Matthew 14:22-33 – Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Before we get to the miracles and lessons of this text, it is good for us to see another example of people doubting God in spite of overwhelming evidence that God is going to take care of things. When the children of Israel were led out of Egypt by Moses, they repeatedly doubted that God was going to take care of them. They had just seen God carry out 10 huge miracles against the Egyptians in the form of those 10 plagues. The Nile River had been turned to blood, terrible darkness had come over the land, and many kinds of insects had come and devastated the land. The last plague was the death of the firstborn.
After all these miracles, the Israelites still doubted God when the Egyptian Army pursued them to the edge of the Red Sea. They accused Moses of leading them out into the desert to die. The Israelites doubted that God would provide for them and they failed to trust in God and God’s appointed leader, Moses. In spite of those doubts, God still delivered them. He protected them from the Egyptians and he led them through the Red Sea on dry ground. This example ties in with our devotion text. In Matthew 14, we see the disciples, and Peter in particular, doubting Jesus, even though he had just performed that miracle of the feeding of the 5000.
Before we get to Peter’s moment of doubt, let’s focus on the disciples’ first reaction to seeing Jesus on the water. The disciples had been experiencing a storm on the water. The wind and the waves were against them. During this storm, Jesus came walking out to them on the water. Verse 26 tells us, “When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.” It is not surprising that they would act that way. They had never seen Jesus do this before. Also, perhaps they thought that the storm was so bad that they might perish and this “ghost” was a sign that they weren’t going to make it.
After Jesus told them who he was, Peter has a moment of confidence and trust. He wants to walk out to Jesus and he starts to do just that. But we know what happened. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:30). Peter was distracted by the terror of the storm. He took his focus off of his Savior. In that split second, his trust lapsed and he began to sink. He had seen many miracles. He just recently saw the feeding of the 5000. He saw Jesus walking on the water and he himself had walked on the water. In spite of those miracles, fear and doubt still gripped his heart.
When we look at all these examples of doubt, we have to ask, “Why did these people still not believe?” Why did the Israelites in the wilderness doubt so much after the 10 plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea? Why did Peter doubt after witnessing so many miracles and after walking on the sea himself?
There are many things that try to create doubts in our hearts and that try to rob us of our trust in God. The devil will use whatever he can in our lives to get us to distrust the message of God’s Word. Satan uses the influence of culture to try to deceive us. We will encounter people who make the claim that science has disproven religion. The scientific community will uphold evolution as the truth about how this world came into being and they will treat us as outcasts for believing in creation. Our culture will ridicule our stance on sin. They don’t want to hear what God’s Word has to say on adultery, divorce, greed, jealousy, gossip and we can go on. Their viewpoint starts to get us to question God’s Word.
Those questions about God’s Word attack the miracles and teachings of the Bible. Could Jesus really have walked on the water? Surely there must have been a sand bar or something. Did Jesus really feed 5000 thousand people miraculously? Maybe the people had brought the food with them. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Maybe he just feinted on the cross and woke up later. These are just some examples. Our own personal questions might be different. If God really loved me, then why did he allow my loved one to die? If God truly is my Savior, then why doesn’t he rescue me from all my burdens in this life? The devil knows how to tempt us. If we give into these doubts, they can damage or even rob us of our faith.
We are not immune from those questions which arise in our hearts. The devil tries to use doubts to destroy faith. Thankfully, our Lord Jesus is the one who removes doubt.
When Jesus removes doubt from our hearts, it has a positive effect on us. It can strengthen us and give us confidence. Look again at the reaction in the heart of Peter. After Jesus calmed the fears of the disciples about him being a ghost, Peter’s confidence was strengthened. Verses 28-29 say, “‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” For that moment, Peter had no doubt or fear and he was able to walk on the water with Jesus.
Even after Peter’s faith lapsed, Jesus took care of him. When Peter fell, “Jesus reached out his hand and caught him” (Matthew 14:31). Then they both got into the boat and Jesus calmed the storm. The disciples responded, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). In this case, Jesus removed their doubts and strengthened their faith. Because of his great miracle, they trusted that he was the Son of God. We know from the rest of the gospels that they didn’t fully realize what it meant that Jesus was the Savior of the World. They didn’t realize this until after the resurrection. But at this moment, Jesus had taken away their doubts.
In the Bible, great miracles performed by God often have the short term effect of removing doubts. When God parted the waters of the Red Sea, the Israelites trusted in him. We can think of many other examples. However, many times, the people turned away from God after the memory of the miracle wore off. The real, lasting faith that overcomes doubts is worked in the heart through the Word of God.
When we are first brought to faith through the Gospel in the Word and the Sacrament of baptism, our faith clings to God and trust in him without much doubt. That initial joy of knowing our Savior is very powerful. We might feel just like Peter when he got out of the boat and started walking on the water. We feel like we can do anything with Jesus on our side. Jesus worked in us through the power of his gospel to assure us of our forgiveness and to point us to our eternity in heaven. It is a great joy when we have that confidence from knowing our Savior.
And yet we know about all those things that will try to destroy our faith. The devil will work to disrupt our faith. Our sinful nature will question the truths of the Word of God. We need Jesus throughout our lives so that he can keep us confident by removing our doubts. He doesn’t need to come to us with great miracles. And we have already seen how miracles don’t prevent doubts from surfacing again. He comes to us with the power of his Word. This Word is powerful and effective because God the Holy Spirit works through the Word.
When we are struggling because of those temptations to doubt or because of any other problem that may come up, we find comfort and peace in God’s Word. Our worship, that time centered around God’s Word, renews our strength and helps us to go out into the world with confidence in our Lord Jesus. I have noticed many times in my life, that when I sit down and read through Scripture, my faith is strengthened. I appreciate my forgiveness even more and I know that the Holy Spirit is working in me. Through this powerful Word of God, Jesus removes doubts.