Tuesday, September 27, 2016
TheStorm : Why did you doubt?
Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
So, let’s review…
We've discovered together that we can actually be satisfied rather than empty, even in our storms, especially those storms that are in our own hearts...knowing that we're not alone.
We've visited (or re-visited) the heartache of times where it feels like we’re being battered by the waves and there’s no hope on the horizon.
And in the last post, we looked at the miracle and promise of Jesus actually coming within our storms, as our long-lost hope in the midst of our greatest need.
Now we come to, in my opinion, the climax of all that has transpired. The miracle of Jesus and Peter on the waves. Yet, I must confess, this, too, hits a very close chord that is vibrating next to my heart as we speak; Peter is the only one who calls out to Jesus and does the impossible. Yet, I tend to skip past all the majesty and glory of this insanely, amazing miracle of him walking on water and focus entirely on his ‘failure’. Do you do the same?
I've titled this post Why did you doubt? because I think we need to wrestle with this question of Jesus’ the most. If we look at this question as the centre of this whole chapter in Matthew (or maybe even the whole book) of Matthew’s Gospel, all of a sudden, it becomes of paramount importance. There are any number of ways that we can interpret this question, but I've come up with three:
This question is either a) coming from a demanding know-it-all Saviour who means it to come across as condemnation, b) coming from someone who sincerely questions whether we have any idea who we think ourselves to be, or c) coming from a Saviour who sincerely sees our lack of faith but wants to convince us He sees a better option. I would like to tell you that I choose c) in all of circumstances of my life, but I know all too well that the condemnation that flares up in my soul is all too hot for me to handle most days, so I simply run away and believe lies.
Let me start with a).
I hope you see that a) really is not Jesus’ motivation at all. Jesus’ questioning Peter in this way is not meant to be a condemning question (though, if not set in the right context, like I believe we have for ever, it can appear to be condemning). If it was, He would be contradicting all else that we see in Scripture (namely, Romans 8:1 – There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ). So if it’s not condemnation, what is it?
Jesus has just come out from His little retreat-on-the-mountain, and is walking towards the disciples in the boat. They’re screaming like little girls and not exactly being the best example of faith. Still Jesus comes out towards them. They gasp at the sight of Him on the waves, cry out in fear and are utterly terrified (see Matt. 14:26). Jesus calms them down by identifying Himself and they seem to be comforted. I mention this at this point because I don’t see any condemnation in His words here. He knows they’re in a bit of shock that they see a man walking towards them on the water. They must have felt like they were either dreaming or experiencing the nightmare to surpass all nightmares. They actually believed they were seeing a ghost (see Matt. 14:26). He calms their hearts not with words of condescension, but with words of peace. This actually reminds me of the times we read in Scripture when God meets His people. Almost every time, we hear these words, ‘Do not be afraid’ (see Gen. 46:3; Deut. 31:6; Josh. 11:6; 2 Kings 1:15; Isa. 37:6; Jer. 1:8; Matt. 1:20; Matt. 28:5; Acts 18:9; 27:24; Rev. 1:17, to name a few). Jesus speaks words of peace because they are not at peace. At all. These guys really need a touch from the LORD and He gives it to them in full measure. Again, there is no condemnation. He takes them where they are at. He knows Who He is, and He knows very well who they are – He’s had full view of them for close to 8 hours up on the mountain, not to mention the years He’s been with them up to this point. But there is no condemnation. Charles Wesley, who wrote And Can it Be in 1738 said it beautifully,
No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in him, is mine
Alive in him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine
Bold I approach th' eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own
Bold I approach th' eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own
This question did not come from a demanding know-it-all who means it to come across as condemnation because that is not Who Jesus was, or is.
