A Sermon By
Dr. Walter A. Maier

“They that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children. And straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side… He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled saying, it is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him.” SAINT MATTHEW 14:21-31

MARVELOUS AND MERCIFUL, SAVIOR; In whom can we find sure refuge from the punishment of our sins and from the anguish of affliction if not in Thee, Thou ever-merciful Son of God? Proud men have promised us freedom from fear, entirely apart from Thee; but they have not only failed to keep their vain promises, they have even increased the terrors which burden hundreds of millions. Yet Thou, our blessed Savior, who didst repeatedly pray down peace upon Thy disciples and didst direct them, “Fear not,” canst also today grant everyone who trusts Thee as Redeemer and Ruler of the world full emancipation from the tyranny of fear. On the cross of shame where, as our Substitute, Thou didst die to save us from our sins, Thou didst remove the cause of fright, the guilt of our transgressions which breaks our peace with God, our fellow men, and ourselves. Therefore mercifully look down upon those who do not yet trust Thee as their Redeemer from ruin and by their unbelief are making themselves sick in body and soul! Help all of us confidently trust They blood-bought victory over every fear and phobia! Bring many to Thee in repentance over the wrongs they have committed and in reliance on They power to save to the uttermost! Call to Thy saving love especially the sick and suffering, the worry-burdened and heartbroken, the bereaved and the dying! Show them that for the assurance of heaven they need only accept Thee as their divine Deliverer from death and damnation! When the broadcast is ended, may every sorrow-swept soul in our mission of the air know the sustaining truth: “Earth hath no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.” Hear us and help us all homeward, ever to be with Thee, loving, merciful, eternal, unchangeable Savior of our souls! Amen!

Not long ago our Seminary in Saint Louis was honored by a visit from Dr. Martin Niemoeller. I say “honored,” because this one Lutheran pastor perhaps did more in strengthening resistance to Nazi paganism than any other man in Germany; and I say this even though I find myself in disagreement with some of Dr. Niemoeller’s proposals and practices. If those in high places who have publicly criticized him could have followed his story of imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps, when he was condemned for testifying that Christ was above Hitler; if they could have heard how in Dachau he learned to speak though the side of his mouth, so that during the brief exercise periods when conversation was forbidden he could whisper comforting Scripture passages to fellow sufferers; if they could understand the severe hardships “Hitler’s personal prisoner: endured for Jesus’ sake: persecution by the Gestapo, eight years’ arrest and separation from his congregation, especially from his family, the atrocities of the political prisoners’ camp, where for a while even his Bible was taken from him—they certainly would stop sniping at a man who has given us one of the most striking exhibitions of loyalty to the Lord this generation has seen.

    Now what enabled Martin Niemoeller to stand up for Jesus during those hard, grinding years while powerful organizations collapsed? It was not natural bravery which enabled him to oppose the Nazi program of regimenting religion. He told us pointedly: “I could not have gone through all I did only with courage. In the face of fear, terror, and horror, courage along would have failed me. We did not over come Adolf Hitler by courage. No, by Jesus and the Bible!  More than ever before we know the meaning of the word ‘Savior.’ Yes, Jesus is a Savior.”

    Dr. Niemoeller’s triumph through trust in Christ is a living lesson for meeting the fears, doubts, and sorrows surrounding us. We, too, must go back, not to human help and earthly organizations, but to the Son of God and His Word. For your own encouragement, learn


They are the freedom from fear in want, danger, soul-distress and death, as this record of our Savior’s mercy in our text (Saint Matthew, chapter fourteen, verses twenty-one to thirty-one) clearly shows: “They that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children. And straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side… He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him”


    John the Baptist, forerunner and witness of Christ, had just been executed, and his bleeding head presented to a lewd dancer. Saddened by the loss of this greatest human preacher in His day, the Savior told His disciples, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while!” He, the Son of God, was so truly human, that after the grinding activities of busy weeks, overcrowded as they were in doing good, He felt the necessity of taking time to recover His strength and, apart from the selfish world, to commune with His Father. Besides, His disciples were worn out because of recent overexertion; and thoughtful of His followers, Jesus presently led them to the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee for a brief period of rest.

