Step of Faith Part 4 – When Life Sinks You, Matthew 14:22-31, 2/24/13

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Feb 242013
 

Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church

22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.  23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.  25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake.

 

26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear.

 

27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

 

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, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.  But when he noticed the strong wind,* he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’  31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ (Matthew 14:22-31, NRSV)

 

 

Tell me if you have had this experience in life.  You believe in God.  You’re trying to live the way you know God wants you to live, to do the things you believe God wants you to do.  You’re following God as best as you know how and yet you imagined that the way would be somehow easier, less full of obstacles, more clearly marked.

 

There is a man I know who has taken great steps of faith in his life following Christ and yet, in the midst of his faith, very difficult circumstances have left him feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.  There is a woman I know who truly believes that Jesus Christ is her Lord and her Savior and yet she has begun to wonder why her faith has not allowed her to be spared at least some of the trouble and heartache that have come her way in life.

 

If you haven’t figured it out already, let me share with you a reality of the Christian life.  Following Jesus is not easy.  Faith in God does not insure a smooth ride.  Just because you take a step of faith out on the lake towards Jesus does not mean that the storms will suddenly cease.  More often than not they won’t.  Sometimes, in fact, the wind blows even harder.  Have you noticed this?

 

Peter takes a step of faith in this story that few other people would dare take.  Heeding Jesus’ invitation, he steps out of the boat in the middle of a storm to walk on the water with Jesus.  But then, in the very midst of his faith and obedience, the wind and the waves gain in strength.  Naturally, Peter is frightened.  And in his fear, he begins to sink beneath the surface of the lake.  All of a sudden this step of faith has taken a disastrous turn.  And I’m wondering if you can relate.

 

Most of us in this room are, to some extent, trying to follow Christ in our lives.  We may not be walking on water, but we’re trying to go where Jesus leads us.   Our faith, however, has not made us immune to the storms of life.  Again, the Christian faith does not exempt us from hardship, and pain, and loss, and sickness, and death.  And are there not times when the circumstances of life become some overwhelming that you fear that you’re sinking beneath the waves?  Even in the church there is fear.  Right?  Even in this church there is fear.

 

In this story Peter faced two kinds of fear.  As you listen to me describe them to you, see if you can relate.

 

Peter’s first fear had to do with the storm.  The text says clearly, “When he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and he began to sink.”  And from the safety of our warm, dry pews we say, “Come on, Peter.  Get a grip.  Jesus was right there with you.  What in the world do you have to be afraid of when the very Creator of the world is by your side?”

 

It’s a great question.  But given the chance it’s the same question Peter might now like to ask us.  We are afraid, some of us, that we will not have enough money.  How can that be when we are children of a Heavenly Father who owns the cattle on a thousand hillsides?[1]  We are afraid of failure.  How can that be when our God is a God of infinite grace and mercy?  We fear ridicule and shame.  How is that possible when the only One whose opinion of us really matters calls us beloved sons and daughters and declares publicly that because of Christ He finds favor with our lives?  We fear sickness and death and yet the One who holds us in His hands has already demonstrated his total power over the grave!

 

All this comes down to a matter of faith.  We say Jesus is our Lord and Savior, but do we really believe it?  Because if He is, if Jesus truly is Lord and truly is Savior, than what circumstances in life, no matter how hard, should ever cause us fear?  Over and over again Jesus calls to us in the storms of life, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”  If we believe him, how can we fear?  If God is for us, what in the world can ever be against us?[2]

 

Now, if Peter’s first fear had to do with the storm, his second and related fear had to do with himself.  Clearly at some point he thought to himself, “Am I a crazy?  Am I an idiot?  What in the world am I doing out here walking on the water?”  First he was afraid that what was outside was too strong; second he was afraid that what was inside was too weak.  And again, we all know what this is like.  Jesus has called us to do something difficult in life and somewhere along the way fear creeps in.  How can we possibly do this?  I’m not strong enough.  I don’t know enough.  I’m not experienced enough.  I’m not good enough.  I can’t possibly walk on water!

 

When I was a kid in school one of my greatest fears was public speaking.  Jerry Seinfeld points out that a lot of people are afraid of public speaking.  In fact, he says that when you rank people’s fears, public speaking is number one and death is number two.  Which means that when many of us go to a funeral we’d rather be the one in the casket than the one giving the eulogy.

 

I can relate.  When I was a kid I would have told you that I would rather die than give a speech in class.  I still remember how I would circle the date on the assignment list at the beginning of the semester, the date when I was scheduled to give an oral report, and that date would hang over me for weeks like a black cloud.  I knew that I was not a good speaker and I believed I had nothing to say that anybody would ever want to hear.  I was afraid of being mocked.  I was afraid of what others would think.  Frankly, I was afraid of the spotlight.

