Walking on the Water – July 22, 2018
It was a great week of VBS. Monica and I were so glad to have gotten here in time to be a part of it. Our kids loved it-and I got to spend the week being Captain Jake in the skit. Partnering up with Kyle and the rest of our team-Wanda and the Island Chicken-made for an Oscar-worthy performance! But the theme of the skit-and the whole theme of VBS was being Shipwrecked. There was definitely the whole Tom Hanks-Castaway vibe happening. We had our own Wilson the Volleyball. We worked hard at transporting the kids to being on an island in the middle of nowhere. But I’m willing to doubt that very many of us-if any-have ever been shipwrecked. Now I’m sure we’ve all wondered what it would be like to be stuck on a deserted island all by ourself. What 5 books would you bring along-that you had to read over and over, what 5 music albums would you listen to over and over? Would you get sick of eating bananas and coconuts all the time? Would you go crazy not being able to talk to anybody? Would you be able to survive on your own? Would you ever get rescued-or just stay stuck on the island out there in the sea? But I trust that none of us will ever have to experience actually being shipwrecked-but maybe we’ve felt rather shipwrecked in life, shipwrecked in the circumstances we’re facing or the struggles we’re going through. Shipwrecked with where we’ve landed in life and we wonder if we’ll ever get rescued or just stay stuck out there all by ourself. This morning as we come to God’s Word-the disciples weren’t officially shipwrecked-but they were close-and the idea of being rescued seemed about the furthest thing from their minds.
So, open your Bibles to Matthew 14-because that’s where we pick up the story. And if you’ve ever had a long day of work-Matthew 14 is where Jesus has had a long day of ministry. He’s had to take are of lots and lots of people-5,000 to precise-and that doesn’t include the women and children. He’s healed them, blessed them, fed them. So by day’s end, Jesus is worn out and needs some time away. I think it’s easy for us to assume that as the Son of God, Jesus would have had this endless supply of energy to just keep going and going. But that wasn’t the case. Sure He could do the miraculous because He was 100% God, but He was also 100% human-which meant that He got tired at the end of the day and needed His time to get refreshed and have His batteries recharged. Jesus needed His time away from people-where He could enjoy some peace and quiet-but most importantly spend time in the presence of His Father. So look at Matt 14:22-23. Doesn’t Jesus display perfect balance in life? No doubt each one of us can be challenged by it. Way too often we wrongly lean to one side or another. Either you’re constantly surrounded by people-talking, using your phone and facebook and texting-hardly ever having a moment of solitude. Or you’re a loner-always shutting people off, trying to escape, and avoiding interaction with others as much as possible. I don’t like being around people-they make me crazy. Or you say, I have to be around people-if I’m alone, I’ll go crazy. But God created us for both-on the one hand to love and encourage and serve people-pouring ourself out for others. On the other hand, to be alone-reflecting and quietly seeking our Heavenly Father in prayer and drawing strength from Him. And Jesus does it perfectly-so after He spends this much needed and blessed time in prayer and reflection, He’s going to catch up with the disciples-the people He loves most. However, the disciples haven’t nearly been having the restful time Jesus has. In fact, for the bulk of the night they’ve had a miserable time.
Look at v. 24. And whether you’ve physically been in a boat experiencing these rocky conditions, haven’t we all been there in life? Beaten by the waves and feeling like the wind and the water and everything else is against you? That no matter how hard you try to get anywhere, it feels like all you’re doing is fighting against the current and paddling upstream? That’s the disciples. All night they can’t get ahead or make any progress no matter how hard they try. And the frustrating part is that they’re faithfully doing what Jesus commanded! Remember who’s idea it was for them to sail to the other side-v. 22. These guys are being obedient to Jesus, following through on what He’s called them to do-and still it’s hard, still it’s difficult and everything is against them. I don’t know about you-but it’s easy for me to think that when everything is against me it’s because I’ve done something wrong-that I didn’t obey the Lord and now He’s punishing me with rocky waves and powerful wind. But when I am obeying Him everything ought to be smooth sailing and easy. Have you thought that way before? Like why all the struggles and difficulties, Lord, I’m doing what you said? I thought you’d make this simple and reward me for being obedient-instead it’s really hard? But has Jesus ever promised smooth sailing? Did He ever say following Him would be easy? No. And here’s the other part-is Jesus’ timing ever our timing? Usually not. Far too often His timing is way different from ours-but that doesn’t mean He’s forgotten us or abandoned us or is needlessly letting us struggle. There’s no better place to see that His timing isn’t our timing than in this passage because look at v. 25a. And we don’t tend to divide up our nighttime hours based on shifts to keep watch-but this wasn’t the 1st watch or the 2nd watch. This was the 4th watch-and most Bible scholars place that sometime between 3am to 6am. So this is like the last watch-because the next watch is morning time. So Jesus didn’t let His disciples battle against the wind and waves for an hour or two-but nearly all night. His timing for rescuing them didn’t happen right away-not at all.