    However, His plan was not completely carried out. People soon noticed that He had come to the countryside; word of His arrival sped from mouth to mouth, and soon a steady stream of people, some eager, some curious, some doubting, started to find Christ.

    What a wonderful preacher our Lord must have been! No speaker since that day, trying to avoid the masses, shunning advance notice and publicity, has ever drawn such immense throngs to an uninhabited district. But Christ explained God’s Word as no mere mortal messenger ever can. The more closely those in the pulpit approach His sacred standards, the more bounteous will be the Holy Sprit’s blessings on the hearers. The more devotedly the Gospel of His cross is proclaimed to the exclusion of man-made creeds, the more quickly half-empty American churches will be filled.

    What Did Jesus do when His plans for rest and quiet were altered? Did He send the crowd back and tell them to come some other time? No, even though He sorely needed solitude, our Lord forgot Himself, pushed His own welfare aside, seeking to serve everyone in that vast audience who needed Him. Today the Savior has little sympathy with the Church which does not exert itself to the utmost in helping men receive their redemption. The church unlocked only on Sunday morning and closed for two or three months in the summertime; the church which is not all out in all ways to give the Gospel the widest possible spread; the church which puts convenience before conviction, selfish comfort before selfless consecration, is not following Christ’s holy example. To prevent victorious atheists from seizing churches open hardly 2 percent of the hours in each week, may the Holy Spirit help many clergymen behold the church America needs, the virile, active, community-serving, self-sacrificing, always-open, frequently used house of God!

    You can understand, then, with Jesus the unparalleled Preacher and the miraculous Healer before them, the thousands of Galileans, suddenly realizing that night would soon overtake them, doubtless began to think of food. Before this, however, our Lord, who knows our needs sooner than we realize them, had been concerned about providing sustenance for the crowd assembled to hear Him. The lunch which some of them might have brought had probably been eaten long before this. Here in a barren, desert place, with no possibility of buying food, was a hungry throng. Many of them doubtless would have to travel several hours before they could reach their homes. The Gospels tell us that the Savior was sorry for them, just as He sympathizes today with those who suffer the pangs of heavier hunger. His heart goes out, as yours should, too, to the foodless, destitute masses in Europe and Asia. Don’t think it patriotic to starve women, children, aged, and invalids! Rather realize that it is Christlike to help save them! Understand, too, that on the great Day of Judgment millions in America who have never given a nickel to buy bread for these perishing masses will hear the Lord of Love reject them with the sentence: “I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat… Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these” [My brethren], “ye did it not to Me.”

    Jesus had more than sympathy. When His disciples were disturbed about finding food for the throng, you know how he relieved them. A lad there who had five loaves and two fishes willingly let Jesus take them. The Holy Spirit make more of us ready to share everything we have with Christ! The Savior spoke a prayer of thanksgiving for this food. —Oh that American homes, blessed by provisions larger in quantity and better in quality than any other nation enjoys, would show this gratitude to the Almighty three times a day in table prayers which recognize Him as the Giver “of every good gift and every perfect gift”! Then our Lord divided the bread and fishes into smaller parts—and lo! He kept on dividing and subdividing until, with the disciples’ help, as the Gospel accounts reveal, “they did all eat, and were filled.” Our text records in summary, “They that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children”—altogether, scholars estimate, about fifteen thousand hungry people.

    Saint Matthew does not pause to explain how the Son of God could multiply the loaves and the fish. The Bible simply presents the fact. I plead with you, accept this mighty miracle just as it stands in Scripture! Unbelievers, of course, deny that our Lord could thus multiply the scant food supply into more than enough for the multitude. That is because they refuse to bow before Jesus, their God. In this spirit a recently published book, bearing Christ’s name in its title, blasphemously claims that He was the son of Prince Antipater and Mary; that therefore He was neither virgin-born nor in any way divine. It is bad enough that Bible truth is thus flagrantly contradicted, but what will you say when you hear that this anti-Scriptural volume was recommended by a religious book club which counts as editors some of the leading clergymen in our country? Whatever you say, Time magazine, which has never received prizes for piety, indicts these men in the candid statement: “The club’s board of editors might well be ashamed of its religious laxity”!

