One day during His ministry Jesus fed five thousand men plus women and children using two fish and five loaves of bread. He looked up to heaven and said a blessing and then broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples and the disciples gave them to the crowds and everyone ate and was satisfied. Then the disciples went around and collected the left over pieces of broken bread and filled twelve whole baskets full. And Jesus immediately made them get into a boat to go before him to the other side while He dismissed the crowds and went up onto the mountain to pray. That evening came and the boat was still a long way from the other side because they were making their way across slowly against the wind. And Jesus came to them walking on the sea and when they saw Him walking on the sea they were terrified and Jesus told them, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” So Peter said, ‘if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ And Peter walked on the water and came to Jesus but when he saw the wind he got afraid and began to sink and called on Jesus to save him. Then Jesus reached out His hand and took hold of Peter saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” and when they got into the boat the wind ceased and those in the boat worshiped Jesus saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Jesus had walked on the waves of chaos and death to them, yet Peter doubted when he did the same and began to sink. Then they got into the boat and the wind stopped and they worshiped Jesus. Later Jesus was crucified on a cross until He was dead and then His body was laid in a tomb, but He crossed the waters of chaos to come back to His disciples and Jesus told them, ‘Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.’ “And when they saw Him they worshiped Him, but some doubted.” His body had experienced the final resurrection from the dead, but some doubted. The women went and took hold of Jesus, but we will see how Jesus reaches out His hand and takes hold of the brothers who doubt. First, let’s listen to the resurrection story in Matthew from the beginning:
- Matthew tells you that some doubted because he wants you to grow in faith so that nothing will stop you from fulfilling your calling to make disciples of all nations.
- You may have various reasons for doubt or you may not even know why you doubt, but when you have little faith and you doubt you may begin to sink and need Jesus to take your hand. Matthew does not record Peter giving an answer when Jesus asked on the sea, “Why did you doubt?” Surely this is because like Peter you may have many reasons or not even know why you doubt. One reason that some of the Jewish people had for doubting was the story spread among them by the guards. Ironically Jesus is risen (risen indeed) while the guards became like dead men. They knew that their own lives were at risk because the tomb they had been guarding was empty – they could tell the truth and Pilate would not believe them and have them executed or they could lie and say that the disciples stole the body while they slept and the priests would pay them and try to protect them from Pilate. In any case, the story that was circulating at the time might cause one to waver. Yet even if you hadn’t heard that tall tale saying the disciples stole the body, except for the women who saw the stone roll away and heard the words of the angel, the rest of His disciples doubted at first. They needed Jesus to somehow take them by the hand and pull them into the boat or they might become like dead men when Jesus is risen (risen indeed). (At the very least they needed to be pulled into the boat so that they could stop treading water and worship Jesus with all of their heart and soul and strength and call the nations to become Jesus’ disciples.)
- Your witness to the Life Savior Jesus is much less effective if you are treading water and sinking. When Jesus explained the meaning of the fig tree that withered at once in the passage we explored on Palm Sunday, He said that if you have faith and do not doubt then there is nothing that can stop you from doing what you have been called to do. In His words, “If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea, it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:21-22). Matthew used a different word in Greek for “doubt” in that passage but the idea is the same. Now he tells us “some doubted” because unless they grew in faith they would not be as effective and particularly their prayers would not be as effective. Matthew wants to see removed every obstacle standing in the way of the gospel going to all nations. He wants to see every doubt die in a watery grave because Jesus is risen (risen indeed). (So Matthew tells you that some doubted because he wants you to grow in faith so that nothing will stop you from fulfilling your calling to make disciples of all nations. This still leaves open the question as to how those who doubted grew in faith and how you might today. How does Jesus pull you into the boat so that you are not only saved but able to do what He asks? It is to this that we now turn:)
- The answer to “some doubted” was for Jesus to come and give you the Great Commission and for you to go and fulfill it.
- Unlike the women who witnessed those events at the tomb, the eleven and the rest of the brothers did not believe until they saw and heard Jesus. The women ironically went seeking the crucified Christ when He is risen (risen indeed). But they left the angel with fear and great joy. And behold Jesus appeared to them and said, “Do not be afraid.” So the answer to their fear was to see Jesus and for Him to repeat the instructions of the angel including what they were to tell the brothers. Then later we are told the eleven followed those directions and when they saw Jesus they worshiped Him. But we are told “some doubted.” This may refer to those brothers who unlike the eleven had still not yet seen Jesus. This scene may be an allusion to the group of more than five hundred to whom Jesus appeared that the Apostle Paul tells us about. Large group ministry in the Gospel of Matthew was on mountains. “But some doubted and Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Thus the point is that the answer to their doubt was for the risen Jesus to come to them and give them the Great Commission to make disciples for Him from all nations. (But as the apostle John would later record Jesus as saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). The answer to your doubt is not so much then for you to see the risen Jesus, but the answer comes in His words to you.)
- Jesus says to you, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The first disciples got to see and hear the risen Jesus, but you have this account in order to believe and grow in your faith so that your doubts might be resolved and you might be able to do what God has called you to do today. Disciples of Jesus make disciples of Jesus from all nations. It is important for us to note that Jesus says “of all nations” – the answer to your doubt is most clearly seen as you share with people who are not like you – with people who are even from other nations whether they live here, visit here, or you go to them. All this takes place in the context of the church community – for disciples join the church through baptism and then we are taught to observe all that Jesus has commanded us. But by “church community” I don’t want you to think that I’m limiting this to Sunday morning. This teaching takes place not only on Sunday morning – discipling others is something that is an ongoing process that continues during the week as you might help someone to see how the reality that Jesus is risen (risen indeed) changes everything. You will always find that as you share the gospel of Jesus Christ with people from all kinds of backgrounds and as you continue to walk with them that you will grow in your own faith and there will be less and less that can get in the way of reaching others. However, if you are treading water or even sinking – not helping others to become disciples and not seeking to learn what Jesus wants to teach you – as you move further away from the people of God it gets harder and harder to keep afloat. Thankfully, today Jesus extended His arms and pulled you to safety and the wind ceased so that you can worship Him. Praise the Lord. Amen.