 

Then one day when I was in high school I was asked to share a testimony in front of our church about a mission trip I had been on toMexico.  I still don’t know why I agreed to do it, but I did.  And though it was not easy, the experience was somehow different for me.  Because in church I found that I didn’t have to get up and show how much I knew or try to impress people with what I had done.  All I had to do was get up and talk about what I had seen God do.  I didn’t have to tell my story; I just had to tell His story.

 

If you would have told me as a kid that as an adult one day I would get up and speak to hundreds of people every week in my job, I would have asked you what you were smoking.  But God began to teach me something that day I spoke in church.  It wasn’t about my ability.  It wasn’t about me having to come up with something to say that was worth saying.  It wasn’t about trying to get people to be impressed with me.  Instead, it was about realizing that when I stood up to preach the Gospel that God would not only give me the message and empower me to speak it, and that He was more than happy to take all the spotlight himself.  Once God taught me this I found that I could do, by God’s grace, what before seemed to me impossible.

 

Read through the Bible and look at the sorts of people God chooses to be water walkers.  Abraham was a tired and childless old man.  God chose him to be the father of a great nation.  Moses was a fugitive fromEgyptwho couldn’t string two sentences together.  God chose him to go tell Pharaoh to let his people go.  David was a runt.  God chose to make him a fearsome warrior and a mighty king.  Jacob was a cheater.  Rahab was a prostitute.   Jonah was a whiner.  God used each of them in powerful ways.

 

And look at the disciples Jesus chose.  Not one of them was, in those days, considered to be the cream of the crop.  They were simple, ordinary men, peasants and tax collectors and fisherman who had never before been labeled as exceptional in any way.  And yet look what God did through them.  God changed the world through them.

 

You see, God never calls expert water walkers to walk on water.  If He did, they’d end up getting all the credit.  Instead, God chooses people who can’t even swim to walk on water.  That way, when they skip across the lake, He gets the glory.

 

There’s a beautiful passage in I Corinthians that says this better than I ever could.  In I Corinthians 1:26 God reminds us:

 

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:* not many of you were wise by human standards,* not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one* might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in* the Lord.’[3]

 

God is calling you in life to do some remarkable things.  But fear not.  God does not need your ability, your intelligence, your good looks, your wisdom, your money, or your ideas.  If you have some of these things he can use them, of course.  But even if you don’t, all that God really needs is your faith.  Trust that God, by His power, can do through you and in you what you never imagined possible.

 

If only we could remember that Christ is greater than both the circumstances beyond us and the deficiencies within us.   Neither are obstacles for Christ and so neither should be a source of fear for us.  That’s how it should be but, let’s be honest, it’s often not.  Like Peter, there will be times we will forget.  Fear will grip us.  And it doesn’t matter who you are, there are bound to be places in your life where, even in spite of some initial steps of faith, you now feel like you are sinking.

 

Perhaps that’s not always such a bad thing.  Imagine, for instance, if Peter had made it all the way out to Jesus successfully.  In spite of the waves and wind he kept his cool, kept his balance, and kept himself dry.  How easy would it have been for Peter then to take pride in what he had just done?  I can just see him out there Kaepernicking, flexing his muscles, showing off to the guys back in the boat.  “Watch this boys!  One foot!  Hand stand!  Who’s the man?  Peter’s the man!”

 

I can’t say this for certain, but I would not be surprised to find out that Jesus called Peter out of the boat that day knowing exactly what was going to happen.  And maybe as Peter started to sink beneath the waves he was given a great gift.  All at once he experienced his own complete inability and Christ’s total ability.  There would be no illusions.  Apart from the power of Christ, Peter wasn’t taking one single step on top of that lake.

 

When hardship and failure come into our lives, what if we trained ourselves to ask God, “Lord, I don’t know why this is happening to me but is it possible that you want to humble me so that I will trust you more and rely on myself less?  Is it possible, Lord, that this is going to be an opportunity for me to see just how much I need to depend upon you and just how faithful you will be when I do?”  Honestly, that’s not always my first reaction to hardship and failure.  But what if it were?  What if I understood what Paul understood when he wrote in II Corinthians 12, “God’s grace is sufficient for me, God’s power is made perfect in my weakness…for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”[4]

 

As Peter sinks he is given a great opportunity, an opportunity to trust.  To his credit, he took it.  And you can say a lot of things about Peter – he was often prideful, always impulsive, constantly putting his foot in his mouth, prone to boasting, one train wreck after another.  And yet, in the moments of his failure Peter usually gets it right.  He does here.  In the midst of his failure he reaches for Christ.  As his doubt and fear drag him beneath the waves, he cries out to Jesus, “Lord, Master, save me!”  All at once it is a profession of faith and an admission of need, and it shows us that a saint is not the one who never fails but the one who reaches for God in the midst of failure.

