Study on Matthew 14:22-33
Okay, so the first thing that I want you all to do is get this mental picture in your mind. You're in a sailboat that's 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet high and your told to go ahead of your leader, the guy you’ve been following, and sail across a 64 square mile lake that's 150 feet deep.... Against the wind and with the waves crashing against you. Doesn't exactly sound like a “Breeze” if you ask me. But this is exactly what the disciples were asked to do by Jesus in Matthew 14:22. It says, “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side...” This had to of made no sense to the disciples who were probably picturing the same outcome that you all just pictured a second ago. Yet Jesus had a reason and a plan for sending them ahead of him and isn't it amazing how the disciples had faith in Jesus's plan despite how everything seemed against them? You see, we are only less than half a verse into this story and have already learned that sometimes God will send us down paths that seem too steep and too treacherous to survive, but, as we will find out, he is just wanting to teach us to have faith in what we cannot see.
We pick the story up in verse 24, “...the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.” So often in hard times, or times of trial, we find ourselves focusing in on the fear of what is against us or what is crashing down on our lives that we forget to look for God in those situations. We look at the pain when we should look for the healing of Jesus, and we look at the anxiety of not knowing what will happen when we should be looking for the peace that comes from knowing everything is in Jesus's loving and merciful hands. I can picture the disciples looking frantically at the large waves and the howling wind and being anxious about what is going to happen to them, and when they should see Jesus coming to their rescue, they instead see the result of their doubt and fears. “It is a ghost!” But Jesus is there to set them straight. It says, “Immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
I can remember one day around my sophmore year of high school my siblings, mom, and I driving on the highway we live off of. And as we zig zagged around a really curvy section of the highway, we saw a little puppy crossing the road. My sisters and mom immediately grew worried about the puppy getting hit crossing there. So, as my mom pulled over around the last turn, my brother and I got the job to walk back around the corner to carry the puppy across the road. As the ones who were worried about the puppy awaited our return in the family van. As my brother and I made it around the corner to where the puppy should have been, he was nowhere to be found. We made our way to the edge of the road thinking he had already made it across when, much to our misfortune, there stood a massive rottweiler barking and growling at the very sight of us. Both my brother and I froze instantly as we see the little puppy walk up beside the massive dog and seemingly taught us with it's miniature yips. Then my brother and I had a difference of opinion... I know, shocking, right? All I could hear was my brother telling me to “just be still and walk back slowly”.... as I sprinted away back around the corner. I thought, “If I can just get a head start and outrun him... I'm okay.” It took my brother probably two sentences and two questioning “Philip?'s” to realize I was already a good 30 yards ahead of him. We made it back to the family van that day only to find my mom and sister's laughing uncontrollably at the view of us walking around the corner then coming back into view sprinting for our lives. All this to say, there are two ways to react to every challenge or happening in our lives. We see these two reactions played out by Peter, and then the rest of the disciples.
Most of the disciples take the stance of taking no action at all and choosing not to come to Jesus in their hard time. Almost being petrified by their fear and doubt. Peter, on the other hand, was always a man of action. Peter calls Jesus out and says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” You see, so often when things aren't going our way we grow weary, afraid, and allow ourselves to slide into a sort of depression about the way things are going. Our reaction, as Christians should actually be the opposite. Like Peter, we should call out to God to allow us to see what He is doing in our lives and to help us draw ever closer to Him. Like Peter, we need to take a step of faith onto shifting waters to seek God and be after His heart. As we are going to find out, the key to standing on shifting waters or going through hard times is to fix your eyes upon Jesus.
“So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid” and he began to sink. Peter was doing everything right. He had encountered a terrifying moment, he was walking ON water, and then.... He took his eyes off Jesus. His focus went from trusting Jesus, and putting his life into Jesus's hands, to turning from God and looking at his problems and hard times. Once that step of faith has been made, once we lift whatever is going on up to Jesus, it is equally important to maintain a desire and longing to keep your eyes fixed upon Jesus. When we do glance away into temptations and doubts, we immediately begin to drown in our own sin. So, no matter what you do, fix your eyes upon Jesus.
Now... All we have to do is always keep our eyes on Jesus, right? Sadly, no matter how much we long to keep our eyes only fixed upon Jesus, we are all sinners who will fall short of this task and therefore, have times when we do lose sight. Everyone has had times in their lives when you know what you should do but somehow talk yourself into doing the opposite. What's going to make me more popular? What's going to make me look really cool in front of this girl? What's going to make me look better? Try this. Do that. Everyone comes across things in life where we say, “well, just this once.” or “This isn't going to be that big of a deal.” These are the moments when you've taken your eyes off Jesus and are looking elsewhere.
Thankfully Peter shows us what we need to do to keep ourselves from drowning in our bad decisions, depression, and temptation. As we read the rest of verse 30, “beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” How wonderful, how amazing, and even more so, how COMFORTING is it to know that the God of the universe desires, nay, longs to hear our endless cries? “Lord, save me.”
We see in this story how, though Peter lost focus on Christ, he cried out and Jesus's reaction is one of action. “Jesus IMMEDIATELY reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” God's response when we call out to him is an immediate one. But it's important to remember that it is an immediate response because we are instantly able to take heart, be at peace, and be reassured when we rest in God's loving arms. So many times we lose heart or grow anxious when our trials or temptations aren't instantly removed on request. When our focus is taken off Christ, and we start to sink, we don't know how long to hold our breathe. We put ourselves in a position of feeling the waves crash around our ankles and the waters rising and we freeze. Our gaze and focus gets frozen on what’s hard in life and we get worried about how big of a breathe to breathe.
The key to going through life is keeping your gaze on God and keeping Him near. In Acts 13:22 it says, “[God] found in David, son of jesse, a man after His own heart.” For the longest time up until my freshman year in college even, I always thought that David being “a man after God’s own heart” meant that he had like a piece of God’s own heart in his. Or like, David had this heart that was shaped and molded to have all the same holy characteristics and abilities that God had. I viewed him as somebody who had a relationship with God that I just couldn’t have. But that’s not true. You see, David was a man after God’s own heart, not because of any of the things I just said, but because he was AFTER God’s own heart. He was pursuing how to live as God wanted him to live. God made him king because He saw that David was a man who was constantly pursuing Him. We have this same call on our lives. To be men and women AFTER God’s own heart. Only, we have something that David didn’t have. We have this perfect example of how to live pursuing God’s own heart. His name was Emmanuel, God with us.
Once we learn how to keep our focus and gaze on God everyday and through everything, we start to see how life really doesn’t have to be as hard and worrisome as we first thought. You see, as Peter found, once you focus on what Jesus is telling you (Do not be afraid) and you constantly are calling out to Him (Lord, save me), we find that, “When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” We’ll find the winds in our lives will die down because we are focused on Jesus.