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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on November 26, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Sunday, November 26, 2017 from Matthew 14:22-33

Theme: There are things we need to remember about Jesus when going through times of trial.

(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).

I had a wonderful conversation with a dear friend in the Lord the other day. It was a good conversation about a hard subject—trials.

This friend is going through one. And along the way in our conversation, a passage came up that—to my mind, anyway—has always been a ‘go-to’ passage for how to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus when enduring a trial. We spent a long time talking about the lessons to be learned about Him from it. And later that day, I told my friend that our conversation had convinced me that it was the passage that we need to consider this morning.

That passage is found in Matthew 14:22-33. It read as follows:

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:22-33).

I don’t believe you can find a better analogy of what a trial feels like than that one—stuck in a boat, out in the midst of the sea, with no escape, while the wind blows and the waves billow and everything feels out of control. And yet, you couldn’t find a better picture of what Jesus is to those who trust Him in times of trial.

And as we look at this passage together this morning, I ask that you keep in mind the particular trial you might be going through right now. My hope is that, as a result of our time together, you will be inspired to keep Jesus ever before you in that particular trial—to keep Him continually in view throughout it—and to allow Him to be all that He desires to be to you in the midst of it.

I suggest to you that, by looking at this story, we can see at least nine very valuable principles about our Lord Jesus; and together, those principles teach us certain things we need to know about Him while we’re going through our own particular time of trial.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; first, let’s establish a little bit of the context.

In this part of the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord had been through a set of trials all His own. In the beginning part of Chapter 14, we’re told that John the Baptist—the appointed herald of our Lord’s ministry on earth, and His own earthly relative—had been imprisoned and brutally murdered by King Herod Antipas. We’re told in verse 13, “When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself.” I can’t help but think that our Lord got away because He was grieved at the loss of John, whom He loved and whose ministry on earth was what paved the way for His own. It was John the Baptist, after all, who first pointed to Jesus and declared to the world, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). No wonder our Lord wished to depart and be alone for a while.

But then, another trial came. His time of getting away was cut short. The multitudes discovered where He was and gathered around Him in great numbers. He never turned them away though. He loved and welcomed all those who sought Him. And so He taught them and ministered to their needs. And by the end of the day, they were all hungry. That was when we find the miracle of the feeding of the multitudes with just five loaves of bread and two small fish. Even though He needed some time to Himself, He nevertheless was compassionate and giving toward those who sought Him—even to a vast crowd of hungry people.

And then came yet another trial. The Gospel of John tells us that when the people saw how He was able to make such a great feast out of just a few scraps of food, He perceived that they were about to take Him by force and make Him king. That, however, was not why He came into the world. He came to die on the cross for our sins; not to become an earthly political leader. And that’s why we read the words that we find in Matthew 14:22; “Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.” Perhaps even His disciples were beginning to be caught up and swept away by the growing ‘Jesus for King’ movement.

I share all that to highlight an important point: Our Lord knows what it feels like for you and me to go through trials. He is a compassionate Savior and High Priest who, as the Bible tells us, was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He is able to help us in our times of trial and temptation and testing; because He Himself experienced such times.

But He is far more than just our divine Sympathizer. He is our great Helper. Because of who He is, He is the one that we must strive to keep ever before us in our times of trial. He is everything that we need in those trials. And so, as we keep Him rightly in view, we will go through the trials of life with Him victoriously.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; let’s consider the details of this passage carefully.

We’re told that Jesus “immediately” sent His disciples away by boat. In fact, the text tells us that He had to compel them to go; while He sent the multitudes away. And note that Matthew even tells us very clearly that they were to “go before Him to the other side”; so we can know for certain that it was His plan to be with them there later. But why didn’t He just get into the boat right then and there and go along with them to the other side? Why didn’t He just let the crowds dissipate on their own and climb into the boat and travel along. It certainly would have saved those poor disciples a great deal of anguish and trouble in the mist of the storm; because we have already been told—by this point in the story—that He was able to control the weather and was able to command waves and wind to be still.

