In baseball it’s “three strikes and you’re out.” You don’t get more chances until you finally hit a home run or get on base. But the devil NEVER plays by the rules – and when we don’t recognize this, especially when we “play his game,” he’ll “score” on us and “destroy the ball game” in a big way! Today’s Scripture readings expose some of his strategies and show us how God gives us strength to “stay out of the devil’s ball-game!”
God’s Word begins: “Immediately, Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd.” (v.22) This is NOT a friendly suggestion or a mutually agreed upon plan – Jesus made His disciples leave – and He dismissed the crowd. Jesus knew that He would have to dismiss this crowd, for as we read, the crowd wanted to “take Jesus by force and make Him (Bread King).” (John 6:15) Jesus knew how easily His disciples would be swayed to go along with the crowd. And Jesus recognized the temptation of the devil: Remember at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, the devil came to Jesus in the wilderness after 40 days and nights without eating and said, “turn these stones into bread?” And another temptation – the devil said to Jesus: “I will give You all the kingdoms of this world if You fall down and worship me.” This was a seemingly “easy” way to avoid the cross; the very reason why He had come!
JESUS KNEW (AND TEACHES US) TO FLEE SUCH TEMPTATIONS and to keep others from being tempted! God’s Word in Psalm 1 says: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked nor stand in the way of sinners.” And Jesus FURTHER shows us what strengthens us in times of temptation: “After He had dismissed them, He went… by Himself to pray.” (v.23) How much time do we spend, avoiding temptations and being strengthened by prayer?
STRIKE ONE on the devil! He didn’t “get” Jesus, nor the disciples, nor the crowd!
But the devil is not easily defeated. Scene 2 of the text occurs a few hours later. Jesus had been praying throughout the night; His disciples had been rowing across the Sea of Galilee (probably very tired after serving and cleaning up after 5,000 people!) when the wind began to gust so that “the boat was buffeted by the waves.” AGAIN, the devil is not missing any opportunities! Especially when we are tired, feeling alone and afraid, we are more easily tricked! To the disciples, it must have seemed like Jesus was “far away.” Have you ever had that feeling? Especially when the “storms of life” seem to be “buffeting” all around you? When you just don’t know what to do, or how you will “get through” a certain situation? Does it seem that God is off somewhere else, not even aware of your needs? THAT’S what the devil would have you believe. But God knows and supplies our every need. God’s Word tells us: “During the fourth watch of the night (between 3-6 AM!) Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.” (v.25)
Isn’t it “something” that the waves were too wild for the seasoned fishermen, struggling in the boat – but they were not too rough or high for Jesus to walk through to “come” to His disciples? Jesus is able to “walk right through” to be with us and help us! God does not promise an escape FROM our problems, but He always promises that He will be with us and help us THROUGH our problems.
“When the disciples saw (Jesus) walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear.” (v.26) Did they think He was “the angel of death” coming to get them? The devil loves to cause fear and great anxiety in any way he can! “But Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Stop being afraid.'” (v.27)
Jesus comforts His disciples (and us) as He speaks His Word to them. How well do you know and listen to God’s Word? The devil would like nothing better than for you to “stay away” from Bible Study and worship; for you to “turn a deaf ear” to His Word through daily devotions – for THAT is how the devil and his temptations are defeated, and we are strengthened – by God’s Word.
STRIKE TWO on the devil as Jesus says, “Take courage! It is I. Stop being afraid.” (v.27)
But the devil doesn’t quit yet – impetuous Peter said, “’Lord, if it’s You, tell me to come to You on the water.’ ‘Come,’ Jesus 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,’ Jesus said, ‘why did you doubt?’ 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!'” (v.28-33)
Because of Jesus’ presence and powerful help; STRIKE THREE on the devil, although he came close to getting Peter!
The devil comes mighty close to getting us at times too! When you feel like you’re drowning:
- a loved one dies or goes through a terrible personal tragedy;
- we lose our job or our health;
- there is no financial security;
- we are betrayed by a spouse, a child or a friend;
- we are caught up in some kind of sinful behavior in our lives;
- a natural disaster destroys property and lives…
so many things that the devil uses to draw our attention away from our “firm foundation of faith in Jesus!”
Sadly, the devil DOES get some people! He gets those who do not recognize: “My help comes from the Lord;” he gets those who refuse Jesus’ outstretched hand of salvation. Peter confessed his great need for Jesus, crying out: ‘Lord, save me!’ This also must be our first response of faith – recognizing our helplessness and desperate need for a Savior. Jesus “reached out His hand.” In a much greater way, Jesus “reached out His hands” on the cross, RESCUING US from the terrible death we deserve. And He continues to “reach out” to us through His Word and Sacraments.
STRIKE THREE on the devil that day, but he continues in our lives each day. Jesus gives us the strength of resisting temptation through
- continual prayer; and He also promises His presence and strength through
- continual use of His Word, and
- continual coming at His invitation to His Supper.
ONLY THROUGH JESUS’ POWER AND PRESENCE WE ARE NOT TAKEN BY THE DEVIL’S TEMPTATIONS. Three strikes and the devil’s out – and we’re IN – in the Kingdom of Heaven, willingly serving through Jesus Christ who strengthens and preserves us through continual prayer and God’s Word and Sacraments as we live out our lives in this “STORMY” and “temptation-filled” world.
See you in church this next weekend!