I was 17 and a high school male, which explains what I’m about to tell you. I bought a 1970 Chevy Nova and after I had it for a few weeks, my friend and I were wondering how fast it would go. So my friend and I took off on the local interstate and drove out of town a bit and stomped on it. It got up to over 100 mph but when the car started shaking tremendously, I slowed down. That was probably the biggest dumb risk I ever took in my life. It was incredibly stupid, but I was young and thought I was invincible.
Now while this next risk may not seem very big to you, another big risk I took was deciding to go into the ministry. I had considered a couple of different careers while in high school and college. I considered medicine and I had focused on science courses through my second year of college when slowly the Lord started to nudge me toward thinking about going to seminary. At first, this seemed crazy to me. Here I am taking math, all kinds of biology and chemistry courses, and now God wants me to study to become a preacher? Not only had I not had any training in that area, I had already invested much into the field of some sort of science. Moreover, ministerial skills are very narrow. I read of one pastor who left the ministry after a number of years and went to a job counselor who told him that the first thing that he had to do was to be trained in some “useful” skills. Ministry meant putting all my eggs in one basket and if that basket fell, I would have to start all over again. I took the risk, but not very boldly.
Most often we don’t like taking too many risks in our lives. Or if we do, we tend to do the dumb ones instead of the rewarding ones. But perhaps we need to re-evaluate this attitude about risk-taking in light of what Jesus says. Are we willing to do risky things for God? Let’s read Matthew 14:13-36.
I. First, we see the disciples without Jesus.
Jesus wanted some time alone from anyone for prayer so when it was evening, he dismissed the crowd. Notice that Jesus also sent the disciples ahead without Him as well. Why? From John’s gospel in John 6:15, we learn that it may have been to protect them from the crowds clamoring to make Jesus King. It may also be that the disciples needed to slowly learn what their lives would be like without Jesus being with them physically all the time.
In the meantime, Jesus went up to the mountainside next to the Sea of Galilee to pray. Jesus often would go by himself to pray for His work and for His disciples. You can imagine Jesus on the hillside overlooking the lake and praying for His disciples. Verse 24 says that during the night his disciples encountered a problem while on the lake. A strong wind came up and they were having trouble making headway. We saw last week that a storm is a fitting picture for the things which can threaten our lives. This is not a storm, but wind that slows them down and makes progress difficult for them.
We all face circumstances which slow us down and make it difficult to make the progress we would like to make in our lives as Christians. And at times it feels that Jesus is distant from us as we struggle, but Jesus is always with us. I learned something about the lotus plant this week. The plant’s stalk is easy to bend in two, but it is very hard to break or separate in two parts completely because they have many strong, sinuous fibers that tenaciously hold on to keep the plant together. While it may seem that God is removed, the reality is that he is right there with us connected to us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In fact, as with the disciples, Jesus is there, watching us and praying for us. Jesus will care for us and we see that in what Jesus does next.
Now Jesus walks out across the water to the boat which was a considerable distance from the shore. What a loving Savior we have who not only prays for us but also comes out to us in our needs. However, the disciples’ first response, as seen in verse 26, is terror! Now imagine this. You are in a boat on a lake at night and suddenly you see a man out in the middle of the lake walking on top of the water! It’s no wonder that they thought it was a ghost! People don’t walk on top of water!
But Jesus assures them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” What beautiful and powerful words of comfort for them to hear. They can stop panicking now and instead be comforted. Moreover, Jesus is also here literally saying, “I am!”; He is God who created and controls all things. It is on that basis He can tell the disciples “Don’t be afraid.” God Himself, the great “I AM,” in the form of Jesus, is now bodily present with them, which should reassure and comfort them.
That reassurance for the disciples can be our reassurance as well. In our time of need, Jesus, the Son of God, will come to help us. My wife, Claire, upon occasion will have a night terror in which she believes she is certainly going to die unless she takes a certain medicine, which she doesn’t have or need. Usually, in this nightmare, the medicine is gone or she doesn’t have it and it’s too late to take it and she is doomed! At that point, she will cry out in terror in the middle of her sleep. And it is also at that point that I, while half asleep, reach out and tell her that she needs no medicine and I’m right here. I tell her, “It’s ok. You’re going to be fine.” That helps her to wake up and realize what is really going on.
