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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « New Particular T | Main | Musings on Boldness »

    Images of the Savior (27 – His Walking on the Water)

    And in the fourth watch of the night he came unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking upon the sea they were troubled, and were saying, “It is a ghost!”; and they cried out in fear. And immediately Jesus spoke unto them, saying, “Take courage, it is I: do not fear” – Matthew 14:25-27

    As we turn to our next account, we must be aware of its close connection with the account immediately preceding it, in which Jesus presents himself as the true Bread from heaven, given for the life of the world; and hence, the fulfillment of the tabernacle imagery of the table of the bread of the presence. For just as the table signified the provision of the necessary substance of life, which Jesus portrayed as having its ultimate fulfillment in his own body that he would offer up for the life of the world, in illustration of which he provided this bread in the wilderness for the crowds that had gathered around him; so also it signified the ongoing provision and guidance that God offered to his people for their journey, through his own sustaining presence in their midst; which is indeed why the bread was called specifically the bread of the presence. But this element, too, Jesus would portray as having its ultimate fulfillment in himself, when he appeared miraculously to his disciples and brought them along on their journey through the power that his own abiding presence imparted to them. Let us now look at these truths in a little more detail.

    We will first examine the case of the disciples, and then we shall see what we may learn of the Savior, as he responds to their situation. We see, at the beginning, that these disciples were chosen by Christ, and designated heirs of eternal life (see John 6:66-71); and then, that they were sent by Christ himself on the journey in which they were engaged; for when he had finished feeding the crowds, he sternly commanded them to cross to the other side without him, until he should have finished dismissing the crowd, at which point he would join them. If we would be instructed by this account, let us be sure that we are even as they. Have we been chosen by God as heirs of eternal life, called out by the gospel-power of his Spirit, and sent along by Christ himself on our pilgrimage through this world? The appropriateness with which we may apply the miraculous and comfortable attributes which Christ next displayed to our own situation hangs upon this very question: for Jesus will ever save his own, when they are in any trouble, by miraculously appearing to strengthen them for the journey; but those who do not belong to him must bear the full weight of their calamities alone, and oh, what calamities they shall face in the end! Reader, before you go on, examine your heart to see if it belongs to Christ in truth.

    Next, we see also that the journey which Christ sent them on proved too difficult for themselves alone; for they wearied themselves to exhaustion in rowing against the mighty waves, and indeed were tormented by them, as Matthew relates, and yet they made but little progress; and furthermore, as we learn from John's parallel account, the darkness soon overtook them (John 6:17), and occasioned them an added burden. Here they were, on a journey which they had undertaken at Jesus' own command, but they could not see their destination, nor how to get there; and even if they could have seen the way, their strength was insufficient to make any progress. What believer does not understand their sad plight? Have we not been sent on our pilgrimage home by Jesus himself, and do we not yet feel ourselves always inadequate to press on, and so often blinded by the night and unsure of the way which we should follow? When we seek to take a step towards greater holiness, just one step closer to being Kingdom-ready, do we not feel as if the winds of the world, our own flesh, and the temptations of the devil drive us five steps backwards, so that we can make no progress at all? If we are in such a condition, let us take heart, for so were the disciples before us, and we will soon see how it fared with them, when Jesus appeared to bring them along.

    Now, we must look to Jesus; for we are certain that, to the extent that we share any difficulties with the disciples before us, we will likewise only find them resolved in the same way that their difficulties were ever resolved; and that is in no other way than by the gracious administration of the Savior in their behalf. Let us note, first, that Jesus sometimes sends us into situations that are altogether too hard for us, and hides from us his presence for a time; not so that we might be overcome, but so that we might be taught to look for him, and so that we might glorify him the more when he delivers us out of difficulties too many and too mighty for our own arm of flesh. Although you may feel abandoned and ready to drown, on your pilgrimage into the Kingdom, if you belong to Jesus, you may be certain that he will never let you fail. When the waves look never so high, your strength has been all stripped away, and your boat is ready to capsize, be certain then that Jesus will come to you and bring you into the Kingdom through his own strength, even if he has to walk upon the raging sea to do so. He has never failed the weakest of his followers yet, and he will not do so until the end of the world.

