We've seen and heard lots of news lately about "Sandy," the storm that struck the East coast late last October, haven't we? Almost daily we hear about the devastation and the resulting clean-up efforts. About all the losses and the heartaches brought by the storm. Seems like "storms" and "heartaches" go together, don't they?
I wasn't there to experience Hurricane Sandy, but I've been in storms before (haven't we all?) both the physical and the other sort of "life storms" that seem to find us at times, no matter where we are. Even though not having been in the area of that storm I can say, with much surety, that a lot of praying went on. Perhaps with a lot of those prayers including the words, "Lord, save me" in them.
I know that I've written editorials on the subject of "storms" before and tied those "storms" into spiritual lessons, but it's always appropriate to look at a lesson on dealing with the "storms" of life. Today seems to be another one of those occasions and I appreciate your considering my words again on the subject.
Before getting into the Biblical references of our lesson, allow me to offer one more commentary: it just seems to me that a lot of people only remember God in the midst of a "storm," whatever shape of form that "storm" is when it comes upon us. It doesn't have to be a "dark and stormy night" like Snoopy starts his stories off with, but "darkness" is really fitting to our "storms," isn't it? The adjective "light" just doesn't come to mind when we talk about "storms," does it?
And "darkness" certainly was part of the scene we're going to use in our Bible reference here today. This reference is found in the 14th chapter of Matthew and in verses 23 thru 33. Please follow along there and make sure that I relate the events in those verses correctly.
First, let's set the scene, so to speak. We know that it was dark because verse 25 tells us that this event occurred "in the fourth watch of the night." That equates to being about 3:00 in the morning. And, we know that it was "a dark and stormy night" because the ship was being "tossed with waves" and the wind "was contrary." Just so that we fully understand this: "contrary" means things like difficult, troubling, hostile or adverse. Generally speaking: something unfavorable.
Certainly not the best time for the apostles of Jesus to be out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in a little boat. They were there because Jesus had sent them on ahead to the "other side" of the sea while He went onto a mountain to pray.
Now some of the apostles were fishermen and, no doubt, were more used to being in a boat out on the sea, but most of them were occupied on land so, human nature being what it is, I have no trouble seeing them fairly alarmed by their predicament. Me, I'd be scared to death.
And then, to add another fear factor to this scene, they looked out on the water and saw what they thought was a "ghost" coming towards them. (Vs. 26) The Bible says that they were "troubled" by this vision. I'll bet they were. It says that they "cried out in fear." In some places the Bible uses the phrase "sore afraid," which to us Okies, Arkies and Texans means "flat scared."
That's when Jesus called out to them with some words that all of us should take to memory and recall when we're in the midst of our "storms:" "Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid." (ESV) I'm sure that these would have been soothing words for them to hear because it wasn't too long back (Chap. 8) that they had been on the same sea in a little boat, but Jesus had been with them on that occasion. When the storm came up and they were afraid they called out the same thing: "Lord, save us." That's when He "rebuked the winds and the sea" and they calmed down. But, He wasn't with them in the boat this time. (Doesn't that inspire a lesson on "being in the boat with Jesus?)
Thinking about these words brings me to recall some other words of Jesus in Matthew 10:28 when He told His disciples to not be afraid of things that "kill the body" but rather, be afraid of the things that can kill both the "body and the soul." The idea here being, if you're with me (Christ) you're safe from eternal harm. Our "storms" are just one of those things that can take our human life, but can't take our "soul" if its secure in Jesus.
But then, up pops Peter. Good old impetuous Peter who would later on do and say other impetuous things. But Peter is going to serve as a "show and tell" lesson here to the disciples then present and to everyone since. Allow me to explain what I mean by those words.
I see a little different aspect here than most teachers I've heard speak about this occasion in a lesson. In the earlier event on the sea, Jesus chided them about their being of "little faith." I see another "lesson in faith" about to be taught to them here in this event using Peter to accomplish it. Take the time to read both accounts that I'm using today, Matt. 8:23-27 and Matt. 14:23-33. I think that you'll see some very similar words said by Jesus on both occasions.
But, back to Peter on the second occasion. Notice he says, "Lord, IF it is you, command me to come to you on the water." (Vs. 28) Notice my emphasis on "if." Doesn't that sound a little like a test? Now, we know that Jesus knew what was going to happen, don't we? So He simply says, "Come." Like, "OK, come on."
Now Peter didn't hesitate a bit. He left the boat and started walking on the water towards Jesus. But then, he started paying more attention to the "storm" going on around him than he was paying on Jesus. He became "afraid" and "beginning to sink" he called out "Lord, save me." Not an uncommon request, is it?
Jesus "reached out His hand and caught him" and then chided him on his lack of "faith." He asked Peter, "Why did you doubt?" (Vs 31) Let's see if we can see a reason Peter doubted. I think it's pretty simple myself - Peter did what a lot of us do sometimes. He let the "storm" take his focus off of Christ. Instead of paying attention to Christ, he began paying attention to the things going on around his physical life.
Remember I mentioned that he "began to sink?" Isn't that what a lot of us do? We let worldly things pull our attention away from Christ little by little. We don't necessarily go under immediately, as we get less and less focused on Jesus, we slowly sink. We slowly get farther away from Him. But, just as He did with Peter, he will "stretch forth His hand and catch us." However, like Peter, it's upon us to realize that we're sinking and where our salvation is located.