Why did you doubt? Matthew 14:22-33
Why do we doubt and fear? While learning at Michigan State University, I had to take mid-term exams. These exams were designed to test whether we students mastered the material taught to us. Usually these exams involved regurgitating all we were taught on a multiple-choice test. However, I had one economics professor who was an exception to the rule. His exams were essay exams. These tests posed four situations and then required us to describe how the economic principles we learned applied to those situations. In short, we had to digest the material and apply it to life situations. Twice in our Lord’s ministry with His disciples, He took them to the Sea of Galilee and administered an applicational mid-term exam.
One applicational mid-term exam is in Matthew 14. The setting is important. The disciples were with their Master in the wilderness. They were very aware of the 5,000 men with women and children who came to hear Jesus teach. They were astounded when Jesus told them that they and He were going to feed this crowd. Jesus blessed and broke the five loaves and two fishes in their sight. The Lord Jesus multiplied the small lunch into enough food to feed all the hungry people. When they had all eaten their full, the disciples collected up twelve baskets full of leftovers. Probably when Jesus pushed them into a boat and sent them across the Sea of Galilee those twelve baskets were at their feet in the boat.
We read how our Lord launched the disciples in their boat across the Sea of Galilee. He then sent the crowd away, and retreated into the mountains alone to pray. Meanwhile, a storm swept down on the sea and the disciples were struggling mightily in its clutches. Matthew wrote, “The boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.” Progress to the other side was painfully slow. One accounts records the Lord saw them toiling in their rowing. This was a major tempest and these veteran fishermen. They knew how perilous these sudden storms were, they were terrified.
Finally, at the fourth watch of the night (between 3 and 6 am) Jesus went to them walking on the water in the midst of the storm. While the disciples were afraid of the storm, they were terrified by the ghostly figure coming to them on the water. Surely, it was a ghost. Would no one save them? They cried out in fright.
Jesus spoke to them to calm their fears, “Immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’” (Matthew 14:27). Then Peter did something that seems to be unthinkable. He cried out to the Lord with a challenge. “And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’” (Matthew 14:28). He was in a boat, in the midst of a storm, and in the middle of the sea. Can you see this in your mind’s eye? The boat tossed by the waves, rain drenched them, the wind howled fiercely, little light pierced the darkness, and still Peter asking the Lord to call him to come to Him on the rolling water. It must be a test to make sure it was the Lord.
Then, when Jesus said, come, Peter actually stepped out of the boat to come to Him. Can you understand how rash this was? Have you ever been on a boat in deep water? Would you, even on a calm day, step out of the boat to try to walk on water? Peter did, and he did it in the middle of a tempest. What kind of faith is this?
Wonder of wonders, Peter began to walk on top of the water. Was the footing squishy? Did it feel like walking on Jell-O or on concrete? I do not know. Matthew did not tell us. He just began walking on top of the water to Jesus.
Then the lesson began. “But when [Peter] saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:30). Peter took his eyes and his mind off the Lord Jesus Christ and looked at the circumstances around him. He was walking on water, which under normal circumstances can’t be done. He was walking on water in the center of severe weather. No wonder he became afraid.
He began to sink. I am intrigued with the phrase, “he began to sink.” Have you ever jumped off a boat in deep water to swim? When I jumped into the water as a boy, I did not begin to sink. I just sunk. The Lord did a miracle to allow Peter time to recognize his plight and cry out. Then the Lord Jesus grabbed him. He did not turn the water to cement. He could have done that. Instead, the Lord Jesus Christ took hold of Peter and personally delivered him.
Finally, the Lord rebuked him. “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:31). Why did he doubt? We can look at the circumstances from Peter’s view. From the standpoint of physics he had a lot of reason to doubt. But Christ was there. He made the sea, the wind, the rain, the storm, Peter, the disciples, the boat, everything. He is the almighty God. He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and He was right there physically with Peter. In fact, he had no reason to doubt.
Before, we self-righteously climb over Peter, remember we too have no reason to doubt. Do you remember the great promise found in Hebrews 13:5-6? “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” We talked about the promise itself in an earlier blog post. The Lord cannot ever leave or forsake His people. Here, I want to zero in on the application. We can live lives without fear because God Himself is our helper. Then he asks a question: “What can man do to me?” Humankind can do nothing that God does not allow and He is always there with us to carry us through. We easily say, “Amen,” to this. Yet, do we really believe it? Do we live a fearless life? If not, does not our Lord’s rebuke of Peter apply to us? “Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt?” We do not doubt because it is reasonable to doubt. We doubt because we allow ourselves to look at the circumstances and not at the Savior.
This is a lot easier to preach than it is to practice. However, if we are to please our Lord we must remind ourselves of the promises and step out walking on the waters of life focused on the person of our Savior.