January 28, 2024

Faith in Rough Waters (Matthew 14:22-33)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2023-2024) Topic: One Lord: No One Like You Scripture: Matthew 14:22–33

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Children's Lesson (click here)

I. A Sinking Feeling

What do we mean when we say, “I had a sinking feeling”? Have you ever used that phrase? In most cases, the phrase means that though your circumstances seem okay now, there is a growing or deepening sense within you that there is a change coming... a change for the worse. So... even if you've never used that phrase, have you ever had that kind of feeling? In Psalm 19, King David says that God's word is “to be desired [more] than gold, even much fine gold”; that it's “sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (v. 10) Let's turn to this treasure together and consider what it tells us this morning about the sinking feeling that comes from what we might call, 'spiritual distraction'. Turn over, if you would, to Matthew chapter 14.

II. The Passage: “Why Did You Doubt” (14:22-33)

The story I'd like us to look at this morning is well-known. It takes places right after Jesus had miraculously fed thousands of people using just five loaves and two fish. In verse 22 we learn what happens next. The Gospel writer tells us that...

Immediately he [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. [23] And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, [24] but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. [25] And in the fourth watch of the night [i.e., 3am-6am] he came to them, walking on the sea. [26] 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. [27] But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” [28] And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” [29] He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. [30] But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” [31] Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” [32] And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. [33] And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

So the first thing we may want to ask about this account is, “Why is it here?”. John, one of the men in the boat that night, would right these words many decades later: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written [down], I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) So why do the Gospels include this fascinating story? Well, let me suggest two reasons.

First, the story powerfully reminds us that there is no one like Jesus. Okay. When you think about this account, does it remind of another story from the Gospels? It should. Only six chapters earlier (so from our readings two weeks ago) we encountered an equally well-known story about Jesus in the midst of rough waters. That story is found in Matthew 8:23-27 (both stories are also found in Mark 4:35-41 and Mark 6:45-52). The difference of course is that in the earlier account, Jesus was not walking on the water. Instead, he was asleep in the boat. But if we focus on that difference, we may miss just how similar these two stories really are. Here's a list of eight similarites between the two stories:

1. Both accounts involve the disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

2. In both stories the waters were turbulent (e.g., a focus on the “wind(s)” and “waves”).

3. In both accounts the disciples are afraid.

4. Both stories include a cry to be saved or rescued (in light of the rough waters).

5. In both stories Jesus has a supernatural interaction with the turbulent waters.

6. In both Jesus asks a question about doubt using the phrase “O you of little faith”.

7. Both accounts end with nature calmed or quieted, and...

8. The disciples in awe of Jesus' divinity.

Okay. So why point out these similarities? Because they are God's double witness to the power or authority that Jesus has over the natural world, no matter how turbulent or how chaotic it seems. This, of course, is not surprising if we believe what Paul would later write about Jesus. He told the disciples in Colossae that...

...by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible... all things were created through him and for him. [17] And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16–17)

So his mastery of the water and the wind is not surprising. But it should still be jaw-dropping... and mind-blowing... and awe-inspiring, right? Take a moment to remind yourself of this doubly confirmed truth: no matter how chaotic the world around me seems, Jesus can walk on water! He can stroll through the storm. He can turn the wind on and off as he sees fit. This is the power of the One you call Master and brother, Lord and Savior, King and Shepherd. Amen? But there's another reason I believe Matthew included this version of the story. If the first reason was that this story powerfully reminds us that there is no one like Jesus, then we should also note that...

Second, the story reassuringly reminds us that everyone is like Peter. It's helpful to note that though the story is also found in Mark 6 and John 6, Matthew's account of Jesus walking on water is the only one that includes this account of Peter getting out of the boat. So why did Matthew include this? Well, if we think about how verses 27 through 31 are put together, there seems to be a similar order or pattern repeated here. This is what I mean. Take a look...

