June 3, 2018
Pastor Jeff Strucker
We’re in a sermon series called Risk Takers. We’re looking at these moments in Scripture where somebody was willing to do something outrageous, really something impressive or miraculous, because of great faith. I’ll tell you quick story.
For those of you who are familiar a little bit with my background, many of you know that I used to teach ROTC at the University of Louisville. I taught there for almost 3 years, and although my primary job I was teaching ROTC students and getting them ready to go off to camp and many of them getting ready to join the Army, I also had the privilege of teaching an elective for the college. I taught a P.E. elective on repelling, and for me, this is pretty natural because I had already been in the Army for a number of years, and I had been training Rangers here at Fort Benning on how to repel.
So, when I went to the University of Louisville, it was just natural that I would teach this P.E. elective to college students on repelling. I learned that college students and soldiers in the Army are pretty much are about the same when it comes to repelling. I mean, I taught this entire semester-long course on repelling. I taught them how to tie knots, and I taught them how to learn to recognize ropes. I taught him how to rig up repelling lanes, and I taught them how to trust each other, like there’s going to be somebody below you on belay. They’re there in case you do something wrong to prevent you from splattered on the ground.
The truth is, the entire semester was all built towards one point, and no matter how much I tried, no matter how hard I put effort into this, there is nothing I could do to mitigate the fear of the moment that they got on top of this repel tower with me and, were going to have to go over the edge of this repel tower. It’s called by repel masters “getting over the cliff”, “getting over the edge”, or “getting over the skid” on a helicopter. It doesn’t really matter.
There’s a moment when you’re standing on firm ground and looking down over the edge, and you’re going to have to take a big step. Now, if you could be on top of that tower with me, you would be amazed. I had big NCAA college football players petrified with fear about stepping over that edge, and then I had these teenage nursing students who just went courageously over that edge and would take that first step, because the truth is, that tower was made by some sickos. It was just tall enough that if you looked over the edge, you saw it was big enough that if I fall off of this tower, I’m probably not going to die, but I’m going to break a lot of bones, and it’s going to hurt really badly.
So, when you’re standing on the edge of that tower looking down over the edge, it got really scary, and here’s the thing about repelling. In order to properly do this so that somebody can belay you from down below, you had to go down backwards. And watching somebody turned around backwards for the first time and look over that edge, the fear was intense.
I learned, the reason why some people will go over that edge courageously and others will take a lot of my personal energy and a lot of trying to coax them over that edge, it boils down to trust. Do you trust the equipment? Do you trust the person below? You do trust the guy who rigged it all up in the first place? Do you really trust that once you go over that edge, you’re going to be able to make it to the ground safely? Repelling that first big step and that “getting over the edge”, “getting over the cliff”, “getting over the skid” all comes down to trust. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Well Jeff, it’s just mean to send somebody down backwards. Why don’t you send them down face first?”
It’s because that’s even tougher. This is what it looks like if you go over the edge face first (picture shown). Yes, this is me back in the 1980’s. If you’re wondering, I was wearing jungle fatigues. I got those issued to me by General Andrew Jackson about 200 years ago when we were going down to New Orleans against the British (kidding). But that’s what it feels like to go over the edge face first. There’s no way to do this that doesn’t terrify somebody, and that first step in repelling is a huge step. You could say it’s the step of faith, and every other step after that, it’s just easy.
So, here’s what I want you to understand. We’re going to look in the Bible today at a guy who took a huge step of faith, but this is true for you; this is true for every walk of life: The first step (it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the first step as a first semester in college or if the first step is a first date or the first step is the first day on a new job), whatever that first step is, the first step always takes courage, and then every step after that is a little bit easier. It’s the first step that’s the hardest, and today we’re going to take a look at, what does it look like to take the first step with Jesus?
