WALKING ON WATER AND SINKING

Jesus-walking-on-water

…When things go well, that is not proof that we are doing what God wants; and when things go badly that is not proof that we are doing something wrong…

…Where do you see Jesus? Is there some way in which you want to be with Jesus, doing what he is doing, a way that looks crazy or impossible? I suggest that you say, like Peter, “Lord if it is you, call me to come to you in this context.”

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Matthew #47. Matthew 14:22-36

Jesus was on a real roll for these few days. Just as the feeding of the five-thousand accomplished a number of important things, so did his next miracle.

After the big picnic, he knew that some people had the wrong idea, and wanted to make him king, wanted to follow him simply because he had fed them for free. So he dismissed the people, sent his disciples away and withdrew by himself to a remote place, where he talked to the Father. Finally, he had some time alone with the Father to process his grief over John, and to be strengthened through prayer. It was after this that Jesus came to the disciples who were in the middle of the lake in their boat.

As I read this Scripture I find myself asking, why did Jesus do this?

The first answer is ridiculously simple, and yet I think it is one reason for Jesus’ action. He did it because he wanted to catch up with his disciples, and he didn’t have his own boat, and walking is faster than swimming. That’s right: I think the first reason for this miracle is that Jesus found it the most practical way to rejoin his friends.

Second, I think it is obvious that he used the opportunity to show his disciples yet again that he is the promised Messiah.

Third, as with the feeding of the 5000, Jesus used this miracle as a chance to teach his disciples, and us, some important things. It is on this – what we can learn from this incident – that I want to focus.

First, I want us to notice something. Jesus explicitly told his disciples to get in the boat and start back across the lake, and when they did, the wind was against them. In those days, in that part of the world, they had not yet developed the type of sail which allows a boat to move forward close to the direction from which the wind is coming. In short, when the wind was behind them they could use the sail, but when it was coming from the general direction in which they wished to travel they had to row. Jesus knew the wind was against them and he sent them out anyway.

I think this demonstrates an important principle about following Jesus. I’m not sure where we get it, but a lot of Christians seem to think that if we are following Jesus our lives should be easy. In some ways I understand why we might think this way. When we surrender our lives to God and follow Jesus, we are starting to live the way our Creator intends us to live. This naturally makes certain things better in our lives. If we learn from Jesus how to love others sacrificially, our family life is likely to be happier and more peaceful that if we don’t obey Jesus in this way. If we obey what the Scripture says about not getting drunk we are likely to wake up with fewer headaches and fewer regrets. If we follow God’s plan for sexuality, our relationships will be more stable, our children will grow up in loving families and we will not contract sexually transmitted diseases. I could go on like this about any number of topics, but you get the idea.

On the other hand, there is no promise that everything will be easy if we simply follow Jesus, and in fact there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. This particular passage shows us that. The disciples were doing exactly what Jesus told them to, and it wasn’t going well. After hours of struggling they had only made it a mile away from shore. The truth is, it would have been much easier if they had turned around and let the wind blow them back to where they had started. If they wanted easy, they should have done exactly the opposite of what Jesus told them. This encourages me. When I am encountering difficulties, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have made a mistake; it doesn’t mean that I have messed up God’s plan for me. When things go well, that is not proof that we are doing what God wants; and when things go badly that is not proof that we are doing something wrong. This Scripture teaches us not to judge our actions and decisions based upon results.

There is another thing I want us to notice. When Jesus came to them, walking on the water, they were afraid. I imagine that the whole picture was surreal. The HCSB says that they cried out “it’s a ghost!” The Greek word used for ghost is phantasm. You have to remember, many of us have heard the story all of our lives, but none of the disciples had heard any such thing. They were the first ones to experience it. It wasn’t like they had the thought somewhere in the back of their consciousness, “Oh yeah, the Messiah is going to walk on water.” The Old Testament scriptures did not say the Messiah would do this (they don’t say he wouldn’t, either). Nothing whatsoever prepared them to see Jesus coming towards them in this way. This is another lesson for us. Jesus often approaches us in ways that we do not expect; ways that we do not recognize at first.

Now, there are limits to this. I don’t mean that Jesus will somehow suddenly reveal himself as Buddha; or that he will show you some secret knowledge which contradicts the Bible. Our faith is based in the understanding that the Bible is God’s word revealed to human beings. I have preached extensively in the past about why we can trust that the Bible is reliable. Once we go beyond the Bible or contradict it, our faith is meaningless; if we don’t trust that the Scripture is the word of God there is no reason to believe in Jesus in the first place. However, it is important to understand that while the Bible tells us what we need to know, it does not give us all knowledge in the universe. It is quite possible, likely even, that Jesus can surprise us even if we know and trust the Scriptures. Just as the Messiah walking on the water was not predicted by the Old Testament, it was not contradicted by it either.

On the one hand, it is perfectly acceptable for us to be surprised and even fearful when Jesus shows up in a way that we did not expect. As he sees their fear, he calls out to them, “It is I, do not be afraid!” He is comforting them and reassuring them that this new strange thing they are seeing is in fact himself. I think we can trust that Jesus will do the same for us.

Now let’s take a look at how Jesus and Peter interacted during this incident.

