This week in worship, Pastor Doug, shares about lessons for the disciples and for us learned from Jesus coming to them walking on the water during the storm in Matthew 14:22-33 to remind us that a faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted and our faith in Jesus will be tested in the storms of life.

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A Faith That Can’t Be Tested, Can’t Be Trusted

For the next four weeks I’m going to preach a series called Building a Resilient Faith.

Resilience is an important quality for every person to develop. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Resilience is also the ability to spring back into shape. Strength and elasticity are characteristics we find in a resilient object, like a rubber band, or a person.

How do we develop resilience in ourselves?

Perhaps it begins with understanding that adversity, hardship, and suffering have always been part of the human experience.

We shouldn’t be surprised that sometimes life is painful and hard.

One source of resilience is faith in God who loves us and doesn’t leave us in our times of trouble or need.  

Last week I read a terrific book about World War Two called, Last Hope Island – Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War by Lynne Olson.

There’s nothing like reading about the incredible hardship faced by so many during those years in which tens of millions of people died to put our current challenges in perspective.

Olson’s book includes many inspiring and moving stories of courage, bravery and sacrifice as well as stories of the terrible cost of incompetent, stupid, or evil leadership that leads to the needless deaths of too many people.

While it’s not a focus of the book, it’s clear that at least for some people, the challenge of living out their faith in circumstances that would try any person’s soul was crucial for how they faced occupation, chose to fight or resist, and even how they died.

Reading a book like this caused me to reflect on how I would respond to living under the occupation of a foreign army. How would I, how would we as a church, live out the principles of our faith including loving our neighbor even if there was a very real possibility that such love might endanger our life and the life of our family?

You think about questions like: Would you have hidden a Jewish person in your home? Would you have sheltered an Allied airman who had bailed out of his plane and was now on the run behind enemy lines? Would you have shared what little food you had with someone who had less?

We all like to think we’d be brave, courageous, and generous but none us knows how we’d respond until our faith is tested. Reading about those difficult years was a reminder of a truth I want to talk about today: a faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted.

Whether we like it or not our faith in Jesus will be tested in the storms and trials of life. How do we respond to these storms?

With selfishness, fear, anxiety, or anger?

With faith, courage, audacity, and boldness?

Maybe we respond with a mix of both. Is our faith made stronger in tough times, is it shattered, or does it simply fade away?

How would you evaluate and rate the vitality and strength of your faith at this moment?

Today’s scripture is a faith testing story from Matthew 14:22-33.

The context of a Bible passage is important in understanding the truth God wants us to live by. Today’s reflects Jesus’ practice of balancing his time between periods of solitude, reflection, and prayer away from the crowds and times of engaging the multitudes and mentoring the disciples.

In Matthew 14:13, Jesus learns of the execution of his cousin John the Baptist and he withdraws to a deserted place by himself to reflect on John’s death and perhaps his own future.

However, once people figure out where he is, a big crowd gathers, and Jesus has compassion and cures their sick.

As Jon Singer shared last week, in the evening when the disciples are exhausted from a day of crowd control, they urge Jesus to send the crowds away so they can get something to eat (and so they can have some peace and quiet).

Jesus takes five loaves and two fish and with the blessing of the Lord they are enough for everyone.

Jesus moves from solitude to a full day with the multitude, and at the end of the day he is ready for some solitude and time alone with the One who sent him. So, this is what happened next according to Matthew 14.22-33,

“Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night (from 3:00 to 6:00 A.M.) he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!”  And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 

This story is a stumbling block to some people and has led to different attempts to rationalize what happened.

Some people have viewed this story skeptically. How could anyone walk on water (especially if it wasn’t frozen and in the form of ice)?

How could anyone walk on the moon?

There are many things in life that are beyond our understanding, however, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, couldn’t happen, or won’t ever happen.

Spiritually speaking, perhaps more important than asking, “Is this possible?” is “Why is this significant?” 

It’s significant because this is the third boat experience that Peter and the disciples have with Jesus.

There was an unexpected catch of fish in Luke 5:1-11, and then the first stilling of the storm in Matthew 8:23-27.

Jesus is giving Peter and all disciples lessons in how to exercise faith.

The first lesson took place in calm water, right next to shore, with Jesus in the boat with the disciples.

The second experience was in stormy weather with Jesus asleep in the boat.

The third took place between 3 to 6 am, in stormy weather, with Jesus not in the boat.

