“Walking on Water” (Matthew 14:22-33)
Walking on Water
Rachel, Ana, and I spent a week in the UP this past September. We had two boat tours scheduled on Lake Superior. We were supposed to take a boat tour of Pictured Rocks one day and then we were scheduled to take a glass-bottom boat tour and see some shipwrecks on the next day. We were driving from Saulte St. Marie to Munising when Rachel contacted the Pictured Rocks cruise and learned that the wind was too strong that day, it was going to be postponed until the next day.
We went out on the glass-bottom boat tour as scheduled but then that tour was cut short because the winds were too strong and the waves were too high. We also received an email that the Pictured Rocks cruise was going to be postponed another day but probably would have to be postponed yet another day. We ended up not going at all; we will go back, one day, if the Lord is willing, and take a Pictured Rocks cruise. But we need to go during the season when Lake Superior does not have such strong winds and waves.
Lake Superior can be deadly. And, it is a metaphor for the storms that you and I feel coming into our lives from time to time. Some bad events are like a strong breeze that messes up our hair, but it doesn’t cause any damage. Some bad events, though, are like a storm on Lake Superior and they can be fatal, if not physically, at least fatal to our faith.
Listen to this poem by Helen Steiner Rice, called “Trouble is a Stepping Stone to Growth:”
Trouble is something no one can escape -
Everyone has it in some form or shape.
Some people hide it way down deep inside,
Some people bear it with gallant-like pride.
Some people worry and complain of their lot,
Some people covet what they haven’t got
While others rebel and become bitter and old
With hopes that are dead and hearts that are cold…
But the wise man accepts whatever God sends,
Willing to yield like a storm-tossed tree bends,
Knowing that God never made a mistake,
So whatever He sends they are willing to take…
For trouble is part and parcel of life,
And no man can grow without struggle or strife,
And the steep hills ahead and the high mountain peaks
Afford man at last the peace that he seeks…
So blessed are the people who learn to accept
The trouble men try to escape and reject,
For in accordance we’re given great grace
And courage and faith and the strength to face
The daily troubles that come to us all,
So we may learn to stand straight and tall…
For the grandeur of life is born of defeat,
For in overcoming, we make life complete.
This morning, I want us to take another look at a story is very familiar to us the story of Peter walking on water. I want us to see what Peter does that allows him to walk on water, in the middle of a storm: Matthew 14…
THE SCENE - 14:22-27:
The apostles are with Jesus, doing good. He has fed the five thousand and then sent the multitudes away. John tells us that these multitudes wanted to make him king by force (6:14). So Jesus tells the apostles immediately to get into the boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. In fact, Matthew says Jesus “made” the disciples get in to the boat. That verb means “compelled” or “forced.” That is, the disciples did not want to leave Him. Perhaps they were caught up in the hoopla over making Jesus king and they thought it might be a good idea. But…
Jesus Himself went up into the mountains to pray - perhaps to pray for a storm on the Sea of Galilee! Really, John tells us that the people had wanted to make Jesus king and it was after that that Jesus withdrew (6:15). Perhaps Jesus was praying for the proper self-control and humility to keep from allowing the people to make Him their king. But I wonder if perhaps He did ask God to send that storm on the Sea of Galilee.
The boat was a long distance from the shore. The Greek text says “many stadia” and a stadion was about 600’. John’s account says literally 25 or 30 stadia (6:19) or “three or four miles” (NASV). That would be about the middle of the Sea of Galilee, which is what Mark says (6:47).
They were battered, literally “tormented” - by the waves, which were contrary to their efforts. Jesus had come down from the mountain where He had been praying and Mark writes that Jesus saw His disciples “straining at the oars” (6:48).
Now it was the fourth watch of the night which, by Roman reckoning, would be between 3 and 6 AM. Let’s just say five o’clock in the morning!
He went to them “walking on the water,” the Bible says, “intending to pass them by” (Mark 6:48).
When the men saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified and thought they saw a ghost and cried out in fear. How many people today are afraid of Jesus, or afraid of God, because they too don’t understand Him? They do not understand His love; they do not understand His mission. They do not understand His expectations.
So, Jesus tells His disciples three things: Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid. That’s when we see Peter illustrate to us a “water-walking” faith:
TRUST - 14:28-29:
“If it’s you…” this suggests a little element of doubt. Peter asks for Christ’s authority or permission to walk on the water.
What made Peter decide that Jesus could do that? That Jesus could / would give Peter the power to walk on the water?
