Remembering Jesus in the Midst of the Storm
It goes without saying that the Christian life is not a bed of rose pedals. But we can say that it is a bed of roses when we think through that analogy in some fullness. The Christian life has a marvelous fragrance (the fragrance of the gospel that is truly out of this world). It is a soft place upon which to rest our weary bones. However, it also has its share of thorns. This reminds me of the raspberry bush that has sprung up in our yard. The fruits are good but you must be alert in picking them. Recently I tried to separate that plant from our trumpet vine and I did not come away unscathed. I got jabbed on the head, hands, arms, and chest! It attacked me! I needed two things: a) some armor that covered my head, hands, arms and chest. And b) I needed some alert and guarded focus on the excellencies sought (fruit, protection, etc.).
This is how we live the Christian life. We need the armor of God. We need to be alert and guarded in our focus on the excellencies of Christ (to see His excellence in the treasures of the gospel, to see the glory of God in the face of Christ, and to be transformed into His image from glory to glory).
We need to focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. Our rock of foundation, our shield, our strength, our comfort, hope, consolation, strength, and encouragement is found in looking away from ourselves (our sins and our trials). Hope is found in fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.
To help us fix our eyes on Jesus, God has given us the table fellowship of communion. What a privilege we have to come to the Lord's house on the Lord's Day to the Lord's Supper. Here at the table we have the communion of the Holy Spirit. In this way we fellowship with God's dear Son and with one another in one body. So today let us go back through the Gospel remembrances to fix our eyes on Jesus to remember Him in the midst of the storm.
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." 28 "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." 29 "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God" (Matt. 14:22-33).
1A. Jesus, the storm, and the disciples
1B. Jesus made them get into the boat and set out across the lake (Matt. 14:22). In other words, He sent them out into the storm (Matt. 14:24) while He went up on a mountain to be alone and pray (23a). We have to connect verse 22 with what follows; it conditions our thoughts about the storm on the sea. He insists against our resistance that our journeys include trials of our faith, even the refiner's fire. He designs it "our dross to consume and our gold to refine."
2B. He sought solitude and prayer. He sent them out into the storm (Matt. 14:24) while He went up on a mountain to be alone and pray (23a). What is involved in this solitude? Two things come together when Jesus steps away from the crowds to pray alone.
1) One is communion with the Father with regard to the implications of the death of John the Baptist. When Jesus was told that John had been killed (beheaded by Herod, 14:10-12), He sought this solitude but was interrupted by the crowds (and concern for them led to the feeding of the five thousand). The interruption is indicated in the fact that He went by boat to be alone but when He arrived and went ashore, the crowd was already there (14:13-14a). He had compassion on them, healed the sick, and fed the five thousand (14b-21).
2) But the fact that in this context He sent the disciples out into the stormy sea indicates that there is some connection between the death of John and this plight of the disciples. Moreover, this indicates also that His communion with the Father in response to John's death was forward looking. The death of John turns the thoughts of Christ toward the disciples and to prayer on their behalf as He sends them into the storm.
John's death marked the end of the forerunner's work. Now the pathway on which Jesus is to walk has been made straight. The people want to make Him a king (Jn. 6:15). But for Jesus it is time to take the training of His disciples to a new level. The kingdom of God is manifesting itself and Jesus is the king but His kingship is oriented to the disciples and their training. His kingdom will be secured by a Sower going forth to sow, by wheat and tares, by bringing the gospel to the nations instead of judgment. For this the disciples must be trained. This training involves testing. Therefore, He sent them into the storm.
3B. So next we see Jesus alone in prayer and the disciples alone in the storm. Matthew states the contrast between where Jesus was and where He sent the disciples. He was alone on a mountain and they were out on the sea (far from land) in a boat being beaten by the waves with the wind against them (14:23b with 24). Of course neither are actually alone. Jesus is with the Father on the hillside. And the Father is with the disciples on the boat.
4B. Then in the middle of the night Jesus came to them walking on the sea (14:25-27). According to Mark, Jesus went to them "walking on the sea" (6:48b, Matt. 14:25) in the context of seeing them "making headway painfully" (6:48a). Surprisingly, or should we say not surprisingly (?), when Jesus came to their aid, He initially made matters worse by terrifying them (Matt. 14:26). They were terrified, said "It is a ghost," and "they cried out in fear." It is interesting to hear this superstitious comment that hints of how far the disciples have yet to go in their preparation for apostolic service. But Jesus comforted them saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid" (14:27). These are extremely comforting words to hear from our Savior. They warm us when we shiver in the cold winds that beat upon us. They quench our thirst for a sense of safety, security, and well being. Mark and John end the narrative at this comforting point with the following comments on the responses of the disciples: they gladly received him into the boat (Jn. 6:21), and they were utterly astonished (Mk. 6:51). Here in Matthew, the account ends with worship and praise filled acknowledgement (14:32-33).
