What Becomes of the Hardhearted?
In the summer of 1966 the bitter-sweet ballad "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?" was released. It leaves that sad question hanging, but as painful as a broken heart is, it's not as serious as a hard heart. Mark 6:52 says the apostles came away from the Feeding of the 5000 with hardened hearts. "They had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened." How about you? Did you come away from last week's sermon with a hardened heart? If so, what becomes of the hardhearted?
First, Jesus puts them in impossible situations to make the hardhearted the brokenhearted. He did this to the disciples. Jesus put them in a boat while He went off to pray. The text says "the boat was a considerable distance from the land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it." The Greek says the boat was "tormented" by the waves. Jesus "made" the disciples go into the boat alone, at evening, knowing that in good seas they couldn't make it across by nightfall. The word the insert translates "made" means Jesus "compelled them," "forced them" to go. What becomes of the hardhearted? Jesus forces them into situations that will break their hearts.
This crossing should have taken them 2 1/2 hours tops. At evening, which is probably 7 PM, they're in the middle of the crossing fighting wind and wave. Jesus is in prayer for them on the mountain even as today Hebrews assures that "He lives to make intercession for us," but Jesus does nothing. In the first watch of the night, their torment begins but Jesus doesn't come to them until the fourth. So for 8 or more hours Jesus left them in torment. St. Chrysostom comments, "This had the purpose of awakening their stony hearts in a most complete way."
Not so fast; these hard hearts aren't fully wakened yet, that is, they're not yet broken. When they shrieked, "It's a ghost!" they broke. Now they're stony hearts are terrified ones. You know from our text that this happened because they saw Jesus walking on water. What you can only know from Mark is that Jesus meant to terrify them. You see Jesus wasn't coming toward them. Mark says, "He meant to pass by them." The picture changes. It's not the picture I have of Jesus walking on the water facing you. The picture speaks, "It is I. Don't be afraid." No it's a figure passing by in the distance in the gloom of night. That speaks terror.
What becomes of the hardhearted? Jesus puts them in situations that will break their heart. He did it to the 12. He does it to us. He places us in situations we'd rather not be in: difficult ones, ones that we can't solve even though we know a lot about them. Of the 12 at least 4 were commercial fishermen. A contrary wind was nothing new to them. The problems, the afflictions that are getting to the rock, hard bottom of your heart probably aren't new to you either. And you're more than a little upset with yourself that you're not handling them better.
Are you praying about it? In our text, the only one who prays is Jesus. The first time the 12 are in a storm on the sea they prayed. Jesus was in the boat with them, but He was asleep. They woke Him with prayers, "Jesus save us we're drowning." Here no prayers are mentioned. What we know is that Jesus knows their situation and leaves them to be tormented for hours. Sometimes I think Jesus has left me to struggle alone not for hours, or days, or weeks, but months. And I can't tell you whether what comes out of my hear is prayer, worry, or complaining. It's all jumbled up in a heart that is weary from torment and struggle, yet still hard.
Like a hamster in a wire wheel we struggle, we strain to get out of a problem, deal with an affliction, solve a situation, and we don't stop till Jesus plays "ghost" with us. Psychology has names for this; so does the vernacular. It's called having the tar scared out of you. It's Carrie Underwood realizing her car is so out of control she can't steer it and crying, "Jesus take the wheel." What's good about that song is she realizes that this first cry isn't prayer. It's panic. It's realizing you're done for, hopeless, helpless.
Jesus takes the hardhearted and makes them brokenhearted to do for them what only God can do, but they had to see Him as God. This is what they missed in the Feeding of the 5,000. With many thousands fed, with 12 baskets left over, one for each of them, their hearts were hardened. Jesus did miracles but not what they wanted. And they knew, just as you do, exactly what they wanted, exactly what Jesus should do for them. And even in the miracles Jesus did where was the victory, the glory, the power? Jesus fed the 5,000 in such an ordinary way that anyone could miss the glory, power, and victory of God.
The 12 certainly did. So Jesus comes walking on the sea as the Old Testament says only Jehovah does. Job describes Jehovah as the One "who alonetramples down the waves of the sea" (9:8). Isaiah describes Jehovah as the One "who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters" (43:16). And right before Isaiah sees the crucifixion, death, and atonement of Jesus, he sees that Jehovah has "made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over" (51:9,10).