I hope somebody’s here who doesn’t know Jesus personally. Maybe you need to take that first step of faith. Today, my prayer is that you’re going to take that first step with Jesus, and you’re going to find that he’s there to meet you when you take that first step. For the others, maybe you need to take the next big step of faith, and today we’ve got a great example of this from a guy by the name of Peter. This is going to be in Matthew 14.
I. The journey is just as important as the destination
Here’s what I want you to know. We’re going to see Peter on a journey today. -an impossible, miraculous journey. But the journey, it’s not about the destination as much as it is about who you’re on this journey with, and Peter is about to do something that no human being has ever done before him, because he’s with Jesus. Jesus is going to call Peter to do something today that, frankly, the rest of us should be willing to learn from Peter’s example.
Here is what Mark Twain said about the first step in a journey. It really is true, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Mark Twain put it this way: “The secret of getting ahead in life is getting started, and the secret of getting started is breaking complex tasks into small tasks, into manageable tasks.” And then Twain said, “Start on the first task, and everything else takes second place. Everything else just falls naturally into place after this.”
Jesus is about to go on a journey across the Sea of Galilee. Matthew chapter 14 describes this journey for us:
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 After dismissing the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. Well into the night, he was there alone. 24 Meanwhile, the boat was already some distance from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. 25 Jesus came toward them walking on the sea very early in the morning. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and they cried out in fear. 27 Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
II. The journey gets rocky when you take your eyes off of Jesus
Now, let’s, just be honest; before we read what happens in the Bible next, we’ve got to give Peter some credit here. Maybe he’s showing off. Maybe Peter is testing his own faith. Perhaps Jesus are Peter is testing Jesus’s is power. Whatever it is, Peter does something miraculous; he does something terrific in these next view verses, and it goes from terrific to terrible in about .5 seconds for Peter. Listen to what the Bible describes next, starting in verse 28:
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered him, “command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Think about what he’s saying. Just picture in your mind what Peter is asking for. “Okay Jesus, I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life, but if you’re powerful enough that you can walk on water, then maybe you’re powerful enough to help me walk on water. So, if this is really you and you really have this kind of power, then you tell me to do it, and I will get out of this boat, and I will stand on top of the water like it’s dry ground.”
I can’t even picture in my mind. I want you to think for me about this for a second. Peter is a salty old fisherman. He’s been in boats his whole life and this being rocked around, bobbed up and down in these wind and waves, this is nothing new for Peter. But what he’s seeing is something that he’s never experienced before in his life. Jesus is walking on top of the water, and if Jesus is powerful enough to walk on top of the water, then maybe Jesus is powerful enough to help me walk on water.
So, Peter asks and Jesus commands. I want you to put yourself in Peter’s shoes for just a second. Now the real test comes. Do you get out of the boat? Do you take a step over the side and stand on top of the water, and do you experience what Peter experiences? -that the water holds you up like it’s dry ground. -because Peter is now experiencing something that no one before him has ever seen before. Peter is experiencing the thrill of walking with Jesus on top of the water… until Peter takes his eyes off Jesus.
Peter had this faith to get out of the boat. Peter had the kind of faith to start to walk with Jesus, but when he looked around and when he started to process what was happening, when he started to think about the impossibility of standing on top of the Sea of Galilee that he’s been fishing in his entire life and walking on top of the water like it’s dry ground, this is impossible. And don’t forget, by now the wind is blowing against Peter, and the waves are smashing up against the side of his leg, and Peter starts to realize, what I’m doing is humanly impossible, and at that moment Peter starts to sink.
Why does Peter get out of the boat in the first place? Why is Peter willing to walk on top of the water in the first place? Certainly, he didn’t see this one coming. You know, Mark tells us in Mark chapter 6 that when Jesus was walking on top of the water, Jesus had every intention of walking right by the boat and keep right on walking to Capernaum. “I’ll catch you on the other side,” and when the disciples see Jesus, Peter asks for something crazy. He takes this huge risk. “Jesus, if you’re powerful enough to walk on water, then you’re powerful enough to help me walk on water. I want to walk on water today, Jesus.”
