Read Matthew 14:22-33 and Psalm 119:30-39 here.
A boy had grown up hearing the stories from his grandmother about an amazing family tradition. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been able to walk on water on their 18th birthday, and on that day they’d each walked across the lake. So on the boy’s 18th birthday, he and his friends went out on the lake in a boat, and when they got to the middle, the boy carefully stood up and stepped over the side of the boat….and sank into the water. His friends quickly pulled him to safety. Furious and confused, he went to see his grandmother.
“Grandma, it’s my 18th birthday. Why can’t I walk across the lake like my dad, and his dad, and his dad?”
Grandma looked deep into his troubled eyes and said, “Because you were born in August. Your dad, and grandfather and great-grandfather were all born in January.”
The boy looked puzzled. “Why does that matter?”
“Because, my dear, in January the lake is frozen.”
You’d think the kid might have figured this one out and known not to even try. We might expect Peter would have known better than to try. Then again, Peter and the disciples have just seen Jesus feed 20,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread, so it was natural for Peter to be ready to try something big. But soon Peter got that sinking feeling.
So let’s look at what was happening.
It is evening. Jesus has fed the crowd and they’ve collected the twelve baskets of leftovers. Jesus tells the disciples to take the boat and head across the lake to their next stop. He sends the crowd away, and heads up the mountain to pray.
Out on the lake, the wind and waves became rough and the boat was being battered by the waves. They were going against the wind.
This reminds me of kayaking in Morro Bay, going against the tide. The tide is strong in the harbor there as it flows in and out of the estuary. I think I spent the entire time rowing and rowing and rowing and rowing. I thought I’d never get anywhere. By the time I finally got back to the dock, I was exhausted. Maybe the disciples felt like that.
Jesus comes to the rescue. He comes walking across the lake looking like a ghost upon the water.
This reminds me of Genesis 1 which says the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters of creation. When we talked about God’s work in Genesis a couple of months ago, we talked about how God was organizing. He was making order out of chaos. God separated the water from the sky, and separated the water from the land. In Proverbs 8:29 it says that God set the boundaries for the water. Water is like chaos. God is Lord of the chaos.
Then Peter bravely steps out on water. How amazing is that? I wonder how that felt? I wonder if, before he got scared by the wind and waves, he had a moment to appreciate how it felt to be standing on top of the water?
Speaking of wind and waves….
What did one ocean say to the other ocean?
. . . Nothing, it just waved.
One thing that has been bugging me about this scripture all week...
Why does Peter need Jesus to tell him to come?
He says to Jesus, “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
“If it is you…”
Matthew tells us that the disciples thought what they were seeing was a ghost. The disciples were terrified and cried out in fear. Jesus immediately calms their fears and encourages them by identifying himself. “It’s me!”
The words he used may have triggered memories for the disciples of the scene in Exodus when God speaks to Moses. When Moses asks God, “How will I tell them who sent me?” God says, “Tell them I AM has sent you.” (Ex. 3:13-15) Those words in Greek are the same as what Jesus says. Eigo Eimi. It is I.
But even if those words don’t help the disciples recognize that Jesus is God in the flesh, the fact that he’s walking on water should.
- God created the world and is the one who told the waters where to go.
- God parted the waters of the Red Sea for Israel to escape from Egypt.
- God parted the water again when Israel crossed the Jordan River to go into the Promised Land.
Maybe Peter IS remembering all of this when he says, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Peter is asking for proof.
This is reminiscent of Gideon putting out the fleece and asking God to make it wet, another event in which we see God’s power over water. (Judges 6)
Moses also asked to see proof. In Exodus 33 & 34, God tells Moses to keep heading for the promised land, but Moses is tired. He’s been leading the people through the desert for a while. Things keep going wrong, and in anger he’s smashed the ten commandments. God’s giving him a new set, but Moses still needs assurance that God’s going to be with them as they go forward. God promises that he will go with them (Ex 33:14), but Moses still has that sinking feeling. He needs something more, so he asks God to show him God’s glory. God does, and Moses goes back to the people encouraged and ready to keep walking forward.
The disciples probably needed some encouragement, too. They’d only recently learned that Herod had killed John the Baptist. They were probably sad and afraid. Might Jesus be next? What would happen to them? Jesus had sent them away on this boat, and all night long they’d dealt with the wind and waves. Now it’s early in the morning, just before dawn. They haven’t slept. They’re tired. They’re pretty sure they’re seeing things.
So Peter asks. Knowing Peter as we do from other stories in the gospels, this is another example of Peter being impulsive. Peter is the one who blurts things out. He makes a logical request, though.
