Fear, Faith, and Faithlessness — Lessons from a Very Wet Peter
by Joseph Franks
As disciples of Christ, there are various stages we go through in our Christian journey. Oft times, the days of exciting and easy. They are filled with mountain top experiences, and it seems like “everyday with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.”
But then there are the days when trouble is around us, fear is within us, and Jesus is nowhere to be found. In these days, courage and faithful obedience to what we know is required. That which causes men to fear is not to be used as an excuse for God’s people to be unfaithful.
As we walk in tumultuous days, sometimes we find ourselves to be very stable, and fixed. Sometimes we prove to be men and women of incredible faith. However, this is not always the case. Quite often, our fear gets the best of us and we prove to be wobbly, double-minded, unstable, fear-filled, and less than faithful disciples. However, in both of these responses, we show that we are just like Simon Peter — one of the disciples whom Jesus Christ dearly loved.
Consider this account:
And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 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. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:21-34)
Simon Peter showed incredible faith. According to the command of Jesus, Peter and his fellow disciples asked the large crowd to have a seat. Dinner would be served. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, fear was an emotion felt by the Twelve. This would have especially been the case when they realized they only had a child’s lunch box with which to work. However, enduring the fear, they displayed bold and courageous obedience. They were faithful. Their friends were fed. And in the end their own faith was improved. They learned that with Christ, nothing was impossible.
Following this spectacular feeding, Jesus determined he would climb a nearby mountain and spend time alone with his Father. While he was doing this, the Twelve were to board a boat and cross to the other side of the sea. Somehow, sometime, and somewhere, Jesus would meet up with his students. So, in obedience to the Master, the disciples did what they were commanded. But it wasn’t ling until the obedient disciples of Christ found themselves buffeted by an intense storm. Most likely, they were somewhat frightened and troubled by the wind and waves, but their anxiety level went through the roof at what they experienced next. There, in the midst of the wind and waves, came a ghostly figure walking towards them atop the water. Fear turned into terror, as Simon Peter and the men became like little girls watching a horror show. They were overcome by their fear, and they proved to lack faith.
But then they heard the familiar voice of Jesus, and immediately Simon Peter’s demeanor changed. He intensely desired to be with his friend. He longed to be more like his friend, and so he begged permission to disembark from the vessel and walk on the water to meet his Lord. Permission was granted, and the impetuous and bold disciple overcame his fear. Showing great faith he exited the boat and walked on the water towards the Master. Peter was again a man of exemplary faith.
However, his faithfulness was short-lived. Something happened and his focus shifted from the Sovereign Savior to the raging storm. His thinking changed, and his fear got the best of him. Pope Peter lost faith, and he started to sink, but Christ would not let his chosen disciple go under. The formerly faith-filled but now faithless Peter was saved by the hands of Christ. He was escorted back to the boat, but on the way he heard the somber words of admonition from his friend, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt.” Simon Peter had again proven himself to be a faithless individual.
Yet, this all changed again once Jesus and Simon Peter climbed into the boat. Immediately and miraculously, the wind ceased and the waves calmed, and this resulted in a worship service. Jesus Christ was glorified, and the faith of the disciples was further increased — again. Simon Peter and the boys were individuals of incredible faith.
Therefore friends, do we see ourselves in this episode?
First, let us see that Jesus guides his children through exciting and excruciating circumstances. He is the provider of mountain-top experiences that thrill us. He also is the ordainer of our roughest days. Let us not be surprised when we, as obedient disciples, find ourselves buffeted by life’s storms. Our worst of days are part of Christ’s discipleship curriculum.
Second, let us not reason that Christ is very distant. He sends us on our way, and prays for us in our distress. And in his own time he comes near to save, bless, and increase our faith. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent — nothing can separate us from his love.
Third, let us not be too arrogant. Let us not imagine we are “too big to fail.” Instead, let us humbly realize that the best of God’s worshipers are subject to fear, fickleness, and faithlessness. Abraham and Sarah wobbled. Moses and Aaron proved not to be consistently faithful. Esther had her moment of doubt. And John the Baptist, the greatest disciple naturally born of woman, had his season of questioning, confusion, and despair. And as we have seen in this passage, so too did the custom-selected disciples of Jesus. They who performed miraculous feats one day found themselves fearfully faithless the next.
Fourth, let us not be too despairing. So what ought we to do when we find ourselves too little like Jesus and too much like Simon Peter? We should confess our sin and need before the Lover of our souls. Like other emotions, fear itself is not always sinful. One ought to fear the Lord. In addition. one ought to “fear the governmental leaders established by the Lord.” However. when we use fear as an excuse to be faithless, that is a transgression hated by the Heavenly Father. Consistently, Jesus commanded his followers to be characterized by such anxiety or fear. Paul taught his readers not to become slaves to fear. Timothy was to be a young minister to be characterized by power, love, self-control, and sound thinking. And the writer of Hebrews encouraged his parishioners to present the following attitude, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Friends, fearful cowardice that results in faithlessness is a sin. We who are guilty of such ought to confess and repent of this transgression. Peter called out to his friend and was restored, and in the end his faith was improved as he worshiped the Son of God. Friends the same still happens everywhere and everyday.
Christ is the Author of our salvation. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the teacher who takes us from faith to faith, and he loses not one of his own. Therefore, listen to this promise:
If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:12-13)
Friends, those who deny Christ are denied, but such is not the case for those who are found faithless. Peter called out to his friend and was restored, and this would not be the last time. He will do this again following the arrest, denial, and crucifixion of his friend. However, In each and every situation where Simon Peter confessed his sin and grasped the hand of his Savior, he was restored, encouraged to worship, and his faith was improved.
Therefore, in times of fear, let us keep obeying the commands of Jesus. In addition, let us keep listening for his assuring voice amidst the wind and waves. And when we see him, let us confidently and faithfully walk in his direction — regardless of how odd such a journey might seem. And when we fall — and we will — let us quickly confess and grasp the hand of our Teacher who longs to save and restore. Then, after he proves his love, power, and glory, let us worship him well and enjoy our new and improved faith.