Changed by His Wisdom (Matthew 14:22-33)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Matthew 14:22–14:33
Christmas Can Change Your Life
Changed by His Wisdom
(One Truth: Your Word is Truth)
December 10th, 2017
I. Foolish Wisdom
Listen to the final words of Paul's weighty and wonderful letter to the Romans. Rom. 16:27...
...to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
When you think about God, do you think of Him as a wise God? Is God full of wisdom? According to your understanding, is He perfectly wise? I'm guessing almost all of us would say, “yes”. Furthermore, I would guess that most of us appreciate God's wisdom.
For example, listen to just two verses about words and wisdom from the book of Proverbs:
Proverbs 10:19...When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
Proverbs 15:1...A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
So as I said, I think most of us, I would guess most people, recognize the wisdom in these words...right? There is great wisdom in knowing when to 'hold your tongue'. There is great wisdom in keeping your cool when responding to a 'hothead'. When it comes to God's wisdom, the wisdom God gives us in his word, I think most people are receptive and generally responsive.
But did you know that in I Corinthians 1 and 2, Paul talks about how the wisdom of God is foolishness to mankind? So...to what wisdom is Paul referring? Keep that question, that tension in mind as we look together at Matthew 14.
II. The Passage: "Peter Got Out of the Boat" (14:22-33)
During a Christmas series, it's chapters 1 and 2 of Matthew's Gospel that get most of the attention. So why are we in Matthew 14? Does Matthew 14 have something to do with the birth of Jesus? It does, but only from a 'big picture' perspective.
As we talked about last week, Christmas can change your life. How do we know that? Because Christ can change your life. Many of you know that from personal experience. We also know that because the very first Christmas changed the lives of all the very real people who experienced it, people like Mary, Joseph, the Magi, and the shepherds of Bethlehem.
So when we consider all of their stories, from a 'big picture' perspective, a pattern begins to emerge; we find similar threads running through most of these stories.
And we find one of those threads in the account preserved for us in Matthew 14. Listen as I read from verses 22 thru 33...
Immediately he [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.  And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,  but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.  And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.  But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
The son of Mary and Joseph was and is, as we just heard in that final phrase of verse 33, “the Son of God”. Or as the angel told Joseph in chapter 1 of this book, his child, in accordance with Isaiah's prophecy, would be “Immanuel” (which means “God with us” in Hebrew).
And it's that title I'd like to use this morning as we think about this passage. I believe most of the passage, or the main point of the passage, is clear, even after one reading. But let's go deeper. Let's break the passage down into four parts and consider what each part tells us about Mary's son, about God's Son, about God the Son, about Immanuel. So first of all, looking back at verses 22-24, we learn that...
1. Immanuel is in charge of the tactics and timing of our good. (vs. 22-24)
So what do I mean by that statement? I mean, Jesus did not need to send his disciples away to the other side of the Lake of Galilee, as we see him doing in verse 22. But someone might say, “Well, he needed some down time, some alone time, in order to pray.” But, later in this same Gospel, Jesus simply told his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” (26:36) Others might say there was a time crunch, or Jesus was concerned with how the crowds would influence his disciples. But the text doesn't say that.
All verse 22 tells us is that Jesus “made his disciples get into the boat and go before him”. And as we discover in verse 24, it wasn't an easy trip. The disciples had to contend with the wind and the waves. It was hard sailing, all night, and they were making very slow progress. And as Matthew's Gospel makes clear in many places, Jesus had the power to know this in advance. He would have known beforehand how hard a journey it would be.
So why didn't He go? Why did he make them go, without Him?
What we know from the story as a whole, and this Gospel as whole, and the NT as a whole, is that Jesus, the God-man, Immanuel, never did anything to or with or for his disciples, that was not done out of love; that was not for their good.
So His tactics and his timing were ultimately for their good. We'll talk more about how that worked itself out, but it's important we establish that point, right from the outset. Why? Because all of us have and can find ourselves, slogging through hard circumstances, with the winds and waves of suffering beating against us. And in those times, we can also feel very alone.
But this is precisely why, when we consider the story as a whole, we must affirm that Immanuel is at work; that, in Paul's words, “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
So on that foundation, we move to our second point. We also see here, in vs. 25-27, that...
2. Immanuel regularly reveals His counter-intuitive ways. (vs. 25-27)
What could be more counter-intuitive than Jesus going to his struggling disciples by walking across the surface of the water? If you found yourself in a similar situation, that is, you needed to get to family or friends who were out on a boat, your plans might include chartering another boat, or if it was somewhat close, maybe swimming, or if it was a real emergency, maybe taking a helicopter. I promise you, you would not list “walk to the boat” as an option.
As “God with us”, Jesus was able to do amazing things. The disciples had already seen so many of these amazing things: the sick healed, demons bound and banished, a girl resurrected, and even a stormy lake calmed with a word. But clearly, they needed yet another reminder; they needed to see, once again, that God's way is not constrained by our categories or conventions or comfort level.
No. God's way is counter-intuitive. It is, so often, contrary to what we might expect. Contrary to our default strategies and solutions; to the norm. Contrary to...here it comes...human wisdom. From teachings like “turn the other cheek” (5:39) and “lose your life to find your life” (16:25), to walking on water, Jesus was and is about revealing this path of God's unexpected wisdom. And as we saw last time, today, that revelation comes through God's word.
But look at what happens next, in light of God's unexpected wisdom. In vs. 28, 29, we find...
3. Immanuel's response to Peter's request is a call to faith. (vs. 28, 29)
God bless, Peter. I love the way his mind worked. Look again at verses 28 and 29...
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.
