Pentecost 10 – July 29, 2018 – “Jesus Strengthens Faith!” Mark 6:45-56

Pentecost 1018 (PR12) – “Jesus Strengthens Faith!” Mark 6:45-56

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

The text for our sermon meditation is taken from the Gospel account of St. Mark, the 6th Chapter:

“And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Have you ever been coaxed or strongly urged to do something? It may have been done by someone you trust or by someone in authority over you. Soldiers often will receive orders to go into situations which are inherently dangerous. They are compelled to go because to disobey is to incur punishment. They are compelled to go because the nature of their service demands them to do so. They are compelled to go because there is a greater good which will result, even though it is not seen at the moment.

So it is for the disciples. Jesus has just finished feeding the five thousand by multiplying the five loaves of bread and two fish. He has healed many illnesses and cast out demons. He has taught the crowd of the Kingdom of God. Now Jesus compels his disciples to leave.  Get into the boat and set off for a different area. Go to Bethsaida. Do this without me. I will be along later.

Jesus remains behind to dismiss the crowd. He then re-ascends the mountain and finds a quiet place to pray. He is in communion with His Father in heaven. He seeks wisdom and guidance for the work He must do. He separates himself from the people to refresh and regroup for the next barrage of people which is sure to come in Bethsaida.

The disciples then get into the boat and set off for Bethsaida They are row hard and make very little headway against the waves whipped up by the opposing wind. . The sails that normally would be of help, lay stowed and unusable in this opposing wind. There is danger all around the disciples.

Jesus sees this from a distance in the security of his place of prayer. He leaves them to the wind while he finishes his time of prayer. When Jesus finishes praying he sets off across the lake on foot. Walking on the water, Jesus catches up to the disciples and begins to overtake them. His intention is to pass by the disciples and meet them on the shore of Bethsaida.

Now as we consider these events, there is a question to be asked. Why does Jesus send his disciples on this perilous journey? Jesus knows what is going to happen to them on the lake. He knows the wind is going to kick up and make the short journey much longer. Instead of a couple hours on calm seas, the disciples have spent 12 hours in violent stormy seas. They are now in the middle of the sea far from land.

Sometimes life is like that for us as well. We have expectations for the day, the year, or our whole life. Those expectations will be changed or unmet for one reason or another. There may be illness, injury or tragedy which makes us step back and take a second look at things.

The recent accident on Table Rock Lake in Missouri could be seen as something like this. Some refurbished WW2 amphibious military vehicles were converted into a tourist attraction in Branson, Missouri. Being amphibious vehicles, the ride would take people out into Table Rock Lake and then return to shore. No one suspected anything bad would happen.  The company that offered the rides had been in business for forty years without having any accidents with these vehicles.

However, one day last week the unthinkable happened. A sudden storm turned the calm water of Table Rock Lake roiling mass of waves. One of the vehicles was caught in the storm and sank. 17 people lost their life that day. 9 of those people were from one family.

What times in your life did you feel the headwinds of trial and trouble beat against you? When has the difficulty in life been seemingly endless? When did something simple become so complicated that you did not know how you were going to make it? What did you think at those times? Who did you blame at those times? How did you come to be in such a situation? Did you think God passed you by?

Consider the walk Jesus took upon the Sea of Galilee. His intent was to pass by the disciples and meet them in Bethsaida. Why would Jesus do that when he saw the dire straits of his disciples? He had just dismissed the crowd which he fed with miraculously multiplied bread and fish. He has healed and restored countless people who were afflicted with many ailments and demon possession. He did not pass by those people. Why does Jesus intend to pass by His disciples?

Closer to home, why would Jesus seem to pass you by in your time of trial or distress? Why would Jesus leave you to face the difficult times alone? Why would Jesus allow you to face such hardship in the first place? Doesn’t God want us to live in peace, have abundance, live without struggle, and have a good life?