Peter was called to be a disciple in 4:18ff. Notice 4:23-24. Jesus has not yet made an overt claim to be the Messiah or the Son of God but He did make such statements as we find in 7:21-27.
Jesus cleansed the leper in Matt. 8:1-4.
Jesus cleansed the centurion’s servant in 8:5-13.
Jesus healed Peter’s wife’s mother - 8:14-17.
In another “boating incident,” Jesus is sleeping while the storm is raging - 8:23-27. He rebuked the winds and the sea and they became perfectly calm.
Jesus cast demons out of two men in 8:28-34.
Jesus healed a paralyzed man in 9:1-8.
Jesus raised from the dead a synagogue official’s daughter in 9:18ff.
Jesus healed a woman of blood-hemorrhaging in 9:20-23.
Jesus healed a mute-demon-possessed man in 9:32-34.
In Matthew 10:1ff, Jesus called twelve of His disciples and made them special representatives, apostles, and to them He gave power over demons and to heal every kind of sickness and every kind of disease. Peter was one of those apostles to whom Jesus gave special miraculous power.
Jesus rebuked the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum in 11:20ff for their lack of faith.
Jesus healed a man whose hand had atrophied in 12:9-14.
Jesus healed another demon-possessed man in 12:22-24.
Closer to this particular incident, Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish - 14:13-21.
That’s fourteen specific miracles He has performed so far, out of about 38!
When Jesus responds with “Come,” He is in essence telling Peter, “Put your trust in Me.”
When Peter got out of the boat, he got out of himself, out of his self-reliance, his self-determination, his self-dependency. That’s trust. How was Peter able to walk on water?
OBEYS - 14:29:
As we see with Peter, if your trust in God is genuine and deep, you will not be able to stop yourself from obeying.
Recall that in the previous boating incident, in chapter 8, when Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea and they became calm, the disciples, Peter included, were amazed and said, “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (8:27).
Think of an area of your life in which you know what God wants for you. It works best if you pick an area that may be a challenge for you. Then ask yourself, “Am I really doing what I know God’s will is, or am I doing what I want and ignoring what He wants?”
If we say we believe but then do not obey, we’re saying, “Sure I believe you, God, but not enough to put my life where my mouth is.” And don’t you know that God sees through that? That’s hypocrisy.
But when Peter gets caught up with what is going on around him, he becomes frightened, he takes his eyes off Jesus, and he begins to sink.
He starts off obeying but then becomes afraid and begins to sink: “Lord, save me!”
We, too, are tempted to stop obeying Jesus when we become afraid. When life gets hard, we think we’ve got to spend more time doing this or that and we take our eyes off of Jesus. When persecution or mockery or something similar happens, we think we have to spend less time in worship and we take our eyes off of Jesus. The economy turns bad and our retirement takes a powerful hit and we get worried and we take our eyes off of Jesus. Or the economy hums along and money is flowing again and we have more money and more free time to spend on ourselves and we take our eyes off of Jesus.
A “water-walking faith” obeys even if the world is in a mess around us. In fact, that’s when we show that we truly have a water-walking faith - it’s when we keep our eyes on Jesus even when the world is in chaos.
WORSHIPS - 14:30-33:
Of course Jesus does not let Peter sink and drown. God doesn’t want anyone to be lost. Jesus stretches out His hand and takes hold of Peter (Jesus could have simply spoken a word but the physical touch would have been more reassuring). But Jesus still gives Peter a mild rebuke: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” How many miracles have I got to perform for you to believe me? How many steps did you have to take to realize that if I could make you walk on water, I can keep you safe through the storm?
The two got into the boat and the wind stopped, almost as if it had started for that one special reason. Mark says they were “utterly astonished” (6:51). Then all the disciples in the boat worshipped Jesus, confessing, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
A water-walking faith worships Jesus. That’s the end result of our relationship with Him. If He is who He says He is, if he does what He says He does; if He teaches what He teaches - adoration and praise and thanksgiving and humility and worship are the end result of our faith. Faith can’t help but worship when we come into the presence of the Son of God. It was a night of very great terror for the disciples but their trial was blessed because it brought them nearer to God. It helped them realize His love and power. It resulted in their awe and love and adoration of Him.
Incidentally, John 6:21 tells us that “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” It sounds like Jesus did not want to spend any more time on the Sea - as if He had accomplished what He wanted to accomplish.
Take home message: When you find yourself in the midst of a storm, trust, obey, and worship Jesus. He’ll get you through.