Facing Our Fears In The Terrifying Experiences

Bible Book: Matthew  14 : 22-36
Subject: Fear, Overcoming; Peace; Trust; Faith

Matthew 14:22-36

How many of you are afraid of storms? How many of you are afraid of the dark? How many of you are afraid of water? How many of you are afraid of ghosts? All of these things factor into the passage of scripture that we are looking at this morning.

Last Sunday morning, we began looking at a series of passages from the gospel of Matthew on the subject of “Facing Our Fears.” From Matthew chapter 10, we talked about Facing Our Fears In The Traumatic Experiences. Our text today is found in Matthew chapter 14, and we’re talking about Facing Our Fears In The Terrifying Experiences.

Someone said that besides love, “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.” Fear subjugates logic and reason, and it causes us to not only see our circumstances in an unrealistic way, but also in an exaggerated way. There is a German proverb that says, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”

I read that…

The late advice columnist Ann Landers use to receive something like 10,000 letters a month. When asked what seemed to be the most common topic, she answered that most people seem to be afraid of something. They are afraid of losing their health, their job, or their family. They are afraid of upsetting their neighbor, alienating a friend, or committing a social faux pas. Many are even afraid when there is no reason to be afraid. Ours is a world of fearful people. (Lee Griess, Sermons for Lent/Easter – from Preaching.com)

I confess to you this morning that I have battled with this ferocious thing called “fear.” A moment ago,  I asked if any of you were afraid of storms. And for most of my adult life, my fear of storms has probably not been healthy enough. On several occasions, we have had a storm come through where we lived, and Angie would take the kids and get inside of a closet … and I stayed right where I was. But there was one night that I got just a tad nervous in a storm.

In fact, the night of September 5, 1996, in some ways was one of the most restless nights of my life. I’m not just being facetious when I say that it was a dark and stormy night. At that time, we were living about 30 miles south of the Raleigh – Durham area in the central part of North Carolina. At midnight, Hurricane Fran made landfall on the North Carolina coast as a category three hurricane. When it finally reached the Raleigh – Durham area, there were still sustained winds of 40 mph with peak gusts of nearly 70 mph. When it was all said and done, Hurricane Fran had dumped about 9 inches of rain in our area. It had caused approximately 1 ¼ billion dollars in property damage in North Carolina alone. And it was ultimately responsible for 34 deaths.

Angie and I lived with our two small children in a 50-year-old house that was surrounded by huge trees. That night it sounded like we lived next to a war zone. The wind whistled through in every direction like locomotives, as broken tree branches crashed against the house all night. Torrential rains beat against those old windows in nearly horizontal sheets. And all we could do was wait for it to end. It was a long, scary night.

I read that…

One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small boy into bed. She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?” The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. “I can’t dear,” she said. “I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.” A long silence was broken at last by a shaky little voice saying, “The big sissy.”

In the situation in our text today (which is also recorded in Mark 6 and John 6), we are told that the disciples “cried out for fear” (Matthew 14:26), suggesting that they were screaming like a bunch of little girls. But the more I read and study this passage and see how terrifying their circumstances must have seemed to them that night, the less I am tempted to call them “big sissies.”

Warren Wiersbe had some interesting things to say about the situation that we see the disciples in (verses 22-24)…

The storm came because they were in the will of God and not (like Jonah) out of the will of God. Did Jesus know that the storm was coming? Certainly! Did He deliberately direct them into the storm? Yes! … Many Christians have the mistaken idea that obedience to God’s will produces “smooth sailing.” But this is not true. … When we find ourselves in the storm because we have obeyed the Lord, we must remember that He brought us here and He can care for us. … This entire scene is a dramatic picture of the church and the Lord today. God’s people are on the sea, in the midst of a storm. Yet Jesus Christ is in heaven “making intercession for us.” He saw the disciples and knew their plight (Mark 6:48), just as He sees us and knows our needs.

As we look at this passage of scripture…

I. Let’s Notice The Causes Of This Episode Of Fear

Here Is The Substance Of Their Fears (Matthew 14:26, 30)

A. We May Be Fearful When The Savior Is Unrecognized

(Matthew 14:26) And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.

The Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that the word “troubled” (NT:5015 – tarasso) means…  To agitate, trouble (a thing, by the movement of its parts to and fro); … to cause one inward

commotion, take away his calmness of mind, disturb his (composure); to disquiet, make restless; … to strike one’s spirit with fear or dread.

It was A. T. Robertson who said…

They were troubled ?etarachtheesan?. Much stronger than that (just being troubled). They were literally “terrified” as they saw Jesus walking on the sea.

John MacArthur wrote…

As He first approached them, they thought they were getting anything but help, because, when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were frightened, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. Theo?reo? (from which saw is derived) means to look intently, indicating that the disciples’ gaze was transfixed on the apparition before them. At first Jesus did not walk directly toward the boat but appeared to be passing by (Mark 6:48); but that made little difference to the disciples. For a ghost to be anywhere near them was enough to make them frightened almost out of their senses. The term ghost (spirit) is the Greek phantasma, which refers to an apparition, a creature of the       imagination, and is the word from which come the English phantom and phantasm.

Many liberal interpreters insist that the disciples only thought they saw Jesus walking across the water as their tired and frightened minds played tricks on them. But it would have been quite impossible for all twelve of them to simultaneously experience the same imagined apparition. … Neither, as some suggest, could the disciples have seen Jesus walking along the beach while appearing to be walking on the water—even in broad daylight. Either they lied in reporting the event or it occurred as they say it did.

Because of the darkness, the mist from the wind and waves, the fatigue from rowing, and the fear that already gripped them because of the storm, they did not recognize Jesus when He appeared to them. Mark reports that “they all saw Him” (Mark 6:50), but none of them suspected it was Jesus. And their fear instantly turned into abject terror as they beheld the form they thought was a ghost come to add to their torment. In the dark before the dawn, hopelessness turned to utter horror and despair. In their panic they could not help but cry out for fear.

Craig Keener said that “belief in ghosts or disembodied spirits was common on a popular level in antiquity.” (From the IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament)

Matthew Henry said…

The perplexing, disquieting fears of good people, arise from their mistakes and misapprehensions concerning Christ, his person, offices, and undertaking; the more clearly and fully we know his name, with the more assurance we shall trust in him.

Warren Wiersbe wrote…

Why did they not recognize Jesus? Because they were not looking for Him. Had they been waiting by faith, they would have known Him immediately. Instead, they jumped to the false conclusion that the appearance was that of a ghost. Fear and faith cannot live in the same heart, for fear always blinds the eyes to the presence of the Lord.

Sometimes we are so surprised and even shocked at the path that the Lord takes in our lives that we don’t even recognize Him, and thus fear comes. We shouldn’t be surprised that His steps go in such directions, for the psalmist said…

(Psalms 77:19) Thy way (road) is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.

B. We May Be Fearful When The Storm Is Unrelenting

(Matthew 14:28-30) 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. {30} But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.

There is a second frame of fear in this passage. This time, however, it is not a group picture but an individual portrait.

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that the word “boisterous” (NT:2478 –ischuron)

Has the sense of “ability,” “capacity,” “power,” or “strength.” (It means) … “to be strong,” “to be superior,” “to strengthen.”

We read in W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words about the word “afraid” (NT:5399 – phobos)…

First had the meaning of “flight,” that which is caused by being scared; then, “that which may cause flight,” “fear, dread, terror.”

Fear came as faith fled. So his fear came when his focus shifted. Instead of focusing on the strength and ability of Jesus in faith, he focused upon the strength and power and superiority of the wind and the circumstances. The situation may exceed my ability, but it is never stronger than the Lord and His ability.