If this is Jesus, and if Jesus is the Son of God, and he isn’t just a ghost and we aren’t imagining this, then he is Lord of all creation and has the ability to make a path on the water, just like he made a path through the water for Israel.
Jesus says, “Come!” And Peter does it. Peter walks on water.
But then Peter gets inside his own head. He starts thinking too much about what’s actually happening. He looks at the wind and the waves and he gets scared. And he sinks.
Anxiety sets in. Along with the literal feeling of sinking down into the water, he may also have the funny feeling in his stomach that we describe as a sinking feeling.
Peter realizes he’s out of control of this situation, and focuses on that instead of focusing on the one who is in control.
Thinking too much gets us in trouble, too.
Take playing music, for instance. There’s a lot of practicing involved to learn how to play, to learn a particular technique or piece of music, and that involves lots of thinking. But when it comes to performing that piece, all that thinking will get in the way.
This is also true for Samurai fighters. There’s a scene in the 2003 movie The Last Samurai in which Tom Cruise is being trained to be a Samurai fighter. He’s having trouble, and the trainer tells him he’s got “too much mind.” He’s thinking too much about what he’s doing, instead of letting things happen naturally.
We’ve been watching a show on the Food Network called Food Network Star. The contestants on this show compete to demonstrate their abilities as chefs and as on-air personalities. The winner will get their own show. One problem they all have to work to overcome is thinking too much when they’re on camera. The coaches want them to respond naturally to what’s happening in the moment. If they “get in their heads” and start thinking too much, they get hung up and can’t speak, or sound too stiff.
This is like what happens to Peter. At first he’s fine, but then he gets to thinking too much and he can’t do it anymore. He sinks.
Peter’s response to sinking, though, is just right. He cries out to Jesus. “Lord, save me!”
And immediately Jesus reaches out and pulls him up out of the water.
Then Jesus asks Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Peter DID have faith – enough to get him out of the boat in the first place. And as Jesus himself has pointed out, it only takes faith the size of a little mustard seed to do great things, like walking on water.
But Peter did what we all do sometimes – we get distracted by the difficulties and we start to question.
- · Maybe I shouldn’t have tried this.
- · Maybe I didn’t hear God right.
- · Maybe this is too hard for me.
- · Maybe I’m not strong enough, smart enough, good enough.
What we forget in those moments, like Peter did, is that it never was about our capabilities, it was about God. God is strong enough, smart enough, wise enough.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, and sometimes we think that because it’s not easy, then we must be doing the wrong thing. God doesn’t promise us that it’s going to be easy. In fact, he tells us quite the opposite. Jesus says in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”
What about you? In what ways have you been stepping out in faith?
- · Maybe you’re about to start a new job, a new school, and new project.
- · Maybe you’ve made a big move.
- · Maybe you’re running into challenges, or you’re starting to think about the potential for challenges.
If we look at the difficulties and the challenges, we will lose heart. The wind and the waves are scary. We will get discouraged.
I’m here to tell you to be encouraged. God has promised us his presence and his strength.
So many scriptures tell us about this. I like how Paul says in Romans 11:33:
Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements and his paths beyond tracing out!
That morning on the lake, Peter was ready to let go of control and let God lead him, and then he started thinking too much, trying to regain control, and that’s when he lost it.
The problem is that when we’re looking at ourselves or our situations, we’re focusing on the trouble.
But when we’re looking at God and remembering his strength and his promises, then we can put things in perspective.
How do we keep looking at God? How do we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus instead of the wind and waves?
One way is prayer. Like Peter, don’t hesitate to call out for help. We may not always see how God responds to this right away. Looking back often we can see that God did help us.
Another way is to keep reading the Bible and being reminded of God’s ways. Next week during our Sunday school kick-off, we’re going to have an opportunity to share favorite verses from the Bible. I’m betting that many of us will share verses or stories that have encouraged us in times of trouble, and helped us to remember God’s nearness and God’s strength.
One of the best way to keep our eyes on God is to worship. That’s what the disciples do at the end of today’s story. How could they not after all they’ve seen? They worship Jesus and say, “Truly you are Son of God!” It’s the first time in Matthew that they say something like this.
When we worship God, we acknowledge God’s presence and God’s greatness. We remember God’s promises. We renew our trust and commitment.
Whenever we get that sinking feeling – whenever the doubts and fears start to take over –
Cry out to Jesus for help.
Reach out to God through his word.
Remember it’s God’s power that has us walking on water.
God promises that he will never let us down.
 A commentary pointed this out, but I don’t remember which one. I looked it up doing a word search in BibleGateway.com and sure enough, before this point in Matthew only the devil and demons have called Jesus the Son of God. (Mat. 4:3 “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Mat. 8:29 “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”)