Instead, He compelled them to get in the boat, and to go to the other side—knowing that they would not be able to get there on their own; knowing that they would have to struggle along the way, and strive frustratingly for the whole night through until He finally came to them. And this, I believe, leads us to the first great principle about Jesus that we find in this story that we need to keep in mind: No trial ever comes into our lives without His full knowledge and permission.

That trial that you are going through right now—whether it’s a matter of financial or material need, or a challenge to your health or to the health of someone you love, or a battle over a sinful habit or practice, or a relational loss, or a time of emotional testing and struggle—is something that our Lord already knew about well in advance. It is, in fact, something that was allowed by Him in full accord with His permissive will in order to serve His good and sovereign purpose in your life.

That doesn’t make the trial any less of a trial, of course. But it does make it into something in which we can confidently trust Him—and even something in which we can rejoice. It could never have come our way unless it was first something that He—in perfect wisdom and sovereign love—knew that we needed. As dear Pastor James once put it:

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4).

* * * * * * * * * *

So then; Jesus purposefully sent His disciples away to go through a time of testing and trial—a time that He knew would serve His good purposes for them.

And in doing this, He Himself never abandoned them. Look at what we’re told in verse 23: “And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.” Back when the hungry multitude was gathered all around Him, His disciples had said that He needed to send them away “because the hour is already late” (v. 15). And now, having sent them away, it was evening—long after dinner time. There are several high places in that surrounding area from which one can sit and see the whole Sea of Galilee; and I am certain that as Jesus sat and prayed, He could clearly see His disciples out in the boat late into the evening; and could even watch them as they had rowed and strained and struggled for hours upon the sea—seeming to get nowhere. And yet, He was not in the boat with them. He was all alone on the mountain—praying to the Father.

What do you suppose He would have been praying about? As for me, I feel sure that He was praying for them! Perhaps He was praying that they would endure through the trial that He had sent them out to experience. Perhaps He was praying that their faith in Him would not fail them. Perhaps He was praying that they would learn all that they needed to learn about Himself from the marvelous experience they were about to have with Him.

And here’s another principle I believe we need to keep in mind about our Lord: He is faithful to intercede for us during our times of testing. In Romans 8:34, we’re told that Jesus is our great Advocate in the heavenlies “who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” Just think of that! In the midst of your trial, dear brother and sister—whatever that particular trial may be—Jesus has you constantly in view from His place at the right hand of the Father. Your growth and maturity through that trial that He is allowing you to experience is a continual concern to His heart. And He prays for you in the midst of it.

How can any trial ultimately overwhelm us when the Son of God is praying for us in it?

* * * * * * * * * *

So then; while He was away from them, we’re told that He was looking on to where they were, and was praying for them.

But He didn’t stay away from them for long. He eventually made His way to them. Verses 24-25 tell us; “But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea.” ‘The fourth watch of the night’ would have been around three in the morning; and that would have meant that they might have been rowing and straining against the wind and the waves for as much as eight hours. That would have been an agonizingly long time to row against rough waters; and they, no doubt, were exhausted, and extremely frustrated, and perhaps even a bit fearful.

But what a picture this passage gives us! They were struggling and striving against the wind and the waves; but the wind and the waves didn’t affect Him. He simply strode above all those things. And I don’t have a picture in my mind of Jesus struggling and weaving and hopping from one wave to another; do you? I think of Him walking in perfect calmness and peace to His disciples in their time of need. This teaches us another thing that we should remember about Jesus in our times of trial: He always remains supreme over the things that test and trouble us. Those things may affect us; but they don’t affect Him. When we keep our eyes on Him, we’re looking upon the One who is above it all.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now; there’s an interesting thing that we’re told at this point in another one of the Gospels. We’re told in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus came walking out to them, “and would have passed them by” (Mark 6:48). I don’t ever want to be irreverent; but I see a lot of humor in that. They were struggling and striving; and He was intending to just calmly walk past them. That would have been a great picture of how supreme He was over the circumstances.

