Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"That Man Is Jesus"

Text: Matthew 14:22-33

Psalm 69:1-3,13-18

 

     Presbyterian missionary Robert Kopp relates a story of a Chinese covert explaining why, in a nation so unsympathetic – and often hostile - toward Christianity, he became a Christian. Here’s his testimony: “My life was sinking deeper and deeper, as I was in a well. And all my efforts caused me to sink faster. Then I saw a vision.

My child, I am Confucius, the father of your country. If you had observed my teaching, you would never have landed where you now are.’ Then he waved his hand and left me saying, ‘If you ever get out of this well, be careful to follow my teachings in the future.’ Then the Buddha came and gazed into the well at me and said, ‘My child, you must quit the condition in which you find yourself. Relax, fold your arms, and meditate. Soon, you will find yourself in a new state of consciousness. You will find Nirvana which is the peace we all desire.’ I called out, ‘Father Buddha, if you would help me out of this well, I could follow your teaching. But I cannot follow your instruction in this horrible place. Please help me!’ There was no reply. Then came another man. His face was strangely comforting, yet reflected sorrow and suffering. He came down into the well and pulled me out. He gave me dry clothes and said to me only this: ‘Follow me. I will never leave or forsake you.’ That man was Jesus. That is why I became a Christian. He descended into the depths where I was and saved me with His own hands. I choose to follow Him.”

            We live in a day and age of what we call “religious pluralism,” as Americans of the past few generations have been sampling a little bit of this and a little bit of that, searching for that which might satisfy their spiritual longings; searching for something that will help make sense of (let’s call it what it is) the insanity of this world around us – the tragedy, the convoluted logic, the skewedvalues, the abundance of injustice married with the absence of morality. I think most everyone – religious conviction notwithstanding – is on a quest for some spiritual anchor in their marriages and family relationships, in their careers and vocations, in their financial situations, in their lifestyles. It has become common in this day to find people , in their personal as well as in their social lives, feeling as if they’re sinking deeper and deeper into despair, into helplessness, into hopelessness, feverishly looking for some guiding hand – a saving hand – to catch them and pull them out.

            The familiar story from the Gospel of Matthew illustrates how Jesus provides that guiding and saving hand which reaches into the dark milieu of life’s storms, catching us and bringing us up into the light of peace and truth. As the story goes, Jesus had just finished feeding many hungering people on the east bank of the Sea of Galilee. As He “dismissed the crowds,” Jesus directed His disciples to get into a boat and go ahead of Him across the sea to the west bank. As was Jesus’ custom, He retreated to spend some quiet time alone in prayer.

            As night began to fall, the disciples had sailed well out onto the sea. A sudden and severe storm came upon them, a weather phenomenon which, it is said, still makes the Sea of Galilee dangerous to travel. Sometime between three and six in the morning, as the disciples fought the tempest for their lives, they saw one who appeared to be Jesus walking toward them on the sur- face of the water. Skeptical as they often were, the disciples rubbed their eyes in disbelief. As Matthew who was on that boat later recorded: (We) were terrified saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And (we) cried out in fear.” But Jesus spoke to them in the midst of the storm’s fury saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

            Simon Peter was one of those folks who was never at a loss for words. He questioned: “Now Lord, if that’s really you (and I’m not so sure), let me walk out to you on the water.” I would like to have seen the look on Peter’s face when Jesus said, “Alright. Come on out. The water’s fine.” I give Peter much credit for this. He stepped out of the boat – the waves swirling around his feet and the wind buffeting his body – and came toward Jesus. But in the middle of this supernatural scene, Peter’s humanity gets the best of him. He loses his focus on Jesus and begins to focus instead on the danger swirling around him. Immediately, he begins to sink.    Commentator Douglas Hare – under whom I was privileged to study in the 1980’s – lends his understanding of what happened to Peter at this moment of crisis. He writes: “(This episode) graphically depicts what it means to be a Christian seeker caught midway between doubt and faith. Peter represents all who dare to believe that Jesus is Savior, taking their first steps in confidence that He is able to sustain them, and then forget to keep their gaze fixed on Him in- stead of on the towering waves that threaten to engulf them. In the depth of crisis, when all seems lost, they remember to call on the Savior, and find His grace sufficient for their needs, whose power is made perfect in their weakness.” In that moment of crisis and human limitation, Peter cried out as all of us cry out at some point in our lives when we find ourselves sinking deep in the wells of life, or the wind against us: “Lord, save me!” And Jesus immediately did just that. He reached out His hand to Peter and caught him. Then a pronoun we often overlook when we read this passage: “When they got into the boat….” When Peter and Jesus got into the boat. Then, as Mark makes clear in his account of this same episode, the wind ceased, the rain stopped, the storm dissipated, and the sea was at peace.

            I believe all of us are, in some sense, looking for that hand which will reach out and catch us, and lift us out of the deep wells of life into which we find ourselves sinking deeper and deeper. We’re all grasping for that savior who will do something more than walk by, gaze down at us, and say, “See, I told you so. Look me up when you get yourself back on solid ground.” We’re all searching for that one who will not only reach out a helping and guiding hand, but who will des- cend into the well, who will step into the boat, who will enter into the storms of life alongside us, who will meet us where we are. That man is Jesus.

            I do not know what you may be facing this day – emotional or physical problems; storms in your marriages and families; that sinking sense of loneliness;that feeling that you’re being drawn deeper and deeper into confusion and disillusionment; that intense hunger for some- thing which will satisfy your spiritual longings; some direction and light which might help make sense of this life despite all the insanity. So-called “new age religion” which samples a little of this and a little of that, believing everything while anchored in nothing, won’t reach you in the depth of your longing. Psychic hotlines and astrological advisors [whose counsel many seek these days] won’t step into the storms of life with you. Tony Horton’s P90X and the Brazilian Butt Lift exercise programs may help your abs and your gluts, but they won’t bring lasting peace to the inner storms of your life. There is only one I know who can do that; the one of whom evangelist John so eloquently writes: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish [may not sink in well or sea] but may have eternal life. Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved [might be rescued from well or sea] through him.”  

            Dear friends, that man is Jesus.