Scared to Death – Matthew 14:22-33

It might be fun some day to explore the question: “What is has been the most terrifying event in your life?” There aren’t too many lions around here, but perhaps it was a dog attack or a visiting bear at camp. It might have been the threatening of a rattlesnake, or perhaps a nearby lightning strike. When missionary Mike Meredith was coming to visit us a few years ago, he and his family were driving through the mountains to reach us, a rock crashed onto the hood and into the windshield of their car. Perhaps it was something like that in your life.

Consider the Apostle Peter – from what you know, when might he have been the most frightened? Was it when he felt trapped in the courtyard of the high priest after Jesus’ arrest. It might have been on that trip across the Sea of Galilee when a storm struck and threatened to swamp the boat. OR it might have been at one or two points in this scripture. Is it possible that Peter did not know how to swim? Surprisingly, that is very common in sailors.

I have preached from these verses many times – all with different purposes. Once the subject was faith, and three times the message dealt with various aspects of the Christian life. One of my messages was preached on the first Sunday of the year. There has been one message about Christ and another on the nature of God the Father. But the other day I was struck the Peter’s simple words in verse 30, and it sent me in a direction that I had not gone before. I have never preached this event as an illustration of salvation from sin “Lord, save me!” I won’t pretend that Peter became a child of God on the occasion of his immersion in the Sea of Galilee. The Lord redeemed him much earlier – ten chapters earlier. But Peter’s plea in this chapter opens the door to some salvation considerations and applications.

Let’s begin by reconstructing THE EVENTS of that day – and that night.

Christ and His disciples had been on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee where they were confronted by a large number of hungry people. Jesus first fed them with the milk of the Word and healed a great many of their sick and wounded. Then as the sun began to set over the western horizon, over the lake, perhaps in an array of beautiful colors, the disciples urged the Lord to dismiss everyone, so they could go an find food. “But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.” Then came one of the great miracles of Jesus’ earthly ministry – the feeding of the five thousand men, besides the women and children. When the collection of the left-overs was finished, “Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.”

The ship in which the disciples sailed, was probably much like the fishing boats used on the lake today. If so, it was between 20 and 30 feet long and 7 or 8 feet across. I would guess that the gunwales, running around the boat were probably 2 to 4 feet off the water, depending on the weight of the cargo or passengers. When the weather was right, a sail would be used to propel the craft across the 8 miles of water at the widest part of the lake. But in contrary winds, as it was on this night, a set of oars would have been used. The fourth watch of the night began at about 3 AM, so it is likely that the disciples had been rowing in shifts for as long as six hours in the midst of a nasty storm.

And there came Jesus walking towards them on surface of the water. The men who were rowing were looking east with their backs to the wind and saw Him first. Perhaps it was with the help of lightning that they saw Him walking in the valleys between the waves. “And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.” This word “spirit” is not the most common one in the New Testament. It is not “pneuma” as in “Holy Spirit.” It is “phantasma” (fan’-tas-mah). These usually level-headed men, thought they saw a phantom, and they were overwhelmed with fear. “But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” “Be of good cheer, comfort or courage; it is I, fear not.” I tend to think that Peter was not as full of fear as some of the others. There were other things in his heart and brain at the moment. “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” What if it WAS a demon behind the boat, and the phantom said, “Come on out the water’s fine?” It would have meant Peter’s death under these circumstances. So it doesn’t appear that Peter made the same mistake as some of the other brethren. Then with Christ’s permission, Peter dropped down over the gunwale onto the water and started walking. “But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” And immediately the Lord did exactly that “He stretched forth this hand and caught him” saving him.

I hope that everyone understands that Jesus “saved” Peter from drowning that night. He was already a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus. But do you suppose, that as a child, Peter had come close to drowning? As he began to sink, did he remember that horribly day in his life? Was this the most terrifying thing in his life? Was this Peter’s greatest fear?

Having re-considered the event, now think about PETER – THE EXPERT.

Most likely Peter’s father and grandfather both grew up on the Sea of Galilee, catching fish for a living. I think that Peter had sailed with his father hundreds of times before he became a disciple of Christ. He probably knew the lake, knew the best fishing places, and he knew the dangers of fishing. Sure, he didn’t have the advantages that we have today of predicting the weather. But when the storm hit, he knew exactly what to expect. He had experience in this sort of thing. This was a part of the life of fisherman Simon Peter. He was as much an expert as anyone on the lake.

He was also one of the disciples of Christ – one of the first disciples. This was nearing the end of two years walking with the Lord and hearing His word. Like everyone else, like all of us, people mature as Christians at different rates. There were things in which Peter was to be commended and imitated. But there were things in his life which should leave an icky taste in our mouths. When it comes to some doctrines, you excel in understanding, while someone else grasps another doctrine better than you. We commend Peter for being the man willing to jump over the side of the ship to join Christ. Sure there may have been pride or other distasteful aspects to this. But we don’t read of John or Andrew joining him or coming up with the idea before Peter did. In other words, Peter was an above average Christian. In our society, he might have considered himself to be a theologian. He was going to become a Christian author, publishing a couple good books. He was a mentor to John Mark, and essentially the co-author of the “Gospel of Mark.” Peter was an expert in religion as well as being an expert in life on the Sea of Galilee. And yet this expert cried out in terror, “Lord, save me!”

