A couple years ago, I was able to have a brief visit in Singapore. I was speaking at a camp in Indonesia, So I stayed in Singapore for a few days and we took a ferry across to the camp. It was interesting to me how much control the state had over people’s lives.
The whole premise behind Singapore is to build a perfect society. The only way to do that is by controlling behavior, housing, business - everything. In big things like drugs - a first time offence for selling illegal drugs is the death penalty. But the state controls everything, all the way down to a ban on gum chewing.
Singapore is a wonderful place, and nobody seems to mind how much sovereignty the state has over their lives.
As Americans, it’s hard for us to wrap our minds around that. In America, if the government banned gum chewing, there would probably be a spike in gum sales. We value independance over state sovereignty. We tend to think that sovereign forms of government are inferior to a democratic republic. And that’s especially true when the sovereign power is condensed into one man or family. We tolerate it when the sovereign is benevolent or if a partnership helps advance our national interests. We despise it when the sovereign is evil, and we use the word dictator in those cases.
I believe that the Bible teaches that God is sovereign over everything. And I use the word everything literally. God is sovereign over every aspect of the creation. God is sovereign over salvation. God is sovereign over our lives and our eternity.
The problem we tend have with God’s sovereignty is when it intersects with our circumstances in ways we don’t like. Is God sovereign over our time management? Is God sovereign over our parenting and marriages? Is God sovereign over our road rage and our personal struggles? Is God sovereign over the hurricane that tore the roof off your house? Is God sovereign over the cancer?
Where we we have difficulty with sovereignty is when when it presses in on the things that we consider personal or simply natural. God can be sovereign over “church things” is he want to. But when it comes to the gritty part of life - it’s harder to accept.
We’re prone to reject someone’s authority over us when it supersedes the control we think we should have over ourselves. Because we have that tendency, it’s important that we regularly remind ourselves that Jesus is not only the Lord of our salvation, He is also the Lord of every area of our lives. Jesus is Lord when it comes to the way we spend our time, use our words, and manage our finances. Instead of feeling burdensome, there is great comfort in knowing that Jesus is sovereign over every circumstance in life because of who He is—the Son of God.
We dive into a parable that presents God’s sovereignty as clearly as possible. No matter what problems or issues we face, we’re supposed to find comfort in the fact that Jesus is in control. The fact that Jesus is in control of everything should give us courage and confidence as we face whatever he brings into our lives.
Principle One: Jesus is sovereign over our circumstances. (Matthew 14:22-25)
Matthew 14:22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.
This parable comes on the heels of Jesus’ miracle of feeding the crowd. The crowd learned where Jesus was and followed him. Jesus set aside his desires and ministered to them all day. He taught them and healed some of them. At the end of the day, he fed them - 10,000 + people.
Two factors are at play as Jesus disperses the assembly. In John 6, we learn that because of the great miracle, the crowd has started talking about taking Jesus by force and making him their king. Also, remember why Jesus came in the first place: He had come to this desolate place because he wanted to be alone following the death of John the Baptist.
Jesus gets rid of everyone. The people are heading home. He sends the disciples away in the boat. He’s heading up onto a mountain.
The disciples are in trouble. Have you ever seen the reality shows about storm chasers? They have special vehicles. They hunt down and try to get into the middle of storms. I understand there’s a branch of the military that fly research planes into hurricanes. It takes a certain mindset to want to do that. These disciples are in a terrible storm, but not by choice.
If you picture what a boat would look like back then - No protection from the rain. Perhaps some sort of sail, but it would be useless. The men would be rowing. This isn’t something they would have pursued or wanted. Jesus is spending some time being refreshed. He sends his disciples into a storm.
Some time passes while Jesus was in prayer and the disciples were struggling to navigate their course during a violent storm. Don’t know exactly how much time. In verse 24, the boat is a long way from land, being beaten by waves. They’re not making much headway. From Mark, we know that they never got past eyesight of Jesus. Mark 6 says that Jesus “saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them” (Mark 6:48). Jesus is fully aware of what’s going on with his friends.
That’s a key aspect of God’s sovereignty - God knows our circumstances. God never looks at our life and says - “Oops. I didn’t see that coming.” Whatever storms we face, God knows, and he sees it.
Even more to the point of sovereignty - it was God who sent us into the storm, and lets us endure it for however long he desires. I have a lot of regrets as a father. Some of the things I regret most are the times I paved the way and made things too easy for my sons. Struggle is good for us. The times that my sons grew the most were the times when I backed off and let them deal with issues and face difficulty.
I was at the gym Monday. There are men and women there who were pushing their body because they were seeking to improve their health. I looked over at the cardio equipment. Most people had headphones in, listening to something. But they were working hard. One guy was talking on his phone. He was taking a casual stroll on an elliptical machine. I’m far from being an expert in fitness, but I thought to myself - “You’re not doing it right.”
It’s the tension and struggle that produces great growth. Removing the struggle prematurely stifles growth.
The same thing is true in our spiritual life. When we enter into a struggle, it’s natural for us to want God to remove the tension from us so we do not have to endure it any longer. However, God thinks about it differently. God’s desire is for our growth and development and that we would have a greater level of dependence on Him. Those are produced when we seek Him in our circumstances!
Suffering and struggle are not the opposites to the Christian life. In fact, Scripture says of Jesus that He suffered much in His life, leaving an example for us about how to suffer well. (1Peter 2:21) Jesus has the power to walk on a sea, but he allowed himself to suffer.
