HUMAN RESPONSE TO DIVINE SELF – REVELATION
There used to be a man who had the passion to see and experience God in an intimate way. He used to pray like this always: “Lord, please reveal yourself to me”. As he prayed like this, one night he saw a dream. In that dream he saw himself in a new city. He was traveling the length and breadth of that city, asking the people of that city about its shape, its beauty and glory. Different people were giving different opinions about that city. While he was confused and thinking about this, he saw a noble man approaching him. The noble man came to him and said, “I know you are confused. But if you really want to know the answer, do as I say. There is a very high mountain just outside the city. If you go there and can climb that mountain, then you can see the whole city for yourself and decide whether it is beautiful or not. But remember that climbing the mountain is very hard and risky and may even bring danger to your life.” After hearing these words the man went to the mountain and started climbing it with great difficulty. He reached the mountain-top after facing life-threatening situations. But when he reached the peak, he got a majestic, breath-taking and wonderful view of the city. The city was so beautiful. He responded with wonder and joy. At that time he heard a voice from above saying, “Now because you have seen the glory of this city, go and proclaim the truth about it.” When he came down the mountain, the noble man who guided him to this mountain again came to him and said, “Think about this vision and you will find answer to your prayers. You will understand how God reveals himself. You will also understand how to respond to that revelation”. Then the man’s dream stopped. We will come back to this man’s dream in the end. But, isn’t it true that many have the desire to know God and to experience His power and glory. How does God reveal himself to us or how does the Divine Self-Revelation come to us? What should be our response to this Divine Self-Revelation? Based on these questions, I want to entitle my sermon as
HUMAN RESPONSE TO DIVINE SELF-REVELATION
Let us seek for the answers from Matthew 14:22-33.
Context of the passage: Circumstances which led to the Divine Self-Revelation
Studying the context of the passage throws light on the circumstances which led to the Divine Self-Revelation. From 13:54 to 17:27 is a narrative section, which deals extensively with the question of the identity of Jesus.
In 13:54-58, we see Jesus being misunderstood by his own people. They see Him only as a carpenter’s son and nothing more (13:55). Following this narrative is another narrative concerning the death of John the Baptist from 14:1-12. Here we see Herod misunderstanding Jesus to be John the Baptist (14:1-2).
Jesus was in pain. He was facing the pain of rejection, of being misunderstood, of the death of his close associate, and of loneliness. Considering the situation of Jesus, it is not surprising that he wanted to withdraw to a deserted place by Himself. He wanted to be alone and pray (14:13). But the crowds did not allow Jesus to be alone. As the parallel passage in John 6:1-15 suggests, the crowd too misunderstood Jesus to be an earthly, political, and revolutionary King.
It is exactly in this context of a series of misunderstandings about Jesus that the passage for our present meditation comes. It is the context of crisis in the life of Jesus. It is a time when after all His miraculous works and wonderful teachings, Jesus is misunderstood and rejected.
What did Jesus do in this situation? He decided to reveal himself in a special way to the disciples. Verses 22 to 27 talk about this Divine Self-Revelation. We shall now see how this Self-Revelation was given.
1. DIVINE SELF-REVELATION (V. 22-27)
1.1. The Divine Self-Revelation starts with a divinely-imposed affliction (v. 22-26)
Matthew uses the word ‘hjnavgkasen’. It comes from the root word “ajnagkavzw”, which means to compel. In another words Jesus compelled His disciples to get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side. It is both important as well as interesting to note that the word “ajnagkavzw” in the LXX is used for divinely imposed afflictions such as persecution or sickness. By putting Jesus as the subject of the verb “ajnagkavzw”, i.e., by showing that Jesus does the same thing that only God does, Matthew has already begun to show the divinity of Jesus.
After sending away the disciples, Jesus sends away the crowd also and prays to the Father (verse 23). While Jesus was praying, the disciples were facing afflictions through the wind and the waves (verse 24).
Early in the morning, when the disciples were exhausted after a long sail, Jesus came walking towards them on the sea (v.25). If we look at the Old Testament, we can find that it is God and God alone who has complete control over the sea and who can walk on it (Psalm 77:16, 77:19; Job 9:8 and 38:16). But, in Matthew’s narrative it is Jesus who walks on the water. By doing this Matthew is again attributing divine qualities to Jesus.
This entire affliction added with the sight of something approaching them drove the disciples into great confusion and fear. This confusion and fear preceded the divine self-revelation (v. 26). Sometimes, even in our case, there might be fear and confusion just before a special act of God in our lives.
The disciples did not recognize Jesus. When they saw Him walking on the water they mistook Him for a ghost. The people of His hometown, Herod, and the crowd who were fed miraculously in the deserted place misunderstood Jesus. And now it is the turn of the disciples to misunderstand. Perhaps this was a reflection of the situation in the Matthean community. At that time, everybody has some or the other wrong opinion about Jesus. May be some of the disciples of the Matthean community have started to think of Jesus in the most inappropriate manner saying, “Are we in the right path? Are we following the right person? Or are we deceived? Did we do the right thing in following Jesus? May be we are led astray by the devil into believing Jesus as the Messiah.”
