Inviting People to Worship: Worship is always the right response to a real encounter with Jesus. The disciples experienced this when Jesus walked on the water, called Peter out of the boat, and saved him despite his sinking doubts. When we see Jesus for who he truly is, we can’t help but worship and help others do the same. Recorded on Jan 1, 2023, on Matthew 14:22-36, by Pastor David Parks.
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This message is part of our DNA, a sermon series on our core values that define who we are and what we’re trying to do. Our core values include inviting people to worship, connecting people in community, training people for ministry, and sending people on mission. These values provide a wonderful source of power, meaning, and joy for the Christian life.
The theme this year for our preaching ministry is Learning the way of Jesus. And today, as we kick off a new year, we’re starting a 4-part sermon series called DNA, focusing on our identity and the core values which define who we are and what we’re trying to do here. Our core values include inviting people to worship — which we’ll focus on today, but also connecting people in community, training people for ministry, and sending people on mission. We’ll cover all of these in the next few weeks. And we’ve certainly talked about these things before, but we must regularly come back to them and remind ourselves of them because worship, community, ministry, and mission, at the most foundational level, are the basic building blocks of the Christian life. When these values are guided and empowered by our mission and vision and are rooted in the truth of God’s word, they become our DNA, encoding everything we need for life and flourishing as a church. But also, if we miss/ignore one or more of these values, our life will be out of balance, and we’ll miss out on a huge source of power/meaning/life/joy in the way of Jesus. So today, we’re starting with inviting people to worship, and my goal is to remind you that worship is always the right response to a real encounter with Jesus. When we see Jesus for who he truly is, we can’t help but worship and help others do the same. Now, there are so many places we could go in the Bible to see why this is true and should be part of our DNA. But I think the story of Jesus walking on the water in Mt 14 is a classic example. If you have a Bible/app, please open to Matthew 14:22. We’ll read through this text and then unpack it together.
Matthew 14:22-36 (NIV), “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.”
So the book of Matthew is the first and longest of the four gospels, or accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, in the NT of the bible. And Matthew was a tax collector before he became a Christian, which means he was likely very wealthy but not well-liked. But then he met Jesus, and he gave up a very lucrative career to follow him. As one of the twelve apostles, Matthew (also called Levi) was chosen by Jesus to be an eyewitness to his life/ministry, which he recorded for us here. Let’s start back with v. 22. and work our way through this text.
Matthew 14:22-23a (NIV), “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” Ok, let’s pause here. So in the passage immediately before this one, Matthew records the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. This sequence is the same in Mark and John’s accounts as well, which suggests that it’s important to understand what our text means. The miracle of feeding the five thousand was actually five thousand men, so there would’ve actually been many thousands, including the women and children, too. And after a day like that, I would think Jesus would’ve been exhausted. Even the biggest extrovert gets worn out eventually. So Jesus has his disciples get in a boat and cross the Sea of Galilee without him while he dismisses the crowd. But instead of just going to bed, Jesus decided to go up on a mountainside to pray. And Jesus was always doing this. Before every major event or decision, but also at the end of a long day, Jesus spent time with his Father in heaven. He prayed so much and so differently than his disciples were used to they asked him to teach them how to pray. I find it interesting that nowhere in the gospels do we have the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to preach. But they did ask him to teach them to pray. Prayer was at the heart of the ministry of Jesus. It filled him up. It restored him after a long day. And this is such a great reminder for us, too, at the beginning of a new year. Prayer is powerful. Prayer restores and heals. If Jesus needed to pray, so do we. Let’s continue with v.23.
Matthew 14:23b-27 (NIV), “Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” So Jesus is praying, but the disciples are struggling. That might actually be a good picture for some of us today. Jesus is alive, resurrected from the dead, ascended back into heaven, and he is interceding for us there even now. Jesus is still praying, while some of us are still struggling. Maybe you feel like you’re being buffeted by the waves or that the wind is against you. Maybe some of us are even starting to doubt whether or not God is there or if he is good or paying attention at all to our lives. Maybe, like Jesus with the disciples, God is waiting and letting you struggle for a time. But take courage, fear not: when the timing was right, and before all was lost, Jesus went out to his disciples. He didn’t come to them as they expected. He came walking on the water. And I love Matthew’s matter-of-fact description of this scene. Very late at night, literally in the fourth watch of the night, which would be sometime between 3 and 6 am, Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. But look at the reaction of the disciples. They didn’t expect this. Ancient people weren’t stupid or foolish. They were terrified because the only thing that made sense to them was they must be seeing a ghost. And remember, these weren’t little children. The disciples were mostly blue-collar, hard-working men. Men who wouldn’t easily be scared or who’d quickly believe in ghosts unless they were seeing something they couldn’t explain any other way. But Jesus reassures them. Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid. This statement in the Greek is similar to what God told Moses in Exodus chapter 3 when Moses asked for God’s name. “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14). And here, Jesus, a human being and Matthew’s friend, is doing things that only God can do, walking on the water, and he says things which only God can say, “Take heart, I AM, do not be afraid.” How would the disciples respond? Look back at v. 28.
