by Elaine Maust
Matthew 14: 22-33
July 10, 2005
This is what the Bible says in a wonderful story about Jesus and Peter and their friends and a night on the lake. A story I will call, Two Feet to the Wind. Please turn with me to Matthew 14:22-33 to follow along.
“Immediately,” the Bible says (v22). Whatever is the rush? “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side.” What’s been going on here, I wonder?
Well, look what story Matthew tells us just before this? The feeding of the five thousand. Remember that one? Jesus saying, “You give them something to eat.” And they start out with five biscuits and two sardines… All of this when Jesus was just trying to get them away for a little R and R. And talk about leftovers. There were 12 baskets full of leftovers. But I digress.
And right before that? We have the story of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, ministry colleague, and mentor of sorts being beheaded. A terrible story. What must that have been like Jesus?
And in Mark’s Gospel, right before that the twelve disciples were sent on a short-term mission trip. Whew, what a line up of events. Like I said, they had just gotten done cleaning up the leftovers from the greatest dinner on the grounds of all time and Jesus hustles them into a boat.
Now, what was the hurry? John gives us a hint at this in his version of the story in John 6:15. Jesus knew the crowds were about to forcibly make him king. And the disciples, bless their hearts… Remember they were the ones always worrying about who was going to be chief of staff in Jesus’ administration… Well Jesus knew the disciples were likely to be a little bit too excited about this coronation possibility. So, right quick, Jesus got them out of there. And “immediately” put them on a boat and sent them onto the water while he said goodbye to the crowds. (22)
I want to stop him. Wait Jesus, don’t do that! Don’t you know that there is big trouble ahead? The Greek word used here makes it sound as if Jesus made them get into the boat. That he compelled them. The KJV says he “constrained” them. Of course, Jesus had their best interest at heart and the Father’s will as his direction when he launched them off.
At last Jesus had the time to himself that he needed. Imagine what his life was like, continually surrounded by the crowds. Maybe he just wanted to get a few minutes alone to grieve the death of the cousin who baptized him, John. Verse 23 says he climbed up into the mountains to pray. Perhaps he was struggling with the direction of his ministry. In the mountains he listened again for God’s voice of purpose and reassurance.
Sometimes we feel apologetic about needing time alone, time to reflect on our life’s direction, time to pray. Perhaps I should speak for myself… It feels that I need to make excuses for that somehow. That I should hide the fact that I need to be alone to pray or rest. But if Jesus needed this, surely it is logical that I should need it even more.
Jesus is praying in the mountain. It is dark and quiet and he is alone. But back on the lake it is another story entirely. A storm, or big wind had come up on the lake and the disciples are out a long way from land. I’ve read that sudden storms on the Sea of Galilee were common. The waves were beating up their little boat. (v24) says, “The wind was against them.”
Imagine with me for a minute what that must have been like. They are out on the boat, a long way from land. There are no life jackets. The sea is too rough and it is too far to swim. They can’t direct the boat; the wind is against them. What are they going to do? Water everywhere. All around the boat, in the boat. They must have been soaked. It is dark. They are terrified. I’ve heard stories of shrimp fishermen who took their boats out into a hurricane to try and save them. Riding out a storm like that is pretty scary stuff. And all the precious leftovers, the 12 baskets full of bread and fish must have been lying soggy and forgotten on the bottom of the boat.
Sometimes it seems like life is blowing against us, doesn’t it? Ever felt like you were in the middle of a frightening and dangerous time in your life and you are out there in the middle of it without a life jacket? You’ve gone too far to turn back. There is no jumping and running and there is nothing you can do to change the situation. And on top of all of that, the wind is against you? You might not have been out in the middle of the lake. But I have an idea, that you might know a little bit of what the disciples felt that night. Because all of us face storms of circumstances or temptation or sorrow.
Then, early in the morning, yes, the exhausted disciples were up all night in this catastrophe of a boat trip. (v25). “Early in the morning,” Barclay deduces that it was about 3 in the morning, the fourth watch of the night, and that it was full moon. “Jesus came walking toward them on the sea.” Walking across Pine Lake when there is not a breeze in the air would be tough enough, but how did he walk across the waves? What do you think it would be like to walk across Okatibee when Dennis hits? When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, there were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ (v26) And they started screaming.
Things just keep getting worse. They are tired and hungry and the crowds wouldn’t leave them alone. Then they had to come up with lunch for the thousands. Then just when they thought they were going to get a little peace and quiet there is this terrible storm that is threatening their lives. And now, they are seeing ghosts!
“Immediately,” (there’s that word again) Jesus spoke to them, over the sound of the waves, (v27) “Take courage, it is I; don’t be afraid.”
When have we heard that line, “do not be afraid” in Bible stories before? That’s what the angle said to Mary. That’s what the angles said to the shepherds. Now that is what Jesus is saying to the disciples. Don’t be afraid. And Jesus says “it is I” or more literally, “I am.” Remember those were the words with which God introduced himself to Moses in the burning bush. “I am.”
Then Peter, who is always so quick-witted, answers, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (v28) And Jesus said, “come on.” Think he was smiling?