Yet this passage reminds us that the best place to be in life isn’t necessarily the place with the best situation. The stormy seas aren’t a great situation, this is a tough spot to be in-but it’s the best spot because it’s where Jesus is at with His disciples. They were committed no matter how stormy the seas got, and it’s no different for you and me. The best place to be in life isn’t the calmest or the easiest, oftentimes the best place to be is the stormiest because that’s where Jesus is with us. And look at how He arrives-v. 25. Let that one sink in a minute because that’s not something you read everyday. What can walk on the sea? Fish jump out of the sea or leap across the sea, birds can sort of skim along the sea but what walks on the sea? No Discovery Channel show has showed me anything that can do that. And yet I love Jesus’ solution to reaching the disciples-because He doesn’t have a boat. The disciples already took the boat onto the water and He’s been hanging back on land in prayer. So imagine when Jesus finishes praying, says amen, and makes this decision-Well, it’s an exciting, stormy, windy night-there’s no more boats-why don’t I just walk across the water! And of course as the Son of God He’s the only person who has that option. So He just goes from shore to sea. One step He’s walking on sand, the next step He’s on the water. John’s gospel says the disciples had sailed about 3 to 4 miles out from shore. So this isn’t a quick walk by Jesus or a 100 yd dash across the waves-but the equivalent of a 5K. I bet He loved it! Walking in the midst of all He’d created-the swell of the sea, the crashing of the waves, the wind in His face. And how were the disciples when He arrived? Were they like-finally, what took you so long? Glad you could join us? No-their frustration with the sea turned to fright at His appearance-v. 26. I’m sure it didn’t take long for them to make this conclusion. What else could it be? They understood the basic principles of buoyancy and knew that human beings sink. What’s more logical to conclude-a water-walking human or a ghost? What would you conclude? Probably a ghost. I’m sure they wondered what sort of shimmering phantom had showed up to haunt them-as if this night couldn’t get any worse! We never like it when somebody sneaks up on us-but especially in the middle of the sea when you’re not expecting a lot of pedestrian traffic. Hey, I missed the last ferry boat so I thought I’d walk. That doesn’t happen! So imagine the disciples surprise in v. 27.
And I suppose there’s a big sigh of relief on the boat-It’s not a ghost-you really had us going! But also a lingering fear because they continue to be dazzled by Jesus. He keeps doing amazing things that stretch the disciples’ belief. Every time they think they have Him figured out-Jesus does something completely unexpected. But now one of their own does something rather unexpected. While the disciples are still speechless at Jesus standing there on the water-remember He hasn’t gotten into the boat yet-Peter speaks up-v. 28-29a. What a bold request! Would you be as brave? We know the story, we remember what happens-but in the moment Peter’s first step out of the boat is onto water. There’s nothing solid underneath him! Will water hold him up? Try that this afternoon as you step from your deck into your swimming pool-or fill up the bathtub and try to stand on the water-it’s not going to work. Now picture Peter doing this in the middle of the stormy sea. It takes incredible faith! Jesus gives him the command-v.29a-and there’s the faith!-v.29b. So now two people are out there standing on the sea. But put yourself in Peter’s shoes, how would you answer Jesus’ call? Sure, yes, why not step out of the boat, put my feet on the water and stroll out to see you, Lord. Hardly-we’d hear that call from Jesus and say maybe not, try somebody else. I bet the other disciples nervously wondered-Are we all going out there? But this is the main miracle. An ordinary man did the impossible. I’m not saying it’s any less amazing that Jesus walked on the water-it totally is but He’s God and can do whatever He wants. We expect this from Jesus-but Peter walking on the water is nothing short of miraculous!