Jesus would have a bit of an attitude problem if we think b) is right. Believing Jesus asks this of Peter is coming from someone who sincerely questions whether we have any idea who we think ourselves to be isn't true either. Here’s an excerpt from my booklet The Call : Desperately Desiring the One Who Calls to make my point a little clearer. I reflected on what could have happened if this was Jesus’ motive in asking Peter this question,
Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus thought about all that would transpire with these disciples following Him. In that moment, He wondered whether it was all worth it. He said a little prayer because He didn't feel like He had it in Him to see Peter fail again. He knew He would. ‘Oh God’, Jesus prays, ‘Not again...really!? Peter’s at it again! Do I really have to teach Him this lesson? I know He’s going to fail. Do I really have to?!’ As He was wrestling with these thoughts, He resigned Himself to doing what He needed to do. To teach the disciples a lesson. Again. And so He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Shaking His fist at God, Jesus cried out, ‘See, I told You! I told You that he’d do this! Why on earth have you brought me here?! I can’t stand constantly being the saviour to these people who are going to constantly fail! Why on earth must I be the one to save them?!’ While He was saying these things, Peter was now quite a ways down into the sea because he sank quite quickly once he started to see the wind. In his terror, he sank like a rock. So, as always, Jesus dives down into the deep, and goes after Peter and brings him back to the surface. Peter was unconscious so He had to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Once Peter came to, with the disciples snickering, and both he and Jesus out of breath, Jesus looks at Peter and says, ‘Really?! Did you have to call out to Me! I was perfectly happy to have you stay in this boat...You of little faith. Why did you doubt!?
I hope you see the error of these lines of thinking. It clearly is a work of fiction. But as you and I both know, knowing one thing and living in it is two very different things. We need to believe that Jesus isn't like this. He has chosen not to be. You and I both know He, above everyone else, had all the reasons to be cynical, bitter and resentful of the position that His Heavenly Father put Him in, but He never was (nor is). Sure, there were definitely times that He communicated His disappointment in the disciples, but that had never come as condemning or hateful. We always need to remember that though it might sound like Jesus is being condescending, we always, always, need to filter His words through a gracious, loving, holy, righteous, ever-true, perfect Saviour Who is a perfect, righteous, holy, and good Saviour to all who call upon Him. Jesus’ question was not coming from someone who sincerely questions whether we have any idea who we think ourselves to be – His question is reflecting back to Himself, as someone who knows who He is and knows He can be trusted.
So, if it’s not a) or b) that logically, it must be c): Jesus asking Peter Why did you doubt? is coming from a Saviour who sincerely sees Peter’s lack of faith but wants to convince us He sees a better option. From the beginning of the journey that we have with the disciples, we hear this question a lot, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, truly wants us to know that Jesus believes in us. It’s kind of strange to think of it this way, as we’re the ones that are supposed to be believing in Him – but He believes in us too. Jesus believes that if we believed in Him and believed what He sees in us, we would truly be able to party on the waves and have a grand-ol’ time in trusting Him as our Protector, Provider and Friend. But oh so often we don’t, do we? It’s so easy to turn our gaze, get distracted from Who we really should be focusing our eyes on.
I had done a short study a while back on Hebrews 12:1-3,
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
I reflected on this ‘fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith’ this way,
Pretty lofty goal isn't it? Fixing our eyes on Jesus – the Name that is above every name. Notice the prize? He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. So who wouldn't want to run towards that goal? It, or more specifically He, will never, ever fail us because He not only wrote the book, but is perfecting it as we speak. But I have to say that this is another text that we gloss over. Let’s read it again...We endure in this race we call life, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, because in the midst of seeing the excruciatingly painful death on that cursed cross, He endured for the joy set before Him. What!?! No amount of ‘gulping’ would ever be sufficient for what we just read. Jesus died. He died a horribly, horrific death on a wooden cross-beam, with spikes driven through His wrists and ankles. Previous to actually being crucified, He was whipped and scourged more than anyone. The Passion by Mel Gibson really doesn't do it justice because if we don’t acknowledge why the actor portraying Christ took those lashes, it’s just a horror film that we, after seeing it, leave simply being subjected to a lot of special-effects and fake blood. But here’s the kicker. If Jesus, God in the flesh, Son of Man and Son of God, endured the cross because of the joy set before Him, why on earth are we so surprised when we experience pain, hardship, difficult experiences or even death, for the sake of His Name?
