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‘Rescue’ - A Theological Reflection

Robert Kol

Robert Kolb (PhD, University of Wisconsin) is mission professor of systematic theology emeritus at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books and articles.

We usually call the incident “Peter Walked on the Water.”  The real story gives the report with a different subject: Jesus rescued Peter, a fellow too dumb to recognize the limits of his own abilities, too enthusiastic about pursuing his own plans to properly estimate the perimeters of his own potential.  Peter resembles us all.  Peter thought he was heading toward the Lord, but on his own he could not reach Jesus. 

Many of us actually decide to head in the opposite direction, to misestimate our own powers, or often to underestimate what the Lord might do with us, what our Creator has in mind for us.  Some drift away from him; some run from him; some simply stumble and stagger their way through life, always a bit off balance, always insecure.  Some pause to look around and fall down a rabbit hole without really noticing.  But all of us find ourselves for one reason or another, following one path or another, closed off from the source of breath.  We sooner or later discover that we are floating away from the fountain of life, our Lord Jesus Christ.  We just naturally get in over our heads, and suddenly it seems too much.  Hearts turned to stone sink. We panic, but often in the midst of life’s dark, stormy seas, we have no clue as to where to turn.  Lights grow dim and are extinguished, and there seems as if there is no place to go and certainly nothing to grab hold of.

The story should be called “Jesus stretches out his hand as the waves of life bowl us over.”  As those waves make their claim on us, Jesus reaches out to grab, to lift up, to steady, to respire us with his Holy Spirit.  In the midst of the turbulence of life’s wicked waves, Jesus comes to take our hand, to take our life in his hands, and to pour over us the water of baptism that transport us into his death and into his resurrection. For he remakes his people into people whom he has reclaimed from our own willful, prideful chasing of our own ways.  His outstretched hand has pulled us out of our own arrogant refashioning of the rules of life that he put in place to protect us and prosper our lives.

Peter trotted out on the water.  He sank.  Jesus lifted up his falling, failing friend, and he lifts up all his people day in and day out as he comes and comes back to rescue us.

Jesus descended into the troubled waters into which we have wandered, and he took the brunt of wind and wave.  He has shared the storms that snuff out life.  He has felt the winds that wind us up tight as they toss us back and forth between human systems trying to teach us how to negotiate the waves in ways doomed to failure.  With subtle cunning and sneaky craftiness such systems of guidance point us inevitably in the wrong direction as they try to assure us that we belong to them and they possess us.

In the midst of such turbulence Jesus appears.  His outstretched hand may come through the flesh and blood hand of a friend or neighbor in casual conversation.  It may be stretched out in our direction by a stranger or casual acquaintance in a chance meeting and chat.  His outstretched hand may come while we surf the internet or tune into a new source for news and notes on the screen.  His outstretched hand may come through a Gideon Bible in a motel room or a poem on Christ’s resurrection by John Updike.

The hand with which he pulls me out and up has a hole in it.  For that hand was once outstretched on a cross, where it bled and turned stone cold.  But after his three-day detour under the waves, that hand climbed out of the troubled waters, and he now walks atop them in search of his people who are going down.  He calls out the names of his people, and he leaves their old identities under the waves because he has a new identity, a new life, for them, walking on the waters all the way into new life with him.

We who are singing “Rescue” know what Jesus’s rescue really means.  There are days when we think that we are back in the midst of the wicked waves as we recognize that once again we have chosen our own ways and left his rules behind.  We recognize that we thought we were floating when we actually were sinking and drowning.  And then, there he was—for the how manyth time—with hand outstretched, drawing us out of the turbulence, clutching us to himself.

Jesus came into the devastating and destructive waters as the rescue squad that liberates us from bondage to Satan and releases us from our own silly desires to live life according to our own rules and to act on the basis of our own insufficient planning.  He then calls in the triage team led by the Holy Spirit and staffed by Christians who are buoyed up by God’s Word.  They model the liberated way of life Jesus gives through the Spirit as he helps us enjoy the presence of Jesus and live in the company of his people.

That is where we belong; with him at our side, in his embrace, we too can walk on water, on the water in which he has drowned our old way of living, our identity as inhabitants of Satan’s realm.  His grasping us and steadying our feet sets us upright, and we can walk with him, the wind in our face, the waves below, without fear. "Peter trotted out on the water.  He sank.  Jesus lifted up his falling, failing friend, and he lifts up all his people day in and day out as he comes and comes back to rescue us."


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