When walking on water is hazardous to your faith

Photo credit:  Massimo Strazzeri

Matthew 14:22-33:

Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

What’s going on here?
We learned last week that Jesus was tired and in mourning. He was grieving the loss of his friend and cousin, John (The Baptist). We learned, in response to this grief, that Jesus was sailing across the lake to spend some time alone.

We also talked last week that this was time alone that Jesus didn’t immediately get due to the crowd being present when Jesus arrived, and because Jesus was compelled by compassion to feed and heal those around him.

After the meal and miracles, Jesus then sent the disciples away so that he might have some time alone.

He needed to recharge. He needed to be alone with his Father. He needed time in solitary prayer.

There is also thought that possibly Jesus sent the disciples away to let things calm back down. Maybe this was an effort to keep people from working themselves into a messianic frenzy. After all, he had just broken every physical law known to man.

No matter the reason, we see Jesus sending the disciples across the lake.

A season of rain.

During this time, the land was in the midst of their rainy season. Much like we experience here, the rain came in bunches in Israel. They had rainy seasons, and they had dry seasons.

As the disciples crossed the lake, they were met with storms so violent and rough that the disciples were blown off course from their original destination.

These were men who grew up on the water, and were familiar with boats. They were accustomed to storms and the violence that came along with the storms…so for them to be blown off course, this had to be a terrifying moment for them.

This terror was compounded when they saw Jesus walking towards them on the water.

Imagine if you were the disciples.

Sure, they had witnessed many miracles. They were just coming from one of the greatest showings of Christ’s power with the feeding of the 5000, however, they still had a difficult time processing what they were seeing.

Maybe it was because it was late. The Bible talks about the Disciples seeing Jesus on the 4th watch. Meaning, they saw him between the hours of 3-6 am.

There is something about Night-time that turns the friendly into the terrifying, right?

Darkness. Lightning. Thunder. Waves rocking the boat. The creaking of the wood and the cold spray of the water.

Into the middle of this chaotic moment enters a phantasma, a phantom. A ghost walking ever closer to them.

Seeing the terror, Jesus tells them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

It makes you wonder what the disciples’ response was.

They probably said, “we’ve seen some stuff, Jesus. We’ve seen you do some incredible things…but this, this walking on water thing…this takes the cake.”

Then we have Peter.

Peter. The one who is always eager to talk, speak and volunteer for actions that have consequences for which he’s not fully prepared to handle or deal with.

Actions like walking on water. Why did he ever believe he could do this?

As readers of Scripture, I don’t think we fully grasp the magnitude of what Peter asked to do.

The disciples had witnessed Christ performing miracles. They had witnessed him healing the blind, the sick and the lame. They watched him feed upwards of 25,000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.

So, while it’s a stretch to think about Jesus walking on water…it’s not really THAT big of a stretch, right? After all, he’s JESUS!

What’s incredible is that, in a fit of brilliance or stupidity (or both), Peter decides he wants to get in on the fun, too.

And so he tells Jesus that he’d like to try. Asking Jesus to Invite him to walk on water, too!

Of course, Jesus offers the invitation.

And of course, Peter does what no other human had ever done…. He walked on water. For a brief and glorious moment he defied the laws of physics. He was a water-walker.

I often wonder what it felt like to walk on water. Did it feel like walking on a water-bed?

Or splashing in a puddle?

When his faith grew weak, did he sink like a man in quicksand? Or was it more like a hole opened beneath him and he plunged into the dark, rough, cold of the lake?

No matter the speed and no matter the depth to which he sank, Peter, after a flash of Christ-following brilliance, was up to his neck in it. Literally.

Sometimes it’s called “stepping out in faith, or maybe it’s called “Stepping out of the boat.” Whatever it’s called, these teachings are almost always accompanied by promises that we’ll “do the miraculous.

Believe in God, they say…follow his calling, they urge…and you will do things you never imagined!”

And this is true.

If this story also teaches another lesson. The lesson is that, while stepping out of the boat can create a brilliant demonstration of faith, there is another level of faith the soon follows. A faith that requires our belief to remain steadfast.

For faith in God must always remain in the present tense.

If this passage teaches us anything…it’s that past tense faith is a stale faith. And stale faith will never be enough to keep us above water.

Let’s explore the issue of faith a moment.

