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Matthew 14:22-33

Last week we heard about Jesus feeding the 5,000. Today’s passage comes immediately after that miracle.

Do me a favor, would you? Put yourself in the crowd in front of Jesus. Can you imagine sitting there eating the food Jesus had just given you? How would you feel after witnessing the miracle Matthew has just described? How would you react? All that food from two fish and five loaves of bread. Would you shout out loud or sit there stunned and in silence? To be honest with you, I think I wouldn’t know what to say. I think I would be so shocked by Christ’s miracle that I would just have to sit there for a while to process everything. But you would think someone would say something, right? I mean you don’t see miracles every day. However, Matthew doesn’t record if someone did or said something about the miracle they just witnessed. Every gospel reading thus far has shown the disciples approaching Jesus about why he teaches in parables. But Matthew doesn’t mention any of the disciples or the crowed reacting in a certain way to this miracle.

I have to wonder if there was a hushed silence in the air. I have to wonder if both the disciples and the crowd were so shocked by what they had just seen that after they ate, they just sat in awe of Jesus. I wonder if they began to question who they were meant to be because of who Jesus is and what he has done. I imagine and I hope we would have a similar reaction.

Well, if the crowd and the disciples were sitting in silent awe, Jesus quickly breaks the silence by making the disciples get into their boat and sending them to the other side. Verse 22 says, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.” Many of our translations says, “Jesus made the disciples get into the boat.” The proper translation of “anagkazó,” the Greek verb we typically translate as “made” would be “to force” or “to compel”. Jesus didn’t give the disciples a choice of whether they wanted to get in the boat or not. Jesus compelled them to get into their boat and leave him to dismiss the crowd. Remember how the disciples wanted to send the crowds to the villages to find food for themselves? Jesus sends both the disciples and the crowd away only after meeting their needs. Jesus does not send out empty vessels to be filled. Jesus sends out filled vessels to be poured out.

After Jesus dismisses everyone, he goes up the mountain to be alone and to pray. This is similar to when Moses went up to pray to The Lord for the Israelites he was trying to lead. Matthew is intending for us to remember this Old Testament account as we read what Jesus does in these verses. Jesus went to be alone to pray to his Father and prayed for the whole night. Matthew tells us that it was only a little later that night after the the disciples shoved off in their boat that they began to be tossed around by a storm, but Jesus didn’t come out to them until it was close to dawn. By this time, the disciple’s boat is very far from land. They surely must have felt desperate and helpless. They must have questioned if God was present in their circumstance. They must have asked, “where had Jesus gone?” Much like the Israelites lost in the wilderness, that night must have felt like an eternity to the disciples.

I remember going crabbing in Washington one time with my uncle, my dad, and brother. We had these great big crab pots that weighed about 60 pounds apiece. We had about 6 pots altogether but only two of the 60 pounders. We would bait them, tie buoys to them, then go out in our boat and drop them off. It was really important to have the buoys tied to them, otherwise you’d lose the crab pot to the bottom of the sea. Well, all four of us are in the boat and we are throwing out our baited crab pots. We hurled one after another over the side and let the rope run through our hands as it sank to the bottom, then plop the buoy out on the water. We grabbed one of our 60 pounders, threw it over the side, but realized that there was no rope running through our hands. We forgot to tie it to a buoy! There it was, sinking to the bottom with no way of pulling it back up. Well, my dad being the courageous guy he is, dove into the water before any of us could say a thing.

Now, I was only about 8 years old at the time. I couldn’t believe what just happened. My dad had just jumped into the ocean! All of us in the boat just sat there staring at the water. All we saw was his hat floating gently on the surface. Then all of a sudden, my dad surfaced, splashing for a paddle with the crab pot in hand. It was pretty cool. I already thought my dad was tough, but after that, my dad was the toughest guy on earth to me. For my little 8 year old heart, the time between my dad diving in and coming back to the surface felt like an eternity. I didn’t know what to think! What just happened? Would he be able to make it? What could I do? Should I jump in after him? What would I do if he didn’t come back? All these thoughts made it feel like time stood still.

I think the disciples felt the same way when they were caught in that storm by themselves. They were being tossed around all night long and Jesus seemed to be nowhere to be found! It must have felt like an eternity to them. I’m sure they were asking questions like: “Where is Jesus? Is he coming back? Are we going to make it? Where is God? Will we survive this storm? How much longer will we be able to last?!”

How often do we find ourselves asking these very questions as the church? Where is Jesus? Is he coming back? Are we going to make it? Where is God? Will we survive this storm? How much longer will we be able to last? We as the church exist in the night between Christ ascension and Christ’s return. It’s been a 2,000 year long night! We as the church have been through many storms and we continue to be battered by the wind and the waves. How much longer do we have to wait? Will we have to be in this storm forever? I believe the dawn is coming. Christ will return and calm the wind and the waves and rescue us. We must never lose that hope! It is what keeps us afloat! We can never forget that it was Christ who commanded the disciples into that boat to begin with. It was Jesus who compelled the disciples to embark on the lake. We have been commanded by Christ to embark as his church on the waters of this world and just like Noah’s ark, we are carrying the building blocks for a new world, the kingdom of God.

Being in this boat of the church, we are going to find ourselves far from shore from time to time. We will encounter storms with heavy winds and angry seas, but we shouldn’t see this as unusual. These things happen when you are in a boat in the water. The key isn’t about asking if we will survive the storm. The key is remaining faithful to God through the storm. We must be faithful when we feel far from the shore. We must be faithful when the waters rage and the winds howl. We must be faithful as the church because Christ has commanded us as his disciples to set sail and keep sailing until he returns. We can be assured of the promise that he will return and calm our seas just before the dawn of God’s kingdom being established forever.

Matthew helps us to beg the question, do we as the church always recognize Christ when he is moving among us? Do we let our hope of his return drive us to be faithful to who he really is? As we read on, we see the disciple’s reaction when Jesus is walking towards them on the water. They said, “it’s a ghost!” Why did they jump to that conclusion? Has Jesus not acted and done many unexpected things? Why did they not see Jesus for who he is again? They jumped to this conclusion because of they were terrified. The wind and the waves were battering their boat. They have been there all night and it’s dark all around them. Then just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, they see this person walking towards them on the water. People don’t walk on water! So in their moment of terror and desperation, they grasped for any explanation that would make their world seem normal. It was the best explanation they could come up with themselves. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

The disciples grasped for an explanation to help themselves understand their situation, but this explanation only served to cause them to be more fearful. The church still gets herself in trouble today because these same fearful explanations. In our mainstream Christian culture, we fear that God is being covered up in our society. We fear that God is being removed from schools, our courthouses, our nation. We fear that God is being ignored and forgotten. While these things may be true, how does mainstream Christian culture handle this fear? How does the church handle being battered by the storm of our culture ignoring God? Does the church choose to be faithful or come up with explanations that make us feel safe? Do we as disciples look for Christ or do we reach for propaganda and political silos to make our world feel normal again?

Well, when mainstream Christianity makes things like “Heaven is for real!” and “God is not dead!” popular in our culture, we do not have to look too far to discover the answer. The very titles themselves sounds like we are trying to prove something. Things such as these become popular not because they present the gospel but because they make us feel nice and safe about what we believe. As the disciples find out in their boat on stormy waters, there is critical importance in the difference between placing our hope in Jesus and placing our trust in how we feel about Jesus. The former is placing Jesus as the center of our story while the latter places ourselves