First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ August 13 2023)
Elder Russell Long
Then I looked at the lectionary to see what the scriptures for this week was. Matthew 14:22-33 was listed. As I read it, it struck me how we can all relate in some way to this story.
22 Immediately Jesus [a]made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now [b]in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. (Mark’s gospel says they were straining at rowing.)
25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw [e]that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”
Prayer before the sermon
The first thing I want to say is that storms are inevitable. As we consider what has been happening around our world over the last several months and years – with so many weather events causing so much devastation and damage – this seems more true than usual. And it is true that as we go through life there will be storms: hard times, tragedies, difficulties, trials, troubles, and loss. We will find ourselves in places and circumstances we never anticipated. We will experience pain and heartache we never believed would come our way.
Christian faith is secure only when we recognize and live daily with the assurance that God is always with us, even in the storms of life. And perhaps, especially in the storms of life.
Most of us are familiar with the story recorded in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus walked upon the water and came to His disciples in the midst of a raging storm. We have heard the facts of the story since childhood. But there are further truths I want us to think about.
let’s look at the background and the setting for this story.
Our Lord was approaching the high point of His ministry. It was at this time that He performed many miracles, including the feeding of a multitude with but a few loaves of bread and two fish. He was becoming popular with the people and a source of concern to religious authorities. Persecution was abroad in the land. King Herod had just put John the Baptist to death.
Matthew notes the significance of this cruel death with a twofold statement. He tells us in the first verses of chapter 14 that Herod heard of the fame of Jesus and reacted with, "It Is John the Baptist come to life again." He also tells us in verse 13 that, when Jesus heard the news of John’s death, He departed into a desert place to pray, to meditate, and to be alone with His thoughts. we see in the gospels a number of times that the Lord would go away to a quiet please to pray. We can take this example and take time to find a quiet place to be before the Lord in prayer.
I imagine this was a moment of personal pain in our Lord’s own heart. Jesus loved John the Baptist. They were first cousins, boyhood companions who, quite likely, had spent many hours together growing up.
Looking at our passage from the Gospel of Matthew we see something very interesting. We see that Jesus made his disciples get into the boat. In the previous verses Jesus had fed the 5000 in Bethsaida and now he sends the disciples across to Gennesaret. It was an action he directed them to take. Well, no sooner did the disciples begin sailing on ahead to the other side of Lake Galilee, than a storm began. Caught in the middle of Lake Galilee, known for storms that could start without warning, Jesus’ disciples found themselves far from the safety of shore being battered by wind and waves. John’s gospel says they had rowed about 3 or 4 miles. Verse 25 tells us he came to them in the fourth watch, that’s between 3 and 6 am. It is dark and they cannot see anything.
Proverbs 16: 9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” This is true even of the storms of life. There are no accidents, no coincidences. According to the Bible, all of life is directed by God. And sometimes He places us in or allows us to be in difficult and trying circumstances to get our attention. It could be to get us to change direction or perhaps he wants us to learn something. In fact, no matter what direction our lives have gone and where we find ourselves, God wants us to turn to Him and trust in Him.
The second thing I want to say is that storms can seem insurmountable. They’re too much to handle. We’re surrounded by black clouds, blinding rain, raging wind. The disciples couldn’t make it to the shore. They probably couldn’t even see the shore, much less get there. Their boat couldn’t move. There was no way they could steer it in those weather conditions.
Sometimes we go through difficult times. Things you thought were dependable no longer so. As I have said other times, I am talking to myself here.
Know that the Lord knows this. He knows what we are going through. He knows perfectly well what our circumstances are. He knows the pain we feel and the grief we are experiencing. He understands, and more than that He cares. In our passage the Lord Jesus walks on the water toward the disciples in the midst of the storm. Jesus wants to come to us as we go through the storms of life, to be our strength and our guide to shore. Do we trust in Jesus to be our strength in the midst of life’s storms? He is there for us to trust, and he says the same thing to us as he did to the disciples, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
The third thing I want to say is that storms can be faced only when we face Jesus. The disciple Peter was often the boldest, most impulsive of the disciples, and when he saw Jesus coming towards them, walking on the water, he asked Jesus if he could come to him on the water. So Jesus invites Peter to walk toward him on the water. Peter responds by getting out of the boat. But what happens? As he was approaching Jesus, he noticed the waves and the wind. Suddenly, he was terrified. Taking his eyes off Jesus, he began to sink beneath the waves. Peter took his eyes off Jesus. Only then did he begin to sink. Only when he began to pay more attention to his surroundings, his circumstances, did he begin to sink. Only when he noticed the storm more than Jesus, did he begin to sink.
But then Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!”. We too, when caught in the storms of life, can cry out to God in the same way: “Lord, save me!” More honest words can never be spoken by anyone. For only the Lord can come to us when in the midst of the storms of life and actually save us. With him next to us we need not be afraid. Yet it is true, sometimes we have little faith. But Jesus calls us to fix our eyes on him, to look toward him. Whether we face the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job, or any other difficult circumstance, Christ calls us, invites us, to turn to him. Only through him can any of life have meaning and only through Jesus can we have hope that there will not always be a storm raging, that some day we will be with Him.
When Peter cried out verse 31 tells us “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”. He had great faith to start out but took his eyes off Jesus and focused on his surroundings. Jesus is right now waiting to do this for each one of us. When we call out to Jesus, whether in good times or in bad, he always responds immediately and he always catches us. When we trust in Christ for our lives and as our hope, we can be assured, that when he has us in his hands his grip is certain and strong and that, just as it did for the disciples, the wind will cease, maybe not now, maybe not next week, next month but it will. We can go out today with that blessed hope that He is with us and cares for us.
Rev. Scott said this last week when he preached on Romans 8:28 that struck me.
“God works for good” is a way of expressing “God fulfills his covenantal plan” “in everything”: not “through everything,” but “in spite of anything,” no matter what. In everything we experience, that we face, God fulfills his eternal will for us. Jesus Christ is God’s “good”- - - His saving work and purpose in, and through, and as Jesus Christ, is always in effect.
Let us pray
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.