Matthew 14:22-36 (NIV): 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. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn 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.”
34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
Our scripture passage for today picks up immediately after Jesus had performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand. Jesus told the disciples to get into the boat and go on ahead of him, while he finished talking to and teaching, the crowd of people following him. Jesus, in need of time alone with the Father, went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. He had just received word that John the Baptist had been beheaded in prison and I’m sure that his heart was heavy because of the loss of his cousin and friend. In addition, Jesus had to deal with the ever increasing demands of the crowds following him and he surely needed time to recharge, pray and commune with God. Have you ever taken the time to consider that if Jesus needed this quiet time alone with God, don’t we need it even more?
After a long time in prayer and fellowship with God, Jesus looks up to find the boat carrying his disciples, a considerable distance away from land. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that during the fourth watch of the night (between 3am and 6am), Jesus walks out to his disciples on the lake. When the disciples first saw Jesus they were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus immediately tells them to take courage and he identifies himself. Peter, probably still unsure if it is really Jesus, replies, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus tells Peter to come to him, and having some faith, Peter begins to walk on the water towards Jesus. However, when Peter felt the wind and saw the effects that the wind was having on the water, he began to lose faith, became afraid, and started to sink. Peter cries out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” And Matthew’s Gospel tells us that, “immediately,” Jesus extended his hand to Peter and caught him. Then Jesus said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Why do you doubt or have fear if you are a follower of Christ? Well for starters, this world that we live in gives us many reasons to allow fear or doubt to creep into our minds. Many people only put their faith and trust in things that they can see, touch, or feel. They read, see, or hear the distressing news stories that are occurring around the world and they begin to doubt – they begin to lose faith. The troubling news and violence that we are exposed to every day causes us to fear, just as the effect the wind was having on the water caused Peter to fear, and to doubt and lose faith. Many people, including believers, become so overwhelmed with their worries and doubts and they turn to other things, like alcohol or drugs, to help them momentarily escape from or put aside their burdens for a short while. And Jesus asks, “You of little faith, why do you doubt?”
James, the brother of Jesus, gives us some encouraging words on how to overcome doubt and to strengthen our faith in God. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NIV).
The life of a follower of Christ will not necessarily be an easy, carefree life. We will face many trials, temptations, and obstacles. Our faith will be tested. However, when faced with these difficulties of life, we must learn to persevere in our faith, clinging to the hope and trust that we have in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our perseverance and faith in God, and in Christ, will grow and mature our life of faith. We will be given the strength to stand firmly against the many crashing waves that life, in this world, sends our way. Perseverance in our walk of faith and in our daily lives will bring us to a more mature and complete faith in God.