Fear and Faith

As you read of the miracle in Matthew 14:22–36, Jesus walking on the water to his disciples, and then Peter trying to join him in that, you may be asking “Why?” Why does Jesus do things this way? What purpose does Matthew have in recording this incident? Matthew is telling you something about fear and about faith. But above all, he is pointing you to the One in whom you can trust.

Trust the Savior. Jesus comes to calm your fear. Without Jesus the disciples were frightened. After feeding the 5,000+ Jesus sent the disciples away by boat and he went up the mountain to pray.The disciples, buffeted by the stormy waves and the contrary wind, seem to have forgotten that their Lord had previously calmed the storm by rebuking it, Matthew 8:23–27. Had they forgotten the feeding of the 5,000? Did they remember that their Lord was praying, doubtless including intercessions for them? Do you remember that he is busy praying for you? When Jesus comes to them during the fourth watch (3–6 a.m.), they are even more frightened, thinking that they are seeing a ghost walking on the water. Their terror prevented them from recognize the Savior for who he really is. What fears do you face? Do you find yourself wondering if you are really a child of God, if your Savior really cares about you? Recognize that concentrating on the fears can make your faith in the Savior more difficult. Watch your focus. The Lord does not forget his disciples, laboring against the wind and waves. Not the dark of night, not the stormy weather, not even the expanse of troubled water between him and them, deters him as he walks to them. Your Lord is now in glory, but that assurance is still yours, Romans 8:38,39.

Jesus calls you to trust him. Jesus speaks a strong command of encouragement, “Take courage!” The need for fear and terror is gone, because Jesus is with you. The power of Christ’s miracle extends to Peter, as Matthew alone records. Peter’s “if it is you” can be read as “since it is you.” In response to his Lord’s command, Peter walks on the water toward Jesus. But impetuous Peter, whose trust enabled him to walk towards his Lord, is distracted by the wind, which is whipping up the waves—and he begins to sink. He cries out, “Lord, save me,” and the Lord, reaching out his hand, caught him safely. Peter may well not be consciously reflecting on it, but he is acting out the prayer of Psalm 69:1–3. Jesus takes him by the hand, saves him from sinking, and reproves him for doubting. The only other place that verb is used is Matthew 28:17. In his Word and in the elements of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is calling you to trust him. That the bread and wine can seal God’s grace, that, received in faith, they nourish you in feeding upon Christ himself—all this makes as little sense in our humanistic culture as Peter stepping on top of the waves. As Christ offers you himself he is calling you to step out in faith, trusting in him, depending on him to sustain you and keep you safe. Faith is not just repeating the sinner’s prayer. It is not just a feeling of confidence. It is entrusting yourself to a person. “[I]n Reformation theology [faith] regained the central place it occupies in the New Testament; it does not have to be augmented by love; it is sufficient to obtain a share in all the benefits of salvation. Those who believe in this way are not in the vestibule but in the very sanctuary of Christian truth. They are incorporated into Christ, participants in all his benefits, heirs of eternal life…. Faith in Reformation theology was not a matter of knowing a number of doctrinal truths but consisted in the soul’s union with the person of Christ according to the Scriptures and with Scripture as the word of Christ. Saving faith was again religious through and through.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, pages 572–573)

When you do entrust yourself, worship the Son of God. Confess Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus’ command to take courage rests on his self-identification, “It is I.” It echoes the Lord’s self identification to Moses in Exodus 3. Jesus’ walking on the water looks back to the power of the Lord in the Old Testament. Psalm 29 portrays the Lord as riding on the storm. This may well be a conscious opposition to pagan notions of the divinity of the storm. By walking on the waves Jesus identifies himself as being truly the Lord. Nothing that God is is not true of Jesus, John 1:3. Jesus is the God-man, the Creator of the waves, and thus he has power to have them support him (and his disciple). “It was our Lord’s marvelous power over the forces of nature — a power able to draw even Peter within the sphere of its operation — that made the disciples exclaim as they did. And the miracle was . . . a direct manifestation of superhuman character.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus, p.178)

Join the confession of the disciples. The same disciples had witnessed Jesus calming an earlier storm, and had exclaimed, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the wave obey him!” (Matthew 8:27) This time, they confess that he is indeed the Son of God. One commentator remarks that the disciples are finally catching up with Matthew’s readers! Jesus is more than a prophet. This is not just a confession of his Messiahship. It is an acknowledgment that he is indeed God. This confession anticipates and colors the confession of Peter which Matthew will record in Matthew 16:16. Peter cannot be saying less than the disciples say here.

Worship him! When you recognize how great your Savior is, your response must be one of adoration. This is a response which should grow and increase throughout your Christian life. What is the Christian life about? Escaping hell? That’s a good thing, but it’s not the heart of Christianity. Is it meeting some felt need? Is it becoming more knowledgeable in the Scriptures? Again, good, but it misses the heart. At its heart the Christian faith is fellowship with and worship of the holy God through his Son, Jesus Christ. You were created to worship God. The doxological response to the Savior here grows out of the worship of the Magi, Matthew 2:11, and anticipates the reaction of disciples to the risen Lord, Matthew 28:17. Worship, if it is sincere, must be joined by a life of obedient service. Jesus calls you to worship him, but also to step out in faith, serving him in all that you do this week.

I doubt if your Lord will call you to climb over the side of a boat, step down onto storm-tossed waves, and walk towards him. However, he does summon you to no less a commitment of faith, when he tells you to leave your fears, recognize him as the Son of God, your Savior, and serve him with all that you are.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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