Friday, December 07, 2007

Half-Way Faith?

Matt. 14:22 ¶ Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.
Matt. 14:23 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.
Matt. 14:24 But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.
Matt. 14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.
Matt. 14:26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.
Matt. 14:27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Matt. 14:28 ¶ Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”
Matt. 14:29 And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
Matt. 14:30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Matt. 14:31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Matt. 14:32 When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.
Matt. 14:33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”

Whenever I read this passage, I often jump to the part where Peter starts to sink, drawing conclusion that because he kept his eyes off Jesus, he went down the waters. I re-read the passage again today and realised that Peter is not one who does not have faith. He is not a negative example of what Christians should not do. Rather, he is simply a reflection of ourselves who often live our faith half-way. But there is more....

I will start with some observations of the text, how this incident of Peter reflects who we are in our Christian walk. First, the word "Immediately" appears three times and each time it has got to do with Jesus's actions. The adverb eutheos, was used to describe Jesus's deeds. The first comes in the form of a command to the disciples to get inside the boat. Upon doing that, he went on to shoo the crowds home. The second time 'immediately' was used is in v27, where Jesus comes with words of comfort at his appearance. He knew that the disciples were afraid, and his immediate reaction was to comfort them. Comfort them he did, not just in the speed of delivery but also in the same commanding tone, similar to the 'immediate' and 'making them enter the boat' manner. The third time the word immediately was used is in v31. In this third instance, Jesus stretched out his hand quickly to hold on to Peter before he sank any further. Such immediacy is encouraging. Three adverbs. Three aorist verbs. Three times the Lord took immediate steps to the welfare of his disciples. The first time, the Lord forces them to go away from the crowds, an indication of a need to rest. The second time, the Lord comforts them with his very presence, by appearing with them, without the crowds with him. The third time, the Lord saves Peter from drowning. It is like Jesus saying to us,
- I will make you to lie down besides still waters and to rest.
- I will comfort you when you are afraid
- I will save you when you are in despair and in trouble.

In all of these instances, Jesus took the initiative. Isn't that comforting that it is the Lord who initiates rest for his disciples, comfort when they are in trouble, and saving them when they are in deep waters. This is a vivid allusion to the prophetic words,
Is. 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.

It is easy to laugh at Peter and say that he asked for it. After all, he was the one who insisted on walking on water like Jesus. The Master graciously acceded to his request but it was Peter himself in his moment of showmanship who fumbled for lack of faith. O how much the Lord long to give you the chance to live out our faith to the full? How greatly he yearned to have us walk to him in faith in spite of the risk of waters flowing all over us? He makes us rest so that we can see moments and opportunities to express our faith. He gave us comfort in the exercise of such faith. He even stayed by our side to hold us up when we falter in our Christian walk.

For the busy Christian servant, Jesus speaks to us, that there is a time to serve, and also a time to get away from the crowd or ministry. Look at how Jesus himself went off to shoo the crowds away, despite the many needs. Jesus took time to make sure that his servants are able to rest far away from the demanding needs of ministry. We need people to pull servants of the Lord away from ministry regularly so that they can pray and re-calibrate their spiritual bearings.

For the aspirant who wants to be like Jesus, to do what Jesus does, God allows such people to do so according to their measure of faith. Jesus said 'come' (v29) to the waters. He did not say no, for he knew that such practice of faith will encourage his people. Servants of the Lord need to be encouraged as they live out the faith.

For the dejected, who felt that they are sinking into the waters of despair, Jesus holds out his hand and any reprimand is done gently. It is amazing that in the light of all the strong aorist verbs used by Jesus in the passage, the verb "Jesus said" when Peter was in doubt was a gentler verb. This is very gratifying to know that when Jesus corrects his enthusiastic disciples, he does it in a way befitting of a caring and loving father.

Christian ministry is tough and often energy sapping. That is why we need to be made to go away and rest, frequently. The Christian walk is exciting and we are also frequently shown that it is possible to do what Jesus did, walk the way he walked. Simply the opportunity to do so, ought to excite any believer. Finally, Christian work can be discouraging, and many servants have sank into the waters of despair. Jesus is immediately holding out his hand to encourage us, all the time.

In the light of this devotion, is this passage merely a teaching not to practice 'half-way faith?' I think it may carry some references to it, but to see it will be to miss the point. We have a human tendency to work and overwork ourselves to the point of burn-out and exhaustion. That is why we need to be forced to rest. We have a tendency to want to live out an active faith. That is why Jesus presents us with ways to do so. There is no lack of opportunities. We have a propensity to be easily swayed by bad news and negative circumstances that we become discouraged in ministry. In all of these, Peter's reactions reflect the humanness we all possess. The main point I feel is the presence of a loving God who takes care of us before we fall, who comfort us and hold us up even when we falter.

And he does so in a special way, in the best possible timing: "Immediately", or ASAP God's style.


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