It’s worth fixing our eyes on Jesus instead of the waves. We can look at this word ‘fix’ and see two separate definitions, both that would be very applicable to our lives today. The first definition of fix is to repair, to mend that which was broken – as in to fix the carburetor, to fix the kitchen sink, etc. To fix our eyes on Jesus, in this sense, means our eyes have been broken and need to be repaired. Peter needed to repair his eyes and not look to the waves, but fix His eyes on Christ. The second definition is a photography term. To fix our eyes means to focus, stay unchanged, stilled. It has the connotation of intentional gazing, focusing, straining to not look away. A camera fixes its gaze on a subject to take a picture. If the camera is not fixed, the picture will come out blurry. In this sense, using the same word, if we had a tri-pod for our camera and it wasn't ‘fixed’ to the top of the tri-pod, there is a danger of it toppling and possibly breaking. I believe we can use both of these definitions in this text. Yet Peter didn't fix his gaze on Jesus.
Peter had a broken set of eyes because he looked away. He was distracted, just like David was on the rooftop in the Old Testament, and both got themselves in trouble – they both sunk, in different ways, and both needed to repent (see David’s repentance in Psalm 51; we can read of Peter’s repentance and reinstatement in John 21). Peter could have quickly looked back to Christ, but he didn't. He failed to ‘fix his eyes’, he failed to correct his gaze and turn to Christ.
He also didn't focus his gaze on Christ. We read in verse 30, seeing the wind, [Peter] became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” He failed to focus on Christ. He chose to focus his gaze on the wind. This has always caught me – this ‘seeing the wind’. I comment on this too in my booklet The Call,
As far as I can tell from living life so far, we can’t see the wind, only the effects of it. Hey Matthew, did you chose a wrong word here?! Shouldn't it be written, ‘...when he saw the crashing waves and felt the strong wind on his back he became frightened...’ But that’s not how it’s written, is it? It’s written, ‘...but seeing the wind...’ I've looked at three different Bible translations (NIV, NASB, KJV) and they use the same word - they all say '...when he saw the wind'. So I think there’s a point here. Maybe Matthew is conveying something to us. Maybe, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Matthew isn't off at all. Maybe he specifically used this word to teach us something.
We shouldn't be able to ‘see the wind’, so why are we looking? When Peter got out of the boat, he already knew the state of the sea. He’s a fisherman. He knew the sea well. And maybe this is a fishing term. As a sailor, you constantly are ‘looking for the wind’ in your sails in order to steer the ship you are navigating. But no sails here. Just a boat at his back, waves to his left and right (and underneath him as well) and his Saviour in front of him. But he sees the wind.
In our lives, we have a choice, don’t we? We can choose to see what can be seen, or we can see what shouldn't be seen. Peter chooses the latter. He chooses to turn his gaze from his Lord. I picture the wind at his back, perhaps even coaxing him forward. Maybe the disciples cheering him on in the boat that is now a short distance away. I picture the sun maybe starting to rise on the horizon. The birds flying above. I picture a beautiful scene here. This is a miraculous picture that any one of us would have wanted to be a part of. But. But. AH! Why does there always need to be a but?!?! But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’
Peter had a choice and he chose to focus on something that he wasn't supposed to see and he suffered the consequences of it. But he never forgot the lesson. I did a devotional on I /II Peter (I'll be posting it soon to this blog) and it really is quite fascinating how much more we can get out of reading this letter with an understanding of Peter’s lessons and experiences that he had with Jesus in the Gospels. The remaining few verses of I Peter 5 says it all:
After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen (I Peter 5:10, 11).
Peter knew first-hand from Jesus what it meant to be perfected, confirmed, strengthened and established in Christ. This was Jesus’ motive in His question. He saw that Peter could be confirmed by Him asking him, Why did you doubt? Jesus’ motive in asking Peter, Why did you doubt? was to confirm Peter in the faith for the next steps of his journey. Jesus believed that, even in the trial, by asking Peter, Why did you doubt? he could be strengthened by Jesus’ mighty hand and purpose for his life. Jesus knew that by asking Peter, Why did you doubt? He could begin to establish him in the faith that would give him all that ever dreamed of.
Jesus’ question was not a condemning, critical or condescending question at all. His question was meant to point Peter to Himself. And He asks the same question of us. We need to fix (repair or focus) our minds, our hearts, our souls on Christ and see that this question that Jesus asks of us, in the midst of our storms, is neither condemning, critical or condescending, but is coming from a loving, gracious God Who sees great potential in us to glorify His Name.
Where is your faith? Where is my faith? Why do we doubt?