8 “But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
11 All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish.
12 Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.
13 For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.”
22 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. When evening came, He was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 During the fourth watch of the night 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 worshipped 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 recognised 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 Him were healed.
Experts in human and animal behaviour tell us that fear is both a universal emotion – in other words, it is something that both people and animals experience – and that it is also one of the very first emotions to develop.
Sometimes our fears are justified, while many of our fears are completely irrational, but fear is real for every living creature.
If you’ve ever picked up a small bird and held it in your hand, you will have felt the terror of that little creature as its heart beats rapidly before you release it. It has no reason to fear you, but instinct creates terror and panic.
We may be higher in the animal kingdom than the bird, yet there beats in the chest of every one of us that dreadful emotion of fear.
As I mentioned, occasionally we have good reason to be afraid, but there are many other times when it makes no sense to be fearful – yet the emotion is there and it is very real.
So when does fear usually grip us? What is the trigger which causes this emotion which can be so overwhelming at times?
Verse 24 of our reading from Matthew’s gospel says, “The boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.”
Fear usually arises in the midst of life’s storms. As long as the disciples were close to Jesus, they were okay. It wasn’t until they were on their own in the middle of the sea tossed by the waves that fear struck.
It’s a difficult truth for us to comprehend sometimes, but occasionally the storms we go through in life are because of the will of God.
Verse 22 says “Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side.” The disciples didn’t get themselves into this difficulty. Jesus sent them into the sea alone, knowing full well that they would experience a storm.
Why would He do that? One of the answers is that the trials and storms we face help to strengthen our own faith. Mark 6 records the same incident, but there’s an interesting difference in verses 48-50: “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night He went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought He was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified.”
Jesus saw them struggling, but He didn’t rush out to save them immediately. In fact, we’re told that at first He was about to walk past them.
He allowed them to experience the storm before rescuing them from their fears.
Previously when they were in a storm at sea, Jesus was actually with them in the boat. All they needed to do was to wake Him. This time though, He wanted them to face the storm with only their faith, so He remained on the shore. Their faith was tested even more, but was eventually strengthened as a result.
Another reason that life’s storms may be within God’s will is that they might be unavoidable in accomplishing God’s purpose. Jesus had told the disciples to cross the lake to the other side, and if they were to do this they had to sail immediately, even if it meant sailing in the face of a storm. There were some experienced fishermen in that group. They knew the idiosyncrasies of the waters they fished for a living, and in all likelihood would have known that a storm was brewing. Yet they obeyed Jesus and set out immediately, knowing full well the risk they were running.
For you to become what God wants you to be may necessitate your going through life’s storms, even if you know that there’s a pretty good chance of a storm ahead.
There is another important lesson we can take from this incident. After sending the disciples away, Jesus went to a mountain to pray. At the same time the ship was in the middle of the sea, being tossed around by the waves. Just because the disciples were instructed to cross the sea did not mean that they had no need or time for prayer.
They became busy doing Jesus’ work without having made proper spiritual preparation.
Prayerlessness makes knowledge of God’s will difficult and often causes the storms of life to be more intense than necessary.
Matthew Henry wrote about this incident: “The boldest spirits must wait for a call to hazardous enterprises, and we must not rashly and presumptuously thrust ourselves upon them.”
Life’s storms are often intensified by prayerlessness because prayerlessness robs us of inner spiritual power. The disciples’ boat was not a sailboat but rather a rowboat. They used their oars to cross the sea. These were strong and experienced men of the sea, but all their physical strength was no match for the storm.
Their need was not physical power. They had plenty of that, but they did need inner spiritual power. The storm was more inward than outward. And prayerlessness had robbed them of spiritual power. Jesus was not physically with them, but had they been strengthened by prayer, things might have been very different.
Again, remember that they were experienced fishermen. This was not the first storm they were caught in. They were used to rough weather, but we’re told that instead of coping as they usually would have, on this occasion they were absolutely terrified.
But why do we fear? If we know that God is with us, and we have amazing promises in the Bible such as our reading from Isaiah today, why does fear still haunt Christians?
Why can’t Christians just sail through the storms of life with unswerving faith?
There is only one real answer to those questions. It is because of our failure to understand and to trust the presence of Christ.
Jesus manifests Himself with us in different ways, and we often fail to recognise Him.
Verse 25: “During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.”
Jesus’ walking on water was such an unusual way for Him to reveal Himself to the disciples. In fact, it was so unusual that they completely missed Him at first. It was only when He spoke to them and reassured them that they realised just who He was.
The manner in which God chooses to reveal His presence in our lives does not always conform to our expectations. God has always done things His way.
The Sea of Galilee is 12km wide, and Mark’s gospel tells us the storm hit when they were in the middle of the sea. They expected to see Jesus on the opposite shore, not during the fourth watch (that’s about 3 o’clock in the morning), 6 kilometres from the beach!
You might not expect Jesus’ presence to be felt at the bedside of a critically ill loved one, in the middle of family friction, or in the depths of financial despair, but the presence of Christ is felt even there, and even more intensely than you might have expected. He is not just the God of the mountain-tops. He is the God of your dark valleys too.
However He chooses to reveal His presence to you is always tailor-made to meet your specific need at that specific time.
Verse 25 says that Jesus went to them. The disciples were in trouble, and Jesus went to them in this unexpected manner to meet their immediate need.
There’s a story of a man working nightshift on a building site. While working on the top of a wall, several storeys up, he lost his footing and slipped.
