God walks on what you fear (August 23, 2020)

God walks on what you fear (August 23, 2020)

August 25, 2020
Benjamin Ehlers

God walks on what you fear

Matthew 14:22-33

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Fear is often caused by the lack of control over self and the world. You may fear losing your job because you have no clue what you would do, how you would provide for yourself. That fear may have been brought closer to reality in recent months as companies have had to downsize. You may fear the first day at a new school because you don’t know exactly what to expect. Are you going to know where your classes are? Are you going to be overwhelmed with the course load? Are you going to be able to make some new friends? There’s a lot in our lives that we don’t really have control over. When these very real things hit close to home, what do you do? How do you make it through a fearful and trying time?

For the disciples, gaining control was the only thing on their mind. They had just witnessed Jesus feed over 5,000 people with nothing more than a boy’s lunch. Jesus sent them on ahead of him across the Sea of Galilee by boat while he dismissed the crowd and retreated for a quiet moment of prayer. As is common on the Sea of Galilee, a squall arose and the wind and waves fought against the disciples’ progress across the sea. They rowed and rowed and rowed. The struggled to gain control and keep control. Struggled to make progress as arms and backs began to go numb. If they couldn’t row, they couldn’t keep control. If they couldn’t keep control, they were at risk of capsizing.

By now, it was nearing dawn. And as the disciples frantically rowed with little progress, Jesus walked across the lake. He didn’t simply appear, as he could have. He did not fly or float through the air. He walked across the surface of the water as if it were solid ground. The very thing the disciples had been struggling and fighting against all night, the very water that posed such a great threat to their lives, Jesus walked on it like it was dry ground. You could say, he treads their fears underfoot. Jesus walked on what they feared.

Though the laws of nature say this shouldn’t happen – gravity should pull down on Jesus and the water molecules should disperse – but just who is it that created the water? Who is it that ordered gravity to do what it does? What a Savior we have who walks on the waters of our greatest fears! See the faith of the disciples grow! See Peter show that faith in his own miraculous walk. Faith was swelling like the waves of the sea!

But… doubt is often the unfortunate companion of faith. Peter, the man of action, is ready at once! He calls out, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water” (Mt 14:28). “Come” (Mt 14:29), Jesus said, calmly displaying that what he can do, could also be done by those who trust in him. Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus! As long as he looked to the Lord and clung to his word, he stood on solid ground. But when he saw the gusting wind, his faith let go of Jesus, and in the same moment he began to sink. It was the power of Jesus’ word that had kept him up, not the laws of nature. And once he doubted that word of promise from Jesus, he sunk. Though Jesus was standing on the water, Peter feared it.

Here we have a striking picture of spiritual walk of any believer. The surface may be a raging storm and turbulent sea. But as long as you plant your feet on the promises of God and fix eyes of faith upon him alone, all is well. Though the waters roar and foam, you have a firm foundation. You have a strength which cannot be overcome because it is God’s strength. But as soon as you lose your hold on the promises and allows your eyes to wander away from Jesus, toward the dangers and afflictions of this life – fearing the loss of control – then you and I will be overwhelmed by our own weakness. Then we have nothing but our own strength – and this is no strength at all. Doubt is the unfortunate companion to faith. Wherever faith clings to the promises of God, doubt is always right there lingering in the back of our minds, constantly asking the serpent’s question, “Did God really say?”

What is it that pulls your eyes of faith away from Jesus? What are the wind and waves in your life that make you doubt him from time to time? Is it a past life you are so disgusted of that you simply can’t believe that you are worthy in God’s eyes? Simply can’t believe those words of forgiveness and love spoken by Jesus and guaranteed at the cross? Is it the finite things you have in life? I only have so much of this, or so much of this, and the laws of economy or laws of nature say that I am losing ground not gaining it – struggling frantically against the storm of life, trying to keep my neck above water. Is it the relationships that are stretched thin, or the tearing loss of someone you love that perhaps causes you to doubt if God really is in control? If God really does work all things for good?

