Get out of the boat: Finding Faith in Fearful Times
This story is one of those few times in the Gospels, where the disciples are not with Jesus. Matthew says that Jesus told the disciples to get in a boat and go to the other side of the sea of Galilee while he went to pray and rest.
That sounds simple, but it’s not. The sea is 8 miles wide and 13 miles long. Eight miles is a long way with oars.
Then the story changes and a storm comes out of nowhere. This wasn't just any storm, it was enough to scare men who were seasoned veterans of the sea. They endured hundreds of rainstorms, the idea of clouds, wind, rain, or even waves did not deter them! But this one… is different.
Matthew often reveals the flaws and struggles of the disciples. He's not afraid to put them in difficult positions and watch them struggle for their faith. Nor is Matthew hesitant to show their shortcomings when they choose fear instead of faith.
When I look at this passage, I see a spiritual struggle. But it's not between the wind and the boat, nor between the disciples and the devil. The battle is a theme we often see in Matthew's Gospel; fear vs. faith. Jesus even says at one point in today’s Gospel reading that some people are “little faith.”
This passage hits home! It invites us to confront our fears during our "dark" moments. That's precisely what Jesus does; he takes a dangerous event and uses it—redeems it even—so it teaches a lesson about faith.
There are three lessons about faith that I see in this passage:
First, Faith requires Persistence.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus did not instantly rescue the disciples? That’s a legitimate question because we know he could see a massive storm over the sea. Yet he chooses to leave them in danger. He allows them to persist in their struggle. The NRSV says it lasted until "early in the morning." The actual Greek is "the third watch of the night," 3:00 A.M.
From sundown until 3:00 A.M…. It makes you wonder… Did any of them get mad at God? Did they blame God? Did they pray God? Did they talk to God like we do, “I've done everything I can to be a good person, but I’m still struggling, and none of my prayers are answered."
What we’re saying is… “God, it’s 3:00 A.M., I’ve been in a storm all night long, and I’m exhausted. I’ve prayed for hope, healing, and restoration of relationships, but my arms are tired. It doesn’t seem like some of the others in this boat are carrying their weight. I’ve been living in a constant state of anxiety since the storm moved it… but I’m afraid to tell anyone around me about it because I don’t want the other disciples to think less of me.”
We understand those questions all too well! We endured a Cat 5 hurricane! But what did we do? We kept working. I kept running a chain saw, you kept hammering nails, we kept working… like the disciples, we didn’t give up, we continued to row our boats… we persisted.
Faith requires persistence, but it also requires trust.
Second, Faith requires Trust.
Terrifying word! It is surrender in the hope that our vulnerabilities and fears will not be exploited by others.
If we look back in the boat, we see trust. The disciples notice a silhouette, but they can’t make out what it was through the rain. It might be a man, but how could a man be out here? Or is it a ghost? There is an old tradition among 1st-century sailors that right before you die in a storm, you see ghosts of other sailors to guide you into the afterlife. If that's the case, no wonder the disciples are terrified.
Peter is a disciple who is willing to take action—even if it’s often the wrong action. I appreciate him because he is ready to put his faith on the poker table and push his chips to the center. He’s all in! We watched him when he left home to follow Jesus, and we see it again right here. Peter says, "Jesus, if that's you, I'm putting my fears behind me, and I'm stepping out of this boat trusting you to save me."
I've played some cards before… it's terrifying to go all-in on a bluff. If Peter sinks into the waves at night, they will never see him again! Peter goes all in… he climbs out into the space between his safety and Christ.
It makes me wonder… what are our boats? What are the things that we assume keep of safe that, in fact, hold us back? Where is your space between your boat and Jesus? Can you step into the place of unknowing and anxiety?
Remember, Jesus didn’t lift Peter out of the boat! That’s a powerful metaphor! Can you trust when you don’t understand? Persistence, trust, and third,
Third, Faith requires Focus.
Peter's courage gets him out of the boat, but his eyes are not informed by faith, and he doesn’t keep his focus on Jesus. Ge begins to sink when he notices the danger that surrounds him. His fear overcomes him, and his faith is at risk.
It’s one of Matthew’s theme, faith vs. fear.
When we're anxious about what we see around us… oh, you know, like the 24-hour news cycle… it’s easy to lose focus on what matters most!
When Jesus sees Peter sinking, he says, "Oh, you of little faith." – You know Jesus…That seems kind of harsh. After all, the man just walked on water, trying to come to you. He got out of a boat in the middle of a storm.
What if that’s not as harsh as it sounds? Could it be like saying, “Peter, you had faith and persistence in the storm, you had enough faith to trust me step out of the boat, and now you’re letting your eyes control you? Don’t give all your energy to your eyes just because you don’t like what you see.
Sometimes we don’t have enough faith in God… and sometimes we are “of little faith” toward others.
I read a story last week that gives me hope in humanity!
July 24th, 2020, Central Wisconsin
Two friends made a promise in 1992: If one of them won the Powerball jackpot, they'd split the winnings. Nearly 30 years later, one of the men did win! Here’s the miracle, he made good on his word and his handshake!
Last month Thomas Cook bought a Powerball ticket and ended up hitting the jackpot for 22 million dollars. Cook called his friend Joe Feeney and told him the news, Joe thought Tom was kidding! He wasn’t…
Despite the odds, which were 1 in 292,201,338.725, it happened. Now, let me ask… what are the odds he would actually give away half? …oh ye of little faith.