Take Heart; It's Jesus!

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“[Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw Him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:48-50).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
You would think that the disciples would get it by now. They’ve been with Jesus for some time. They’ve seen Him preach with amazing authority, heal the sick with a touch, cast out demons with a word, raise the dead, calm a stormy sea, and feed thousands with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Sent out by Jesus and acting on His authority, they’ve even personally participated in some of that powerful stuff. You would think they would get it. You would think they would begin to have an inkling of just who Jesus is and what He can do.
But then we come to our Gospel. Jesus sends His disciples out on the sea while He goes up on the mountain to pray. Evening comes. Jesus, though deep in prayer, is aware of their situation. He sees the disciples are “making headway painfully, for the wind [is] against them.” But He lets them struggle for a while. In fact, it is all part of His plan. This is the second time this day that Jesus commands His disciples to do something difficult or even impossible. Do you think that the one who controls the wind and the waves had no idea that the wind would come up so fiercely when He made His disciples get into to the boat and go before Him to the other side? I suspect He even knew then that He would be crossing the sea on foot.
It is about the fourth watch of the night, sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. The disciples are worn out and tired from their all-night struggle against the wind and the waves. And suddenly Jesus comes out to them walking on the sea, unhindered by the wind and the waves, not bound to the laws of physics!
Jesus walks as though He means to pass by them. They don’t recognize Jesus, but think He is a ghost and cry out in terror. Imagine that! Jesus absolutely terrifies them! And even though they have been taught better than to believe such superstition, they find it easier to believe they see a ghost walking on the water than the Lord. The irony in their seeing something supernatural is that Jesus is supernatural, but in a more profound way than they could ever imagine.
What does Jesus do? Like He did for the hungry multitude in last week’s Gospel, Jesus has compassion on His disciples. Jesus doesn’t wait until they “get it” to come to them. He reaches out to them: “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.” That’s how it’s translated in the ESV. But there is a deeper meaning in His words, for Jesus is spelling out who He is. “It is I.” More accurately translated: “I AM.” Yahweh Himself. “Take heart!” says Jesus. “I AM the Lord. I am here to help you. I AM the God of your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob come in the flesh.”
Then Jesus hops into the boat and the wind ceases. It’s completely calm. And the disciples’ fear turns to amazement. But they still don’t get it. St. Mark comments: “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” The disciples do not fully understand what has taken place. If they had learned from the feeding of the five thousand, they would understand this miracle. They would’ve learned that Jesus is the Lord of creation; all of nature is under His control. But they don’t understand; their hearts are hardened. This does not mean that they reject Christ, but that they fail to grasp what He is seeking to teach them.
The disciples do not understand this because their hearts are hardened. Like Pharaoh in Exodus. Like Jesus says of His opponents later in Mark’s Gospel. They are unbelieving, uncomprehending. And sadly it’s going to get worse before it gets better. When the disciples finally start getting Who Jesus is, they’re not going to like what He has come to do. And when Jesus starts speaking plainly about His death, they’re really going to freak out.  
The disciples suffer from hardened hearts. They know Jesus can do amazing things. He’s got them out of a couple serious boating problems. He can feed huge crowds with a sack lunch. He can even stand toe-to-toe with demons and disease and death and prevail. But do they realize He is the Incarnate Lord? Do they believe the Son of Man is also the Son of God? Can they trust this Jesus is the promised Savior of the world and of all sinners? Savior for even them?
How about you? Do you? Do you trust in Jesus as your Savior? Or does your heart have some hardness? Are you willing to trust Jesus with every area of your life? Or is there something about this Jesus that scares you a little bit, too?
Jesus says to each of His frightened, hard-hearted disciples: “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.” This is not so much a command as a promise. Jesus’ powerful Word does what He says. The same eternal Word who spoke the heavens and earth and everything in them into existence, creates courage and faith by His Word alone even today. In His means of grace, the Lord commands His disciples to do the impossible—and then He fulfills His promise to do it for us.
Take this command for example: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Do you see the promise connected with the command? What is impossible for man is fulfilled in Christ. Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Christ our Lord says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
How can water do such great things? Certainly not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without God’s Word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-8).
Or how about this command and promise? “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:22-23). Many find it hard to accept but Jesus is speaking of confession and absolution. They say, “Your pastor should not be saying, “I forgive you all your sins. Only God can forgive sins.”
To those who raise such objections, we say, “You’re right, only God can forgive sins. But Jesus’ words make it clear that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and promise to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”
And then there is command attached with a promise: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me… Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
Some say this only symbolic. Jesus did not means these words to be taken literally, but figuratively. Christ is in heaven. He cannot be present here bodily but only spiritually. The finite is not capable of holding the infinite. It just is not logical or sensible to say that the bread and wine are Christ’s true body and blood. But Christ’s own Word says otherwise. The Sacrament of the Altar is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus often commands His followers to do the difficult, to do the impossible, to trust in the incomprehensible. Such grace is far beyond our ability to earn, attain, or grasp. But the Lord brings it to us—not in some out-of-body, walk-on-water, mountaintop experience, but always available, in His Word. That’s why we encourage you to make weekly worship a priority. To deprive yourself of the worship is to deprive yourself of grace. And because we are the body of Christ, it deprives others as well: for as you sing and speak here, you put God’s Word into the ears of those around you. So we bid you to be in the Word. It’s not because we obsess on attendance numbers, or because you earn forgiveness every time you crack open a Bible. It’s because the Word feeds your faith, like food feeds your body. It’s a gift of God to keep you alive, especially in times of trial and suffering.
And you will encounter such times, perhaps are even now experiencing trouble—maybe even BIG trouble. You know your pains far more than anyone else, so I need not enumerate them. But let’s analyze what happens when it’s given you to suffer. When trouble strikes, you worry and dwell on it. It occupies your thoughts. The trouble with this kind of meditation is that we just fret about how troubling the trouble is. We sinners don’t always think to pray or to hear the Word for help. But the Lord has much to say in time of trouble. Remember: by His Word, He forgives your sins, strengthens your faith, and makes you know His will.
As you read God’s Word, the Spirit is at work to give you all of God’s blessings. The Word becomes part of your meditation. Along with the whispered fears in your mind, you will also hear, “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). You hear, “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability” (1 Corinthians 10:13). You hear that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). These are not pep-rally words to get back in the fight, but promises of God to grant you strength, for you are one of His beloved children.
Strengthened and informed by God’s Word, you pray. You know better what to pray, because you’ve heard God’s promises. Having heard Him speak to you, you now speak back to Him. And you even have help in your praying. The Spirit intercedes for you with groanings too deep for words, crafting your prayer into one worthy for God’s ears. And you know that God hears your prayers, because Jesus intercedes for you with the Father, and for His sake the Father delights to hear your prayer. He also delights to answer your prayer.
When God answers your prayers for Jesus’ sake, He does far more than all you ask or think. This is good to keep in mind. When trouble strikes, you have no idea how much trouble you’re really in—for you fight against principalities and powers of darkness. At the same time, when you pray, you don’t know how good your prayer is—for the Holy Spirit makes it far better than you can imagine. And when God answers, you can’t comprehend how great His answer is—because He does far more abundantly than all you ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).
By means of God’s Word, you have all of these blessings. Apart from it, you have none. So be in the Word. Live in your Baptism through daily contrition and repentance. Do not despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Come to the Lord’s Table to receive the very body and blood of Christ shed on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.
For by that Word, Christ dwells in you. By that Word, God grants that you might know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. By that Word, you are filled with the fullness of God. By that Word you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, by that Word, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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