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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Lord, Save Me!
Text:Matthew 14:22-36 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:04/21/2013
Added:2014-01-09
Updated:2014-05-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pastor Ted Gray

“Lord, Save Me!”

Matthew 14:22-36

The context of this familiar passage of Scripture is another familiar passage, the passage in Matthew 14:13-21 which describes how Jesus fed a great multitude of 5000 with just 5 small loaves of bread and two small fish.  Verse 21 describes how 5000 men were fed by Jesus, plus women and children.  Because of that, many scholars estimate that as many as 10,000 or more people were fed by Jesus in that amazing event.

Jesus Dismissed the Crowd

But now, in vs 22 we read how Jesus dismissed the crowd. That comes as a surprise. It would seem that this was a golden opportunity for Jesus to continue to teach this great multitude that was gathered on the other side of the lake to meet Him. Why did He dismiss them and send them home?

My wife and I had the privilege of attending the Ligonier Conference in Orlando last March.  Over 5000 people were gathered to hear  a number of speakers on the theme No Compromise: Standing on the Truth of God’s Word. Now imagine if midway through the three day conference, Dr. R.C. Sproul would have announced,  “The conference is over. All of you can go back to your homes now.  I’m leaving too.”  Had that happened all of us who attended would have been very surprised, and many in this great crowd of people listening to Jesus were undoubtedly surprised and  disappointed.  Why would Jesus send them away?

Matthew doesn’t tell us, but in a parallel account John tells us that Jesus perceived that the people wanted to make Him king by force (John 6:15). The great multitude of people were looking for a literal king who would rule over them and give them more than any other governing authority could give.       

In our nation, to our sorrow, we see that we are becoming a “food stamp nation,” that our government actively tries to get people to depend on them for everything: food, medical care, retirement needs; our government now even offers free birth control and free cell phones. But what our government is trying to provide, in the socialization of the United States, pales in comparison with what Jesus could and did provide, though His motives were altogether different than our government’s motives.

Jesus didn’t just offer the great multitude food stamps. He fed them a complete meal and there was so much left over that the disciples had twelve basketfuls remaining. What a president he would make! The people figured He was their ticket for all the things they wanted in life so they wanted to make Him king.  He could even heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and raise the dead.  But as  John 6:15 explains, Jesus withdrew because He did not want the people to make Him king by force.  Jesus’ time had not yet come.  This chapter takes place almost exactly one year before the crucifixion. Consequently, Jesus dismisses this eager crowd and sends them home.

He sent the disciples out to sea

In verse 22 Jesus also sent the disciples out to sea. The text says He made the disciples get in the boat and go to the other side.  And Jesus did so, knowing that they would be caught in  a violent storm.  Verse 24 gives us this description: (Their) boat was… a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

In one of our Bible studies we had a question on how we can know whether hard circumstances in our lives are a temptation from the devil or whether they are a test from God.  Sometimes it is hard, indeed, impossible to know. One writer notes:

Sometimes we meet trials in our lives and we think, “Well this must mean that the Lord doesn't approve of what we are doing.” Or we say, “Well, this must mean that we have done something wrong.” Now that may happen sometimes. That may be the Lord's hint to us to turn our way from the direction that we are going. But many times … precisely because we are doing what the Lord has called us to do, we meet trials.  (J. Ligon Duncan, Jesus Walks on Water)

The disciples were doing exactly what Jesus commanded them to do and they ended up in a storm.  The same is true for you and for me.  Doing the Lord’s will and living as a Christian in a hostile, fallen world will often put us in the heart of a storm. The easy road in life is the broad road which leads to destruction.  The harder road in this life is the straight and narrow way.  On that road we are assaulted by the attacks of the evil one, we face seduction by a world which pressures us to conform to itself rather than to conform to Christ, and we face those assaults with the weakness of our fallen human nature, the flesh – “the dark guest within” - which strives against the Holy Spirit within us.

Jesus sought solitary time in which to pray

How do we survive in such a world? How and why did the disciples survive the storm they faced?  The answer is in verse 23,  After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.

There is not a  storm in life, not  a trial, care, challenge or temptation that misses the eye of the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.  And when He sees the storm, whether in your life or in the lives of the disciples so long ago, He prays.

William Hendriksen, in his commentary on this passage, notes that this scene would make a powerful painting. Picture in your mind what an artist could do with this scene. Out in the middle of the lake the disciples are in a boat, swamped by the waves, whipped by the winds, terrified for their lives.

And yet their lives are utterly secure and safe, because picture in your mind how Jesus is on that mountainside  praying. And His prayers include prayers for you and for me.  His prayers include all those who by grace are His disciples, His followers.

