Matt. 14 22-33 Rob Goodwin
Well, I bet most of you are thinking about the many images of Jesus walking on water that you have seen, examples of these images might be from the movie Bruce Almighty or The Truman Show where both of the lead characters of the movies walk on water just like we are told of Jesus in our Gospel text for today. There have even been many images and jokes about Jesus walking on water, you know the one about Jesus playing golf with St. Peter and he walks on the water of a lake… well, I’m not going to tell that one right now!! But my point is this—Jesus walking on the water is such a strong image in most of our minds. Its been used over and over in many situations—some good and many more bad.
But because of this over use I have to admit it--- today’s text is not an easy one for me to listen to. I have a hard time understanding why this is such an important event in the life of Jesus and why Matthew felt the need to include the story at all. I mean OK Jesus can walk on water --we all learned that in Sunday school, but why is that such a surprise to us now? Sitting where we are in the post resurrection world we know that Jesus is capable of doing great things, I mean isn’t that why there are so many uses of this image in movies and other situations, all of us are familiar with this image of Jesus—so what is the big deal? Today I would like to take a closer look at this miracle of Jesus walking on water to help us better understand what the big deal really is? So, let’s go back in time to that night on the lake of Galilee.
Our story begins with Jesus and the disciples finishing an astonishing event. They have just finished feeding the crowd of 5,000 that had come to listen to Jesus. It had to be one of those shocking days of their lives. They had just found out about the death of John the Baptist and now Jesus had just fed 5,000 people. Their heads had to be spinning. It was also early evening and I am sure the disciples were tired. The sun was setting and a wind was beginning to get stronger from off the lake. Clouds were moving in and it is at this point that Jesus urges the disciples to get into a boat and go ahead of him to the other side while he dismissed the crowd.
Now we can understand this, just like many of us after getting the news of a friends death, like John the Baptist, Jesus wanted to be alone so he could pray. The Disciples must have felt a little uneasy with his request because they had to be compelled or practically forced them to get in the boat. A number of them were fisherman and would have known what it was like out on the water at night. Something that most fishermen would never have done. The water was a terrifying place and represented all kinds of evil in the world, especially in the darkness of night; it was not their friend. The signs of trouble were in the air---- the ever-increasing wind, the dark clouds, the setting sun, but this is what Jesus wants so they went followed His request going ahead of him and leaving Him there alone. I am sure they had the same questions you and I would have--- Why do we have to go now? How would Jesus catch up to them? When will Jesus come to meet us? Will Jesus be all right? Yes, they must have been worried about Jesus being left alone after the killing of John the Baptist. Maybe the same thing could happen to Jesus. With all of these events happening in one day the disciples could not have been in a good frame of mind when they started their journey to the other side.
Jesus dismissed the crowds and went up on the mountain by himself to pray until evening came. That was a long time! Meanwhile, the boat was in the middle of the lake being beaten and harassed by the waves and wind of the storm. The disciples had to be terrified! But then Jesus came to them in the fourth watch of the night.
The phrase fourth watch refers to the Greek time measurement of the night. It began at 6pm with the first watch that lasted until 9pm. These watches continued in tree hour increments until the fourth watch, a period of the night from 3am until 6am, the loneliest and darkest part of the night. So if we look closely at the time line we can see some interesting things, by evening-6pm-7pm, the disciples were dispatched into the boat and out into the night, the crowds were dismissed, and then Jesus came to them between 3am and 6am. Picture what this is telling us----the disciples were out on the lake in the darkness of night fighting against the wind and waves of the storm for at least 6 hours and maybe more.
The disciples had to be at their wits end--exhausted: They were physically exhausted- because they fought the storm for possibly 6 hours. Their prayers were exhausted- surely they had fervently prayed throughout their ordeal. Their expectations were exhausted- they had expected a more prompt response to their emergency. Jesus said he would follow. Their hope was exhausted- If Christ were coming surely he would have come by now. Their faith was exhausted- when Christ finally came they thought it was a ghost, a hallucination. The disciples must have felt helpless. They were exhausted in the middle of a lake, in a storm, in the middle of the night with no help in sight! They probably thought that death was near. They were in a state of despair—where is Jesus?
