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When in Doubt, Shout Out! August 13, 2017

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Matthew 14:22-33

Proper 14

August 13, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves His people even in their doubts.

Function:  That the hearers worship the One and only God of heaven and earth.

Structure:  Rev. Dr. Andrew Bartelt’s outline.

 

When in Doubt, Shout Out!

 

This section of Matthew’s gospel account actually begins with an interruption.  We’re trying to focus on the ministry and life of Jesus Christ, but on multiple occasions now, the life and ministry of John the Baptist has broken in to the history of Jesus and His disciples.

It starts in the third chapter, as John the Baptist is doing what God sent him to do.  John is preparing the way for the people to see Christ.  He’s living in the wilderness, preaching about repentance, teaching the people, baptizing anyone he could, and even rebuking the Pharisees.  But at that point, Jesus arrives, and John disappears from Matthew’s account.

We don’t hear about John again until we get another interruption.  Jesus is teaching His disciples a series on the cost of discipleship: that they will be persecuted, that Christ’s gospel will cause divisions, but that the disciples should have no fear, and that the good news of salvation is theirs.

And then messengers come from John.  We learn at this point that John’s been arrested and is likely doubting his faith.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  The words Jesus sends back speak to who Jesus is and what He’s come to do.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

 

Jesus is declaring to John and John’s followers the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 35.  The promise of a new creation is here.  Jesus is bringing it to us.  And at this, John disappears again.

Until we come to our chapter today.  At the beginning of chapter 14, again Matthew interrupts his telling of Jesus Christ by inserting something about John.  And this time, it’s his death.  Jesus and the disciples come to learn that John the Baptist has been beheaded at the command of King Herod.

There were already doubts as to who Jesus was and what He was doing.  And now, one of the most loyal followers of Jesus has been killed by this ruthless, false kingdom.  Where is this kingdom of God?  Where is this new creation?  Who are you Jesus?  And why don’t we see any progress?

The answer that Matthew provides to his reader is three-fold.  Three things that Jesus will immediately say and do that shows His authority, His rule over this creation, that His kingdom is already here.  We see the feeding of the 5,000, the walking on water and calming the storm, and the healing of the sick with just a touch of His garment.

First, our gospel account from last week.  No longer drawing on the prophecies of Isaiah, Jesus connects Himself directly to Yahweh.  He takes the Exodus account of the Israelites and He inserts Himself into it.  Just as God fed the Israelites in the wilderness after they fled Egypt, so now Jesus feeds the crowd of 5,000+ with table scraps.

And in our account today, Jesus proves that He has the authority over creation itself, to even defy the laws of physics, which He created.  Just as He did to save His people in the parting of the Red Sea, now Jesus shows His authority over wind and wave again.  Our text today isn’t about you being able to walk on water or do supernatural things.  Our text today is about who Jesus is, and how He saves us even from our doubts.

Because Peter is, and the other disciples.  They’re doubting.  They were facing a storm, but the text is specific.  The storm was battering the boat, but the disciples weren’t afraid yet.  Sure they were stressed, but they’re trained fisherman, this is what they do. Fear doesn’t enter the account until the disciples see a figure approaching them on the water.  It is their encounter with the God Man Jesus Christ, whom they still don’t fully know or trust.  They call Him a ghost, and they cry out in fear.

Jesus encourages them to have courage and faith.  But they still doubt.  Even Peter’s question is doubt.  He’s asking for a sign, a “prove it” moment.  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  And then even when Jesus consents and answers Peter’s demand for proof, it still isn’t enough.  Peter steps out on the water and begins walking towards Jesus.  But as soon as he remembers the wind and the storm, he stops trusting in Christ, doubting the Lord again.

But as he plunged into the sea, in a mixture of confusion, fear, doubt, and faith, Peter cries out “Lord, save me.”  Which, happens to be what Jesus’ name means, “He saves.”  And that’s precisely what Jesus does.  To this poor brother of ours, mired in a mess of both faith and doubt, Jesus saves him.

