When I was a boy I took a summer trip with the Boy Scouts. We went to a state park in southern Missouri called Johnson Shut-ins. We swam in the river and jumped all small rocks. Then one of the boys saw it: an 85-foot cliff wall with a small ledge at about 75 feet up.
We fought through briars and brush to get to the top of that wall. All the while we hiked through the woods, we told one another how we were going to jump off that cliff. It was a different story when you stood on the ledge. From the water, the jump looked like so much fun, but from the cliff, the water looked so far away.
A couple of boys backed out, then one took the plunge. The water was so far away, that when he jumped out he screamed, ran out of air in his lungs, took a breath and started to scream again, before he hit the water.
Then came my turn. My stomach was churning, my legs felt like rubber, and my mind kept telling me to back out. But, I did want to jump also. I wanted to feel the free fall into the water below, and besides there was all those briars and bushes waiting the other way. So I swallowed my fear and leapt 75 feet to the water.
I learned a great lesson that day. Sometimes we have to face our fears, embrace the adventure, and take the plunge. But what holds us back from risking it all? How do we overcome our fears? What do we do when we doubt that the new chapter of life God is writing is for us? How do we keep our eyes focused on the goal when everything is trying to distract us?
Peter helps us answer those questions as he jumps - not off a cliff, but out of a boat. In Matthew we read about Peter walking on the water, and if we look closely enough we may just discover the courage to follow his example.
I love Peter because he reminds me of myself. He is quick to act, often without thinking. He shoots off his mouth when prudence may be the better choice. Peter understands failure. After all, he denied Christ. He experiences the soothing balm of forgiveness, and he has the joy of being used greatly by God on the day of Pentecost. Peter preaches the sermon that leads 5,000 people to join the church.
When it comes to Peter walking on the water, I have often heard preachers condemn him for his lack of faith. True, Jesus does call Peter a man of little faith, but what about the other 11? None of them got out of the boat. If Peter had little faith, then they had none. It's really easy to criticize others like a Monday-morning quarterback. It's something else to stand in the pocket and take the hits.
When it comes to trusting Jesus, what keeps us from getting out of the boat? What keeps you from daring to trust Jesus? This morning I want to look at the reasons we are afraid to leave the boat, and the way Peter overcame them. This morning I want us to dare to trust Jesus completely.
I. Dispel disillusionment
When the disciples first see Jesus coming at them they mistake Him for a ghost. They have spent the whole night afraid the storm would drown them, and now a ghost shows up.Things were going from bad, to worse, to worser. It was the epitome of out of the frying pan and into the fire.
The first thing that must happen to get out of the boat is that our disillusionment must be dispelled. Have you ever noticed that we make the problems of life worse in our head than they really are? As humans we are masters at creating terrible events in our minds and worrying ourselves to death.
Have you ever watched some old suspense movies? Those directors knew something about our ability to create fears in our head. Today we show everything and leave nothing to the imagination. But old movies will let you know something bad is going to happen and then not show it. Those directors allowed our minds to fill in the blanks.
The disciples are filling in the blanks. They see a figure walking on the water toward them and they assume that it must be a ghost. Is that not just like us? We often make our fears greater than they are. But how do we handle real fears?
We must know the person of Jesus.
Do you know how they train Federal agents to spot counterfeit money? They put them in a room for days and have them count real money. Then after several days of counting real money, they slip a phony bill in. More often than not, the agent will catch the fake dollar. Why? Not because they know so much about counterfeit money, but because they are so familiar with the original.
That is how we need to be. We must become so familiar with Jesus, that when false promises or pseudo-saviors show up, we spot them for who they are. We must know Jesus, in the deepest most personal sense. Only through a personal relationship with Him will we be able to recognize Him. Only as we grow to know Christ deeper will we be able to identify the fakes.The disciples mistake Jesus for a ghost when He shows up. Only when Peter is sure that it is Jesus walking on the water does he dare think about getting out of the boat.
How is your relationship with Jesus? Is He your Savior? Is He your Lord? Is He your friend that sticks closer than a brother? All of us in this room could identify the President of the United States, but if he were to walk through the door, would he know you? That's the kind of relationship we must have with Jesus before we can even think about getting out of the boat. One where we know Him, and He knows us.
II. Defeat distractions
Peter leaves the boat when he knows that it is Jesus on the water and not a ghost, and for a little while he walks on the water. Peter does the impossible, but then things change. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the storm.
When Peter got out of the boat he was focused on Jesus, on the source of his power. Then Peter shifted his focus from the source of his power to the problems that surrounded him. We will sink when we get distracted from Jesus, our source of power? Distractions can come in two forms, the obvious and the subtle.
Peter gets distracted by the obvious stuff. The thunder booms, the lightning cracks, the wind whips, and the waves pound. There's a storm going on around Peter. It's easy to see why he gets distracted. He's afraid. Just a few moments ago he was hiding in the boat from the storm, now he is exposed in the middle of the storm.
We get scared by things that look like they will over take us, and we turn from Jesus, the source of our power and peace. When I was in seminary I served a country church and had a fairly new car. One day I went out to start the car, and nothing happened. I thought I had a dead battery and went through all the trouble of getting a new one, only to discover my cables had shaken loose traveling those back country roads. Once a tight connection was re-established, the car worked perfectly.
