Keep Your Eyes on Jesus!
|"St. Peter Walks on the Sea" by Jame I. Tissot|
And 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 and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:28–31).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Lisa was a hospice nurse so she knew how fragile life can be. She had helped countless people go through the dying process with their spouse or parent or child. She’d been with many families as they went through the storms of illness and the loss of loved ones. But suddenly it hit much closer to home.
It started when she fell and broke her own elbow. Ten days later her father fell and broke his neck. After 35 days in the intensive care unit, he went home to be with Jesus. A few weeks later, her sister, Sandy, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and placed under hospice care. Lisa went home to help care for her sister. Sandy’s faith in Jesus was an inspiration to those around her. The day before she died, she pointed to a corner of the room where she said she saw two angels waiting to take her to heaven.
When asked how she could cope with all these hardships that piled up one upon the other, Lisa responded, “When the wind and waves seem about to overtake you, you have to keep your eyes on Jesus. When you feel like you’re ready to sink, His loving hand reaches out and catches you. Just keep your eyes on Jesus!”
When life is fragile, we can count on our loving Lord to be there with us to strengthen our faith. We confidently proclaim with the psalmist: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped” (Psalm 28:7).
It seemed like smooth sailing for Peter and the other disciples. Fair skies all the way to the horizon and a friendly breeze filling their sails. They had been fed with the words of Jesus. They had gone out in pairs to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and infirmity. They had just witnessed the miraculous feeding of the multitude, even helping to distribute the pieces of bread and fish to the hungry crowd. Now they were headed across the lake for new challenges.
At times, it may seem like smooth sailing for our loved ones and us. We’re being fed spiritually by God’s Word and Sacraments. We’ve experienced many of God’s blessings in our personal and family life. We’ve been involved in God’s mission to bring His Word to our friends and neighbors. We’ve seen God’s healing power at work in many lives. We’re ready to head out on the sea of life to new challenges. But suddenly, we come face-to-face with the storms and struggles of life. The wind whips the sails and the waves buffet our boat. We feel alone, helpless, and at the mercy of forces beyond our control.
The disciples struggled that night against the wind and the waves. Without Jesus by their side, their faith unraveled. They may have been thinking, as people often do when they are going through storms, “Where is Jesus when you really need Him?” Even when Jesus showed up, they were still terrified. They didn’t recognize Him. They thought He was a ghost walking on the lake.
We, too, experience the winds of change and the waves of adversity. As the storms of life sweep over us, we may be overwhelmed by a sea of doubt and despair. In those fearful times, we don’t always recognize Jesus’ presence.
The examples of such are many and various. They can be overheard in our conversations and they echo in our private thoughts. Your sister calls and says, “Mom fell and is in the hospital. She needs an operation and will probably have to go to a swing bed for recovery.” The doctor tells you, “Some people have a good recovery from a stroke like yours. With therapy, you may regain the use of your hand.” Your supervisor calls you into his office, hands you a box, and tells you, “We have to let you go. You have 20 minutes to clean out your desk.” Your father bends down to your level and tearfully says, “Kids, I’m sorry, but your mother and I just can’t live together anymore.”
Any one of these is enough to cause us to wonder, “Where is Jesus when you really need Him?” Any one of these is enough to shipwreck our fragile faith. But when they pile up one on the other they can knock us for a loop.
When His disciples were in the depths of their despair, Jesus offered encouragement. “Take heart; It is I,” He said. “Don’t be afraid.” And Peter responded, “Lord, if it’s You, command me to come to You on the water.”
From superstitious terror, Peter leapt to the opposite extreme—the daring of faith. Convinced that Jesus walked on the water, the thought suddenly flashed into his mind that with Jesus’ consent, he could, too. Just as Jesus had passed on His authority to perform miraculous healing and cast out demons, He could call Peter to walk on the water also. This was true boldness of faith on Peter’s part, that strength of faith that knows and trusts that even natural impossibilities yield before the will, Word, and power of Jesus. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked—actually walked!—on the water in order to go to Jesus.
But when he saw the wind, Peter became frightened once more. In that moment, Peter’s faith gave way. He looked at the terrifying wind and forgot to look at Jesus who was just a few paces away. And then he began to sink.
Peter had not overestimated his faith, nor had he wanted to show it off; nor did Jesus want to teach him a lesson by properly humbling him. Jesus never humbles faith, but always encourages it. He never snuffs out faith, but fans its flames. He encouraged faith in Peter when He told him to come. The trouble was that instead of holding on to his faith, Peter let go of it. He took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink into doubt as well as the water.
“Lord, save me!” Peter cried. The saving for which Peter cried was physical deliverance from drowning. The saving Jesus granted him was much more. Our physical well-being is only secondary. Jesus is always more concerned with our spiritual safety. With that in mind, Jesus reached out His hand and rescued Peter, restoring his faith. Safely in the boat, Jesus then calmed the wind and waves.
Jesus’ words to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” are usually regarded as a rebuke. In reality, in a gentle way, Jesus pointed out to Peter just what caused his trouble: too little faith when he looked at the wind, and doubt crowding out faith at the thought of danger. His words, “You of little faith,” were intended to encourage and increase that faith.
Jesus’ question, “Why did you doubt?” must always remain without an answer, for no rational or sensible answer can be given. No believer can ever find the least reason or excuse for doubting, for doubting can have but one result—disaster! Every believer’s purpose should be connected solely with his faith—for faith, alone and always, results in deliverance, safety, and praise of the Lord. In response to Jesus’ kindness and blessings, we offer Him our worship and praise.
The twelve bowed down before Him in recognition of Jesus’ powerful display of omnipotence, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” But Jesus has done even greater things for us than merely walking on water or saving a sinking disciple. He gave Himself into death on the cross as full payment for the sins of the world. He rose again from the dead on the third day, and ascended into heaven at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
Jesus has redeemed us lost and condemned sinners, purchased us and won us from all sins, death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Nevertheless, there will still be times when the storms of life will seem bigger than your Savior. Even as you walk by faith, you’ll look at situations around you and grow afraid, convinced that you, too, are about to sink. Like Peter, we are all sinner-saints. We are all a combination of confident conviction and damning doubt. We all struggle at times, sometimes even seconds after having demonstrated a most courageous faith, for we take our eyes off the object of our faith and we turn inward to ourselves and our own condition. What do we do?
Keep your eyes on Jesus! And as surely as He reached out to Peter and pulled him from the waves, Jesus reaches out to you today with His love, forgiveness, and strength.
In His Word of Law, Jesus shows you your sin and unbelief so that you might repent and turn back to Him, perhaps even cry out in your desperation: “Lord, save me!” In His Gospel, Jesus restores you and empowers you to greater faith. In Holy Baptism, through contrition and repentance, your Old Adam is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires, that a new man should emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. In the Lord’s Supper, Christ gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through each of these means of grace, Jesus continues to reassure you: “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.” I have redeemed you. You are mine. You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.