Last week, Becky and I had an opportunity to spend some time way to refresh and relax. During our time away, we attended a theatrical production of the Biblical story of David at the Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The theater holds 2,000 people and it is sold out for two shows per day throughout most of the year. The people who attended when we were there came in all sizes, shapes, colors, ages, and I am sure all different Christian denominations. All the people came for one reason. They wanted to see the story of David played out before them. They wanted to see the pages of their Bibles made of delicate and thin paper turned into robust three dimensions with people making the Biblical story alive. We were not disappointed. The presentation was engaging, at times humorous, at other times sad, but always thought provoking.
David, as we learn from the Bible, was referred to as a “man after God’s own heart.” David desired God and David would repeatedly show his love of God throughout his life. But. There is always a but! But David also did some proudly ungodly things. David committed adultery with a married woman, Bathsheba. Bathsheba became pregnant through her relationship with David. David, then king of Israel, attempted to use deceit to coverup Bathsheba’s pregnancy but failed to do so. Having failed in deceit, David concluded there was only one way to hide the truth about his relationship with Bathsheba and that was to have Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed in battle. David carried through on his plan and had Uriah killed in battle. David thus moved from adulterer and liar to murderer. And despite these ungodly acts, David was still considered a man after God’s own heart.
The story of David, like the stories of Jesus’ disciples, like our own stories, teach us that we are an odd mixture of saint and sinner. One moment we can be saintly expressing our love for God and one another and then another moment we can be sinners doing exactly what we ought not do. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). What is it that drives us to do what we want to do? What is missing then when we do what we do not want to do? I would like to explore the answer to our two opposing behaviors from the perspective of faith.
Let’s look at faith through two Biblical accounts. This first comes from our Old Testament reading from 1 Samuel, Chapter 17. This is a familiar story to many. As the scene opens, we see that the battlelines were drawn between the Philistines and the Israelites. The Philistines placed at the head of their army a giant named Goliath to intimidate the Israelites. Goliath was a very tall and imposing figure. There is some variation in how scholars calculate the measurements for Goliath. Estimates place Goliath’s height as no less than 6’ 9” tall to as much as 9’ 9” tall. Goliath taunted the Israelites for forty days calling upon them to send a warrior to fight him in a winner take all match. The Israelites acted powerless. The Israelites could see no earthly way to defeat such a physically strong opponent.
Then, one day, a young man, David, about 17 years old, arrived at this scene. David, perhaps all of 5 feet tall, might also have seen there was no earthly way to defeat Goliath. David saw that the giant, Goliath, on one side of the valley and the paralyzed Israelites on the other side. In surveying the scene, David, unlike Israelite army, knew God was present and that it was God’s will that the Philistines be defeated. David knew that while an earthly battle was needed, the outcome of that battle would be decided supernaturally by God.
With such an understanding, with such faith that God was involved in this battle, David entered the battlefield against Goliath. The scene presents two contrasting emotions. The first emotion we see in the Philistines. The giant and his fellow soldiers were supremely self-confident this battle would end with the David’s brutal death. Goliath was a champion warrior of massive proportions. He was a self-sufficient fighting force, and army of one. The second emotion we see in the Israelites. There is great tension and apprehension. David was brand new to battle, completely untested against a human warrior. David was small and armed with only a sling and five smooth stones. David possessed nothing that should allow him to defeat this mighty foe. Just as the battle was to begin, David told Goliath the outcome. He said the Lord God of Israel would use David to strike Goliath dead. At that, “49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.” The battle was over. The giant of Philistines was dead. The invisible God made himself known through by empowering the faithful hands of David.
David put his faith in God into action. David did what God wanted him to do because David placed his faith in God. David did not focus on the intimidation and taunts of Goliath. David’s focus was on God. Faith then can be said most simply as “a life lived focused upon God.”
Our second account of faith comes from the New Testament, the 14th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. The passage is a familiar story and we enter this scene with Jesus’ disciples in a boat in the middle of the sea working against the winds and waves.
“25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them [the disciples], [by] walking on the lake [Sea of Galilee]. 26 When the disciples saw him [Jesus] walking on the lake [sea], they [the disciples] were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they [the disciples] said, and cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:25-26). As we look at this scene, we can see that the disciples were working against the waves but did not seem concerned by the weather. The boat must have been secure, and Jesus had told them to cross to the other side of the sea. Jesus’ disciples were focused on accomplishing the mission. The disciples had faith that they would be successful. But then, something the disciples had not experienced before came upon them. A ghost, or they thought a ghost, appeared. The collective focus of the twelve disciples had shifted from the mission to a ghostly figure walking on the water and all the disciples cried out in fear. The disciples shifted their focus from Jesus’ mission for them to get to the other side of the sea to the ghost. The disciples shifted from faith to fear. Faith and fear are like opposite sides of a coin. If faith is visible, fear is hidden. If fear is visible, faith is hidden.
