Immediate Action is the term for the Army's step by step process to clear an M-16 rifle when it jams. You don't hesitate, debate, think; you do. In our text Jesus takes immediate action on behalf of His disciples. Look at the text: In regard to the disciples: He immediately made them, said to them, and reached for one. Jesus took immediate action and still does.
Jesus takes immediate action to save from dangers we're unaware of. How many times have I referred to Luther saying that if we could see how many spears and arrows the Devil has aimed at us every moment we would die of fright? There are projectiles aimed at the disciples that they don't see.
Jesus immediately compels the disciples to get into the boat. "Compels" is only found in the Gospels 3 times. All occur in this event. He urged, forced, constrained them to go. Why? Because as John 6 tells us, the 5,000 that Jesus had just fed were about to take Jesus by force and make Him king. You won't realize what a spiritually dangerous situation they were in till you read Mark 6 and find that the disciples did not understand about the feeding of the 5000. In fact Mark reports their hearts were hardened by it.
So how about you? What miracles of Jesus are you hardened by? The fact that some of you paused to think, "What miracles is he talking about?" and others, "Oh he means the miracles recorded in Scripture," may mean your heart is already hardened. No? What about the miracle of Baptism? It's not turning water into wine; it's just turning water into a life-giving water rich in grace. What about Absolution? Sure it's not saying a word and raising the physically dead; it's just saying a word and raising the spiritually dead. What about Communion? Sure it's not Jesus walking on water; it's just Jesus on our Altar and in our mouths.
We're in a very dangerous place when the physical trumps the spiritual. That's where the disciples were. Being hardened to the Feeding of the 5,000, they didn't see the looming spiritual danger, so Jesus compelled them to get into a boat where He knew they would be in physical danger. Do any of us ever think we're in spiritual danger? No, we're in danger from high cholesterol, cancer in our family, not wearing our seatbelt, crime, Ebola, terrorists, or bad political leaders. What sort of physical dangers might Jesus compel us to get into so that we might see our real danger is spiritual, our real need can only be answered by Jesus?
Jesus takes immediate action by making the disciples get into a boat to deliver them from a spiritual danger they don't see to a physical danger they will see, and then Jesus takes immediate action through the Word. Set the scene. The disciples have rowed for about 8 hours and only made 3 or 4 miles. The Greek doesn't say the boat was "buffeted by the waves" but "tormented." The disciples are exhausted; it's between 3 and 6 A.M.
They are about in the middle of the Sea of Galilee when Jesus comes walking on the sea right up to them. It's the Greek face to face preposition, and they lose it. They don't just say, "It's a ghost," but they "cried out in fear." The word translated "cried out" can mean "croak," "the caw of a raven;" the inarticulate noises an animal in pain, rage, or fear makes. If you've ever made such a sound and remember doing so, you're embarrassed by the memory.
This is the scene. Rolling waving, howling wind, shrieking disciples, and then "Jesus immediately said to them; take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Jesus takes immediate action with His Word. They were terrified by what was unexpected and unnerving in their lives, and Jesus said it was Him. Do you think He treats you any differently? Has He ever treated His children differently? He came to Abraham in the Word to sacrifice his son. He came to Jacob as Wrestler fighting with him. He came to Moses in a burning bush he was afraid to look at. He came to Elijah in a still small Word preceded by wind, fire, and earthquake. If you remember the Feeding of the 5,000, Jesus came to the disciples with the command that they should feed them all.
Could it be that the sickness, the heartache, the insoluble problem, even the death walking on the storm tossed sea of your life is Jesus? The man was born blind so that the work of God might show forth in the Person of Jesus. It is Him; fear not. Lazarus died even though Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus in plenty of time. Ugly, stinking, death camped out in their hearts for 4 days. Fear not; it is Jesus. Paul had a thorn in the flesh. Three times he asked the Lord to remove it. Fear not, Paul; it is Jesus.
Have a hard time getting your head around that? Think that's a strange way for a God of love to act? So did the disciples and see how gentle Jesus is with Peter's doubts. Jesus says, "It is I." And Peter says, "If it's really you." That's what Satan said twice in the Great Temptation, "If you are the Son of God."