Keeping in mind that Jesus is sovereign over our circumstances helps us face those circumstances with a better perspective. His desire is for my growth, and he wants me to face my circumstances with faith. When we do that, we can endure anything. Endurance is not always easy. But it’s important that we learn to find our joy in Christ and not in our circumstances. We ask God for the wisdom to navigate the right course through our circumstances. As we struggle to remain obedient to Jesus, we will find that our faith in Him becomes stronger because we know He is in control.
Principle Two: Jesus calls us to courage and faith in the storm. (Matthew 14:26-31)
Matthew 14:26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Have you ever noticed that sometimes when we’re in a bad place, it’s easy for our minds to be clouded by doubt and fear? It’s hard so be fully aware of what’s happening. The mental storms can have a greater impact and more collateral damage than physical storms.
I’ve read about people in rural communities that survived tornados. They often experience fear for years after the tornado. It is a fear that surfaces whenever storm clouds roll in during tornado season. Physically, their homes, and schools can be rebuilt. The battle in the mind can take an incredible toll that goes way past what we might expect.
The first time I got into an airplane, I was excited at the idea of such a convenient way to travel. Then the captain came on and said we were returning to the gate because they needed to rebalance the aircraft. The luggage needed to be spread more evenly. All of a sudden, I wasn’t very excited anymore. For years after that, I would have this twinge whenever I got into a plane. There’s a mental battle in times of crisis.
The disciples are struggling with this boat. A few of them are fishermen and might have some experience in this setting. Most of them - this is an unknown and scary circumstance.
They look over and Jesus is walking toward them. Any other setting, and Jesus walking toward them would have been a welcome sight! But in the context of this storm, and because he’s performing a miracle to do it, they are terrified. The one who can rescue them is coming toward them - At first, they perceive it to be an even greater problem. Not only are we in this storm - Now we’re also being haunted by a ghost.
Jesus calls for them to have courage: “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Peter pipes up:
Matthew 14:28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Peter received the courage Jesus offered, and it led him to want to be close to Jesus in the midst of the storm. Humanly speaking, the boat was the only means of protection and safety. Keeping that boat together and keeping it from filling up, was critical to survival. Peter, in faith, stepped away from the only means of protection he had. He is so infused by courage at Jesus presence that he was willing to walk away from the boat. He was literally willing to walk on the water. In order to be close to Jesus, and to obey Jesus command of courage.
That initial courage soon melted though. I’ve always pictured this as a situation where reality set in. Peter behan looking around with eyes of human reasoning instead of eyes of faith. This might not have been the best idea. That boat is looking pretty good right now. He starts to go under! Peter calls out for help. Jesus grabbed him and brought him back up to the surface of the water. Then Jesus rebuked his lack of faith.
The handbook pointed out two lessons for us to learn:
First, when we receive the courage of Jesus, we must continue to embrace it and employ it throughout life. With Peter, the faith of 30 seconds ago is not enough to sustain him as he starts to think about his situation. As Christians, we can’t coast on the past. Are we relying on knowledge of the Bible that we read years ago but haven't read it in awhile. Are we basing our hope on decisions and commitments that are long in the past? Faith must be a continually present and persistent reality if we hope to stay above the storm instead of sinking under it.
Second, the gospel comforts us in knowing that when we fail to walk in courage and instead turn back to holding on to fear, God’s love for us still remains and He still provides salvation for us. Peter’s inconsistent faith is not just a Peter problem! You have and will face doubts. You have and will lack courage to obey God. You have and will struggle. Everytime, Jesus will reach out his hand and pick you up.
When we admit our deficiency, we can fully embrace Jesus’ sufficiency. God often uses a storm to bring us to a place where we humbly cry out, “Lord, help us!” It is in those moments that we are reminded of Jesus’ power to hold up a disciple of weak faith. Jesus can keep us from being swept away by the waves because He walks on top of them.
Principle Three: Jesus is worthy of worship as the powerful Son of God. (Matthew 14:32-33)
Matthew 14:32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Although Jesus’ calming of the storm was a display of His supernatural power over creation, the key factor to this passage is found in verse 33 when the disciples worshiped Jesus! At that moment, the disciples confessed that Jesus is truly the Son of God. Their worship of Jesus, who was standing right before them, shows that they were fully convinced of His divine identity. The same can probably be said of us, that our worship of the Lord becomes more meaningful and sincere after we have seen Him do great work in our lives.
The displays of Jesus’ power drive our worship of Him as our King. The miracles reveal to us the power of the King. And like the disciples proclaim in verse 33, The miracles reveal to us the identity of the King. In the miracles we are to see Jesus as the one prophesied in the Old Testament. The promise of the Messiah is the blind receiving their sight, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, and the dead raised to life.
This miracle confirms his identity. This is the promised Christ So with the disciples say of Christ and to Christ: “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Jesus is always in control, always present with us, and He alone is powerful enough to calm the raging sea. What else can we do but worship Him as the Son of God? But not only did He still the wind and the waves, He consumed the wrath of God against our sin on the cross. What else can we do but trust Him to preserve us through the storms of life?
Our security in this world is not based on the strength of our faith but on the object of our faith. Our faith may waver in the storm, but Christ is solid and will not move—the storm is His footstool, for He rides on “the clouds of heaven” (Dan. 7:13).
Our faith grows in strength when we reflect on the precious message of the gospel, which reminds us that Jesus alone is worthy of our worship because He alone is mighty to save. These truths serve to fuel our hearts and drive us toward living as faithful witnesses on mission for the Lord God, no matter what situations we find ourselves in.