And Jesus commands Peter to come, and Peter does the impossible. He stands and walks on top of the water because he had the courage to get out of the boat. But then Peter started to look to himself, and he started to think, this is impossible. How is it that I’m able to do this? And the moment that happened, Peter starts to sink in the water.
Listen to me. The moment that you start to doubt is the moment that the water starts rising and you begin to drown. Oh, I’m not talking about the kind of doubt that causes you to ask tough questions of the Bible. In fact, we’re the kind of church that not only offers you the opportunity to do that; we will welcome people asking really hard questions of the Bible. That kind of doubt that I’m talking about today is, the moment that you stop depending on Jesus and start depending on yourself, the moment that you start thinking, I’m in a mess; how am I going get myself out of this mess? That’s the moment that you start to sink. That’s the moment that the water starts to rise, and what happens to Peter happens to all of us all of the time, when we start looking to ourselves and stop looking at Jesus.
If you were around last week, you heard Pastor Jason say there can be no such thing as courage without fear, and sometimes what God wants to do is to grow our faith. He wants to stretch our faith. So sometimes, God gets you in a situation where it starts to get really scary, and then you have two choices. Are you going to trust yourself? Are you going to look for how you can get out of this mess on your own? -Or are you going to depend on God? And what Peter does is, for a moment, while he’s faithfully trusting in Jesus’s power, he is able to stand on top of the water like it’s dry ground. But when he starts to think about himself, he starts to get wet and at that moment, he starts to cry out, “Jesus, help me!”
Maybe Jesus is allowing you to get into some deep water right now because he wants you to cry out to him, and he wants to minister to you. Maybe you’re in some deep water right now because you’ve made some epic mistakes and you’ve kind of made the bed that you’re lying in. whatever it is, I want you to know that the journey sometimes gets rocky, but Jesus is with you every step of the way if you’ll have the courage to take the first big step.
III. Jesus is near when your journey seems impossible
See, here’s how the story ends for us today. This journey seems impossible until Jesus steps in, and Jesus is near to you, whatever it is that you’re going through in life. I am thinking right now of the couple whose marriage is barely hanging on by a thread. Jesus is near to you if you’ll reach out to him. I’m thinking of the guy or the gal in this room who’s just facing a health crisis and you don’t know how this thing is going to turn out. Jesus is near. His power is greatest when your problems are biggest. I’m thinking about the person who is swimming in an ocean of debt, and you don’t know how you’re going to get out of it. I’m thinking about the person whose job is an absolute disaster, and you have no idea how to make things better. Jesus’s power is sometimes greatest when your problems are biggest. Peter is in a mess, and Peter screams out, “Jesus, help me!” Verse 31 says:
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Then those in the boat worshiped him and said, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
If I’m Peter, I’m a little bit perturbed by this question. If I’m Peter, I’m like, “Jesus, did you not just see me get out of the boat and walk on water like it’s dry land? I had enough faith in you to get out of the boat. I had enough faith in you to do what these 11 jokers in the boat didn’t do. At least give me some credit for that!”
And what Jesus is saying to Peter is, “Peter, if you believe that I was big enough to help you walk across the top of the water, why would you doubt when the wind and the waves started to become severe? Why would you doubt me then if I was big enough to help you walk across the water as soon as you got out of the boat? Peter, what happened to you? Why did you start to lose faith?”
And then Jesus does something next that gets everyone’s attention. In fact, I’m convinced this is the whole reason this story is in our Bible in the first place. The 11 others in the boat just saw something here that Peter noticed earlier, but they missed. They just saw the power of God put on display. When you start to doubt, you start to drown, but when you trust, God is able to do great things, incredible things, in you and incredible things through you.
Many scholars believe verse 33 is the apex of this passage. This is the whole reason why it’s in your Bible in the first place. This is the moment when all twelve of those disciples started to believe, or at least 11 of them. “Wait a second; what we’re experiencing today, no man can do. That’s not just a man in our presence. That’s the Son of God. Only God can do what we just saw.”