He managed to grab onto the wall and clung onto it by his fingers. But it was dark, and no-one could see him. Building sites are noisy, so no-one heard his cries for help.
Soon his arms grew numb, and his fingers begin to relax against every effort of his will to hold them rigid. At last his fingers slipped from the wall, and, with a retching sob of sheer terror, he fell — about three inches onto a scaffold that had been there in the darkness all the time.
How many Christians are like that? Thinking their salvation depends on their endurance, and conscious of their weakness, they are fearful, anxious and unhappy most of the time: yet underneath, all the while, are the everlasting arms of a faithful, loving and all-powerful Saviour.
So how do we really deal with fear? Nobody wants to live a life gripped by fear. It is one of those emotions which can almost destroy us, so how are we to deal with fear?
Jesus gives us the answer in verse 27: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Christian courage is grounded in Christ.
He said, “It is I.” He didn’t say, “Trust in your sailing skills or in the strength of your ship.” There is no fear in your life which God cannot conquer.
And we see another example as Peter walks on the water too.
We often focus on how his faith deserted him after taking his eyes off of Jesus. There is a lesson in that which we need to learn, but we do need to take a few steps back first. Because he did walk on water.
The commentator Vernon McGee puts it like this: “Some say Peter should not have asked to walk on water. Well, I rather admire the man. William Carey said, ‘Expect great things of God, and attempt great things for God.’ Certainly Peter did that! I am afraid that most of us are satisfied with little things from God. I hear people say that Peter failed to walk on the water, but that is not the way my Bible reads. My Bible says that Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus. This is not failure! Peter asked a tremendous thing of God. No wonder God used him in such a wonderful way during the days that followed. No wonder he was chosen to preach the sermon on the Day of Pentecost.”
Do you want to conquer your fears? Then respond to the call of God on your life in faith, trusting that He knows what He is doing.
Responding to the call of faith can and does dispel fear. When Jesus invited Peter to step out of the boat, he responded to this call of faith and walked on the water.
And make no mistake – this was a real step of faith. Faith alone was required for this task, and the response would soon reveal his faith.
Again, expect great things of God, and attempt great things for God.
If Jesus were to ask you, would you walk on the sea?
Anyone can walk on the land, but as a Christian disciple you are called to walk on the sea. What is your particular sea?
It might be the sea of sickness or the sea of loneliness or the sea of sorrow, pain, disillusionment, or temptation. By God’s grace and with your faith, you can walk on your sea.
There are so many faith lessons in this story, and we simply don’t have the time today to do justice to each one, but the greatest is certainly this: The rescuing hand of Jesus is always near.
The reality is that we remain sinners, and as a result our faith in and our faithfulness to God will never be quite what it should be. We have all taken our eyes off of Jesus at crucial moments in our lives.
We have all set out in faith with a steely determination, only to start sinking at the critical moment.
That is why we need to be reminded of His grace.
Peter’s faith failed just when it seemed that he had conquered his fear. Yet the rescuing hand of Christ was offered to Him, and offered to Him immediately.
And He does the same for us the moment we acknowledge our need for Him.
What fears do you struggle with? What is the one thing in your life which threatens to rob you of your joy and of God’s purpose for your life?
What sea do you need to conquer by walking on it by faith? Jesus can do that for you, you know. Even though you might set off and might actually walk on that sea, the chances are pretty good that your faith will fail you just when you need it to be at its strongest.
But that is when you will experience the presence and grace of Jesus Christ in the most amazing way.
Don’t allow your fears to haunt you and prevent you from becoming the man or woman of God you can become.
Maker of the mighty deep whereon our vessels fare,
Above our life’s adventure, keep Thy faithful watch and care.
In Thee we trust whate’er befall; Thy sea is great, our boats are small.
We know not where the secret tides will help us or delay,
Nor where the lurking tempest hides, nor where the fogs are grey.
We trust in Thee, whate’er befall: Thy sea is great, our boats are small. When outward bound we boldly sail and leave the friendly shore,
Let not our hearts in courage fail until the voyage is o’er.
We trust in Thee, whate’er befall: Thy sea is great, our boats are small. Beyond the circle of the sea when voyaging is past,
We seek our final port in Thee. Oh, bring us home at last!
In Thee we trust, whate’er befall: Thy sea is great, our boats are small.
And finally, our reading from Isaiah 41 today contains some amazing promises of God’s protection against our fears, but I want to close with the opening verses of chapter 43: “But now, this is what the Lord says - He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
Homegroup Study Material
Read Matthew 14:22-33
Peter had the faith to step out of the boat and walk on the water, but the moment he took his eyes off Jesus, he began to sink.
Do you think he succeeded or failed? Why?
Is it possible for modern-day Christians to have the extreme kind of faith which required Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water? Why or why not?
Fear can be an all-consuming human emotion. Share with your group (if you are able) the fears you struggle with the most.
What about your irrational fears? Which things do you fear when there is no logical reason to have these fears?
Jesus met the disciples in their time of need in the most unexpected manner.
How has God ‘shown up’ at the most unexpected times and unusual ways in your life?
How has the presence and the grace of God helped you to deal with a real difficulty?
Read Isaiah 43:1-3
These words were written to the nation of Israel during a time of terrible suffering and oppression.
How can these words be applied to the Church today?
And how do they apply to your own life?
Close by praying for each other. Ask the Lord to reassure each person in your group “not to be afraid, for I am with you.”