    Let us notice where Jesus was at this time: for in the beginning, he was ministering to the crowds around him, and sending them away in peace; and then, he was devoting himself to communion with the Father in prayer. We may derive from these circumstances three solemn assurances: first, Jesus will devote himself to your good; for was he not pouring himself out in many good blessings upon all people, even at the cost of himself? Being fully human he hungered and was weary, and yet he continued his ministry to these hard-hearted people in the middle of the night. In this, he is the true Son of his Father, who causes rain to fall upon the just and the unjust, and blesses all with his gracious forbearance (Matthew 5:45); but consider, O believer; if Jesus is gracious even to those who do not belong to him, and fills their mouths in this age with many good things, will he not much rather be gracious to you, and fill your soul with all the riches of eternal joy? Do not look at today, see the wicked prosperous and yourself struggling against the wind and the waves, and think to yourself, “Jesus has abandoned me!”. Oh no, for those whom he truly loves, and those whom he is preparing for the greatest riches of all eternity, such as cannot even be compared to the piddling and destructible riches of the wicked, they are the ones whom he strengthens through difficulties and brings through the sorrows of the night so that they might rejoice the more fervently in the tearless dawn that is hastening to rise upon them, when the Sun of Righteousness spreads out his eternal wings of healing over those whom he loves in truth. The second assurance we may derive is that the Son, being always at one with the Father, and always in prayerful communion with him, is always faithful to perform his will in the matters of redemption; and if the Father has once called you to Jesus, you may be certain that his eternal will is for you to be brought safely home at last, where you might see his glory for all the ages of eternity. And the third assurance is this; even if you feel lost at sea, Jesus has not abandoned you forever. Has he not promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)? Then he will indeed strengthen you with his own presence, no matter what obstacles lie in the way. Do you feel your heart too hard and cold to feel again the warmth of Jesus' presence? The raging sea did not hinder Jesus from coming to his own, when they needed him; and neither will your desperate heart. He who calms the waves can calm the wildest storms of doubt in the human soul; and thus will he ever do for them who belong to him.

    Next, we see that Jesus does indeed miraculously arrive to sustain his struggling disciples with his own presence, when they are too weak for the journey that he has sent them on. But we must also notice that he does not simply do the work for them (although in a different sense he does, as we shall see in a moment); but he enables them to do the same things that he himself does; or, to frame the truth a little differently, he works into them his own image. For Jesus himself rose above the fiercest winds and waves of opposition and overcame them all. But then, he wrought that same victory in Peter, who seeing him in faith was enabled to do the same mighty works, and to overcome in his footsteps. And even as Peter, so all they who belong to Christ are growing by slow degrees into his image (II Corinthians 3:18); and they all, to the very least of them, are being led in a great victory procession by Christ, overcoming the fiercest oppositions by following in his steps (II Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:37). We must also notice here that Peter was only enabled to follow in the steps of Christ, and so overcome the waves of opposition, by looking to him in faith; which thing is true even today, among us as well. But moreover, even as Jesus reached out to save Peter when he faltered in doubt, we too may assure ourselves that, when we are weak, he is strong; and when our faith falters, he saves us anyway, and builds it up again. Let us then be strong in faith, for we know that our Savior will never let us fail!

    And finally, we learn from Matthew's and John's accounts that, as soon as Jesus stepped into the boat, the storms ceased (Matthew 14:32); and immediately thereafter he brought the disciples to their destination with no more expenditure of labor (John 6:21). In these marvelous circumstances we may discern that the presence of Jesus brings absolute victory over all opposition, and peace and security that cannot be overcome; and also, that it is by his work and his effort alone that we may finally arrive at our eternal destination in the presence of God. No matter how we may struggle as we press on into the Kingdom, let us never lose sight of the fact that our Savior has already done all the work to get us there, and that he will never abandon us, but will bring us at last to the place which he has already prepared for us, a place of eternal joy in the presence of the Father, where we may feast our eyes forever upon the soul-ravaging glory of Christ the Redeemer. Oh, what a Savior we serve!

    Posted by Nathan on June 9, 2007 08:50 AM

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