Faith Perspective - Matthew 14:22–36

For those of you who have seen and enjoyed the Lord of The Rings films, one interesting thing you notice is the size of the hobbits. Hobbits are the human-like creatures born in the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien who live in the land of Middle Earth and are about half the size of humans. But in the movies, the hobbit characters are played by normal-sized men.

 
Faith Perspective - Matthew 14:22–36
 

In fact, in real life, the actors who play Frodo the hobbit and Gandalf the wizard are only about five inches different in height. Yet, in the movie, Gandalf is significantly larger and taller than Frodo. How did the filmmakers do this? Was it through computers? Well, no, they accomplished this through something called “Forced Perspective.”

Forced perspective is a technique that creates an optical illusion to make an object seem smaller or larger than it actually is. The visual effects crew placed the actors in certain spots with a distance between them, and then placed the camera at the right angle to make the actors appear to be very different in size. They even built elaborate tracks to move the camera, props, and the actors at the same time in order to keep up the illusion. As a result, they forced a point-of-view on the moviegoer so we see the actors and props the way they want us to see them.

Perspective is powerful. Speaking about her time in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII, Corrie Ten Boom once said, “You have to learn to see things in the right proportions. Learn to see great things great and small things small.” By God’s grace, she was able to see her temporary circumstances in proportion to eternity. She was able to see the power of the Nazis in proportion to the power of the one true God.

But it is not easy to see things that way. It requires faith. Hebrews 11 says, Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Throughout the Scriptures, we learn that in this life we must live by faith, which is difficult because we naturally prefer to live by sight. Our fear and doubt interferes with our faith and we look for something visible in which to trust. But God gives us the promises of his Word, accompanied by the help of his Holy Spirit,

to help us live by faith. Therefore, our desire should be to live by faith, and to learn, as Corrie Ten Boom said, “to see things in the right proportions.” But how do we do that?

Well, it is a matter of perspective. We need a faith perspective. There are two things we must always remember, and when we fail to remember either one, we default to walking by sight. A perspective is being forced upon us by the world around us and by our own sinful natures, but we must remember two things. You can see them listed on page 6 of the worship guide. When walking by faith: 1. we will face the continual presence of our visible and daunting fears. (v.22-30) and 2. we can trust the continual presence of our sufficient and loving God. (v.31-36) So, let’s look at each of these.

The events here at the end of Matthew 14 occur right after Jesus miraculously feeds the 5000. Mark also talks about that event and this one in his gospel account, saying that after Jesus got in the boat that “they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Kind of shocking language to describe the apostles. What does it mean? Well, even after seeing Jesus turn five loaves and two fish into enough food for thousands of people, they were still blind to exactly who Jesus was - fully man and fully God.

Knowing that about the disciples helps us as we read Matthew’s account of the event.

Verse 22 says that Jesus made the disciples leave him so he could be alone to pray. According to his human nature, Jesus needed time alone for prayer. The implication is that his disciples were always with him. They would not leave him unless told. So, he instructed them to go, and after he finished ministering to the people, he would go to pray alone for a while and then meet up with them later.

Jesus obviously prayed for a very long time, and eventually the disciples found themselves being tossed around on the sea of Galilee, from, verse 23 says, “when evening came” until “the fourth watch of the night,” which was between 3 and 6 AM! They were out there quite a while without Jesus! It was very windy, notice verse 24 says, “the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.” The boat was out toward the middle of the lake in the wee hours of the morning! And then Jesus comes along to meet them, verse 25 says, “walking on the sea.”

Now, some have suggested that this was not a supernatural event. But there is no indication that Matthew, as an eyewitness, thought that Jesus was stepping on rocks or a sandbar. Some critics try to strip this account of the miraculous. But supernatural power is perfectly consistent with who the gospels present Jesus to be. And think about it - some of the men in the boat were fishermen by trade. They knew they were in deep waters.

Now look with me at verse [26], But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. [27] But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” How close in proximity was Jesus to them at this point? We’re not sure, but obviously close enough to hear him speak amid a violent windstorm. They had been out in the middle of the water, having a hard time, perhaps wondering, “Where is Jesus? We need him.”

I agree here with John Calvin’s take on the disciples’ response, which is that this is a bad look for the disciples. Their reaction shows their foolishness. Mark’s statement that their hearts were blind after the food miracle backs this up. They had already seen more than enough evidence that Jesus possessed divine power. Jesus is continuing to display his power, that he is sovereign over the laws of nature. And the apostles had even done some miraculous works under the authority of Jesus. The issue here is not their eyes. It is their hearts. You’ve heard the old saying, “Seeing is believing?” Well, evidently seeing is not believing.

