Sunday Sermon: ‘Life is Fragile, Handle With Prayer’

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What do you do whenever you are really hurting? I would imagine that many of us at some point cry out to God for help. Pain has a way of making us pray. Whenever there is some great tragedy, even many who normally try to push God out of the picture, say things like, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Whenever I hear that I think, “So who do you pray to? Are you acknowledging that indeed there is a God and that we need Him?” I believe that deep in the heart of every person is the knowledge that there is a God and that during a time of trouble, we need His help.

This morning I want to direct our attention to a man who needed God and in a moment of desperation he cried out to God for his help. His prayer is said to be the shortest prayer in the Bible, yet it was very real and powerful. His name is Peter and his story is found in the fourteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew.

I. The Storm

Matthew 14:22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. 24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.

 A. The Setting

First of all let me explain to you some of the setting. The verses prior to this tell us that the disciples had just spent a very long and tiring day. It began with Jesus and the disciples heard the news about John the Baptist being beheaded by King Herod. Verse 13 says that when Jesus heard the news, He took His disciples, got in a boat, and looked for a quiet place where they could be alone. Many of the disciples had known John personally and therefore Jesus probably wanted to console them, as well as help them regain their perspective.

But then their plans were interrupted. The Bible says that when the people of that region heard that Jesus was there, they brought all of their sick and diseased to Him for healing. What started out as a quiet day of rest ended up as an intense day of ministering to those in need.

At the end of the day, Jesus performed a miracle and feed the multitude. Scripture says that there were over 5,000 men, plus their wives and children. Can you imagine trying to feed 10,000 people or more?

I say all of this to emphasize the point that the disciples were probably totally exhausted. They were drained emotionally from having to deal with the tragic death of their dear friend John, and they are drained physically having spent the entire day caring for the needs of others.

Then we read –

Matthew 14:22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.

The Bible says that Jesus had to ‘constrain’ His disciples to get into the ship and begin sailing for the other side. The word constrained carries with the idea of Jesus having to force them to do so against their objections. Why were they so resistant? I’m sure that the disciples were confused over why they would have to go on ahead without Jesus. I’m sure they were confused over how Jesus was going to get to the other side. Perhaps they were also concerned about Jesus overextending Himself as He continued to minister to the multitude. And maybe some of them could sense in their bones that a storm was brewing. Whatever the reason was, Jesus had to insist that they set sail in the boat and that He would join them later.

 B. The Storm

Matthew 14:24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.

Sometime that night the disciples encountered a terrible storm. Scripture seems to indicate that the storm went on for hours and that it was too great for even these experienced fishermen to handle. The word ‘tossed’ refers to something or someone being harassed. The ferocious storm tormented the ship and the disciples. Perhaps at times they wondered if they would survive.

II. The Savior

Did Jesus know that there would be a storm? I am sure that He did. Why did Jesus send them into the storm? Why does God allow storms to enter into our lives? As I have studied this story, many have suggested that God allows storms for two primary reasons:

 1) To reveal our weaknesses

2) To reveal His power and glory

A. A Savior Who Understands

Matthew 14:23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.

The Bible says – ‘great is the mystery of godliness that the Son of God was revealed to men through a human body.’ (see 1 Timothy 3:16) That God could become a man is a great mystery that is difficult to understand. That God would become a man is an even greater mystery. Why did Jesus leave the glories of heaven to come to this earth? The Bible tells us that it was necessary for two reasons:

 1. That as a man, He could offer His life as a sacrifice for our sins (see Hebrews 2:14-17)

The Bible tells us three important truths about our salvation:

a. It is not something that we can earn on our own  (see Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5)

b. It is not something that could be given to us through the sacrifices of animals (Hebrews 10:1-4)

c. It is something could come only by God becoming a man and offering Himself as a perfect sacrifice  (Hebrews 10:5-7)

2. That as a man, He could understand the needs of humanity and properly care for us.

The Bible says – “Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” (see Heb 2:18) The Bible teaches us that Jesus completely understands what is like to be human. He understands our weaknesses. He also sympathizes with us in our weaknesses. He doesn’t condemn us. He reaches out to us to help. Because of this, the Bible tells us that ‘we should come openly and unashamedly to Him for help.’ (see Heb 4:14-16)

B. The Savior Who Prays Over Us

Matthew 14:23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.

Jesus not only understands our needs; He prays for us and our need. While the disciples were struggling with the storm, Jesus was up on the mountain top, praying. What was Jesus praying about?

 1. About the Needs of the Multitude

I’m sure that part of His prayer involved the needs of the many men and women who had been with Him that day. The Bible says that when Jesus saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion. (see vs. 14) I point that out to let us know that God is concerned, not only for the popular like Peter, James and John, but also for the common people like you and me.

2. About His Own Personal Needs

We must not forget that although Jesus was fully God, He was also fully human and therefore He had needs like any human being. Perhaps Jesus was troubled over the brutal death of John. Perhaps He was completely exhausted from having spent the biggest part of the day caring for those who were hurting. Perhaps He needed some quiet time with His Father in order to recharge His batteries.

