Turn Your Eyes

Matthew 14:22-33


            Have you ever thought what it would be like to be a disciple of Jesus?  Now I’m not talking about being a disciple of Jesus today, but being one of the original twelve disciples back when Jesus actually was walking around in person.  Have you ever wondered what it would be like?

            I’m not sure if the disciples ever really knew what it was they were getting themselves into when they agreed to follow Jesus.  Try to put yourself in their shoes.  For a moment, try to put yourself in the shoes of Peter.

            Peter was one of the first disciples called and by trade he was a fisherman.  Him and his brother Andrew fished the Sea of Galilee.  Fishing was something which was primarily done at night for the temperature at night is much cooler than during the day.  Fishing for them, unlike the line-fishing we do from our boats, docks, or the shore, net fishing was tough.  It was strenuousness, it required long hours and often showed little in the terms of results.

            So you have Peter and Andrew fishing from the shore and up walks Jesus.  From what we know from Matthew’s gospel, Peter and Andrew potentially don’t know anything about him.  So Jesus, this random man walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, says to Peter and Andrew … “Come, follow me and I will make you fisher of men” (Matt. 4:19).  At once we’re told, “they left their nets and followed him” (4:20). 

            Peter drops everything, literally everything and follows Jesus.  Peter watches Jesus call more disciples.  Peter listens to Jesus preach his great Sermon on the Mount.  Peter witnesses Jesus raise a young girl from the dead, heal a lady with a bleeding disorder, give sight to the blind and the ability to speak to the mute.  Peter watches and listens as Jesus teaches in parables to the Pharisees and other religious leaders.  Peter then sees Jesus feed 5,000 men, plus women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fish.

            We have no idea how long Peter had been with Jesus up to the point where Jesus feeds the 5,000, but Peter was probably pretty comfortable having Jesus around.  Peter was probably use to being in Jesus’ presence.

            And then after the feeding of 5,000 and after the left overs are collected, we’re told in our Gospel lesson that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd (14:22).  Jesus sends the disciples away and then does what the disciples usually do, he dismisses the crowd.  After everyone is gone, Jesus then goes up on the mountain side to pray, to have some one on one time with his father in prayer.

            The disciples, as they push off and travel out into the sea without Jesus may very be thinking … “Wait a minute, you called us to follow you and now you are leaving us all alone at sea?”  Granted, this may not seem like a big deal because a good number of these disciples are fishermen but … the sea, in the minds of the Israelites is a place of uncertainty, a place of chaos.

            Not many people will admit it, but … there are times in life when Jesus doesn’t feel very close.  We drop things, we give our lives to following Jesus and yet there are times when you and I feel like we are all alone.  Alone and drifting through the uncertainty of life.  Alone and wondering … why isn’t Jesus with us anymore?

            For the disciples, things go from uncertain to worse.  Not only is Jesus not with them, but a ferocious storm slams down on their boat.  Beaten by the waves, water coming into the boat, up against the wind, the disciples panic and fear for their lives.  This storm they’re facing … they’re known to develop on the Sea of Galilee in an instant and have drowned even the most skilled fishermen.

            You know … a lot happens in an instant.  A doctor gives an unfavorable diagnosis.  A friend lies to you.  Your parents tell you that they are getting a divorce.  You are involved in a car accident.  Your boss hands you your termination letter.  A loved one dies.  Or maybe, maybe your day is just interrupted by the perfect storm of doubt, despair, and dark thoughts.  It’s easy in these situations to feel like you’re going to sink, that there is no way out.  This is especially the case when it feels like … Jesus is nowhere near you.

            Matthew tells us that in the midst of the storm, one of the disciples looks out over the water.  Maybe he is looking out over the water thinking this it, this end, we’re all going to drown.  But as he is looking out over the water he sees something walking on top of the waves.  He gets everyone’s attention and they all see it.  They’re all terrified because they think their seeing a ghost.

            But Jesus immediately says, “Take courage!  It is I. Don’t be afraid” (14:27).  Jesus is walking through the storm to the disciples.

            Peter instantly cries out, “Jesus, if it is you, tell me to come to you.”  Jesus says to Peter, “Come!” (14:28-29).  And Peter does it.  Peter, without any sort of hesitation, Peter steps out of the boat and he walks toward Jesus on top of the water.   

            But then Peter remembers … “Wait a second!  We’re in the midst of a storm.”  And at that, Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and looks at the wind, he looks at the waves, he looks at the storm.  As soon as Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus … Peter sinks.

            Are you following this?  As long as Peter keeps his eyes on Jesus … he’s fine.  But as soon as Peter stares at the problems and not at Jesus … the storm drags him down.  When we look at our troubles, when we look at our problems and believe that they are bigger than Jesus … that is when we sink.  As long as we keep our eyes on that bad news, as long as we keep our eyes on that broken relationship, on that diagnosis, as long as we keep our eyes focused on what is happening right in front of us and not on Jesus … when we focus on our problems and not him … the storm overtakes us. 

            But the Bible says Peter cries out, “Lord, save me!” (14:30).  Immediately Matthew says, “Jesus reached out his hand and caught him” (14:31).  In an instant, in the blink of an eye, Jesus is there to save Peter.  Jesus saves Peter not only from the storm, but from his own hopelessness.  Jesus saves Peter and says, “Hey, I’m right here.  I’ve been here the whole time.”

            Maybe you and I need to realize that the waves, that the storm, that our problems … they’re bigger than us.  But even in the midst of them, especially in the midst of them … Jesus is bigger.  Jesus is our only hope.  And even though he may feel very distant at times … Jesus is right there with you, right there next to you, right there to grab you and pull you up.

            You know … Jesus never said that life was going to be easy.  He never told his disciples when he called them that they were going to have a life of luxury.  He never said that there weren’t going to be storms.  He actually says the exact opposite.  He tells the disciples that they will suffer many things on account of him.  And over the course of their life … they do.

Listen, there will be times when the pains of life will smash into us.  There will be times when the storms will instantly engulf us.  There will be times when the waves of doubt and despair will wash right over us and knock us off our feet.  In the midst of those storms, Jesus says, “Hey, look at me.  Turn your eyes toward me!  I’m right here!  I’ve got you!”  Amen.

The peace of God, which surpass all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.