn't want to drown. And maybe even more so, they were terrified of what happened after death. Was there heaven or hell waiting for them? If you ponder their situation at all, you can sympathize, can't you? For, if you live long enough, there will be that time when terror will find you-terror of what happens when you die and terror of what happens after you die.
Jesus is the only one who can save them. And he does. But how he does this is fascinating. He walks out on the water to them. And this is a detail to take note of. You would think that Jesus walking out to them on top of the sea would strengthen them and fill them with courage. But it doesn't. The opposite happens. If they were terrified before, when they saw Jesus in his might and power they become even more terrified. You see, there is in this act a huge temptation to sin, isn't there? When there is hardship and tragedy in our lives we think that what we need is for God to show us his power. But that's not what we need. What we need is exactly what Jesus gave his disciples. He gave them a promise. In our final hymn this morning we will sing these words:
Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for ev'ry plea;
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.
What we need is a promise of protection and forgiveness, not a show of power. And that's exactly what they received. For Jesus told them: ""Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."" (Matt 14:27 NIV) But what happened next is truly amazing. Peter reacts to this promise in his own peculiar way: "28 "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." 29 "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"" (Matt 14:28-30 NIV)
Peter says, "If you are [who you claim to be] then command me to come to you." It's one thing to have courage enough to stay in the boat. It's another thing entirely to have the courage to walk out to Jesus on the water. So what Peter asks for, Jesus gives. And so, right then and there the terror of the darkness and waves is followed by a test. But it's not a test that Jesus places on Peter. It's a test that Peter burdens himself with. As long as he trusts in Jesus and looks to him he is fine. But when he trusts in himself and then doubts Jesus' command and promise that's when he sinks just as quickly as his faith sank.
And this too is a temptation we face. There are times when God allows us to be worn down by types of suffering and times of suffering. And we hear those promises of protection calling out to us in God's word. No, we don't have the promise as Peter did to walk on water. But we do have promises that we are his sheep and he is our shepherd. And he will watch over us. And we are stable when we hear the promise and trust in it. But when, like Peter, we trust in our own ability and power and doubt Jesus' promise-that's when our faith sinks as surely as Peter's body did.
And Jesus is the only one who can save us when this happens when the terror is followed by our own self-testing. And when this happens look at what Jesus does. He trains us: "Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"" (Matt 14:31 NIV)
There are two vital details for us to focus on in this verse. First, Jesus does not say "O You of NO faith." Instead, he says "O you of little faith." Peter had faith in Jesus. It was given to him years ago by the Holy Spirit. His great sin was letting his faith get beaten down and washed away by the troubles he saw with his eyes. And that is our sin too.
And Second, notice how Jesus speaks of doubt. Doubt is evil. Doubt destroys faith. I mention this because it has become so popular now-days to conclude that doubt is good and natural. I remember watching that movie years ago called, doubt. And in it there was a Roman Catholic priest who, in his homily, said that without doubt we aren't human. And so we should cherish our doubt. That's not how Jesus speaks. It is true that doubt is part of our humanity. But it's not part of our good nature. It is part of of sinful human nature put there by Satan and handed down to us from Adam and Eve. Doubt in God's promises is a horrible sin.
By brothers and sisters in Christ, learn to see both of these as sins. It is a sin to trust in ourselves. It is a sin to doubt God's promises to us in Christ. Jesus is the only one who can save us from these sins. And he does exactly that. For Matthew tells us: "32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."" (Matt 14:32-33 NIV)
So Jesus reaches out and grabs sinking Peter with his powerful hand. And this is a powerful reminder to us. Jesus is the only one who can save us from death and what happens after death. He is the only one who can save us from the sin of self-trust and doubt. He does this by giving us the gift of faith in him. Through God's word by itself or through God's word combined with water he gave you this gift of faith in him. But the Holy Spirit doesn't just give us this faith. He also preserves us in this faith.
I wonder, my dear friends in Christ, have you ever thought as I have? Have you ever thought to yourself, "What if I run my race with perseverance all the days of my life and then at the end when the fear of death weighs on me and the pain of life crushes me-that is when I give up my faith in Jesus?" When we think those sorts of thoughts that's when it's important to read these words of Jesus again. That's when it's important to know that Jesus doesn't just give us our faith. He also preserves us in that faith. Just as surely as Jesus reached out and grasped Peter's hand he will hold onto our hearts and take us to heaven.
Jesus was the only one who could save us from our self-trust and our doubt. And through this gift of faith in him he both gives us this salvation and keeps us in it. Amen.
1 "ἠνάγκασεν" (Matt 14:22 NA28-T)
2 "βασανιζόμενον" (Matt 14:24 NA28-T)