Have you ever got in over your head before? It seems as if all of a sudden, you’re drowning under whatever it is you’re doing. Try as you might, you can’t seem to get yourself out of whatever you got yourself into. What else is there left to do than to throw your hands up in the air and shout, “Lord, save me.”
That is precisely what Peter did. The events in today’s Gospel take place right after Jesus fed the 5,000 men plus additional women and children. Jesus used five loaves of bread and two fish to feed all those people. You would think that after this sign, the people would begin to understand who this man was. But they didn’t. Not yet.
The Apostle John tells us: “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Instead of seeing the Messiah who came to take away the sins of the world, they saw a potential king who could give them a free lunch. They saw an earthly king of power instead of a heavenly savior from sin.
Jesus had to act quickly in order to defuse this situation. The text tells us: “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat.” The words “immediately” and “made” mean that Jesus really hustled the disciples in to the boat. Then He acted quickly to dismiss the crowds. He not only dismissed the crowds, but He also left the scene so that no one could find Him. He went up into the mountain to pray.
When Jesus hustled the disciples into the boat, He sent them on a voyage that should have lasted only a few hours. Instead, while Jesus prayed on the mountain, the disciples struggled for their lives on the Sea of Galilee. It seemed as if the wind and the sea had come to life and were determined to torment them. If they tried for the shore, they would probably break apart on the rocks and die. As far as they were concerned, their only hope was to battle the wind and the waves and hope they survived until the storm blew over.
The only problem is that the storm lasted all night. The reading tells us that Jesus came to the disciples during the fourth watch – the watch that ended at dawn. The disciples must have been exhausted and operating on pure adrenalin.
Out of nowhere, a Man appears on the scene. It wasn’t someone on the boat, but instead it was a Man who appeared to be walking on water. Matthew records for us their reaction after being out on the water in the tumultuous storm: “they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.” Up until this point, although their boat is being tormented by the waves and wind, there is no mention of fear or alarm on the part of the disciples – until they see Jesus walking on the water.
This amazing being who has mastery over the sea and who comes to them in a fearful epiphany is none other than Jesus, their Master. Because it is He, they can know that Jesus is coming for them. They do not have to be afraid. In this, His reassuring word, He has given them everything, and it is enough.
If it were only that easy for us. How many times have we been in the boat with the waves and the wind swirling around us, fearful of what is going to happen next? We cry out in fear, but more often than not, we fail to heed the words of Jesus, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” We turn to God when we are in need, but do we do as Luther says, “call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” We are quick to go to God when we need help, but it tends to be a rarity when we go to God and give Him thanks for the many blessings He has showered upon us.
For the disciples, no one said a word, except Peter. Peter, as we see throughout the Gospels, tends to be the spokesman for the disciples. Even after Jesus tells the disciples who He is, Peter says, “Lord, if it is you….” Even after being assured that Jesus is who He says He is, Peter has doubts. Peter does not consider Jesus’ word to be enough and he asks for something bizarre: to command him to go to Him on the water.
Peter does just as Jesus says – He gets out of the boat and begins walking to Jesus. But instead of keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus, Peter turns his attention to what is going on around him and begins to sink. For all of his demands and his braggadocios attitude, Peter ended up like the other disciples, crying out in fear. It was Jesus’ power, not Peter’s faith, that had kept Peter from sinking, but his doubts momentarily separated him from Jesus’ power. We too often miss out on blessings that our Lord would be happy to give us because we don’t quite believe He will really keep all of His promises. We too need to ask our Lord to increase our faith. But then we must not sit idly back and wait for something wonderful to happen to our faith. The Scriptures clearly tell us that the Holy Spirit increases our faith through the power of the Gospel of Christ in Word and Sacrament, the means of grace. So any sincere prayer for a stronger faith will surely be followed by faithful use of the means our Lord has provided for that purpose.
Jesus’ words that He spoke to the disciples and to Peter, He speaks to you as well: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Look at Jesus. Was there ever a Master more patient and gracious than Jesus, whose power and authority go out to all who call upon Him in their need, even when they themselves have created their fatal situation of need? Regardless of whatever situation we get ourselves into, regardless of the fact that we may have turned our back on God, Jesus is there ready to welcome you back and give you His welcoming presence.
The next words of Jesus to Peter are words that are spoken to us throughout our lives as well: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus answers Peter’s prayer. The hand of God takes hold of the man of little faith. Mercifully and graciously the hand of Jesus rescues one who not only believes a little by hearing, but also doubts when seeing. Jesus’ hand is sufficient to save. That hand, which resurrected Peter from certain death, will soon be, and surely was, pierced by a man-made spike when Jesus was crucified. Your salvation was wrought when the innocent blood from the hand of God flowed forth for the remission of all your sins.
The sin-atoning suffering of Jesus and His sacrificial death is for you. By the water and Word of Baptism you infants share in the death of Christ, are brought into His Church and offer perfect praise unto the Lord. At the same time, you men of little faith, despite the doubts, remain in God’s gracious Presence.
We cry out, “Lord, save me” and that is exactly what He has done. And so, we say with Peter and all the disciples, “Truly you are the Son of God,” because it is only Jesus who could forgive our sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.