In Matthew chapter 14 there are several well-known events in the life of Jesus and his disciples.
Do you remember the time when, having heard of the execution of John the Baptist, Jesus withdrew to a solitary place? Presumably he went to a solitary place to spend some time alone, perhaps mourning John’s death, perhaps to spend time in prayer with God his Father. However, if solitude was what he wanted crowds were what he got.
Jesus had set out by boat to find some peace and quiet but the crowds had figured out where he was going and they followed him on foot to meet him when he landed And they knew what they wanted of him, too.
Despite the fact that he was looking for solitude, Jesus had compassion on the crowds and set to healing those who were ill.
There’s a couple of wonderful, remarkable things: first, the way he served others first, and second, the power of God he showed by healing people. Jesus was and always will be God himself. When he lived among us it was enough just to touch the hem of his cloak to receive healing, so great, so authoritative, so powerful was Jesus.
No wonder the crowds followed him!
After a while, as evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’
I don’t think the disciples were being mean or impatient. I think their response was a practical one, really.
On the other hand, Jesus’ response was one of generosity, hospitality – and impracticality!
Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’
While we revise the events of this day, think about what it would have been like to be one of the disciples at the time. Put yourself in their position and think about how you would have reacted.
Remember that the crowd had followed him to a place where he could find solitude. No shops nearby. No cafes. Certainly no Maccas or KFC! And Jesus tells you lot to feed all these people.
There were 5,000 men in the crowd, along with women and children. How many altogether? It could easily have been 10 or 12 thousand. Something like the entire population of the Bellingen shire, perhaps. All gathered on a paddock over in Gleniffer. And Jesus tells you to feed them. How are you feeling?
Don’t panic, don’t panic! Look around and see what we’ve got in hand. Oh, good, five loaves of bread and two fish. For thousands of people.
From time to time I think we all find ourselves in a situation just as confusing, even stressful. We find ourselves confronted by people in need, confronted by a problem far too big for us to resolve yet we are sure we should do something! We can’t help but feel that there is the expectation by Jesus that we will be the means of providing the solution. It won’t be Jesus’ hands that hand out the food – it will be the disciples. It could be us.
They did what we know we should do and brought the problem to Jesus, along with the limited means we have to contribute to the solution. This probably won’t look like nearly enough to do the job. The wonderful thing is that Jesus can use what doesn’t look like much to bring about a lot. Let’s face it, we don’t look much like a solution to any problems – but that won’t stop Jesus using us, anyway.
In this case, Jesus looked to his Father and, holding up these meagre loaves and fishes and gave thanks for them. “Thank you, God, for what little I have.”
Then, as he broke and distributed the bread and he fish a miracle happened. These five loaves and two fish he broke up and distributed to each of the 12 disciples and these 12 disciples handed out pieces of bread and fish to over 5,000 people. It was the disciples who handed out the food, not Jesus.
Bear in mind that this is the way it is with us, too. Jesus uses his disciples; that’s us, to be the hands that distribute his blessings to people in the world around us.
Not only did this small contribution extend to feeding thousands but they all ate and were satisfied! No Oliver Twists here! No one asking, “Please, sir. Can I have some more?”
But wait, there IS more!
Now that everyone was satisfied the disciples went around and picked up the leftovers and there were 12 baskets full of leftovers. 12! That one basket for each of the disciples. Not only were the thousands fed, each of the disciples had a whole basketful of leftover miracle.
That must have made an impression on them! Well, it would have done on you and me, wouldn’t it?
So here we are, late in the day, in a place of solitude and having just been involved in one of the most famous miracles that has ever taken place. What does Jesus do?
He tells the disciples to get back into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowd, following which he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
As they launched the boat out and headed off, I wonder if it occurred to any of the disciples to wonder how Jesus was going to get to the other side of the lake in order to meet them there. Here they are, heading off in one direction across the lake in a boat while Jesus seemed to be climbing mountains. Anyway, let’s head off.
