Matthew 14: 22-33
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,* for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind,* he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
As I was writing this message last night and into the morning, God revealed to me so many wonderful things about this Gospel that I had to literally stop and catch my breath.
There is a certain kind of comfort one is bound to find in the pages of the scripture. There is very real hope in this book that whether you’ve read it for the first time, or you’ve read it all your life, there is always a message for you. Always, always for those of us who read it more frequently that most, these messages–these revelations– can still surprise us.
This afternoon, my friends, allow me to share with you little surprises that this portion of scripture has given me; and for the rest of you who have been surprised by these things before, well, just play along. 🙂
It is actually a synoptic rarity that Peter was included in this magnificent story. Not all the Gospels agree with this account in Matthew. Let us not, however, go into the biblico- theological details of this gospel phenomenon but instead focus on the Matthew fact, that Peter added to the already wonderful plot of this story, and enhanced what was already, for me, an amazing miracle.
My friends, I pray that you would indulge me as we tackle this gospel story via a “walk through.” I invite you to open your bibles so we may take this journey together. I will be asking you to refer to the text from time to time so it would be awesome if you could just keep your bibles on your laps and refer to the story as we move along.
The story opens with Jesus, in v. 22-23. This is set in the sea of Galilee–that sea that is actually a lake– surrounded by land. This is the setting for most of Jesus’ ministerial career. There is a treasure trove of symbology in this setting but we will reserve that for the coming Sundays. Here friends we are lent to realize a few wonderful things:
1. Sometimes, Jesus allows us to go off on our own.
V.22 says that he “immediately” made the disciples to get on the boat to sail to the other side. As followers of Christ, there will be times when we are sent “immediately” off to a journey; There are times when Jesus has to stay behind to take care of the crowd on the shore and sends us off to sail to another place–to the other side, across to other shore. And he stays behind to pray– although we are not privy to what Jesus was praying for, we can only assume that it had something to do with the crowd on the shore which he, himself dismissed and those whom he has asked to board the boat to sail to the other side. Sometimes, perhaps, Jesus stays where he feels he is more needed–in this story, on dry land where the crowds are and prays that the faith of those people he asked to sail across to the other side, will carry them through.
2. When we are alone, in the middle of the journey, we run into trouble.
V. 24 Tells us that when the disciples were far away from land–ergo, physically far from where Jesus was–the winds battered their boat, the account tells us, “for the wind was against them.” The wind was against them for the better part of the night. And naturally, when one is in a small fishing boat contending with the harsh winds and waves, the immediate reaction would be, “Tulong! Omg, we’re gonna die!”
3. As we negotiate with our feeling of panic and fear and all the trouble that had befallen us, Jesus the Christ, will always, always come to our aide.
And sometimes, when he does, it takes a while for us to realize it.
V.25 proceeds to tell us that Jesus came toward them. And Jesus comes towards us in such an otherworldly manner–in a manner that is so out of this world, that we–
4. We try to discern if it’s really Christ (and not some ghost) and so we take leaps (in Peter’s case, steps) of faith.
V. 26, the disciples thought that it was not Christ but a ghost which had them gripped in fear even more! It is important to note that it wouldn’t be until verse 32, toward the end of the story that the wind will cease. So these group of people on the boat had to contend with the strong winds and the prospect of a ghost walking toward them. So imagine that. And then in v. 27 Jesus speaks, amidst the battering winds, “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” and then, we proceed to confirm, as Peter did, “Lord, if it really is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And to play to the burden of proof, Jesus gives the command, “Come.”
5. And just when we are about to do what Christ commanded us to do, we get distracted, yet again, and sink and regress.
V. 30 tells us that Peter gets distracted by the wind, momentarily, and he began to sink. Just when the perceived ghost has confirmed his identity to be the Jesus Christ, which by the way, in and of itself is rather amazing, we allow ourselves to be distracted by some wind and we begin to sink. And just as we are about to drown in the violent waters, we cry out, “Lord, save me!” and thereby, bringing us to point number 6–
6. The Jesus Christ, the one who is not just waterproof but one who walks on water, will always extend his hand to catch us.
The Jesus Christ, who walks on water, who, despite of having to contend with being mistaken as a ghost; who has to, time and again prove his identity to his friends, is the Christ who will reach out his hand to catch you. This Jesus Christ, who had to defy the very laws of physics, is always there to extend his hand and lift us up. And asks us, rather quite candidly, “you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And then we get a little embarrassed, half-relieved and in total awe that he has actually done it again!
But the lesson does not stop there, friends. In verse 32, Jesus walked with Peter back to the boat, and this is where the winds stopped and the water became calm. Bringing me to my seventh and last point—
7. Jesus Christ will walk us back to where we are supposed to be, calms the wind, boards our boat and stays with us as we complete the journey.
He did not walk Peter back to dry land. Instead he walked Peter back to the boat. Jesus did not reset the journey by taking them back to shore, he had them carry on; he had them continue the journey across to the other side and performed an amazing miracle to prove that point. Remember that in v.22 he told them to “go on ahead” to the other side. As if to say, you go ahead let me take care of this crowd of people, let me dismiss them, you go ahead and I will meet you there.
Friends, in the reading of this story, we may be able to find ourselves in a curiously similar situation. In our current ministerial challenge as God’s church in Quezon City, we find ourselves in a series of difficult circumstances and “strong winds”. As a church, winds batter our boat and the sheer fear and worry begin to take a hold of us; the fear is so overwhelming, that our immediate reaction to the supposed familiar silhouette of Christ coming to rescue us is, “it’s a ghost! Oh my God, It’s going to kill us faster!” We become too preoccupied with trying to stay afloat that we almost do not hear Jesus saying, “Take heart, it is I.” And amidst the panic we say, “ikaw ba talaga yan Lord? And then we say, sige nga kung ikaw yan command us to walk on water with you. “Kung ikaw nga yan, sabihan mo kaming gawin ang impossible.” And when Christ’s command was spoken, “come.” We take the bold impossible step and then, when we are actually doing the impossible, some random wind of a distraction catches our attention and we panic and sink. The winds try to deter us and strike fear and uncertainty in our hearts. These “winds” distract us as we reach for the redeeming hand of Christ.
But the wonderful turn out, at least for our current curiously similar story, is that despite the distraction and the waves beating our boat, and the sinking and the panic, we all, cried, Lord! help us! And the Lord reached out his hand and caught us.
Our ultimate source of comfort and hope and strength–Jesus Christ who walks on water, is the same Christ who lifts us up, walks us back to where he wants us to be–on our little boat– and tells us to carry on.
And there, sisters and brothers, in our little boat–after all has been said and done–we fall to our knees in worship, saying exactly what the disciples said in verse 33: “Truly, You are the Son of God.”