World Conference 2023

Matthew 4:22–33

13 August 2023

Exploring the Scripture

What does it mean to be a disciple and to have faith in Christ? This text from Matthew helps us see understand this question. The basic story appears in three Gospels: Mark 6:45–52, John 6:16–21, and here in Matthew. There is also a small inserted story about Peter with a different ending.

In the first few verses we see Jesus sending away the crowd he had just fed (v. 15–21), and also sending his disciples away in a boat, (v. 22), so he could be alone. Jesus needed time to be intimate with God in prayer. To the early hearers of this text they probably would have connected with Jesus going up to the mountain as Moses did when he went to Mount Sinai. It was a place to be close to God. Remember this text was written predominately for a Jewish audience, people the writer wanted to show that Jesus is God’s anointed, the Messiah.

The passage then describes a scene with the disciples in a boat, where they had been tossed about by strong waves for many hours. Jesus walks to them on the water. In Matthew the disciples are not afraid of the rough sea, but afraid because they think they have seen a ghost. Jesus’ response is to “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” The Greek word used here for “It is I” is the word for “I am,” which would bring intense imagery to the hearers recalling the experience of Moses and the burning bush. Jesus was declaring his divinity, and showed his great power over the sea, which many thought was like a demon. Jesus had power over the chaos so there was no need to fear.

Then Peter calls out to Jesus, so he too can walk on the water. He steps out in faith and when he notices the strong wind, he is afraid again, and starts to sink. He calls out “Lord, save me” and Jesus rescues Peter by reaching out his hand. Interestingly Jesus does not congratulate Peter for trying, but says “You of little faith.” Earlier in Matthew 8:23–27 we see the disciples afraid, and Jesus then asks them “why are you afraid, you of little faith?” The disciples’ lack of faith is a frequent failing in this Gospel. According to Matthew the link between believing, and having confidence in Christ to help us in times of need is important. Is a little faith better than no faith, if we do not exercise that faith?

When Jesus and Peter get back in the boat the disciples worship Jesus. Note the progression from being fearful disciples, to confessing that “Truly you are the Son of God,” to worshiping him. They move from fear to doubt, to confession and worship.

So for us in our hour of need, at times of “dark nights of fear and helplessness” Jesus comes to us and says “Do not be afraid.” As disciples we do not doubt. Our faith is strong and we can be confident.

To “have faith” means that as we engage in Christ’s mission and carry out the Mission Initiatives, we have faith and confidence that Christ is with us. As we step out in faith we can do great deeds, but when we falter, Christ is there to pick us up.

For some scholars this is a story for the church. It is like the church and we (as disciples) exist in the world, with storms and struggles. But Jesus is always available and helps the church and us, in our times of need.

Project Zion Podcast

Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.


Central Ideas

  1. For disciples to have faith in Christ means having strong confidence in God.
  2. We may have storms and struggles in life but our faith remains At these times we trust God more.
  3. When our faith is little, we move from fear, to doubt, to confession, to worship.
  4. We can step out in mission, and when we falter, God is there to help us.

Questions to Consider

  1. Have there been storms in your life, in the life of the congregation, or in your community in which you have seen faith at work?
  2. When have you exercised strong faith in God?
  3. Is a little faith better than no faith, if we do not exercise that faith? How will your faith and confidence enable you to witness of Jesus Christ?

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