Now, just because you are doing what Jesus tells you to do there’s no reason to expect that it will all be plain sailing. As they did what most of them had done before, sailing across a familiar lake, a storm blew up when they were a considerable distance from land. The boat was buffeted by the waves and, because the wind was against them they could make no progress. They were helplessly stuck and in a predicament.
It took some time until it was shortly before dawn that there was any relief for them. They were buffeted, blown about and lost on the lake when Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. What’s the natural reaction?
Well, they were terrified! “It’s a ghost”, they said!
Think about it.
Only the day before they had watched Jesus healing crowds of people of their illnesses, even those who only touched the edge of his coat.
Only the day before they had not only seen Jesus provide the food to satisfy thousands of people and they, themselves, had been the ones to distribute the miraculous food to the people.
And now, in this storm, in this boat on the lake, each of them had with him a basketful of leftover miracles.
It is easy for us to think harshly of these frightened men. They should have know better. They should have been full of strong, powerful and comforting faith after all they had seen and done!
What? Like us, with all our strong, comforting and powerful faith? But this is the way we should be! Stop and count your blessings; see what God has done in your own life. Be thankful and let those blessings comfort you and strengthen your faith so that when confronted by a frightening situation you will be more expectant of wonders rather than be fearful.
Jesus says, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ He said that to the disciples in the boat and he says that to us here in Bellingen! ‘Take courage! Don’t be afraid!’
Then Peter says, ‘Lord, if it’s you.’ Oh, come on Peter, who else would it be? Well, I have to admit there have been plenty of times when something has happened, indeed when Jesus has brought about something in my life and I have responded with, “Lord, if it’s you.”
Because the wonderful thing is that Jesus does walk in my life, and he does in yours. There are those times when we say yes to the question, ‘wouldn’t that be God?’
At those times let’s not ask, ‘Lord, is it you?’ but rejoice that he is keeping his promise never to leave or forsake us.
Then Peter says, ‘Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water’. To which Jesus said, ‘Come’.
Jesus wasn’t the only one who walked on the water. So did Peter.
It can’t have been comfortable in a boat being buffeted by waves and wind, but nonetheless it has to be a safer, more sensible place to be than to climb out of the boat and onto – or would it be, into – the water. If Jesus had spoken to you while you were in the relative safety of the boat, ‘Come’, would you have done as he said?
Now, on the one hand I admire Peter and at the same time I’m sympathetic to Peter. Admirably, he got down out of the boat and came towards Jesus but when he saw the wind understandably, he was afraid and began to sink. Naturally, he called out to Jesus, ‘Lord, save me!’
As Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter he said, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’
When they climbed back into the boat the wind died down and all those in the boat worshipped Jesus, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
Looking back, I suspect they were all thinking how fortunate Peter was to have that experience and wishing they had been as brave as to get out of the boat and walk with Jesus on the water. I suspect they were all kicking themselves for having missed out on a wonderful experience.
Have there been times in your life when you know Jesus said to you, ‘Come’, and you missed the opportunity, you missed the chance to do your own equivalent of walking on the water? Let’s not miss the next chance.
You know, Jesus says to you and to me, ‘Come’?
He want to use us as his hands, his feet, his voice, his compassion, his love to those around us.
He says comforting things like, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28)
But he also says less comfortable things like, ‘Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.’ (Mt 4:19)
In the reading from Romans 10 we are told “if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
And it goes on to point out, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
Climbing out of the boat and onto the water when Jesus calls is a massive step, but it’s not the first one.
I fear that we are too afraid to take the step that comes before that. It takes commitment on our part, a real willingness to serve Jesus in a real and useful way, a conviction in our heart that Jesus’ death brought us forgiveness and salvation and that God raised him from the dead. We need to be convinced that Jesus lives and is with us always before we do as Peter did and say, ‘Lord, command me to come to you on the water.’
Do we really believe what we say we believe? Do we really want to follow Jesus? If we do then let’s ask him to call us into real service for him – even at our age, even in Bellingen, even today.
Then, when Jesus says to you, ‘Come’ what do you do? Stay in the relative safety of your present situation or launch out even into what seems a reckless obedience?
Bellingen Uniting Church 9 August 2020