Eld Lee Kong Sing
Looking unto Jesus at All Times! (Matthew 14:22-32)
Following the feeding of the five thousand, we read the account of the miracle of Jesus walking on the water in the Sea of Galilee. This account included Peter’s attempt to follow Christ into the waves and although he was initially successful, he ultimately failed because of his little faith. There are many practical lessons we can glean from this account. To name a few, there is the lesson on prayer where we observe that Christ spent long hours in solitary prayer; the lesson on the power of Christ over the forces of nature; the lesson on how to deal with fear. The focus of this Elder’s Page is the lesson on looking to Christ in the face of trials.
“And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.” Matthew 14:22
Matthew was careful to record the details meticulously. Each action was clearly mentioned in sequential order. We notice that Jesus was described as having “constrained” his disciples. The word “constrained” has the meaning of compelled or commanded. In addition, Christ constrained them “straightway” which suggests that the action had the element of urgency. The Lord wanted to teach the disciples that when He tells them that they will arrive on “the other side” of the Sea of Galilee, they will, even when they encounter a storm along the way.
“And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.” Matthew 14:23
Christ deliberately delayed and did not leave for “the other side” but He spent time praying. One would think that the Son of God would not need to pray and yet He did. He saw the importance and necessity of solitary prayer. To discover how long Christ prayed, we can study the record of several time points that are given to us. In verse 23, we read that Christ was alone “when the evening was come” which we can assume was 6pm. Christ may have started praying prior to this time, but it is not necessary for us to be too precise for our purposes. In verse 25, we read that Jesus went to the disciples at the fourth watch who at that time were in the midst of the sea. The fourth watch is the period between 3am and 6am. If we take the earlier time of 3am as the point of reference, Christ would therefore have been in solitary prayer for at least 9 hours. If the Son of God saw the need for much prayer how much more ought we who are weak in faith to pray much.
“But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.” Matthew 14:24
In the parallel account in John 6:19, we read that the disciples had rowed for "about five and twenty or thirty furlongs" which is about 3 to 4 miles or 6 km (the Sea of Galilee is 21 by 13 km). Using the same earlier time computation, we can deduce that the disciples would have been struggling to cross the Sea of Galilee, rowing for a minimum of 9 to 12 hours. After hours of rowing, the ship was now in the midst of the sea. There was no land nearby for them to head toward. They wanted to head in the direction of “the other side” but the wind was contrary, i.e. blowing against them and preventing them from going further. The record that the ship was in the midst of the sea is an important detail in dispelling the attacks of the liberals and modernists who said that Christ did not walk on water but on stones that the disciples could not see.
“And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.” Matthew 14:25
The LORD who created the world and all that is therein has absolute power and control over the forces of nature. Jesus walked on the water near the disciples who were struggling against the wind and the waves as they rowed toward “the other side.” He was about to pass by them (cf. Mark 6:48). Jesus wanted the disciples to notice Him and to call out to Him which they did. Christ wanted the disciples to know that He is indeed the God incarnate, the Creator Himself who was in their midst!
“The LORD on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.” Psalm 93:4
The seas serve the Creator’s bidding.
“And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.” Matthew 14:26
The disciples thought they saw a ghost. Their fear was understandable as they had never seen anyone walk on water before until now. The wind was strong. The waves were boisterous. However, there is no record of the disciples being afraid as long as they were in their ship. They were not afraid of the wind and the waves as some of them were expert fishermen. But when they saw the Lord walking on the sea they cried out in fear. They “cried out” or shrieked, screamed; a cry of great fear.
“But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” Matthew 14:27
Matthew recorded for us that Christ responded “straightway”; immediately, instantly. There was no delay. Christ knew exactly what was in their hearts and despite their fear, Christ acted quickly to dispel their fear. "Be of good cheer" is one word in the original language which means to be courageous and bold. It is in the present active imperative which means it was to be acted upon as a command and in obedience continually. "Be not afraid" is also in the imperative, a command to stop fearing. Christ commanded the disciples to be strong, to steel their hearts and not succumb to fear. They had nothing to be afraid of if they were Christ’s disciples! If they were not then they ought to be afraid because He can walk on water! Such a demonstration of power can only be done by God. Everyone should be afraid of Christ if they are not Christ’s disciples!
