Be At Peace And Have No Fear!

February 22, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 14:22-36

Sent Out To The Lake

1. "Immediately after that, Jesus compelled his disciples to get into the boat and had them cross to the other side ahead of him, and in the mean time he dismissed the crowds. After he dismissed the crowds, he went up a mountain alone to pray," (verses twenty-two and twenty-three). [This] is a passage where you feel an extraordinary hustle and bustle [going on]. The story written just before this is the one about Jesus feeding a crowd of over five thousand persons, if you count only the males, with five loaves and two fish. Trying to picture that, the place must have been overrun by a whirlwind of wild enthusiasm and excitement. But, Jesus put the disciples on a boat right away and sent them to the other side of the shore so that he might hurriedly separate them from the crowd. And meanwhile, with his own hands he compelled the huge crowd that was turning into a revelry and had them dismissed. Furthermore, as if he were hiding himself from the crowds, he went up into the mountain alone and had a time of prayer.

2. Why did the disciples have to be separated "immediately" from the crowds? -- If you put yourself in the disciples' place, I have a hunch you'll see why. In verse nineteen the scripture says, "The disciples gave the bread to the crowd." That's right, it was actually the disciples who passed out the bread to the crowd. The disciples, who had scurried about, did not know how many people they had. But perhaps they [each], at the least, had been designated to pass out bread to several hundred persons. What kind of feeling would they have gotten had they passed bread out to several hundred persons, and had seen the joy of several hundred persons, and had heard words of thanks and amazement from several hundred persons? Were I one of the disciples, I would have surely been in ecstasy. Even though I knew it was Jesus who had given us the bread, still though, while transporting the bread, I would probably get to feeling as if I were doing something huge for the people and as if I had become somebody worthy to receive their thanks.

3. When you do something for people and you're thanked, there is always the temptation of [too much] pride in it. It is difficult to be constantly aware that [we] are no more than a vehicle of the Lord's grace. When you think about it, being a productive Christian may not be hard to do by that vehicular definition. The really hard part is being a humble Christian. For that reason it is necessary at times that we be separated from the happy and thankful folks, like in this scene. Furthermore, it is necessary that we be forced to get aboard a boat, get sent out, get rocked by adverse winds on a lake, and get a sense of our own powerlessness. That's right; even these [original] disciples had a need for this.

4. The disciples were sent out on a lake. It is translated as "lake," but actually it is the word for "sea." The word "lake" isn't much. When we put it as "the sea," a special nuance is included in it. For persons in antiquity, "the sea" was an object of terror that went beyond human powers. It is a symbol for all kinds of powers that oppose God, and even more so, for the many dreadful forces that by far exceed human strength. Christ had daringly sent his disciples out into that kind of "sea." Next the disciples become troubled by the adverse winds and waves.

5. The boat, in which they were having a hard time rowing against the head winds and were unable to go forward like they wanted to, the frail boat, in which they were being tossed by huge waves and were seemingly about to sink any moment -- it was nothing but a portent pointing to the future of the disciples. It was also a prediction of how things would be for the church later on. In this way Christ demonstrated [a message] to his disciples ahead of time. Being a disciple of Christ doesn't necessarily mean that things will turn out so that we will be admired by others, or be thanked, or be considered a great person. No, instead rather, we will come up against many different hostilities and hardships and we will not be able to avoid coming face to face with our own weakness and powerlessness, like we are on a small boat being tossed about by adverse winds and huge waves. This [is what] Christ showed them ahead of time.

Be At Peace!

6. But, that's not all. The main [point] is not that we are humbled during a storm. There is something much more important. During a storm they must know that there is something even greater. It is that right in the middle of the storm Christ comes to us. It is that right in the middle of troubles and terrors Christ comes to us. Beginning in verse twenty-five the text is written as follows. "As morning dawned, Jesus was walking on the lake and came to his disciples. The disciples, seeing Jesus walking on the lake surface, said startled, 'It is a ghost,' and because of so much fear they raised their voices shouting. Jesus immediately spoke to them. 'Be at peace! It is me. Have no fear!'," (verses twenty-five through twenty-seven).

7. If asked how did Christ walk on the sea, I [could] only answer, "I don't know." But I do understand what it means. "The sea" caused the disciples trouble and pain, but even though it had such great power, it was totally under the feet of Christ. Christ tread on the sea with it under his feet. When we read this passage, the words of Christ written in the Gospel According To John, his words at the last supper, come to mind. The Lord said the following to the disciples. "You will have hard times in the world. But, have courage! I have already overcome the world," (John 16:33). The disciples had seen with their eyes this same Christ in the midst of the storm.

8. Christ's coming to the disciples, however, was not a joy for the disciples at first because they did not recognize Christ. They said, startled, "It is a ghost!" When their heads were full to the limit with waves and winds, when they were captivated by worries and woes, no matter how reassuringly Christ might have looked on at them, they were clueless, and instead their troubles and terror just worsened -- Regretfully, that kind of thing does happen. The figure of the disciples is often times also our figure, the way we really are.