And here’s the big question the passage wants us to wrestle with-what separates you from Peter? Nothing-except a bit of history. He lived two thousand years ago-we live today-but he was a regular guy-an ordinary fisherman. It was a common job for a common man. See, Peter wasn’t this super special holy person with a little halo on his head. “Oh yes, Peter could do that because Peter was filled with special powers.” Despite historical paintings and sculptures to make Peter look like a majestic saint-he was actually no different from you or me. So what enabled him to walk on water? It was Jesus. Peter looked straight at Him and obeyed. He’s trusting that what Jesus commands him to do can be done; that Jesus will empower him. Jesus said, Come-step out onto the water-so he did. Was Jesus lying? Was He pulling Peter’s leg? Just kidding-what were you thinking-walking on water!? You should have stayed in the boat-as Peter’s sinking. No, Jesus meant exactly what He said-Come, Peter, follow Me. Do what I’m doing-do the impossible. And Peter trusted Jesus and did it, accomplishing one of the greatest things a human has ever done. When was the last time someday else walked on water? Not recently!
But unfortunately it didn’t last-v.30a. There’s that little-but important detail from earlier when Matthew said it was a windy night-and I imagine that all of a sudden it blew across Peter’s face and he remembered where he was-v.30. And just like earlier when the disciples were afraid-it says-v.31a-and what does Jesus say? That was awesome, Peter! Way to go! We’ll start intermediate water walking classes next week. No, He rebukes him-v.31b. Tough words-but think for a minute on Jesus’ question-what’s the answer? Well, for Peter, we assume he’s got a good answer. The wind and waves, Jesus. I’m standing on the water-why wouldn’t I doubt?! We think doubts would be quite normal in a situation like this-but Jesus doesn’t think so. In fact, by asking the question, He’s challenging Peter to wrestle with this very issue. Peter-it’s Me, the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Author of Life, the Alpha and Omega-I’m your Creator, your Savior-in control of all things-completely sovereign. I’ve said, ‘Come out onto the water,’ do you believe that I meant what I said? Do you doubt whether I can accomplish what I want you to do? Jesus is rebuking Peter’s lack of faith in Him-as the Lord who can do the impossible, Peter, you know Me, You’ve already seen the miracles I can do, you know my power. Why then did you trust the wind and the waves instead of Me? Did you forget how I can calm the wind and waves? I’m in control-not them. Which is precisely what Jesus does-v. 32-33. But Peter forgot who Jesus was in that moment; he lost sight of Jesus’ power. I like how Charles Spurgeon, the famous English preacher, said it-Peter’s heart failed him, then his foot failed him.
But when Jesus calls him you of little faith, He’s talking about a divided mind. That Peter’s faith in Jesus is distracted by the fear of other things. Peter, your focus, your faith, needs to be in Me-and Me alone, not in outside forces or things you might normally fear. One minute he was zeroed in on Jesus and walking on the water-next minute he was looking at the waves, fearing what they would do-so a divided mind is not the mind of faith. It reminds me of SLIDE 2 James 1:5-8. A divided mind means your eyes are looking up at God in the easy times, but then looking down during the hard times when trials and challenges come. You’re pulled in two opposite directions-and not able to obey God’s commands because you’re unstable. Up and down-just like the waves. Now we love to excuse doubts-Well, I’m just not sure about this-is God really commanding me to do this? I don’t think I can do it, I’m too scared, I’m not strong enough or skilled enough. And that might be true-but was Peter skilled enough to walk on water-no. No one is! Everyone should have lots of doubts about water walking-but when it’s Jesus who calls you-there’s no reason to doubt-even if it’s water walking.
