Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost August 6, 2017
Text: Mark 6:46-55 (& Matt.14:28-33) revised 3-yr. B 17:2023
Theme: Looking Only to Jesus
I’ll need someone to help me this morning as we talk about this Bible lesson. Here, I’d like you to hold on to this rope. Now hold tight and don’t let go. Think of it as though you’re climbing Mt. Everest and the rope is the only thing that keeps you from falling. Guess you’ll want to hang on tight with both hands, right? Now get ready; I’m going to start pulling. Oh, by the way, here comes a ball.
(Discuss the person’s reaction to the ball being thrown. Did they let go the rope? Why? Did they miss the ball to hold the rope?)
In our text a somewhat similar circumstance arose. Peter saw the Lord Jesus walking on the water. He knew that Jesus could do it for Peter had already seen Jesus’ power as the Son of God. Jesus could do it and there had been times when Jesus’ shared that power with the disciples. So, Peter asked the Lord to let him come on the water to Him. Jesus gave permission. So, with eyes of faith on the Lord, Peter got out of the boat and walked to Jesus.
Peter’s faith was like the rope. It connected him to the Savior and kept him safe. As long as Peter looked to Jesus and held on to his faith in Him, he could walk on water. But then something else came at him, like the ball. He saw the wind; he felt the water; he remembered: “People don’t walk on water!” Instead of looking only to Jesus and holding on in faith, he let go. How disastrous that could have been! Thankfully Jesus reached out to save him.
You and I face similar kinds of temptations daily. The Bible encourages, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith” (Hb.12:2). But we are tempted to take our eyes off Him when other things happen.
I. When alone.
For example, when we’re alone, by ourselves, the temptation comes to forget about the Savior and our reliance on Him. That can even take place when we are doing the things the Lord Jesus has given us to do in this life. Something like that happened here.
After the miraculous feeding of the five thousand that we saw in last week’s text, Jesus dismissed the crowd late in the day and told His disciples to get into the boat and go ahead of Him across the lake. He wanted to get His disciples away from the crowd who had wrong ideas about making Jesus their king, and He wanted to get away by Himself for a time of prayer with His Heavenly Father.
Now there’s a good example for us! When alone we ought to pray and seek the Father’s help and guidance. Jesus did it often. And while He enjoyed His “alone time” with His Father on this occasion, He ordered the disciples to return home without Him.
At first the trip was routine. These fishermen had often sailed these waters and knew what they were doing. But a sudden storm swept down from the mountains onto the sea when they were alone, carrying out Jesus’ orders, and they couldn’t handle it. They found themselves alone, in trouble, doing what Jesus told them to do and they weren’t able to get the job done.
Getting the job done which the Lord gave us to do, but it doesn’t happen! Striving as best we can, doing what He told us to do, and not getting anywhere with it! That can happen in your service to the Lord in the Church; it can happen in your service to the Lord in taking care of yourself and your families; it can happen in your service to the Lord at your place of work as you try to do the best you can as a child of God. You try to get the job done in whatever station in life God puts you. But things come at you; He’s not around; and you feel alone, trying to carry out His will. Nothing happens. In fact, things seem to get worse.
That’s how it must have seemed to Elisha’s servant in the Old Testament Lesson today. He followed his master everywhere as the prophet proclaimed the way of the Lord and did what God asked him to do. But where did it get them? – into deep trouble. They were surrounded by a great army. It looked like the end had come, and the servant was terrified. Doing God’s will, yet their situation got worse.
As for the disciples – some 6-8 hours had passed. Alone they were struggling against forces greater than they in the middle of the lake. It had happened at least once before when Jesus was with them, sleeping in the back of the boat. That night Jesus got up and calmed the storm. But this night He was not with them. Or was He? From Mark’s account (6:48) we read: “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.”
Jesus knew exactly what was taking place. Even though He was miles away from them in the hills He saw them with His divine sight and knew that they were struggling to do the thing He had asked them to do. So, He came to help them.
We know that the Lord Jesus invites: “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest…and you shall find rest for your souls” (Mt.11:28f). That is a great comfort to many Christians. But not only does the Savior see and invite us to Him, He comes to us when we’re alone and struggling. In all our trials and times of bad weather, He sees, He knows, and He comes.
Already on His way to help us! Alone? No! The Son of God who died for our sins is with His people always to the end of the world (Mt.28:20). He never leaves you nor forsakes you (Hb.13:5). He doesn’t even close His eyes in sleep over you (Ps.121:4). You are not out of His sight; never away from His presence. If troubles arise when you are alone, doing what you are supposed to do, He may allow them in order to accomplish His good and gracious will in you through them.
So, when it seems you’re alone, look only to Jesus. His eye is on you. In His time and way, He’ll come to relieve the burden.
II. When faith fails.
Soon He was there. When the disciples were about to give up and it looked like they were going to drown, they saw something moving over the water. Jesus was coming to help them, walking on top of the water. But it scared them. Their faith failed and they cried: “It’s a ghost (phantom)!”
Why is it that people often think they see ghosts when they are very scared? “It’s all right.” Jesus replied. “Take courage! It is I. Stop being afraid!”
When Peter heard Jesus, he got a little braver again and wanted to go to Him. “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come!” Jesus said. So Peter got out of the boat and came, walking on water! Can you believe it? After a while, neither could Peter. The waves rose, the wind blew, and his faith failed again.
What causes people’s faith to fail? Storms? Shadows in the dark? Human inability? Failure? Guilt for inner weakness? What frightens us, causing faith to fail? If you keep your eyes on such things and take them off Christ, you’ll begin to drown in your fears, just like Peter did. He made a big mistake, and with eyes off Christ, he began to sink.
“Save me, Lord!” he cried. Jesus reached out His hand and grabbed Peter. He pulled him from danger. Then He said to Peter, “What a little faith you have. Why did you doubt me?”
Are you afraid? Concerned that you’re drowning in the sea of life? Take Jesus’ loving reprimand to heart. “Oh, you of little faith, why did you doubt me?” Yet, in His merciful love, Christ reaches out to save.
And it still is that way with us. We are saved eternally because Christ in His mercy reached out His hand to us. That is grace. Upon that fact, and that fact alone we rely, especially when faith seems to fail, and it looks like we are going to drown. God’s love and Christ’s redemption are strong enough to save to the “nth” degree even those of weakest faith.
Looking only to Jesus, He will be there. “Be strong and courageous,” He says. “Don’t be terrified or afraid. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Dt.31:6). “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you.… For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Is.43:2-3). God grant us such faith always – looking to Him; for His name’s sake. Amen.