So Peter gets out of the boat. Can you picture this? The wind is blowing. The waves are crashing up against the boat. The boat is rocking. It’s enough to make these seasoned fishermen panic. I imagine Peter grabbing the side of that boat with both hands trying to steady himself as he hoists his feet onto the water. And then, the most amazing thing happens. Peter begins to walk on the water to Jesus.
He’s doing it. Go Peter! He’s walking on the water. I imagine the grin on Jesus’ face and the dumbfounded expressions back in the boat. But then something happens.
Have you ever watched a baby learn to walk? Sometimes they are ready to walk long before they realize they are. Their parents say, “Oh, she could walk if she just forgot herself and did it. One of these days she’s going to just take off.” Or “The other day he was walking just fine and then he realized he wasn’t holding on to anything and ‘boom’ down he went, right on his bottom.” I’ve even heard of parents who put little objects like clothes pins in their babies’ hands so they would have the sensation that they were holding onto something and then they can walk just fine.
Well, I guess that’s kind of what happened that dark night on the water. Peter is doing great, despite the impossibility of his task, when he suddenly realizes that the wind is ferocious and he gets scared and starts to sink, to drown, actually. And he screamed, “Lord save me.” (v30)
Often Jesus required something of those he saved. You know, things like, “go and sin no more” or “go show yourself to the priest” or “stand up take up your bed and walk.” I am touched that this time Jesus just reached down and pulled Peter out. “Immediately,” the Bible says. There’s that word again.
And Jesus calls Peter one of the nicknames he often used for the disciples, “Little faith.” (31) “You of little faith, why did you doubt.” Man, you might think, if I God could help me do something as stupendous as walking on the water, I would never doubt again. But in Peter’s defense, God has done some pretty amazing things for us, and sometimes, we still doubt that he will help us out of our current mess… When Jesus reprimands Peter for his “little faith,” he’s literally calling him, “half believer.” He’s not implying that Peter is an unbeliever, just that his faith has a tendency to get swamped. It is very reassuring to me that Jesus saves us half faiths every time we call on him! I read that a saint is not someone who never fails (or sinks). A saint is a person who gets up and goes on every time he fails.
But back to the story… Well, I imagine Peter held onto Jesus for dear life, during that short trek back to the boat. And somehow, despite the terror and the waves and the wind and the darkness, they all managed to safely get into the boat. And as soon as they did, the wind stopped blowing. It might have been like being out in a ski boat in the middle of Okatibbe Lake during Dennis and then, just like that, the water is perfectly calm. (v32)
And with that the disciples’ fear turns to worship. “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (v33) Jesus is more powerful than a hurricane. And God’s peace is more powerful than any distress we might encounter.
We’ve all had some of those deep-water experiences in our lives, haven’t we? Maybe you are in the middle of something right now that seems about ready to drown you. Maybe it isn’t a storm on the lake, but what is it? Storms in life are not like exams at school. There are no exemptions. Everyone has them, even disciples who are just doing what they are told.
And just like Jesus came to the disciples that night on the water, Jesus comes to us in our moments of greatest difficulty. He is right there, in the worst of it, to save us. Imagine that Jesus comes walking out to you right there in the middle of your distress and panic. What does Jesus say to you? Maybe he says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Maybe he says, “Why did you doubt?”
It is very interesting to me that just when things can’t seem to get any worse, Jesus issues an invitation to Peter. “Come.” You know, sometimes we’ve just got to get out of the boat. To let go of the only thing that seems to be safe, put your two feet to the wind and take a step toward Jesus. And when we do, we will find that Jesus never lets us down! He will even grab us if we start to slip. Ps. 18:16.
Sometimes Jesus stops the storm immediately. Tumors shrink unexplainably. Check books swell unexpectedly. Mental health is restored. But sometimes Jesus just walks into our storms toward us, inviting us out of the boat and onto the depths with him. Inviting us to have enough faith to take a step toward him.
This week Marcus and Fern Diener and Nohemi Martinez and I went to a memorial service for Reverend Charles Miller sponsored by Mission Meridian. Rev. Miller was one of the victims of the Lockheed tragedy. Friday was the anniversary of that sad day. One of the speakers was his widow, Rev. Jinnell Miller. She gave tremendous testimony and praise to God for giving her peace in what must have been on of the worst storms imaginable. In fact God’s peace in her life was so powerful that she was able to share it. Mayor John Robert Smith remembered that only a few days after the shooting, Rev. Jinnell Miller came to his office to give him comfort and share Scriptures with him. God’s peace is more powerful than any storm in life.
What is your current storm? What step, even baby step of faith, can you take toward Jesus? In the middle of your storm, I am confident that Jesus is walking through it toward you. Do you see him? Do you recognize him? Interpreters’ Commentary asks, “What is a miracle? Not just the arbitrary altering of some natural law, but rather any event so ordered that it pierces our dullness or despair to convince us of the presence and power of God.”
Prayer: Jesus, you are truly the Son of God. Thank you for coming to us in our very worst moments. Please calm the storms in our hearts. Give us courage and peace for this hurricane. Have mercy on us in our fears. Forgive our sin of doubt. Make us into your holy and humble people. Amen.