12th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 14:22-33 Sermon
August 7, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
375 "My Faith Looks Up To Thee"
531 "Jesus Saviour Pilot Me"
370 "Just As I Am Without One Plea"
198 "Saviour Again To Thy Dear Name We Raise"
YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR
TEXT: (vs. 27-32) “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’
And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”
Hanging on the fence behind my house is an aluminium extension ladder. Certainly there are many uses for a ladder; but unfortunately mine doesn’t get all that much use from myself. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with the ladder. It’s in good shape and slides up and down really well, and it’s about as safe and stable as any aluminium extension ladder could be. And it’s not because I don’t have projects to do which require the use of a ladder. I could line up a whole list of projects that need to be taken care of.
My biggest problem with using the ladder has to do with my reaction to heights. Anything that takes me further up in the air than an 8-foot stepladder, or perhaps a short distance up the extension ladder, and I began to have problems. I can start to get dizzy and things can get difficult. And when I recount some of the times I have had to go up very high on an extension ladder, I’m sure that I’ve left permanent fingerprints on that ladder. And I can also tell you that I’m not much better on a section of scaffold.
Now maybe my problem is one of balance, or it may be that I have an irrational fear of heights—it’s probably a combination of both.
There are other “high up” things that bother me as well. When I was in Israel and visited the Mesada, we went to the top in a cable car, which was this thing about the size of a van hooked to a cable that ran up the side of the mountain. The only thing holding that car from crashing to the rocks hundreds of feet below was this seemingly small cable stretched high in the air above. This is one of those instances where I had to swallow hard, and just endure it. I certainly didn’t enjoy the ride up the mountain.
Yes, I do have my fears and my doubts. And I am fairly sure that each and every one of you has felt this feeling—maybe in the same sort of instance, and in other things as well. If I polled everybody, I’m sure there would be quite a list of things that make us afraid. Doubt and fear can grip our lives; and when it does, we can lose our focus, our sense of balance, and our confidence.
As we look at our text for today, we can see this same sort of feeling taking over in Simon Peter’s life. Peter expresses those feelings of fear and doubt. Even when acting on the instructions of Jesus, God incarnate himself, Peter still shows that he is very much human with all of the human frailties. And so as Jesus speaks to him, he speaks to us as well when he says, “You have nothing to fear.”
Our text for today is the account immediately following last week’s Gospel lesson, which was the account of the feeding of the 5,000. In that account, remember that Jesus’ original intent was to get away from the crowds for a short while for a bit of private time. However the crowd of people wouldn’t let him alone. They followed him and the disciples to their retreat area, and Jesus took care of them.
Now it was time for Jesus’ quiet time, and so he goes off into a solitary place by himself where he could pray and meditate. But as he prayed, the disciples were in the boat, having to deal with a high wind. Sudden, violent storms were common on the Sea of Galilee; but since some of the disciples had been fishermen, they were well qualified in dealing with such matters. But this storm was more violent than most; and the disciples, weary from the physical activity, were not making much progress on their way back to the western shore.
So it was sometime between 3 and 6 am, when they were about 3 ½ miles from the shore, that Jesus went out to meet them, walking on the surface of the water. Even though some of the men were experienced fishermen, they had never seen anything like this. No man can walk on water, let alone turbulent water like this. So they reckoned that it must be a ghost!
But Jesus speaks to reassure them. “Be of good cheer! It is I! Do not be afraid!” Jesus had departed from his private retreat, and had come across the rough water to assist these disciples who were battling against this raging storm. At the point where this situation seemed to be conquering them, here comes Jesus to the rescue. This immediately re-focuses their attention, because they knew that in his presence, there was indeed nothing to fear.
Simon Peter, as impetuous as he was, responds with a challenge. I don’t think he doubted that it was in fact Jesus out there, but still he wanted something more. So he makes the request: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter wanted some personal proof. So Jesus simply tells him to “Come.” And that is exactly what Peter did. He stepped out of the boat and on to the water.
One Bible commentator describes this situation as follows: “Peter swung his legs over the side of the boat and, while all the other disciples watched with their hearts beating in their mouths, he placed his feet on the surface of the water—the waves crashing against the side of the boat, the wind whipping his hair into his eyes—he put his feet flat on top of the water, took a huge, trembling breath, and stood up. Then he took a few hesitant steps toward Jesus across the heaving surface, like the first steps he ever took in his life, and he was doing fine until a gust of wind almost toppled him, and he got scared and felt his feet sinking into the black waves below and he went down like a stone.”
It was Jesus’ power, and not Peter’s faith that had kept Peter from sinking. However his doubts separated him from Jesus’ power. Peter lost sight of Jesus when things got a bit rough. Even though Peter took that leap of faith when he stepped out of the boat into the water, his doubt suddenly returned when he felt the strong wind and realized how big those waves actually were. So when he shifted his focus away from the power of Jesus to his own limitations and fears, he started to sink like a big rock.
So Peter cries out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately, without any hesitation at all, reaches out his hand to rescue him. Thankfully Peter had the good sense to ask for help—unlike some people who would rather drown than ask for help.
Jesus then chastises Peter for his lack of faith. He says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Of course that didn’t stop Jesus from immediately responding to the situation and reaching out his hand to rescue Peter. This isn’t a story about the size of Peter’s faith, but how he used it. Peter knew there was only one who could come to his rescue. There was only one who could save him, even though he didn’t deserve it. So he called out to Jesus, “Lord save me!” and that’s exactly what he did.
