(Matthew 14:22-36) Do you ever wish you could take a break? Southwest’s commercial slogan, “want to get away for awhile,” has appealed to almost all of us at some point. We just need to stop, take a break, recharge, and reinvest ourselves in our lives. That’s where we find Jesus at this point in our Scripture—but the moment for “getting away” sometimes doesn’t jive with the moment when the work needs done. Paul’s encouragement to “be prepared in season and out of season” seems to apply to Jesus, too, and here we can learn more about what God is like… and what we are like.
Jesus has just wrapped up a lengthy miracle campaign. He fed 5,000 people, he healed the sick who came to him. He’s already tried to take one of those times away from his crowds to pray and to recover physically. We’ll never know exactly what it “cost” Jesus in terms of energy expenditure, but we know he was tired. And he was also grieving. Herod had just beheaded Jesus’ cousin John to please his new girlfriend’s daughter. He has lost a loved one who we would assume he grew up in relationship with. On top of the physical and spiritual tiredness from preaching and healing, he is emotionally worn out. So he sends his disciples away.
You know that kind of moment? When you need to just be by yourself? No spouse. No kids. No phone. Just a moment… And then it happens. Maybe you have the plan in place, the things are all lined up, and everything is looking groovy, and then someone gets sick.
I think of my friend Christy in this situation: she’s a pastor in Richmond who had lined up some fun times for her kids with her inlaws, and had a reservation for months at a spa with her friends… and then the phone rang and kept ringing. Her son had fallen off the trampoline and broken his leg. No more spa. No more rest. No recovery. Just time to go be Mom.
Jesus knows he needs a break, he knows that he needs one on one time with God. But he can see and feel that this rejuvenation is going to have to wait. His friends need him. His disciples need him. They are in danger. You can hear that they are “sorely afraid” like the shepherds all over again. You can almost see him drag himself to his feet from where he’s praying, and head out in the midst of this storm to them.
Now, sidebar for a minute to this storm. What are at least four of the disciples proficient at? Catching fish! So you’d think they were used to being on the water with waves threatening and wind blowing. So either one of two things has happened: a) the disciples have grown soft or b) this is one monster of a storm. For the record, I vote b. I don’t think you can “grow soft” when you’re following Jesus. Back to the story, so here comes Jesus walking on the water. Not running, not Star Trek beam-me-to-the-boat, but walking on the water. Like it’s nothing at all!
And the disciples’ first response is more fear! They are so afraid that even though they know Jesus they assume that what is coming toward them is something that is to be their undoing. They are so caught up in their own situation, their own current condition, that they fail to recognize who Jesus is or to consider that this is not a worst case scenario. I know I’m guilty of that sometimes. When the boat is rocking, the wind is blowing, the waves are crashing, sometimes my first inclination is not to assume that God is walking straight through the storm to rescue me!
I know Jesus. He has proved himself to me over and over again. And yet when I end up in that boat and it’s pitching and tossing, I’m not always sure whether I’m grabbing life preserver or parachute. But Matthew 14 tells me that I’m in good company. So Jesus says to them “DO NOT BE AFRAID.” That’s becoming one of my favorite sayings from the Bible. Joshua heard it. The shepherds heard it. The disciples heard it. Are you afraid today? Is uncertainty or sickness or financial instability causing fear? Hear Jesus, human and divine Jesus, walking in the midst of that storm with you saying “Do NOT BE AFRAID. It is I. Take courage!” I got this!
This story of Jesus walking on the water always reminds me of my favorite Rob Bell Nooma. The rain one. Where he’s out being a silly dad ignoring the weather and he’s a mile from the house with his infant child and it starts to rain… but he gathers his crying son to him and says “don’t worry buddy, I’ve got you!” Jesus tells his disciples to be comforted. While he’s standing on the water. I’ve never gotten the impression that he’s wading in it. That he’s sort of half submerged or something. Which begs the question: have you ever seen a person walk on water?