    You, too, cannot accept the Savior’s miracles unless you accept Him as your God, with whom “noting shall be impossible” If you think, as modernists in churches built and paid for by Bible-loving believers maintain, that Scripture’s wonders are myths and fairy tales, let a scientist like Professor Ribbing in the School of Medicine at the University of Lund, Sweden, speak. He declares: “The miracles of the Bible are not looked upon as in any sense contrary to the laws of nature, but as revealing the power of the love of Jesus… We say that they are contrary to the laws of nature, but please tell me what these laws are… Let us leave the question as to how far it is possible to understand miracles… until we shall be as pure and devoted to God as was our Savior”

    If you object that you simply cannot understand how Christ performed this miracle, well and good—don’t understand it! Believe it! Are you able to explain how an unseen force can raise millions of tons of water 10,000 feet and then let it fall gently? Yet you do not deny that this happens constantly and before your eyes when stupendous, staggering weights of moisture are steadily drawn up to the clouds and later dropped on the earth as rain. You cannot analyze the mysterious process by which a seed, sown in the ground, decays, only to produce the growing plant from which come ripened cereals, vegetables, and fruits. Yet you are not illogical enough to assert that there is no wheat, barley, or oats, no tomatoes, potatoes, or carrots, in general, no seed-grown vegetation of any kind. Why, then, if your human reason drives you to concede that the Almighty created food, are you not willing to agree that His own Son, our divine Redeemer, can likewise miraculously provide the food needed for His children’s supply?

    Some of you labor under the fear that financially you will not be able to meet the needs of your loved ones and yourself. You have suffered serious money losses; your home has been destroyed by fire, your salary has been reduced; your income is gone; you are growing and becoming increasingly more worried about money matters. Look to the Lord Jesus and to His promise, “God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus”! That is truth, not theory. The Bible promises, He “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Therefore, trust Him to give you everything you need!

    Place your confidence in Him also for the unmarked future before us! A financial expert, former member of the New York Stock Exchange, predicts a crash and depression which will make 1929 and the following years seem pleasant. Every war has been followed by a recession; and should not the most horrifying of conflicts necessitate the most widespread readjustment? Whatever comes, believe in the Lord who multiplied the loaves and the fishes, and you have God with you.

    Many among us are gripped by fear for the years ahead when the threats of atomic and chemical destruction may combine to produce a hideousness beyond imagination. A newspaper correspondent writes of his recent visit to a school in atom-bombed Hiroshima: “It was the most gruesome place I have ever entered. The children were studying the difficult Japanese, characters… Some of them could not write very well, because they had thumbs or fingers missing, burned away by the bomb. Others had only one eye or faces that looked as though they had been sliced by a white-hot knife… Their hair started to fall out a week or so after the bombing. It is growing again now, slowly and patchily; they look like little ghost gnomes from hell… I would like to fly a few plane loads of our politicians to Hiroshima… where a great deal of rubble is composed of the powdered bones of the townsfolk disintegrated in a moment by the bomb.” With such brutal instruments of wholesale massacre the United States fought the last war— may God forgive us! What will be the indescribably more hideous terrors of the next?

    How reassuring to take refuge in the Redeemer who can protect and supply us, and who wants men to love each other rather than destroy each other, love together in peace instead of in hated and crime! He has given us far more than we need; and if people would only repent and come to Him, reborn by the Holy Ghost they could have peace, plenty, progress. This is not merely theory, you can prove the Christ’s creed exerts a quieting, calming, constructive influence. I point you to Bremen, a Kansas town which in thirty years has not witnessed a single arrest nor one court action. Why? Because the people of Bremen believe in the Lord Jesus and trust His promises! That community is made up almost entirely of members of my Church. Bremen has two Lutheran congregations which hear the full Gospel every Sunday. Their two Christian day schools, which make public schools unnecessary, instruct the children of Bremen in Scripture and the Savior’s love. The Spirit pledges that Bible truth “is able to build you up,” and Bremen, Kansas, today proves the power of this truth.

