If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.
So yesterday at our Veritas gathering we talked about the story of Jesus walking on the water, and having Peter decide that he wanted to be like Jesus, so he got out of the boat and walked on water. That is until he looked at the wind and the waves. So below is the text of the message and the discussion questions that we talked about after the message.
Over the last 2 weeks we have been unpacking a little bit about what the UP looks like as a disciple of Jesus, from stories found in the gospel of Matthew. And we’ll be unpacking some more stories during the month ahead until we transition in September to another series (called UnChristian taking a look at what the culture sees when they look at Christians).
Two weeks ago we looked at the story about the woman who was subject to hemorrhaging for 12 years before she touched the hem of Jesus’ robe and was healed. We looked at her boldness to ignore societal rule and regulations and go into a crowd, being unclean, to touch Jesus and how we need, a disciples, to get out of our comfort zone in order to grow deeper in our faith.
Last week we talked about the story of the Sower and the seed and talked about how, as a disciple, we are called both to sow the seed of the Kingdom in the world, and also be good soil for the seed when it lands. That it isn’t just about receiving the seed of the Kingdom but we have to be actively planting the seed in the lives of others.
This week we’ll be looking at, what might be one of the best known miracles that Jesus ever performed. We’ll be looking at Matthew 14:22-32, the story of Jesus walking on the water. We’ll not only focus on Jesus walking on the water, but we’ll also looking at what went on before that, and also later when he encounters Peter and what this story can tell us, and share with us about being a disciple of Jesus and what that looks like.
So let’s turn to Matthew 14:22-32 and look at the text together.
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.”
So let’s take a look at this story in three parts, Jesus before walking on the water, while he is walking on the water, and Peter’s encounter with Jesus. Let’s see what each of these sections of the story might say to us as followers of Jesus gathered together 2,000 years after the story took place.
The first thing we see in the text is that after sending the disciples out in their boat onto the Sea of Galilee, and then dismissing the crowd that had just experienced the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus went up on the mountain to spend time communing with his heavenly father. Jesus was jealous for the time alone with his father. In the midst of his great ministry to others he did not- could not- neglect it. He realized where his true strength lie, and where he got his “batteries” recharged. He needed to get alone, slow down, and listen to the voice of His heavenly Father. When your whole life is about the mission of the Kingdom, as His was, you need to take time to slow down from doing the work of the Kingdom, to just be with the King of the Kingdom. All too often us missional types burn out on the Kingdom because we do things for the King and the Kingdom, and we forget that the King of the Kingdom wants to be with us.
I found a statement that I believe connects to this part of the story. It is this, “Isolation is not all that bad . . . it just depends on who you spend it with.” Now I’m sure that statement can be taken a number of ways, especially the idea that you need to like yourself if you spend anytime alone. But I believe that it also speaks to the idea, that our culture (and honestly myself as well) need to hear. That we do need to appreciate the times of isolation from others so that we can connect with the one who won’t shout to get our attention. A lot of the time I am so wrapped up in my preoccupations that I don’t take the time to get off by myself to pray, read, journal, and connect with my Heavenly Father.
So part of being a disciple of Jesus is taking time to “go up on the mountainside to pray.” Someone once said that true living is the alternation between rest and work, between prayer and the daily task.” But there is more to it than that. Let’s look at the next section of the story.
So Jesus, after connecting with his heavenly Father, begins to walk across the Sea of Galilee. The thought, I am sure is that he was going to continue right on by the boat (as we see in Mark 6:48) but the disciples saw him and freak out, thinking that he was a ghost.
Now what I want to mention right now is the fact that he was doing something that is totally impossible from our point of view. There are many different ways people try to get around the explanation of Jesus walking on the water. One of my favorite is the theory that he was really walking on a layer of ice. Here is a quote from an article about that, “The scientists note that Galilee has warm, salty springs along the western shore, an area Jesus frequented. The water above the springs does not convect when it is cold. If air temperatures dipped below freezing, as sometimes happened then, surface ice could have formed thick enough to support human weight and inspire the biblical story. From a distance, the scientists suggested, a person on the ice might appear to be walking on water, particularly if it had just rained and left a smoothed-out watery coating on the ice.”
So whether you think or believe that Jesus was walking on water, or it was some other explanation, which seems impossible, the truth is this, as Luke 1:37 says, “For nothing is impossible with God.” Part of being a disciple of Jesus, involves trusting God, following him, and realizing that sometimes God can do impossible things in and through you.
Maybe the impossible thing is trusting him to take a leap of faith in your personal life, or your vocational life or something else. Maybe you feel that if you trust him, get out of the security of where you are, you’ll drown. But just like Peter, Jesus will be there to catch you. Maybe the impossible thing in your life is related to people who you’ve been sharing your life and faith with and you feel they’ll never ever grab ahold of it. Maybe you feel like you can’t truly live out the Kingdom of God in this world due to your own brokenness. Whatever it is, realize that God can do impossible things in, through, and for you.
Let’s look at the last part of the text, where Peter decides to engage Jesus. He asks, “If it really is you Jesus, and not a ghost, then tell me to come out on the water.” So Jesus tells him to come out on the water, and Peter gets out of the boat and begins to walk on the water towards Jesus. Now so often when we’ve heard this story we come to the same conclusion, and Peter gets a bad rap for not keeping his eyes on Jesus, how he started sinking, and that he didn’t have enough faith, as Jesus said.
But lets look at it another way. If all 12 disciples were in the boat that night, only 1 of them took the risk of actually getting out of the boat. Only one of them was truly willing to trust Jesus, put their faith on the line, and to be like Jesus.
But why did Paul decide to get out of the boat in the first place? Why was he the only one? Why was he the only risk taker in the boat that night willing to put feet to water? Well in that day and age a disciple doesn’t just want to know what a rabbi knows, he wants to do what a rabbi does. So, and this is me getting in the head of Peter, I think Peter was thinking, “Look if my Rabbi Jesus is walking on the water, and he wants me to be like him, to imitate him, than I should get out of this boat, even though it doesn’t make any sense, and walk out on the water.” Peter was always the type of person that leapt before he looked, which is still better wisdom than that of a someone who looks for so long that they never leap.
And so he does get out of the boat, puts feet to water, stands up and begins to walk towards Jesus, step by step. But then, due to the winds and waves, takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins to sink. He cries out to Jesus, who catches him, and pulls him back to the boat. Immediately when they get into the boat the wind, and the waves die down and the story wraps up.
So what can we learn about being a disciple of Jesus in the 21st century through the 3 parts of this story? Let’s spend some time discussing some questions, unpacking the story further, and seeking to apply it to our everyday life.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc… do you have regarding the Scripture text and the message?
2. How are you doing when it comes to “going up on the Mountain to pray”? How and when can you take the time to do so and how can we help each other with this?
3. What “impossible” thing are you dealing with right now? How is God meeting you in the midst of the “impossible”?
4. What “risk” is God asking you to take? How can you get out of the boat? What “risk” is God calling us as a community to take? How can we get out of the boat?