 3. About the Needs of the Disciples

Though Jesus prayed for Himself and the multitude, He also prayed for the disciples. Have you ever been on the shore and heard someone talking out on the lake? They think that they are talking in a normal voice, and yet their voice carries over the water like they’re speaking through a megaphone. I wonder if Jesus could see the storm hovering over the ship. I wonder if He could the disciples crying out to God for help. I am sure that Jesus was completely aware of their need and therefore He was praying for them.

C. The Savior Who Comes to Help

Matthew 14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.

Here is something that has stood out to me as I have studied through this passage. The Bible says that they disciples were in the ‘midst of the sea.’ The Sea of Galilee is somewhere around 8 miles wide. If the word ‘midst’ actually means middle, then the disciples were three for four miles away from the shore. And yet, Jesus walked across all the stormy waves in order to get to them.

Here’s something else to think about. What do you suppose Jesus looked like when He arrived? Do you suppose that He was bone dry with every hair in place, or do you suppose that He was completely drenched? Although Jesus was God and could perform any miracle He desired, scripture teaches us that He laid aside His royal robes in order to become a servant. (see Philippians 2:5-8) If Jesus would subject Himself to things such as hunger and thirst, I feel sure that He would also subject Himself to effects of the storm. Many think that Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus feels the pain you and I are going through.

III. Our Surrender 

Now we come to the crux of our story.

Matthew 14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.

28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. 29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.

 How do you handle the storms of life? Peter shows us both a right response and a wrong response.

A. Peter’s Right Response to a Storm

Because scripture lays out this way, we’ll consider first of all Peter’s right response to the storm.

28 …”Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.”

What’s the right response to a storm? “Lord, enable me to walk on the waves. Give me victory over this storm.” Can God give us victory over the storm?

29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.

There is so much good stuff in this story that it’s hard to get it all into one sermon. Let me point a few things:

1. Peter asked Jesus to give him victory over the storm

Can we find victory during a storm? Yes. Scripture tells us that we can do all things through Christ who will strengthen us. (see Philippians 4:13)

2. Jesus responded positively to Peter’s request and gave him victory

Jesus didn’t say, “You’re asking for too much.” Jesus said, “Come!” which is now gone from a prayer request to a command. Can we ask for too much? The Bible says-

Ephesians 3:20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Peter is now walking on the same waves that only moments earlier were frightening him.

3. Peter’s victory began when he made the decision to get out of the boat and to put his foot on the water

The miracle in this story is not that Peter asked to walk on the water. The miracle is that Peter walked on the water. “Tell me to come to You” Peter asked. “Come” Jesus commanded. And as Peter set his eyes on Jesus, he walked on the water.

B. Peter’s Wrong Response to a Storm

Matthew 14:30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? 32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. 33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

What happened? The moment Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and began to focus on the storm, he began to sink. How did this happen to Peter? Here’s what I see from this passage.

In the beginning Peter was in complete dependence upon Christ. Peter knew that the only way he could walk on the water was if Jesus enabled him to do so. Peter’s focus was locked intently upon the power of Jesus to help him.

But after he took a few steps, he lost his focus on Jesus and got caught up in the fact that he could walk on water. He was kind of like the kid who takes his hands off the handle bars and says, “Look mom! No hands!” But when Peter stopped depending upon the miraculous power of Christ to help him, he became powerless and therefore he began to sink.

“Lord, save me” Peter cried. And thankfully, the Lord did save him. The Bible says –

31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him…”

Jesus rescued Peter. But then the Lord said –

“… O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”

Perhaps a more literal translation might be, “Where did your faith go? Why did you stop believing?”

Why did Peter stop believing? Why did Peter stop focusing on Jesus? Maybe it was the sound of the waves that caught his attention and drew him away. Maybe it was the excitement of walking on water. Maybe pride crept into his heart and for a moment he thought, “Boy, look at me! None of the other disciples are able to do this.” I don’t know what it was, but I do know that the moment he stopped depending on Jesus, he was in trouble.

Conclusion

The Bible is very clear on the fact that God wants our lives to be saturated with prayer.

Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Be anxious about nothing, but pray about everything  (Philippians 4:6)

Men out always to pray and not to faint  (Luke 18:1)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests… and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)

Scripture encourages us to pray when we are afraid –

Psalm 56:3  What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.

Psalm 34:4  I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.

Scripture encourages us to pray when we need wisdom –

James 1:5  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all…

Psalm 25:4  Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.

Scripture encourages us to pray when we have sinned –

Psalm 51:1  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Scripture encourages us to pray when we need strength –

1 Chronicles 16:11  Seek the LORD and his strength;  seek his presence continually!

Philippians 4:13  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Scripture encourages us to pray when we seek success –

Nehemiah 1:11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.

I close with this wonderful prayer promise found in the book of Jeremiah –

Call unto me, and I will answer thee,
and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.
Jeremiah 33:3

 

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