God's Way of Deliverance
On The Hour of Decision program recently, a man saved during the Greater London Crusade said that in the course of a service he didn’t so much notice what Billy Graham was saying—all he became conscious of was a voice speaking to his heart and claiming his decision, his surrender, and there could be no possible resistance to it.
I wonder what it is that brings a life into living touch with Christ. What is it that makes a service so different? Well, it is just when God speaks to the heart. I believe that sort of thing happens by prayer, that it has been happening in London to over 35,000 people in answer to prayer. Billy Graham himself would be the first to admit that he cannot lead a soul to Christ, he needs always cooperating with him that working of the Spirit of God in bringing conviction. And this way of God’s deliverance for the human heart is my subject for this message.
The Disciples’ Dilemma
I want you to observe in Matthew 14:22-33 that there are three chapters to this story of Peter walking on the water. First of all, notice the disciples’ dilemma.
The Lord Jesus Christ had been teaching and the crowd had asked Him to be their king, but He sent them all away because they had only wanted the material benefits, and the Lord Jesus Christ will never be crowned king of any life because of what we think we can get out of it.
Then He told this little group of twelve men to get into a ship and to go to the other side of the sea, and He went up alone on a mountain to pray. As they rowed across to the other side, in the absence of any wind that would help them to sail, I imagine the Lord Jesus Christ looking down from that mountain and committing them constantly to His Father in prayer.
They hadn’t gone very far when a storm blew up and that little lake became very turbulent. Presently the ship was in imminent peril of sinking, filling with water very quickly. We are told that it was at the third watch of the night that Jesus came to them—at three o’clock in the morning. They had been on that sea for about nine hours, and they were in the middle—they had traveled only about three miles, and they found themselves unable to make any progress and in immediate danger of disaster and death.
I can imagine Peter wringing his hands and crying, with a sense of bitterness almost, “What’s the use of the teaching of the Master now! It’s all very well listening to Him in the sunshine on the mountainside where the skies are blue, but when He isn’t here in the darkness and the storm, what use is it all!” Imagine the sense of fear and dread which gripped the hearts of those twelve men as they were on the verge of sinking.
We might ask ourselves a moment what was the cause of the trouble. It was because the wind was contrary, says the Gospel account, that the waves were crashing into the boat and threatening to dash it into pieces. I am no sailor—but they were. It might have been perfectly simple for them to turn the head of the ship and cause it to run with the wind, but they didn’t do that. They maintained its course straight into the teeth of a contrary wind, and because they did that they were in imminent danger of catastrophe. They did it because Christ told them to, and this story, if it tells me nothing else, tells me this much: that the path of obedience to the Master is always a path of revelation. The way of obedience is the way by which, as I walk that path, I shall meet Him, and He will come to deliver me and to rescue me. They kept the ship headed in the direction in which He had told them to go, and before very long He met them at the point of need.
I wonder somehow or other if the dilemma of those twelve men that night is not perhaps a picture of the conditions of some lives going right into the teeth of a wind that was contrary. Everything seemed to be against them. The gale was terrific and the ocean was crashing into the boat. The whole situation was far too much for them to cope with—the pressure of it, the exhaustion of it, the weariness of it, as they sought to take that boat to its appointed destination.
My dear friend, do you know something in your life about a contrary wind? Do you know something of what it is to go through life against odds that are far too much for you? Sometimes does it seem to you that it is almost impossible to carry on another five minutes? The wind is right in your face. You’re conscious that it is contrary and the storm is threatening to bring your life into disaster and shipwreck.
And indeed, maybe it is also true of your life that the Lord Jesus Christ is not there. You knew Him in Sunday School days, but in the course of life’s journey, Jesus Christ has somehow or other been left behind. You find yourself involved with contrary winds and the tragedy of your experience is that Jesus Christ is not real to you.
That dilemma of these disciples is a vivid picture of the dilemma of many a heart without Christ, facing temptations far too strong for you, finding the battle of life too grim to wage. You may have come to church time and time again and it meant nothing to you. You may have been brought up in a Christian home but religion to you has been merely a form. And perhaps the most deadly form of all has been an orthodox form.
I believe one of the greatest privileges, and at the same time one of the greatest dangers, of a young fellow’s or girl’s experience is to be brought up in a fundamental, orthodox church and to imagine that their association with that church is a kind of passport that takes them to heaven. As life goes by, and the experiences of life which are the portion of all of us come, the battle rages with fury and temptation and sin attacks, it isn’t long before they discover that the church with all its hallowed associations is not enough to see them through.
Do you hear the Gospel and mentally give assent to it, but the Lord Jesus Christ is not a practical reality to you? If that be your experience, I have a word of great comfort for you. Listen, these men in that ship had lost sight of Jesus, but He had not lost sight of them. How do I know that? Well, this story as it is recorded in the Gospel of Mark tells us that at one point during the darkness of the night, Jesus, on the top of the mountain in prayer to His Father, looked down upon that lake and He saw them toiling in rowing. You may have left Christ years behind in your life; He may not be real to you. You may have got out into life’s problems and life’s testings and Jesus isn’t there. But I want to say to you that the Lord has never lost sight of you. He knows all about you.
He knows about the storm. Indeed, He sent you into it. The tremendous thing about the predicament in which many a life finds itself is this—that God has allowed them to get into it in order that they might come to their senses and come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The storms that come to us in life are not allowed to touch any of us except they come by His permission and therefore, if there is a predicament, believe me, it is in order that the power of the living Lord Jesus might be revealed to you in the midst of it all. And today, though Christ isn’t real to you and though you have lost sight of Him, He has never lost sight of you. The living Lord Jesus is in our midst in the presence of His Spirit, and He sees and understands the predicaments, the temptations, the disappointments of every life. There is not one of the dilemmas of the human heart that is not known to Him.