You notice how the situation keeps getting more challenging?

The disciples are weary – each new lesson, each new storm required more faith from the disciples than the previous one: in the first, Jesus was present, in the second Jesus was asleep, in the third Jesus was absent and they were on their own.

The Lord’s purpose was to encourage the disciples to trust him whether or not he was in the boat or whether or not they were in the boat.

It must have delighted Jesus when he saw Peter had the faith to walk on the water. The disciples would have been able to remember 6 things after this experience that would help them in the storms to come.

6 Things to Remember in a Storm

1. Jesus brought me here

Jesus is the one who made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side. Jesus is the one who encourages us to keep moving forward in our faith.

For all of us, facing whatever adversity we have in our life, we may not be able to say as literally as the disciples in this story, “Jesus brought me here.”

But there is a sense for all of us that Jesus wants us to keep moving forward in our faith, we can’t just plop down wherever we are and stay there for the rest of our life.

We need to keep moving forward in faith.

What steps are you taking these days this to keep moving forward in faith?

What healthy habits, practices, or routines are you engaging in to keep moving forward in your faith in Christ?

2. Jesus sees my circumstances

Jesus saw the disciples in the boat and the tough time they were having, and he sees us today in our struggles.

Have you ever done something a bit clumsy and immediately looked around to see if anyone noticed?

Last week, Jill and I were waiting for someone exiting a narrow beach boardwalk to finish getting off before we walked up it to the beach. The woman was looking down and not watching exactly where she was walking and mis-stepped and went off the side of the boardwalk. She stumbled a bit, but quickly regained her balance and immediately looked up to see if anyone saw what happened.

Sometimes in life we do that – we may stumble or even fall and wonder, does the Lord see my circumstances? Does God care about my situation?

Someone texted me this week and part of what she said was, “I am in a desperate and confusing place.” Is anyone else feeling a bit that way?

When we are, when we’re in a desperate, confusing, or frightening place, as the disciples were in the boat in those early morning hours before dawn, we want to know Jesus sees my circumstances.

3. Jesus is praying for me.

Jesus went up on the mountain to pray and he was surely praying for his disciples then as they were in the boat and Hebrews 7:25 tells us Jesus is praying for us today, “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

Maybe you don’t think about it much, so ponder this for moment, if we are people who approach God through Christ, we have the assurance that Christ will make intercession for us, Jesus is praying for us, pulling for us, rooting for us.

Especially in these times when many people feel isolated, alone, or worry about being forgotten, remember that Jesus is praying for you.

Taking it a step further, are you praying for yourself, for our church, for our nation and the world?

Pastor James Emery White shared in a blog this week:

“If you don’t pray for your church, who do you think will? You need to be praying, and not just for your church. You need to engage in regular prayer that expresses your love for God, your gratitude, the confession of sin and asking for forgiveness, and laying out the needs of your life before Him for His power, protection, intervention and supply.”

Pastor James Emery White

Keep telling yourself, “Jesus brought me here, sees my circumstances, and is praying for me.” That leads us to the fourth thing:

4. Jesus will speak to me by his word

You can picture the scene – the disciples in their little wooden boat being battered by the waves, the wind is against them, it’s the dark hours before dawn, they see Jesus walking toward them and they’re terrified and cry out in fear.

Immediately Jesus speaks to them to try and calm their fears. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

When you’re scared and in the dark, what difference does it make to hear a comforting voice and to know you’re not alone?

What difference would it make for you in the midst of whatever storm you find yourself in to know Jesus sees your circumstances, is praying for you, and speaking words of encouragement and assurance?

Take heart, don’t be afraid.

We may hear the voice of the Lord speak to us in our mind and heart, often however, we need to open or listen to our Bible to give the Lord the chance to speak to us daily.

Have you ever wished someone would call you? Did you ever just pick up the phone and call them when you felt that way?

If you want Jesus to speak to you, you don’t have to wait for something mystical, miraculous, or magical to happen, you can open your Bible and invite him to speak.

5. Jesus will help me grow in my faith

Jesus will help me grow in my faith, encouraging me to take risks, to step out boldly in ways I didn’t think I could.

None of us would need faith if we could do everything we attempted solely in our own strength and ability. As the title of John Ortberg’s 2001 book puts it, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.

Our faith grows when it’s stretched, when we’re invited or called to do something that seems too hard, too difficult, and beyond our capacity.