Courage is not something that can come about without conscious action on our part. The disciples had to submit to God’s command and exercise courage to resist fear. Christ dealt with another aspect of quelling the fear of the disciples and that was to correct their erroneous perception of what they saw. They thought they saw a ghost. Christ corrected them instantly: "It is I"; it was Christ. Often fear is a result of an erroneous and unrealistic view of a situation. The disciples thought it was a ghost intending to cause them harm. However, it was far from the truth. It was Christ coming to rescue them. Their fear was a result of an erroneous perception.
“And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” Matthew 14:28
Peter used the first class condition according to the fact to make a most faith-filled request to walk on water too! This means that Peter believed that it was the Lord Himself and so he wanted to walk on water just like the Lord was walking on water. He therefore used a strong imperative in his request to the Lord . . . “bid.” The word “bid” is often translated as “command.” Out of 27 occurrences of the word in the NT, it is translated as “command” 26 times. Matthew 14:28 is the only time the word was translated as “bid” by the KJV translators. Peter was making a strong request to the Lord and the more appropriate English word to capture this was “bid.” Peter was the only one who made this request.
If it were any one of us in the ship with Peter, would we have dared to make the same request to the Lord to command us to walk on water?
“And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.” Matthew 14:29
The Lord did exactly what Peter asked. Using the same imperative Peter used, the Lord said to Peter “come.” “Just do it Peter!” is the modern colloquial way of commanding Peter. Peter by faith in the Lord did exactly that! He got out of the ship and walked on water toward the Lord who commanded Peter, probably as He was standing on the water! What an amazing demonstration of faith by Peter. He saw in this man Jesus of Nazareth to be deity, the Creator of heaven and earth! Christ defied gravity and so did His disciple Peter who believed.
The Lord taught all His disciples to ask whatever they would in His Name and He would do it! John 14:12-14 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” Peter asked to let him walk on water and the Lord granted him the privilege and Peter walked on water! Believers need to learn to be like Peter to ask. The problem is faith! Weak faith is the greatest hindrance in modern Christian living today. The sad reality is we have become very comfortable in the safety of our “little ships”. Our ships are our careers, bank accounts, man-centred lives and mammon. This has spawned a generation of faithless believers who may possess genuine faith but weak and small faith. Out of all the disciples in the ship only Peter had the faith to step out of the ship! Will you also step out of your ship?
“But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:30
“What if I sink?” is our fearful thought. “I am not in the safety of my ship” is the oft-made excuse by those who dare not step out. Well Peter did sink but watch how the Lord helped him! Matthew recorded the detail: “when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid”. The circumstances did not actually change after Peter stepped into the waves. The waves were not less boisterous and the power of Christ was not diminished in anyway. What changed was found only in the eyes of Peter. The word “see” means “perceive”, i.e. he began to take notice of the surrounding storm and no longer took notice of Christ! Our eyes are made to only focus on one thing at a time. When his eyes were on Christ the storm was ignored and he walked on water! The moment Peter took his eyes off the Lord he saw the storm! He became fearful! What was Peter afraid of? He was afraid of drowning! So Peter “cried”, screamed, shrieked, the same word used to describe the disciples when they thought Christ was a ghost. It was a desperate cry for dear life. "Lord, save me!" The word “save” is an imperative similar to how he asked the Lord to bid him to walk on water.
What Peter did is a wonderful reflection of the life of a Christian. The Lord knew that Peter would take his eyes off Him and begin to sink even before Peter walked on water. Yet the Lord still commanded him to walk. Peter cried to the Lord on both accounts when he was afraid. This is exactly what the Lord wants all His disciples to do . . . cry to Him for help when afraid. Do not cry to anyone else and especially never cry in complaint and murmurs and fall into sin. Crying to the Lord was not a sin but a priceless experience that left a precious memory in Peter’s life that helped him to keep on trusting in the future.
