Matthew 14:22-33 (Tenth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)
“Why Do You Doubt?”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
August 9, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 14:
22And immediately He compelled the disciples to get into the boat and to go ahead of Him to the other side while He dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, He went up into the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was there alone. 24Now the boat was already many stadia from the land, being battered by the waves, for the wind was against it. 25And in the fourth watch of the night, He came to them walking on the sea. 26But the disciples, when they saw him walking on the sea, were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out from fear. 27But Jesus immediately spoke to them, saying, “Have courage, it is I. Stop being afraid.” 28Peter answered and said to Him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29And He said, “Come.” Peter climbed out of the boat, walked on the water, and came to Jesus. 30When he saw the strong wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31Immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
I’m going to make an admission to you this morning. I have a lot of doubts concerning the things I hear and read every day. I doubt many things concerning what we have been told about COVID-19. I am uncertain about the truthfulness coming in from all sides of the spectrum. I have second thoughts about much of what I hear on TV and see and read from the whole gamut of news sources available to us today. I guess you could say I’m an equal opportunity doubter. Doesn’t matter if you are Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, expert or novice. I don’t have much trust in the public information we receive day in and day out.
And it is totally fine with me if you are listening to this and you think, “Well, that sounds like a ‘you’ problem.” You’d be right. It’s a me problem; it’s a me issue. But knowing how this post-modern world works causes me to doubt the truthfulness of people who, more often than not, hold on to no absolute truth whatsoever. How can it be the truth if it is relative and dependent on what the person wants the truth to be? Either 2+2=4 or it doesn’t. You can have it any other way. And people have proven track records of untruthfulness. People lie and deceive. They speak half-truths that suit their agenda. People break their promises. “I give you my word,” doesn’t hold water in this day and age.
And no, I’m not just talking about the media or the government. I’m speaking about you and me, too. I confess that I haven’t always been truthful. I have lied. I have broken promises. You have as well. It’s the lies and the deceptions and the broken promises that we admit before God and one another when we say in the Divine Service, “We have sinned . . . in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone”—the promise left unfulfilled, the marriage vow broken by unfaithfulness, the lie that ruined the reputation of a colleague, the deception that put you on top at the expense, hurt, and ruin of another person.
Considering the sinfulness and brokenness of ourselves and our fellow humanity, the Spirit-inspired advice of the Psalmist in Psalm 146 is good, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psa. 146:3 ESV). We cannot put our complete and total trust in human beings—in politicians, social elites, or individuals. None of these can be trusted 100% of the time just like neither you nor I can be trusted all the time. We lie. We break our promises. We demonstrate in many ways with our words and actions that we are not trustworthy. Other people are just like us—liars, deceivers, promise breakers. The hymnwriter Johann Herrnschmidt (1675-1723) paraphrased the psalm verse with these words:
Trust not in rulers; they are but mortal;
Earthborn they are and soon decay.
Vain are their counsels at life’s last portal,
When the dark grave engulfs its prey.
Since mortals can no help afford,
Place all your trust in Christ, our Lord.
Alleluia, alleluia! (LSB 797:2)
Matthew 14: Now the boat was already many stadia from the land, being battered by the waves, for the wind was against it. And in the fourth watch of the night, [Jesus] came to them walking on the sea. But the disciples, when they saw him walking on the sea, were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out from fear. But Jesus immediately spoke to them, saying, “Have courage, it is I. Stop being afraid.” Peter answered and said to Him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And He said, “Come.” Peter climbed out of the boat, walked on the water, and came to Jesus. When he saw the strong wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
We cannot always trust our fellow human beings. But God is so different. God has never and will never lie. God does not ever and will never deceive. God never has nor will He ever break a promise. His Word is always sure and certain. There isn’t a time that we can’t put our trust in Him and know for certain that we are safe, that we are loved, and that we will always receive the truth. Why did Peter doubt? Why did he have second thoughts about walking to Jesus on the water? He saw the strong wind and became afraid. Did Peter begin to think of Jesus as just another man and fail to trust in Him as true God? Has that also happened to you?
Sometimes we do lump God and His Son in the same category as other people and ourselves. “They can’t be trusted so why should I trust God in my situation? Isn’t He just like all the rest?” No, He is most certainly not. How quick you and I are when the troubles of life collapse on us to say, “God doesn’t love me enough.” But His Word of Promise assures us, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39 ESV). We sometimes feel that don’t have enough of the good things in life and act as if the Lord is cheating us out of what we deserve. But Jesus promises, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? . . . And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? . . . Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:25-33 ESV).
When we come to realize that we are often those of little faith who fail to always trust in the Lord, we might begin to wonder, since we have failed to believe the promises Christ has made to us in His Word, will Jesus abandon us since we didn’t believe Him the first time? What if we find in ourselves only doubt when we should have faith that grows and becomes great? Will Jesus save us, or will He, in all His divine power over creation and His frightening majesty, let us sink and give us over to what you and I deserve as sinners who lie, deceive, and mistrust?
Our Gospel text answers that for us. Jesus can save, and He has saved everyone—even if at times we doubt. Jesus Christ is the compassionate God, the great I Am, who is Lord over creation and Savior of all. He met the needs of the sick and healed them. He fed the 5000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Jesus calmed and assured the disciples in the boat as He came to them walking on the water, “Have courage, it is I. Stop being afraid.” Christ commanded Peter to come to Him and reached out His hand to save the sinking man. And He reached out His hands to save you and me, too.
By grace, Christ’s hands reached out and were nailed to the wood of a cross. In perfect obedience to God the Father, Christ Jesus bled and died for all our sins including the lies, the deceptions, and the broken promises. Jesus suffered, died, and rose again for us, so that, even though we are weak in faith and sometimes doubt His promises, we are guaranteed that His promises are sure and certain forever. In the waters of Holy Baptism, Christ reaches out to you and me and makes us children of God by grace through faith. Washed by water and the Spirit, you and I stand forgiven. You and I have received the free gift of eternal life. And that means even a little faith is more than enough to receive the nail-marked hands of Jesus who reaches out into your life through the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament to save, comfort, and assure you of God’s love and presence every day.
I’m sure that, after all was said and done, Peter was really glad Jesus was there walking on the water that night on the Sea of Galilee. Even with his doubt and near drowning experience, Peter’s little faith, along with that of the other disciples, saw Jesus for who He is. “Truly, you are the Son of God.” How thankful we are that Jesus is the compassionate God who saves us even though we are often of little faith and doubt Him and His Word. That’s what we call amazing grace, isn’t it? It is God’s undeserved loved showered upon us. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we each offer this prayer to Christ in faith when we fall into doubt, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Increase my faith.” God grant our request because of the merits and mediation of Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.