Ever since the Titanic went to its watery grave on April 14, 1912, passenger ships have been required to have enough life boats for all passengers and crew, and onboard lifeboat drills are held to acquaint everyone with the procedures and positions for rescue in the event of an emergency. Any of you who have been on a cruise know that one of the first things you have to do when you are about to leave the dock is go to your cabin, put on that bulky orange life vest, and have your attendance recorded at your assigned muster station on the boat deck. It doesn't matter if you are just sitting down to your third tropical themed drink at the pool, you have to go join the herds of people bumping into each other on the stairs and trying out their vest whistles.
With maritime safety so taken for granted once again, there is probably way too much picture taking and teasing on the boat deck, but at there is the hope that if there is an emergency most people will have an inkling of what to do.
When Peter, "the Rock," started sinking like one, he had no idea what to do. The only thing he could think of was to yell to Jesus to save him. Jesus immediately reached his hand to him and did just that. The hand of Jesus was literally Peter's "life" preserver. In this second part of "Let's Rock the Boat" we receive assurance that when we get out of the boat, and when fear and doubt threaten to take us down, Jesus is with us with his amazing life-saving power.
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Quick recap in case you were not here with us last week. After feeding the multitudes on one side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sends the disciples to the opposite shore overnight while he spends time in prayer. When morning is almost upon him, Jesus sees that the twelve are stuck in a storm on the lake. They have been trying in vain all night to get back to shore. In a miracle that Matthew does attempt to explain, Jesus walks on the wind whipped waves toward the boat. At first the terrified disciples think that Jesus is a ghost, but he reassures them that it is he and they have nothing to fear. Peter gets out of the boat and starts to walk on water himself, but when he loses sight of his goal (being where Jesus is), he is overcome with doubt and starts to sink. At that point he cries out to Jesus to save him. Jesus gives him his hand, they get into the boat, the storm stops, and someone says, "You know, this is not our Daddy's Rabbi, anymore!"
There are three truths about Jesus that I want you to see in the second portion of this story:
- If you hand him your future, he will give you a hand.
- If you hand him your doubt, he will hand you his faith.
- If you hand him your hand, he will lift you up.
We get it backwards most of the time. We decide on the future we want and then expect God to get on the bandwagon. We set the sails of our boats and then get all frustrated when the wind doesn't blow the way we want to go. Jesus clearly said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and all others things will come to you." But we can't quite trust that that will be the case, so we seek first the Kingdom of "Me." When all the other things aren't forthcoming, then we begin to seek God, not as a way of setting direction for our lives, but as a means to the end we want. We want to hold tight to our future, and then we wonder why we don't get a hand.
Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, was a simple herder living in a remote area of the Middle East when God gave him a glimpse of a future he would never have imagined. The 11th chapter of Hebrews says: "By faith Abraham...set out not knowing where he was going." (Hebrews 11:8) Abraham handed over his future to God, not knowing what was to come, but trusting in faith. As a result, God gave him a hand. Abraham was blessed to become a wealthy man, he fathered a son in his nineties, and was the first Jew to own property in the Promised Land, where he was ultimately buried. If Abraham had chosen his own future perhaps none of that would have happened.
I tried several times to take control of my future, seeking first my kingdom, and not God's. At first I was headed to law school by way of a business degree. My sole reason in doing so was that I believed I could make a lot of money as a corporate lawyer. I had given no thought whatsoever to being in the ministry. (Like who in his or her right mind would want to have to prepare a sermon every single Sunday? It's like researching and writing a college paper every week!) Nevertheless, along the way, discerning Christian friends encouraged me to think about the ministry. I went to seminary to try it out, but after ten years in the ordained ministry I still don't think I had yielded my future to God. I left pastoral ministry to study for medical school. At the outset I thought I was following God's desire for me, but I now know it was again my attempt to control my future. Finally in 1985, I completely yielded myself to whatever future God envisioned for me. I truly did hand my future to Jesus. I wanted to be wherever he desired me to be, and I can tell you with absolute confidence that his hand has been there for me through it all.
When Peter got out of that boat with his eyes on Jesus and began to walk on the water, he was figuratively walking into the future that he had at that moment placed in Jesus' hands. He wanted to be where Jesus was, and that windy morning, Jesus was on top of the waves. Thus, when Peter began to sink, he was within Jesus' reach. If you hand Jesus your future, he will give you a hand—his own.
Trust me, it is never too late to hand your future to the Lord. None of the disciples had planned the future that became their destiny before they met Jesus. Peter even tried to go back to fishing after Jesus was resurrected, but Jesus had other ideas in mind for him. Maybe you have been seeking your own kingdom and future first and finding the hand of help too distant for rescue. Hand your future to Jesus, and he will give you his hand to guide you, empower you, sustain you, and hold you.