To Peter, Jesus asked, “Why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:31). He gave no answer. What could he say? With Jesus there is never any reason to doubt? Any answer he could have given would just be an excuse – an attempt to cover up his doubt just as Adam and Eve tried to cover up theirs by hiding, blaming, and sewing fig leaves. James calls us out as being “double-minded” “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (Jas 1:6-8) when we doubt God. With Jesus there is never any need to doubt. He walks on what we fear – tramples it underfoot. How sad that we often end up neck deep in our doubts.

Thankfully, Jesus reaches out in love, even when we are unsure of him or doubting. “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught [Peter]” (Mt 14:31). He didn’t make Peter reach out. He didn’t reprimand him first. Didn’t wait until Peter trusted fully once again. “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter” (Mt 14:31). I find it interesting too, that Jesus physically reached out – that Jesus made sure he was close enough during Peter’s time of need that he could reach out and hold Peter. He could have levitated Peter out of the water and back into the boat, but he didn’t. He could have immediately calmed the wind and the waves when he first walked out to the disciples. But he didn’t. He gave them his word. He said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Mt 14:27). He gave them a promise to hold onto, just as he gave Peter a promise before he walked on the water, “Come” (Mt 14:29).

It’s an important lesson we need to learn. Jesus often does NOT take away the adversity in life that causes such doubt. Rather, he reminds us of who he is: the one who walks on water. The one who walks on what we fear. And as he treads the waves of adversity under his feet, he swells our trust in HIM to carry us through that adversity. When we hear his voice, the waves of doubt recede and faith finds its place again, making us once again, “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb 11:1).

The true answer to doubt is not found in a great miracle that removes adversity, but in the still small voice of our Savior God whispering in his Word. I think another place that is vividly displayed is in the first reading from today (1 Kings 19:9-18). Elijah’s great victory of faith over the prophets of Baal was followed closely by great adversity. Elijah had faith in God’s power, but he doubted when God’s plans and purpose did not match his own – there was no mass spiritual renewal after the display of God’s power. Elijah retreated to a cave, brought his case against the people of Israel and grumbled against God. And God answered his prophet, not with great acts of power – not with ripping winds, rumbling earthquakes, or scorching fires – but in a gentle whisper. Quiet words of promise. God displayed all of his power so that his display of gentle grace might be all the more astounding!

Even when in the midst of adversity, even when everything seems out of control and there is plenty you could be fearing, trust in the one who walks on what you fear. Trust that Jesus is still in control of everything you face in life. We’ve seen that’s the case already in this Bible reading, but there’s one small yet important detail that blows this up even bigger. It’s right at the beginning and easy to miss. “Immediately, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd” (Mt 14:22). Jesus sounds kind of pushy. He made the disciples get into the boat. What’s going on here? John gives us the context in his account of the same event: “After the people saw the sign Jesus performed (feeding the 5,000), they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (Jn 6:14-15). Jesus knew that this unholy political pressure would be a real temptation to his disciples. He made them get into the boat and cast off to send them away from an even greater temptation. The Lord knew that there was more danger to the disciples in the favor of the crowd than in the fury of the storm. The temptation to make Jesus an earthly king, and them his honored nobility.

How many more devastating temptations has Jesus sent us away from? How many times has Jesus kept us from and protected us from very real dangers and threats? Jesus does not give us more than we can bear. And when we are tempted – when we feel that we are facing more than we can bear – he always gives us a way out. That way out is often up. Up to God in prayer. Peter’s prayer is so short and to the point. A reminder that even short prayers are long enough. His simple, three-word prayer was sufficient for his purpose. So, when God does allow adversity to strike, Lord, teach us to pray, “Lord, save me!”

The true answer to doubt is focusing once again on the Savior. When you do, you can also watch your faith swell as the disciples’ did when their doubts vanished and they gave the greatest evidence of faith: They worshiped that man from Nazareth for what he truly was, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Mt 14:33).