    If the whole country would follow this Kansas community be making loyalty to the Savior the supreme issue in their lives; if the millions of American children could be brought up in Christ’s conquering truth every day, this would be a peace-crowned, fear-freed nation. To secure this blessing let us who know the Lord work and pray to the end that our country repent of its evil, ask God in Jesus’ name for forgiveness, come back to the Almighty, who made America great, and stay with the Savior who alone can keep us Great!

    If you want this freedom from the fear of want for yourself, look to your royal Redeemer! Once you know that He died to take away your sin, offering Himself on Calvary’s cross as your Substitute in removing your guilt; once you have been born again by the Holy Spirit, you are assured that your heavenly Father loves you since He gave His Son for you, that Jesus will richly and daily supply all your needs according to His will and His wondrous love. The Christ of the loaves and the fishes is the Christ who can repeat the same miracle of His mercy for you.


    The second freedom from fear which the Son of God gives every believer is the triumph over the terror of danger. After miraculously feeding the thousands, Jesus had His disciples gather the pieces of bread and fish which remained. Everyone in the hungry multitude had received plenty; and when the people were completely satisfied, much food remained. That is always the way with Jesus. He never gives too little; never just enough; He always provides abundantly for His own. A single drop of His blood can cleanse the whole world it is sin. Yet as an example to us and a graphic reminder that we are not to waste even small quantities of food, He directed, “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost!” Carefully the people obeyed Him, and twelve large baskets full of bread and fish were recovered. You see, then, that our heavenly Father does not want His gifts wasted; yet what would Christ say if He were with us today to indict the shocking destruction of wasted supplies, wasted materials, wasted products? We cannot forget those 20,000,000 bushels of potatoes frozen, spoiled, rotting, especially when we think of European children digging through the garbage pails at our military stations. God help us stop wanton waste! America is not crop-failure proof, not famine proof, not depression proof.

    When the crowds realized the miracle which had taken place before their eyes, they wanted to make the Savior king. What could be easier and better, they quickly concluded, than to have a ruler like our Lord, who could instantaneously produce food, a leader of His caliber, who could throw off the Roman rule? If Christ were on earth today similarly to demonstrate His divine power, crowds in our country would forsake their political parties and seek to enthrone Him—that is, until they heard Him speak of carrying one’s cross, or entering the kingdom of heaven through much suffering, or giving one of their two coats to a destitute neighbor. Then, when Jesus would pay no attention to human greatness, refuse to promote men’s pride, and, instead, demand that they humble themselves to deep repentance, the mob would turn against Him as quickly as on the first Good Friday morning when it cried, “Crucify Him!”

    Christ refused to reign as king, not because He was unwilling to assume the many duties of that high office. Trouble and effort never bothered the Savior. No, He spurned the scepter and crown, first of all, because He loved His people. He knew that if He led a revolution against Rome, thousands would be cut down in cold blood; and our Lord, praise His holy name! hated blood shed, unlike many warmongers and profiteers whose greed for power and money have cursed our age and ruined millions Then the Son of God threw away the invitation to the throne because He had come to save men, to give Himself  into agonizing death on the cross, so that by faith in His sin-removing substitution for us as sinners we could all be saved. Nothing, not the rule over His own country, nor even over the nations of the entire world. Could keep Him from marching on to His self-sacrifice at Calvary.

    When the last of the multitude had left the place of the miracle, “straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side,” while “He went up into a mountain apart to pray.” He wanted to be with His followers; but even more He wanted to be with His Father. Not for a hasty moment did He kneel on the Galilean hillside, for as Scripture records, “when the evening was come,” He was still there. Have you learned to voice your petitions as Jesus did, night after night, not only for a few fleeting minutes but in persevering, earnest heart-outpouring? To our Lord communion with His Father was not a hard, rigid duty, but a sacred privilege, an intense soul-pleasure. Do you pray at all? If you are unhappy, restless, fearsome, peace-robbed, get down on your knees now, raise your heart to God in His Son’s name! Learn to plead as your Redeemer did, alone, without distraction in the sincere, protracted pleading which pushes its way through to the Throne of Mercy! Personal, prevailing intercession will enrich you with joy, strength, courage, and the conquest of fear.