And as they step back onto the boat together, for the second time in Matthew’s gospel account, Jesus calms the storm.  He shows His pure authority as the Creator of creation to control even the waves, as Job recorded, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed.”

When Jesus calmed the storm back in chapter 8, it was amazement on the face of the disciples.  They were wowed by first article of the creed stuff, by God being the author of creation.  “And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?’”

But now, we see a change.  This time, the disciples respond in light of the third article of the creed.  They confess their faith. “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”  Jesus again identifies Himself as the God of the Old Testament, revealing Himself as Yahweh of the Exodus who parted the Red Sea, showing mastery over the waters of creation in order to save His people.

Our connection to this text isn’t about walking on water or performing miracles.  Our connection to this text is that we also have a mixture of doubts and faith.  We do not trust in the Lord for our daily bread, for good weather and government, or for a roof over our head.

We talked about this in Bible class just last week.  When it comes to your need for protection, where do you turn?  When it comes to your need for someone to provide for you, where do you turn?  When it comes to your need to be loved or to belong, where do you turn?

Every government in human history has tried to set themselves up as the answer to those questions.  They aren’t.  They’ll disappoint you time and time again.  We turn to our spouse or family for these things.  But even they can’t actually meet them.  We trust in other things, like money, or politics, or our own abilities.  But it is truly a struggle to trust in Him alone.

We also have “prove it” moments as Peter did.  If God would just heal me, I would go to church every week.  If only God would get me out of this financial disaster I’m in, I will be generous to others.  If God would just do ______, I will know that He is truly God.

We get where Peter’s coming from because we’re right there with him.  Whether it’s fear, suffering, darkness, despair, or maybe even martyrdom, we find ourselves drowning in our sin and crying out “Lord, save me!”

And, He does!  That’s what Matthew is teaching the Jews as they walk through this entire section. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God Himself.  He’s not just a man, but He is our living Lord.

And by His death on the cross, He’s answered our call of distress.  He reaches down into the pit of your despair, into the treachery of our sins and our doubts, with the gift of forgiveness.  Forgiveness spoken to you in His Word through Absolution.  Forgiveness washing over you in His Word through the waters of your baptism.  Forgiveness welling up inside you as a living water, through His Word in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to defeat sin, death, and the devil once and for all.  But even more precisely than that, He then gives that victory, that forgiveness, that life to you through His Word and sacrament.

So when you have doubts, when your faith is twisted in confusion, you can know precisely where to shout, “Lord, save me!”  Right here.  Right here where His promises are proclaimed, and you have His assurance of forgiveness and life.  You can see it, you can hear it, you can touch it, you can even taste it.  Here in this place, we’ve joined with the disciples in seeing Jesus for who He truly is, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior.  And to Him alone we give our worship and praise.

Compassioned Boldness August 6, 2017

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Romans 9:1-5

Proper 13

August 6, 2017

 

Focus:  God gave everything in His love for us.

Function:  That the hearers share Christ’s bold compassion with their neighbors.

Structure:  Parallels.

 

Compassioned Boldness

 

Just how far are you willing to go?  How much are you willing to sacrifice for those people you hold dear?  The loved ones, those closest to you.  Your spouse, your children, your best friend, your parents.  How much would you give of yourself to ensure their wellbeing?

What if we change the person, to say, the person sitting a few pews either behind you or in front of you?  How much would give up of yourself for that person?  Would it be difficult to say that you’d give up just as much?

What if we change the person again, but this time, to the person who lives three doors down from you, whether that’s apartments in a hallway, homes on a block, or for you farmers, about a mile, how much would you be willing to give of yourself to care for that person?  For your neighbor?

And if you’ll allow, let me push this one more time.  How much would you be willing to lay down of yourself for the person you despise the most?  The person who has caused you the most harm, or the most embarrassment?  The person who has literally stolen from you, belittled you?  What would you be willing to give that person?

In America, we have a logical worldview on this subject.  What I mean by that is the way we look at others, the way we treat others, makes sense.  We understand.  We understand if you love a good friend who loves you.  We understand if you are angry with the person who’s been gossiping about you.  We understand if you want revenge when someone has done great harm to you.