In the midst of their confused and terrifying situation, the Divine Self-Revelation comes with comfort and encouragement. Therefore, secondly,
1.2. The Divine Self-Revelation comes with comfort and encouragement (v. 27)
The Greek word used here for “Take heart” is “qarsei`te”, which comes from the root word “qarsew”. This word is used only in two other instances in Matthew to encourage those persons who had lost all hope: one is the paralytic who was carried to Jesus on the bed (9:2) and the other is the women with hemorrhages for twelve years (9:22). This indicates that the disciples had lost all hopes of remaining alive. It was not simply a difficult situation, which the disciples were facing. They were frightened to death. It is often in the most hopeless situations of our lives that we hear the divine voice of comfort and encouragement.
Jesus continues speaking and said “ejgw eijmi”! For Matthew and his readers “ejgw eijmi” must have had a deep meaning. We have already seen how Matthew tries to portrait Jesus as divine. It is a Theophany-like context. So, definitely Jesus’ use of “ejgw eijmi” might have brought to the minds of the readers, Septuagint’s use of “ejgw eijmi” for the name Yahweh in Exodus 3:14, Isaiah 43:10 and 51:12. “ejgw eijmi”, “I Am” is the name of Yahweh. Jesus is now taking the name “I Am” to address Himself. This is an unmistakable allusion of Matthew regarding the identity of Jesus as divine. This had the potential to have a powerful effect on the readers in identifying the divinity of Jesus. It is as if Jesus was saying, “Some are thinking of me as just a carpenter’s son. Some are thinking that I am John the Baptist raised from the dead. Some are thinking that I am a king who came to destroy the Roman Empire. You may be feeling that I am a ghost. But I am greater than all that you think of me. I am that I am. ejgw eijmi. Therefore do not be afraid.”
What was the response of the disciples to this Divine Self-Revelation? Let us see the second part of the passage, i.e., from verses 28 to 33 to see the response of the disciples.
2. HUMAN RESPONSE (V. 28-33)
I want to divide the human response into two parts. Firstly, it was,
2.1. An Initial Response driven by doubt and desperation (v. 28-32)
The voice from the Lord was clear. The Lord revealed Himself. But Peter doubted whether it was really the Lord (v. 28). That is why he was asking, “Lord, if it is you…” To make sure that it is the Lord, he puts a test to the Lord. Peter thought that if it is really the Lord, then He was able to make him to walk on the water.
The Lord told Peter to come. He came out of the boat and slowly started walking towards Jesus (v. 29).
But sadly, he got frightened by the wind and started to sink. Now notice carefully what Peter says in verse 30. He says, “Lord, save me!” Previously what did Peter say? “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” But when he was about to sink and die Peter was not saying, “Lord, if it is you, save me”. When Peter was on the boat, he was in a safer situation. So he had the luxury of doubting the Lord. But now there is no time even to doubt. Only faith will work: Absolute faith upon the Self-Revelation of Jesus. The affliction he faced while he was in the boat was not enough for him to show absolute faith. He had to face a more severe affliction before he could show absolute faith. Peter most probably might have had this incident of being saved from drowning in mind when he wrote in I Peter 1:6-7 that faith must be tested and refined by fire.
As soon as Peter cried, “Lord, save me”, Jesus reached out His hand and caught him (v. 31). If Jesus was a little late Peter would have become Late Rev. Dr. Peter. But because Jesus was on time he became Most Rev. Dr. Peter in the history of the Church. The moment we express our absolute faith in Jesus, we will see His hand reaching out to us and pulling us out of our troubles.
The wind ceased when they got into the boat, indicating that it was a divinely imposed affliction (verse 32). The disciples who were in the boat witnessed all this. Fear and confusion disappeared. Faith and reverence increased. They were amazed. As a result their response was amazing. Therefore, secondly, it was
2.2. A Final Response driven by faith and reverence (v. 33)
When they entered the boat the disciples worshipped Jesus, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” The Greek word used in this verse for worship is “proskunew”. In Matthew it is always used of Jesus as recognition of His Divine power and sonship. Worship is the correct human response we can give to the Divine Self-Revelation.
We have seen how Jesus was misunderstood by his own people, by the political elite and by the crowds. We have also seen how Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the midst of these misunderstandings. The disciples ultimately recognized the Divine Self-Revelation. This recognition of the Divine Self-Revelation did not come under smooth circumstances but under circumstances of severe afflictions.
The man about whom we talked in the beginning was pondering on the dream. As he pondered on the dream, he got the answer. The glory of the city represented the glory of God. Climbing the mountain represented the increasing afflictions in his life. Just as he was able to see the glory of that city only after climbing the mountain, in a similar manner we could be able to see the glory of God after facing severe afflictions. And we will respond to that vision in awe and wonder. Moreover, he was given the responsibility of proclaiming the glory of that city to those who have all kinds of misconceptions about it. That means we too can proclaim the glory of God to those people of this world who have misconceptions about Him.
My dear friends, is not the situation of our world today the same in the sense that it is filled with all wrong conceptions about Jesus? The religious, political, and economic elite of this world as well as its common people are having wrong conceptions about Jesus. The world has well understood, great names like Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Alexander, Karl Marx, Hitler, Mussolini, Napoleon, Mahatma Gandhi, and the likes. But it has failed to understand the one who has a name far above all these names: Jesus Christ. God has chosen us to be disciples of Jesus in this situation. Our responsibility is to be witnesses to Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim to the world, his true identity. But before we go out to witness about Jesus, He wants us to prepare us. He does so by revealing himself to us in a powerful and glorious manner in the desperate and painful situations of our lives.