Now let’s make a spiritual application. Joe received an excellent home school education, and in the process acquired a thirst for physics. Contrary to his parents wishes, but with their daily prayers, he enrolled in the local university and eventually earned a PhD in Astrophysics. To get his degree he had to learn a number of related sciences, and he became an expert in all of them. He understood chemistry and mathematics as they relate to astronomy; he even learned meteorology. He stayed at the top of the world of technology, not just in social media, but in applying all the new ideas and gadgets to various practical aspects of his life. He was an expert on successfully living in the 21st century.

Joe had also grown up in the Christian love and instruction of his parents and their church. He had been to Sunday School, taught by godly, dedicated teachers, who loved him and wanted him to know Bible truth. By the time he was 18 and enrolling in college, he had attended 3,000 church services and had heard hundreds of gospel messages. His sharp mind had understood the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the necessity of saving grace. He had watched and experienced enough of the world to see the wickedness and destruction of sin. When he enrolled in university he considered himself to be an expert in the Christian religion. He was an amateur theologian and could even debate some of his liberal, atheistic classmates. He was not too different from you.

But there was one area of Christianity where he was seriously deficient – just like some of you. He had never learned to fear. He had never cried out in terror, “Lord, save me!” Oh, yes, he had made a profession of faith as an 11-year-old, and he had been immersed in the lake. But his faith was intellectual. It was from his well-developed mind rather than from his heart. He had never smelled the brimstone and never heard the screams of lost souls – or those screams in his own soul. He had never cried out from the depths of his innermost being, “Lord, save me!”

But then there was that fateful day, when the Martian landing craft, carrying himself and seven other astronaughts crashed in landing on Mars, killing everyone but himself. There was that day, when he found himself completely alone 60 million miles from earth. There was no way to return, because his ship was too severely damaged. He had enough food to last a few days, because the rest had been destroyed. He had no communication with earth. Having no where else to turn, he returned to the God of his youth, crying out in fear, “Lord, save me!”

It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how much of an expert in the things of the world, you need Christ. And it doesn’t matter how religious you might be, or how much theology you know, or how many scriptures you can quote, you need the Saviour. Has there ever been a moment when in fear for your soul you cried out, “Lord, save me”?

Peter was not really an expert in anything, but he did wisely reach out to THE ONE WHO IS THE EXPERT.

When Peter’s fellow Apostle, Paul, was in court being tried before King Agrippa, he asked, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” This is an excellent question which could be modified and asked a thousand different ways. And one would be, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that Christ should walk on water?” Logic demands the rejection of the theory of evolution and an acceptance of a Creator. Christ Jesus is that Creator, and as such, why shouldn’t He be able to break the natural laws of chemistry or physics when He chooses? We are told here that when Peter and his Saviour climbed into the boat, the wind stopped. That was not a natural coincidence. Christ ordered the wind to stop. John 6 adds that their ship was immediately at the intended destination. “Why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should do such things?” The very nature of God demands His ability to do the miraculous.

In this case Peter had no where else to turn. He had come to the end of his tether; there was no life-saver floating nearby; he was too far from the boat. And in fact, with these winds and waves, none of the other brethren could have helped. It was the Lord Jesus or nothing at all. Have you ever reached this point in your spiritual life? Your expertise in the world means nothing so far as your eternal soul is concerned. And has your religion ever come up short? All the Bible lessons which Peter had heard over the last 30 months meant almost nothing at this point. His baptism at the hands of John is soon going to be swept away by waters deeper than the Jordan. “Lord, save me.”

And the hand of Christ stretched out toward him and caught him. Don’t the words “and caught him” suggest that Peter was going down – he was almost lost? If it had not been for Christ Jesus at this precise moment – at this final moment – the earthly life of Peter would have been over for ever. But Peter WAS saved.

I wish I knew more of the details at this point. Did the Lord have to pull the disciple out of the water? Or did the mere touch of the divine hand draw up the doused disciple like a magnet pulling up iron? I suppose that Peter could have become instantly dry, both from the rain and spray and from his sinking. But I think the effects would have been greater, if he continued to look like a nearly drowned kitten. And how did Peter get back to the boat? Did Christ carry him? Not very likely. Peter probably walked, but this time he kept his eye on the Saviour, not the waves or the wind.

There is only one way to be saved from the destruction of sin – “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” What is the only way to successfully live the Christian life? It is with an eye on Christ. “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Peter was a dead man until the hand of Christ caught him.

What was the EFFECT of all this including Peter’s salvation?

What should be the effect of such a miraculous event in our lives? There should be an even greater willingness to listen and learn. How sincerely did Peter hear Jesus’ words, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didn’t thou doubt?” Remember that earlier it appeared that Peter’s faith was greater than any other disciple in that church. But it was still so small and tenuous; so easily spoiled by wind and rain.

And hand-in-hand with his continuing Christian education, there was more sincere and reverential worship. “Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying Of a truth thou art the Son of God.” Christ Jesus is the Son of God – which is another way of saying that He is God, the Son. Only those who PROPERLY cry out, “Lord, save me!” will ever be saved, becoming children of God. Only those people can fully understand Bible theology – the study of God. And only those people will properly worship the Lord.

Peter’s salvation illustrates to us that there is a difference between religion and salvation. The disciples teach us that none of us have yet reached the pinnacle of our worship of God.

Has there ever been a day when you were terrified sufficiently to cry out to God for salvation? Has He ever yet reached down to you, lifting you up from the angry waves? Be like Peter, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ so that thou shalt be saved.