Now some fault Peter for his request. Some commentators say that Peter was testing God, that he was seeking his own glory. But I don't think that's the case. If it was, I believe Peter would have stepped onto the water, then immediately into and under the water. But as we just read, Peter actually walked out to Jesus. That's why I believe Peter's response to Christ's revelation was a response of faith. He was going to follow his Lord, he was going to be with his Lord, even if that meant walking across the water.
So when Jesus says, “Come!”, I think that's an indication that he is pleased with Peter's faith.
And this exchange, Peter's request and Jesus' response, should be a call to faith for all of us. When Immanuel reveals the wisdom of God to us, when he shows us what it looks like to take that unexpected, that unimaginable, that seemingly impossible and maybe uncomfortable path, are we ready to follow? Are we ready, like Peter, to step out of the boat?
The boat can be comfortable, right? But let's not romanticize the boat. It was (v. 25), “the fourth watch of the night”, that is, it was sometime between 3:00am and 6:00am. These guys were exhausted from fighting the waves all night. Some of them might have been scared. Some of them might have been angry and bitter. The boat might have seemed safe, but even still, it was a hard place to be.
When Peter hears Jesus, he seems to forget the seriousness of the waves and the supposed safety of the boat. And remember what he heard (v. 27): “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Would that be enough, would those words from Jesus be enough to get you out of your boat? But look, there's one last part. In vs. 30-33 we see that...
4. Immanuel's grace keeps us afloat, even when we doubt. (vs. 30-33)
As we see in the final verses of that story, Peter's faith-filled feat (and feet!) of flotation is temporary. Why? Because, verse 30: “when he saw the wind, he was afraid”. What was counter-intuitive gave way to the intuitive. Human wisdom pushed out God's wisdom. The danger of the waves was, for Peter, more serious than the power of Jesus Christ. And so, he began to sink.
Isn't the picture painted by those words (in v. 30) fascinating...“and beginning to sink”? I imagine Peter sinking down into the water at a rate directly proportional to the rate at which faith was being pushed out by fear.
But as we just talked about, and as we see in verse 31, Immanuel's grace keeps us afloat, even when we doubt. Peter's doubts may have stopped his wave-walking, but they did not stop his Savior.
Notice how the grace of God is demonstrated in two distinct ways in verse 31. First, Peter is rescued from sinking into the water. Second, Peter is rescued from sinking into the swamp of human wisdom. It is love that motivates Christ's words in verse 31: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus is not trying to make Peter feel bad. He's wants Peter to see how good it is to trust Him.
Brothers and sisters, as we follow Jesus down that counter-intuitive path of God's wisdom, we don't need to be afraid. And if you are, Jesus wants you to take courage. He will not let you sink, even when you feel weighed down by doubts. But He will teach you. He will help you learn from each experience about why you can and should trust Him.
Finally, notice verse 32: And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. It's the same outcome as their storm-tossed trip in chapter 8. For the disciples, it would have been a reminder to remember. Remember who He is, the One you follow; remember what He can do.
III. God's Wisdom at Christmas
Okay, so how does any of this relate to Christmas? Well, think about it. Those who were changed by the first Christmas were changed not only by His voice, by His word (as we talked about last time), but they were also (and subsequently) changed by His wisdom.
Joseph and Mary trusted that a virgin really could be with child, even though that was counter-intuitive. The shepherds trusted that the Son of David, the heir of David's royal throne, would actually be found in the feeding trough of farm animals, even though that was counter-intuitive. The Magi trusted that a new star was not just a miscalculation, but could actually lead them...even to a specific house (!), even though that was counter-intuitive.
Just like Peter, each of these individuals stepped out of their 'boat'. They trusted that God's tactics and timing were for their eternal good, that the path forward, even though it didn't make sense according to conventional wisdom, according to their gut instinct, maybe according to the advice of others, they trusted that God's wisdom was perfect.
Brothers and sisters, friends, if Christmas is going to change us, just as it did those people long ago, then we too need to trust in God's wisdom, even when the world calls it foolish. Paul tells us this in I Corinthians 1:21 (this is my paraphrase)...For since in God's wisdom the world through its wisdom [i.e. human wisdom] did not come to know God, God was pleased through the 'foolishness' (according to men) of what was preached to save those who believe.
Did you hear that? If we are saved, if we are to be saved, we must believe in the counter-intuitive message that the death of a poor Jew nailed to a criminal's cross is our only hope of eternal life; to trust in what the world thinks is strange. But just as that pattern predates the cross, going all the way back to the first Christmas, it also applies after the cross. To follow Jesus is to walk down the path of God's unexpected, counter-intuitive wisdom.
He calls us to say “no” as the world says “yes”. He calls us to abstain when the world says “Just do it!” He calls us to love when hate and anger grip our hearts. He calls us to say “hi” instead of hide. He calls us to forgive when fear and bitterness want to punish and push away. He calls us to empty ourselves in order to be full. He calls us to give, trusting in His gain. He calls us to endure, when our flesh wants to surrender. He calls us to silence, when we're ready to spew. He calls us to a life of service, instead of a life of self. He call us to trust, as human wisdom declares, “Take charge!”
Brothers and sisters, friends, how are the winds and waves against you? In what ways are you just slogging through? This morning, this Christmas, Immanuel is calling you to step out of your 'boat', out of that place of supposed safety. He is calling you to a path that may not make sense at first, that may not feel right, but it is a path of wisdom. How can you know that path? Through His word! Search it out! Ask a brother or sister for help! We all need help.
But as you step out, remember, the wisdom of God goes hand in hand with His power. He will never call you to a path on which His power will not enable you to walk. And we can be assured, not only of His power, but also of His presence. Immanuel...”God with us.” The cross and empty tomb of Jesus have 'locked-in' the power and presence of God for all who believe. Good Friday and Easter empower the purpose of Christmas. So no matter what you are facing this morning, remember His words: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”