Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 May 3, 2020
“Look unto Him”
We continue trekking together now through this coronavirus pandemic. This is now the eighth consecutive Sunday that we have missed public worship together, and doubtless we each and all feel it. Things look a bit better now in ways, yet there is still ample concern and caution concerning this pandemic, and there remains abundant suffering and grief because of it—not only from the disease itself, but also from its collateral ills, economic and otherwise. If we be not careful, we’ll look too much at the pandemic, and we’ll fail to look upon Him who holds the pandemic in His hand. Today’s text is a needful corrective to such a tendency. Let us give our full attention once again to the reading and proclamation of God’s Word in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
This text follows immediately after Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. With the teaching, and the miraculous meal, complete, He dismisses His disciples into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. He then dismisses the crowds before going onto a nearby mountain for private prayer. Evening falls, and Jesus prays while His disciples strain at the oars.
A storm rose on the sea—a quite common occurrence due to abrupt temperature shifts caused by elevation difference between the Sea of Galilee and nearby mountains. The Sea of Galilee itself sits at the bottom of the upper Jordan Rift Valley, about seven hundred feet below mean sea level, whereas the surrounding mountains stand twelve to fifteen hundred feet above the water’s surface. Again, such dramatic elevation change results in dramatic temperature change, and such temperature shifts mean wind—often strong, perhaps swirling. Furthermore, high wind means high waves. Hence, the disciples, some of whom are experienced fishermen, strain most of the night against the wind—perhaps as much as four miles from land, and making little, if any, progress toward their intended destination. This goes on and on, and the disciples tire, and yet the storm rages.
In the fourth watch of the night, sometime between 3:00 A. M. and 6:00 A. M., Jesus comes. He comes in most unusual fashion, however; he comes walking on the water. The disciples, many of them, once again, experienced men of the sea, believe they see in Jesus a ghost. They cry out the same and otherwise shout in fear.
Jesus, to allay His disciples’ fear, discloses Himself immediately to allay their fears. He declares to them, in part, “It is I.” Here possibly occurs a double meaning. We know from earlier sermon in this place that when the Greek words ego eimi (egw eimi) occur, they testify to Jesus’ essential nature. They declare that He is God, for God called Himself I AM before Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). Because it is Jesus, Who they know after the flesh, and because it is God in the flesh, Whom they soon will confess, all is well. Jesus encourages them to take heart, to have courage, and not to be afraid.
Peter, a brash, impetuous disciple, answers Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus issues His succinct command, “Come thou,” and Peter climbs down from the boat and walks to Him—as if He does this several times a day. Then Peter sees the wind, and his faith turns to fear and his standing turns into sinking. Peter, reacting to his change state, cries out to Jesus, “Lord, save me,” and Jesus saves Him—while reproving him for little faith and asking him why he doubted.
Jesus and Peter then get into the boat, and the wind ceases. Those in the boat, their bodies and exhausted and their souls overwhelmed, worship Jesus, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” The Greek piles nuance upon nuance to give us the depth of the disciples’ declaration; my more wooden translation ran, “Truly You indeed are the Son of God.”
This narrative illustrates our lives and corrects them at a key point. Just as Peter began to sink when He looked more at the elements than at his Lord, so we sink lower when we follow suit. Granted, ‘tis easy to look at current circumstance and sink into despair. We look at the ravages wrought by coronavirus. We see people sick, dying, and grieving—and our hearts are sore for them. We see livelihoods and material securities threatened, and we wonder either if will we survive this season materially or if our material security will be threatened at some later time. We also look at certain parts of our circumstance that have no relation to the coronavirus pandemic, and, upon looking at these parts of our lives, it is hard to feel any cheer concerning them.
Our text today, and the Lord, Scripture’s ultimate Author, urge us, in place of looking too intently at woeful circumstance, to look—and to keep looking—to the Lord. Let us look to Him with unwavering gaze—and this by Spirit-empowered grace. Let us not look to the Lord as if goaded by moral harangue, but let us seek the Lord for the gracious power we need to look rightly upon Him. Moreover, let us look to the Lord in full joy, confidence, and peace—and may He augment these in us as we look to Him. Remember, those who look to the Lord are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed (Psalm 34:5). Furthermore, may someone—or several someones—looking on our radiant faces be irresistibly drawn to our Savior for eternal, abundant life.
 The information about the Sea of Galilee and its topography rises from Mary K. Milne, “Galilee, Sea of,” in Paul J. Achtemeier, gen. ed., Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1985), 330.