Do you ever think, “If I could see a miracle, then I would believe”? No, you wouldn’t. Or do you think, “If ‘so and so’ could see a supernatural occurrence, then he or she would believe in God or trust in Jesus”? No, they wouldn’t. The apostle John wrote near the end of his gospel account that the works of Jesus were, “written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The apostles knew - after spending so much time during his earthly ministry, and then viewing his death and interacting with him after his resurrection – they knew that it takes more than just seeing to believe. Because in fact,

you can see and still not believe. They proved that.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, the apostle Thomas still doubted at first, and when he saw the wounds on Jesus’ hands, he believed. And Jesus said to him, in John 20, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Most people in history don’t get to physically see Jesus. What we need is faith, and interestingly, the apostle Paul later made clear that faith comes from not from seeing, but from hearing.

Now, the apostles hear Jesus make a very significant statement. In verse 27, he says, “It is I.”

Those words harken back to God’s self-disclosure of his personal name in the OT. In Exodus 3, when Moses asks God his name, God replies that his name is “I AM.” Essentially, Jesus tells the disciples, “Have courage because I AM.” Then Peter, typically the spokesman of the group, answers, verse [28] “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” “If” it is you?

It seems that Peter isn’t questioning that it is Jesus, because he heard and recognized the voice of Jesus. The sense is almost, “Since it is you.” But nonetheless, Jesus instructs Peter to come out onto the water. Verse [29] He said, “Come.” So, Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

So, here is Peter, now with Jesus close by. Peter is experiencing the power of walking by faith. Yet notice verse [30] But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Peter was learning, at that moment, what we must also learn about walking by faith. When walking by faith, we must face the continual presence of our visible and daunting fears. The wind wasn’t pushing Peter down in the water. The sight of the wind revealed the condition of Peter’s faith.

Can you relate? Ever find that you want to walk by faith, but fear has real power over you? Do you find that your doubts paralyze you? That’s part of walking by faith. The things you fear will have an abiding presence. They will be ever near. In fact, you will find that at times, you are staring into the Word, you are laboring in prayer, you are fighting to believe and trust God, even as your fears bear down on you. Peter was in the presence of both the storm and Jesus at the same time. He feared for the same reason that you and I fear – we naturally walk by sight.

George Muller wrote, “Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man's power ends.”

But notice verse [31], Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Someone might say that Jesus means, “Peter,

why did you doubt yourself.” But that’s wrong. It wasn’t faith in himself that Peter needed.

It was not confidence in himself that would keep him above water. What Peter feared revealed that his faith in the power and sovereignty of Jesus was not as solid as he thought. When Jesus says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” isn’t he pointing out that even with the storm in view, Peter had nothing to fear, because when walking by faith we can trust the continual presence of our sufficient and loving God.

Verse 32, Jesus and Peter get into the boat, and then the wind dies down. And all who have witnessed this event recognize the divine power on display. Verse [33] says, And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” What we learn as we go forward in the book of Matthew is that even after this, the disciples still did not fully understand the kingdom and the plans of Jesus. But they do realize they are in the presence of the supernatural. At the least, this compelled them to trust him more. But then at the cross, they lost hope. They thought it was all over. Sight perspective takes over, doesn’t it? Well, here, their perspective leads them to cry out “You are the Son of God.” At the cross, their perspective would lead them to doubt that he ever truly was God’s Son and the promised Messiah. But here, they do what is right. They worship him.

Now notice these final verses. Verse [34] And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. [35] And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick [36] and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. This had happened before. Matthew 9 describes a woman who wanted to be healed by Jesus. And so strong was her faith that she felt she only needed to touch his clothing. Her faith was contrasted in Matthew 9 with those who walked by sight.

Notice the last part of verse 36, “And as many as touched it were made well.” Jesus had compassion on these people. He loved them, and his power was enough. They simply came to him with faith.

What gives disciples, both back then and still today, the strength to walk by faith is a full understanding of who God is, and we see that nowhere else but in the person of Jesus. As we make our way through Matthew, we see a group of people getting to know God through the person of Jesus Christ. What we see is that the more you and I know him, the more we are compelled to have a faith perspective even in the face of our fears. J. Gresham Machen wrote, “The more we know of God, the more unreservedly we will trust him; the greater our progress in theology, the simpler and more childlike will be our faith.” That is the goal of theology – to trust God with a simple faith.

Do you know God in this way? As we go to the table today, we see visible signs in the bread and cup that remind us of the sufficiency and love of our God. Do you know one purpose of the table? It is to strengthen our faith in the midst of our fears and doubts. The bread and cup represent the body and blood of Jesus. Have you trusted in his body and blood as the payment for the guilt of your sin? Have you turned from your sin and turned to him? That is the first step of faith. And what follows is one step after another, each one trusting in the person and work of Jesus.

Let’s pray together.