Sermon Text: Matthew 14:22-33
Title: His voice in the Dark!
Grace and peace of our Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen.
During a night about two weeks ago, our son Enyan woke up by himself while my wife and I were in deep sleep. Usually he doesn’t do that, but somehow he woke up, crawling around in our bed. Our bed is pretty tall, but thanks be to God, we have put fences around it so that Enyan doesn’t accidentally fall.
By the time we were woken up, Enyan was crying desperately at the edge against the fence. He was certainly afraid as we could tell from his cries because it was dark dark in our bedroom. We kind of always switch off all the lights before we fall asleep. But not anymore after this incident; now we leave a night light on.
As I reflect back on what happened to Enyan that night, I could imagine that he didn’t realize mom and dad were right beside him because it was so dark around him. When we woke up and tried to comfort him, saying “it’s ok, mom and dad are here…”, he was still kind of in doubt wondering where he was at the edge of our bed. Finally, we managed to turn on the light and hug him into sleep.
Friends, with today’s Gospel reading Matthew 14, imagine what is happening to Jesus’ disciples. Let me read again for you Matthew 14:22-25
“Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds… the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.”
Now the “fourth watch of the night” is 3-6am according to the Roman watch. It is a dark dark night when supposedly people are still sleeping. Remember they don’t have modern technology, at best, lit torches with them. And it was after a long-day of work out there in the field. They just miraculously fed 5,000 plus people for dinner (Matt 14:15) along with Jesus. Running around to organize the crowds, serve them with loaves and fish, and at the end, collect the leftovers into twelve baskets, etc.
Jesus told them to row over to the other side of the Galilean sea. And they obeyed. But something else happened. During this very dark night, after a long distance from the land, in the middle of nowhere, their boat was “beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.” The disciples must also be weary and scared to death.
And here Jesus comes to them, walking on the sea. How did disciples react to Jesus’ presence? Matthew 14:26 “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.”
Our effort to find Jesus and His presence:
Brothers and sisters, in our Christian sailing and our journey to the other side, that is the other world, the new world of our salvation, the new creation of heaven and earth, we have all kinds of experiences: weariness, darkness, desperation, fear, and doubt. We try very hard to find assurance of Jesus’ presence and His comfort with us, in front of unemployment, separation, quarrels, divorce, illnesses, and even death. YES, these things don’t just happen to the rest of the world but also to you and I who are already in the saving boat.
We tend to look up to two sources for Jesus’ presence: 1. How we feel in our heart 2. What we see around us. Friends, both would fail us just like they have failed the disciples. When they look inside themselves, there is only fear and desperation. When they look around, there is only darkness, strong wind, and shaking waves. Even though Jesus is walking on the water towards them, based on how they feel and what they see, they cried out loud, “it is a ghost!” which means, “it is an evil spirit against us.”
我们倾向于在两个地方寻求耶稣的同在：1. 我们心里的感觉 2. 我们周围所看见的环境。但是，朋友们，这两个地方都会让我们失望，就像门徒们的经历一样。
We even try to build our own community without Jesus:
Another temptation we face in this situation is that we try to build our own boat, our own community, our own identity, security without Jesus sailing with us. That is happening today to many Christians and non-Christians in North America.
Even social media giants have caught up with this wind. A few years ago, Facebook noticed the importance of building virtual communities in people’s social life, so they created a thing called “facebook groups”. Tencent, Wechat’s owner probably noticed much earlier since they had QQ groups way before Facebook. Today, ask around, who doesn’t have a few wechat groups on their phone?
For our Chinese community in Evansville, it is always good to unite us in one language, one fatherland, and one culture. We are all foreigners settling down in a foreign land. It is easier for us to find our identity and security, a sense of union and belonging from our common background.
The ultimate identity and security of our Community:
But friends, we need Jesus, always Jesus in the center of our community, our parties, and our celebrations, to reshape our ultimate identity, union, and security. I heard some of you have already done that, in your workplace, in restaurants, in family reunions, and even in wechat groups.
Only Jesus can sail us to the other side of the sea. Be sure that we are not talking about the other side of the Pacific Ocean, our earthly fatherland, China. We are talking about our eternal destiny that China or Chinese culture can’t give.
What Jesus has done for us:
Only Jesus gives a clear vision where we are going in front of the shared fate of all human beings, which is death. For Jesus not only has walked on the sea but also has conquered death, death in the sea and death in the land. A few chapters back, Matthew in chapter 12 writes: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Now, where do we look for God’s presence in our life and Christian journey? If not in our feelings or in what we see with our eyes?
The Ultimate Source of Jesus’ Presence:
In the voice of Jesus, i.e., His words written in Bible. Matthew 14:27 “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” This is how God brings His presence into our daily life, into our sailing boat, into our common journey towards eternal life.
The words you read and hear daily through the scriptures are the voice of Jesus. They may seem so common, just like other writings, words in black and white, as if we can disregard them, and look for something else, highly spiritual. But be assured that those other things will fail us. We can only rely on God’s words for guidance and the assurance of His presence. Without God’s words, we may easily think that God is against us. But with God’s words, we know He is always for us, even in the dark.
Even though we hear Jesus’ words every Sunday or every day, we may still doubt, just like Peter was in doubt, or like our son Enyan doubting whether mom and dad are with him when he heard our voice in the dark. Matthew 14:31 “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
O You of Little Faith:
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” It may sound a harsh rebuke, but think differently from a different perspective. It is Jesus’ second response to disciples’ fear after the first response “It is I, do not be afraid.” Jesus continues to speak His words, and His words are generating faith and strengthening faith.
Take courage, Jesus never would despise your little faith or my little faith in the midst of our doubt, but instead He continues forgiving our doubt and sins, lifting up our faith by His gracious words. Remember also that Jesus has already had us in His saving hands, securing us in His saving boat, just like He has already “immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him.” In Jesus’ Name. Amen.