The Perfect Christmas Card Picture
A Japanese businessman wanted to get into the Christmas card business. He printed thousands of fancy cards with cheery Christmas thoughts on the inside. The cards bombed. Not being a Christian, knowing very little about Christ, he put a print of Christ praying in Gethsemane. He put a Lent picture on a Christmas card. He should've used a true Christmas picture: the manger, the wise men, the shepherds, Christ walking on water. What? You've never seen a Christmas card showing Christ walking on water? That's too bad. It perfectly conveys the truth of Christmas.
Jesus is Jehovah is the point of Christmas and of our text. The God who walked with Adam in the cool of Eden's evening, the Almighty who met with Moses on Sinai's summit, the Lord who was David's shepherd took on flesh and blood and walked the earth as Jesus.
People miss this crucial point. Last week Jesus fed over 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish, yet they didn't recognize that the God who daily multiplies grain in the fields and fish in the sea had come to earth. To them Jesus was like Moses who fed Israel in the desert with manna. To them Jesus was an earthly king to fight against Rome's oppression. John tells us the people even tried to make Jesus a king after He had fed them. If they had recognized that Jesus was Jehovah they would've known He didn't need them to make Him anything.
The crowds missed the truth that Jesus is Jehovah, so did the 12 apostles. By the time of this miracle, the 12 had been taught by Jesus for 2 years and had witnessed many miracles. But Mark tells us that the disciples didn't understand the feeding of the 5,000. He says, "They did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened."
How about your heart? Is it hardened to the truth that Jesus is Jehovah? Is Jesus your God or merely your friend? Is Jesus your God in flesh and blood or merely a good man? Is the flesh and blood of Jesus sin-forgiving, life-giving food and drink to you or merely something God once used to walk around on earth? Is Jesus Jehovah or just Jesus to you?
He was just Jesus to the 12 apostles after the feeding of the 5,000. So after sending the apostles away in a boat and dismissing the crowd that would make Him king, Jesus goes up a mountain to pray about this serious problem. His own disciples don't recognize who He really is! Jesus comes down the mountain with a plan. He would walk out on the water before the hardhearted disciples. He would give indisputable proof that He is Jehovah in the flesh. He would do in His flesh and blood what only God could do.
That this was Jesus' plan is proven by the text. When the disciples scream, "It's a ghost," Jesus says, "Take courage! It is I." Literally, Jesus says, "I am." In Exodus 3 when Moses wants to know whom he should tell Israel has sent him, God responds, "You shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I am has sent me to you." "I am" is Jehovah in Hebrew. When Jesus tells them, "Take courage! I am," He's telling them Jehovah has come walking out on the water to help them.
Don't believe that? The disciples did. They knew the Old Testament well. Job 9:8 says, "God stretches out the heavens by Himself and walks on the high waves of the sea." The disciples saw their Jesus do this. You can't explain this miracle away like you could the 5,000. There you didn't even see a miracle. No mountain of bread and fish appear out of the blue. Jesus just kept on handing out bread and fish. Most of Jesus miracles could be and have been explained away. The dead were in comas; those with demons were faking; the blind had hysterical blindness which Jesus shocked them out of. But who can explain away this miracle?
The wind was so strong that after rowing 8 or 9 hours 12 healthy men had only made 3 or 4 miles. High winds make heavy seas. See Jesus coming down from the mountain heading toward the rolling Sea of Galilee. He steps off the hard ground on to the pebble beach, and then without breaking stride, without sinking, Jesus walks off the beach on to the water. He walks up one side of a rolling wave and down the other. He steps over the small ones. Jesus isn't floating above the water. He's walking on water like we walk on ice. But there's more.
Jesus not only walks on wind-whipped water as only God can do, He stills the wind and the waves as only God can. This would have been proof from Scripture to the apostles too. They knew Psalm 89:9: "Jehovah rules the swelling of the sea; when its waves rise, He stills them." The wind and the waves didn't just die down by themselves. They know their Master, and when Jesus didn't needed them for teaching, the wind ceased to blow and the waves stopped their heaving.
Jesus is Jehovah. He does in His flesh and blood what the OT says only Jehovah does. Yet the miracle of walking on water and stilling the wind and waves doesn't get us to Christmas. We see the power and majesty of God, but this is only an underlying theme at Christmas. On Christmas Day, Jesus doesn't jump out of the manger and start to juggle cattle. No, the major theme of Christmas is that, in Jesus, God hasn't forsaken us because of our sins. He loves us sinners so much that He willingly humbles Himself to come to earth through a virgin's womb to redeem us.