Faith is a fleeting thing, isn’t it? At least, the kind of faith often taught and defined by the Western church, is fleeting.

This sort of faith is emotionally based and feeling driven.

This sort of faith is the kind of faith one might have when they are claiming and believing that God will bring a Rolls Royce their way. This is the kind of faith that a person has when the decide they need to break up with someone because it’s what Jesus told them to do.

It’s instantaneous. It’s emotionally driven. It’s cheap.

This faith is almost always focused on what we get out of the deal. It’s about how I walked on water, and how the world will see me differently.

However, it’s not just cheap because of our selfish expectations. It’s also cheap because this sort of faith doesn’t cost us anything.

It only takes a minimal amount of faith to jump. Anyone can talk themselves into do anything.

The truth is that it takes real, sustained, Christ-centered faith to stay focused on Christ in the midst of the storm.

To keep the course, to stay focused on Christ, and to never waver, no matter what…this is the faith we’re called into.

Rebuking of Peter
I have often wondered how Jesus could rebuke Peter in this story, and I wonder why Jesus spoke such harsh words towards him when it was Peter who possessed enough courage and faith to step out and do the impossible.

The difficult truth in this passage is that Jesus rebuked Peter because his faith in Jesus was strong enough to get him out of the boat, but not strong enough to stand up to the storm.

And another difficult truth is that we are all like Peter, aren’t we? We all struggle with faith when “the rubber meets the road.”

It’s easy to have faith, to trust in Jesus, and to walk the path of faith, when there is no opposition and nothing to create doubt.
But the moment the winds pick up, the moment the waves begin to roar, and the thunder booms, our faith is left shaken.

This storm is where Peter’s doubt is rooted.

This isn’t a lack of faith in himself, and it’s not a lack of faith in Jesus…rather, it’s a shift in his focus from Jesus towards the storm.

In that moment, in Peter’s mind, Jesus and His power lost centrality and supremacy in Peter’s heart.

Peter no longer focused on Christ alone…rather, he began to see the chaos around him and allow that chaos to take hold of his heart.

How easy that is for us, right?

For me, the struggle begins with the busy-ness of life. As stress picks up, my calendar fills, and as the meetings, struggles, and worry accumulates, the first, it seems, to go is my focus on Christ.

Whether that be devotions, personal prayer, or a singular focus on Jesus throughout my day…the temptation is always to refocus on the problem rather than on the giver of the impossible.

Like me, it was the case, as well, with Peter.

So we see in Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, a beautiful and relevant insight into our own lives; When our faith wavers, when doubt increases, and when our hope is losing steam…Jesus teaches us to question ourselves.

When Peter begins to sink, Jesus questions him.

Jesus questions the root of Peters doubt. He asked, what made your faith disappear?

Jesus called Peter to deeper self-awareness and that awareness invited Peter’s re-commitment.

While it’s not specified written here, I like to believe that, after Jesus reaches down to Peter, and after he helps him identify the cause of his faith crisis, Jesus and Peter walk back together, on the water, to the boat.

And like to believe that this moment being the result of Peter having remembering where his faith should rest and with a renewed understanding that the storm around him pales in comparison to the power of the one who gave him the ability to walk on the water.

And so we arrive at the climax of our story

Though, it’s not what you would guess.

If you thought logically about it, a story that involves two men walking on water, one sinking, and another rescuing him…the climax should be the rescue, right? It would only make sense.

This story has all the makings of a “in-the-nick-of-time, hear-stopping, will-he-get-there-in-time moment.” And it’s almost guaranteed that, were this on TV, station would cut to a commercial break right at the moment Peter begins sinking.

However, the climax of this story isn’t Peter walking on the water, nor is it Jesus’ daring rescue of Peter.

The climax of this story is centered on the worship of the disciples, and it’s in this worship that we’re reminded of a beautiful and significant truth:

Our faith, our struggles, and Christ’s redemption of our faithlessness, creates in others an attitude of worship. Our story matters, which is why it’s so important for us to share our stories with others and why it’s so important for us to invite others into our lives.

Our stories, and more specifically, our moments of faith-crisis, allow for others to connect with what God is doing in their own lives. These moments where Christ intersects with our doubt, create in others, moments that allow others to see Christ for who he is; King.

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