The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.


Matthew 14:22  And immediately He made the disciples get into the boat, and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.  23  And after He had sent the multitudes away, He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.  24  But the boat was already many stadia away from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.  25  And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.  26  And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were frightened, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’And they cried out for fear.  27  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’  28  And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ 29  And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  30  But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31  And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’  32  And when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.  33  And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’  (NASB)


          In the Gospel reading we are presented one of those events in the lives of the disciples and Jesus that sums up what it means to be a Christian, a saint and sinner at the very same moment. While Peter is the disciple at the center of the event, St. Peter is manifesting the universal of all weakness found in all Christians.

          Peter is a man who at one moment is a Christian filled with faith and confidence, while in the very next is filled with doubt, uncertainty, and fear.

          You know the story. Jesus had just fed the 5,000.  As evening fell Jesus sent the multitude away. He told His disciples to get in their boat and sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee so He could have some time alone to pray.  Some of the disciples were fishermen. They were skilled and knew the Sea of Galilee. Under normal conditions they could sail across the Sea of Galilee in about 3 hours, which would have put them back on dry ground mid to later evening.

          During the fourth watch of the night, which translates sometime between 3 a.m..and 6 a.m., the disciples experienced trouble at sea. They had rowed “many stadia.”  Three miles is 26 stadia. It is likely then that the disciples were 2 to 4 miles out into the lake and going nowhere because of a storm with high winds and waves large enough to toss the boat around.

          Adding to the problem of the winds and waves, was the belief in the ancient world that the tempest was a very real example of the chaos and the uncertainty of life. The ancients believed tempests on the sea were the result of evil forces at work. So “when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were frightened, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear.”

          To the disciples the situation seemed chaotic and life threatening. In reality, the reality they did not yet see, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit had orchestrated every aspect of the event to create yet another opportunity to teach a lesson and strengthen the disciples faith and understanding. God was not going to allow any of the men in the boat to perish at sea. They were His future apostles. Each had a role to play in the work of God.

          That is something that we often forget, especially when we are caught up in the middle of some chaotic and threatening set of circumstances. We too often forget that God is Lord over all, including the messes, challenges, and hardships in our own lives.

          Though Jesus had stayed behind to pray, He was well aware of the disciple’s situation so He comes to them walking on the water to teach the same basic lesson we were taught last week’s Gospel lesson. Jesus is the Lord of the living and the dead. He is Lord of the blind, the lame, the mute, the deaf, the hungry, and the thirsty.  He is Lord even over the devil and demons. All these things can be changed at His Word. So also He is Lord over the elements and the laws of physics.

          So there was a storm. There was a lot of water splashing about. Probably a lot of yelling orders back and forth and disagreements on what ought to be done next to keep the boat righted.  There was the believe that evil forces were at work hiding in the wind, and rain, and waves.

          Then an image appears on the water. An image in the shape of a man walking toward them on the water. They jump to the conclusion that a ghost is coming for them. Most English translations say they were “frightened.” But the Greek word used here by Matthew is more like “hysteria.” They were beside themselves.

          “They cried out for fear.  27  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’” Jesus identified Himself to the disciples in a pretty unique and definitive way.  “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”  In Exodus 3:13 “Moses said to God, ‘Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” “I am,” in Hebrew is “Yahweh.”  Now you know the literal translation of Yahweh.  “I am,” the name God gave Himself when first asked. Theologians call this “The Great I AM.” Jesus used a construct to say that He is not only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

          Peter puts the claim to the test. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”  It is equally valid to translate Peter’s response in this way. “Lord, since it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

          Peter’s initial response is one born in great confidence, great faith.  It is Peter after all who puts “the walking on water thing” on the table. Jesus didn’t suggest it.

          In this moment Peter gets it. Jesus is Lord over the living and the dead, food and drink, health and sickness, angels and demons, and the weather and laws of nature. 

          “Command me to come to you on the water.”  He also understands that at Jesus’s word this impossible thing becomes possible simply because Jesus commands it. Jesus gives the word. He issues the command. “‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  30  But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”  

          Peter was just fine as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. Then, it happened. The inevitable. Just like it does to us.  The circumstances overwhelmed him and took his eyes off of Jesus. He forgot a command of Christ’s is also a promise. Peter began to doubt and to sink.

