Posts tagged ‘Peter’

August 13, 2014

Getting out of the boat

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(Photo: Inishbofin Ferry, July 2014)

Sermon for Sunday 10th August, 2014.

Text: Matthew 14:22-33

As we look at the gospel reading this morning, many of us (if we are honest) will find ourselves identifying with the disciples in the boat. If you think about it, it is a picture of much of the church in our part of the world today. As we look beyond the confines of the boat, we are intimidated by the height of the waves and the strength of the wind. The world is in such a mess, with seemingly endless numbers of spiritually starving people all around us, and the world beyond appears to be nothing but war and rumours of war, disease and disaster, with countless numbers of innocent men, women and children caught up in it all. “It’s much better to say in the boat”, we say to ourselves, “where it is safe, where it is dry and where we can hide from the oceans of need all around us”.  

I have a memory from when I was about five or six years old of watching an episode of Dr. Who on TV – there I was, eyes glued to the old black-and-white television when all of a sudden a scary screaming monster type thing came on to the screen and I was terrified. I got up and ran around to the back of the sofa, occasionally peering over the top to see if it had gone away and then ducking for cover once more. My mother then came in to the room and told me not to be afraid, it was just a man dressed up in a silly costume and it was nothing to be frightened of. I didn’t need to hide behind the sofa any more after that.  

But staying in the boat, or hiding behind the sofa or just keeping ourselves busy with church activity is not where the Lord wants us to be. He does not want us to live in fear, He wants us to trust Him, He even wants us to get out of the boat…  

The reading starts off with the Lord Jesus telling the disciples to head out in the boat and go over to the other side of the lake whilst he goes up the mountain by himself to pray. Did the disciples know that their master and friend was going to pray? I’m not sure, but if they did, then perhaps they didn’t need to fear what was going to happen next. The same is of course true for us. In Hebrews 7:25, the Bible gives us the wonderful promise that Jesus prays for those who come to God through Him. Isn’t it a very special thing, to know that Jesus prays for us?  

So whilst Jesus is alone on the mountain, the disciples are making their way across the lake, but a storm has arisen, the boat is being battered by the wind and the waves and they are far from the shore. It’s quite a contrast don’t you think? Picture the serenity of Jesus in the place of prayer up on the mountain and then in the distance out on the water are the disciples, being lashed, buffeted and bashed by the waves and the wind which are coming hard against them. Remember that a number of the disciples are experienced professional fishermen, they have encountered many storms before, but this is a bad one. The disciples are in a state of panic and in fear of losing their lives and yet they were in fact perfectly safe, Jesus was praying not only for Himself but also for them and He very soon would come to them. How many times have we been in a state of anxiety and fear only to realise later that God was with us all along, looking after us, holding and protecting us?  

In verse 25 it says “In the early morning he came walking towards them on the lake”. In the original it says “In the fourth watch of the night”, which is between 3 am to 6 am. So the disciples had been battling the storm most of the night, and they were no doubt by this time not only frightened, but exhausted. The waves were still large and the wind still strong and there had been no let up. But Jesus comes to them ‘actually walking on the rising and falling waves’ (Hendriksen). ‘The disciples must discover that they have a Saviour who is able not only to still the storm but even to use it as His pathway’ (Ibid.) Initially they don’t realise that it is Jesus coming to them across the water, in the dim light and overcome with fear they cry out ‘It is a ghost!’ But now close to them Jesus says:  

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Beautiful words, words that give us strength and comfort to this day. If we look at the literal translation of what Jesus says, it is even more powerful, He says: “Take heart, I AM”. When Jesus says ‘I AM’, it is very significant, because this is the name for God in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14). Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, that He is the great ‘I AM’, so there is no need to fear. In whatever situations you are in today, this is a huge reassurance to your heart that Jesus is in control.[1]   DSC_0801_wp

(Photo: “Jesus walking on the Water”, Stained-glass window, Church of the Ascension, Timoleague)

I think Peter is just such a great, larger-than-life character. He sometimes gets criticised for being a loud mouth who always seems to put his foot in it, but what we learn from him is that it is much better to do something and fail whilst trying, than to do nothing at all. It is much better to get out of the boat and sink and be saved than to never take the step of faith at all. Peter wants to be wherever Jesus is, even if that means doing something that is impossible, something that contradicts the laws of physics, such as walking on water. Of course it was Jesus who created water in the first place, it was He who determined the laws of physics and nature, He is Lord over all He has created and it is subject to Him in every way.  

