“[Jesus] saw that [the disciples] 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.”
The Psalmist wrote: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever. . . . To Him who alone does great wonders, for His steadfast love endures forever. . . . To Him who spread out the earth above the waters, for His steadfast love endures forever.” The Lord God’s actions receive thanksgiving, for they show His steadfast love for His creation, especially for His people.
Part of the Lord God’s steadfast love is the deliverance that He brings for His people. The Old Testament Reading mentioned Noah and his sons. These four, along with their wives, were spared from the Great Deluge by the Lord God’s actions. He instructed Noah to build the ark, using Noah to preserve “the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth.” The Lord God’s people would not perish from the face of the earth, as He preserved them in the ark. Through Noah’s descendants, the world would be repopulated. But more importantly, through Noah’s line, the Redeemer of the world would arise, just as the Lord God had promised in His steadfast love to His first people, Adam and Eve.
That promised Redeemer is seen in the Gospels, just as He was seen in the Gospel Reading for today. Who teaches the crowds, feeds the crowds, and sends the crowds on their way? It is the Lord God Incarnate who does so. He shows His compassion and mercy—His steadfast love—to them, not turning the crowds away. Their plight is answered by the Lord God’s actions and is reversed. So it was for all who encountered Jesus and asked for His aid. The scene depicted by the Gospel Writer is not unique; it occurs often to Jesus: “Wherever He came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored Him that they might touch even the fringe of His garment. And as many as touched it were made well.”
But what about those Twelve who had been traveling with Jesus? The past weeks, you have heard several things about them. They were sent by Jesus to proclaim repentance of sins, which they did. They were instructed by Jesus to travel across the
Reading Mark’s account, it can initially appear that the Twelve were abandoned by Jesus: “He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd. And after He had taken leave of them, He went up on the mountain to pray.” Go and sail, while I stay here. And just how does that sailing go? Not well. “They were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.” Their efforts done in obedience to Jesus’ command had not brought success. An entire night goes by, and the Twelve had not made it across the lake. Hours of struggling, and Jesus is nowhere to be seen. He cares for the crowds, but will He care for His disciples?
But Jesus does not abandon the Twelve. He sees their plight, and He answers it: “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. . . .” Jesus’ steadfast love for the Twelve drives Him onto the lake. To aid His people, Jesus will do the supernatural and miraculous, striding across the waves to get to the disciples’ boat. He will not let them perish; He will not abandon them to their fear and despair. Even in the midst of the disciples’ fright, Jesus says to them: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Jesus gets into the boat with them, to bring their travails to an end.
In a similar way, Jesus provides aid to you. Some of that aid happened well before your existence. The Lord God’s deliverance of Noah and his family benefits you. You live because the Lord God allowed Noah and his sons to live and because of His covenant promise: “The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” Jesus’ walking on water benefits you. You have life because the Lord God did not allow the Twelve to drown in the
But not all of Jesus’ actions for your benefit are in the past. He acts for your salvation here and now. It can be said that Jesus gets into the boat with you. It began before your birth, as the Lord God took on human nature to live as a fellow man. Such was “the breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ’s love, as the Apostle Paul wrote. The Son of God comes where humanity is suffering and where their struggles could never bring success. Where the waves of sin, death, Satan, fallen human nature are present, working against all human welfare, Jesus steps in to bring them to an end.
That is what Jesus does in your lives today. But it is not always evident. Your lives are no different than the sailing voyage of the Twelve. You know the Lord God’s will. You know what He has commanded you. You know that you are one of His people and you want to fulfill His desire for you. You know that a covenant has been made with you, that the waters of Holy Baptism brought you life and made you an heir of the Lord God’s kingdom. And so, you go into the boat and begin the journey that the Lord God has set out for you.
But what happens? Everything works against you. You begin to travel on the journey of new life, but your own flesh and blood work against you, wanting to go other ways. You point the bow of the boat in the proper direction and start rowing, but obedience to the Lord’s will brings difficulties and troubles from others. You travel with other disciples of Jesus and quarrels break out in the boat. Disease and illness make the rowing arms grow weak. The destination on the other shore never seems to get any closer. Waves of doubt crash over the sides of the boat as you wonder if Jesus really is who He says He is, as you want to see evidence of His power and ability now like the crowds in Galilee did. The temptation to ask, “Why did I even get into this boat in the first place?” hangs around you.
In those moments, in the fourth watch of your night, Jesus often comes. His words are remembered. But in the knowledge of sin, knowledge of your own faults and shortcomings, the sight of Jesus can be frightening. You act like the Twelve in the boat: “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.” Seen through the prism of your imperfection, the Lord God’s appearance is like a harbinger of doom, the moment before a dreadful end.
But Jesus’ presence is not to portend ruin. No, in the midst of the waves which rock the boat of His Church, Jesus is present to show His steadfast love. He is there to bring aid to you and all His disciples who cannot reach the other shore by their own efforts. As the waves of sin, death, and Satan’s temptations crash over His disciples, Jesus is there to remove the fear and dread. Immediately He speaks, saying: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And He acts to fulfill that command to courage.
Jesus says to all in the boat: “I have overcome these things. You are forgiven of you faults. Your journey will come to its intended end, just as I have willed it. I am here in the boat with you, and I will never abandon you. I am the God of gods, the Lord of lords, who alone does great wonders for My people. My love for you endures forever.” Jesus displays the signs of His covenant with you, to remind you of what He has done and does for you: “Here is the water which washed away your sins. Here is My hand which touches you and makes you well from your disease. Here is the bread and wine which carry My forgiveness, life, and salvation to you. Your eyes may not see, but I am present with you in these things. You have nothing to fear.”
So Jesus comes to you supernaturally and miraculously in His words and signs. He will not let you perish. He will not abandon you to your fear and despair. He will not let the waves of this life keep the boat of His Church reach the others shore. His will for His people will be done, for it is the God of god and Lord of lords who desires it for you. He is able to do far more abundantly than all you ask or think. And His steadfast love for you endures forever. So take heart and do not be afraid, for the Lord Jesus has climbed into the boat with you, having walking on the waters, placing His name on you, and promising you the blessed end of everlasting life.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.