9. However, a message is being addressed from Christ to these disciples, to us, and to the church. The Lord says, "Be at peace! It is me. Have no fear!" The statement, "Be at peace!," is the exact same words as that of "Have courage!," from the Gospel According To John, which I quoted to you just ago. Therefore, what he is saying in this text is not simply, "I'm not a ghost. It's me." The words, "It's me," also can be given as "I am here." In short, through his words Jesus shows himself and says, "I'm here, am I not? Be at peace! Have courage! It's okay. Have no fear!" Jesus is saying that.

Oh Weak One In The Faith, Why Did You Doubt?

10. And the narrative continues exclusively focused on one of the disciples who was hearing this message. "Whereupon, Peter answered. 'Oh Lord, if it's you, please command me and let me come to you as I walk on the water!' As Jesus said, 'Come!,' Peter stepped out of the boat, walked on the water and proceeded to Jesus. However, on noticing the strong winds, he became afraid and as he started to sink, he shouted, 'Oh Lord, help me!' Immediately Jesus extended his hands and took hold [of him], then he said, 'Oh weak one in the faith, why did you doubt?," (verses twenty-eight through thirty-one).

11. "It's me. I am here." The Christ, who is treading on the sea, is here. Peter found this out, then he himself stood on the sea and was willing to go to Christ. Peter heard the word from Christ, "Come!" Because of that, he goes walking on the water to Christ. One step, then another step. What is being emphasized here in this text is not the courage of Peter. It is Christ's word and its power. When Peter hears the words of Christ and obeys the words of Christ, he is able to tread on the sea with it under his feet. The winds had not died down. The waves had not become still. The situation had not changed one single bit. However, he was no longer a person tossed about by the sea. No matter the power of it, it couldn't destroy him. By faith we stand on the sea with Christ. That is one of the messages that this scripture passage is giving.

12. However, that is no more than just one aspect to it. That is not the whole of it. If it were wanting to say just this, it would have been good enough just to say that Peter had walked and left it at that. The story doesn't end there. The main thing that this scripture passage is trying to relate is not that Peter had once walked on the sea. Rather, its focus lies on the fact that Peter sank. -- And also on the fact that while he was sinking, what did Christ do.

13. After Peter goes for just a while, then he notices that the strong winds are blowing. He is gripped by fear. And he starts to sink. Christ called this change in Peter's heart "doubt." "Why did you doubt?," Christ said. What is "doubt?" This word has, originally, the meaning to go in two directions. Is it close to the word, "futagokoro" [literally "two hearts," which in Japanese also means "duplicity, treachery, double-dealing"]? Peter's heart was split in two. On the one side he is heading towards Christ and his word. But on the other side, his heart is heading into the wave and the wind. He is split in two. So he started sinking.

14. Sinking is scary. We too have had experiences in various forms of "I'm sinking." Yet, I cannot say definitively that to start sinking is a sin; because a person isn't necessarily of "two hearts" while sinking. Whether one's heart is going towards the terrible sea or going to Christ will simply vanish. Peter's heart went towards Christ. Peter cried out to Christ, "Oh Lord, please help me!" This, according to the literal meaning, is the words, "Oh Lord, please save me!" If, when he was sinking, he could seek for Christ with all of his heart, single-mindedly, then even sinking has value. The person who realizes then that without Christ one will just sink is a blessed person.

15. Peter cried out seeking, "Oh Lord, please save me!" What did Christ do? What does the text say? It is written that "Immediately Jesus extended his hands and took hold [of him]." [He does it] "immediately." And so it was that Christ grabbed Peter, Peter did not extend his hands and cling to Christ.

16. Christ said to Peter, "Oh weak one in the faith, why did you doubt?" The problem was in his double-heartedness / double-mindedness. However, Matthew is not recording this narrative in order to teach, "You must not sink like Peter did that time. When [you have] unbelief, you will sink." Matthew knows it well, that this is often the figure of the church in the real world, that this is the figure of the Christian. Who in the world could ever claim that he or she was not like Peter?! Don't we need to hear the words, "Oh you weak in the faith!," over and over, too?!

17. Therefore, Matthew is wanting to pass on news of the Christ who comes to the little boat that is about to sink, the Christ who extends his hands immediately to a Peter sinking because of a weak and watered-down faith. Matthew writes believing. That we will not end up absolutely sunken. Why is [that]? Because Christ is here. The church for generations has been a church that has had to say over and over, "Oh Lord, please save me!" We're the same, too. But that's fine. Since we can even pray, "Please save me!," that's fine. -- Because Christ is there, standing and treading on the sea with it under his feet. -- Because Christ is there, extending his hands to us, grabbing tightly and not letting go.