Faith and Praise: Matthew 14:22-36 (Sermon)
What is the most significant storm you have ever been in? Growing up, we didn’t camp much. I remember our last time. It was wild. Maybe that is why we stopped. We went with some friends. We probably hung out, ran around, had a fire, and enjoyed ourselves. Time passed. The next day, a storm came up, a bad one. At the time, we lived in Tornado Alley. We camped in Tornado Alley. That is trouble when the sky turns green. It was like looking at pictures with a filter. The winds picked up. The trees bent. For a grade school kid, it was thrilling and a bit scary. What was going to happen? Eventually, everyone in the campground took cover. When the storm passed, we went to our tent and found it MIA, missing in action. Where did it go? It disappeared, stuck in some tree or swamp. I bet. We gathered our stuff, packed what we could, and headed home in our brown Chevy Caprice station wagon with rear-facing seats. That was our last camping trip as a family.
In our passage this morning, there is weather, but something scarier than a tornado, a ghost, or what looked like one. This nightmare-like encounter offers us an opportunity to explore fear and faith. How do we process fright? How do we deal with worry? Jesus spoke up about anxiety before. Here, he gives an object lesson to his little band of followers who feared for their lives. We learn that God wants us to believe and praise him in the good times and bad. Sometimes, we can lose sight of him. Let’s read the portion of the Bible I am talking about and see what happens. Would you please stand with me in honor of God’s Word? I am going to have L.H. read for us.
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way[a] from the land,[b] beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night[c] he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 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. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind,[d] he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. (Matthew 14:22–36, ESV)
Let’s pray. Dear Father, help this Word go deep inside our souls. We need you now, in Jesus’s name, amen. You may be seated.
Jesus is the king that God had promised. Matthew takes us with Jesus and his disciples across the Sea of Galilee. In John, we read that the people wanted to make him king by force. It was not the right time. We can see why people would like this. He taught with authority unlike any other and performed mighty works only an agent of the divine could do. He spoke about a promised kingdom and fulfilled ancient prophecies. People believed in him. They longed for what he might give them. Yet, only some were fans. His siblings and neighbors rejected him. The religious leadership attacked him. Jesus recently heard that his cousin was beheaded for confronting sin. He knew he would suffer worse soon enough. He left his hometown to get away from everything and climb a mountain. The crowds followed him. They were hungry. The disciples told Jesus to send everyone home for dinner. How did Jesus react to their suggestion? He said, “You give them something to eat.” The disciples gathered up what they could, five loaves and two fish, not enough for the some 5-20,000. They couldn’t do what Jesus asked. Perhaps that was the point. Jesus asked them to bring the little they had to him. He blessed it. And miraculously, they were able to feed the thousands. At the end of dinner, everyone was full and happy, and twelve baskets were left over.
We get two more sets of miracles in chapter 14, verses 22 through 36. I already alluded to one that communicated five things about Jesus, and the other sums up the end of a series of miracles. One touches on fear and faith, which we will mention briefly.
STORY 1 : Jesus Walking on Water (14:22–33)
STORY 2 : Jesus and Indirect Healing (14:34–36)
Matthew is answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” He tells us here in more or less words that Jesus is the Son of God, controlling seas and disease, driving us to faith and praise.
MAN OF PRAYER
Who is Jesus? First, we see that he was a man of prayer. He went away to this mountain to pray, presumably. That didn’t happen. People interrupted. He had mercy. Now, after dinner, he dismissed them and got his chance. Look at verse 22:
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. (Matthew 14:22–23, ESV)
He was alone. He prayed. We don’t know what else he did, but he talked to his heavenly Father. He was used to doing this.
In Mark chapter 3 and Luke chapter 6, he prayed the night before choosing his disciples.
In Matthew chapter 6, he taught his followers how to pray.
In Luke chapter 5, verse 16, it says he went away to desolate places to pray more than a couple of times.
We read that he took his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray on the night he was to be betrayed.
And finally, on the cross, as he died, we read his prayers out loud to his heavenly Father.
He was a man of prayer. He modeled prayer. He encouraged prayer. We will read that he meets the disciples at about three to four in the morning, the fourth watch in the night after this time in prayer.