I know we can relate to their situation. There are many times in life that we also feel helpless in our own personal storm. Helpless in our marriage, helpless in our finances, helpless in our health, and helpless in our sin. It becomes very clear to us that we have little control over the things in this world. As much as we want to control our own lives and plan for our future we realize that we are more helpless than we ever thought we were. Many times this becomes most clear when we face a health crisis in our lives. During these storms of illness we exhaust all of our options. We see all the specialists, we try all of the new medicines, we do everything the doctors and nurses tell us to do to get well, But we see no end in sight—we are tired and exhausted and feel alone in the middle of our own storm.
We have prayed and prayed and feel that Jesus would have come by now if he was going to come. It is at these times that the reality of our helplessness in this world hits us like a raging wave in the storm. At this moment we are at our fourth watch- our darkest part of the night. These are deep times of despair. Just like the disciples we feel the helplessness that becomes so pervasive, that nothing can seem to quiet the storm. But that is when Jesus often comes. He came to rescue Jairus’s daughter when she lay in the forth watch of death, He came when the woman with the blood issue had exhausted all means of healing in her fourth watch of illness and he came to the disciples in their fourth watch of that night.
“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” ---With these few words Jesus is encouraging his disciples, that even in the midst of the storm, when they are exhausted, when they feel helpless and alone, they need not fear---Jesus is present. He is with them and He is with us.
Matthew must have included this story to encourage his church in the midst of their persecution. He needed to remind them that they need not fear—Jesus is with them. And this story offers us the same reassurance in our personal storms of trouble, illness or death. It prepares us for the time when things are going badly ---- or well. You see, against what you hear from many preachers these days, adversity is not a sign of God’s displeasure or prosperity a sign of God’s pleasure. Wealth of any kind does not equate to God’s favor or poverty to disfavor. Illness is not a sign of inadequate faith or health a sign of great faith. Jesus says that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and send rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”. So take heart! This is not a story with a message just for those with little faith, or great faith. This is a message that tells us Jesus comes to all people with varying levels of faith. This is best shown by our text today:
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind,* he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
For Peter this was a moment of both weakness and strength. He doubts, but wants to believe. He fears, but steps out of a perfectly good boat into a storm of wind and waves. He begins to walk but finds himself distracted by the storm and takes his eyes off Jesus. But when he begins to sink, he calls out “Lord save me!”—Expressing his faith even through his fears.
As Peter's nose is about to go under, it is at that moment that Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. So also we are caught, when our noses are about to go under, when we are alone and helpless in our storm of life. This rescue is real! And Christ is truly present. We may not see his presence, but He is there! That much is certain! The fact that his hand reach’s into our storm and catches us is the promise with us from our baptism. We are with Christ and he is with us always—even in those times when we do not think he is there. We still experience storms, and even death, as all people will. But hear the words of Paul “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). Christ has reached into the grave of death and pulled us through to a new life with him. —He has rescued us from sin and death, through his life death and resurrection. That is how he became our Lord, so powerful a Lord that even the wind and waves obey him. The promise that Jesus comes to us in the midst of the storm—that no matter what that storm may be, it does not hold the upper hand— Christ is present with you in the midst of your storms and rescues you to eternal life with Him!
This whole event creates a great moment for us to recognize. In the middle of the lake while still in the boat the disciples worship Jesus. They realize that all of their troubles are gone with the storm, in Christ. They acknowledge who Jesus is: the true Son of God who gives us the strength to weather our storm and not be afraid. It's not simply a miracle that happens here -- though, indeed, one did. It is an event displaying that the Lord we trust is greater than all the obstacles we encounter, anything that would lead us to be afraid. Jesus’ arm is enough to pull us through any storm.
Which leads us to where our story had directed us all along -- to the other side. But who's afraid of crossing the water to the other side of death when the Lord Jesus Christ who has already been there for us and calls us to “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” With Jesus' steady arm, we are sure to endure!
So this miracle of Jesus walking on water is much more than the images and thoughts that most of us have in our minds. The big deal here is that this is a message of hope; and rescue of individuals in their deepest points of despair. This is a message of hope and assurance for you and me. You are not alone, Take courage! Do not fear! Jesus is with you! AMEN