Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 14:22-33
Dear storm-tossed disciples: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
How do you know for certain that you are saved? How do you know for certain that your sins are forgiven? How do you know for certain that you will receive eternal life? How can you be certain that when you are sinking and you cry out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus will save you?
Do not respond by saying that it is because you have faith. You do have faith, and because of the faith that God has given you, you are saved (John 3:16), but that is not the answer to the questions.
Look at the example of Peter to understand why having faith is not the answer to the questions. When Peter stepped out of the boat, he had faith in Jesus’ Word. When he saw the wind, he was afraid and doubted Jesus’ Word.
Do we not do the same? We believe Jesus’ Word until we see the wind and waves of this life howling and threatening. That’s when doubt sets in. When we are overwhelmed by loss and strife, illness and death, we doubt. When we pass through trials, with sin and ills contending, bearing the cross that God has sent us; when we are facing adversity and the storms of woe dismay our souls; when death pursues us without rest and the only thing between us and death’s strong grasp is a failing breath – at such a time, do not turn inwardly to find your faith. You will have a hard time finding anything but doubt.
Our response is not likely to be one of faith, but despair. We question why God would allow such tragedy. We may even feel angry towards God. We respond like the widow of Zarephath to Elijah when her son died, who said, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sins to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” (I Kings 17:18)
The widow responded with those words because when she turned inwardly to find faith, she found only sin. She thought because of her past sin, God had taken her son from her. She thought because she remembered her sin, God also remembered her sin and punished her for it.
To find certainty of your salvation; to know for certain that your sins are forgiven and not remembered by God; to know for certain that you have eternal life, do not look inward to your faith. We are sinful people whose faith waivers, especially in trials and temptations. When we are sinking and we turn inward to look for faith, we will find only doubt and despair.
For certainty of your salvation, look to where God has promised you salvation. God has promised you salvation in the waters of Holy Baptism. Scripture tells us that Baptism gives the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) and washes away sins (Acts 22:16). Scripture tells us Baptism rescues from death and the devil (Romans 6:3-5) and clothes us with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Scripture tells us that as Noah and his family were saved in the ark from the flood waters, so the flood waters of Baptism save us (I Peter 3:21).
When the wind and waves of this life hit you with full force, do not turn inwardly to try and find faith. Instead look to your Baptism where God has given you faith. Look to your Baptism which is not a feeling or emotion. Your Baptism doesn’t waiver. Your Baptism doesn’t wear off. Baptism saves you.
You have certainty in Baptism because that is where God has promised you salvation. In the midst of trials and tribulations, remember your Baptism where God claimed you as His own and promised you the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
For certainty of your salvation, look to where God has promised you salvation. In addition to Baptism, God has also promised you salvation in the Sacrament of the Altar. Scripture tells us that in the Lord’s Supper, we receive Christ’s true body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Matt. 26:28). Scripture tells us that Christ’s blood cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7). Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation (SC VI.2), thus eternal life and salvation are also received in the Sacrament of the Altar.
When the wind and waves of this life hit you with full force, do not turn inwardly to try and find faith. Instead look to the Sacrament of the Altar where God gives you the forgiveness of sins and strengthens your faith. Look to the Sacrament of the Altar which is not a feeling or emotion. The Lord’s Supper doesn’t waiver – you always receive Christ’s true body and blood. The Lord’s Supper saves you through the forgiveness of sins.
You can thus be certain of your salvation through the Sacraments because they are where God has promised you salvation.
When Peter doubted and began to sink, Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of Peter and saved him. Jesus didn’t say, “No, I’m not going to save you because you are doubting instead of believing.” It was not because of the strength of Peter’s faith that Jesus saved him. In spite of Peter’s doubting and lack of faith, Jesus saved him.
All of this does not downplay the importance of faith. Faith is what saves, but faith has an object. Faith believes in something.
Faith in false gods does not save. Faith in one’s own goodness does not save. Faith in one’s own faith does not save.
Saving faith is trust in Jesus and His promises. Saving faith is trust that Jesus’ death on the cross was for your sins. Saving faith is trust that when Jesus’ Word tells you Baptism saves you, you believe it to be true. Saving faith is trust that when Jesus tells you that He gives you His body and blood to eat for the forgiveness of sins, you believe it to be true. Faith is trust that Jesus gives you all the benefits of His life, death, and resurrection through the Sacraments He instituted for that very purpose.
This is why faith does not turn inward to look to itself. Faith looks to Christ on the cross. Faith looks to the empty tomb. Faith looks to Christ and what He has accomplished for our salvation.
Faith must also look to where Christ has promised that we receive that salvation. We cannot receive salvation from the cross. We cannot receive salvation from the empty tomb. We receive salvation in Baptism. We receive salvation in the Sacrament of the Altar. Thus, faith looks to Baptism. Faith looks to the Sacrament of the Altar. Faith looks to these two Sacraments where Christ has promised us salvation.
When the storms of life gather and our road looks dark; when great woes and troubles overtake us; when disaster brings our sins into remembrance and death looms near, know for certain that you are saved. Know for certain that your sins are forgiven. Know for certain that you will receive eternal life. Know these for certain, because these are the promises God Himself has made to you in your Baptism and in the Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.