PRAYER REFLECTS OUR FAITH
Why pray? Prayer is connecting with God. It is a conversation. We talk with those we love. A few weeks back, we sent our son to college. My wife and he speak on the phone each week. I loved hearing them chat. They are connecting. They find value in each other and listen and share. They have a good relationship. We want that with God. Jesus had that with his heavenly Father. Prayer reflects a belief that who we pray to is genuine and listening. Prayer reflects faith. It is not just asking for stuff but can be thanking, questioning, and hearing back. God knows what we need before we ask, but he enjoys connecting with us. He longs for us to be with him and to look to him for help and consolation. Are we? When things look bleak, I pray. I find that the times I struggle, I draw near to God. When things are well, those can be harder. It is good to pray at all times. How is your prayer life? What would it look like to follow Jesus’s example? Each of us is different. We have different personalities, capacities, and experiences. So, prayer will look different for each of us. What would be the realistic habit of prayer for you these days? Think about that for a moment. Do you have some rhythm in mind? What is it? What hinders you from getting there? What barriers get in the way? For me, the cell phone, chess right now, or my selfishness and vanity can get in the way. I think a lot about myself and don’t pray as I should. What hinders your prayer life? Jesus found value in getting away to pray. What would that look like for us? Where might that mountain or quiet place be? Perhaps you have a spot in your home. Maybe you like to walk. The church is open during the week. If we staff are here, we can help you find a place to pray. There is another neat place in Buchannan called Stillwaters. Mike Bowden, one of our missionaries and elders, runs a retreat center there. Check it out. I have done several prayer retreats by myself, and it was breathtaking. Mike, would you stand up so people know who you are? The setting is quiet, with some hiking paths and rooms to escape the rat race. How can we grow in the habit of prayer? How can we make space for God to speak and for us to talk to him? For me, running can be one of those places. I lace up my shoes and grab a flashlight and phone. I step outside and shuffle till I start jogging. It is just me and God. We talk. I intercede for my family and you, the church. It is sweet. Eventually, it gets tricky. My mind wanders. My body gets tired. My prayers stop. I hit a wall. But I can go back at it later in the same or different ways. Prayer is like a life preserver. It can keep us from drowning. God wants us to look to him and pray.
MAN OF POWER
Look at verse 24. We see that Jesus was a man of power. He had power over the seas. He is the Son of God, controlling seas and driving us to faith and praise.
But 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. (Matthew 14:24–26, ESV)
As we read, we learn that Jesus could heal the sick and make the lame walk, the blind see, and demons scatter. He could feed the masses with only a little lunch. He could calm storms with words and walk on water. He was not like any other human being. How would you react in the middle of the night on the sea? Would you think he was a ghost or a Marvel movie superhero? Jesus stepped out of the bounds of nature because he was and is God. He made the water. He made the waves. He made the wind. He made the trees that fell for the boat and the first man and woman whose descendants followed him. The Bible tells us, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3, ESV). He made everything. He was more than a man. He was a man of power.
NOT EVERYONE BELIEVES
Growing up, not all of my family members believed. I remember going to a cousin’s home and talking to one of the relatives. They were reading a book about Jesus and wanted to share. I love Jesus, and I love relatives. So, I began to skim the book, hoping to keep the conversation going. Immediately, I could tell I disagreed with the author. It explained that Jesus didn’t walk on water. Jesus only walked on a reef or stones hidden right under the surface. It was an illusion or a trick. Have you heard of such a thing? The author had an anti-supernatural bent. Friends, the Sea of Galilee is thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. There are places with reefs and stones, but not in this passage. Decades later, I have six reasons such an interpretation doesn’t work.
First, if one assumes miracles can’t happen, like this one, how does one explain all the other miracles? There seem to be too many to discount.
Second, the disciples were fishermen. They knew these waters. What did they conclude? It was not a person walking on a reef; it was something supernatural. They would know many of them were experts who made their living on this lake.
Third, the other accounts don’t discount this story but corroborate it. They double down.
Fourth, those who oppose Jesus didn’t say, “Gotcha.” Here is substantive proof that Jesus was a fake. No, they continued to accuse him of using the power of Satan to work miracles, not explain them away.
Fifth, according to what we read, they were a long way off. The commentators I read put them three to five miles from shore, which has a depth of 141 feet.
Finally, such an explanation doesn’t make sense with what happens next.