    By this time the disciples were apparently half way across Galilee, “in the midst of the sea.” Then, without notice, one of those sudden storms arose for which that inland lake is well and often tragically known. “The ship was… tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.” Without warning the Savior’s messengers find themselves in serious danger. Similarly in our own lives a moment of dazzling success changes abruptly to heavy, dark suffering. A ninety-two-year-old grandmother takes her first airplane trip, from Akron to visit her son in Miami; but only a few hours after she waved farewell to her loved ones at the airport, she is killed when the plane crashes in Virginia.

    Some of Christ’s disciples in the ship were experienced sailors, but the gale was too much even for them. We also have seen the failure of applauded specialists. On a large, world-wide scale, internationally acclaimed figures promise to cure the ills of our postwar society; but some people are convinced that they are making things worse instead of better. Every day we live, it becomes more obvious that we must have Jesus for happier times ahead.

    The disciples on storm-tossed Galilee needed our Lord; yet He was not with them in the ship. Some of you know how the Twelve felt. Death takes your husband or your wife; and suddenly you are alone. Others among you are deserted and forsaken; one new sorrow after the other rushes in upon you. The storms of life toss you about, just as the disciples were hurled to and fro in their frail craft. Many in this mission of the air are gripped by loneliness too grim to be described. We read the other day of a telephone operator in a large city who, when she started work one morning and tried to answer her first call, found that her voice was gone. Before the manager of the exchange sent her home, he asked why she had come to work if she could not speak. The girl explained, as well as her hoarseness permitted, that she simply had not known of her ailment, In her narrow routine she breakfasted alone in a furnished room, walked to the subway, put her money into the automatic slot, went all the way to work without meeting a single soul to whom she could have spoken. Many of you, friendless in a large city, or in an isolated outpost, know what it means to face one difficulty after the other, alone, deprived even of a friend’s counsel.

    Thank God, Christ understands this feeling of helplessness! He was much more lonely in the silent shadows of Gethsemane when, beginning the sufferings for our salvation, He wrestled with agony beyond measure while His disciples slept on indifferently. And in the depth of His anguish He was altogether alone; bearing our sins in His body, He was forsaken even by His Father.

    The solitary Savior not only knew His terrified followers’ danger, he also delivered them in a miraculous way. “Jesus went unto them,” our text recounts, and when later He entered the ship, we read, “the wind ceased.” Galilee grew calm, the vessel soon reached the shore safely. Once more our Christ had proved Himself the almighty God whom wind and water obey. Those in the ship, witnessing this display of divine power, fell down “and worshiped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God.”

    How unreservedly you and I need to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, with the wisdom, love, and power which only the Almighty has! Storms of adversity are sweeping down upon many today, perhaps as never before, and the minds of multitudes are distressed, for fear is a shocking destroyer. If unchecked, it can ruin body, mind, and soul. Millions now suffer from mental and nervous ailments in the world’s most neurotic age. Experts in Washington estimate that 10,000,000 people in the United States will have to be hospitalized for these diseases before they die. Nervous breakdowns continue to climb; the number of suicides in peacetime is greater than in the years of war. During these years of broadcasting more than 3,000,000 people have written us; and the largest single group of letters comes from men and women who, like the disciples in the ship, see themselves beset by paralyzing danger, gripped by the dread of wrecked homes, divorce, drunkenness, destitution, or by the fear of old age, disease, bereavement.