God does not pass us by leaving us without hope or help. Neither does Jesus pass by his disciples leaving them without hope or help. There are times when God passed by His people for a different purpose. Moses wanted to see the full glory of God. Yet, God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and passed by showing only a portion of His glory. The Lord passed by Elijah as a low whisper assuring His prophet there were still believers in Israel who were obedient to the true God.

So also the desire of Jesus is reveal his divine power to these disciples. Jesus allowed them to struggle against the forces of nature until the proper time for this revelation. They are well involved in this struggle after twelve hours on the water.  They are nearing exhaustion and their experience from fishing this sea is quickly being shown as futile. Just as futile is their understanding of who Jesus is. Mark records the disciples did not understand the miraculous feeding witnessed earlier.

So then what does Jesus desire the disciples to know and believe? Jesus desires His disciples to recognize Yahweh is present in the Word made flesh. Jesus is Yahweh who comes to bring a new exodus and inaugurate the promised Kingdom of God. Moses fed Israel on mana in the wilderness. Now Yahweh comes to feed Israel the true bread from heaven. Moreover, Yahweh is present to bring peace on earth.

Sometimes it is difficult to hold this truth in our hearts and minds.  There are times when God indeed directs us to follow a certain path. When we walk that path there are hindrances or difficulties that we did not anticipate. We don’t make headway and we begin to question the wisdom of starting out on the path. Why, because we cannot see neither the future, nor God’s plans for us. In all these things God is preparing us to face greater tasks and works prepared for us.

Education and endurance always moves forward step by step. You have to lay a foundation before you can have a building. You cannot understand calculus unless you have first mastered the preceding mathematics. A weightlifter cannot dead-lift 500 lbs unless he first trains to lift lower weights. A runner cannot race in a marathon unless they build up endurance and strength to go the distance. At each level of preparation there are trials to overcome and endure. There are things to learn to go on to the next level.

So it is with the life of faith in Jesus Christ. Our Lord spoke of such things many times with His disciples. These words of Jesus we must remember.

“In the world you will have tribulation.” John 16:33

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” Matthew 10:16

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Matthew 5:10,11

Even our baptism speaks of trial. Are we not baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection? Dr Luther taught that in this washing with water and the Word of God the new man arises each day to walk before God in righteousness. This is after the Old Adam in us is drowned by repentance and confession.

What do we receive in the Holy Supper of Jesus? We receive the assurance that the blood of Jesus Christ atones for the sins of which we repent. We receive the very body and blood of Christ that suffered to overcome this sinful world, break the power of Satan and restore the penitent sinner.

Through these means of grace, we are empowered by God to face this life with confidence and faith that God delivers us from those things that would destroy us. By destroy us I mean remove us from the protecting hand of God and the undermining of our hope in salvation.

King David wrote these words in his Psalm about our Shepherd.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

Truly, we walk through this world which is overshadowed by death and all that leads to death. Sin, illness, injury, and a whole host of others things to remind us of the short time we have upon this earth. It is like a valley, a deep valley in which we seem to walk alone. We may think we are separated from God and neighbor. Yet, we still have the tools of God’s grace and mercy. We have the rod of His Word and the staff of His grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. These are our comfort and peace on the journey.

Consider the action of Jesus as he does not walk by the disciples, but actually climbs in to their boat. Jesus is more than the master of creation. Jesus is the Lord of all creation. The wind immediately ceases and calm is returned to the lives of the disciples. Such a gift was given when the storm of this world sought to overwhelm Jesus. As Jesus hung upon the cross, Satan sent against Him everything in his power. Yet to no avail. As Jesus calmed the wind with his presence, so also He rendered Satan impotent.

Jesus leads His people through the valley of the shadow of death and brings them to the solid ground of forgiveness, life and salvation.

Reflecting on Psalm 23, Phillip Keller wrote these words,( The Shepherd Trilogy, p 76)

“Again and again I remind myself, “O God, this seems terribly tough, but I know for a fact that in the end it will prove to be the easiest and gentlest way to get me to higher ground.” At that point my panic, my fear, my misgivings give way to calm and quiet confidence in His care.”

We indeed are in God’s care as we walk by faith in Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.