Max Lucado said…

A wall of water eclipsed his view. … Peter shifted his attention away from Jesus and toward the squall, and when he did, he sank like a brick in a pond. Give the storm waters more attention than  the Storm Walker, and get ready to do the same. Whenever the storms come, we cannot choose. But where we stare during a storm, that we can. (Fearless, page 72)

MacArthur writes…

Although Mark and John report Jesus’ walking on the water, only Matthew tells of this incident concerning Peter. Peter’s if (vs. 28) did not reflect doubt that it was actually his Lord, because going out onto the water to join an unidentified ghost was the last thing Peter would have done. … It seems much more probable that Peter was overjoyed to see Jesus and that his supreme concern was to be safely with Him. Mere impetuosity might have caused him to jump out of the boat, expecting Jesus somehow to come to his rescue. But he knew better, and he therefore asked the Lord, Command   me to come to You on the water. … Peter’s request was an act of affection built on confident faith. He did not ask to walk on water for the sake of doing something spectacular, but because it was the way to get to Jesus.

II. Let’s Notice The Calming Of This Episode Of Fear

Here Is The Subduing Of Their Fears (Matthew 14:27, 31–32)

A. Our Fears Are Calmed Through The Declarations Of Jesus’ Assurance

(Matthew 14:27) But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.

straightway – Greek 2112. eutheos, yoo-theh'-oce; adv. from G2117; directly, i.e. at once or soon:-- anon, as soon as, forthwith, immediately, shortly, straightway.

There were no detours or delays or deliberations. His strategy was a head-on assault against the domain of their distress. And Fortress Fear would not be conquered with weapons but with words. He “spake” (laleo – also translated as “preach”).

Craig Keener said…

Jesus’ answer is literally “I am”; although this can easily mean “It is I,” it may also allude back to God’s self-revelation in Exodus 3:14 and Isaiah 43:10,13: “I AM.” (From the IVP Bible Background Commentary)

The phrase “be of good cheer” comes from a single Greek term tharseo, which means to have courage (to be ‘en-couraged’). The word is also translated “be of good comfort.”

Again, John MacArthur wrote…

He calmed their fear by saying simply, Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid. In spite of the raging winds, the waves battering against the boat, and their fear-stricken minds, they immediately recognized their Master’s voice. It was not the time for an explanation of why He was there, of what He planned to do next, or of why He had not come sooner. It was time to give courage, to still the storm that raged within the disciples, even before stilling the one that raged without.

Jesus did not walk on the water to teach the disciples how to do it. … The Lord’s purpose was to demonstrate His loving willingness to do whatever is necessary to rescue His children. He did not have to walk on the water to save them, but His doing so gave them an unforgettable reminder of the power and extent of His divine protection. It was not to teach them to walk on water but to teach them that God can and will act on behalf of His own. We will never find ourselves in a place where Christ cannot find us; and no storm is too severe for Him to save us from it.

B. Our Fears Are Calmed Through The Demonstrations Of Jesus’ Ability

(Matthew 14:30-32) 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.

Peter asked the Lord to “save” him.

save – Greek 4982. sozo, sode'-zo; from a prim. sos (contr. for obsol. saos, "safe"); to save, i.e. deliver or protect (lit. or fig.):--heal, preserve, save (self), do well, be (make) whole.

Here again, Jesus expediency is seen as He “immediately … stretched forth His hand.” The Pulpit Commentary says of this word “immediately” that it means…

Without any waste of time, just as in verse 27.

In fact, it is the same Greek word that is translated “straightway” in verse 27.

Notice the word “stretched” in verse 31…

stretched – Greek 1614. ekteino, ek-ti'-no; from G1537 and teino (to stretch); to extend:--cast, put forth, stretch forth (out).

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says of the word “stretched” (NT:1614 – ekteino)…

In the NT (except in Acts 27:30), the term is always used for stretching out the hand. “Stretching out”  is the basic sense, e.g., stretching out in sleep, or stretching a part of the body, or deploying an army, or of words for speech. The use in Acts 27:30 is a technical one; the sailors were trying to flee under cover of “paying out” anchors from the bow.

(Acts 27:30) And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast (from the same Greek word as “stretched”) anchors out of the foreship,

It is as if Jesus is stretching Himself out to Peter as an anchor that would steady Peter.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t just steady him; He seizes him and takes hold of him so that Peter was, as the songwriter said, “sheltered safe within the arms of God.”

caught – Greek 1949. epilambanomai, ep-ee-lam-ban'-om-ahee; mid. from G1909 and G2983; to seize (for help, injury, attainment or any other purpose; lit. or fig.):--catch, lay hold (up-) on, take (by, hold of, on).