Peter has enough faith and enough courage to step out of the boat, which at this time is still being buffeted about. To begin with it all goes well, he is actually walking on the water towards Jesus. But the initial wonder of what he is doing evaporates as Peter takes his eyes of Jesus and notices the strong wind. In so doing his faith is replaced by fear and he begins to sink. Turning back to Jesus he cries out “Lord, save me!” Jesus’ response is immediate, He reaches out and catches hold of him. Perhaps it is then as the two of them are walking back to the boat that Jesus says: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ In other words, Peter should have taken to heart that He was in Christ’s presence, and he should not therefore have been afraid.  

Perhaps some of us can relate to Peter, yes we have faith, but mixed in with that faith is fear and doubt (Wright). It can seem that what Jesus has asked us to do is impossible, whether that is being a witness for Him in the home, in school or in the workplace; whether that is being involved in ministry of some kind to those in the church or to those outside; whether it is in helping those around us or helping those in far away places. It can all seem, at times, overwhelming. If like Peter we look at the wind and the waves we will conclude that what God has asked us to do is impossible. All we have to do though is keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, in prayer, in His Word, in worship and praise and as we go out into the world. Spending time with Him is key so that not only will we know what He wants us to do, but we will have the power, energy, strength and faith to do that which He asks of us.  

As Peter and Jesus get back into the boat all is calm, the wind stops and the disciples cry out now not in fear, but in worship, saying to Jesus ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’  Worship is of utmost importance.  

One of my favourite books of recent years is John Ortberg’s “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.” He writes:   “When human beings get out of the boat, they are never quite the same. Their worship is never quite the same. Their world is never quite the same. Whatever the results, whether they sink or swim, something will have changed… Jesus is not finished yet. He is still looking for people who will dare to trust Him. He is still looking for people who will refuse to allow fear to have the final word. He is still looking for people who refuse to be deterred by failure … Just remember one thing: If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.”[2]  

Let’s pray: Lord, we ask that You would give us courage to get up and to step out and to follow You and Your will and plan for our lives, now and always … Amen.  

Further Reading:

  • William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Matthew, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1989
  • John Ortberg “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001
  • Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, SPCK, London, 2004

[1] http://acs.alpha.org/bioy/commentary/765

[2] John Ortberg “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001, p.202

