The New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John allow us to see Jesus for who he really is: The Son of God, the true King of the universe who seeks to reconcile people to God through his life, miracles, and teaching. The Gospels also allow us to see the disciples of Jesus for who they really are: A rag-tag bunch who express both belief and doubt, and experience both faith and failure.
The reality of the Christian life is that it is often a herky-jerky three-steps-forward and two-steps-backward kind of experience. An expectation that we will “succeed” and have everything go well every time we try something by stepping out in faith is way out of step with how things work in both this world and in the kingdom of God. It would be a bit like a basketball player expecting to make every free throw attempt – and if they cannot do it, they refuse to even try.
Doubt and failure are important experiences for the believer in Jesus Christ. Without failure, there is no Christian life. Never failing means we have not tried – we are still in the boat, having never left the safety of established routines and responded to God’s command to come, leave your comfort zone, and enter the scary world of kingdom living.
Our failures may sometimes, like the disciple Peter, be colossal belly-flops. Yet, the story of Peter getting out of the boat and walking on the water and becoming overcome with the waves is just as much or more about Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33). Christ extended grace to Peter and helped him, even in his failure of faith. Therefore, our failures do not need to define us. Jesus is Lord over the water, the storms, and of everything – including our own hardship and trouble.
Yes, there are a lot of scary things in life. Learning to ride a bike is scary. Driving for the first time on an icy road is scary. Getting married and having kids is scary. Admitting an addiction or unethical behavior is scary. Sharing the innermost thoughts with a friend is scary. It is scary just to be in this world. It can even be scary to be at church! It is all scary because we might fail, and the failure, we reason and worry about, might crush us.
However, the fear of failure need not control our lives because grace overcomes everything. We all find ourselves, at times, caught midway between faith and doubt. Yet, to know this situation is to experience grace. If the worst scenario you worry about in your head would actually come to pass, it will still never change the reality that God loves you! And it will not stop Jesus from extending his hand to you in a life-saving grip of grace.
Fear only melts away when we keep our eyes on Jesus. Christ is the polestar whom we must center our lives, instead of focusing on the waves around us. The truth sets us free, so, take note of the following truths about Jesus that will help us overcome the fear of failure and embrace a life of faith.
Jesus is a person of prayer (Matthew 14:22-24).
Jesus, the Son of God, was deeply dependent on his heavenly Father. His life exhibited the necessities of simple prayer and obedience. If Jesus found the need for solitude and prayer in his life and ministry, how much more to we need it!?
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go out on the lake. As Lord of the elements, he knew very well they were about to face a storm. Sure enough, the storm clouds gathered, and the boat got thrown around by the waves. Even though the disciples were doing God’s will by going out on the lake, they were not spared from the adversity. In fact, Jesus wanted them to experience the storm because it is through the storm that we really learn faith.
Faith is a muscle which requires continual use. Through stressful and vigorous exercise, there is a breaking down of muscle tissue and tearing of muscle fibers which leaves the body in need of rest and recuperation. It is through this process of healing that the muscles grow and are strengthened. Muscles which do not experience this type of stress become useless and eventually atrophy. Show me a person of great faith, and I’ll show you a person who has gone through a boat load of adversity and hurt, having allowed Jesus to grace them with healing.
There is no shame in either being hurt and/or admitting failure. Where there is shame, our instinct is to run away much like our ancestors Adam and Eve. We can try and hide from the shame, but we will end up hiding ourselves from the grace that could be ours through the Body of Christ. Grace is free, not cheap – it is accessed by the humility of confession.
Jesus is present with us, bringing an end to fear (Matthew 14:25-27).
Although on the middle of a lake during a storm, Jesus was still present with the disciples. Adverse weather was no problem for Jesus – he just walked on the water to be with them. Even though the disciples had just seen and participated in the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand, they were not looking for another miracle. Maybe that is why they did not recognize Jesus and were afraid when they saw him.
The disciples’ expectations of Jesus were far too low! Sometimes when we are afraid, we fail to see Jesus, even when he is right in front of our faces. We just do not expect him to be there. When the disciples cried out in fear, Jesus responded. I used to work at a factory where I trained people in their jobs. When the training was finished, I had the trainees evaluate our time together. The top response I received from most of them is that it was my presence that helped them to learn their job – the ability to fail time and time again. And having me there to rescue them when things got overwhelming eventually built faith that they could do it on their own.
Jesus wants those who follow him to imitate him (Matthew 14:28-31).
Jesus walked on water. Jesus invited Peter to walk on water. We are to do what Jesus did. Notice that Peter is not chided by Jesus for getting out of the boat but for doubting that he could continue in the miracle that was happening. Jesus wants more than a regurgitation or parroting of his teaching; he wants us to exercise that learning through actual deeds of faith. Once the command of Jesus was given to “come” then walking on water became nothing more than a matter of trust. Christianity is more than a set of doctrines to believe; it is a powerful reality to be live into.