In 1 Peter 2:25 we have a striking  picture of how the Good Shepherd watches over each sheep in His flock. Peter writes, For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. - He oversees your life and my life.  He has complete oversight, not in the sense of missing anything, but in the biblical sense of the word, that He sees absolutely everything. There is not a single struggle or care or burden unknown to Him. And He, in the words of Hebrews 7:25, ever lives to intercede for us. Or as Romans 8:34 says, Christ Jesus is the One who died— more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  

How blessed we are, living with the full revelation of God’s Word! We know that in every storm that we face Christ is interceding!  In that way we are blessed more than the disciples, who in the midst of the storm may not have realized that prayer was being offered for them as Jesus went up to the mountainside to pray.

Fear and Faith

This passage also teaches the power of fear and faith in believers’ lives. We see the fright of the disciples in verse 25 and 26 where during the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on lake. The fourth watch would have been between 3-6 in the morning. The disciples were already exhausted. They had been caught in this storm and were a considerable distance from land.  Most commentators believe they were three or four miles from shore.

Have you ever driven all night because you needed to make it back home for some emergency, so you “keep the petal to the metal” and pushed on till dawn? You may have done that, as Karen and I have also done, knowing that it’s not safe, but a necessity. And sometimes, when you get tired enough you begin to see things. The disciples were already exhausted. They certainly hadn’t slept in this storm, it’s somewhere between 3-6 in the morning and verse 26 says,   When  the disciples saw (Jesus) walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,”  they said, and cried out in fear.

Fear is part of the human experience, not just for disciples far from land, caught in a great storm in a little boat, but fear is part of every person’s life. We live in a world filled with uncertainty, plagued by crime, ravaged by war, crippled by famine, susceptible to earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes.  We all are keenly aware of the surprises each day may bring: the death of a loved one, the diagnoses of cancer or any other deadly disease; the reality that an accident could maim, cripple or kill any one of us, even on our way home from church this evening. The list could go on and on. There are innumerable things that we could be afraid of. And many people in the world, - those apart from Christ, despite their outward bravado, - have a great fear of these things.

But as people who believe in Christ we have a faith that overcomes the world, in the words of 1 John 5:4, faith in Christ is the victory that overcomes the world. Christians in every era of time have found that faith in Almighty God quenches the fear that the world sends our way.  In the 27th Psalm David writes, The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1). And, in Romans 8 Paul exclaims, If God is for us, who can be against us? (8:31b), and points out that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (8:37).

And throughout the gospels we find one of the most frequent greetings of Jesus to the disciples was,  “Fear not.”  As He says in John 14:33, “Peace I leave with you; My  peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Faith overcomes fear, and we see that in verse 28. Jesus has identified Himself in the previous verse.  Jesus (had) immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is  I. Don’t be afraid.”  And so Peter – impetuous Peter - responds by saying –- “Lord, if  - (since) -  it is You, tell me to come to You on the water” (28).

Three Aspects of True Saving Faith

In Peter’s response to Jesus we see the three aspects of true saving faith: knowledge, assent, and trust.  One of the questions that is often asked in the theological examination of candidates for ministry is, “What are the three aspects of true saving faith?”  We often think of saving faith in the singular, yet it is composed of three distinct aspects, even though it is a singular faith focused solely on Jesus Christ alone. In his Systematic Theology Louis Berkhof explains these three aspects of true saving faith.

First, there must be knowledge, an intellectual element, because obviously you cannot believe in something you have no knowledge about. That is why missions and the spread of the gospel is so crucial. All people have knowledge as to who God is from what He has made, so that humanity is without excuse (Romans 1:20), but without the gospel people do not have the specific knowledge of the Savior, Jesus Christ, sacrificing Himself for sinners.

However, to have true saving faith you must not only have knowledge of Christ and His redeeming work, you must also assent to that knowledge. That is often called the emotional element of faith, that element where we personally acknowledge the historical truths of Christ.  There are many millions who acknowledge that Jesus was a real person in history. They may even acknowledge that He claimed to be the Son of God, was crucified and reportedly rose again, but they never give whole-hearted assent to those truths. Those truths remain in their head, but never permeate their heart.