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April 18, 2010

Peter and Jesus

Photo notes:  This is a picture from about three years ago.  Much as I would like to have a picture of the shores of the Sea of Galilee, this is the next best thing, the north shore of Great Island!  The funny cartoonish effect (especially noticeable in the clouds and the trees) is HDR, the effect you get from combing three different exposures of the same scene into one.  This was achieved using a trial version of Photomatix.  
Today’s Sermon:  John 21:1-19
Have you ever let Jesus down?  If you have you will know how crushing the disappointment can be. But Jesus is not like anyone else – He doesn’t go off in a huff, He wants us back and living with Him and for Him once again.  
You may remember from last week that the Lord Jesus had appeared to the disciples previously, when they were all huddled together in a locked room.  You may remember ‘doubting Thomas’ seeing the risen Lord for himself, seeing the scars in Jesus’ hands left by the nails and the scar in his side left by the spear and how he exclaimed “My Lord and my God”.  Well if last week it was about Thomas’ encounter with Jesus then this week it is about Peter’s encounter.  
Peter had a very heavy heart.  He had denied his Lord and master three times.  He felt very bad about it, he was crushingly disappointed with himself.   Seeing Jesus again in that locked room brought him joy but it also brought him pain.  Just when his Friend needed him most, he three times denied to complete strangers that He even knew Jesus.  
Peter is hanging out with Thomas, Nathanael, the brothers James and John and two other disciples.  Peter wants to go fishing.  Perhaps returning to what he did before he met Jesus will help him in some way.  His friends say that they will go with him so, as the day is coming to a close they set out in a boat onto the sea of Galilee.  
It is a fruitless night, they catch nothing.  The fish are having none of it!  Early in the morning, as the darkness is lifting a little and the sun is thinking about poking its head over the horizon, Peter and the others see a man standing on the shore.  There is not enough light yet to see who it might be.  The man calls out to them saying
“Children, you have no fish, have you?”
They still don’t recognise the man or His voice.  
“No”, they answer.  
The man says: 
“Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some”  
Maybe at this point they are getting an inkling as to who this man might be.  A few years before something similar happened when Peter received his call from Jesus.  On that day he put his net into the water and was overwhelmed by the number of fish, but even more overwhelmed by this carpenter from Nazareth, to whom he had said “Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).  But Jesus replied to him on that day  “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will catch people” (Luke 5:10).  That day, Peter had left his boat and hits nets and everything to follow Jesus.   
Now here we were again. Déjà vu.  They put the net over the right side of the boat just as the man said and what do you know, yes, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish!  
John looked at Peter and said “It is the Lord!”  Peter doesn’t hesitate, he loves Jesus, He loves Jesus with all his heart, he is so sorry for ever letting Him down, he so wants to see Him again, to talk to Him so that Jesus knows he is sorry.  Peter quickly puts on his clothes and jumps into the water.  Peter swims the hundred yards or so to the shore with the others coming behind him in the boat.  By the time the others arrive towing the bulging net of fish behind them, Peter is ashore with Jesus and a fire has been lit.  Jesus already has some fish cooking and some bread and He calls out to them to bring some of the fish that they have just caught.  Peter jumps aboard and helps pull the overflowing net ashore. John tells us that there were 153 large fish and is surprised that the net is not even torn.  Jesus calls them to come and have breakfast.  They all know that it is the Lord but they are afraid to ask.  Having breakfast on the beach with someone who has risen from the dead is not an everyday experience.  
Once they finish breakfast Jesus speaks to Peter and says:  
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  Peter has desperately wanted this moment, this chance to try and restore his relationship with Jesus, but he is understandably also a little afraid.  He replies
“Yes Lord; you know that I love you.”  
Now the word ‘love’ in the Greek has subtle differences.  The word Jesus uses for love is agape which means a complete love that is even prepared to sacrifice oneself on behalf of the person you love, (for example Jesus’ love for us by sacrificing himself on a cross, or a parents love for their child).  Jesus asks Peter do you love me sacrificially, are you prepared to give up everything even your life to follow me?  
Peter replies “Yes Lord you know that I love you”.  Peter knows that he has made great claims before about following Jesus.  He had said to Him “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mark 14:31).  Now he says it from the heart and as best as he can “Yes Lord you know that I love you”.  But Peter does not say that he loves Jesus with agape sacrificial love, the word that he uses is phileo.  This is still love, but it is more an affectionate brotherly love.  
Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my lambs”.  Peter is to look after Jesus’ followers and to take care of them when He has gone.  Then Jesus says to Peter more directly;  
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  
Again Jesus uses the word agape for love.  Does Peter love Jesus fully and sacrificially.  Perhaps he does but he is not yet ready to openly admit it, perhaps for fear of letting Jesus down again.  He replies:  
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”  
Again Peter uses the affectionate Phileo word for love.  Again Jesus says to him “Tend my sheep”.  
Three times Peter denied Jesus, now to help restore their relationship Jesus asks Peter for the third time:  
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Jesus no longer uses the agape word for love, He uses Phileo.  In effect He is saying:  “Peter, Peter are you even my friend?”  Perhaps Peter is not quite ready to trust himself again after letting his Master and friend down so heavily before.  Peter is hurt and upset and perhaps doesn’t yet understand why Jesus is talking to him like this.  Peter can still only reply using the Phileo, brotherly love word as he replies for the third time saying:  
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
What a change has taken place in Peter.  This was a man who was full of life and energy and ultra-enthusiastic.  The sort of person who charged into everything, often without thinking first.  There was no keener follower of Jesus and yet when it came to the crunch, when he was asked publicly whether or not he was a follower of Jesus he had sworn that he was not (Matt. 26:72).  Peter was completely devastated by his behaviour.  He had wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75) it was perhaps the saddest moment of his life.  And now here Jesus had asked him three times whether he loved Him or not, once for each of the time that he had denied Jesus.  Peter is able to reply that yes he does love Jesus, but not as strongly as Jesus would like.  Peter is now perhaps being over cautious.  
But Jesus knows Peter’s heart.  For the third time He says to him: “Feed my sheep”.  Jesus knows that Peter does love Him, He knows that Peter will be a key leader in the Church.  He knows that Peter and the others will be given all the courage and strength that they need when the Spirit would come in power upon them on the day of Pentecost.  
Jesus knows the future.  He knows that Peter will love Him so much that, in the end he would give his life willingly and unquestioningly for Jesus.  (Legend tells us that Peter was crucified upside-down because he refused to killed in the same way that his master had.  Even at Peter’s death he was thinking about his Master’s glory.)   
And what about us?  Perhaps we can think of a time or times that we have let Jesus down, perhaps we have been ashamed or embarrassed to admit that we know Him as our Lord and Saviour.  Perhaps we worry that people will think we are a bit odd for doing so.  Yes if we deny Jesus we should be devastated for doing so – but that is not the end, like Peter, we can be restored and reconciled with Jesus, we only have to be willing to give Him our love and He will do the rest.  
To Peter Jesus said “Follow me”.  He says the same today to you and to me:  Come, Follow me… Amen.