Faith and Doubt
August 13, 2023 |Faith and Doubt|Matthew 14:22-33
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This is our second week of looking at the miracles of Jesus in chapter 14 of the Gospel of Matthew. Last week we looked at the multiplying of the loaves and fish to feed the crowd of over 10,000 people. The miracle we are looking at today takes place later that evening around 3am in the morning.
I said last week that the miracles of Jesus show us what life is like in the Kingdom in a similar way as the parables of Jesus show us what the kingdom of heaven is like.
This morning, we see a picture of faith in the life of a disciple, but also of doubt in the life of a disciple, but even more importantly, we learn more about the king and how he responds to his followers who doubt.
In our text, we find another familiar miracle of Jesus. Jesus walking on water. Even more miraculous, Jesus enables Peter to do the same. You remember the story.
Peter gets out on the water and then begins to sink. What you may have never thought about is that after Jesus rescues him, he challenges Peter to examine the reason for his doubt when he wavered while walking on the water.
This is especially enlightening to us because many of us are in the same position as Peter. We are followers of Christ who find ourselves overwhelmed, wavering from time to time. Our faith challenged by circumstances or situations.
Maybe you are in a season right now of doubt. Maybe you are here this morning because you didn’t know what else to do other than go through the motions. My prayer is that God would rescue you this morning from your doubt, but more than that, that you would examine the reason for your doubt and come away with a better understanding of who Jesus is.
This morning we are going to focus our attention on verses 28-33, but we will start in verse 22 for context.
Matthew 14:22-33 (ESV) 22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 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. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
From our text this morning, I want to share with you three statements about doubt.
The first statement is this…
Following Jesus does not preclude doubt.
Sometimes I think the opposite is communicated in the church. That if one becomes a follower of Jesus, they will never or should never have doubts. Many young Christians have been discouraged when they bring questions or doubts to the older Christians around them. They are left with the impression that good Christians do not have times of doubt, or struggle with seasons of doubts.
Their questions are often dismissed as matters of faith and they are encouraged to simply ignore their doubts.
I am so thankful that the reality is that we find people in our Bibles, who though they possessed great faith and God did mighty things in and through them, encountering doubts.
If we are honest with ourselves, most of us, if not all of us, since coming to Christ have wrestled with doubts. From doubts about the character of God, to his plan for our life, and everything in between. But we do not talk about it. It brings with it feelings of shame or inadequacy, and rather than bring these to the light, we shove them into the darkest corners of our mind and hope they will go away. I think one of the reasons we do this is because we think that doubt and faith cannot coexist. If we have faith, we will not doubt, and if we doubt, then we must not have faith. Listen friend, if you have ever struggled with doubt, if you are in a season of struggling with it right now, I want you to hear me.
Doubt and faith are in opposition and yet they are related. You cannot doubt what you did not once believe.
As the farmers say, "The land that will not grow a thistle, will not grow wheat;" and the heart that cannot produce a doubt has not yet understood the meaning of believing. -Spurgeoun
Just because God has given you life-giving faith and you have exercised that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and been saved by grace through faith, does not mean that you will never have doubts. In fact, I will go as far as to say, you will at some point wrestle with doubt. What you believed in the light of the gospel truth will be doubted in the dark of despair. Whether it is a sudden loss of a loved one, a diagnosis from a doctor, a rebellious son or daughter, or an unexpected financial disaster. These are the moments when we find doubts creeping in.
There is a doubt that is disbelief. We often refer to one of Jesus’ disciples as doubting Thomas. Right? This comes from an incident after the resurrection of the Lord.
John 20:24-29 (ESV) 24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Thomas did not have doubts, Thomas didn’t believe. He literally says unless I see and feel, I will not have faith.
When Jesus comes he doesn’t say, Thomas, touch my side, see my hands so you will not doubt, he says so that you will move from unfaith to faith. We would do better to call him unbelieving Thomas than doubting Thomas.
What we are talking about today is not that.
Notice what Jesus says to Peter.
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
'You of little faith' is actually one word, oligopistos (ὀλιγόπιστε) or little faith.
He essentially calls Peter ‘little-faith’. Another way of saying it would be ‘what little faith you have Peter’.
This is not the first time or the last time Jesus uses this language with his disciples.
In a previous event on the water, we find Jesus calling all his disciples ‘little-faiths’
Matthew 8:23-27 (ESV) 23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
There he rebukes their little faith on account of their fear, here he asks Peter why he doubted.
What did he mean by doubt?
Doubt-distazo two words di (two, double) and stasis (that which stands)- it gives a picture of someone straddling two paths or two choices; hence it conveyed indecision, uncertainty, and doubt. It occurs only here and in Matthew 28:17
Jesus identified Peter’s problem as oscillating between faith and doubt.
Think about the faith it took to step out of the boat onto the water. Think about the faith it took to let go of the boat and step out towards Jesus. Peter had great faith until he didn’t. What happened? Jesus says his faith became little because his doubts became great.
What happened? Jesus says his faith became little because his doubts became great.
