First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sunday Sermon Notes (February 2, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Exodus 14:5-18; Matthew 14:22-32
The Apostle Peter is an interesting character. He is a man of extremes. He is the guy Jesus says he will build the church on the solid confession of his faith, and he is the guy who will deny Jesus three times in Jesus’ greatest hour of need. Sometimes we see Peter full of faith; other times, we see him full of doubt. Peter was always the one willing to ask hard questions. He was always the one exploring what it means to really be a disciple; and there’s no time where that is more apparent than in our Scripture today.
In our Scripture today, we encounter Peter walking on the water and a few minutes later, he sinks. Before I share with you this morning a couple observations, it might be helpful for us to explore the setting of the story in Matthew chapter 14:22-32.
In the gospel lesson, the disciples had just witnessed the feeding of the multitude, where they saw that their limited resources could be sufficient when used in faith. After the feeding, Jesus told them to get in their boat to go to the other side of the lake while Jesus remained there alone, to pray. So there were the disciples, out in the water, being “beaten by the waves.” They were terrified.
We pick up Matthew’s story in Matthew 14:25-27 as he says, “And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
We can understand their fear, can’t we? They’ve been rowing and rowing and rowing and getting nowhere. And they can’t seem to make it to shore. It’s 4 or 4:30 in the morning. They are dead tired. Every muscle aches. The wind howls around them. Rain pelts them from every angle. They are cold and tired and waterlogged. Plus they are grumpy and hungry and frustrated. Suddenly someone sees a figure walking across the water. I think in that situation I would say exactly what they said, “It’s a ghost.” My first thought would not be, “Here comes Jesus. He’s decided to walk on the water in the middle of this storm.”
At all rates, Peter needed proof that it was Jesus. Matthew 14:28-29 states, “Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.” I want you to notice that the fact that Peter stepped out shows that he had more faith than the other disciples on the boat! Two observations for us this morning:
First: Faith is a Risky Adventure
American author and lecturer, Helen Keller (1880-1968), once said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing at all.” Born blind, deaf, and unable to speak, she somehow found a way out of the darkness and into the world around her. Her story is one of the great miracles of the twentieth century. Millions of people have drawn inspiration from her example.
“Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing at all.” The life of faith is a risky adventure. Go back to the Bible and take a look at the men and women who did great things for God. Almost without exception, they were risk-takers who weren’t afraid to lay it all on the line for God. Consider these examples: Noah built an ark on a dry land. Abraham left his hometown, Ur of the Chaldees, to go to the Promised Land. Moses led the people of God out of Egypt. The Exodus was a risky invitation. Joshua marched around the walls of Jericho and it fell. David fought and defeated giant Goliath. Elijah faced down the prophets of Baal. Esther risked everything to save her people. Daniel refused to defile himself with the king’s food. Nehemiah led the Jews to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Like Peter, all those people throughout the centuries, stepped forward. The life of faith is inherently a life of risk. If you are unwilling to take a chance, you can never discover what living by faith is all about. If you have to have all the answers before you make a decision, if you’re afraid to take a step unless you know things will work out to your advantage, faith will always be a mystery to you.
Second: Faith is Simply Concentration on Jesus
Faith can be simply defined as “concentration on Jesus.” Matthew 14:30 tells us that everything goes fine until Peter notices the storm all around him. At this point, he became frightened and began to sink. Everything goes well until Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and concentrates on the storm. Remember, the storm has never stopped. During all this commotion, the rain has been coming down in sheets. The wind was there all along. The storm has been raging for hours. What really makes the difference whether our eyes are fixed on Jesus or not.
Let me say it again. The wind always blows around us. The mighty storm comes sooner or later. We have no choice or control over when the storm comes. Today the sun may be shining; tomorrow we may find ourselves toiling against the wind and rain, tossed about by adversity. Life can turn on a dime. We all know that. What happened to Peter can happen to any of us. For a brief moment, he forgets about Jesus and remembers who he is and where he is. He is Peter, a Galilean fisherman who belongs back in the boat. In that instant he looks down at his feet and sees nothing but water underneath. His mind comes to a quick conclusion: “I’m not supposed to be walking on water. This is impossible.” When Peter lost his concentration on Jesus, he began to sink.
But this story doesn’t end with Peter sinking. When Peter began to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me” and Jesus does. Jesus comes through where Peter could not. Peter couldn’t stay focused. He couldn’t complete his own hopes and dreams to be with Jesus without Jesus helping him.
Friends, yes, faith is a risky adventure. If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. Faith is a concentration on Jesus. If we’re not going to focus, to concentrate, on Jesus, we’re going to keep sinking. And as we focus on Jesus, we follow His footsteps. In other words, we step forward. Jesus invited Peter to “step forward.” In Exodus 14:15, the Lord did the same thing with the Israelites. “Tell the people of Israel to go forward,” God said. God is calling us today to move on; to take the risk; and to never loose sight of Jesus, and when we do, He will reach out His hand and get us as He did with Peter. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen!