Track 1: Why Did You Doubt?
Today we recall one of the great moments in the earthly ministry of Jesus:
Early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
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, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:25-31)
Before we become too hard on Peter let us confess that probable none of us have ever walked on water. Jesus asked Peter: “Why did you doubt?” Why did Peter doubt at the last minute? To answer that question we must also answer: “Why do we doubt, sometimes at the last minuet?”
The strong winds and rough seas in life so easily capture our attention. The circumstances around us distract us. We lose our concentration. We quickly forget what God has done and what he is doing now. Jesus had been walking on the water, but that was not the focus of Peter now as he was sinking in the sea.
God led the children of Israel out of Egypt with many signs and wonders. He had parted the Red Sea. But when Moses went up on the mountain to be with God for forty days, the children of Israel quickly forgot what God had done for them. They made a golden calf to worship in his place. They lost their faith at the last minute so to speak.
Fortunately, when we sink into roaring seas of life Jesus does not sink with us. The psalmist reminds us:
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.
Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Search for the Lord and his strength;
continually seek his face.
Remember the marvels he has done,
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth, (Psalm 105: 1-5)
Joseph could have easily lost his faith in God when his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. We remember that he had been given a dream in which his brothers would one day bow down to him. The psalmist goes on to remind us how this prediction came true:
Until his prediction came to pass,
the word of the Lord tested him.
The king sent and released him;
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He set him as a master over his household,
as a ruler over all his possessions, (Psalm 105: 19-21)
Probably very few of us will be tested in the extreme way that Joseph was tested. Nonetheless, our lives are full of tests. How do we respond? Do we forget that we serve a great God who has rescued us in the past? Do we dwell on the difficult circumstances that may surround us? Or do we look up to Jesus?
Peter was going under. He cried out to the Lord: “Save me!” Some of us need to cry out to him today. Now is the time to call upon his name, the name above all names. Now is the time to reach out to him. Now is the hour to cast all our cares upon him. Amen.
Track 2: Hiding from God
The Prophet Elijah was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and Moses. But in today’s Old Testament reading we find this same prophet hiding in a cave. He had recently had a showdown between himself and the prophets of Baal. As you may recall, he won hands down. Jezebel, however, the wife of King Ahas and worshiper of Baal, threatened his life. Elijah had fled to Mount Horeb to escape:
At Horeb, the mount of God, Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:9-10)
It appears that Elijah had given up all hope. He responds to God’s question with an explanation of what is happening on the ground, so to speak, as if God’s needs his explanation to understand what is going on. What happened to Elijah? Perhaps he took some credit for the humiliation of the prophets of Baal. He was merely God’s messenger. God defeat these prophets.
God responds to Elijah’s concerns:
“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:11-14)
God speaks to Elijah in a still small voice to remind him of how close he is to Elijah and how close he has been always been. Elijah was never alone. God’s word was with him all along. The Apostle Paul echoes this closeness by quoting Moses from the Old Testament:
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:5-10)
God is with us. He is there for us. We may put our trust in him. But when we rely on ourselves or give ourselves credit for some great accomplishment, we ultimately find ourselves hiding from God, thinking that he is no longer with us. Fear of fighting our battles alone leads can lead us astray. If we are listening, God is calling us to return to him and put our whole faith and trust in him once more.
If we have never known his presence in our lives now is the time to confess him. If we believe that Jesus is Lord of all and that God the Father raised him from the dead, then let us confess: “Jesus is Lord!” If we do not believe then let us ask God to help us to believe. He is very near. We are now living because he is breathing his Spirit into us. He is residing in our hearts right now. All we have to do is call upon his name. Amen.