“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” –G.K. Chesterton
We understandably get nervous when a crazy Jesus and an unpredictable Holy Spirit call us to get out of the friendly confines of the boat. After all, we might fail. However, it is in such times we bank on the Word of God and the promises of God.
The Apostle James said that if we find ourselves lacking wisdom to deal with the unpredictable and unknowable that we are to ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault and will be given to them (James 1:5).
Peter responded to his sinking situation by crying out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out and saved Peter from his own doubt and lack of faith. Jesus called Peter a “little-faith.” Many people have lived too long with the notion that God is some stern angry deity who is constantly displeased with his sinful people, and that only through perfection will he ever be happy with us. The truth is that Jesus wants us to imitate him; and, when we fail, he is there to pick us up.
Jesus has the authority to settle the storm when he is good and ready to do it (Matthew 14:32).
Jesus is the King of the universe and the Sovereign of the world. He will bring the crisis to an end according to his own good pleasure and in his own good timing. Rather than spending all our emotional capital by worrying or conniving to get out of a situation, we need to trust God and keep our eyes on Jesus. Our job is trust; God’s job is everything else.
Jesus’ power led the disciples to acknowledge who he is (Matthew 14:33).
Worship happens when we see Jesus as he really is, the Son of God. Flat, dull, boring worship comes from flat, dull, boring Christians who are unable to see the power of Jesus in their lives. And the way we know the power of God is when we are in a situation which requires God’s strength to deliver us. Grasping Jesus as the Son of God is more than a verbal confession of faith; it is being able to trust him, like getting out of a boat in the middle of a lake.
We are to live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20). It does not require much faith to pray that Aunt Mable’s bunions will feel better. It only requires a little faith to give a dollar when you have ten dollars. It takes no faith to discuss the weather and steer clear of hard conversations.
However, it does require faith to pray for a miraculous healing every day without giving up for a little boy who is racked by epilepsy, and trust God to spare his life. It does require faith to write a check for $100 to someone in need when you have exactly $100 in your checking account, and you must trust God to provide for you own necessities. It does require faith to deviate from the routine schedule to have a difficult discussion about race. It does require faith to act on Christ’s teachings. It does require faith to live as though the mission of God in this world is the most important thing we could ever do.
It would be nice for me say that if you live by faith in the Son of God that you will never fail, but that would be lying. The only way of not failing is not living life, and not exercising faith. It would be great if we could pray and act without ever doubting, yet the only way to avoid doubt is to not believe.
So, may we embrace the life that is truly life by stepping out of the boat. May Jesus define our lives instead of letting failure define us. May we accept the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away. (NIV)
It is a mystery that two persons who come from the same family, have the same training and experiences, can take such different perspectives on God, and go in completely different directions in their lives. Maybe it is not so much about shared events and circumstances as it is about how those experiences are interpreted by each person. One gives herself to God, the other doesn’t. I believe the fulcrum of history rests on the person and work of Jesus Christ. In saying that, I just offered an interpretation of Christ which many people do not share.
We all have our slant and analysis of Jesus and his ministry in some way. Everyone has epistemic assumptions and metaphysical presuppositions which inform the way they look at the world, and how they discern Jesus.
The Jewish sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the ancient world took a different metaphysical spin on Christ’s ministry than did his disciples. The two groups were skeptical and wanted incontrovertible evidence of Messiah credentials from Jesus in the form of a sign.
It is important to note about the Pharisees and the Sadducees that they came from opposite ends of the political and theological spectrum. The Pharisees were the Jewish conservatives, greatly concerned for Scripture and tradition. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the liberals of their day, much more concerned with the Temple sacrifices and controlling all aspects of Jewish worship. Most of the priests in the first century were Sadducees, whereas most of the scribes (who copied the Scriptures) were Pharisees. They did not see eye to eye on much of anything, except Jesus.
To them Jesus was an untrained, sinner-loving, non-Temple endorsed teacher from lowly Nazareth who could not possibly be the Messiah. The Pharisees did not like how Jesus handled the Torah; and, the Sadducees didn’t like all the nonsense Jesus was spouting about identifying himself as the true Temple. In short, Jesus was a threat to the status quo.
So, they “tested” him, that is, they tried to tempt and trap Jesus into giving them a sign – they wanted him to do something dramatic to prove his credentials as Messiah. Just as Satan tempted Jesus to jump from the Temple and demonstrate he is Super Messiah, so the Pharisees and Sadducees asked for something that Jesus would not give them.
Instead, Jesus let them know they completely misinterpreted who he is and what he is doing. In fact, Jesus said they have all the evidence they need with the prophet Jonah. Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so Jesus would be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth. Just as Jonah would rise from certain death, so Jesus would rise again.