Have you had this kind of experience before? Peter’s experience is priceless. It was Peter’s only and not the other disciples’, for they did not step out of the ship and walk on water! Have you stepped out of your ship before? If not, then the experience of fear and crying to the Lord is alien to you. If you are still out of your ship and are fearful at times because you take your eyes off the Lord, cry to Him for help. It is exactly what He wants us to do all our lives!
“And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Matthew 14:31
The Lord was nigh when Peter sank! The Lord will always be near us when we sink. The presence of the Lord in our lives is not a theory to reside in our heads for theological debates or for discussion over a meal. It is a truth to be experienced. This experience can only occur when we step out of our ship. As long as we are in our little ships, we cannot experience it! Sinking is not drowning! The Lord will not let us drown. He was near Peter just as He promised. He will never leave us! Matthew 28:18-20 “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” This is the way in which little faith is made stronger! Peter’s little faith would be “bigger” after this experience! Doubting will plague believers all their lives of service and witness on earth! They must make their faith sure and strong. The only way is to “bid” the Lord to help us walk on water!
“And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.” Matthew 14:32
The fact that the wind ceased is an important detail. It demonstrated that Christ was truly in complete control of the wind and His ability to protect Peter and all the disciples was never in doubt. The wind and waves seemed so powerful, but Christ the Creator and the all-powerful God was always in control. Christ the Creator of heaven and earth is the only voice creation listens to!
Trials are testings of faith that God brings into the life of the believer, not because of anything wrong he has done but for the purpose of perfecting his faith and patience (James 1:3, 4, 1 Peter 1:7). No doubt trials are difficult to bear otherwise they would not accomplish their purpose. Trials stretch us, in particular our faith in God, oftentimes to its limit. Indeed, sometimes the burden of trials is so great that we may feel hopeless and as if we are going to drown.
The faith of Peter was severely tested by the prospect of drowning under the boisterous waves. In this sense, our trials are like the boisterous wind and waves at the Sea of Galilee. Peter was buffeted by the wind and waves as he walked on the water. That which he saw with his eyes shook his faith. Like Peter, we too are often shaken by what we see; the circumstances that arise against us as part of our trials. Like tumultuous winds and waves, they come crashing one after another, oftentimes raging well over our heads, seemingly untamed and uncontrollable. What we see with our eyes (when we take our eyes off Christ) tells us that we are doomed. It appears there is no hope, no solution in sight, odds are overpowering, and more problems come upon us, each appearing more insurmountable than the one before. We, like Peter, start to fear and doubt Christ. Does Jesus Care? Can He save us?
Despite what Peter saw with his eyes, Peter was perfectly safe in the midst of the storm. There was never a point in time that he was in any danger despite what might have been apparent to his eyes. Christ’s power to enable and protect him did not diminish one little bit. Christ, the Creator of heaven and earth, is Lord over the wind and waves. Peter lost sight of Christ and looked at the boisterous waves and allowed doubt and fear to enter his heart and overpower him.
Similarly, there is no trial or difficulty greater than the keeping hand of God Almighty for His beloved children. In the midst of our trials, no matter how threatening or how hopeless our circumstances may seem, God continues to be in perfect control. We must be careful not to allow what we see to cause us to doubt God. We need to stop looking at the boisterous waves and obey the Word of God to be of good cheer and not to be afraid.
“My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalm 121:2–4
The all-powerful Creator neither slumbers nor sleeps. He watches over His children and will not suffer our foot to be moved without His permission and will keep us in perfect safety every moment in time. This is God’s promise to believers from God’s Word. The wind and waves of trials may seem relentless, but they are powerless before God and there is not the slightest moment that God is not in control.
Dear brethren, in the hardest times of our trials, we must continue to remember the truth we have learned from this miracle. We must not allow our eyes to rest on the difficulties, but instead, we must look to Jesus, we must fix our eyes upon Him even as we navigate the boisterous wind and waves. We must remember that no matter how hopeless the circumstances may seem, Christ is before us and is in complete control. He will not leave us or forsake us even as He has promised in God’s Word. We must resist the temptation to look at the circumstances around us and instead we must fix our eyes on Christ and Christ alone. He is our God and He continues to keep us even as we undergo trials until His perfect will is accomplished in our lives.
“.. for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Hebrews 13:5b