August 13, 2023
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
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. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn 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 worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
In every episode of a children’s adventure cartoon the hero comes up against a difficult situation. Either the overwhelming natural disaster, the need to save multiple people at once, the sinister plans of the villain or a combination cause doubts that the hero will be able to save everyone. Then, the hero finds the right tool or manifests the right power for the situation to save the day and leave all doubts behind.
Doubts threaten our faith in things that can save us. Two examples of doubt threatening our faith in things that can save us occur at the typical weekend summer pool party. First, there are those who doubt the saving powers of sunscreen or a sun covering of some kind. Those who doubt will have to suffer the consequences of the sun’s powerful burning rays. Second, there are those who experience gastrointestinal discomfort after indulging in the queso, chili, hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza, jalapeño poppers, smoked beef, chicken, pork, turkey, venison, kudu, etc. Those who doubt the saving powers of the pick stuff in the bottle, or the chalky chewable tablets, will have to suffer the consequences of the weekend smorgasbord. Doubts threaten faith in even the most tried and true methods for saving us from difficult and uncomfortable situations. Doubts even threaten our faith in the One who can save us.
Jesus made his power obvious to his disciples. Last week our Gospel reading came from the first part of Matthew 14 recounting Jesus miraculously healing of the many sick and feeding of the 5,000. His power was so great that the large crowd wanted to force Jesus to be their king. Instead, Jesus dismissed the crowd and made his disciples get into a boat to head to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, while Jesus went to pray alone on a mountainside. Our Gospel reading today from Matthew 14, occurred during the early hours of the next day. Jesus’ disciples had fought most of the night against a storm attempting to reach the other side of the Sea of Galilee but were still not there. Before the sunrise, Jesus miraculously walked on water during the storm to get out to his disciples. When they saw him, they were afraid thinking Jesus was a ghost,
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?”
Jesus’ response to Peter exposed the reason he began to sink. Peter did not sink because Jesus was not powerful enough to keep him walking on the water or protected from the wind and waves. Instead, Peter sank because he doubted Jesus’ power.
My problem is bigger than Jesus. Peter, in the moment, in the darkness, having fought against the storm all night and having walked on water for the first time in his life, took his eyes off Jesus and saw the wind. Peter’s heart filled with fear at the wind, and he began to sink. The wind was a bigger more powerful force to him in the moment than Jesus. You, in moments, have taken your eyes off Jesus. You feel alone after someone you were supposed to be able to count on let you down again. You wonder who will take care of your kids when your health problems overtake you. You feel misunderstood when no one stops to listen, no one understands, no one in your life can communicate back to you or remember what you shared with them. You are jealous of the life others live, while you feel trapped by your circumstances. You were walking with Jesus, but then one or more of these gusted into your life. And now you can barely keep your eyes on Jesus. Keeping your faith with this doubt is like trying to keep your eyes open without sunglasses while a hot South Texas summer wind is blowing in your face. The problems you face are not your biggest problem; it is your doubt. Your doubts are an out of focus view of your life. When you doubt God’s power to save you, the doubt threatens to gradually close your eyes to your Savior until you cannot see him anymore, and without him you cannot be saved.
Peter cried out the answer to doubt when he began to sink. We read in Matthew 14, 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?” Jesus’ response to Peter’s cry was twofold. One, he saved him from drowning. Two, he asked him a rhetorical question to demonstrate his needless doubt. There was no need for Peter to doubt Jesus’ power to save him. The response to doubt was given when Jesus climbed into the boat as we read in Matthew 14, 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Jesus is the Son of God is the answer to doubt. Jesus is the Son of God whether he walked on the water or not, whether he allowed Peter to walk on the water or not, whether he grabbed Peter and saved him from drowning or not, whether the wind died down or not when he got into the boat. Jesus allowed the disciples to see that he is the Son of God in the miracles he performed that night on the water, the day before in the feeding of the 5,000 and all the miraculous healings of the sick. Jesus showed them so that they would know he is the God who saves.
God’s Word is the answer to your doubts. God’s word points to Jesus as the Son of God. This truth remains regardless of you circumstances. When you feel alone, worried about what will happen to your kids after you are gone, misunderstood, jealous, trapped and sinking in a problem you feel is too big for God, then you understand how Elijah felt in our Old Testament reading from 1 Kings 19. He was alone in a cave,
9 … And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
After serving God faithfully, Elijah was now on the run because the wicked Queen of Israel, Jezebel, threatened to take his life. After listening to Elijah’s reasoning for being in the cave, God told him to go to the entrance of the cave where God sent hurricane force winds that shattered rocks, an earthquake and a fire, but God was not in any of these great displays of power. Finally, there came a gentle whisper. God spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper telling him to go back, continue his work and that he was not alone, but there were 7,000 others in Israel who trusted in God. Despite Elijah’s doubts, God was still God. When you are stuck in your doubts like Elijah, God does not promise to come to you with great miraculous, immediate displays of power. Instead, he always gives you his powerful answer in his Word, Jesus is the Son of God.
Jesus’ great power is to save you. The words of our New Testament reading from Romans 8 are a detailed response to your doubts and the problems causing your doubts. Paul wrote in Romans 8,
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
God is for you. He proved he is for you in the sending of Jesus, who died and rose. There is no power that can take anything from the good and gracious things God has done for you. Paul then lists major problems that would cause any of us to doubt. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Finally, in response to those situations, he does not give you permission to doubt, but calls you a conqueror. 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. You are a conqueror through the power of the Son of God Jesus Christ. When you cry out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately, it is heard by the One with power over all things working for your good.
In every episode of a children’s adventure cartoon there comes the moment when you doubt the hero has the power to save the day. Peter doubted when facing down a powerful wind in the dark in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, but the wind was not his biggest problem. Your problems are not your biggest problem; it is your doubt. Your doubts threaten your faith in One who saves. Jesus is the Son of God whose miracles were a small glimpse of his power to save through his life, death and resurrection. Like Peter cry out, “Lord, save me!” because Jesus’ power to save is the answer to your doubts. Amen.