Jesus insisted they needed to rightly decipher and act on the evidence they already had – which raises (pun intended) some critical questions for us, as well: Are we searching for something more than Christ’s resurrection? Are we looking for some sign or some more information before we will act? Do we think we need a class on spiritual gifts before we can serve? Are we obsessed with how to do any kind of ministry or mission, instead of satisfaction with knowing what it is we are to do?
No further sign is given because we already have the redemption of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God. We have everything we need to do the will of God. So, we must discern our situation appropriately and cease believing we need all the answers to God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christian ministry.
It is imperative we go out and be missional people with an action/reflection model of obeying what we already know and then reflecting on it so we can go back out and do it again better. For the best interpretations come from a lived experience of putting our metaphysical notions into practice and trying them on for size – and finding that Jesus is enough.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan. (NIV)
Through the event of Christ miraculously feeding more than four-thousand people, the Christian tradition embraces a living, ascended, and glorified Jesus who still looks to feed those in need. Furthermore, just as Christ had his disciples participate in the miracle, so he still wants to use us today in feeding the world. It is therefore necessary that we work on aligning our resources – our emotional energy, our money, our service – toward reaching out to people who are hungry, both physically and spiritually.
Jesus did just that in feeding thousands of people. He organized his disciples for a miracle even though they failed to understand what he was doing until he did it. The disciples, bless their head scratching, wondered how the vast throng of people were going to be fed, even though they had already participated in the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21). The disciples sarcastically responded to Jesus, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” Maybe they were less thick-headed and more hard-hearted. You see, unlike the previous feeding miracle, this one took place in the Gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon.
It appears the disciples were having a hard time with Jesus using his efforts, compassion, and miracles for Gentiles (non-Jewish people) instead of Jews. It could be that they were thinking Jesus should stand for holiness by being as far apart from pagans as they can get. Besides, it wasn’t as if there weren’t any hungry people among their own Jewish people. Maybe they were thinking: “Shouldn’t the miraculous and divine resources be better utilized in keeping them within the Jewish community? After all, the gentile Romans oversee the land. Couldn’t they take care of the needy? Is this really our responsibility?”
Jesus would have none of that kind of thinking. Christ most certainly could have avoided the Gentiles if he wanted to; but he didn’t. Jesus could have fed the people and done a miracle without the involvement of his Jewish disciples, but he didn’t. Jesus wanted his disciples to be part of the miracle through distributing the bread and fish for the people to eat. Jesus would have nothing to do with his Jewish disciples avoiding the Gentile people. He wanted the disciples to meaningfully connect with the hungry people.
I wonder whom Jesus wants us to meaningfully connect with. I am curious if Christ is looking to align his divine resources for people in our lives – and to use us as the means of a miracle. Perhaps the people who are quite different from us are the ones we are to feed. I am wondering how we view such persons. If we tend to freight our language about them in sarcasm, perhaps that is a clue to our own implicit or unconscious bias.
Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I had many conversations and dialogues with Christians about AIDS and the gay community. I am saddened that the pervasive attitude I encountered at the time was how gays and lesbians were ruining our society (among other attitudes not worth repeating). Instead of seeing them through the eyes of the compassionate Jesus and seizing an opportunity to love an entire community of people, the discussions were more about how to keep “homosexuality” and the “gay disease” out of church. The hospitals at that time had wards of persons dying from HIV, and few Christians present to bring the compassionate resources of Jesus to them. Withholding spiritual or physical food from people in need, no matter who they are, is not the way of the Lord Jesus – the One who feeds and heals. However, giving the grace of food and fellowship to all in need emulates the compassion of Jesus. Indeed, there is always room at the Table.
Jesus not only meets the needs of all kinds of people, he also gives lavishly so that the supply is more than enough. The resources of grace will never run out; there is always enough. I hope our legacy to the people of this earth is that there is always enough grace from us because we have ourselves received grace from the Lord Jesus.
Most folks, especially the poor, rarely have their needs met through rational ethereal arguments and pious pronouncements of truth. And their needs cannot be met if available resources are placed on the outside of their access to them due to existing attitudes about poverty and/or particular people groups. The needs of people are met through non-judgmental compassion which finds a way to connect them with food, both physical and spiritual, even if it takes a miracle to happen.
God Almighty, the One who sustains all, we ask you to pour your powerful Spirit into all who are empty this day. Fill the hearts of persons who are troubled. Fill the minds of people who are confused. Fill the stomachs of your children who are hungry. Fill the souls of people who are feeling lost. Fill the lives of all who need you, but do not know you. May your Spirit fill us all to overflowing, dear Lord, and may we be inspired to share our abundance with others so that there will be no more empty hearts and minds, stomachs, and souls. We pray all this in the name of Jesus Christ, who fills lives with your endless grace. Amen.