Jesus knew what was going on and Jesus wanted his disciples to shift back, flip that coin over if you will, from fear back to faith. “27 Jesus immediately said to them [the disciples]: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” Jesus was calling his disciples to shift they focus back to faith and away from fear. “Take courage! – Have faith! It is I.” Got faith?
Peter broke the tension and Peter shouted out to Jesus, “28 ‘Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.’ 29 ‘Come,’ he [Jesus] said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (Matthew 14:28-29). What a marvelous picture of faith in action. Peter was totally focused on Jesus and following Jesus. So focused was Peter that Peter believed by faith that he could do something impossible, namely, walk on water. In response to Jesus and keeping his eyes on Jesus, Peter fearlessly got out of the boat and began walking on the water to Jesus. Peter understood the power of the sea and no doubt knew of others who had drown on the sea. Peter was like young David who understood the power of Goliath to kill people in battle. And yet both David and Peter knew that in faith God would conquer their giants. What a breathtaking moment this must have been in Peter’s life, to walk on water by faith.
Then came the next twist in the story. Matthew wrote, “30 But when he [Peter] saw the wind, he [Peter] was afraid and, beginning to sink” (Matthew 14:30a). Peter had flipped the faith-fear coin over from faith to fear. With focus on Jesus, in faith, Peter walked on water. With focus on the winds, in fear, Peter began to sink beneath the waves. We are beginning to see how faith and fear oppose each other. We feel bad for Peter and disappointed for him and maybe disappointed in him.
And just when we have this disappointment, we might miss the fact that Peter flipped the coin again from fear to faith. As Peter is sinking beneath the waves, Matthew wrote that Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30b). Peter’s words, “Lord, save me!” were an expression of faith that even as Peter was about to perish, Peter knew, he had faith, that Jesus could save him. Faith, fear, faith, and fear. We are a marvelous mixture of believer and doubter, faithful saint and fearful sinner.
Here is the good news. Matthew wrote that in response to Peter’s cry, “31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him [Peter] (Matthew 14:31b). Jesus saved Peter in response to Peter’s faith in Jesus. Paul would later write, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Jesus acknowledged Peter’s faith. Jesus said, “You [Peter] of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31b). Some commentators see Jesus words as a chastisement by Jesus of Peter. I don’t see it that way. I do not think Jesus chastises us for faith. Instead, he encourages those who express faith by showing them how much they accomplished with just a little faith. With just a little faith, Peter had walked on water. Jesus words then are for a friend, “Oh, Peter did you not see how much you accomplished with a little faith? Had you not doubted, you could have accomplished so much more.”
Matthew wrote that after Jesus and Peter had this conversation, they climbed into the boat and the winds died down. “33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:33). And in case we missed it, the faith-fear coin had been flipped again from fear to faith. Jesus disciples had yet another reason to place their faith in Jesus believing correctly that Jesus was the living God.
What do we learn from these encounters about faith? From the example with David, we learn that faith is a trust in God; not in our self-confidence or self-sufficiency. When we do things without the need for God; that is not faith, it is self-sufficiency. Faith is an acknowledgement that God is doing battle but doing it through humanity for His own glory. Faith is about revealing the character and purpose of God and not about demonstrating human knowledge, skills, and abilities. Faith is about a supernatural empowerment of ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things for God. It is defeating the giants who stand against us. Faith is edgy and exciting. Faith resides deep within a person but displayed publicly. When we fear, then all thoughts of faith disappear because fear means we are measuring the tasks against our own strengths.
From the experience with the disciples upon the boat in the storm, we learn from that story the key ending point, Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus is God in human form in whom we can have faith and trust. We learn again that faith seeks to experience the character of God. Faith is standing fast in your beliefs even when circumstances are difficult. Faith is about laying aside fear and moving forward with Jesus.
From both examples, we see that faith is demanding. It requires the faithful to be public about their desires and trust so that God can act and show forth his character and purpose to others.
This leaves us with a simple question, “Got faith?” Do we genuinely trust in Jesus Christ? Are we active in that faith asking Jesus to fulfil what we need most? Are we more inclined to act in faith or retreat in fear?
Like David and Peter, the words of God, become more alive than ever if we live out God’s word in dramatic three dimensions. But to make God’s word real, we must experience it. Until we accept God through Jesus Christ, no description of the wonderful nature of God’s word can be understood. If I described the beauty and the power of the ocean, you might appreciate it, but it is not real until you see it for yourself.
“God did not design us simply to stand by and watch life pass as we wonder why we aren’t more fulfilled. God created us to take risks in faith and to conquer the giants that paralyze us with fear.” This week, I am asking each of us to examine our lives and lives of this church and ask in the most positive ways, “How am I expressing faith in Jesus Christ in an active and public way? How are we as a church expressing faith in Jesus as the head of this church? How are we following Jesus’ lead in expressing that faith to our community?” Got faith? Let’s pray.
 Kerry & Chris Shook, One Month to Live; Thirty Days to a Np-Regrets Life, p. 14.