Now ask yourself, how did Peter get into this position in the first place? He followed Jesus. Let’s trace the story.
Peter was commanded, with the other disciples to get into the boat and cross over after Jesus fed the five thousand men with the five loaves of bread and two fish.
The disciples rowed for hours against the wind, making it just a few miles from the shore. Then sometime around 3am, Jesus comes down from the mountain where he surely had seen the disciples long fight against the storm and of course the disciples are fearful when they see this man coming to them on the water. After declaring himself and telling them to not fear, but be encouraged. Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
We should not see his statement ‘if it is you’ as one of unbelief, but it is better translated as ‘since it is you, command me to come to you on the water.
Peter, assured that it is his Lord, says I believe that you are the same one that gave us power over unclean spirits, and power to heal, and I believe if you command it, I can come to you. So Jesus commands him, come.
Peter is out in a boat in the middle of a storm because he is following Jesus’ command, and then Peter is out of the boat in the middle of a storm because he is following Jesus’ command.
If nothing else, from this we ought to better understand that following Jesus does not guarantee us lives free from adversity.
And in the seasons of adversity, there is a very real danger that we will shift from faith to doubt.
When we do, we can rest assured we are in good company.
Peter doubted, Elijah doubted, Abraham and Sarah doubted, John the Baptist doubted, the Bible even says that right before Jesus ascended, some doubted, they wavered between faith and doubt.
Doubt does not mean we are not following Jesus, and many times it is in the midst of following Jesus that we will encounter doubt.
But there is good news for us. The first statement about doubt is that Following Jesus does not preclude doubt, the second is…
Doubts may distract us from Jesus but they do not distance us from Him.
Up to a point, things are going really well for Peter.
He is the only disciple to believe, in the midst of the storm they have been fighting for hours mind you, that at the command of Jesus he could join him on top of the waves.
At the bidding of Jesus, he climbs out of the boat. This was most likely no small boat, but one big enough for twelve disciples and probably, knowing their background, a fishing boat. There was that moment, feet dangling over the side, the other disciples holding their breath, that Peter took the leap.
We aren’t told how far he walked on the water, only that he walked on the water and came to Jesus. But isn’t even one step miraculous?
Jesus, in some unspecified way, suspends the natural laws, and empowers Peter to do what no one else in the history of mankind has ever done and will likely ever do again. And then, he begins to sink.
Everyone who has ever heard this story knows the answer to that question.
I asked my girls, independently of one another, why did Peter sink, and they both replied the same way. Because he took his eyes off of Jesus.
His situation didn’t change- it had been storming, it was storming when he got out, and it was storming as he walked to Jesus.
There was plenty to be afraid of from the very beginning. What does the Bible say happened?
30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
When he saw the wind- the word here can mean, to turn the eyes to something, to give attention to it
When he stopped looking at Jesus and started looking at the wind and what it was doing, he began to sink.
Spurgeon beautifully says in a sermon on this text, that Peter began to sink ‘First, because he looked too much to second causes, and secondly, because he looked too little at the first cause.’ He goes on…
See poor Peter in the ship—his Master bids him come, in a moment he casts himself into the sea, and to his own surprise he finds himself walking the billows. He looks down, and actually it is the fact, his foot is upon a crested wave, and yet he stands erect, he treads again, and yet his footing is secure. “Oh!” thinks Peter, “this is marvelous.” He begins to wonder within his spirit what manner of man He must be who has enabled him thus to tread the treacherous deep, but just then, there comes howling across the sea a terrible blast of wind, it whistles in the ear of Peter, and he says within himself, “Ah! here comes an enormous billow driven forward by the blast, now, surely, I must, I shall be overwhelmed.” No sooner does the thought enter his heart than down he goes, and the waves begin to enclose him. So long as he shut his eye to the billow, and to the blast, and kept it only open to the Lord who stood there before him, he did not sink, but the moment he shut his eye on Christ, and looked at the stormy wind and treacherous deep, down he went.
He might have traversed the leagues of the Atlantic, he might have crossed the broad Pacific, if he could but have kept his eye on Christ, and ne’er a billow would have yielded to his tread, but he might have been drowned in a very brook if he began to look at second causes, and to forget the Great Head and Master of the Universe who had bidden him walk the sea. I say, the very reason of Peter’s doubt was that he looked at second causes and not at the first cause.
Peter shifted his attention from Jesus to the waves, fear distracted him from Jesus, and once he was distracted he began to doubt, and in that moment became a man of diminished faith.
If a giant of the faith can quickly move from full of faith to someone Jesus calls ‘little-faith’ from doubt, how much more do we need to be on guard?
What happened to Peter? He took his eyes off of Jesus, surely, but what happened to Peter in that moment.
He became afraid. His emotions overwhelmed his experience.
He had been walking on the water, he was with Jesus, that experience alone should have been enough to keep him going, nevermind the fact that this Jesus had already calmed storms with a rebuke, healed countless people, multiplied bread and loaves to feed 10,000 people, the list goes on and on.
His emotions overwhelmed his experience.