Jesus comes to them as only Jehovah can because He is Jehovah. When they called out in brokenhearted panic, "It's a ghost," Jesus responded, "It is I," literally He said, "I am." Jesus answers their shrieks the same way the Lord answered Moses from the Burning Bush. Moses wanted to know who he should tell Israel sent him. The Lord said, "Tell them I am did." The disciples knew this is what Jesus was referring to when He said, "I am." The text closes with them worshipping Him saying, "You are God the Son."
But don't think this is the answer for people broken by the torment of the heaving seas of life. That Jesus is Jehovah with infinite power and might doesn't answer the question but begs it. If that's true, why does He leave me pitching and rolling on the high seas of life? Why doesn't He solve the problems that beset me as easily as He fed thousands? If you only see Jesus walking on water to demonstrate His power and might as God, your broken heart can only ask, "Why not me?" "Where's my miracle?" And in no time you'll be back to a hard heart.
Jesus doesn't walk on water just powerfully but sacrificially. In the midst of despair the psalmist cries out, "All your waves and breakers have swept over me" (42:7). In the unrelenting hopelessness of Psalm 88 the psalmist cries, "Your wrath lies heavy upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all Your waves." If you're going to read the Psalms rightly, you must put them in the mouth of Jesus first and foremost. Because He was loaded with not only your sins, griefs and sorrows, but your rock hard heart too, all God's waves swept over Him. God's wrath laid heavy upon Him for the many sins you know and the many more you forget. Jesus is on the stormy seas of life because shortly He's going to be under them. Psalm 69 has Jesus crying from the cross, "I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me."
This Man who is God has power to tread on howling demons, the watery grave, the depths of sinfulness. But because He came into the world to our storm tossed boat to save us He had to suffer the ravages of wind and wave, of worry and panic, of sin and demons that we deserve. By living, suffering and dying in our place, Jesus has won the right to rescue from the high seas of sin, death, and devils, not only the brokenhearted but even the hardhearted.
Be Peter in boat. Don't say as is mistranslated, "Lord If it's you," say as Peter really did, "Lord, since it's you, command me to do what only You can do, walk on water." Since it's you Lord on my skin in Baptism, in my ears in Absolution, and in my body in Communion, command me to do what only You can do." And Jesus does. He says, "I command you to not be afraid, be victorious over the howling demons, and laugh at the threats of death." "I command you to be certain that you are forgiven for the things which your conscience is afraid of." "I command you to know for certain that I will come to your storm tossed boat in due time to deliver you as only I am able in the best way possible."
There's one bit of hardness left on your heart, and this will break it. Jesus doesn't just save sinners, He saves doubting ones. Jesus commanded Peter to come to Him on the water. Peter did in faith even as you step forth onto the seas of your life in faith determined to meet the storms, determined not to despair, determined to believe what your God and Lord promises you in Baptism, Absolution and Communion. You go forth in faith but then the wind gets to you too. You see that it's no better. You're still on the high seas. Jesus is here but it's no better. So you sink into the depths that Jesus sunk into so you wouldn't have to. You sink beneath the fears, the doubts, the pain of sin, death and the devil because hardened hearts can't float. But what's this? Hard hearted, doubting Peter overwhelmed by life's wind and waves cries out, " Lord, save Me!" And "immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught Him."
This will happen to you too. You'll be back in the boat of your life, and it's going to look like Jesus isn't with you. You're going to sail into the problems, storms, and contrary winds. You're going to feel more alone than ever as if Jesus doesn't know, doesn't care, and won't help. You're going to sink in hardhearted doubts that Jesus either can't or won't do anything about the problems that sorely trouble you and as you're sinking the Devil, the World, and your sinful flesh will assure you you're absolutely right.
Even then, it's not too late. You're not too hardhearted, brokenhearted, or blackhearted for Jesus to save. He is still with you walking on the stormy seas of your life in that Font, in these Words, on that Altar not to terrify you but to rescue you. Jesus doesn't leave the question "What becomes of the hardhearted?" hanging. He reaches out His nail pierced hand and imparts softness not by solving all our problems but saving us despite them. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
12th Sunday After Pentecost (20080803); Matthew 14: 22-33