“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but Jesus was asleep. And they went and woke him saying, ‘Save us Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the disciples marveled saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?’”
Our gospel lesson is a parallel with what I just read from Matthew 8. Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ superiority to Moses and the Torah. Jesus brings not only new teachings, he is a king for and in a new kingdom. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount there is a key phrase: ‘When Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.’
The question asked by the disciples in Matthew 8 gets answered throughout the rest of the book? ‘Who is this?’ This is one who calms the storm, one who casts out the devil, one who heals the sick, one who teaches with authority, and literally, one who walks on water.
What is happening around these events?
There was unbelief–Jesus’ rejection in his hometown. John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod Antipas.
There was faith:
Jesus was exhausted from ministry: from casting out demons, from healing the sick, from
feeding the 5000+.
Then there is faith and unbelief found in one person, Peter.
Jesus sends the disciples on the other side of the sea. He is anxious about the journey to Jerusalem–and his first ministry in Gentile lands
And while the disciples are struggling to fight a storm–Jesus is where? In prayer for nine hours +
You know the rest of the story. Jesus doesn’t calm this storm, he walks on the water right through it. The disciples are afraid when they see him, like they have seen a ‘ghost’ and the word there is closer to a ‘deceptive spirit,’ that is, a demon.
The rest of the scene is all about Peter. This is his moment. He wants proof that this is not a demon but Jesus. ‘If it is you, call me to walk on the water.’
Peter does, for a moment, then, echoing Matthew 8, he takes his eye of Christ and on the storm and says, ‘Lord save me.’
Peter is very important to Matthew. He is the leader of the disciples without a doubt. But he is full of flaws and leaps before he thinks.
This burst of emotional energy to get him out on the water is ‘effective enough to motivate him but not effective enough to sustain him.’
Peter is the high low, the emotional and the depressed. The passionate and faithful disciple and the stumbling bumbling disciple.
Peter is the ultimate study in contrasts. He will make the ultimate profession: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!’ Then he will be tool of Satan. He will be in the inner circle at the Mountain of Transfiguration, then he will mess it up by wanting to pitch tents. He walks on water, then takes his eye off Christ. He says he will die for Jesus, and then denies him three times.
Many preachers want to focus on Peter’s foibles. Ha ha, silly Peter sinking to bottom, taking his eyes off Jesus. How much do I need to remind you of the fact that if you take your eyes off of Christ, you’re in for a heap of trouble?
When you take your eyes off of Christ and put it on the difficulty or the pain or the trouble or anything else, you’ll find yourselves sinking in a storm.
I’m sure that Matthew wanted to remind his audience of Peter’s clay feet and humble beginnings. But he also wants to remind all who read his gospel of the authority and power of Jesus. He doesn’t still the storm, he ignores it. He doesn’t fear the water or waves, he walks on them as if he is on a neighborhood stroll. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. ‘Truly this is the Son of God.’
What is key here is not what Peter fails to do or what he cannot see. It is not so much his lack of faith that is remarkable but the evidence of his faith! Look at what Peter does right.
John Ortberg says, “ This is the fundamental truth: if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. If you want to experience the power of God in your life, you’ve got to take a step of faith. It involves risky obedience.”
Peter does two things here that is very important. First, he gets out of the boat. Second, he calls on Jesus when he sinks.
While the other disciples are shivering and panicked, while they are trying in their own strength to solve yet another storm, Peter does what? He gets out of the boat. He has listened to Jesus’ words, he has seen his power, why not?
This is faith. It is faith to look at an impossible situation, to look at something that we have no ability to walk into and to put out our faith and to step out. Peter gets out of the boat.
There is nothing that we can accomplish in the kingdom of God, there is no way of facing our fears and our grief and our pain and our unbelief unless we do what? Step out, and get out of the boat.
Peter knew it. When Francis walked into the woods naked he knew it. When Benedict walked away from the city of Rome to the countryside he knew it. We know that of the saints, but we have somehow domesticated them. Being a faithful Christian is akin to walking on water. But we keep those who have done it faithfully at a distance.
As Thomas Merton says, ‘We have buried [the saints] in our own routines, and thus securely insulated ourselves against any form of spiritual shock from their lack of conventionality.”
When someone is baptized, regardless of their age, they are stepping out of the boat.
Every Christian in every age who have not bowed the knee to Cesar but who have proclaimed Christ as Lord knew it. As John Ortberg says, ‘if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.
John Burtness told us Friday at the men’s group about a Yale professor who lost his son at 25 in a mountain climbing accident wrote a book called Lament For a Son. He talks of the difficulty of having faith through his loss, especially when everyone else is like Job’s wife who says, ‘why don’t you just curse God and die?’
He says, ‘Faith is a footbridge that you don’t know will hold you up over the chasm until you’re forced to walk out onto it.’
Peter had guts. Peter was willing to live on the edge. Peter was willing to face what he knew was sheer terror–don’t forget he was a seasoned fisherman familiar with storms!
If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.
The Youthworks leaders told us the other night that just last week, there was an 80 year old woman who was so convinced that a Youthworks mission trip would be important for the teenagers in her church that she would go and lead them–even when no one else would. That’s stepping out of the boat!
Lastly, Peter sank. But our focus should not be his sinking–we sink all the time. It is not so much his sinking but who he cried out to when he did. Peter knew that the Lord had every ability to save him.
Ortberg again says, “…only Peter knew that when he sank, Jesus would be there, and he was wholly adequate to save. The other disciples could not know because they never got out of the boat.”
Included in the Creed we are about to say is that we believe in the ‘forgiveness of sins…’ This is really the hallmark of our faith. There is no anxiety about the God we serve, at least there shouldn’t be. Now of course when Peter was sinking, Jesus didn’t say, “hey Peter, no worries, embrace your sinkingness.” No, Peter knew he was about to sink into despair. But what puts Peter above the rest is his ability to call out when he was sinking.
If we want to walk on water, we have to get out of the boat, but when we fall and sin and make mistakes, Jesus is always there to pull us out. We still have to face the mire, but Jesus is always there, strong and mighty to save.
My advice to our Youthworks leaders is that you keep that in mind. God has called you to radical things, as he has called all of us. But we cannot walk on water by ourselves. Only he gives us the ability to do anything and only he can save us when we fall.