In verses 27-29 we read that:                                   But we see the same pattern in vs. 30-31:

Peter witnesses something powerful (v. 27)             Peter witnesses something powerful (v. 30a)

Peter calls to Jesus (v. 28)                                        Peter calls to Jesus (v. 30b)

Jesus responds to Peter (v. 29a)                              Jesus responds to Peter (v. 31a)

Peter's faith is in the spotlight (v. 29b)                       Peter's faith is in the spotlight (v. 31b)

Of course, though the pattern is repeated, there are major differences between these two parts, aren't there? At the end of verse 29, Peter's faith is expressed in actually getting out of the boat and amazingly, like Jesus, walking on the water. But at the end of verse 31, Peter's faith suddenly becomes weak and insufficient. How can we say that? Because he went from walking on the water to sinking into the water. Jesus asked, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

So what explains the shift between the two parts of this section? It's that first point in the pattern. It's the contrast between v. 27 and the first half of v. 30. What did Peter witness in v. 30 that was so powerful? The Gospel writer tells us “but when he saw the wind, he was afraid”. What does it mean “he saw the wind”? I think it simply means he saw the effect of the wind on the waves (as verse 24 describes). If you've ever been out in a serious storm, or watched video of a hurricane ravaging a coastal neighborhood, or if you've ever been pinned down and tossed around by a riptide in the ocean, then you know there is real power in the wind and the waves.

But... and here's the most important point... does that power compare to the power that Jesus demonstrates in this account? The answer is clearly no. In contrast to the familiar power of the wind and the waves, in verse 27, Peter witnesses something so stunning; something so radically unique, it inspires him to get out of the boat: he witnesses the Son of God as Lord over the wind and waves. He was literally and figuratively over the waters.

I feel confident in saying that what Jesus was doing in this story was not simply a party trick, or highlighting a better mode of travel through rough waters. No. He was doing there what he's doing here this morning. He was working on their faith. And for Peter specifically, that meant an even more intense experience; a more advanced test, one Peter would never forget. And when the test was over, what happened? Verse 32 (a verse that's easy to overlook): “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” Pencils down. The lesson, the test, it was over.

III. Inspired By Jesus... and Peter

Brothers and sisters, remember how I summarized that last point: this story reassuringly reminds us that everyone is like Peter (or I guess we could say, Peter is just like everyone else; all of us). In what way? In that all of us have and will experience the sinking feeling that comes from what we might call, 'spiritual distraction'. Let's unpack that concept just a bit by thinking about how this story should inspire you and me. In light of our two points this morning...

1. It starts with a clear view of a powerful Jesus. Is the Jesus you follow big enough? Not the reality of Jesus, but your conception of him. Does your Jesus sink or get blown about with your feelings... or is He over the wind and the waves? Not over as in up there, far away... but with you, on the sea; walking on the water, steady, unmoved in the face of the headwinds. That's the Jesus of sacred Scripture. That's Jesus as he actually is. Jesus confirmed his identity in verse 27, and speaks to us there as he spoke to Peter: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” But let's not forget how Peter's view of Jesus inspired him to faith-filled action. This leads us to...

2. Getting out of the boat means moving toward Jesus. Even though Peter struggled and stumbled in many ways, the Gospel accounts give us glimpses of a faith that really should inspire us. When you see Jesus as he, when through Scripture you see where he is... and what he's doing... and where he's going, the faith of faithful disciples should also cry out, “Lord... command me to come to you [that I might be where you are; that I might be like you, even when being like you seems impossible to me]”. 'Getting out of the boat' is not simply stepping out in faith to move beyond where you're comfortable. It is that. But it must be stepping out in faith in Christ, to move toward Christ... in this or that way, in this or that circumstance. In what ways is Jesus calling you to come to him “on the water”, to that place of absolute trust? Finally...

3. If we look away, we cry out, then rest in his rescue. You will get spiritually distracted. I guarantee it. Other things will, at times, seem more powerful than Jesus. When that happens, we'll be tempted to fixate on them. That's when doubt, when that 'spiritual distraction', leads to the sinking feeling of life out of step with the gospel and God's will. But no matter how you get there, no matter how far you think you've sunk, like Peter, we can always call out to Jesus, confident in the same response as we find in v. 31: “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him”. Let's remind each other that the One who walked on water is the very same Savior who sank under, who was drowned by, the waves of death for you and me. The cross and empty tomb of Jesus provide an even greater testimony of his power, don't they? When we surrender to Him in faith, trusting him to not only keep us from drowning, but also to empower us to do the impossible, to do as he did, we can find reassurance that we too can rise above the waters, and experience rest in the boat... that place where the winds cease... and we worship.