But the problem is, this logical, American way of thinking isn’t Christian.  This isn’t what Jesus taught.  It isn’t how He instructed His disciples to live.

Instead we get a fascinating text today from the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Many of you still remember The Titanic movie, but even more of you still remember the story.  This giant vessel crashing into an iceberg and plunging into the depths of the ocean.  The people flooded to the lifeboats, but there weren’t enough.  So what happened?  Well, in that time in our culture, men sacrificed themselves.  The women and children got the first seats.  The men offered their lives to save others.

That’s an extreme example from our history.  But it pales in comparison.  Paul just said that he would willingly trade places.  That if he could, he’d give up not just his life, but his everlasting life if it meant his Jewish brethren would come to know Christ, and receive everlasting life.

Now, you and I, and Paul, we know this isn’t how it works.  It’s not a seat on a boat, it’s not something Paul could trade, or even sacrifice.  But it’s a powerful statement and illustration.  The Apostle Paul was a Jew.  Born a Jew, raised a Jew.  Studied under the best teachers they had.  He was one of them, and he was in a position to be one of their leaders, if he wasn’t already.

And then it all changed.  On the Road to Damascus, when Christ appears to Paul and strikes him blind, and directs him to go on into the city where he will receive further instructions.  Paul, before losing his sight, saw the resurrected Christ.  Or, at the very least, heard His voice.  And upon reaching Damascus, the Lord sends Ananias, who heals Paul and baptizes him.  And Paul is saved.

Now, this didn’t sit well with his old Jewish friends, teachers, and well, any of them.  And Paul began to suffer at their hands.  His own list in 2 Corinthians 11 is astounding:

“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

 

Beaten, and not just with fists.  The lashings, the stonings, the imprisonments and torture that Paul endured at their hands.  And yet, instead of wanting revenge, instead of wanting to see them get what was coming to them, which would have been a very natural reaction, what did Paul want for them?  He wanted nothing more than to see them know Christ and be forgiven for all the pain and all the wretchedness that they had caused.

There was no grudge to be found.  In fact, just the opposite, compassion.  Paul would give up his spot for them if it worked that way.  Praise be to God that it doesn’t work that way.

Because God’s plan is infinitely better.  God’s plan was that His own Son Jesus Christ would step down into this world, taking on flesh, becoming a man, born of the virgin Mary.  That this Jesus, this Son of God would then at the hands of God’s own people endure beatings, and lashings, and even a death by crucifixion.  And that as He hung there upon the cross, rather than free Himself or call down His Father’s wrath, Jesus called out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Even in His dying breaths, Jesus was accomplishing what He came to do.  To forgive all people.  To forgive every man of every time and every place.  To forgive every sin committed past, present, and future.  That Christ did not hold a grudge against the wickedness of mankind, but gave His life in our place.  Spilled His blood so that we would not have to.

This is the gospel!  That you and me, in spite of our sins, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our open and obstinate rebellion against God: you are forgiven, you are saved!  The compassion that Jesus had for His people led Him to be so bold that He would even willingly die for us.

The compassion that the Apostle Paul had for the people around him, even those we would consider his enemies, enabled him to be so bold that he would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in His name.  Paul didn’t cower, he didn’t step back and wait for God’s wrath.  He went to the people who needed forgiveness, who needed love, who needed a Savior, and He gave them the good news.

We are forever grateful that this good news has been proclaimed to us.  And to 2 billion other people alive today who have heard the good news and believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And it’s not just those living, but the countless men and women that heard and shared this same gospel proclamation in the generations from Paul to us.

And so it is that this same good news overflows in us.  We share the love of Christ with our neighbor.  We look upon them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, with compassion.  And it is this compassion for them, as it did for Paul, that leads us to be bold.  To proclaim the truth, to proclaim forgiveness and life in the name of Christ.  To our spouses and children.  To our best friends and parents.  To the people in the pews around us or the neighbors down the way.  To the very people who have done us harm.  We give of ourselves, we sacrifice of ourselves to give these people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  To hear of the forgiveness of their sins and our sins.  To hear of the gift of life that is for all people.