The fact is that Jesus walked on water 2,000 years ago. He didn’t pretend to. So, what do we do with this power? Worship and believe. Amid fear, pursue faith. Yet, I think it is natural to be skeptical. Jesus reassured them.
MAN OF PEACE
Look at verse 27.
“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid’” (Matthew 14:27, ESV).
Jesus was a man of peace. He was a man of prayer, power, and peace. He calmed not only storms but hearts. He was the Son of God, controlling seas and driving us to faith and praise. He calmed their fears because he cared. He was and is a man of peace.
What are you afraid of these days? Where do you need the peace? What worries you? What keeps you up? In your bulletin or somewhere, write three things that upset or bother you. I will give you space to answer that. [PAUSE] Now, think about this: with those in mind, where do you go with them? The answer is, in part, what Jesus just did by himself. Pray. Talk to God. I think God would also have us listen to his Son. Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. Prayer is more than just us sharing. It is listening. Listen to Jesus, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. Jesus invites us to pause and take heart. Acknowledge him. Put our faith in him. And trust in him. Jesus is the one who calms our anxiety. He is the one we need. He is the Prince of Peace. That doesn’t mean the storms will cease, the bills will get paid, the money will come in, the sickness will go away, or our plans will succeed. But the Bible tells us he cares. He offers us a peace that is bigger than improving our station in life. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that.
Look at what Peter says. He wanted some more proof.
“And 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 and walked on the water and came to Jesus” (Matthew 14:28–29, ESV).
If it is you, Peter wanted some assurance that this was Jesus. And Jesus gave him what he asked for. Jesus cares. This is extraordinary. Peter walked on the water. Have you ever walked on water? Have you met anyone who walked on water? Peter did. He saw Jesus walk on water and walked on water himself. He could have asked Jesus to calm the waves. He could have invited Jesus to come to the boat. What was it about walking on the water that Peter wanted? Did he want to say he did it? Was he doubting? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that Jesus did what Peter asked. He invited him to join him, and he went. Peter came to Jesus. He believed. Would you?
MAN OF PROVISION
As we read, we see that his faith didn’t last. Look at verse 30:
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:30–31, ESV)
It was dark.
The wind howled.
The boat moved.
The waves sprayed.
Peter was drenched.
So, Peter feared. He called out, Lord, save me, and he saved him. He rescued him. He corrected him and preserved his life. Jesus cared about Peter. And he cares about you. We may not be sinking in water, but we might be sinking in our circumstances. There is a way that we can believe and still struggle. We can see all the miracles and still wonder if God will help. We can wrestle with questions. Peter was desperate. He was experiencing the power of nature and sinking. His eyes moved away from the man of power and peace. That can happen to us. I can be doing great, then all of a sudden not. A car problem, pet peeve, email, or text can send me spiraling downward. My solid faith can turn to mud. Matthew tells us that Jesus was the Savior of Israel. Here, he was Peter’s savior. Jesus was a man of provision. Jesus was a man of prayer, power, peace, and provision. Jesus is the Son of God, controlling seas and driving us to faith and praise.
MAN OF PRAISE
Look at verse 32.
“And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:32–33, ESV).
Matthew shows us that Jesus was, and is, worthy of praise. This is the first time people call him the Son of God. It was the second time we read that people worshiped him. The Maggi were the first to worship him in chapter 2. The Father spoke from heaven at the baptism of his beloved Son in chapter 3. In chapter 4, Satan called him the Son of God. In chapter 16, Peter will call him the Son of the Living God. In John chapter 10:36, Jesus admitted it.
What does it mean that he was the Son of God? The Bible describes the Son of God as the second person of the Trinity. He is more than just a man. He was begotten, not made. He has always existed and will always exist. He was and is God in flesh, fully God and fully man. He is not an angelic creation. He is worthy of worship. The Bible says to have no other Gods before him. Jesus is that God. At the same time, the Father is God, and the Spirit is God. They all are one God, yet distinct in person. This is a mystery and paradox. This is the Trinity. The fishermen were still trying to figure Jesus out. Maybe you are, too. Do you believe in Jesus, the man of provision, peace, power, and prayer? If you do, worship. Don’t fixate on the waves of life or fears that you face, worship.
We come to the second section and read something similar to what we already read. Look at verse 34.
And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. (Matthew 14:34–36, ESV)