The Lord’s Deliverance
But observe, in the second place, the deliverance of the Lord Jesus Christ. He didn’t stay up on the mountaintop. Immediately, when He saw them in trouble, He came down and He began, says the Book, to walk over the water to approach the ship. What a tremendous scene! He moved right through that contrary wind which threatened to dash the little ship into pieces. Those waves that crashed into the ship were the pavement upon which He marched as He went to the scene of the dilemma. And I see a crucified, risen Lord marching in triumph through the storm, across the sea, that He might come to the very point of your need.
As He drew near to that ship, perhaps for a moment there was a break in the clouds, and the moon shone down onto the water—and those twelve men saw a strange figure in white approaching the ship. Do you know what they did? They screamed with fright and they said, “It’s a ghost!” And they put down their oars and shook with terror. But in the midst of the storm and through the noise of the waves there came a voice that said to them, “Be of good cheer. It is I. Be not afraid.”
Then my Bible says, “And Peter.” I would have known perfectly well that Peter was bound to say something at that moment. As he saw the face of the Master he loved, he said, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
What do you think happened then? What do you think the other fellows did? Do you think they said, “Well, cheerio! Goodbye,” and let him go. I’m sure they didn’t; I can hear eleven lusty voices saying, “Peter, don’t be such a fool! Stay where you are! And what did Jesus say—“Peter, you’d better think again. You’ve never been out in a storm like this before in your life”? No, He didn’t. Jesus said one word to Peter, only one—“Peter, come.”
Listen to this! At three o’clock in the morning Jesus said, “Come,” and in response to this invitation Peter put both hands on the side of the ship, one foot over the side, followed it with another, and he began to walk on the water to go to Jesus. In other words, he exchanged a ship for the sea; he exchanged confidence in Peter and his ability to keep a craft afloat for a simple personal trust in the Christ Who said, “Come.”
And if you want to know how to become a Christian, that is the answer. Has there been a moment in your life when you have renounced all self-confidence and have committed your life personally to the Christ Who died and rose that you might be forgiven? I didn’t ask you if you are a member of a church. I didn’t ask you if you lived a decent life. I didn’t ask you if you understood evangelical theology.
I asked you one simple, straight-forward question: has there been a moment when you have exchanged confidence in yourself for confidence in Jesus Christ? That is conversion—nothing more, nothing less—just complete exchange of all basis of trust and hope between myself and my Lord. Did that ever happen to you?
Plenty of people will say, “Don’t you be such a fool.” But the Lord Jesus Christ says, “Come.” He is God’s answer to man’s dilemma, God’s way of deliverance for a human heart. If you have been going against the contrary winds, He says, “Come,” that’s all. What will happen if you do? Is it all going to be easy then? Is it the end of the contrary winds and of the storm?
Don’t you believe a word of it. What happened to Peter?
When Peter was come down out of the ship (and, by the way, I must not let this go by without mentioning it. When you come to Jesus you always come down—off your pedestal; off your throne of pride, down to the feet of the Master. There is no other place of salvation.)—when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. “But,” says the account, “when he saw that the wind was boisterous.”
Suddenly Peter discovered that the same contrary wind that bothered him in the boat bothered him on the sea. He found himself in the very same predicament even now that he had committed his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. And, indeed, matters seemed worse, because before he had at least a few planks to cling to, but now he had nothing. He was utterly committed to the Lord and there was no retreat. And when he felt the wind was boisterous, he was afraid, and, beginning to sin, he cried, “Lord, save me.”
Peter did exactly what all of us do when we come to the Lord Jesus. We think that life is going to be so wonderful and thrilling, and suddenly we discover the very same dilemma, the very same temptation, the very same testing is there with additional force.
We find that we are without any prop now. The things we trusted in before, we have renounced, and committed our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. We begin to feel afraid of the storm. For one moment Peter took his eyes away from Jesus as he looked down at the waves around him and he began to go down. My friend, I’ve always discovered in the Christian life that the only secret of victory is keeping your eyes upon the Master.
If you trust Christ and you get your eyes upon Him, keep them there. If you take your eyes away from the Lord, you begin to be concerned about troubles and difficulties and problems yourself, and you’ll go down. The old Book tells us to run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus. But when Peter went down, he cried, “Oh, Lord, please save me.” Immediately, without delay, the Lord put forth His hand and lifted him up, and said,” O thou of little faith, wherefore did you doubt.” We are told that they went back into the ship and the wind ceased, and that they were in the ship fell at His feet and worshiped Him.
In those words there is the most lovely picture of all. I would be so grateful if an artist would paint this picture for me: I’d put on canvas the kind of a storm that would make a sailor green to look at, with clouds and lightning and darkness and rain and a sea that was raging. A little ship would be down in the right hand corner of the picture on its beam end on the verge of going down, with eleven men utterly terrified. And on the top left hand corner of the picture I would put the moon just shining down through a crack in the clouds into the very center of the picture, and there I would put Jesus and Peter walking together hand in hand over the sea back to the ship.
That’s Christianity. It is not getting out of the storm. It is going into it with Christ. It is not escaping trouble; it is not escaping life; it is not avoiding disaster—it is going through them all with the Lord.
Jesus said, “Come,” and through all the journey of life to prove Him able to save and able to keep. The world says, “Don’t be a fool.” But the Lord says, “Come.” Who are you going to follow?