When we choose to focus on the problems rather than the power, we sacrifice our connection with Jesus. Jesus is a power greater than the problems we face. When our problems distract us from Jesus, we turn from the greatest power there is to a lesser power. John writes in I John 4:4, "the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." If we focus on the problems then we will loose sight of the one greater than anything.
We can also get distracted by subtle things. If you are like me, then you get a lot of offers to be involved in some good things. They are not problems, but they demand time and attention. How often do you evaluate those things in light of the kingdom of God and eternity? Do you ever ask yourself, "Is this part of God's will for my life?" "Will this help the kingdom of God advance?" "Will this make an eternal difference in someone's life?" Like I said, they may be good projects, noble endeavors, but they may also distract you from your main focus.
The problem is we get too busy for Jesus. I have an evangelist friend whose wife says, "If the devil cannot make you bad, then he will make you busy." That's good advice. We can get distracted by good things as well as bad. We do not need to get busy doing good things, we need to get busy doing the things Christ has for us to do.
In Luke 9:51 we read, "When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He was determined to journey to Jerusalem." Jesus knew that he must go to the cross. It was His life mission. He could have healed more people if He had not died at 33. He could have preached, taught, and converted many more people if He had delayed the cross five or 10 years. Those are all good things, but they were not his purpose. Jesus maintained a single focus: the cross. He would not be distracted by the obvious problems, Pharisees, Scribes, and opposition. Nor would he be deterred by subtle issues, healing, teaching, and preaching.
We must never allow the problems of this word to distract us from the source of our power. We must also be careful to not become so busy that we stray from the purpose Christ has for our lives.
III. Destroy doubt
When Peter got into the boat, the disciples worshiped Jesus. We get the feeling that this worship of Him was different. Amazingly this is not a first-time event for the disciples. Earlier in Matthew chapter 8, the disciples are in the boat when a storm comes up. So bad is the storm that they think they will die. Sound familiar? Only instead of walking on the water, Jesus is asleep in the boat. The disciples wake Jesus, and He speaks to the winds and the waves and the storm calms. The disciples look at one another and say, "What kind of man is this? – even the winds and the sea obey Him?" Compare that with what they confess here. Now they say that Jesus is the Son of God.
How did they get from "What kind of man is this?" to "You are the Son of God."? Something about the whole experience opened their eyes to the power and ability of Jesus. Before this encounter Jesus was just an amazing man, but now the disciples saw Him as the Messiah and Son of God.
So how can we see Jesus for who He really is? How can we move from seeing Jesus as just a great man, to the only one who can change our lives? We must spend time with Him. It is simple, but sometimes it is the most obvious things that we fail to see. To know Jesus we must spend time with Jesus.
When the storms of life come, how long will you wait till you call on Jesus? Don't we often try to think our way out of problems and search for others who can get us out of our problems, before we look to Jesus? Why is Jesus not our first refuge in difficult times?
No matter how we answer that question, there is a deeper problem: We doubt Jesus. We trust our skills, our intellect, our money, our position, or our connections more than we do the Son of God. We only turn to Jesus as a last result. We put Jesus on a time limit. If Christ does not handle our problem within a certain about of time, we assume that He does not care, is not able, or is too busy. So we go to someone or something else. Not only must Christ be our first choice, He must become our only choice.
I can imagine the question that may be in your mind: "But what if Jesus does not help?" Jesus may not come when you want, do what you want, or follow your every direction, but Jesus does care. He is all-powerful, and he will help. Notice that the storms do not calm down until Jesus gets into the boat. The whole experience with Peter walking on the water happened while the storm raged. Sometimes Jesus does not remove the problems of life, but He shows up and walks with you through them.
That's where trust and faith come in. Our life is built on Jesus and Him alone, not Jesus and something else, or Christ and someone else. When we realize that all we need is Jesus we will trust Him. It will not matter if the storms rage, or the lightning flashes. All that will matter to us is that we have Jesus. No doubts in His ability, no questions about if this is the right course for our life, no wondering if Christ can.
When I was a youth minister I brought a band for an evangelism event. They were wild and crazy and the kids loved them. In the middle of this insane event, the lead singer said, "It is impossible to come into the presence of Jesus and leave the same way you came."
That is what has happened to the disciples. They have come into the presence of Jesus, and just Jesus. They have seen Him do the incredible and that has dispelled the disillusionment, defeated the distractions, and destroyed the doubts. That is what we need to do. To know Christ personally, to stay focused on Him, and to trust Him only. When we do those three things, Jesus can look at us and say come out of the boat, and we will.
The existential philosopher, Søren Kierkegarrd, called the decision to follow Jesus a leap of faith, like jumping off the cliff. One could not play it safe and follow Christ, rather we must be willing to risk it all. Peter would call it leaving the boat. But the time to play it safe is over, we must risk it all for the sake of Christ. Are there some fears that cause your to be disillusioned and keep you from risking it all for Christ? Could it be that you have allowed those fears to become greater than they really are? Are problems distracting you from the source of your power? Do doubts nag at you and keep you from learning to trust Christ?
Whatever it is, the One greater than fears, problems, and doubts is here. Jesus is waiting on you to believe in Him and risk it all. Come on, leave the boat and walk on the water. Jesus says you can do it.