    May God the Holy Spirit make you see and believe firmly this strengthening truth: with Christ you need not fear; you can positively overcome fright! We do not say that no storms will threaten your life or that no dangerous, desperate moments will come when it seems that the craft of your career will be covered by the mountainous waves of man’s wickedness or by your own willfully made sorrows; but we say, and infinitely more important, Jesus says that you can defeat every phantom which may rise up to haunt you: the dread that you may lose your money, health, home, friends, good name, peace of mind. Turn to the Son of God and pray as the disciples did in that fear-filled moment on Galilee, “Lord, save us: we perish!” Plead with Him as your Savior and more certainly than the day dawns after the dark night, Jesus will draw near to you, as He did on the raging sea, with divine deliverance.

    Look at it in this way: Fear comes from sin. If you are afraid, either you or someone else has broken one of Heaven’s laws. You may be frightened because divorce, unfaithfulness, drunkenness, crime overshadow your home. You may be worried over the suffering you helped bring on yourself, or over sordid situations which you feel can quickly break your happiness. You may be burdened by sickness and bodily weakness. Ask Christ to take possession of your soul, to rule your life! Lay your sins before Him, even the secret transgressions you have tried to conceal from everyone! Confess the wrong and evil of which you must confess yourself guilty! Then the blessed Son of God, whose blood can cleanse you of even the most heinous, heartbreaking sin, will forgive your transgressions and pour the comfort of His love over your wounded soul. “Let not your heart be troubled,” His endless compassion calls out to you. I have never met anyone who fully trusted the eternal Redeemer, beseeching Him for the comfort of His compassion and the defeat of dismal fear, who has not been abundantly strengthened by His sustaining grace. What gave the first Christians, in a world of hatred, the freedom from fear which enabled them to sing praise to the Almighty while they were persecuted, driven from their homes, sold as slaves? What can give you in today’s fear encircled world light, life, and love, if not the same, heart-deep assurance that you have a Savior who died on the cross for your salvation? If the Son of God cherished you with such intense passion for your pardon and peace, do you really think that, having shed His blood for you, He will permit the storms of life to destroy you? He could not be your Redeemer and show such indifference. Come to Him, believe with contrite but confident heart that His mercy truly and triumphantly promises you for every lonely, danger-filled hour, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”! How we thanked the Lord when last week again a new Jersey woman wrote us, as many others have previously, that she had definitely planned suicide, but was kept from self-destruction and hell when she tuned in our broadcast to hear Christ’s warning and His promise of fear-removing faith!


    Jesus not only proved His power to give victory over the menace of want and danger; there on storm-swept Galilee He also showed the disciples and us how faith can free our distressed souls from their fear. Not at once did He come to calm His storm-tossed followers, but in the “fourth watch of the night,” probably between three and six in the morning.
Then, when the trial of their faith might have proved too hard, the Son of God strode on the waves of Galilee toward the terrified Twelve. Our all-powerful Redeemer not always hastens immediately to our deliverance. As after that long night of futile battle with the elements, the calm which Christ brought filled the minds of His followers with deep reverence and reliance on His power to save, so we often suffer much because our heavenly Father wants to make us trust much.

    Bible students recognize in the Savior’s majestic march over the billowing sea one of His most spectacular miracles. Unbelievers, of course, try to explain away this marvel of divine power. They say that in reality Jesus walked on the shore, and that He only appeared to be on the water. They claim that the disciples, sleepy after the labors of a long night, imagined our Lord advancing on the waves, while in truth He stepped into the boat when it was near the shore. Why do some people always try to belittle the Bible’s clear record? Why do they insist on substituting for the truth of God’s miracles their own version, which human reason itself often finds more difficult to accept than the Gospel record it contradicts? We take the text just as it stands: Christ walked on Galilee’s stormy waters. Unbelief similarly denies that the prophet’s iron axe-head, dropped into the Jordan, could not float as Scripture says it did. Yet if even men can put 1000,000 axe-heads into crates and make them float across the ocean in large ships, is it not possible for the Almighty, then, dispensing with crates and ships, to make a single axe-head ride the river’s ripples? Even so, the great God who instituted the laws of nature can also suspend them and have His divine Son, defying gravity, keep Himself from sinking beneath seething Galilee.

