A Scripture study from Caring, part one of four.
In order to fully live a surrendered life to God, we must be able to trust him in all circumstances. I struggle with this. I say I trust God, and sometimes I really think I do, but when I’m faced with a health scare like the COVID-19 pandemic, I naturally resort to relying on my own abilities. I assume God is somewhere far away, as though he isn’t involved or concerned with my stormy reality. How easy is it to forego faith when the seas are choppy and we’re drifting away? Thanks be to Jesus for pursuing us, nonetheless. We can trust him.
This week we will focus on the call to trust Jesus. In Matthew 14:22-33 we read about how a lack of faith will cause one to sink beneath their circumstances. Given the state of the world, and with Christians wondering what faith should or could look like during such times of uncertainty, let’s turn to God’s Word for inspiration.
Behind the scenes: When you are afraid
Read what Scripture says in Matthew 14:22-26.
As this story begins, we can see that Jesus and the disciples are separated. This short time of separation would allow Jesus to spend some quiet time in prayer and give the disciples an opportunity to think about the miracle that’d just taken place (Jesus fed 5,000 people with practically scraps). God’s provision for the people was evidenced, but this was only the beginning.
At this point, the disciples are in the boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and as far as they knew, Jesus had remained on the land some distance away. Suddenly, strong winds and large waves came upon the disciples’ boat. Given the context of previous passages, some scholars suggest that it was springtime, possibly close to Passover in the middle of April. The full moon would indicate a high tide and a low-pressure system bringing upon strong winds and rain. It’s important for us to recognize that Jesus was aware of the storm and decided that he would catch up to the disciples…by walking on the water. Understandably, the disciples were terrified and claimed, “It’s a ghost!” Maybe they assumed Jesus wouldn’t come for them. Maybe they didn’t expect him to walk on water. Or, maybe they were simply fatigued and more inclined to superstition.
As Christians, we need to have the kind of faith that recognizes the God who will show up, even in our stormiest hour. Fear not—we can count on his presence with us. Now that we know when we are afraid we can trust in Jesus, let’s look at how we can trust in Jesus when our faith is tested.
Beyond the surface: When your faith is tested
Read what Scripture says in Matthew 14:27-29.
Jesus knew the disciples had little faith. He begins this section with three short sentences intended to bring peace and comfort. He says: “Take courage,” “It is I” and “Don’t be afraid.”
The response “It is I” is literally translated as egō eimi in Greek, which means “I am.” This isn’t bad grammar. It’s an echo which brings us back to the conversion between Moses and God in the Old Testament. It was God who referred to himself as “I am.” Jesus and God the Father are one. We can take comfort in this!
It might seem odd that Peter comes up with this idea to go to Jesus on the water, but then again, we know that disciples were to imitate their Rabbi not only in word but in practice. In other words, Peter’s idea is approved by Jesus because it is good to walk in the ways of the Master. Peter wants to be like Jesus, and so should we.
The simple act of stepping onto water and expecting to stay on top of the waves is clearly other-worldly, and this should naturally test Peter’s faith in Jesus to keep him afloat. It is Jesus’ power that enables Peter to answer the call, after all. Jesus responds to Peter’s request by saying “come” and therefore confirms the testing of Peter’s faith.
Reflect on that:
- Do you have the kind of faith that leads you into chaos for Jesus?
- Has your faith ever been seriously tested?
- How should we respond to those things that test our faith?
In James 1 we read: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Peter’s faith was tested by the call to walk on water. And let’s remember that these were not calm waters, by any means. Yet Jesus comforts us in calling us out of our comfort zones by reminding us that he is the great “I Am.” The calling to step out in faith for Jesus is certainly a testing of our faith, and that test will create perseverance.
Beyond the surface: When you’re sinking
Sometimes it’s difficult to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, isn’t it? There will always be some kind of pandemic, war or local drama that creeps into our faith walk with Jesus. Thankfully, we are not alone. Peter knows exactly what that feels like. Matthew 14:30-33 says: But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Peter was distracted by the wind, or more literally, he saw the effect of the wind on the waves. In a sense, we are all distracted by the natural circumstances of life all around us. And this led him from walking on water by the power of Jesus to suddenly sinking from doubt.
The Greek word for “doubt” is distazō, or to waver. Its root meaning suggests the idea of going in two different directions at once or of serving two different masters simultaneously. Either we obey the calling of Jesus or we obey the calling or distractions of the world. No matter how rough the winds or how deep the ocean beneath your feet—never lose trust in the one who keeps you afloat!
As Peter sank into the sea he panics and cries for his savior. Notice in that Jesus doesn’t hesitate to save his disciple from the depths. The imagery of Jesus reaching down to pull Peter out of the water symbolizes in so many ways the relationship we have with Christ. He is the one who redeems us from the depths. He is the one who reaches down because he loves us.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
It is important to note that although Peter failed shortly after walking on water, he had already done something that none of the prophets of old had ever accomplished. Had he not stepped out of his comfort zone and onto the open waters, who knows what would have come of the situation? Peter’s small triumph is an encouragement for us today to rely on the power of Christ to enable us to walk on water.
Between the lines
When you’re afraid, when your faith is tested or even when you’re totally sinking—you can trust in Jesus. The storms of life will continue to swarm you and try to bring you down, but even amid life’s greatest storms, you can trust Jesus no matter what. Is it your job, your friends or even your finances? Is it the news or possibly politics? No matter whether in sickness or pain, nothing can come between you and the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus is pursuing you today, and you can meet him on the waters if you trust him completely.
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