But as it turns out, He didn’t do that. In our passage, Matthew tells us, “And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (vv. 26-27). And do you know what He actually said to them in the original language? He said, “Be of good cheer! I AM; do not be afraid.” As Jewish men, those words would have been very familiar to them. They were the words by which God identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush. It was the covenant name of God to His chosen people—His ever-sufficient, promise-keeping name. Jesus was declaring Himself to be their divine Lord and Master—even as He was proving it to them by waking above the waves.

And here, I suggest that we find yet another lesson about Jesus to keep in mind in a time of trial: He will come at just the right time to encourage us with Himself. Note that Jesus didn’t simply come to them and say, “Be of good cheer! Don’t be afraid! Everything will work out!” Instead, He made Himself the essential part of the encouragement; as if He was saying to them, “It is I! The great I AM is here!”

Have you ever been in a deep time of trial—overwhelmed by it all and almost driven to despair; and then suddenly remember, “Oh yes; I forgot all about Jesus”—and then suddenly found the burden greatly lifted at the thought of His presence with you in it? I believe that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. He points our attention to Jesus at such times as He Himself mediates the very presence of Jesus to us. He knows how to do that for us at just the right time. May it be that we pay attention when it happens—and draw our needed strength directly from who Jesus is and what He can do for us in our trial.

* * * * * * * * * *

I believe those moments when, in the midst of our trials, we are suddenly reminded of Jesus as our Helper and Friend are key. We have to be sure to do the right thing with those times. And the right thing to do is to draw closer to Him.

Sometimes, though, what we do instead is retreat further into the wrong things. We roll up into a little ball, as it were, and lay down in the boat in misery. Or we clutch to the side of the boat and scream. Or sometimes, we try to find some other way to escape from the painful realities of our trial. But there really are no places to go in order to escape those trials. We have to go through them. And yet, Jesus holds out His hand to us in the middle of them and invites us to venture out to where He is. Look what happened to Peter. We’re told, “And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’”

I believe that this teaches us yet another thing about Jesus in our times of trial: In the midst of the trial, He invites us to step out in faith to where He is. And what a great lesson this is! When that time of trial has come into your life, dear brother and sister, there’s not really any way around it. It is in our Lord’s sovereign hand; and you are meant to go through it. You can’t go over it, or under it, or around it, or make a U-Turn in order to run from it and avoid it. There’s no way through it but ‘through’ it. And yet we don’t have to be afraid of going through it because, right in the middle of it is where Jesus Himself is. And if we will seek Him in it, He will invite us to come to Him—where He is safe, and stable, and above it all.

How important it is that you and I do as Peter did; and call out to Jesus in the midst of our trial, and come joyfully to Him at His invitation. It becomes the richest and deepest time of fellowship that we can ever have with Him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; it’s rather sad that Peter has gotten a bad rap at this point of the story. He is often criticized for not having enough faith to keep walking on the water. But I think we should remember that Peter was the only one who got out of the boat. (Don’t try this, by the way, unless you first hear Jesus say, “Come”.) The other eleven didn’t even try to go out to Jesus at all. And I have wondered if they regretted that afterward, and wished later that they had gone to Him too!

Matthew tells us in verses 29-30 that things were fine for a while: “And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’” I think that Peter’s prayer here is one of the greatest prayers in the Bible. It’s pretty basic, isn’t it? “Lord, save me!” It’s an easy one to remember! But it also helps to communicate one of the most important lessons we can learn about Jesus in a time of trial: So long as we keep our eyes on Him, we will stay above it all.

Our great downfall usually comes from doing what Peter did; doesn’t it? We take our eyes off Jesus and we put them instead on the circumstances of our trial. What a mistake that is! Obviously, we need to know what’s going on around us; but we need to keep all those things in proper perspective, and we do that by keeping Jesus front and center in our thoughts and in our hopes. I believe that the best way to do this is through prayer. We keep in communication with Jesus every step of the way in our trial by talking to Him continually.