Jesus not only knows all the things we are going through, he also speaks to us: “I’m right here. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” He knows the despair and helplessness that we sometimes feel. He knows that we sometimes feel we just aren’t getting anywhere. He knows when we are terrified and he reassures us that he is with us. Hear Jesus calling out to you, in whatever boat on a wind-blown sea you may be in, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” But there is more to this story than Jesus’ reassuring words; there is also our need to respond in faith.
Peter takes a very real risk in verses 28-29; he literally takes a jump of faith. He says, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Now it may sound like Peter is asking Jesus to prove Himself. Actually Peter may be saying, “Since it is you, tell me to come to you.” Peter is comforted by Jesus’ presence with them, but he also is seeing Jesus’ power as he walks on the water. He knows that Jesus is very great and can do all things. He believes that Jesus can cause him to do great things as well. And he wants to be able to share in that in his life.
That is a risk for Peter, but he is willing to take it. Jesus invites him to come and Peter begins to walk on the water. But then out on the water, Peter’s surroundings overwhelm him. He believed that Jesus could enable him to do anything. He still believes that, but the wind and waves are also very real. His logical nature takes over and tells him that he could drown out here.
I think we can identify and understand Peter here, can’t we? We experience God’s power and grace in a very real way in our lives. We are strengthened or we experience renewal in our lives. We are ready to conquer the world knowing that God is with us! And then reality of the wind and the waves set in. We hadn’t quite gotten past the sin that we struggle with like we thought. There still is the pain or that trial or problem with the job. We know and believe with all our hearts that God is there with us and is caring for us, but the immediate and present realities are so real and vivid in front of us that we begin to sink. What do we do? Let’s do what Peter does: cry out to the Lord to save us! Peter believed, but the present realities overwhelmed him. In that situation, he didn’t say to himself, “What in the world am I doing! I had better swim back to the boat before I drown!” He believed but he needed help and called out to Jesus to save him.
Then Jesus reached out his hand to Peter which is captured in a beautiful drawing by Rembrandt. Jesus could have just spoken and he could have saved Peter. But instead, Jesus reaches out His hand and takes hold of Peter to reassure him and help him. And then Jesus rebukes Peter, “You of little faith; why did you doubt?” It is important to realize Jesus didn’t say that what Peter did was a dumb thing to do. Instead Jesus is saying, “With more faith, you would have been able to do what you asked.” Jesus is encouraging Peter not only to not give up, but to have even more faith. If he would keep growing in faith, he will do even greater things.
IV. The disciples place their faith in Jesus.
As soon as Jesus and Peter get into the boat, the wind and waves stop. Just think of the overall impression this must have made on the disciples! They had seen Jesus feed 5,000 people and now had just seen Him walk on the water! Then they had just seen Him enable Peter to walk on the water! And now once again Jesus controls the world of nature! What a dazzling display of Jesus’ power and control over all things. But more than just a display of power, they have seen this power of Jesus given for their benefit. He had walked on the water to be with them, to comfort and strengthen them in their faith. They are overwhelmed by the infinite power of Jesus in what he had done for them. They now know who Jesus really is, and they bow down before him, worship him and say, “Truly you are the Son of God.” They worship and confess Jesus as their Lord and God.
What can we learn from this passage this morning? Jesus invites us to take some risks in our lives based on our faith and our trust in him. Perhaps it may be in some small areas like doing something in church you aren’t sure about. Perhaps it is to do something big that you’ve not done before but you feel God may be urging you to do it. Perhaps it is the step of giving your life, giving complete control of your life, to Jesus. Jesus is inviting us today to take a step out in faith. Realize His power and love for you, and take a risk, depending fully on His power. He is inviting those who know that He is with you to come out and see if you are able to do something that perhaps you otherwise thought was impossible or hopeless to do.
Perhaps some of you have recently taken a leap of faith. If so, maybe you are looking at the wind and waves right now and are becoming afraid. Call to Jesus and ask him to strengthen your faith and help you. And remember that you may fail; you may start to sink as Peter did. But Jesus doesn’t let us drown for he will rescue us and we will learn from him. Jesus, the I AM, is with us. God will accept our steps of faith as well no matter how small they may be. But how can we learn and grow if we don’t even try? In what area of your life are you willing to take a step of faith this week?