One thing worth mentioning, and that is the “leap of faith” that Peter took by going out on to the water. It took faith in Jesus for him to do that in the first place. Jesus was calling Peter to come to him. Even though Peter recognized Jesus from the safety of the boat, Jesus commands Peter to come to him out in the water.
Compare this to the way people are converted and come to know Jesus as their Saviour. Well meaning people can stand and argue the truth of the Bible all day long. We can prove chapters and passages to be 100% true and reliable. We can show that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. But believing the Bible is true doesn’t automatically make a person a Christian. Even Satan knows the Bible and believes that it’s true.
A person doesn’t become a Christian through argument. A person becomes a Christian through faith. The Holy Spirit gives a person the faith to not only believe God’s Word, but to know and trust in Jesus as their personal Saviour. That’s a leap of faith, which can be illustrated by Peter’s stepping out of the boat into the water at Jesus’ behest. The Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel to come to faith. It’s something that can’t be proven, or argued, or touched, or perceived by any human sense or rationalization. We just know that when the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, that we will be safe indeed in the arms of Jesus.
As we consider how Jesus rescues Peter, we can see how this is the good news in this account for us too. Jesus reaches out to save us who are “of little faith,” even when we sink in doubt and fear. Like Peter, faith and doubt are all mixed up in us. One minute we are filled with faith and courage; and the next, we are filled with fear and doubt. One minute we are being lifted up; and the next, we are sinking like stones in the wild seas of our life. One minute we are so confident, trusting Jesus completely; and the next we doubt his power to help us.
Faith and doubt co-exist within each of us. We obey and fear, we walk and sink, we believe and doubt. It’s not like we do just one or the other; we do both. Faith and fear-filled doubt live side-by-side inside of us. We don’t like it, and neither does God. We are this way because of the way sin has infected every part of us and our lives.
Sin causes us so much trouble when it comes to our doubts and fears. We look at ourselves according to God’s holiness, and we see how we don’t match up to what God requires. We see sin which separates, and sometimes that can drive us to despair. When God’s law condemns us, dare we take that leap of faith into our Saviour’s waiting arms, or will God allow us to perish according to our sins?
Satan likes to make us doubt God. Even though God promises to forgive our iniquity and remember our sin no more, yet Satan is there pointing the accusing finger, “Yeah, but not in your case. You are just too bad!” And so doubt enters in and tries to crowd out the hope of faith we have. It’s terrible when this happens, and it can cause a person to start to sink like a rock.
In the Bible, God promises that he would stand by us as we ride the wild waves and the turbulent seas of our life. Our doubts and fears may paralyze us, but he is always there to rescue us with his mighty arm. When we sink, as Peter did, and as we all do, our Lord reaches out and catches us. He holds us with his mighty arm, and he reassures us of his presence and help. Why does he keep on rescuing us even though we are “of little faith?” That’s just the way God is, full of grace and never-ending love.
It was this same powerful love that led Jesus to the cross. He died there to rescue us from the turmoil that sin causes us in our lives. He died to give us forgiveness and bring us to the safety of his kingdom, and eventually to the safety of eternal life in heaven.
This is what we have through faith in Jesus as our Saviour. Through faith, our sinful doubts can give way to trust and hope. Through faith, we know what Jesus has done for us. Through faith, we know that God will safely lead us through the turmoil that life brings.
Throughout our lives, we’re going to experience various fears and doubts. With my fear of heights, someone else is going to have to paint my house, and clean my gutters, and trim the branches in my trees. I’ll gladly let anyone go up on my extension ladder as long as I don’t have to. Like me, people will always have these various fears and phobias to deal with. I don’t know of anyone who is completely fearless in everything.
There are other times however, when God asks us to do something, and instead of trusting him, we are afraid. We can be all on fire for Jesus one moment; and then be anxious, doubting, and fearful the next. There are so many times in our lives when we live in storms of worries and upsets. The death-dealing waves, the white caps, and the wind of worry can distract us completely. We can think of nothing else. We are even distracted from looking at Jesus who has called us to follow him and to trust him in the midst of these storms. Our worries and fears make us forget about the One who is really in charge.
Therefore, we need to ask God to increase our faith. When we do that, we can’t idly sit back and wait for something to miraculously happen to it. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit increases our faith through the Gospel of Christ through Word and Sacrament. So any prayer for a stronger faith will be followed by the faithful use of the means God has provided for that purpose.
Our faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and we are completely powerless to bring faith into our hearts. Once we have the gift, we do have the responsibility to nurture and strengthen it according to the means God provides. Anyone who neglects the means of grace and loses his faith as a result, has nobody to blame but himself. Peter is a good example of a man who learned the hard way to rely less on himself and more on the words and promises and power of the Lord.
So when life is battering us around, and the wind is against us, too often we don’t realize that Jesus is closer than we think. The circumstances, the fear and doubt block our view of him. Just when we think that the turmoil and strife in our life is just too much to bear, when we think that there is no one who can get us out of this mess, Jesus is never far away.
Just as he knew when his disciples were in trouble, he knows when we need his help. When we are at our lowest, he is there with his reassuring words, “Be of good cheer, it is I; do not be afraid.”