When God is Big… is a sermon series examining what happens when you have a bigger vision of who God is. Fears are Quieted — What do we do when we are afraid? When God is small, when we lose sight of him or are distracted from him, fear is only natural but can be overwhelming. But when God is big, when we focus on Jesus and learn to walk by faith and not sight, then our fears are quieted. And we find a life of courage is possible. Recorded on Oct 10, 2021, on Matthew 14:22-33, by Pastor David Parks.
All year, we’re focusing on The Greatness of God. And today, we’re continuing a sermon series called When God is Big… In this series, we’re considering how a bigger view of God changes everything, including how we live out our values and deal with our struggles. If you missed any of the messages on our values from the last 4 weeks, you can go back and watch those on YouTube or listen to our audio podcast. But today, we get to start working on how a bigger view of God can impact/transform our struggles as well, including struggles with fear, identity, and addiction. So today, we get to address the ever-present issue of fear. Fear is powerful and fear is everywhere. Whether your struggle is more of generalized anxiety or a specific situation that you’re worried about or you’re in a full-blown fight-or-flight mode type of fear, fear is something that every single one of us will face in life. So what do we do when our fears become big? Is the voice of fear loud in your inner world today? I know it can seem like our fears are screaming at us at times. Well, my goal today is that you would see that when God is big, when you walk by faith and not sight…our fears are quieted. In Christ, a life of courage is possible. Is this something you’d like to learn? Then, please open your Bible/app to Mt 14, starting with v.22.
Matthew 14:22-33, “22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
So Matthew was also known as Levi. And Matthew was a tax collector before he started following Jesus. Eventually, he was commissioned by Jesus to be one of the twelve Apostles. The book of Matthew is the longest account of the life/ministry of Jesus in the NT. Let’s jump back into our text for today. Look back at v.22.
Matthew 14:22-23a, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” Let’s pause here. So Matthew records that immediately after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side. The other side of what? The other side of the Sea of Galilee. This northern region of Galilee is where Jesus grew up and where he spent most of his time early on in his ministry. So Jesus and his disciples have this truly incredible day of ministry. And it makes me wonder if when they were collecting the 12 basketfuls of leftovers after feeding the crowd of thousands if they were like, “Today is definitely making it into the Bible.” But after that, Jesus sends everyone away. He dismissed the crowd. And he sent his disciples ahead of him. But then what did he do? Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. I find it interesting that we never hear the disciples of Jesus asking him how to preach. But they did ask him how to pray. Jesus spent all kinds of time alone in prayer. Jesus was always praying. His ministry and life were guarded and strengthened by time alone with his Father in heaven. And isn’t this a wonderful model for us? No matter how great your capacity for work or for ministry, everyone needs time away. Time to recharge and fill up your spirit. But while Jesus was having this wonderful spiritual retreat, getting reenergized and renewed, how were the disciples doing? Well, things were not going well for them. v. 23.
Matthew 14:23b-24, “Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.” So Jesus is upon the mountainside/hillside and can see out onto the lake. And even through the storm, he can see the disciples were having a rough night. There was a storm and a strong wide against them. They had been working for hours to try and cross just a few miles that night, but they were struggling because the wind was against them. It’s a little bit of a funny image to me: the disciples down on the lake, in the middle of the storm, struggling/laboring/straining just to make the smallest progress, and Jesus is just not struggling in any way. So what does he do? v. 25.
Matthew 14:25-27, “Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Ok, so the first thing we observe is that people who lived 2,000 years ago did not expect their friends to be able to walk on water. They didn’t have iPhones, they didn’t have our modern tech, but they weren’t stupid or overly gullible. The only thing they could think of to explain what they were seeing after struggling for hours in the dark of night, trying not to capsize and drown in a storm, was that it was a ghost who was walking toward them. What else could it be? There’s no such thing as a group hallucination. But that would be terrifying and Matthew says they cried out in fear. These are grown men, and these were not likely easily scared men. These were by and large blue-collar men who eventually would go on to do incredibly courageous things. Most of them would be put to death for their faith in Jesus. But here they are terrified. So let me ask you this: Were the disciples right or wrong to be afraid at this moment? Well, it’s not yet clear if they’re right or wrong but I think we can agree that their response is very understandable. Think about it. Everything about their environment/circumstances was a threat. And this wasn’t a sort of generalized level of anxiety. This was an immediate, unprecedented, life-and-death type of situation. Have you ever been in any kind of unprecedented, life-and-death type of situation? In the last year or two, perhaps? Can you identify at all with the stress level of the disciples in the storm? The threat we faced with Covid-19 and all the social/political turmoil of 2020 and now into 2021 has been a different type of storm than the storm the disciples faced on that day. But it definitely was/is a storm. So for the disciples in the boat back then, but also for us today, having lived through a global pandemic, fear was only a natural response to the very real threats in their environment/circumstances.