Jesus is telling his disciples: I’ve got this one covered. Be strong. All you need is for me to be here. We’re good. Yes, I am standing on the water like this is perfectly normal. But then there’s Peter the fisherman. Peter who made his living trusting in nets and boats. And he’s done with the boat. He wants out. “If it really is you God, tell me to come out.” I used to not think that was very faithful. Peter challenging God? Peter doubting it was Jesus talking to him? Peter TESTING Jesus? And then the more I’ve experienced and grown, the more I think it is faithful Peter, trusting Peter, bold Peter. Because he’d rather be in the storm with Jesus than be in the boat without him.
Peter would rather to give up the little false security of the boat, the thing he knew well, so that he could be with Jesus, who he knew had more to share than Peter could imagine. This is the go big or go home approach isn’t it? I think we tend to have that approach here. We’re willing to swing for the fences with events, with a willingness to help people. We’d rather be risky than be serious and practical because practical can’t prepare for every storm. But being risky for Jesus, that means you’re not going to get WATER RESISTANT wet, you’re going to get SOAKED WET. So Peter gets out of the boat. AND DON’T MISS THIS: he “WALKED ON THE WATER.”
I know I know, he began to sink. But people, Peter’s buy in, his faith, his belief in Jesus was so strong that HE WALKED ON WATER!
I know I want some of that. How about you? Do you want to walk on the water and risk it all with Jesus? I know that the things I’m holding onto are fleeting and false compared to the all consuming love of God manifested in Christ Jesus. But I have Peter’s flaws in me too. I want to get out of the boat, and sometimes, I even break out of the bonds and margins that I’m painted into by my bad decisions and other people’s opinions… and then I see the wind and my fear rears up its ugly head and threatens to drag me down like dead weight and I begin to sink.
And in Matthew 14:30, the only prayer you need to know is uttered in desperation: “Lord, save me!” Peter gives Jesus an ultimatum… Jesus says come. Peter gets out of the boat… his faith helps him defy gravity and physics. Peter begins to sink… and he cries out to the only one who can save him. Jesus Christ, Savior of the world.
IMMEDIATELY… you know there is no word in the English language that is faster, quicker, or more “now” than IMMMEDIATELY? Jesus catches Peter. Jesus hears the prayer, and he answers. Jesus sees the faith, and he rewards it. Jesus saves.
You can make much of the “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” but all through their relationship, Jesus is challenging Peter to be the leader of the new faith community when Jesus is gone. And this is just another step. “You got out of the boat. You WALKED ON WATER! Why stop believing now?”
Why is it that we believe … to a point. We do the miraculous but we stop to bail water. We dream big things… but our attention span betrays us. Peter was on his way… but he needed a boost. And wow, I know Peter was never the same. Don’ Back in the boat, Jesus’ presence calms the storm. The boat is “back to normal” but the people in the boat aren’t. because of the storm, the disciples believe more deeply in Jesus. But I must argue that because of PETER the disciples believe more deeply in Jesus. Jesus was there. But Peter witnessed to the power and person of Jesus. Jesus led, Peter followed, and set the example. And the other 11 disciples were changed by the experience that they hadn’t even fully lived. SO, I ask you today, in your situation, in your life right now, are you Jesus, Peter or the other disciples?
Like Henri Nouwen’s breakdown of Rembrandt’s The Prodigal Son, I have a mental picture of these three dynamics out on the lake that night. Jesus providing peace to others. Jesus sacrificing his time and energy to bring restoration to others. Jesus knowing when to rest and when to work. Peter wanting to lead the way. Peter being willing to be the first one out of the boat. Peter wanting to be faithful and still willing to challenge the expectations. The other disciples wanting to follow but not knowing how or having the faith. And deciding At some time in our lives, we will play the different roles. We will help someone stay focused, and provide them with the good news of God’s love; we will seek to follow Jesus and lead toward real life; we will need to be reminded of Jesus’ love by others.
At the end of the story though, the truth remains: if you want to get “wet,” you’ve got to get out of the boat. Are you “all in” for Jesus? Are you letting Jesus wipe the tears from your eyes, the fear out of your heart? Are you recognizing that Jesus, the Lord of the universe is telling you “I got this” ? Are you letting him direct your steps? And walk, swim, run, or crawl, there’s nowhere better to be focused than on the outstretched arms of Jesus.