Yet Jesus doesn't rebuke Peter as He did Satan. He even does what Peter asked. He commands him, "Come," thereby promising Peter that he will be able to walk on water as Jesus did. And Peter does. See it. Feel it. And even when Peter sinks, Jesus is gentle. He doesn't call him "you of no faith," but "you of little faith." This means a lot coming from the One who said that faith the size of mustard seed brings all God's power and promises. And Jesus doesn't' say, "Why did you ask to come out of the boat?" Or, "Why didn't you stay in boat?" But, "Why did you doubt?"
Just one Word of Jesus, Come' was more powerful than wind, waves, and even the ironclad law of gravity. Jesus takes immediate action in your life too through His Word. No matter the physical danger that threatens you, no matter what worries, fears, or hopelessness you have, Jesus Word is more powerful. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to the Man Jesus. He won the right to have this authority as a Man for all mankind by living a perfect life as a Man, and dying the guilty death all men deserve.
Based on Jesus' Word "Come" Peter had the power to tread down waves. Based on Jesus' Word, "Live" you have the power to tread down Death. Based on Jesus' Word, "forgiven" you have the power to tread down Sin. Based on Jesus' Word, "saved" you have the power to tread down Satan. Death says repeatedly, "die" but Jesus says, "Live," and you do. Sin says repeatedly, "guilty," but Jesus says, "Not guilty," and that's what you are. Satan says, "God's Law that you have broken, break, and will break, make you mine." Jesus says, "You can't find one Law that I failed to keep in their place. They belong to Me."
Jesus takes immediate action to send them away from spiritual danger into physical danger. When the physical danger leads them to despair, Jesus takes immediate action through His Word to deliver them from their fears. But the crisis isn't over. Being rescued from physical danger of the sea, they have yet to arrive at the port of spiritual truth.
This part is hard to picture, hard to paint. How high the waves? How strong the wind? How does Peter begin to sink? When I step off a dock there is no time to say, "Lord save me," but the Lord gave Peter time for a short prayer, and that prayer was answered immediately. "Short prayers are long enough" said Charles Spurgeon. (www.preceptaustin.org/spurgeon's_gems_on_prayer). Prayers for help, forgiveness, relief, salvation are answered immediately by Jesus. And when Peter prays he doesn't use nice eloquent words. The word for "cried out" is that word for croaking, cawing, animal-like sounds.
Jesus takes immediate action not just with His Word but in response to our words, and always that action is to save. He saved Paul from his thorn in the flesh by having him keep it as a gift of grace. He saved Peter who wanted Jesus to depart from him because he was sinful man by not departing from him. He saved David from the sin of adultery and murder by forgiving him the instant he said, "I have sinned against the Lord." Even though it took more than 8 hours on a stormy sea to bring David to that confession, the Lord's prophet said to him immediately, "The Lord has taken away your sin; you shall not die." But we know David did die. Yes physically, but not spiritually, at a point in time not forever. The spiritual trumps the physical.
Jesus saves immediately because that's who Jesus is and what He does. The angel explained that He was to be named Jesus because He will save His people from their sins. Jesus' name means "Jehovah saves." You can't read very far in the Old Testament without Jehovah being depicted as walking on water, treading down the seas, and saving there. Job 9 says Jehovah "alone.tramples down the waves of the sea." Habakkuk 3 says Jehovah "did trample the sea." Psalm 77 says Jehovah's "way was through the sea." His "path through the great waters." Psalm 107 depicts Jehovah as saving from the sea when cried to.
The disciples are "Johnnies come lately" to the confession of who Jesus really is: God the Son. In Matthew 2:15 we hear the Old Testament make that confession. In Jesus' Baptism, we hear God the Father make that confession. In the Great Temptation, we hear Satan make it, and in Matthew 8 a legion of demons confess Jesus to be the Son of God. But the disciples don't till now. Why?
Here Jesus speaks to them in the language of the Old Testament that Jehovah alone has the power over the sea, and He speaks in language that fisherman can understand that of wind, wave, water, drowning, and being rescued at sea. Do you think that Jesus no longer speaks in our language? Do you think the One who carried away the sins of the world and then spoke of that salvation in the languages of the world on Pentecost has gone silent today? Do you think He cares less for you than He does for Peter?
Both in the spiritual dangers He protects you from and the physical dangers He leads you into, He is speaking. Whether He brings you to those animal-like cries out of fear or for salvation, He answers you in His Word. He reaches out His hand to catch you by Baptism and Communion. And He does so immediately, even sooner, because Isaiah 65:24 says, "Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (20140831); Matthew 14: 22-33