* * * * * * * * * *

And Jesus proved faithful when Peter called out to Him. Verse 30 tells us; “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”

I believe that, in those words, we can see what the real problem was. The Lord’s gentle rebuke shows us that Peter’s turning away was a matter of doubt. He had seen Jesus walking on the water, and had even heard Jesus give him the invitation to come, and had even walked on the water to Jesus some distance. But he took his eyes off Jesus, and saw the wind and the waves, and failed to believe that Jesus was superior over them. We all fail at times like that—especially in times of trial. But what a a wonderful thing it is that Jesus stretched out His hand and caught Peter before he went under!

I believe that, in this, we can see yet another great lesson about our Lord in a time of trial: Even when our faith falters, we can trust Him to uphold us and keep us. Our beloved Savior left the glory of heaven to come to this earth in order to die for us and redeem us; so He’s never going to let those that the Father gave Him slip out of His hand—even when they stumble and falter in faith. Like it says in Psalm 37:23-24;

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down;
For the Lord upholds him with His hand (Psalm 37:23-24).

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; verse 32 tells us that Peter and our Lord got back into the boat. And how do you suppose that happened? Do you think that Jesus simply held onto Peter’s hand and trolled him back to the boat—bubbling in the water along the way? I certainly don’t think so. Nor do I think that Jesus gave Peter a piggy-back ride. I believe they walked together. Our wonderful Lord and Master is the gracious Giver of ‘do-overs’.

And take careful notice of what it says in verse 32; “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” Do you realize what that means? It means that the storm was under our Lord’s control all the time. He could have made it ceased long ago—long before the disciples would have had to spend all that time struggling against the wind and waves. But if that had happened, they never would have learned the lessons He wanted to teach them.

And that’s another thing I believe we must remember about our Lord in our own particular trials: In time, He will demonstrate to us that He was in control of the trial all along. Our trial will come only when He sees that it is needs to come; and it will endure for only as long as He designs for it to endure; and it will cease precisely when He declares that it is time to cease—not one second too early, and not one second too late. We can trust that His perfect timing and wise determination with respect to every trial that He calls us into.

* * * * * * * * * *

And we must not forget the last point; because, in some ways, it’s the most important one for us to grasp. We’re told that once our Lord and Peter had entered the boat, and once the wind and the waves had ceased, and once all had become calm, “Then”, as verse 33 says, “those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God.’”

This is a great principle for us to remember; and it shows us why it is that we must learn to trust Jesus in the trials that He allows to come our way—why it is that we must keep Him ever in the front view during those difficult times: The end result of trusting Jesus in our trials will be that we will worship Him and know Him better.

Dear brother or sister; that trial that you’re undergoing was never meant to teach you how to stand on your own two feet in independence from Jesus. If that were ever to happen, then your trial would be a horrible failure—a far worse failure than sinking in the storm could ever be. The real purpose of your trial is to teach you who Jesus Christ is to you; and to show you how desperately you need Him; and help you to grow in your confident faith that nothing is impossible for Him; and finally, to lead you to open your mouth and worship and praise Him. That’s why we need those trials and tests in our lives. Anything that makes us worship Him and know Him better is truly a great blessing. That’s why He Himself said what He said way back in Psalm 50:15;

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15).

And I have a feeling that the more you and I end up worshiping Him and knowing Him better as a result of trusting Him, the more often it will be that we will turn to Him in our times of trial in the future.

* * * * * * * * * *

So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; let’s keep on growing to learn these great truths about Jesus. Let’s go back to this story frequently, and let it instruct us about Him. Let’s let the Lord teach us about Himself in the ‘classroom’ of the trials and tests of life.

And as a result, may we say to Him from the deepest level of our being—just as the disciples in the boat said to Him, once their trial as over—“Truly You are the Son of God.”

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