O ye of little faith
Matthew 8:23-27; Matthew 14:22-33
“O ye of little faith.” (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; Luke 12:28)
There are two exceptions – the Roman Centurion and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:28). They have “great faith”, even though they are Gentiles. Yet when Jesus looks at His own disciples He sees “little faith.”
And how does “little faith” show itself? In fear.
Perhaps the clearest depiction of this is the story of Jesus walking on water. It comes in Matthew 14:
“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. 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. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33)
The scene begins with Jesus on the mountaintop praying. Here we’re reminded of Christ’s heavenly position – communing with the Father on high. Meanwhile His people are “in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves.” Such storms, as we’ve seen, are a picture of the chaos and suffering of life. Yet when Jesus sees our plight, what does He do? He joins us of course! This is the gospel in miniature. Jesus does not simply pray from a distance, nor send advice from on high. He descends into the storms to be with us and to lead us out.
And so He strides out for the salvation of His people, walking through the storms, walking on water. In the picture-language of Scripture we’re being taught that Christ treads on the abyss. You might say, He’s all over the powers of chaos. And as He joins us in the storm He proclaims His name in verse 28: “Be of good cheer, I AM, be not afraid.” That’s the literal translation and it brings to mind the Exodus when He descended into the burning bush to save the suffering Israelites.
As He declares His name and demonstrates His power, faith is awakened in Peter. Peter trusts Jesus, He wants to be with Jesus and to walk as Jesus walks (cf 1 John 2:6). But how will he do it?
Well notice that he doesn’t just step out. He asks for Jesus to command him. That’s important. You see Peter has been in a storm with Jesus before (Matthew 8:23-27). Peter knows the power of Jesus’ word – His word makes things happen! So Peter wants a word from Jesus to command him. And the word is powerful to enable that which it commands. Peter does the impossible because Jesus commands it.
And so Peter takes a very literal step of faith. And – miracle of miracles – he finds himself walking as Jesus walks! It’s wonderful. Until he takes his eyes off Jesus and is overwhelmed by “the wind boisterous”. He begins to sink. But even there we see the grace of Jesus. This is not gravity acting on Peter or he’d sink like a stone. How slowly Jesus lets him down! But when Peter calls out, “immediately” Jesus saves.
And this is when Jesus utters that famous line:
“O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”
Peter has faith. He trusted Jesus, he wanted to be with Him, he wanted to walk as Jesus walked. But he – like you and me – had little faith.
Let’s ask, what faith, specifically, is Jesus referring to? What particularly did Peter doubt?
Peter did not doubt that Jesus could walk on water. He had rock solid faith in that. And Jesus was not recommending self-belief to Peter – Peter has no inner capacity for walking on water! Peter’s problem was that he doubted Jesus’ word to him. He doubted the word which both commands and enables what it commands. Peter doubted that he had really become the person Jesus said He had – one who walks like He walks. That was the essence of his doubt.
Trusting Jesus involves trusting His word about who we’ve become.
Perhaps you have seen Jesus as the great I AM. Perhaps your heart has been captured by His strength, His sympathy, His solidarity, His salvation. Perhaps you have trusted Him and have desired to be with Him. And perhaps you have tried to walk as He walks. Well no doubt at some point you have begun to sink. O you – O me! – of little faith!
Remember that Jesus makes this assessment while stretching forth His hand and holding us fast. And now, held by His strong right hand, consider His question: “Wherefore didst thou doubt?”
He said “Come” and He meant it! His word happens. He will not let us fall. We are exactly who He says we are in His word. And even as we fail Him, time and again, we will see His faithful response to our “little faith” and we too will worship Him saying “Of a truth thou art the Son of God!”