Text: Matthew 14: 22-33.
Let us pray: Almighty God, may the indwelling of the Holy Spirit among us illumine the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts. In the name of Christ, the Rock of our Salvation, Amen.
You have probably already noticed that I try to weave both Christian Education and Worship into one when I prepare service materials. I’d like to give you a fair warning that today we have a passage with incredible theology. But first, a little reminder on the background of the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew was written in Greek, so its original readers and hearers were Greek-speaking. Biblical scholars tell us the first community also seem to have been Jews, as there are elements throughout the Gospel that point this out. Some examples include Matthew’s concern with fulfillment of Old Testament passages, his tracing the decent of Jesus from the Jewish patriarch Abraham, his use of Jewish terminology such as “Kingdom of Heaven,” which points to the Jewish hesitancy to use God’s name when reading or speaking. Then there is Matthew’s emphasis on Jesus as the Son of David, linking him to the Golden Age of Ancient Israel when King David expanded the Kingdom almost to its furthest reach.
Matthew also includes intriguing examples of a universal outlook, stretching the reign of Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah to those outside the fold of the Jewish flock; Some examples include the coming of the most decidedly non-Jewish Magi. Also woven in is a view that Jesus saw the harvest as the entire world, not just a harvest of Israelites. Matthew’s full statement of the Great Commission makes this abundantly clear:
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age (Mt. 28:19-20).”
Biblical scholars agree all these clues paint an intriguing picture: Matthew and his community are caught somewhere in the transitional process from Jewish sect to Christian religion. Some of the pressing issues continually addressed center around fulfillment of scriptures for a new age. I find that quite appropriate for our context today.
On that note, in today’s text, our short 11 verses are absolutely packed with theological meaning. Matthew sets the stage with a miracle. Jesus walks on water through a storm to the disciples, calms the storm, and has an unbelievable interaction with that most impetuous of disciples, Peter.
I’d like to share three theological implications revealed in this passage. It is arguable that Mathew’s congregation, in their navigating the uncharted waters between sect and new faith, were just beginning to explore the theological implications of the stories about Jesus as Matthew told them. Coming from their Jewish background they would have understood the stories differently than we might just reading them off the page today. Here’s the first one:
He Came Walking toward Them on the Sea (v. 25).
Commentator Iwan Russell-Jones reminds us that in Jewish thought, water represents much more than a mere physical reality. Whether it is the sea with its unfathomable depths, the relentless river in full flood, or the all-consuming deluge, there is something metaphysical about the threat water poses to human life.
So when Jesus approaches the disciples in their boat as they battle with the elements, the prospect is, naturally, terrifying. Who can walk here with such authority and freedom? The act and its associations are unmistakable. Jesus is exercising a prerogative that belongs to God alone. When he speaks to them, his words serve only to reinforce the sense that this is a divine revelation. A second shouts out yet another revelation:
Take Heart, It Is I; Do Not Be Afraid (v. 27).
The Greek has Jesus saying egō eimi, which can mean simply “it is I”; but more is being suggested here. For Matthew’s audience, this Greek phrase is packed with significance. These are the words that the Septuagint uses to translate the Hebrew name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exod. 3:14). [So for Matthew’s hearers,] Jesus is using the divine name to announce his presence. I am is here, trampling victoriously over the waves.
He also says, “Do not be afraid.” Commentator Iwan Russell-Jones reminds us that this simple statement is a keynote to the entire Gospel. God’s intention, acting through Christ, is not to terrorize or diminish, but to save, uphold, and establish.
The third and final phrase is a bit more complex. Peter says:
Command Me to Come to You (v. 28)
You’ve got to love Peter. Peter calls him “Lord” without understanding that title’s full significance. The lordship of Jesus is given specific content and meaning in this incident: he is lord over the deep, over the wind and the waves and all the destructive forces that threaten to overwhelm human life. Jesus’ actions here hold out the promise of a new genesis for his followers, a new entry into the land of promise, a new future. “When they got into the boat, the wind ceased” (v. 32).
This is one of those moments, like the transfiguration, where the disciples gain some understanding and insight into Jesus’ identity and mission. The whole event leads up to a mighty confession of faith: “Truly you are the Son of God” (v. 33).
There you go, a three-point sermon with an introduction and a conclusion, right? Not quite yet. I want to bring this home to you and me, in today’s context. Let’s start with two questions: Does it have to take a storm in our life before we come to rock-bottom in fear and trembling? Does it have to take a storm before we can take that step of faith, treading out onto the waves, however imperfectly, to join Jesus?
I do not know. I can only share with you from my own observations and experience, limited as they may be. It seems to me some people sail through life without a doubt to their name, living out their dreams and maintaining a faith-filled existence all at the same time. Others struggle, either with unrealized fiscal dreams or with spiritual doubts so many and varied that they struggle to accept there is a God at all-or at best if there is, at most an impersonal one. Some even struggle with both of these things.
Then there are those who live their lives seemingly completely at ease with their public roles and responsibilities yet at the heart of their private lives, other struggles may be evident: Broken relationships either one way or both ways within their marriage or family, or possibly addictions of some sort. Or they may struggle with an emptiness where they thought love once would fill, missing a deeper connection of service one to another or a deeper connection they need to thrive.
In the spectrum of relationships these situations can either be more or less severe-from occasional gloomy days of heavy sighs to deeper bouts of clinical depression.
I would be willing to wager that every one of us here, myself included, have touched places in our lives where the darkness of uncertainty sometimes clouds the clarity of vision of our Lord standing on the waves and beckoning us to come.
And, like Peter, we may have those times when we step out of the boat with our eyes fixed on the glory of Jesus, begin walking on the waters to him only to become distracted by the cares and worries we find around us, causing us to lose sight of the God we love and serve as we begin to sink beneath the waves of our existence.
Then, at that very moment, it is as if we suddenly come back to our senses, lift our eyes back up to God and cry out, “Save me, Lord!” And thanks be to God, Jesus yet stretches out his hand to us, offering to us the strength to gather ourselves back into the boat and begin again. That is good news indeed.
May all glory be unto the One who came, lived among us, died and was buried, only to rise again to live among us, so that whenever two or more are gathered in His name, He is there; even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).