Matthew 14:28-31 (NIV), “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” No here, we have one of the best pictures, almost a living parable really, of what it looks like to follow Jesus. We have the bold faith of Peter, followed by seeing/experiencing miraculous works that only God could do, followed by sinking doubts leading almost to death, followed by Jesus giving us mercy/grace/truth and rescuing us for the ten thousandth time. This is my story. Jesus responds by reaching out his hand and catching Peter before he is overwhelmed by the waves and the storm and a gentle rebuke. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I’d like to imagine Jesus did this with a slight smile, even though Matthew doesn’t mention it here. Because Peter started out strong: climbing out of the boat to be with Jesus. This is a man who trusted Jesus with his life. But then, Matthew says when Peter took his eyes off Jesus, when he saw the wind (or really the affects of the wind), or maybe he thought for a second about what he was doing out on the sea in the middle of the night and in the middle of a storm — everything that a professional fisherman would’ve known was a bad idea — he went from bold faith to fear and doubt. But Jesus rescues him anyways. It isn’t the strength of our faith that truly matters as disciples or followers of Jesus. It is the object of our faith. He is the one who is strong. Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Co 12:9). You can have just a little bit of faith in Jesus, and it will be more than enough. Not because of you but because of him.
Matthew 14:32-36 (NIV), “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.” Our story ends with a string of miracles. Jesus went from walking on the water to calming the storm to healing the sick and so on. This is just what life with Jesus was like on a daily basis. But again, Jesus is doing things only God can do and saying things that only God can say. And it all drives us to the question, who is this man? Jesus might ask us, “Who do you say I am?” If Jesus is truly the Son of God sent from heaven, God become man, the word of God become flesh (as we just celebrated at Christmas), then he would be worthy of our worship. But if he was only a man, a human being, even a great teacher, prophet, or friend, then worshipping him would be blasphemy for orthodox Jews. The first commandment of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex 20:3). Egyptians and Romans and others were willing to worship human beings, generally the king or emperor. But Jews knew this was expressly forbidden. And yet…here we find a boat full of Jewish men worshipping Jesus and saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” The only explanation for this is that they were convinced that he was God-with-us, Immanuel, the Messiah, the Lord. Of course, they didn’t have a fully developed Christology or theological understanding of who Jesus was in full, and they wouldn’t until after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But here, they had a real encounter with the power and presence of God in the person of Jesus. And worship is always the right response to a real encounter with Jesus. When we see Jesus for who he truly is, we can’t help but worship and help others do the same. We know that the disciples weren’t fully aware of who Jesus was at this point in time. In Mark’s gospel, Mark writes that the disciples were amazed and terrified when they saw Jesus walking on the water for “…they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:52). In other words, they had already seen abundant evidence that Jesus was more than a mere human being. But they didn’t really get it yet.
Again, maybe that describes you today. You’ve seen and heard evidence of who Jesus is, but you’re not quite there yet in discovering or believing what you’ve already seen. I think one of the reasons that Jesus did so many miracles was because it is so hard for us to put our faith in him. Even when we have direct evidence or an experience that God is real and is active in our lives, we tend to turn to anything or anyone to try and explain it away. I think one reason for this is that if Jesus is God, then we actually have to listen to him and obey him and worship him and give our lives in service to him. And all of that is very costly and disruptive to our desire to be the lord of our lives and define for ourselves what is right/good/beautiful. But if Jesus is who he claims to be, both explicitly and implicitly throughout the gospels, then we must put down the idol we have made in our own image, we must take off our own self-made crowns, and we must fall down at his feet to worship him and him alone. This is why worship is one of our core values. Worship is a reflection of the greatest commandment and the highest calling for human beings, which is to love the Lord our God with all our heart/soul/mind/strength. And worship is the only reasonable response to Jesus if Jesus truly is who he claimed to be. However, coming to a conviction in our hearts about who Jesus is, and even spending years worshipping and serving him as our Lord/God/Christ/King, doesn’t mean we’ll never again have doubt. Like Peter, there are days/seasons when we might take our eyes off Jesus and start to sink. Or, like the disciples in the boat, we might have a truer confession of faith than we fully understand in the moment and become confused or led astray about who God is or what God has done. So every Christian, including every pastor/teacher/ministry leader, will have doubts from time to time, as well as the accompanying fear who is always the companion of doubt. This is why even Christians need to be invited to worship. Of course, non-Christians need to be invited to come and see who Jesus is and what he is all about. If the gospel is true, as we believe it is true, then it is the only way to life, love, joy, and peace. And the world is lost without it. So we have the great responsibility to share this message of reconciliation with God in word and deed everywhere. But again, Christians need this invitation, too; in fact, we need it over and over. Because we are forgetful creatures, who are fragile in faith and courage, we sink in doubts when we ought to walk boldly through any storm. So we will carry on our mission of sharing good news. And we will put our fragile faith in one who is our rock, a solid foundation, a strong tower that will not be shaken. His name is Jesus. And as we do, we will, together as a church, sing and serve and share our lives as an offering of worship to Jesus. He deserves all our glory, honor, and praise. He ought to be our first priority. His kingdom should be our agenda. His way should be our way. This is our DNA. This is who we are in 2023 and forever more. Let us pray.