    The text continues, “When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.” We wonder why these men who had long followed Jesus, and who had left Him only a few hours before, did not recognize Him as He approached. Perhaps it was too dark to discern His features; perhaps they did not look closely enough; perhaps the curtain of mist hung too heavily between the Master and their ship. Some years ago the largest telescope in our country was placed atop Mount Wilson, California. This location was selected because of its height, its clear atmosphere, and its distance from large cities. Now, however, in California’s extraordinary growth, many communities have encroached closely on Mount Wilson, and its famous 100-inch telescope, fighting the glare of lights from Los Angles and the San Fernando Valley, cannot trace the stars as distinctly as it did years ago. There, a new observatory has been built far inland and to the south on Mount Palomar, where no city light will blur the vision of the heavens. Similarly the fog of fear or the glare of grief may have so distracted the disciples that they could not recognize Christ. It never occurred to them that the Savior could stand before them on Galilee, rising and falling with each wave.

    The trouble in the hearts of many starts with this basic tragedy: you do not know Jesus; you mistakenly think His mercy too marvelous to be real. He stands before you in the Bible; His love is proclaimed in every true church; the best in art and literature pays tribute to His greatness; yet when you come face to face with Him in the clear revelation of His Word, you do not recognize what a merciful Deliverer He is, and you no antidote to the poison of your fears, no forgiveness for the fury of your sins, no calm and quiet to still life’s storms. You make the same mistake of which the disciples were guilty. When our Lord drew near to them, their troubled hearts “cried out for fear.” “It is a spirit,” they screamed. Those who knew the Savior best understood Him least, and, mistaking Him for a spirit, were sore afraid. Such has been the burden unbelief has always imposed. Christ is not welcomed as the atoning Redeemer; too often He is feared as a hard taskmaster. Many cringe before Him. His name brings up before their minds specters of fright. He becomes an agent of avenging justice with a sentence of doom in His approach. Feverishly frightened men seek to gain His favor. Like Luther, they fast; they pay; they perform penances; they beat their backs bloody; they recite a hundred prayers a day, hoping in some way to earn or purchase His pardon. Yet they never know whether they have fully satisfied His demands, paid enough, sacrificed enough to have their salvation guaranteed! What a destructive delusion! How completely it contradicts divine grace! If only sinful, groping men and women would truly recognize the Redeemer with His final, finished salvation which leaves noting incomplete, noting unfulfilled, nothing for us to do! If only you would truly discern the full radiance of the beautiful Savior whose Word proclaims, “By grace are ye saved.” And who offers you free, grace-filled atonement!

    For a few moments the disciples were frozen with fear; then the text tells us, ‘straightway Jesus spoke unto them. Saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” He came to destroy the fright which heaps up doubt, notably one of life’s most torturous terrors, the dread that we shall not be saved, but be sentenced to endless death and damnation. Are you torn and twisted in your thinking, because your sins give you no peace? The most distressing of all letters we receive come from those whose souls are lashed by the persistent memory of past evil. Long years ago breaking God’s Law seemed smart, sophisticated, adventurous, challenging. You thought that you could sin, keep your evil covered and finally forget it. Now, even after thirty, forty, fifty, and more years you realize how wrong you were. When you see Christ, your conscience warns you that your sins helped nail Him to the tree. Like the disciples, you think Him a haunting spirit, and you too cry out in terror. Now may this broadcast, with the Holy Spirit’s blessing, show you the Son of God calling to you, “’Be of good cheer; it is I’ be not afraid.’ ‘It is I,’ Jesus, who loves you with endless compassion, ‘It is I,’ your Savior, who came into the world for you, to free you from the sentence of hell of transferring your transgressions to Myself, suffering their full penalty and rescuing you from their curse. ‘It is I,’ your living Redeemer, who assures you, ‘Be not afraid,’ for your sins are forgiven. Through faith you are born again as a child of God. The Almighty is on your side. I who shed My blood for you promise that as long as you abide in Me, no man shall pluck you ‘out of my hand.’” If today these words ring victoriously in your heart, then you will have true freedom from fear; then a new unconquerable fortitude of faith will be yours.