I love the visual in this passage because stepping onto the water is something in which there is no physical support underneath. Peter didn’t go out earlier in the day and rig up a little platform under the water to stand on. There was nothing to support him. It was literally sink or swim-but if you’re like me all too often I’m willing to trust Jesus when He calls me-but I’m still looking for that additional support. I’m still wanting to know that something or someone will hold me up when I take this step of faith. That’s it’s not sink or swim-that it’s still safe, still doable on my own without Jesus’s help, or that I still have something to fall back if God’s call doesn’t work out. As if God’s call wouldn’t work out! But we think like that, don’t we? I remember feeling God’s call to seminary to pursue ministry-but used to think that I could always fall back on being a math teacher if this pastor thing didn’t work out. That if my sermons were making people fall asleep I could always go back to teaching math (as if that didn’t make people fall asleep)! But have you had those thoughts before? I’m only going to follow you, Lord, if I know there’s a good back-up plan in place to hold me up in case this turns out terrible. But Jesus is calling Peter to take that step of faith when nothing else but Jesus will hold him up. Out there on the water Jesus is all that Peter’s got. And yet isn’t Jesus enough? That’s the song we sang this morning-Christ is enough. And that’s so true. We don’t need to be looking for additional support or somehow thinking that following Jesus and serving Him is about relying on our skills or talents or abilities. Or that if we take this step of faith we’ve got to have a good exit strategy or back-up plan in case it doesn’t work out. It’s how we like to operate-but that’s not faith. Faith is following Jesus when we have no strength or ability of our own-but remember that He’s all the strength we need. What does it say in SLIDE 3 Heb 11:1 And what we can be certain of is that when Jesus calls us-He always empowers us for the task. I go back one more time to Spurgeon who said-If it’s right to trust Jesus at all, why not trust Him altogether? I love that question because if it’s logical to trust Jesus with some things or in small ways, why not trust Him completely, especially in the big things that seem impossible to us? What keeps you from doing that?
Look back at v. 29. That’s single-minded faith! Look at v. 30-that’s being double-minded. Which verse describes you? Eyes fixed on Jesus or eyes looking at your surroundings-on all the stuff against you? Are you consumed by all the problems blowing like the wind and shaking you like the waves-or are you consumed by Jesus who stills the wind and the waves and says, I’ll take care of that, you just come and follow Me. Which verse describes you?
More than that, What impossibility is Jesus calling you to? It’s probably not walking on water-but His purpose is to use redeemed sinners to proclaim the gospel-that you and I in our lives would vividly display Jesus and reveal His saving grace to a dark and dying world-and that is nothing short of an impossibility. To let your life be the salt and light the world needs. Maybe God is calling you to use your spiritual gifts and talents to serve Him in a way that might really scare you. Maybe you may feel burdened to speak up about Christ at work but you’re too shy or timid. Maybe you want to serve others but worry how to do it. Maybe you have a big decision to make or a relationship to repair but don’t have the courage for it. Or maybe there’s something God keeps tugging at your heart to do but you say, No! I can’t do that. I’ll fail. I’ll fall flat on my face-like Peter, I’ll sink. Don’t trust in your lack of ability, trust in His ability to make you who He’s called you to be-SLIDES 4, 5, 6 Jer 1:4-8. God knew how He wanted to use Jeremiah before he was ever born. And He knows how He wants to use you too. He knows that He’ll equip you for precisely what He’s called you to do. Think about it like this-does the character of a novel argue with the author-I can’t do that, I’m not able. The author says, Yes, you are-that’s how I’ve written the story. God’s story for each of us is to do the impossible things He’s planned for our lives. So when God calls you to serve on the edge of your ability-when it seems impossible and there’s no way you could do it on your own-that’s when God shows you that it’s all about Him. That it actually has nothing to do with your ability but everything to do with your availability. When you say, Okay, God. I’m here, and I’ll serve as you’ve commanded me, I’ll follow where you say go.
Was Peter more prone to water walking than the other disciples? Were his steps somehow lighter or more buoyant? No-all the disciples were probably equally as sinkable. But Peter was the only one who said, Yes, Lord, I’ll come to where you’re calling. He believed that a sovereign God can do the impossible through those who trust Him. May you be the same. Don’t play it safe-don’t fear, don’t hold back and stay in the boat, don’t be shackled by doubts always staring at the wind and the waves. Look to Jesus with single-minded faith and get out of the boat. Live and follow and do what He calls you to do. It’s risky-but absolutely worth it! SLIDE 7
And here this morning, we have a great example of that in our midst-Pastor Dave and Brenda. They answered God’s call and came to a place they didn’t know, to serve in this ministry here at Dix Hills. And they didn’t do it in their own strength or rely upon their skills-but leaned completely on Jesus. And now they’re doing it again-this time in an even scarier place-LAST SLIDE – MAP OF Iowa!