2A. Jesus, the storm, and Peter
1B. Peter's response.
Matthew fills out the story as to what happened before Jesus entered the boat. He records Peter's response to the Lord's comforting words (14:28-31). Although, commentators debate over what is driving Peter in this desire to walk on the sea with Christ, no one disagrees about his impulsiveness (one who tends to leap before he looks and ends up eating a lot of crow). How much of Peter is in us all; it has been said, "Peter is every Christian." He represents us all and thank God He does. At bottom, Peter is being trained, schooled, nurtured, and strengthened in faith. He represents the disciples and with them all disciples in the time between.
How is the reality of his faith demonstrated? a) To say, "if its you" is not an "if" of doubt. It is saying, if it is you then that is all I need to know. If you are here with me in the storm and on the water then I want to be with you. b) By waiting on Jesus' consent he indicates his dependence. He cannot step out into the troubled sea without the command of Christ. I would say that those are the words of a man of faith. c) Stating a willingness to follow Christ logically and consistently despite the unusual setting shows his faith. Tell me to come and I will do so. d) Then he in fact stepped out of the boat and walked on the water. This showed the consistency of Peter's faith. It is one thing to reason on the basis of faith and it is another to put your money where your mouth is. This is a challenge to move from theory that is logically consistent to consistency in application. Peter is a man of reasoned faith. e) He showed the ultimate character of his faith when push came to shove and he began to sink. "Lord, save me."
2B. The response of Jesus to Peter
He acts in deliverance. He reached out His hand and caught him. Then He speaks (v. 31).
We often hear that we should not ask the "why?" question. There are points when we must end all searching and say, "it is the Lord's will and I do not know why." That is very true. However, the Lord Jesus encourages us to ask the "why?" question. He encourages us to ask it about our conduct and about our faith. It is the case for us as it was for Peter: the Lord inquires as to why we doubt ("O you of little faith, why did you doubt?").
Is it because we have little faith? That doesn't seem to be the case for that would be like giving the answer in the very process of asking the question (do you doubt or have little faith because your faith is little?). It seems better to hear the Lord's question in a way that affirms the little faith and that suggests that it is sufficient for the task at hand. Given that it is sufficient, why do you doubt? This has the effect of affirming the little faith that we have indicating that though it may be small it is nonetheless sufficient. Being little speaks of the need for growth and development but that is quite different from being utterly deficient.
How is little more? How can that which is small be great? It just takes a little faith to remove mountains. How can that be? It is not due to something intrinsic to faith. That is the point. Faith is something little in and of itself and those who have it are sinners that know right well how weak they truly are. Sometimes we may forget the fact of our weakness but the trials of life have a way of reminding us again and again. So it is a given that Peter is a man of faith. He is a man on the way, a very unfinished diamond in the rough. But he is a diamond that is being shaped and chiseled. He may be a hard nut to crack but that hard exterior surrounds a soft believing heart within.
Where does the question take us then? Why did Peter doubt given that he was a man of faith? It takes us out there in the storm with Peter and with the Lord Jesus. It takes us out on the water with our eyes on the Lord, with hearts clinging to Him as our prophet, priest, and king. Now we see clearly again why little faith moves mountains and how those who have little faith are great, even greater that John the Baptist who was the greatest man ever born at the time that Jesus spoke about him. The greatness of a little faith is found in the object of that faith. Peter's problem was not the smallness of his faith nor was his problem his weakness. His problem was the failure to fix his eyes on Jesus.
That is the great lesson for us. Jesus is showing Peter, the disciples, and all of us who are disciples today that we are safe in His hand. In all that threatens to overwhelm us as we serve the Lord Jesus, we are ever safe and secure. Per Psalm 93, none other embraces us than the Lord God who, robed in majesty, reigns from His throne. He is mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea. His decrees are very trustworthy and holiness benefits His house forevermore.
Like Peter, we lose our grip on life when we look too hard and long on the stormy seas. There we will surely sink being overwhelmed by the trials that come upon us suddenly at times like a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee. We are no match for the storms when we concentrate on them.
Remember Him in the midst of the storms. Look at Him there noting that He is there as risen Lord, betrayed, crucified, but risen. In the midst of the storms, remember Him. Look at Him there with you in the stormy times.
May the Lord grant that we do this in the communion of the Father, His dear Son, and the Holy Spirit as we partake of the elements of the table that point us to the Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory forever, amen.