    Finally, there, on the Sea of Galilee, our Lord showed us how to find freedom from the worst fear, the terror of death. One of the disciples, impetuous Peter, was hardly convinced that the Figure before him was truly the Savior; for we read, “Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water!” This disciple had always been eager for the spectacular. On other occasions he was ready to start a holy war for Christ, to stay on the Mount of Transfiguration with Him. Now he felt an urge to walk on the water. Some people today, misinterpreting Scripture, want to pick up scorpions and fondle poisonous snakes. They demand that their deathly sick children be healed without a doctor. They insist that the kingdom of God come with parade and power. As Peter cried, “If it be Thou,” so too many of them are not sure about our Lord. The basic requirement in our faith is our acceptance of Jesus, without any “its, “perhapses,” “maybes.” Peter’s “If it be Thou” recalls too strongly the taunt which the crucified Redeemer’s enemies sarcastically raised at Calvary, “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

Our Savior wanted to teach Peter a vital lesson; so “He said, Come,” and His disciple obeyed Him. Then, our text continues, “When Peter was come down out of the ship he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.” If it were necessary for the welfare of our fellow men or the glory of God, Christ would make it possible for every true believer similarly to stride across the deep. Peter’s triumph was only momentary, however, for we read, “When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid. “ As long as eyes were definitely directed on Jesus, he could defy even the laws of nature; but when he glanced away from the Savior to behold the waves swept by the boisterous wind, fear overtook him. Profit by his experience! You can overcome the worst fright if, forgetting all else, you cling to God’s Son while your believing heart exults:

                My faith looks up to Thee,
                Thou Lamb of Calvary,
                 Savior divine!

It is just as true, however, that if you turn away from your Redeemer and build your hope on yourself, or if you see only the difficulties every believer must face and forget the Apostle’s declaration, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” you too will be enslaved by fear. The Holy Spirit give you the cross-centered, cross-riveted vision!

    Peter began to sink. Humanly speaking and had not his divine Deliverer been there, death was at hand. No one save the Almighty Himself could have rescued him from the raging sea. Yet in this fateful moment Peter recognizes his Master, and as he sinks into the water, he cries out, now without any “its,” “Lord, save me!”

    What sustaining comfort in the Savior’s answer, not only when you think your last moment has come, but when the end unmistakably arrives! As our text records, “Immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him,” so, the fear of death will depart from as Christ stands by you in the last moment to lead you into a blessed eternity. Then, trusting Him who died for you but rose from the grave to seal His promises of your resurrected body, you will depart in joy, earnestly desiring to be with Jesus and to behold Him forever. Let others chatter in uncontrolled terror as death approaches! Clinging closely to the living Savior, you can exult: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?…Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

    Thus today I have tried to show you under the Spirit’s guidance the four freedoms of fear which Jesus gives us: freedom from fear in want, freedom from fear in danger, freedom from fear in soul-distress, freedom from fear in the hour of death. Unbelievers may deny this and may taunt you with the claim they have destroyed the Gospel and the Church. One Sunday while the  pastor was preaching in a solidly built New England church, an insane man ran down the aisle, cursed the minister, took hold of one of the pillars, and screamed that he would pull down the church on the congregation’s heads. People ran from the pews; women fainted; men rushed for the door; the whole assembly was in uproar near the point of panic, while the lunatic repeatedly shrieked, “I’ll pull this church down upon you.” Suddenly a cool, collected worshiper cried out, “Let him try!” In a moment the people were back in their seats, ashamed of their own fears that a mere man could destroy the strong structure. In your lives, whenever sin, the devil, your doubting, disbelieving flesh, the Christless world about you threaten that they will destroy your faith and hope, don’t be afraid! Look at the cornerstone of your creed, Calvary’s cross! Behold the keystone, the Savior’s blood-bought salvation, His victorious resurrection! Draw near to God’s saving Son, and as He tells you, “Be of good cheer; it is I’ be not afraid,” may your unshaken trust exult, “Lord Jesus, my God and my Redeemer, with Thee I will never be afraid!” Amen!

The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in January 1947, and is included in the book, “Global Broadcasts of His Grace”.