But Jesus knows this. He understands the fear of his disciples. So immediately, he says to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Now, the phrase “It is I.” is the same Greek translation of the great statement of the name of God, in Ex 3, when Moses asks who God is and God says, “I AM who I AM.” God’s response to his question is where the personal name of Yahweh God comes from. In the Greek, the phrase I AM is translated as “It is I.” And I think it’s no accident that when the disciples are afraid, when they’re terrified, Jesus uses such an authoritative phrase with such a clear connection to his divinity. Why should the disciples take courage? Why shouldn’t they be afraid? Because of who Jesus is. Well, who is Jesus? He is Immanuel, God-with-us. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, sent from heaven. He is the great I AM. So he is not worried about the storm or threatened by the waves. He’s not scared of the dark. But what does he do? He sees his brothers a long way off, struggling, not making progress, and he comes to them in their hour of need. This is not only who the man Jesus is — this is who God is. Do you remember when in history, God revealed that his name was Yahweh or I AM? Another time/circumstance when his people were in need. It was when they were slaves in Egypt. And what did God do? He came to them and he freed them and he led them into the promised land. He rescued/delivered them miraculously and in such a way as to make it abundantly clear that he was the only one who could be trusted to save. In Psalm 46 the psalmist says, God is our refuge and our strength, our ever-present help in times of trouble. Jesus says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” And how do the disciples respond? v. 28.
Matthew 14:28-31, “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” So Peter here gets both the glory and the shame. Right away he exhibits the faith that if it is actually Jesus (and not a ghost), then he trusts that Jesus has the power to save him. So Peter gets out of the boat and walks on the water like Jesus. But Matthew records that Peter gets distracted. Or maybe a strong wind gust reminds him of his circumstances. And Matthew says that “when he saw the wind, he was afraid and,“ began to sink. Peter starts out great, but what does he do? He takes his eyes off of Jesus. His focus shifts from Jesus to his circumstances and what immediately happens? His fears are screaming loud again. He was afraid again. But in his fear, Peter’s response is perfect. He cries out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” It was his distraction from Jesus that was the problem but it was his instinct to cry out to Jesus that saved him. Immediately, Matthew says, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. Do you know what this means? Jesus was close enough to Peter to be able to catch him. Peter was literally and metaphorically drowning in fear, but Jesus was right by his side. Isn’t that a comfort to us? Not only can Jesus see and cares when his disciples are in trouble, but he is right there by our side, even when our faith is weak. He can lift us up. He who started a good work will complete it.
“You of little faith,” Jesus says, “why did you doubt?” And it’s here that Jesus directly connects faith to fear, or more accurately, a lack of faith to fear. Peter’s fear comes from his doubt. Every creaturely fear is an act of spiritual forgetfulness for the follower of Jesus. Why? Because of who God is. But also, this question of Jesus implies that faith has the power to displace fear. Now, remember, first the disciples’ fear/terror and then, more specifically, Peter’s fear is a perfectly natural response to the very real threats in their environment/circumstances. They aren’t delusional. And they aren’t worried about hypothetical situations that may never happen. They are in a boat, struggling to get to safety against a very real wind, in the middle of a storm, and they think they see a ghost. You and I would likely be afraid in that situation as well. But in the interaction between Jesus and Peter, the disciples realize it’s no ghost who has come to torment them. It is their friend and their Lord who has come to their aid. Let’s finish this with v. 32.
Matthew 14:32-33, “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Jesus is with them. And they are more than safe. They are eternally secure. Even if Jesus would’ve allowed the storm to take his disciples, would they ever have been lost, even for a moment? Absolutely not. Why? Because on the cross, Jesus conquered our sin. And the empty tomb means that sin and death are no longer obstacles between us and the life that God has created us to enjoy. A life with him. A life of joy. A life our courage and hope and peace. By faith, Jesus turns the disciples’ worries into worship. When they see his power and they understand they are safe, they worshiped him, as they should. So in this story, and in many other stories in the Bible, we discover an amazing truth.
When God is Big…Fears are Quieted. The most common command in the Bible is “do not be afraid.” You see, when God is small…when we lose sight of him or when we are distracted from him, then our fears are natural and overwhelming — fear is loud. But when God is big…when we walk by faith and not sight, when we stay focused on Jesus, we are held up by his loving power — and fears are quieted. Courage is possible. So when fear threatens to overwhelm us, what do we do? Take the words of the Apostle Paul to heart.
Col 3:1-4, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” I was reminded this week that you can’t always change your circumstances, but you can change your perspective. When God is big, it changes everything. Including how we deal with our fears. Do you believe this?