          Rene Descartes is the father of modern philosophy. He was a rationalist.  That means, he attempted to explain truth, how one knows the truth, how one can knows that God exists, and how we know the difference between right and wrong by using human reason and logical arguments, rather than experience and the outside world as the foundation for truth.

          The whole process begins with what is called “methodological doubt.  That means a person begins this process of know and believing by doubting everything, including one’s own existence, along with doubting the existence of everyone else, including God.

          From here, Descartes begins to rebuild the universe of knowing. You know the first step in Descartes’. “I think therefore I am.”

          For the Christian doubt is a two edged sword. Luther called “doubt” a monster seeking to destroy Christian faith. Unless beaten back by the Word of God doubt can change into apathy, then unbelief. It is a disposition that needs to be countered by God’s Word, which is another reason attending church services in a faithful congregation is essential to the preservation of one’s faith.

          Doubt is always present in the life of a Christian. In Mark 9 a father brought his demon possessed son to Jesus to be healed. He asked Jesus to have pity on his son.  23 “And Jesus said to him, ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.’ 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.’” 

          Doubt is always lurking in the heart and mind of the Christian because the old sinful nature still lives. But you doubt because you believe. One pastor I read this week wrote this axiom, “You doubt, therefore you believe.” Doubt doesn’t exist where there is no faith.  If you don’t believe something to be true or real, then you have nothing to doubt. The unbelief does not shout out to Christ, “I do believe; help my unbelief.’” 

          Luther reported that a young pastor once came into the room distraught.  Luther asked him what was wrong.  He said, “I feel so ashamed.  Sometimes I have trouble believing the very things I preach.” Luther raised his head and with a big smile on his face, said to the young man, “thanks be to God!  I thought I was the only one!”

          When Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water, he was filled with faith.  He understood that the Word of God would make it so.  If He says you are forgiven, you are forgiven!  If He says bread and wine are His body and blood, they are His body and blood.  If He says water and the Word bring you new life, then you have a new life in Christ.

          When Jesus commanded Peter to walk on the water, he walked on water just like Jesus.  Then Peter eyes were distracted by the tempest that surrounded him and he begins to sink.  In desperation and panic Peter did what people of true faith do. He returned to the “Great I Am.”  He called 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?” Jesus and Peter walk to the boat and “when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.  And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’”

          Once in the boat the storm ceased. Sickness, oppression, injury, blindness, depression, fear, unbelief, disorders, hunger, thirst, death, every bad thing, including storms are the result of sin.   Once Jesus and Peter get into the boat the wind and waves stop. The storm is calmed and the boat is safe and at peace, just like in the days of Noah. The boat was the safe haven, a place of salvation and certainty in the midst of a world of chaos and danger.

          St. Augustine said that the wood of the cross “Jesus shows us that He Himself is the way to the homeland, but there is no way to cross over to the homeland unless you are carried by the wood.”

          Folks the church is the ark. The church is the boat. You are in the ship of salvation right now. Out there are storms chaos, danger, uncertainty, unbelief and death.  In here is the Christ Himself, His Word, His Commands, and His Promises. This is why it is so sad and tragic when members of a congregation turn the congregation into a battlefield over foolish legalistic and hurtful things. To fight for sound doctrine, right preaching, true worship, and faithful practice is a good work. But to cause fights over something other than these is grievous sin. This is to be a place of safe refuge, of mercy and grace, love and forgiveness, kindness and service.

          Even sadder is the fact that so many in our day and age have stepped outside the boat where Jesus is not. In so doing their faith has been drowned in the dark, deep, and dangerous waters of this world.

          Peter wavered.  He got distracted, but Christ never took His eyes off Peter.  Jesus was not distracted by the tempest. The laws of physics didn’t even merit His attention. When Peter stumbled in his faith, Jesus did not disregard Peter. He saves Him and returns him to the boat, to that little church on the Sea of Galilee.

          Every Christian should fix his or her eyes on Jesus.  But we are people of weak faith, especially in times of trouble. But where two or three are gathered in His name, there is the church. In the midst of the tempest of this world Jesus says “Lo, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.”  “Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.”  “Be of good cheer!”  Do not be afraid. My peace I give to you.” “It is I, do not be afraid” your sins are forgiven.


May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Doubting Peter

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