None of that experiential knowledge mattered in the moment because his emotions got the best of him.
How often do our doubts or seasons of doubts involve our emotions, times of intense fear or anxiety? Fear of loss, fear of suffering, fear of danger?
Do you want some good news this morning? Feelings do not dictate facts.
In seasons of emotion induced doubt we have to hold strong to what we know to be true, amen?
What Peter knew to be true in this moment is that there was one who could intervene, one that could save him, despite his fear, despite his doubts that were swirling, he did the only thing he knew to do, he cried out to Jesus, Lord, save me.
Friend, if you can conjure no more faith than that in seasons of doubt, it is enough. If you have enough faith to cry out this short three word prayer, Lord, save me, it is enough. Why?
Because doubts may distract us, but they do not distance us from Christ.
Notice what happens. The Bible says immediately, 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him,
Peter may have taken his eyes off of Jesus, but Jesus never took his eyes off of Peter.
I don’t know if there is a more encouraging word in our text, than the word immediately. Jesus did not let Peter flounder for his doubts, he did not let him learn his lesson, he did not ignore his pleas, and he did not stand there yelling down at Peter to just have more faith. No, He immediately took him by the hand and the implication is Peter was now back on the top of the water and they made their way back to the boat, still in the midst of the storm.
How you feel doesn’t change a thing about who God is.
Your situation doesn’t change a thing about what God has promised.
Your challenges don't change a thing about the power of God.
No matter what particular doubt you are dealing with, if you are a follower of Jesus, he will never leave you or forsake you.
No matter what distraction has filled you with emotions, if you belong to Christ, you belong to Christ, even if you don’t feel like it.
It is us that wavers, not Jesus.
C. S. Lewis struggled with a season of doubt about God’s character when his wife passed away after a painful battle with cancer. In his journal, which later became a book called A Grief Observed, he says this.
“Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead. From the rational point of view, what new factor has H.’s death introduced into the problem of the universe? What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe? I knew already that these things, and worse, happened daily. I would have said that I had taken them into account. I had been warned—I had warned myself—not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the programme. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accepted it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.”- Lewis in a Grief Observed
What Lewis came to understand is that even in the midst of his feelings, God remained God, and the Bible teaches that God is near to those who call on him. God had not ceased to be good, God had not broken any promises, and God had not forsaken him, evening in his season of doubt.
Doubt does not mean that we are not following Jesus, and doubt does not distance us from him, even if we feel like it does, he is as near to his disciples as he has always been and will always be.
Furthermore, doubt does not mean that we are failed Christians, not when we understand that…
Our doubts are opportunities for us to grow.
Jesus did two things in response to Peter’s sinking and subsequent crying out.
The Bible says he immediately took hold of him and said…“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
We are left to our imaginations on how exactly Jesus said this. As a stinging rebuke, as a gentle correction, or as one commentator said he imagined, with a chuckle at Peter.
Regardless of how Jesus said it, we are left with a very real question.
Why did you doubt?
Why did you doubt- for what did you waver?
This question is designed to invite Peter to examine his doubts. If you would, allow me to share the way that conversation might have gone.
Peter, what happened out there?
I was afraid I was going to drown.
Because the wind and the waves were crashing against me?
They were surely too strong, too big.
Why do you think that?
Because I am just a man, I know what a storm is capable of.
Wasn’t it storming when you got out of the boat?
I mean, I guess, I was so focused on you that I didn’t think about it. I knew that if you called me out that I could join you.
I stopped thinking about what you were capable of and started thinking about what I was capable of...
Now, I don’t know if that conversation ever happened, but I do know that Jesus invited Peter to consider what led to his crisis of faith. I know that if you have had seasons of doubt or you are in one right now, I know that the invitation is one that you should respond to.
Why are you doubting? Why are you wavering?
What is it about the sickness, the financial troubles, the relationship struggles, or the sin struggle that changes anything about who God is?
Where have you taken your eyes off of Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, and put them on secondary things?
I know that this whole situation led the disciples to a deeper understanding of who Jesus was. The Bible says once they got into the boat, the storm ceased, 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
The last time they witnessed him calm a storm they said, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
Peter now worshiped Jesus as God. He understands Jesus is not just an extraordinary man, but he is God, even if he doesn’t fully understand what that means yet.
One commentator points out, “This is the first time we meet with so plain and open an acknowledgement of his being the Son of God.” It was this miraculous display of Christ’s power even in the midst of Peter’s doubt that led to this confession.
Doubts do not mean that you have failed as a Christian, as a follower of Christ. Doubts can lead to growth that would not have been possible if we had not walked through them.
As we close this morning, let me leave you with a few thoughts.
Don’t run from your doubts, don’t dismiss them, and certainly don’t hide them from others.
Rather, take Jesus’ invitation to heart and ask yourself, why am I wavering, why am I doubting?
And always remember that when you don’t know what else to do, cry out to the one who is trustworthy, faithful, and true. Because as we saw this morning, he is closer than you think, he will never leave us or forsake us, no matter the size of the storm.
Let us pray…