Matthew 14:22-33 Walking on the Water
Water features a great deal in the Bible, in fact there are 107 Bible verses about it & today’s Gospel passage is one of these – Jesus walking on the water.
Water is often used as symbolising faith, salvation & provision. It is essential to our physical being & to our spiritual being – Jesus is ‘the water of life.’ Water is there at the beginning of scripture & at the end, in the book of Revelation.
Genesis 1- “now the earth was formless & empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, & the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Revelation 22- “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God & the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.”
Water is seen as symbolising baptism, healing & life.
In the Gospels we see water in baptism at the river Jordan, Jesus turns water into wine, He offers the Samaritan woman ‘living water’ at the well, He heals the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, He stills the stormy water on the sea of Galilee, & now He walks on water.
Yet when we read back through Scripture we also see that water can represent evil & chaos i.e. an abyss, a watery grave. In many ways a picture of hell. In the OT it often represented the thing that stood between the people of God & their deliverance – Moses & the Red Sea – it stood between them & their ability to go & worship God in the wilderness, so God allowed Moses to part the water & lead the people to freedom.
In the story of Noah’s Ark, the earth was destroyed by water but led to new beginnings, so out of chaos comes good.
In today’s passage about water we see good come out of darkness & panic. The disciples have got in the boat on Jesus’ command & go ahead of Him to Bethsaida. The reason why is not clear but they do as they are commanded – they show utter obedience to Christ.
This story is contained in 3 of the 4 Gospels, with slight variations in the story as it is seen from different perspectives. Whatever the reason, Jesus is on the mountain praying & the disciples are alone on the sea. And all the Gospels are consistent in the fact that after a few hours on the boat a storm came up.
Previously in the Gospel stories we saw Jesus stilling the storm on the sea of Galilee. Because of its basin shape it is prone to storms coming up quickly – I think Shirley mentioned this last week in her sermon.
Well, Peter & I had the privilege of going from one side of the sea to the other on a trip to the Holy Land in 2016. I have to say it was one of the highlights of the visit & nothing like I imagined. It is not very wide so what surprised me most was that when we got on the boat the weather was sunny & hot, & yet half way across a storm seemed to be coming in & the winds got up (not good if like me you suffer from sea sickness on any choppy waters), yet when we got to the other side (probably only about 20 minutes from one side to the other) the weather was once again beautiful. The winds come through the mountains & valleys & hit the lake, stirring up the waters & so create storms.
So, back to the disciples on the boat. The current experience of being on a boat in a storm probably made them think back to the last time they were in this position, the difference is that Jesus isn’t on the boat with them but in the mountains praying.
Yet, even though its dark & they are in the middle of the sea, Jesus sees the disciples & is aware of their plight & so He goes to them on the water – walking. Here we see Jesus coming to the disciples & leading them, telling them not to be afraid. So Peter gets out of the boat in the middle of the storm & he isn’t afraid but has faith in Christ to lead him across the water. The fact is, he had enough faith in Jesus to begin the journey towards him. But then he messes up by taking his eyes off Jesus & begins to sink. And what does Jesus do? He reaches right out to him in all his doubt & catches him.
Peter is shown he can be delivered from the storm by keeping his eyes on Christ. He is picked up & put back in the boat which reaches the shore where they are going.
As Christ led Peter, so too He leads us through the storms of life, & we, like him, have to keep our eyes on Him so we too don’t sink. The path of life is stormy but when we have faith Jesus sets us once again on the right path & leads us home to our destination. Storms will come in the form of trials & tribulations in this life. Sometimes they happen because of our own life choices, we each make choices. Yet sometimes storms come not because of something we have done but because we live in a broken world full of sin, sickness, death, disease, etc.
Those storms happen for a purpose – James 1 says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature & complete, not lacking anything.” James is saying that storms serve to strengthen our faith & that we should be joyful when they come, as they serve to mature us.
Storms are a test of our faith, & sometimes they come suddenly. One minute we are standing on the beach with Jesus eating fish & chips & the sun is shining & we are praising God, the next minute we find ourselves forced out into the middle of the sea in a storm & Jesus is nowhere to be found.
I wonder if you’ve ever felt like that – abandoned by Christ? You call to Him, wondering where He is – He isn’t in the boat with you, He is distant.
When I was ill a few weeks ago I lay in a hospital bed with that same feeling of abandonment. We all go through it at some time in our lives. In my own pain & anguish I called out to God but couldn’t find Him.
But we are reminded by Matthew that Christ saw the disciples from where He was. He was aware of what was going on – & so it is the same with us. When we feel the most physically, emotionally & spiritually weak He comes to us in unexpected ways & calls us to walk on the water with Him. Safe in His arms.
Jesus is the only one who can teach you to walk on water, & He teaches us through one word: COME. Just come toward me in the storms of life, don’t let the storms control or define you. When we come to Christ & let Him guide us across the stormy waters as Christians, we come to understand the plans He has for our lives, we know the gifts & calling we have been given & no storm can come against it.
So keep your eyes on Jesus, don’t allow yourselves to sink – to be bitter against people in this life, to allow sorrow or pain to consume you, to allow it to become your identity, or to allow it to distract you from the purposes & plans that God has for your life.
We could be forgiven for thinking today about the hurt & pain the Corona Virus has brought & I can’t tell you I don’t hurt over this, over what has happened to Christ’s church, I hurt every day. But I also have too much evidence to not have confidence that this will pass. I have seen God walk & lead me through the storms of life, lead His people since the beginning of time, so I know we will get through this current trial & be stronger because of it.
Peter’s encounter on the sea of Galilee reminds us that it is God in Christ who comes to us through the storm & so too He will come to us in this storm. He will walk with us.
Today I’ll leave you with the words of a song which I think sum up what it means to walk on the water with Christ. If you’re a Liverpool supporter you’ll be familiar with it, to other football supporters I apologise. I have substituted the word ‘hope’ for Christ.
“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver sound of the lark.
Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed & blown,
Walk on, walk on with Christ in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone.”