You see, all the way up until verse 33, I want to ask this question of the other 11 disciples. I want to ask questions of Matthew and of John, “Hey, why didn’t you get out of the boat? -because if Peter could walk on water, surely you can too. Andrew, Thomas, James, why aren’t you walking on water just like Peter is walking on water?” What’s the difference between Peter and the other 11?
And the answer to the question is, Peter saw something before they did. Peter saw, that man is no ordinary man. That man is the Son of God, because nobody can do what he can do. As far back as my research goes, only 2 human beings in history have ever stood on top of the water and walked on it like it was dry ground. -Peter and Jesus. Peter will tell these stories to his children and his grandchildren, of the moment that he walked on water like it was dry ground. For the other 11, it took Jesus getting in the boat and calming the storm before they could see what Peter could see. This is no ordinary man. This is the Son of God who can do miracles, and we’re in his presence. And all 12 of those men could have walked on water, but only 1 did, because only one was willing to get out of the boat. Only 1 was willing to take the first steps. Only 1 was willing to get his feet wet.
So, here’s the question. Are you willing to take that huge first step, not knowing how it’s going to turn out? Are you willing to take that first step of faith? And when you take that first step, find that Jesus is right there to meet you? And by the way, if you’ll take that first step, he’s with you every other step of the way. In fact, sometimes he will carry you the rest of the way, but you have to take the first step on your own.
I’ll tell you quick story. We’ll end with this. When our children were younger (we have a big family), they were in the same room, living together. We had our children in bunk beds, and one of the games that I liked to play is, “jump off the bunk bed, and I will catch you before you slap onto the floor”. So, this game was, “Ok, look. Dad’s big enough and strong enough to catch you, but you have to jump. I’m not going to reach out and allow you to hold me when you come off that bed. You really have to jump.”
And I would love this when they were younger, to watch our children get to the edge of the bed and do this number getting ready to jump off, because they were terrified. It was only a few feet, but to them, it felt like forever, right? And I wanted them to know, “Look, I’m strong enough. I’m going to let you fly through the air for a little bit, but I’m not going to let you hit the ground. If you will trust me and jump, I will catch you before you hit the ground.” Some of them jumped right away. Some of them, it took a little bit for them to have the courage to jump, but I wanted all of them to know, “If you’ll trust me, I’m strong enough to catch you before you hit the ground.”
What they learned in the process is, “Your dad’s not smart enough to see that there’s a huge ceiling fan spinning around on high speed, and if you jump you’re probably going to smack your head into ceiling fan, which I’m sure they did, but I was still catch you before you hit the ground.”
See, the truth is, go back and look at all of Scripture. God says, “If you take the first step, I’ll meet you, and every step after that, I will be there with you, but the first step, you’re going to have to take. I won’t take that step for you. This is called taking the step of faith. The first step takes great courage. Every step after that is easier, and it took great courage for Peter to get out of that boat and to take the first step. If you will take the first step of faith, Jesus is there to meet you and will radically and totally change you. In fact, he will take every other step with you, but the first step, you’re going to have to take a step of faith.
• I took the first step of faith today when I prayed for Jesus to forgive my sins for the first time.
– I’ve let fear prevent me from taking the next step with Jesus. Please pray for me to follow him courageously this week.
+ I will walk step-by-step with Jesus this week.
- What is the most difficult challenge you’ve ever tackled? What prompted you to take the first step?
- Was it the size of Peter’s faith that made it possible for him to walk on water?
- Why does fear of failure prevent some people from even taking a challenge in the first place?
- Which is worse- a great failure or not taking a great challenge in the first place? Explain your answer.
- Is there a failure from your past that haunts you today?
- Have you let fear hold you back lately? If so, how can others pray for you this week?
- Pray for each other to walk closely with Jesus this week.