I have thought through how I might react in a similar situation, and have come to the conclusion that I am nothing like the apostle Peter. Here are some things I might have said: “Lord, if it is you then please do something about this wind.” Or, “Lord, if it is you, then hurry up and get into the boat.” Here’s another: “Lord, if it is you, will you please explain what you are doing and what is going on?”

But Peter’s response is something that I think is worth aspiring to. He had a little bit of faith, but he wanted more. One of the things that fascinates me about this whole incident is that Peter did not have to get out of the boat. It was Peter who said to Jesus, “call me to come.” It was not Jesus who insisted Peter get out of the boat. I believe this tells us something about Peter. He wanted everything he could possibly have with Jesus. He didn’t want to get to heaven and find out he could have walked on water, or raised the dead, or healed the sick or anything else he could have done. He wanted to push in to everything Jesus had for him. Now, Jesus did not rebuke the other eleven for staying in the boat, but I believe he laughed with delight when he heard Peter’s request. He was glad to show Peter the amazing things Peter could do with his (Jesus’) help. And we see the later fruit of Peter’s desires to apprehend by faith all that Jesus had for him. It was Peter who was the first of the apostles to heal a lame man. It was he who preached aloud in tongues and saw more than 3,000 people converted at one time. It was he who raised Dorcas from the dead, and who was the first to bring the gospel to non-Jews. It was he who walked out of Herod’s prison without a scratch, faithfully following the angel God sent, even though he was pretty sure it was just a dream, just as he had once thought Jesus on the water was a dream.

Now, if we look at this text carefully, Peter does not seem to be asking to walk on water just so that he can say he walked on water. He did not say, “Lord, if it is you, empower me to walk on water in general,” or “Lord, if it is you, tell me to run two laps around the boat.” What he said was, “Lord, tell me to come to you.” What Peter was after was being close to Jesus. He saw Jesus out there and it filled him with love and admiration and inspiration. Just as a child who wants to be like his dad, Peter wanted to be where Jesus was and do what Jesus did. For Peter, the point was not the miracle, but Jesus. He wanted to be where Jesus was, even when that place looked dangerous and uncertain. He wanted to know that the wind and the waves could not stop him from coming to Jesus.

At first, Peter’s faith holds up. He is actually walking on the water toward Jesus! Now, I would think this is even more difficult than we imagine. Forget about sinking: simply walking and keeping your balance on a moving surface that is going up and down underneath you has got to be very difficult. And then comes verse 30:

But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me! ”

jesus-walks-on-waterPeter’s first impulse was inspired by Jesus. His heart and his mind were fixed on Jesus; his goal was Jesus. But then something happened: he looked around at his environment. He started paying attention to his circumstances rather than to Jesus. And when he quit looking at Jesus and started focusing on what was going on around him, he became afraid; and when he became afraid, he sank.

But it was all good! Jesus was there, and Jesus made sure he didn’t go under. Peter got soaking wet and probably cold; he had a good scare, but ultimately, everything came out okay.

It seems to me that we can find some obvious applications to our own lives here. First, it is worth aspiring to the kind of faith and focus on Jesus that Peter shows us. He wasn’t the kind of guy to cower in the boat, and because of that, the Holy Spirit was able to use him in wonderful ways later on.

Second, this whole thing reminds me of Hebrews chapter 12:

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. (Heb 12:1-2, HCSB)

Peter’s goal all along was Jesus, and when he kept his heart and attention focused on Jesus, he was able to walk on water. I have met people who would love to “walk on water” so to speak, but I wonder how much of their desire is about wanting to do amazing things as opposed to wanting to be like Jesus and to be close to him. There have been times in my own life when I was so excited about the idea of doing something amazing by faith that my focus was more on what I was trying to accomplish than it was on Jesus. But Peter’s focus, at least in the beginning, was all on Jesus. It shouldn’t be about the amazing things we want to do. Instead, it should be that we want to join Jesus where we see him at work, even if that place looks very strange and impossible.

With that foundation firmly in mind, where do you see Jesus? Where is it that you want him to invite you to join him? Jesus did not command any of the disciples to join him on the water, but Peter wanted to, even though it looked crazy. Is there some way in which you want to join with Jesus, a way that looks crazy or impossible? I suggest that you say, like Peter, “Lord if it is you, call me to come to you in this context.”

And then, no matter where we are in faith, one of the keys is keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, and as much as possible, ignoring the wind and the waves around us. If we want to live by faith, we cannot find security in our circumstances. Our circumstances will often scare us; they may sink us. Like Peter, we are most safe when we keep her eyes fixed on Jesus.

The other thing I love about this, is that Peter was safe. What he tried to do was crazy. Through faith, he was able to do it for a while, but ultimately he failed. What I want to point out is that his failure was not fatal. “Peter” is just the word for “rock” in Greek. I wonder how much fun Jesus and the other disciples had talking about relative buoyancy of rocks. “Hey, Peter! You float like a rock!” Or, “Nice going…Rock!” Even so, Peter was the only one who even bothered to try, and he was no worse off for it. I think this should encourage us. When we step out in faith we may succeed, or we may fail. Either way, Jesus is there.

Be still for a few minutes now, and listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say to you today.

Are you looking at Jesus, or the wind and waves

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