 

It’s been said that the saving presence of God does not consist in banishing the storm, but in being present with power in the midst of the storm.[5]  Whether that storm comes in the form of trying circumstances or miserable failure, if we learn to call out to Christ in the midst of it all He will save us.  Again, he may not banish the storm immediately, but he will immediately give us the strength to outlast it.

 

Case in point.  As soon as Peter cries out we’re told that Jesus “immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Yes, Jesus scolds Peter.  But only after he saves Peter.  He saves Peter first.  In fact, he saves Peter immediately.  That might be my favorite word in the whole passage.  Immediately.  Peter cries out; Jesus saves him…immediately.  Whenever Jesus’ followers are in need and they turn to him for help I truly believe that Christ is there to help immediately.

 

Whenever my family eats dinner at home our dog sits nearby transfixed, waiting, hoping for a crumb of food to tumble from the table and fall within her reach.  When it does, she will not miss the opportunity.  When the crumb hits the floor, she’s on it.  In the same way, I believe (and this is amazing when you think about it!) that the Lord of the universe also watches his children transfixed, ready to move immediately when even one of them cries out for his help.  When we do, God will not miss the opportunity.  God pounces on the opportunity.

 

One way I have experienced this personally is when I have called out for God’s help when I have faced temptation in life.  You know how there are times when you find yourself tempted to do something you know God, for your sake and for the sake of others, has told you not to do.  For example, the piece of juicy gossip is right there on the tip of my tongue and something in me so badly wants to let it out and share it with others and I know that if I do I will create an immediate buzz and people will want to hear what I have to say and the lure of it all is so very powerful that I feel helpless to resist.  Do you know what that’s like?  Do you know how overwhelmingly powerful temptation can be?  Maybe it’s not a piece of gossip.  Maybe it’s pouring another drink, or a mouse click on the computer, or a lustful look in the wrong direction, or a lie you know will help you save face.  Whatever it is, you know what that’s like.  The temptation to sin can wash over us and we feel helpless as we sink beneath the waves.

 

If, however, at that very moment we find ourselves sinking in temptation we would call out for help, help will come.  I know this to be true.  The times in my life when, faced with temptation, I have humbled myself enough to pray, “Lord, save me,” he saves me.  Every time.  Power comes from beyond me immediately and I find that I suddenly am able to resist that which just a moment ago seemed irresistible.  It’s exactly what James meant when he wrote, in James 4:7, “Submit yourselves to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”  And what is true about the storm of temptation is also true of every other storm we face.  If only we would learn to call on Christ as we sink, he will reach out to us immediately and he will keep us from going under.

 

Once again, most of all of us here are, to some extent, trying to follow Jesus in this life.  As we do, we are guaranteed that we are going to be battered at times by the waves of difficult circumstances and doubt.  Fear will come.  Life will try to sink you.  Some of you, even this morning, may even feel like you’re about to go down for the last time.  If only we would cry out to the One out there in the storm with us, the One who called us out onto the water in the first place, immediately He will reach out his strong hand to save us.

 

Jesus ultimately scolded Peter for having little faith.  He did not scold him for having no faith, however.  Peter might have drowned if he had no faith, or he never would have got out of the boat in the first place.  Sometimes a little faith is all we can muster up.  Apparently, even a little faith is enough to save us.

 

Amen.

 

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The Next Step

A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application

 

Read Matthew 14:22-31.  What stands out to you this time through the story?

 

Do you think Jesus would have let Peter drown had he not cried out for help?

 

Where are you afraid that you are going to “sink” in life?  Is your fear realistic?

 

Do you believe God ever lets us “sink” in life so that we will be humbled and realize our need for Him?

 

When you have called out for God’s help in life has it been your experience that help has come immediately?

 

What is something Christ is calling you to do right now in life which you have not done because of fear or doubt?

 

Think about your life and your faith.  Which of these words best describes how you have most often found yourself feeling recently?  Where is Christ in the midst of it all?

Fear ~ Hope ~ Anger ~ Sorrow ~ Apathy ~ Joy ~ Discouragement – Other

 

Read I Corinthians 1:26-31.  What do you think God’s Word is trying to teach us here?

 

Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:

 

Monday:               Psalm 24 ~ Genesis 15:1-5

Tuesday:               Psalm 25 ~ Genesis 17:1-7

Wednesday:         Psalm 26 ~ Romans 4:1-5

Thursday:             Psalm 27 ~ Romans 4:13-17

Friday:                   Psalm 28 ~ Romans 4:18-25

Saturday:              Psalm 29 ~ John 3:1-8

Sunday:                 Psalm 30 ~ Exodus 17:1-7

 

 

 



[1] Psalm 50:10

[2] Romans 8:31

[3] I Corinthians 1:26-31, NRSV.

[4] Paraphrased from II Corinthians 12:9-10.

[5] Paraphrased from Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, Volume 2, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), p. 78.