Today, we once again hear the account of Jesus walking on water. This is a story that most of us know very well. We’ve heard it many times and we’ve seen it illustrated in numerous works of art. Just Google Jesus walking on water and countless images pop up on your screen. When we see these images we remember Jesus’ encouraging words. We can hear Him say to His frightened disciples, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” In this miracle we see the Lord of creation in control, coming to His people; coming to sustain them; coming to save them.
I. The events of today’s Gospel are a continuation from last week when Jesus fed 5,000 with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. In this amazing feeding we see Christ’s care and compassion for His people. We also see that He is the Lord of creation. He’s in control of all things; something that He shows again today.
After everyone had their fill of bread and fish, and after 12 large baskets of left-overs were collected, Jesus sent His disciples out on their own. He made them get into the boat and sent them to the village of Bethsaida across the sea. Then, Jesus dismissed the crowd and went up on a nearby mountain pray (Mk 6:45-46). The fact that Jesus sent the disciples out on their own ahead of Him is an important detail in this story. This detail tells us that Jesus was responsible for the disciples’ struggle. In His divine foreknowledge, He knew what the disciples were getting into. He knew that they would struggle in their endeavor to cross the sea.
Sometimes, we too encounter struggles in our endeavors because of Christ. Our culture today is quite obviously against our Savior and all who follow Him. But this shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us, because Jesus warned us of this. In Matthew 10:22 Christ said, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” As Christians we are hated because of Christ. This hate affects us in many ways. For example, it has broken up family and friends. No, Jesus never said that following Him would be easy or that our lives would be smooth sailing after Baptism. Like all people we still suffer from hate and the curse of sin.
Going back to the Gospel reading, we see that the disciples and Jesus were separated for some time. Evening had come upon them and Jesus was still on the land while the disciples were out on the sea (Mk 6:47-48a). The disciples had battled against the wind and waves all night in the darkness. It wasn’t until early the next morning that Jesus came to His disciples, walking on the wind tossed waves (Mk 6:48b).
Mark includes another important detail at this point in the story. He tells us that “[Jesus] meant to pass by [the disciples] (Mk 6:48c). This detail tells us that they disciples weren’t in any significant danger. Even though the winds were strong, they were still safe in the boat; even though the disciples felt differently.
The disciples had no control of what was going on and they feared for their lives. This fear took control of their thoughts. They couldn’t think straight. Seeing Jesus walking on the water towards them should have been a welcomed sight; but it wasn’t. Instead, the disciples, in fear, thought Jesus was a ghost, and they all cried out in terror, thinking their lives were over (Mk 6:49-50a).
At times, we know the fear that the disciples felt that night. Not having control is a scary thing. Just think about a time when you didn’t have control of a situation. How did you feel? What did you do? When I think about being out of control, I immediately think about being a passenger in the car of a not so good driver. They take corners too fast, they text and drive, and they always wait till the very last minute to slam on the brakes. When I ride with these kind of drivers, I constantly find myself stepping hard on the imaginary brake pedal in front of me. But of course this does no good. No matter how many times I slam on that wished for brake pedal, nothing happens. I’m completely out of control, and I’m overcome with fear.
There are many many scary times in our lives when we have no control over what is happening. The times when the phone rings and it is our doctor with positive test results. The times we get called into the boss’s office and due to cutbacks, we no longer have a job on Monday morning. The times when the command has come down from above and we’ve been transferred to another post, another country. At these times and in many others we are paralyzed with fear, and all we can do is cry out, just as the disciples did. And just like when the disciples cried out, your Savior hears you, and He comes to you.
II. There was no delay in Christ’s response to His disciples. Listen again to what Mark wrote, “But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. do not be afraid” (Mk 6:50). Christ didn’t leave the disciples in their fear. Hearing their cry, right away He come to them. He came to them speaking encouraging words, embolding words. “Take heart,” “have courage,” “be strong,” “Trust in me, your Savior.” These encouraging words weren’t empty platitudes, spoken by someone who had no idea what else to say. These words were spoken by God Himself.
When Jesus identified himself by saying, “it is I,” He wasn’t just saying “Hey guys, it’s me, Jesus, the man you’ve been following.” No, with these words, Jesus announced that He was God. He revealed Himself as the great “I AM” who spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Ex 3:13-14). Jesus is true God, He is the Creator of all things incarnate, and He is in control of His creation. Jesus’ divinity is seen in all His miracles, the feeding of the 5,000 and the calming of the winds.
The response of the disciples after witnessing the Lord of creation at work is telling. We are told that they “were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mk 6:51b-52). The disciples shouldn’t have been surprised, they should’ve known that Jesus had everything under control, but they didn’t. They didn’t because their hearts were hardened, hardened with sin and self trust
Because of their sin, they couldn’t understand what had just happened. They had a hard time of letting go of control. They trusted in themselves, thinking that they had to do it all on their own. And once they realized that they had no control, they were seized with fear.
Often, the fear we experience during tough and struggling times is because we sinfully trust in ourselves. We desire to be in control, when in reality, we aren’t. We want to do everything ourselves. We want to be in charge. We want to determine how our lives will turn out, according to our plans. We don’t always trust that God has our best interest at heart, even though He does. And when we realize that we aren’t in control, it’s tough, it’s humbling.
Our Lord uses these times to discipline us, to call us back to Him. He calls us to trust in Him above all things. Through the Holy Spirit working in God’s Word, we are confronted with our sin, and we cry out in repentance, and our Lord hears us and comes to us without delay.
Our Savior, the Lord of creation, came to us and walked on this earth. He walked to the cross, carrying our sin, and there He suffered and died for us. He suffered the punishment for our sin. And then He came to us again from the grave, defeating death and sin for us. With this victory, Jesus showed that He is in control. He has redeemed His creation, He has redeemed you. You are His, and He will never leave you alone. When you cry out, He is there, coming to you in His Word, assuring you He is in control. Through His Word, He reminds you that He has overcome sin and death and He promises to preserve you. Through His Word and Sacrament, He strengthens your faith, your trust in Him. You are never alone in this life. Christ is with you. He isn’t a ghost. In sickness, in life changes, in all sorts of difficulties, He is still in control, preserving you and sustaining you to everlasting life.
Although we and all of creation suffer under the curse of sin, the Lord preserves and orders His creation according to His good will, for the benefit of His Church, for the benefit of you, His saints. At times it can feel as though you’re alone, striving against the winds of this broken, fallen, sinful life all by yourself. But you’re not. Your Savior is with you, and He is in complete control. He doesn’t leave you alone in your fear. He comes to you in your time of need and saves you. Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ, the Lord of creation is always with you, strengthening you, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” In Jesus name...Amen.