God's patience and humility are in this account. The disciples had a hard heart despite Jesus teaching them for years. They rejected what Jesus taught believing what they wanted. Their faith was molded by the world not by God's Word. Yet God didn't forsake them. Jesus patiently teaches them that all the fullness of the Godhead dwelled bodily in Him. He uses a lesson that would specially touch fishermen.
Jesus is patient with us too. He patiently tries to wean us from our fallen human reason that judges Him according to its opinions rather than by Scripture. He patiently calls us away from worldly ways of thinking to Scriptural ways. He comes to teach us weekly, Sunday after Sunday, sermon after sermon, class after class. And even when we turn up our noses at these, Jesus doesn't cease teaching. He teaches us in life. He puts us on life's stormy seas to row against the wind. Patiently He waits on shore till we're exhausted and know we can't help ourselves. Then, He tries once more to teach us by His simple Word even as He did the His storm tossed disciples through the simple words, "I am."
We see God's patience in this account just like at Christmas, and we see His great humility. God came down at Christmas into our womb, into our flesh and blood, under our heavy burden of keeping the Commandments. Here God comes down to the disciple's level. Peter needed proof that it really was Jesus doing what only Jehovah can do, and so, Peter asks a really crazy thing. "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water." To prove it was Him, Jesus could have zapped Peter with lightening or let Peter touch Him the way He would let Thomas on Easter. But, Jesus condescends to Peter's need for special proof.
Jesus condescends to our special needs too. We're flesh and blood people. We need God to come to us in ways our flesh and blood can see, smell, touch, and taste. So rather than leaving us with just His Word to get us through life's storms, Jesus gives us a visible office to preach, to teach, to forgive us in His place. Moreover, God in Christ humbles Himself by placing Himself into Baptismal Water and into Communion Bread and Wine. God humbles Himself so that we may see Him washing our sins away and see, feel, touch and taste Him giving us His Body for Bread and His Blood for wine to forgive us and to strengthen and preserve us. As He did for Peter, Jesus makes the intangible and the miraculous real to our bodies of flesh and blood.
Christmas is about patience, humility, and faith. At Christmas we find that even a little faith in Jesus as Jehovah saves. Shepherds, outcast from the church, clung to Jesus in the manger and were saved. Wise men, schooled in paganism, clung to Jesus under the star and were saved. Mary and Joseph clung to what looked like an ordinary Baby and were saved. Christmas isn't about having a lot of faith, but about having the right faith...even if that faith be no bigger than a mustard seed.
Our text is about the right faith not the amount. The insert has Jesus saying, "You of little faith" that makes Him sound scornful and we wilt because we know our faith is little too. But that phrase is one Greek word; it's used by no one else other than Jesus, and He uses it only for the 12 apostles. It's Jesus' pet name for them. They were "Little Faith" in contrast to others who were "No Faith." Calling them "Little Faith" encouraged them to grow in that faith, but it also acknowledged that they had the right faith. "Little faith," says Jesus, "why did you doubt? Why did you let the wind turn your focus from Me, the proper object, the solid object, the saving object of your faith?"
Jesus didn't despise Peter's little faith, and He doesn't despise yours. He never says our little faith isn't enough; He never says we've got to have a certain amount of faith to please Him. What He does say is, "Any amount of faith in My keeping the Law in your place and My paying for your breaking it is the right faith." Jesus wants us to use that faith on the high seas of life. When a wave threatens to drown us in despair, Jesus wants us to walk over it trusting that God sees not our sins but Jesus' holiness. When the giant wave of death threatens to dash us once and for all on the shoals of the grave, Jesus wants us to keep on walking trusting that in Him we'll surf that wave of death all the way to heaven itself.
Ah, but what about when our faith is overwhelmed? What about when we start to sink in despair or under death's huge wave? Then Jesus wants us to pray, "Lord save me!" He won't answer, "That's not a long enough prayer," or, "You didn't ask with enough faith." No, He'll reach for you immediately just like He did Peter." Now that's a perfect picture to put on a Christmas card or to hang in your heart all year long. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XII (20050807); Matthew 14:22-33