A third aspect of true saving faith is that when we know Christ in our mind, and assent to His rule in our hearts, then we will trust in Him, so that our will, – our volition,  - is subservient to His commands. That is often called the volitional element of faith, and we see it expressed in what Peter does in verse 29.  Jesus had told Peter to come to Him walking on the water, and we read: Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

As he did so, we see every aspect of faith at work in his life.  He has a knowledge that it is Jesus walking on the lake. He assents to that knowledge and reasons, “Since it is Jesus, if He bids me to come, I too can walk on water.” And when Jesus says, “Come,” Peter trusted implicitly in his Lord. Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

But do you know what I really like about Peter?  Do you know why he is one of  my favorite biblical characters?  It’s because I see so much of him in me.  Unfortunately, I don’t see all the good aspects of Peter in myself: the boldness he had, the enthusiasm that marked his life, the leadership he gave to others, the loftiness and beauty of a gnarled fisherman’s writing ability. I don’t always see those strengths of Peter’s in my life, but do I ever see the weakness of Peter in my life!

How easy it is to relate to Peter’s denials of Christ.  How easy it is to relate to his inability to see the whole picture, such as when he told Jesus that He would never die and Jesus had to say to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan."  It’s easy to relate to Peter not practicing what he preached. He said, “Lord everyone else might desert You, but not me.”  But he didn’t put that into practice, just as I have often failed to practice what I preach.

And here too, in verse 30, I trust all of us can relate to Peter.  But when he saw the wind, (that is, the waves, buffeted by the wind) he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Even though we all know the wonderful truths of Scripture: faith in Christ is the victory that overcomes the  world… If God is for us, who can be against us? …We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Even though we can quote Psalm 27:1,  The  LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  Even with such knowledge, with such wonderful assurances, how quickly we are filled with fear, all because we do as Peter did: We take our eyes off of our Lord and look at the waves of our storm-tossed circumstances instead.

However, although Peter’s faith wavered it was still, by God’s grace, strong faith for the object of his faith was Christ. He trusted that even as he sank, Christ was able to save him.  His cry, “Lord, save me!” is a cry of faith.  As Charles Spurgeon pointed out, “Peter was nearer his Lord when he was sinking than when he was walking.”  And the same is often true for us.  Many times the Lord allows the storms of life to come into our lives so that we echo the words of Peter, “Lord, save me!”

Saving Faith Results in True Worship

In this passage we see, thirdly, that those who know God through a saving faith in Christ will worship Him. Verse 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.”

One of the points brought out at the Ligonier Conference is that so much of what is called worship in our culture today is not the true worship of God. Much of so-called worship is nothing more than entertainment; many come to worship with their own feelings in mind: What does worship have in it for me? How can it make me feel better?  How can it make me more successful and how can it  make me more happy? As some speakers noted, there are many “happy clappy” churches where worship is man-centered rather than centered on the worship of Almighty God.

It is true that in worshiping God His worshipers are greatly blessed, we are molded more and more after the likeness of Christ and we find true joy in the knowledge of our salvation.  We also find in true worship that the Bible is indeed a very practical book. It does teach us how to cultivate meaningful relationships with others, how to manage our money, control our anger and many other practical matters as it teaches us how to live lives of obedience, which in the words of the hymn writer bring true joy as we trust and obey.

But the heart of worship isn’t about us.  It’s all about God.  The disciples in the boat realized that God was with them in the person of Jesus Christ. When Jesus had said, in verse 27 “Take courage. It is I,” He used the same name for Himself as His heavenly Father did when He revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush. The Greek manuscript literally says, “Take courage. I am.”   The disciples saw that Jesus truly is God.  They confessed Him as such, verse 33, “Truly You are the Son of God,” and they worshiped Him.  The same must be true for us.  If our faith is genuine, our desire will be to confess Christ as our Lord and Savior and to worship Him.  He will be central to our worship as we worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

I know that I speak to people who face many storms for Scripture says that man is born to trouble as surely sparks fly upward (from the fire) (Job 5:7). Some struggle with health, others with finances, still others with relationship obstacles and still others with a variety of heartaches and storms that perhaps we know nothing about. Many times the circumstances of our lives seem impossible to cope with. The storm the disciples faced undoubtedly seemed the same way to them, - until they took their eyes off the waves and placed them on Jesus, trusting and worshiping Him.

The ancient Egyptian language used hieroglyphics. They used miniature drawings to convey thoughts and concepts. The drawing for “impossible” in the ancient Egyptian language, it is said, was two feet walking on water. It was a very appropriate hieroglyphic for a people who lost their army in the Red Sea. But the same One who brought Israel safely through that sea declares,  "What is impossible for man is possible for God" (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27).

May that be of great comfort to you, in whatever storms you may face, - and may your focus and mine always be on the great I Am, - our Lord and our God, the Shepherd and Overseer of our soul, our Redeemer, our Refuge and our Strength.  Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 04/2, Rev. Ted Gray

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