The second important truth in this water walking story is that if you hand Jesus your doubt, he will hand you his faith. The ability to have faith in something or someone is a gift from God. It is a part of how we are wired for life. And the more we act on it or trust in it, the stronger it becomes.
On Friday morning this past week, I was backing out of the driveway a little after 5:00 A.M. headed for the gym. Just as I reached the end of the driveway our outside lights all turned off. I thought, "That's funny. I need to recheck those timers." As I started down the road in our neighborhood I thought, "Wow, it's dark. I thought we had street lights in here." But since we have only lived there for six weeks, I wasn't sure. I was now looking at other houses and didn't see any outside lights on. I thought, "I guess I don't need to have my lights on all night. Nobody else does." I had gone about a half mile to another road and here and there there were houses with front porch lights on, and I thought, "I guess I can keep my lights on. I just need to check those timers." I went on to the gym and never gave it another thought. Two hours later, while having coffee at Starbucks, Kim called me and asked, "How long has the power been off?" Duh! I have so much faith in Progress Energy that I never even considered that something was wrong all through the area. Even Kim had awakened warm and wondered why I had turned off the ceiling fan before I left for the gym.
All this is to say that we all have faith in some things that we take for granted and act upon all the time. I have faith in gravity, and so I walk. I have faith in buoyancy, and so I swim. I have faith in love, and so I make myself vulnerable. I have faith in medicine, and so I endure injections. I have faith in the music ministry here, and so I get to hear Mosaic for the first time like you have. Just like me, you have faith in many things you have tested again and again and now trust. But do you have faith in God's love and care for you, or like Peter, do you think you are sinking all alone, far from the boat?
If you hand Jesus your doubt, he will hand you his faith. One of the omissions in the story here is what happened after Jesus took Peter's hand. I doubt very much that Jesus hoisted Peter up on his shoulders like a wet 180 pound sheep. I don't think he threw him into the traditional life guard's cross chest carry and sidestroked back to the boat. My Biblical imagination sees Peter's doubt being replaced by Jesus' faith and the two of them walking to the boat, Peter once again able to dry foot it on top of the waves.
In his ninth chapter, Mark tells the story of a man who brought his sick child to Jesus for healing. Jesus tells the father that all things can be done for the one who believes. The man responded with a loud voice, "I believe; help my unbelief!" I love that. It is so true to life as we experience it. We do believe, but there is still so much more to believe. That is why Jesus asked the sinking Peter, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" He didn't say, "You of no faith...," He knew Peter had enough faith to want to be where Jesus was and to get out of the boat in the dark in the storm. He knew he had enough faith to get started handing his future to him. It was just too little to keep him walking on the water.
If you honestly hand Jesus your doubt, he will hand you his faith. More than anyone else who has ever lived, Jesus knew how to trust God. He will help you to trust too.
The third truth is actually a component of the second: If you hand him your hand, he will lift you up. I guess that is what happened out there on the water with "Rocky." He was sinking until he gave his hand to Jesus, and then he was lifted up. Jesus told a crowd of people in Jerusalem shortly before his death that when the time came for him to be lifted up from the earth he would draw all people to himself. Of course by this he meant when he was lifted up on the cross his death would make it possible for all of us to "come" to him.
The most important thing to know is that when you place your hand in Jesus' and trust him as your savior and Lord, you will be lifted up with him into the glorious realm of heaven. He is your ultimate life preserver. But you don't need to wait until your boat is filled with water and your arms are too tired to bail any more. You don't have to wait until you are up to your neck in the sea without an orange life vest. If you give him your hand right now, he will lift you up.
There was an old song from 1970 that some of you might remember. It was written by Gene Maclellan.
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who stilled the water
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who calmed the sea
Take a look at yourself
And you can look at others differently
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Not only will you look at others differently, you will look at yourself differently. Put your hand in the hand of Jesus, and he will give you the lift you need to see yourself as someone who can indeed share in a miracle of his making.
I want to conclude again this week thinking about our upcoming Body Building Campaign. It is a big "get out of the boat and walk on water" undertaking, and like Peter, we can find ourselves overwhelmed and sometimes a little scared about it all. Nevertheless, I am confident about the vision and the challenge before us because we are handing Jesus our future. He has said, "Come to where I am. I am here seeking to reach all of my dear children who need to know they are loved." I am prepared to hand him whatever doubt I might encounter as we step out of the safety of the boat. Trust me, it's sure to come. And we couldn't have come this far in 26 years as a body of believers if we hadn't already put our hands in his. Don't let go!
So whether it is about the Body Building we need as a church family, or the body building you need as a struggling disciple, hand Jesus your future, hand Jesus your doubt, hand Jesus your hand, and everything will be fine.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, the boat drill is over."