Peter could have come out quoting these verses…

(Psalms 18:16) He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.

(Psalms 144:7) Send thine hand from above; rid me, and deliver me out of great waters, from the hand of strange children; Or he could have sung the little song, “Something got a hold of me, praise God! Something got a hold of me.”

When it says “the wind ceased,” it indicates that it tired out and relaxed.

ceased – Greek 2869. kopazo, kop-ad'-zo; from G2873; to tire, i.e. (fig.) to relax:--cease.

III. Let’s Notice The Conclusion Of This Episode Of Fear

Here Is The Sequel To Their Fears (Matthew 14:33)

A. After The Lord Subdued Their Fear, We See His Followers Bowing

(Matthew 14:33) Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that the word “worshipped” (NT:4352 – proskuneo) means…

To prostrate oneself; properly, to kiss the hand to (toward) one, in token of reverence. It means to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence; hence, in the N. T. by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication. It is used of homage shown to men of superior rank.

We read that A.T. Robertson said they…

Worshipped Him. And Jesus accepted it.

MacArthur said…

We learn from Mark that their amazement resulted from their not having “gained any insight from the incident of the loaves” — or from Jesus’ earlier stilling of the storm or from any other great work He had done — because “their heart was hardened” Mark 6:52. Yet in that moment those same hearts were softened and those eyes opened as they had never been before; and those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” They were now more than simply amazed, as the crowds and they themselves had always been. They were taken past amazement to worship, which is what Jesus’ signs and miracles were intended to produce. At last they were beginning to see Jesus as the One whom God highly exalted.

B. After The Lord Subdued Their Fear, We See His Followers Believing

(Matthew 14:33) Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

When they said “of a truth,” it has the idea of ‘in reality,’ or ‘most certainly.’ The Pulpit Commentary says…

Saying, Of a truth; cf. Matthew 5:18, “verily.” The word seems to imply that the suggestion did not enter their minds now for the first time. Two had, perhaps, heard the words spoken at the baptism (Matthew 3:17), and most of them, if not all, the utterance by the demons in Matthew 8:29. Yet these utterances in reality far surpassed what they even … imagined

Again, A. T. Robertson said…

They were growing in appreciation of the person and power of Christ from the attitude in Matthew 8:27. They will soon be ready for the confession of Matthew 16:16. Already they can say: “Truly God’s Son thou art.” The absence of the article here allows it to mean a Son of God as in Matthew 27:54 (the centurion). But they probably mean “the Son of God” as Jesus was claiming to them to be.

Matthew Henry said…

It was a confirmation of their faith in Christ, and abundantly convinced them that the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in him; for none but the world’s Creator could multiply the loaves, none but its Governor could tread upon the waters of the sea; they therefore yield to the evidence, and make confession of their faith; Thou truly art the Son of God. They knew before that he was the Son of God, but now they know it better. Faith, after a conflict with unbelief, is sometimes the more active, and gets to greater degrees of strength by being exercised. Now they know it of a truth. Note, It is good for     us to know more and more of the certainty of those things wherein we have been instructed. Faith then grows, when it arrives at a full assurance, when it sees clearly, and saith, Of a truth.


Do we operate according to our fears or according to our faith in the Lord Jesus? When the storms of life come, it is difficult to operate in faith. But one songwriter understood the importance of faith in the midst of the storm.

James Wells wrote these well-known words published in 1918. The name of the song is “Living By Faith”…

Verse 1:

“I care not today what the morrow may bring,

If shadow or sunshine or rain,

The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything,

And all of my worries are vain.”

Verse 2:

“Though tempests may blow and the storm clouds arise, Obscuring the brightness of life,

I’m never alarmed at the overcast skies

The Master looks on at the strife.”

Verse 3:

“I know that He safely will carry me through,

No matter what evils betide;

Why should I then care though the tempest may blow,

If Jesus walks close to my side.”


“Living by faith in Jesus above,

Trusting, confiding in His great love;

From all harm safe in His sheltering arm,

I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.”

May we never be alarmed at the overcast skies. May our trust in Him prevail in the terrifying experiences.