Many of us have discovered that it’s when we step out of the boat of the comfortable and the familiar, into the uncomfortable and the unknown that God shows up and speaks to us and helps us grow.

When and how has that happened for you in your life? Is there a time you can recall when God asked you to step out in faith and you didn’t know what would happen? If you’re in a small group that would be a great question to discuss and share about.

6. Jesus will see me through

The sixth and final thing to remember in a storm is that Jesus will see me through – when I feel like I am sinking, overwhelmed by the trials, tests, and temptations of life, if I cry out to Jesus, he will reach out and save me.

He’ll help me back into the boat, into the fellowship of his church and give me a future with hope. Even when we are sailing beyond this world’s horizons towards God’s eternity, underneath are God’s everlasting arms. 

Preachers are often hard on Peter and say things like “As soon as he took his eyes off the Lord he began to sink.”

It’s true that we want to stay more focused on Christ than on our circumstances around us, but keep four facts in mind:

  • none of the other disciples left the boat;
  • Peter did step out of the boat and successfully walk to Jesus;
  • Peter had faith enough to cry out to Jesus for help when he needed it;
  • and both Peter and Jesus got back in the boat.

Anybody who’s still cowering in fear in the boat has no right to criticize Peter.

Often it is easier to criticize those who step out in faith and take risks than it is to get out of the boat in faith ourselves. 

Storms are a test of faith and an opportunity to grow. We know Jesus wanted the disciples to grow from this experience because he was the one who put them in the boat and sent them off.

Jesus was praying for them and could see them from where he was on the mountain.

Matthew tells us (14:15) that it was evening when Jesus fed the multitude.

Then he says it was evening later that same day (14:23) when Jesus went up the mountain to pray. 

So, it’s night when the boat was being battered by the waves, but Jesus doesn’t come to them until sometime between 3-6 A.M. Jesus leaves them to face the wind and the waves and the dark together for a while to see how they will respond.

Will they have faith or fear? Will they argue and squabble or will they work together and look out for one another?

Often that’s how it is for us – Jesus will leave us to face the storm to see if we will love, grow, and share together, or if we will splinter and argue and selfishly just look out for ourselves.

God allows us to be tested because like a muscle, faith has to be exercised to grow stronger than fear.

When Jesus is coming toward the disciples and they cry out in fear, Jesus speaks to them immediately, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” This is the third time Jesus has said, Take heart, to someone in Matthew’s Gospel.

In Matthew 9:1-8, Jesus says to a paralyzed man who is brought by his friends, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” And the one who was paralyzed walks home forgiven and whole. 

In Matthew 9:22, a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years and was seemingly incurable, touched Jesus’ cloak believing if she did, she’d be made well and she was. Jesus said to her, “Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.”  And instantly the woman was made well. 

When things are shared three times it’s significant – Jesus can say to us as he did to them, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven, your faith has made you well; it is I; do not be afraid.”  

When we are in a storm Jesus wants us to exercise our faith, to focus on him, and to pray for direction. Like the people in his Gospel, Matthew is hoping that when we’re frightened, or like Peter beginning to sink, that we will also cry out, “Lord, save me!”  We want to be able to say with the disciples: “Truly you are the Son of God,” because Jesus is the source of a resilient faith.

A faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted. Our faith in Jesus will be tested in the storms of life.

Jesus wants us to trust him in the storms of life whether we sense he is present, sleeping, or absent. 

Focusing on Jesus during a storm, exercising our faith, praying for direction, taking heart and not being afraid, can help us persevere through stormy weather. 

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

1. Why is resilience an important quality for Christians to have?

2.  How would you evaluate and rate the vitality and strength of your faith at this moment?

3. Matthew 14:30, But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” From what do you need Jesus to save you? What burdens make you feel like you might sink?

4. Matthew 14:31, Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When have you doubted God? What renewed your faith and trust?

5. Of the six lessons the disciples learned – which most speaks to you today: Jesus brought me here, Jesus sees my circumstances, Jesus is praying for me, Jesus will speak to me by his word, Jesus will help me grow in my faith, or Jesus will see me through?

6. Many of us have discovered that it’s when we step out of the boat of the comfortable and the familiar, into the uncomfortable and the unknown that God shows up and speaks to us and helps us grow. When and how has that happened for you in your life? Is there a time you can recall when God asked you to step out in faith and you didn’t know what would happen?

7. Jesus says to the disciples in the boat, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”  Do these words speak to you? What do you hear Jesus saying to you?

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