Text: Matthew 14:22-33
Date: Pentecost XIII + 8/10/08
The account of Jesus walking on the sea proclaims how God’s plan of salvation reaches its goal in Jesus. The Scriptures often describe salvation using water imagery, and even actual water as in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. In addition, this miracle with others like it serves to assure Christians that God has the power and the will also to protect and guard his people from all disaster. But while these words do address the Christian’s facing of life’s difficulties and troubles, there is an even more fundamental lesson here, and that is the identity and Person of who Jesus truly is and the vital importance for the true, saving faith to make that accurate identification and make sure He is the center of attention.
You’ve heard the phrase “like father, like son.” It used to be a more common thing that a man’s son would go into the same line of work as his father. It used to be more likely, for instance, that the sons of Lutheran pastors would become pastors themselves. Golf has plenty of father/son teams like Tiger and the late Earl Woods, Bob and David Duval, the Davis Loves and so on. Nascar has it’s own dynasties probably the most famous being Lee Petty, his son Richard, his son Kyle, and Richard’s grandson Adam. “Like father, like son” is even more essential when you talk of British royalty as the son and grandsons of Queen Elizabeth are in line to become King someday. Even among American Presidents, John Quincy Adams (1825-29) was the first son of a President, John Adams (1797-1801), to become President. And, of course, our current President George W. Bush (“Bush 43”) is the son of his father George H. W. Bush (“Bush 41”).
“Like father, like son.” This is the underlying principle in this section of Matthew’s Gospel as today’s reading concludes with all the disciples in the boat worshipping Jesus, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
When God’s people, Israel, grumbled against Moses and against God in the wilderness because they were hungry, God rained bread from heaven and miraculously fed his people. Last week we heard of Jesus miraculously feeding more than 5,000 people in the wilderness from five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus must be the Son of God because Jesus does what the Father does. Like Father, like Son.
Our Old Testament reading for today says that God “shut in the sea with doors,” “prescribed limits for it” and stayed the proud waves of the sea. It says God “entered into the springs of the sea, (and) walked in the recesses of the deep” (Job 38:10-11, 16). Back in chapter 9 of Job it says that God alone “stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). Psalm 77 says of God, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen” (Psalm 77:19). Now the disciples see Jesus walking on the sea. They rightly draw the conclusion that Jesus must be the Son of God because Jesus does what the Father does. Like Father, like Son.
The true, God-given faith that saves is only that faith that believes Jesus is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary” (Small Catechism). Therefore we must also say, it is not the true faith that believes that Jesus was only a human being but not truly and essentially the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who was from the beginning, through Whom all things were made, which is the old heresy called Arianism. It is also not the true faith, either, that believes that Jesus is God but was not truly and completely human. It is not the true faith that believes either that Jesus no longer has his human nature or that his human nature does not participate in his divine attributes so that his body is locked up in heaven somewhere. In other words the true faith does not issue from mere human speculation or logic. The one, true faith is that which believes what God has revealed in His Holy Word, in what God says and does.
What’s more is that the Church, the Body of Christ in the world, also continues to do what Jesus did. When Jesus fed the 5,000 in the wilderness, he employed his disciples to distribute the food. Today, when Jesus walks on the sea, Peter is also seen walking on the water to Jesus at Jesus’ command.
Jesus is the Son of God because He does what God does. And the Church finds its true identity and “success” when it does what Jesus does. What did Jesus mean, after all, when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12)? What were the works of Jesus? Saint Matthew tells us “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (Mt. 9:35). And what do we see the Church doing in the Book of Acts after Jesus’ ascension? The Church continues Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching and healing. She is the vehicle of God the Holy Spirit Who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies individuals and keeps them with Jesus Christ in the one true faith, daily and richly forgiving all sins, whom on the Last Day he will raise all the dead and give eternal life to all believers.
One further thing can be said about the Church on the basis of these words, however. And that is that, as long as we are talking about the mission of the Church in this sinful world, before the final day of judgment, we are talking about what we call the Church Militant; that is, the Church, just like each of her individual members, struggling to remain faithful, to remain pure, to fend off false teaching and the doctrines of the devil who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn. 10:10). In the midst of the storm on the lake, when Peter’s faith faltered, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him.” So is the constant promise and assurance of a living Lord amid the storms, the threatening winds and waves we encounter. There are many things that make us afraid and sometimes we wonder and doubt if we will survive. In those times especially we need to hear those firm words of our Lord, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” For faith is the hand that reaches out and grabs that saving hand extended to us. Peter held on to that hand and was saved, regardless of his present doubt and fear. And so is the ancient and constant prayer of the Church, “precious Lord, take my hand…through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord; lead me home” (LSB 739).
The same hand that grabbed Peter out of the waves would, on the night he was betrayed, take the Passover bread, bless it, break it and give it to his disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is my body given for you,” and so also the cup, saying, “This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” As the Father commanded his people to keep the Passover, so now the Son commands his people, saying, “Do this.” And so we do what the Son does. For those sacred hands bear the marks of his love and his power. Greater love has no one than this that Christ died for us. Greater power has no one than this, for those nail-pierced hands proclaim release from sin and death for all who put their trust in him.
Like Father, like Son. Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world because He does what the Father does. And His Church finds its character, identity and “success” when it does what the Son does: proclaiming the good news of liberty, release, the forgiveness of sin to all who are oppressed (Luke 4:18), saying, “Take heart; do not be afraid,” pointing all to Jesus Christ our saving Lord.