Sermons : 2015 : July 26, The Sermon You Thought You Knew

Well, I have to start out my message this morning with a bit of a confession. For a split second, I actually debated whether or not I should preach a sermon today at all. After reading our Gospel lesson in Mark, I thought to myself, they’re all going to think that they know exactly what this story is about. I mean, we’ve all heard that sermon before, right? You know, the one about you being in a boat in the storms of life being tossed to and fro and how distressing life can be sometimes and how afraid you are. But then, in the midst of your distress and troubles, Jesus comes to you and He calms the storm. He calms you. He makes life ok and takes away all your fears and He gets into the boat with you and then you and Jesus just sail away and life is all better now. That’s what you were thinking this story was about this morning, weren’t you? Why bother to preach, I wondered for a moment. They already have this sermon all figured out.

But then I thought do you really? Let’s explore those thoughts in a little more detail and see if that’s what this story really is all about. OK, yes, you have your storms in life. Yes, things get bad. Yes, you are afraid. But does Jesus always calm your storms? Does every bad thing that’s ever happened to you in your life have a happy ending? Do you reflect back on all the times in your life and remember them all concluding with you wrapping up one troubling episode and blissfully sailing away until another one comes along?

Let me push you even further. Was there a moment that you remember turning to Jesus and then all your problems magically got better? See, because that’s now how things happen in the story, in the real story. If you look at the words closely, it doesn’t say this, “And when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water towards them, they were overjoyed and at that moment the winds ceased and waves subsided.” This is the Gospel of the Lord, except, it isn’t. Mark chapter 6 does not say that. It actually says this, “But when they saw Him walking on the sea, He meant to pass by them.”

He meant to pass by them? He meant to pass by them. There they are in trouble with the wind against them and Jesus means to pass them by. Well your version doesn’t go that way. In your version, Jesus shows up and everything is fine. But here in Mark’s Gospel, it says Jesus doesn’t even intend to stop. But you know what? It gets even better. “But when they saw Him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out for they saw Him and were terrified.”

Well, what do you think of that? They saw Jesus and they were terrified. You’re thinking, wow, this story just isn’t running like I remember it at all. And to top it all off, guess who made them go into boat in the first place! Look at first 45. Jesus actually directs the disciples into the boat! So now instead of the version of this story we had in our heads, that’s been replaced with Jesus sending us away (from Him) in a boat that runs into a storm. And when we see Him, He doesn’t intend to stop and we’re also terrified because we don’t even recognize Him.

Maybe you really shouldn’t have preached today, pastor; I liked my version of the story better. Well, maybe so, but now that I’ve dispelled a few expectations, let’s talk about what this story in Mark 6 is really about.

So, the main point here isn’t hard; it’s just the explanation will take a little work. You see, Mark chapter 6 is really about Jesus. It’s about Jesus manifesting Himself to the disciples. We actually have a big word for this type of appearance that Jesus makes. It’s called a Theophany. Theophany means an appearance of God. There are several theophanies in the Bible. In Exodus 33, God tells Moses that He will hide him in the cleft of a rock while He passes by. That’s a theophany, an appearance of God. In Matthew chapter 9, Jesus appears before the disciples in a Transfigured state. See, we have that pictured right over there. That’s a theophany.

A Theophany is an appearance of God that testifies to His divinity. When Jesus makes a theophany, you are being told that He is not just a man, but He is also God. And so, this was what was intended. He was going to pass them by in the boat that He might further disclose to them that He was God.

Now why is He doing that now? Well, hidden in our reading today is a rather curious but revealing phrase about the disciples’ expectations of Jesus. Verse 52, “For they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Kind of a funny verse to throw into the middle of a boat story, isn’t it? You hopefully remember that story from last week’s Gospel reading. Apparently, the disciples didn’t understand that Jesus was God even after He fed 5000 people with two fish and five loaves. And so walking on water, revealing His divinity through a theophany, is going to fix that.

See, in Western culture today, I think we actually overlook something very important about Jesus. We overlook the reality that Jesus is God. What Pastor? No way. Well, think about it. We certainly don’t act like it, do we? One of the dominant metaphors we hear in Christian circles today is that Jesus is my buddy, right? He is portrayed as this abundantly sentimental, smiling, hugging, casual dude who wears sandals and has long hair. I am not just in the boat with Jesus. I am in the boat leaning back into Jesus with His arms wrapped around me.

But see, in our attempt to relate to God so emotionally, we lose the importance of formality and with that, the comprehension of Divinity. Jesus is not our warm and fuzzy friend. Jesus is God. He is God and there ought to be a sense in our worship and our disposition and our attitude and in my opinion, even our dress that reflects that. We’ve become too good at making God casual and as a result of that, we have lost an understanding of His Divinity. You really don’t fear God as you ought to, do you? You really don’t have reverence for God as you ought to, do you? God is All-powerful. He is majestic; He is transcendent. He is omnipotent. He is Holy. He is set apart.

When He is manifesting His divinity in a Theophany, you can’t approach Him. And really, you don’t want to. When He is manifesting Himself in Theophany, you are terrified of what you see. In fact, you may not even recognize Him. And that’s exactly how it is with the disciples today. They are more terrified of the sight of God in His divinity than they are of the wind and the waves in all their terror. The Divinity of God made the storms of on the sea that day seem irrelevant.

But, see here’s the real deal – this author of Creation, the Designer of the universe is willing to condescend Himself to reach down to you. He’s willing to cloak His divinity, to be born as a baby and to be regarded as nothing more than the Carpenter’s Son. The humiliation of Christ means that Jesus does not always or fully use His divine powers in this life. He does this to live life as one of us and to be sentenced as a sinner who gives Himself unto the Law’s penalty on your behalf.

In this life, God hid His divinity from us revealing it only in a few places in scripture to prophets or apostles. And in this life, God also hides other things such as the purpose of suffering and the reason for tragedy. The storms do not always have happy endings as some of you know. And while explanations are not always apparent, what is is that the God who is mightier than the wind and stronger than the waves is also the God who is your Savior. Proclaimed through His cross and empty tomb are His love and grace for you. You are forgiven for your transgressions and assured of eternal life with Him.

In the Gospel, you do not have explanations. You have something even better. You have promises. You have promises of forgiveness and mercy. You have the promise that death and suffering and tragedy will not have the last word in your life or the lives of your loved ones. In our story today, Jesus shows that He is Lord over the wind and the waves and in His cross and empty tomb, He shows that He is even Lord over death itself. He is not an overly sentimental Jesus or a warm and fuzzy Jesus. He is a Jesus who is both God and man and who lives and dies that you would have the forgiveness of your sins. This actually is also the sermon you’ve heard before and you will hear again because this is really the Gospel of the Lord. Amen.

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